CategoriesGear

Thinking About Buying a Bike in 2021?

Here’s a handy roundup of advice for people buying a bike in 2021. Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • Hybrid Bikes
  • Gravel Bikes
  • Mountain Bikes
  • Random Thoughts

This post is inspired by a message from one of my high school friends:

“Any advice on buying a bike? I haven’t ridden since freshman year of college. I’m just looking for something casual (like 2-3 times a month) that I can ride on suburban streets but also dirt roads/trails (but not crazy off-road mountain biking). I’ve heard of gravel bike or hybrid bikes.”

The person asking this question mentioned the Co-Op Cycles DRT 2.2, which goes for about $1,800, as a possibility.

I figured he’s not the only person considering buying a bike in 2021. So rather than dump all my thoughts into email or FB messenger, I’ll just turn it into a blog post to help out anyone else facing a similar situation.

Are Hybrid Bikes Any Good?

Let’s tackle the hybrid question first. Hybrids as we knew them aren’t as big a slice of the market anymore. They were the wimpy offspring of a road bike with skinny 700c tires, swept-up handlebars, a short wheelbase and a very upright seating position.

I hated them during my bike shop days. Now in 2021, bikes like the Kona Dew with their 26.5/650B wheels, disc brakes and more-maneuverable geometry have totally crushed that same corner of the market: the person who mostly rides city streets, but also wants to hit unpaved paths. With a change of tires, the Dew and other bikes like it will let you ride some trails without killing you (keep in mind it doesn’t have a suspension fork). I like the Dew so much that my brother and I pitched in to buy one for our dad – he absolutely loves the thing.

I suppose there are probably some 1990s-style hybrid bikes out there. But they’re really not good for anything.

What About this Gravel Bike Thing?

I’ve already written about gravel bikes extensively. Still, I see a split in this category between hardcore off-road only gravel bikes and the “road plus” or “all-road” category, which is how I’ve built my Lynskey Urbano.

Either way you slice it, I love gravel or all-road or whatever. They are super-stable on the street next to a road bike. They’re in their element on unpaved paths. And in the right hands, they can chew up singletrack mountain bike trails. (I don’t consider myself the right hands — I still prefer a mountain bike for that sort of riding.)

buying a bike in 2021
Gravel bikes are pretty awesome for so many reasons.

I wouldn’t feel comfortable telling someone who hasn’t really ridden in 20 years to get on a gravel bike to go forth and shred the singletrack, though. That is best left to experienced roadies or mountain bikers who have their handling skills down pat.

Gravel Bike Recommendations

So for my friend here, I’m gonna say that a gravel bike is great as long as he really has no intention of hitting real mountain bike trails. With that said, I’d recommend the State Bicycle Co All-Road Black Label.

The standout specs to me are the 1X chainring setup, carbon fork, tubeless wheelset and excellent Vittoria tires. I’m pretty sure the shifters and derailleurs are made by Microshift. So it’s serviceable more than spectacular.

Still, it’s a lot of bike for the money. A lot.

A few hundred more bucks brings the All-City Cycles Space Horse Tiagra into the frame. (Tiagra, by the way, is the grade of Shimano components on the Space Horse, which is available in various build options. Tiagra is a lower-end Shimano group but still solid – the next levels up are 105, Ultegra and Dura-Ace. Below Tiagra from low to high are Claris and Sora. The gravel-specific GRX group exists in three flavors: RX400, RX600 and RX800. Which sounds a bit like a weird pharmacy, but whatever. )

I love the steel frame on the Space Horse — a lot of old bike dudes love the ride of steel, plus the durability. As a brand, All-City Cycles also oozes personality. Their bike just look f-in’ cool. One concern I have about All-City Cycles is that they can be hard to find at a local bike shop. Many bike shops can get them, but it’s unusual to see them on the showroom floor.

What if I Want a Mountain Bike?

If my friend decides to go for a mountain bike, I will always say that if you’re spending less than $2,000, you should buy a hardtail. Avoid rear suspension below that point!

I also favor telling less-experienced riders to go with a mountain bike. Yes, they’re not as fast on city streets. But the maneuvering and fit is more-forgiving than a gravel bike.

What I’d look for in this price range is a Shimano Deore build kit. I’d avoid SRAM’s SX group. The general consensus on SX is “plasticy shite.” SRAM’s mountain bike component levels start pretty much at SX, then NX, then GX and then into fancy stuff with so many Xs you’d swear they were shooting porn.

Shimano’s minimum level of competence starts at Deore (which is actually fantastic stuff for the $$$) and progresses to SLX, XT and XTR. Alivio is below them all. Avoid it.

Fork-wise, you’re really not going to get anything great here — a Rock Shox Recon is the best you can hope for. The Recon isn’t actually bad, though.

When it comes to getting a lot of mountain bike for the money, the brands that are my top-of-mind for me are Salsa, Kona and Marin. They not only offer good value, but they seem to be plugged into what’s going on with modern geometry. They’re also relatively easy to find at local bike shops, which is important.

One concern: Every bike in the price range seems to come with tires that are a minimum of 2.4 inches wide, with some non-plus sizes going to 2.6. I typically ride a 2.3 (usually something like a Continental X King). When those tires wear out, I’d opt for something less chubby.

So what bikes have this?

The Salsa Timberjack was the first one to come to mind. It seems Salsa no longer has a Deore version of the T-Jack, just the upper-level SLX and XT stuff. One of the reasons I like the T-Jack for my friend is that it has mounts for EVERYTHING. This guy is a hiker – I could see him getting bit by the bikepacking bug, and Salsa had exactly these kinds of shenanigans in mind when they created the ‘Jack.

buying a bike in 2021

Now here’s an outlier: If my friend wants to keep it casual, maybe he doesn’t even need gears at all. Maybe he needs an overgrown BMX bike like the Kona Unit.

A singlespeed can do a lot. You can use it for coffeeshop runs … or you can race the hell out of it like I do with my Domahidy.

Plus, if he hates it, he can revel in using all the dick puns in his Craigslist ad.

But I’d predict that nobody can hate a singlespeed. They are versatile, capable and low-maintenance. I’ll also add that Kona has a knack for frame design and geometry. The Unit is also so cheap that he can slap a good suspension fork in it the very day he buys it — he might even be able to swing a good deal on that upgrade since he’s buying a bike, too. Can you imagine that bike with a new-generation Marzocchi fork on it?

I really wish State Bicycle Co. still offered their Pulsar model. That 29er would’ve been PERFECT for my friend.

What About the Co-Op DRT 2.2?

The Co-Op bike mentioned earlier doesn’t do much for me. I’ve not enjoyed riding a 26.5+ wheel/tire size at all. Those huge-volume tires can smoothly roll over a lot of stuff, but they are serious work to pedal. They also don’t like changing directions with near the agility of a non-plus tire. The components are decent SRAM NX stuff with Shimano brakes — an astute pairing. I’ve never had a problem with SRAM shifting, but I’ve never loved their disc brakes. I’ve always preferred the feel of Shimano disc brakes.

Going with Co-Op also men’s that REI is going to be your bike shop, which doesn’t sit well with me. Aside from a few flagship stores, the accessories and parts sold at most REI stores are substandard. You’re also going to find better mechanics at specialty bike shops. REI does sell Salsa at some of its stores. Again, though, REI just isn’t outstanding at bike stuff.

Random Observations

I’m not recommending “direct-to-customer” brands in this case. A new rider is going to wind up needed shop support. For best results, I recommend buying local from a shop that makes you feel welcome. You’re buying the shop just as much as you’re buying the bike.

It’s also important to budget for other stuff: hydration (pack, water bottles/cages or both), bike shorts, tools, etc. This can get in-depth, so I won’t cover to many of those variables here. I might actually have to do a “shit every new rider needs” sort of post.

What About the Big Brands?

You’ll also notice that I didn’t mention the big brands like Specialized, Trek, Giant or Cannondale here.

To me, they don’t offer near the bike for the money that these other brands do. Aside from the brands I’ve mentioned in this post, I’d also look at Marin, who has lately proven they know how to offer some real value.

Not only do I find the big guys a lesser value, I also just find them boring. As one of my friends observed long ago, a bike is like your personal X-Wing fighter. Go with something that offers some panache and individuality — and maybe support a company that has some spirit.

buying a bike in 2021
If you’re going used, be sure to get a second or third opinion.

The Used Bike Question

Buying used can get you some extra bike for the money. At least, most of the time. The bike industry is going through some serious supply chain issues right now, and used bike prices are higher than you might expect.

Also, buying used is a tricky proposition for someone who hasn’t spent a long time working on their own bikes. If you’re considering this route, it’s best to have a friend who’s a serious bike nut to help. This is also a good time to plug for a singlespeed — they just have fewer vectors for serious problems.

Final Thoughts on Buying a Bike in 2021

I’ve done the bike advice dance many times before. My friend probably didn’t expect this much of an info dump, and it will probably spawn follow-up questions. I’ll update here as the conversation evolves.

Knowing what I do at this moment, though, the bike I recommend is the Salsa Timberjack. It’s an excellent value from a reputable brand. The State gravel bike is a great value, but the handling qualities of a gravel bike present a steeper learning curve than a mountain bike like the ‘Jack.

Also to come in a future post — another buddy asked me about buying a full-suspension mountain bike. So we’ll break that down in the future.

CategoriesFitness

24 Hours of Enchanted Forest Race Report – Pedal With Warriors Team

24 Hours in the Enchanted Forest Pedals WIth Warriors
A starry night at 24 Hours in the Enchanted Forest.

Back in the old days, I worked at Adventure Bicycle Company in Mesa with this guy named Chad Hummer. He could race really damn fast, make an avalanche of jokes that started with the phrase “your mom” and also perpetrate dastardly pranks on people – usually when they were trying to have a peaceful session in the bathroom. Just one of the many fun people who worked there, for sure. Anyway, he returned from a good, long mountain bike racing hiatus to check out 24 Hours in the Enchanted Forest – a race in New Mexico with a solid-gold reputation. He posted a write-up on Facebook that I thought needed an audience even wider than his mom, so he granted permission for me to gank his report and re-publish it here. Over to you, Hummer!

I’d been hearing for the last 6 years that there are some good things going on with mountain biking around Gallup, NM. In the past, I’ve always avoided Gallup unless I needed fuel or a pit stop. The town isn’t much to look at and it depends heavily on the I40 traffic and reservation to survive. Then I found out the Zuni Mtns above Gallup are around 7500 feet and the trails are getting better and better. At first I was going to just go to 24 Hours in the Enchanted Forest and help out while exploring the area.

24 Hours in the Enchanted Forest Pedals WIth Warriors
The whole 24 Hours in the Enchanted Forest Pedals WIth Warriors team.

A week before the event I was feeling like I had logged good miles and my legs were recovering … so I asked around if anyone needed a ‘motivated’ team mate. Elisa hooked me up with Pedal With Warriors, a non-profit group that helps veterans to use mountain biking as a way to rebuild the mind/body/soul. Pretty soon I was added to a PWW group text and I was happy to secure a spot to race in the pines! My teamates were a little astonished because they found out I didn’t have a Strava account. I guess everyone except me has Strava … and your only as good as your last race … and mine was over 8 years ago, maybe 10 years if you count a 24hr endurance event! I tried to assure my team I had a lot of experience racing and that I will be 100% ready to help them out.

24 Hours in the Enchanted Forest Pedals WIth Warriors
“I’m too tired too make a ‘your mom’ joke” said Chad never.

Our team leader, Kirsten, really wanted to be on the podium. We had two ladies and two guys to form the PWW Co-ed 4-Person Team. The race started at 11AM Sat and ended 11AM Sun, temps ranged from 95 degrees during the day to 45 degrees at night. I’ve always done well in warm weather and I didn’t mind the heat! My first lap was around 3PM, one of the hottest laps of the day. I went out at 90% effort and legs felt great, except my lungs burned since I hadn’t opened them up properly with any hard efforts. I was happy with my lap times.

24 Hours in the Enchanted Forest Pedals WIth Warriors
Chad Hummer of the Pedals WIth Warriors team up to his usual shenanigans at 24 Hours in the Enchanted Forest.

The second through fifth lap felt a lot better on the lungs and I kept hydrating and feeding my legs with solid foods. My stomach normally starts to knot up around 3AM but this race I kept feeling great all night and into the day. Legs were 80% from top form but I was pushing every little downhill section like my life depended on it. The Santa Cruz 5010 was heavier than I wanted and had way too much suspension for this course, but I made it perform on every little section of DH I could rip. Sometimes that meant passing 30-40 people per lap, jumping downed trees, and being creative with line choices. The course was 97% single-track … which made it fun yet interesting passing all types of people. I really liked the course and people for the most part moved over when needing to pass! It had a mix of everything except really steep switchback climbs/descents (which is perfect for people working into shape).

After the dust settled, our PWW Team had netted a solid 6th place finish out of 36 Teams with 19 laps/247 miles covered. I highly recommend checking out the trails around McGaffey Campground, only 25 minutes above Gallup! Thank you, Pedal With Warriors, for the opportunity.

Photos courtesy of … I dunno, the dog in the third photo? If it’s you, let me know and I’ll update with a proper credit!

CategoriesGear

First Impressions of a Titanium Mountain Bike

I’ve wanted a titanium mountain bike ever since I started mountain biking. Of course, 1993 Justin had no idea that, when he would eventually get his ti fighter, it would have 29-inch wheels, a single belt-driven gear and a tapered headtube. But that’s the form my long-awaited ti bike has taken.

titanium mountain bike
My first ride on a titanium mountain bike.

My experiment with belt-drive singlespeeds started with my Raleigh XXIX, which I built in 2013 as a leftover model from 2011. It convinced me that I could deal with a singlespeed on many of my local trails, and that belt drive is a very cool alternative to using a chain. The fun factor of the XXIX made me consider a nice steel frame -- I’d look for specs close to my Raleigh but with a touch more standover height, swap out the parts and call it good.

The Long Road to a Titanium Mountain Bike

I actually tried twice in recent years to buy custom steel frames (I’ll unspool those stories at a later time). I also considered a Burmese-made bamboo frame, but the company never quite convinced me on the quality front; I had a constant "caution" light flashing in my head.

In mid March, I stumbled upon a Domahidy Designs ti hardtail. The company is now known as Viral Bikes, and their only product at the moment is a titanium Pinion Drive hardtail called the Skeptic. They were (and probably still are) selling titanium frames from their previous incarnation as Domahidy Designs. The company owner and namesake, Steve Domahidy, also has a great reputation from his previous work as co-founder of Niner Bikes.

The price was super-attractive, and the build quality and handling had a very good reputation from all I could find online.

titanium mountain bike
Steve Domahidy committed to the belt drive … which was a big draw for me.

About the price – I could find ti frames slightly cheaper, but they’d require an upcharge and some time to build as a belt drive-compatible frame. I ultimately chose the Domahidy for two very big reasons:

First, I had more confidence buying a frame that was purposely designed as a belt-drive bike from the word go. I have a feeling that Steve Domahidy’s belief in that system will ultimately make this a “keep forever” bike just as much as the fact that it’s made from titanium. My gut tells me that he’s considered aspects of the belt drive’s impact on frame design beyond “sure, we can add a belt drive splitter.” That gives me a lot of confidence.

The second factor is incredibly important: When I shot an email to inquire about the frame, Steve replied within hours. He was enthusiastic and friendly through the entire email change, and he personally handled my order. And that’s to help a guy rooting around in the bargain basement of his offerings. This is sadly atypical in my experiences with other companies. An example: A few days before finding the Domahidy deal, I emailed another well-known titanium frame maker to ask about the possibility of getting one of their models in a belt-drive version. I didn’t hear from that company until after I’d placed my order with Domahidy. When they contacted me, I thanked them and explained the situation – and said that I’d always liked their bikes, and would keep them top of mind when it’s time to replace my 1999 Lemond Zurich road bike.

If I were in their position, my reply would’ve been something like “No worries, good luck with the new ride and we’ll be here when you’re ready for an awesome road frame.” But they actually didn’t reply. Since I never heard from them … well, it’s a little harder to get excited about them as a company. The takeaway here, Frame Makers, is be prompt and be friendly. Seriously, Be Like Steve. (I’ve since replaced my Lemond road bike with a Lynskey road plus bike — and not from the guys I’m talking about here.)

titanium mountain bike
The etched-into-the-head-tube approach to a head tube badge is quite cool.


As for the rest of my experience, Steve walked me through the process and set me up with a headset, extra dropout adaptors (allowing me to switch between hub and axle sizes) and a headset adaptor to allow my straight-steerer tubed fork to fit his tapered headtube. My titanium mountain bike frame was on its way!

It arrived about a week after placing the order, expertly packed and equipped with everything I needed to start. And it is an absolutely beautiful frame. How beautiful? I took it to a local shop erroneously thinking the headset needed to be pressed in – yes, it’s been a long time since I built a bike, and a few of the cool new standards are throwing me for a loop. This is a shop where it’s rare to see any bike with a pricetag less than $5,000. As the mechanic put it into the stand, nearly every other rider in the shop clustered around, saying stuff "Look at those welds!" and "That [drive-side] chainstay is badass!" This was a serious bunch of bike cognescenti, definitely not the sort of people to get excited about ho-hum bikes.

The Build

Holy cow, this thing went together so easily. I love the internal headset because you don’t need a headset press to install it. The brake line guides and routing are in the perfect place. The belt drive is the hardest part to set up, but that’s to be expected. I notice that the CenterTrack system is considerably noisier when it collects some dirt, where the previous version was dead silent. Maybe some wear to loosen the interface between that center ridge and the belt will help.

All the bolts related to the belt drive splitter and dropouts are big and solid. The frame tubes themselves are a larger diameter than you might usually see for titanium, looking almost like aluminum tubes rather than steel (the welds, of course, are a dead giveaway that it’s ti). There’s a “built to last” vibe about it all.

titanium mountain bike
Beefy hardware, clean welds. That’s what you’ll get with a Domahidy or a Viral Skeptic.

There’s just one thing I wonder: The bike is designed so you can add derailleur cable routing to the bottom of the downtube via what looks like water bottle bosses. Would it have been possible to add another one so that there could be a third water bottle boss? I’ll bet the long-distance hogs who would be interested in the Viral Skeptic would dig that as much as I would.

Hitting the Trails

So far, I’ve had it on a few rides. And I have had an immense amount of fun on both – the Domahidy handles beautifully. I don’t need to muscle it around nearly as much in the tight, technical stuff. I’ve noticed that it likes aggressive countersteering, pointing the knee into turns and aiming a bit more with the hips. It also has a remarkably gentle ride. It’s a subtle feeling of small shocks dissipating before they go shooting up the seatpost.

titanium mountain bike
And there’s a look at the drive splitter.

I have a pretty good amount of Strava data on both rides. On one 2-mile climb on the first ride, I beat my previous fastest time by 1:20. I wasn’t trying to – I was just riding at the pace that seemed right. Same deal on another 7-mile section -- about two minutes faster, and that’s with climbing and extending sections of downhill. It was solid on tricky, twisty downhills, too – I PRd my time on a 1.2-mile mostly downhill run by about 2.5 minutes. This was all apples-to-apples singlespeed-versus-singlespeed data.

What about pitting the Domahidy against my Santa Cruz Superlight? I recently did the Six Hours in the Papago race, so I had a lot of data about the area. I wasn’t willing to ride the duller bits just for the sake of collecting data, but I did have some interesting takeaways: fastest-ever time on a 1-mile downhill by about 20 seconds; second-fastest time up the steepest climb on the course (keep in mind we’re also talking about geared versus singlespeed in the steep stuff); 20 seconds faster on another steep hill. I doubt I could sustain this through multiple laps, but I still think these numbers are a good indicator that the bike fits well and makes me better in certain situations.

Want more comparison data from Strava? I did a head-to-head test with the Dohamidy and the Santa Cruz. It’s pretty enlightening!

More Than Just a Great Titanium Mountain Bike

After all the years drooling over them, I’m excited to have a titanium mountain bike. Its differences are subtle but noticeable, adding up to a riding experience that is definitely what I hoped it would be. I’m also glad I found the Domahidy – buying from the company now known as Viral Bikes was a very positive experience. Steve clearly cares about the quality of his products. If you’re considering a Viral Skeptic, you’ll feel very good about spending money with Viral just because of the service. And you’ll like them even better after you spend some time riding one of their bikes.

And let me add this: I trashed the rear wheel (the third WTB wheel I’ve mangled in recent history). Since ordering one from a local shop, I’ve been waiting. And not being able to ride the Domahidy has made me a little … testy. Sure, my Santa Cruz is still solid. But there’s just a little extra fun about any good new bike – and the titanium magic seems to take that up a few notches.

 

CategoriesFitnessGear

When Should You Get a New Mountain Bike?

new mountain bike
My current full-suspension bike – a Santa Cruz Superlight.

When is it time for a new mountain bike? If you’re the bike industry, the answer is "every time we come up with a new wheel size or standard" -- both of which they seem to be doing with ever-accelerating frequency these days.

If you’re a guy like me, the answer is a bit more complicated. Here’s what I mean by "a guy like me:" I go out on frequent rides and love nearly every damn thing there is about the bikes I’m riding. But I also know that everything has a limited lifespan, especially stuff that gets pounded by a 200-pound dude plowing over rocky terrain with -- let’s say not exactly the most deft of skills.

I want to start a fun conversation about how we decide it’s time for a new mountain bike. I’ll start off by talking a bit about my bikes and my impressions of riding them. It would be great to get your thoughts, and also to hear about your thought process for deciding to retire a mountain bike.

Bike #1 is a 2012 Raleigh XXIX that I built up largely piece by piece -- back in 2013, when I scored a killer deal on the frame and the previous iteration of the Gates Carbon Drive singlespeed drivetrain (that’s right, I don’t have CenterTrack).

Continue reading

CategoriesAdventuresFitness

This is the Worst Place in the World to Go Mountain Biking

The Whakarewarewa Forest in Rotorua is absolutely the worst place in the world to go mountain biking. If you ride here, you will go back home. You’ll prep your bike for a ride and get yourself to what used to be your favorite local trails. You’ll straddle your bike at the trailhead, look down the trail and think "Well, this is a bit pointless."

That’s because your local trail doesn’t beckon you with the fragrance of spruce. It isn’t protected from the sun with a canopy of redwood trees and ferns. Its ground doesn’t grip your tires just right.

What I’m saying is that, next to the Whakarewarewa Forest, your local trail probably sucks. I’m sure you love it. I used to love my favorite local trails, too. But within 6 minutes of cruising through the Whakarewarewa Forest, I felt like it ruined my local trails for me. I thought of my usual rides -- mile after mile under a punishing, unrelenting, angry sun through acre upon acre of dried-up Tattooine-like dirt that is practically unfamiliar with concepts like moisture or wetness.

worst place in the world to go mountain biking
I could ride here every damn day.

I’ve ridden in some cool spots like Whistler, BC. But the trails there didn’t make me think I’d hate returning to my local trails.

Seriously, This is What It’s Like to Ride the Whakarewarewa Forest

I started my ride out by renting a bike at Mountain Bike Rotorua, which is perched right at the edge of the trail area. My Giant Something-or-Other full-suspension bike, some packets of Gu and a map cost me $60 NZ for 2 hours, but I planned to go longer (they promised to make up the difference later). I brought my own pedals and a helmet. Just one thing: I was so eager to get out on the trails that I forgot to get a pump from the staff. This would come back to haunt me. No fault of theirs at all, and everyone was perfectly nice and accommodating.

Anyway, the trails meander uphill, but not consistently. They roll and dip upward. You might gain 100 feet of elevation but climb for 160 feet. Jeep roads radiate up the hill and intersect with the trails. Much of the singletrack is directional, with a general net loss of altitude. I guess locals go up the Jeep roads, then grab the trails on the way down.

So all these trail intersections make it really easy to get lost. And it’s easy to lose your place on the map. I made life harder by taking photos of the map before handing it over to my wife so she could hike – the important one came out blurry.

The trails themselves feature lots of changes of direction rather than relatively straight, fast runs. You’ll do a lot of steering, and you need to pay attention. There are steep chutes and the occasional drop-off. And you’re going to work hard: I climbed 1,800 feet in about 20 miles.

Worst Place in the World to Go Mountain Biking
My ride for the day

How was the Rental Bike?

A mixed bag. It was my first experience with a 650B/27.5 wheel. It thought it handled almost indistinguishable from a 26er, which is nice considering the sharp turns and switchbacks. It was also my first time on a 2X11 drivetrain, which I found really agreeable. This one wasn’t very well tuned, though, and the chain often wandered in the first two cogs. It probably worked fine in the bike stand, but things change when a drivetrain is under load.

I’ve been on the other side of this equation. There were a few creaks and groans throughout the whole package, too. The Fox fork worked well. Overall, the Giant just didn’t have that meticulously maintained feel of my personal bikes – but hey, what can you expect? It’s a rental, and it wasn’t built part-by-part by a guy like me. And it doesn’t get broken down to bare frame and rebuilt regularly like my bikes.

Tell Me About That Missing Pump

Welp. I got a flat. I had a patch kit, but I made the mistake of leaving port without a pump. I nearly brought my own on this trip (I also forgot to bring an SD card for my GoPro, so I took the ill-advised route of one-handed cellphone camera videos).

Anyway, I walked a good way looking for someone with a pump. I went through six riders before finding a few that had pumps. The upside is I got to banter with some nice people. My patch kit and borrowed pump saved the day; the Mountain Bike Rotorua staff seemed inordinately surprised that I used my own stuff to patch the bike up.

worst place in the world to go mountain biking
One of the many trails that make up the worst place in the world to go mountain biking

I wasn’t really thrilled to be out there without a pump, so I tried taking some roads as a shortcut back, and I got really damn lost on all those roads. And my blurry map photo was no help. I actually got to a place where I was clueless about my whereabouts, and I was genuinely nervous. I thought back to my training from Cody Lundin, and cultivated my "party on" spirit – which involved riding back to the last location where I knew where I was – even with legs about to cramp and no Gu left. Sure enough, that got me back where I needed to go. My 2-hour ride had ballooned to nearly 4 -- but the Mountain Bike Rotorua folks didn’t charge me for the extra time because of the flat.

So is Whakarewarewa Forest the Worst Place in the World to Go Mountain Biking?

Yes. I have a six-hour race the weekend after I get back from New Zealand. All I can think about is how I’m gonna keep from falling asleep of sheer boredom turning laps on this dry, dusty, barren expanse of trails. I mean, I had strep throat a week before my trip. I haven’t been training per se during my two-week trip. But hey – I’m not expected to win. And six hours isn’t that long for the physical effort. But man, mentally it will be hell after riding in the Whakarewarewa Forest. I’ve actually thought about not showing up, but I just can’t bring myself to not do something I signed up to do.

I suppose I’ll get over it and start taking my pleasure in my local rides again. But my wife and I have both the phrase “the next time we’re here” already, and you can bet I’ll have some serious mountain bike plans when that time comes. And may it be sooner than later.

CategoriesFitness

Phoenix Destroys Some of the Nation’s Best Urban Mountain Biking

NOTE: See the updates at the end of the post.

Congratulations, Phoenix. You’ve officially destroyed one of the nation’s best urban mountain biking areas. And you managed to do it on the down-low.

By the time I started mountain biking in 1992, the Papago Park trails were the gathering place for local riders looking for a quick post-work or -class ride. Whether you were new to the sport or one of the fastest racers around, Papago Park was there for you. It was up to the task of being a venue for everything from 12-hour races (edit: I had a case of 12-hour brain when I wrote this … 12 Hours in the Papago stayed in the Tempe and Scottsdale portions of Papago) to ad-hoc races

Phoenix destroys papago trails
That feeling when bureaucrats destroy something awesome in your city.

No longer. Here’s what I’ve been able to find out:

  • Most of the trails on the Phoenix side have been bladed from the singletrack mountain bikers love so much to an eight-foot-wide (just my eyeballed estimate) superhighway. The surface is unpaved and covered in loose pebbles. The berms in the corners are also gone, so forget about sustaining any sort of speed into a corner. In places, there are even slabs of concrete, presumably for drainage.
  • There appears to be no motive.
    Phoenix destroys papago trails
    It’s mountain biking, Jim – but not as we know it.

    No existing trail user benefits from this destruction. My only guess is that this is some bizarre, mishandled effort to improve the area’s

    Phoenix destroys papago trails
    This concrete drainage will not hold up well – as Phoenix could’ve found out if they consulted IMBA or some real trail builders.

    wheelchair accessibility. I could support that – but why destroy the existing asset for the majority of users when a separate wheelchair-accessible trail network is an option? UPDATE: I’ve seen some talk in the Facebook group referenced in a few paragraphs that this might be a way to lure more 5k trail races to Papago.

  • Rumors of Starbucks and other silly money-grab theme parkization (my new word) of Papago Park have been around for quite awhile now. It seems the public heard about this for so long that they stopped believing it, and didn’t monitor the situation closely enough. Notice that the trail destruction happened during the summer months, when most cyclists switch to road biking or head up north to cooler climates. There’s also no news coverage, with this being the closest mention to the topic. There was no signage explaining anything or asking for input.
  • I’m to blame. But so are you. So is every single mountain biker who may have knownabout this, and didn’t expend all energy possible to organizing the people who use and love these trails. This speaks to a need for a far more organized and engaged cycling community. I’d also really like to know what the International Mountain Bicycling Association would say about the quality and sustainability of the new pseudotrails.
  • It’s not too late. Seriously. A Facebook group has formed to mitigate the damage. And imagine if enough of us stand together and demand that Phoenix build new mountain bike specific trails. The business case is there if you look to the progressive thinking of McDowell Mountain Regional Park, which turned itself into a regional draw for cyclists by expanding its trail network. Then-Supervisor Rand Hubbell put McDowell Mountain Regional Park on the national mountain biking map – maybe someone equally intelligent at the city of Phoenix could do the same. Step One: Go find the people who hand-built the Fantasy Island North Singletrack and get them to work their magic at Papago. The result would be even better than the current – sorry, make that former – trails.

Let’s see how Phoenix handles this, and how it explains the lack of public notice. I’d also like to see how they analyzed the trail user groups to figure out whether this would actually benefit anyone.

SOME UPDATES

Ray Stern from the Phoenix New Times is following this situation. Expect balanced, well-researched reporting from him. It’s what he does. And while it’s great to have bloggers and social media users squawking, it’s a huge benefit to haves someone with the time and resources to dig into city documents and present other sides of the story. Not to mention using those resources to right the situation.

Ray’s found that at least one off-road wheelchair user really digs the revamped trail. And some other disabled trail users do, too, judging from the social media conversations. Meanwhile, I think too many mountain bikers are howling “tear it out and make it the way it was” and polishing their pitchforks. I favor a solution that would create something unprecedented: A venue that includes a resource for off-road wheelchair users to have fun and maybe even compete (sign me up as a race volunteer and trailbuilder, already!) and integrates a purpose-built, mountain bike-specific singletrack network. Given FINS and its amazing trail design and execution, this is possible with a minimum of resources. The biggest challenge is finding the political will. And jeez, mountain bikers … stand with disabled trail users, FFS.

CategoriesAdventures

New Estrella Trails a Bit of a Mystery

The people who built the FINS trails in the Estrella community of Southwest Phoenix are up to their old tricks again – but this time, they seem to be building new Estrella trails with the blessing of landowners.

I went out to FINS in late April for one of my rare West Valley forays; it’s a bit of a haul, and the FINS network doesn’t have a whole lot of mileage. But some fun on Kimurel’s Hurl – one-third of a mile of crazy fun complete with wooden bridges – appealed to me that day. I had my GoPro charged and was ready to go.

My day took a turn for the way better after knocking off one lap around the outside perimeter of FINS and run down Kimurel’s Hurl. After that, I struck up a conversation with a dude resting after taking a lap.

estrella trails
A tight switchback at the new Estrella trails.

I always grill locals at FINS. It’s how I find out cool things, which sometimes are enough to turn into stories for mountain bike magazines. This particular stranger clued me into miles of new Estrella trails to the east (see the video to get a look).

As I questioned my new friend, I learned that the FINS crew worked with the people who own the land that comprises the Estrella community. They designed and carved the trails, which are well marked.

But nobody – and I mean nobody – is talking about these new Estrella trails. This is happening on the downlow.

Now, the signage for the new Estrella Trails is far from complete. I would’ve been flailing around without my tour guide. You may have to question a few locals to link everything together. And there’s a giant gap between the southwest end of D-Votion and the FINS network.

Estrella trails
The new Estrella trails are swooping, flowing fun – but some parts require hard work.

I’ll tell you what, though – there’s some fine stuff east of Estrella Mountain Parkway. We’re talking long, grinding climbs. Switchbacks. Tons of options. The kids from the Estrella Foothills High School mountain bike racing team will definitely benefit from these trails. The Wolves have a perfect training ground right in their collective backyard.

D-Votion itself isn’t quite as steep. But it’s full of flow and switchbacks.

Flow – that’s the mysterious quality that reveals who built a trail, isn’t it? When a trail flows, you can bet mountain bikers built it. Or at least had input.

So, two things are on my mind after riding these new Estrella trails.

First, it’s awesome that the developers/landowners see the benefits in engaging trail users.

Second -- why so quiet? What else are these trail builders up to? Why has the Estrella Trails Club website gone offline?

My Spider Sense tingles: You won’t find a map that shows all these trails online yet. The best I found was a half-assed D-Votion map, and one on this page that may plug the hole between D-Votion and FINS -- but it has none of the new stuff to the far east side.. Something is afoot, and these new and untalked-about Estrella trails are just the beginning.

 

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CategoriesAdventures

McDowell Sonoran Preserve Mountain Biking

A year has made a big difference for Scottsdale, the McDowell Sonoran Preserve and its mountain bike trails. Back then, I took my first ride on its new trails near Brown’s Ranch Trailhead. And I had some harsh words.

Since then, the trailhead has opened. Most of the trails have some sort of signage. More trails appear to be under construction. And the ones that are open are setting in decently – meaning some of the loose crushed gravel has given way to the roll of fat tires.

What the McDowell Sonoran Preserve now has is a well-marked and growing trail network that is very scaleable. You can start as a complete beginner with short rides, and take on bigger challenges as your skills and fitness grow. And you can get a very satisfying ride without using the State Trust lands just to the west (you’re supposed to have a permit -- but I don’t know anyone who actually holds a permit.)

So far, so good.

McDowell Sonoran Preserve
A year has done a lot of good for trails near the Brown’s Ranch Trailhead on the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. But the text on those signs is way too small.

But here’s the big question: Is the McDowell Sonoran Preserve game to do what it takes to create world-class mountain bike trails within its borders? Will it take on the regional supremacy of McDowell Mountain Regional Park and its — what, 65-plus miles? — of singletrack? Its pump track, its race course, its amenities?

My bet is "no." I sense NIMBYism at work. My two cents: The people in the nearby million-dollar homes would go to pieces at the mere thought of anything like the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo — and the Mos Eisley Spaceport vibe of its 24-Hour Town — existing within their ZIP code.

That’s a shame. This terrain screams for a few additions that would turn the Brown’s Ranch area into a draw for weekend rides and national-level events. Here’s my wish list for this part of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve:

McDowell Sonoran Preserve
You won’t complain about the McDowell Sonoran Preserve scenery.

1. Add some Fantasy Island-style fun. Both trail networks bearing the Fantasy Island name have an unmatched sense of fun, from wooden ramps to teeter-totters to over-under trail junctions. Scottsdale could also incorporate some splits in the trail. They could accomplish two things: allow faster riders to pass, and also allow a more technical option for advanced riders.

2. Seriously, would a nicely bermed turn now and then be too much to ask? The trail designers either don’t ride, or they are doing everything possible to keep the speeds down. If you’re going to build mountain bike trails in Scottsdale, give them some fun flow!

3. Make the words on the signs bigger, and give it all some contrast. They’re nearly impossible to read without stopping.

4. Provide an online McDowell Sonoran Preserve trail map as good as the printed copy. And knock it off with downloadable PDFs for every little section of the preserve. It’s 2014 – there’s no reason a comprehensive trail map can’t live online.

McDowell Sonoran Preserve
A rattlesnake at the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. Remember, rattlesnakes will only bite you as a last resort. Enjoy them from a distance.

5. The $3.8 million Brown’s Ranch trailhead is needlessly fancy. It’s quite plush. The city could save some money with a more frugal approach. I can assure you that the buildings at McDowell Mountain Regional Park cost a lot less, and get the job done just as well. What Scottsdale did here is -- well, live up to the expectation many people have of Scottsdale — form over function. Spend more on the trail building and design, less on the gateway.

6. Take one of the nearby unimproved McDowell Sonoran Preserve trailheads and set it up as a race venue. I know certain people instrumental in the preserve’s development abhor the idea of people having fun on the trails rather than soaking in all the nature and history. I think city and McDowell Sonoran Preserve officials need to be smarter than that, and to be inclusive. The McDowell Sonoran Preserve trails could raise funds by drawing people for events. They’re just a few improvements away.

  • Teen injured on mountain bike rescued from Scottsdale trail
  • New trailhead opens at McDowell Sonoran Preserve
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CategoriesFitness

Cost of Mountain Biking: What’s it Worth?

cost of mountain biking
Bikes, jerseys, miscellaneous gear … and the experience – irreplaceable.

There’s an endless number of ways to stay fit – and to stave off boredom. But to me, mountain biking is a blend of exercise and fun that is hard to beat, and I have nearly two decades of priceless memories and experiences to convince me.

But if I tried to put a price tag on each ride, what would I find? I crunched a few numbers to figure out the cost of mountain biking. I combined the cost of my gear (and its lifespan), the amount I ride, gas, food and park entries (when applicable). On the conservative side, that’s less than $7 per ride. Yes, seven bucks, or bones, or clams, or whatever you call them.

What does each ride get me? It varies. Some rides might be ho-hum. The very next one gets me a close encounter with a bald eagle or a gila monster. Yet another ride pushes me straight to my limits. Then I’ll do a 12-hour race as a solo rider, and face the choice of whether to go out for another lap as the day winds down.

Get involved in mountain biking, and you’ll drown in enthusiasm, oddly dressed people, camaraderie. You’ll see the bizarre, the sublime and the downright awesome. You’ll be baptized in energy drink, and eat the Clif Bar communion wafer. It’s not all a love-fest, I admit – there are plenty of jerks on mountain bikes. But they can’t spoil the experience for me.

Want to figure it out for yourself? Tally how much all the gear from your last ride set you back. Total the bike, the socks, the shorts, the energy gels, the gas to get there. Figure out how long you expect the big items to last, how many times you ride each year, and divide by the total. That’ll give you some idea of what your cost of mountain biking.

Feel free to post your per-ride cost of mountain biking. And answer this question: Why is your ride worth the price to you?

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CategoriesfeaturedFitness

Boost Your Mountain Bike Cred – 6 Easy Steps

mountain bike cred (Photo credit: Malingering)
This guy’s beard would get him major mountain bike cred. (Photo credit: Malingering)

Mountain biking can make you look cool. You don’t even have to be fast or even good at it. Just learn which style buttons to push. Follow this advice and trick everyone into thinking you’re a mountain bike Bodhisattva.

Ride an unsuspended single-speed 29er – Who needs fancy gadgets to soften the ride? Just roll over everything with your big wheels. And gears? Forget ‘em. They’re noisy, heavy, finicky. The older and more battered your ride, the better. I promise not to tell anyone that your usual ride only goes as far as Starbucks. Your secret is safe with me.

Grow a great big bushy beard – Nothing enhances mountain bike cred like rampant facial hair. It confers wisdom … and the requisite lack of personal hygiene. You’re no wage slave – but a man of the mountains. Bonus points for adding dreadlocks to the equation.

Live in your vehicle … which should be cheaper than your bike – A ratty old VW Minibus is the gold standard, naturally. But if you can shoehorn your bike and other worldly possessions into into an AMC Gremlin, so much the better.

mountain bike cred
1974 AMC Gremlin – a fly hoopty to build your mountain bike cred. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Speak in silly mountain biker lingo – "Wicked" must be your standard adjective. Pair it with words like "gnar-gnar" and "shred." Hell, make up your own words. If other mountain bikers can’t understand what you say, they’ll think you’re that much more plugged in. Instant mountain bike cred bonus!

Claim orphan status – You’ll be far less cool if people know mom and dad still have you hooked up to the cash tap. Claim you never knew your parents (which might be true, from a certain point of view). Deny your country club, gated-community roots or prepare to be forever shackled with the "Trustafarian" label.

Wear a roadie-style cycling cap everywhere – Under your helmet, over your dreads, in the shower, to bed at night. You’ll get bonus points if it’s from a defunct team from the last days of some breakaway ex-Soviet republic.

I originally wrote this for the Trailsedge.com blog. Since that blog is now kaput, I figured it would be a travesty if I failed to give newer readers a look at this fun content.

  • Have we reached peak beard?
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CategoriesAdventuresTravel

Prescott Mountain Bike Trails – A Mixed Bag

prescott mountain bike trails
My day on the Prescott Circle Trail was pretty muddy.

It’s been years since I last sampled the Prescott mountain bike trails. I’d been a camp counselor there one summer, but that seems like eons ago. A few things I noticed recently made me want to visit again: A news article that said "Prescott is powering its way onto the national mountain-biking map," and news of a trail circling the entire city that will be 50 miles long when it’s finished.

I dropped into Prescott in mid-July to sample the Prescott Circle Trail System. It was a perfect Sunday for mountain biking – clouds and intermittent drizzle! Balm for a sun-baked Phoenician’s soul. In a nutshell, the notion that Prescott is even remotely, tangentially close to being a national mountain bike destination is a combination of homerism and public relations spin from mountain bike event organizers. Prescott has stepped up its game, yes. Good. But it has a lot of work to do before it’s even playing the same sport as Flagstaff, much less in the same league.

prescott mountain bike trails
The Turley Trail is part of the Prescott Circle Trail.

Let’s break my ride down to show you what I mean. Be sure to watch the video at the end!

Find the Hidden Trailhead
I found a handy map on the City of Prescott website. I found a Prescott Great Circle Trail System trailhead and named it my starting point. I figured out how I could snake around the trails and wind up somewhere on the west side of the city before using streets and urban trails to return to my car.

Well, finding the trailhead was a bitch. The city considers this Prescott mountain bike trail a real asset, I suppose – but it’s not easy to find. Contrast that to Fountain Hills, where you start getting guidance to the trailhead four miles away. I found the Turley Trail buried in a neighborhood down a gated one-lane road. But hey, at least I found it.

Turning the Wheels

prescott mountain bike trails
The Turley Trail is here somewhere …


The first half-mile or so went pretty well. The Turley Trail dips, dives and weaves around with some short, steep power climbs. Not bad. Then, things got ugly.

What do I mean? Well, I lost track of all the fallen trees I carried my bike over. Portions of the Turley Trail have terrible drainage, while others have large chunks of rock protruding from the ground. It seems great for hiking – but for four miles, it’s utter, abject crap for mountain biking. If this is supposed to be part of a signature Prescott mountain bike trail network, it has to be better.

At one point, a mess of downed trees obliterates the trail. I backtracked a few times searching for the Turley Trail (watch for an area that looks like someone gave the forest a Brazilian wax job, and you’ll know navigational challenges are afoot).

prescott mountain bike trails
A cool spot along Trail 396 (I think)

I eventually connected to Forest Road 9854, which swoops downhill if you turn right. The rainfall made the trail a big slick, and coated my tires in mud. The tires passed the mud along to me and my bike. Kind of novel, really! Speaking of tires, skinny slick racing tires might not be your best bet. Consider a meatier tread when you hit these steeper, rockier Prescott mountain bike trails.

The forest road eventually meets up with the Senator Highway. And just across the two lanes of pavement -- you’ll find Trail 396.

The Real-Deal Prescott Mountain Bike Trails

Trail 396 and its offshoots are more-than-legit Prescott mountain bike trails.
Swooping turns, nice scenery, good trail markings. You’ll get that Luke Skywalker flying through Beggar’s Canyon feeling. The 396 will give you more than a few options. Stick with it, and watch for the turn to Trail 395. I took the 374 to the 373 – they dumped me off on White Spar Road with no sign of more trail. Had I picked the 395, I would’ve crossed White Spar Road and found the Prescott Circle Trail continue on the 941S.

prescott mountain bike trails
Finally, more “wheee!” and less woe on the Prescott Circle Trail.

That error cheated me out of a few more miles of singletrack. A sign saying "this way to the Prescott Circle Trail" would’ve been really nice, Prescott. And you know, it’s exactly the sort of thing a destination "on the national mountain-biking map" would have.

Slinking Back to Town
Alright, I didn’t find the 941S, and it was getting late. So I took White Spar Road back to town hoping to maybe catch another glimpse of trail. White Spar has no bike lane, by the way. Another strike against Prescott’s talk of being on the national mountain-biking map. I didn’t find any Prescott mountain bike trails as I headed back toward Whiskey Row.

prescott mountain bike trails
Who gave this part of the Turley Trail a Brazilian?

I recalled that Ironclad Bicycles was on White Spar. I stopped there hoping for directions to some easily accessible Prescott mountain bike trails. But its Sunday hours are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. – to late to drop in before your ride starts, to early to drop in after. So, kind of useless business hours for visiting mountain bikers.

I found a short urban trail system and a pump track. The urban trails are short, but the pump track was a bit of fun.

Eventually, I headed up Gurley to pedal back up to my car. On the roads.

Off the Bike
I made my inaugural stop at Granite Mountain Brewery, where I had a pretty good milk stout and a panini. As a homebrewer, I love small breweries. And the three-barrel setup here qualifies as small. But the staff wasn’t up for much beer small talk – or much talk of any sort (UPDATE: I made a visit in January 2014, and the food was better and the staff far more friendly. Don’t miss this place!). Still, it’s not as spastic as Prescott Brewing Company, though I’ll give props for its Chocopalypse porter.

Prescott Circle Trail
The Wild Iris coffeehouse is THE place to end a ride. Or start one …

My final stop was the Wild Iris coffeehouse, where I had a very nice shot of espresso and a cookie. The staff has a friendly attitude in addition to making good espresso – and it’s a soothing place to hang out. Some places just have that indefinable vibe -- and Wild Iris is one of them. It’s exactly the sort of place I want to hang out after a day on the Prescott mountain bike trails.

Prescott Mountain Bike Trails Bottom Line

Prescott has a lot of potential to be a better mountain bike destination. It’s definitely better than it used to be, and that is exactly its greatest enemy: comparing it to itself. The Prescott mountain bike trails are a mixed bag from stupid to sublime, even on the Prescott Circle Trail network. Prescott needs to connect the pieces, commit to consistent trail design and provide far-better signage. And it absolutely must resist the temptation of boastful hometown braggadocio that leads to undeserved hype.

I look forward to coming back and checking out more of the Prescott Circle Trail. When it’s complete, it should offer a lot of opportunity … but again, some sections need work.

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CategoriesFitnessGear

Mountain Bike Upgrades – Beginner’s Help

mountain bike upgrades
Budget friendly, trail ready – the Airborne Goblin (Photo: twentynineinches.com).

One thing I notice about new mountain bikers: They can’t wait to make some mountain bike upgrades. They start salivating over new bits, from stems and derailleurs to suspension forks and wheelsets. I’ve seen this in a few online conversations lately.

But question Number One shouldn’t be “what’s the best upgrade to my mountain bike?” It should be “is this bike worth upgrading?” I’m going to use two different bikes as real-world examples to answer this question: The $600 Diamondback Overdrive (because a beginner I spoke to recently has one) and the $1,200 Airborne Goblin (a solid budget off-road racer).

Here are a few questions beginner mountain bikers should ask before splashing cash on mountain bike upgrades:

mountain bike upgrades
Clipless pedals – one of those great mountain bike upgrades you can swap between bikes. (Credit: PavanGPD)

1. Is this frame actually meant for off-road riding?

Some bikes look like mountain bikes. But they’re not really meant for off-road riding. They have the fat tires and stout-looking frames -- but the dimensions of the frame are all wrong. Instead of long top tubes and aggressive angles that allow quick handling and good power transfer, they have a high center of gravity and short wheelbase. I expected the Overdrive to be a faux-mountain bike based on its angles. Surprise! They’re not that different from the Goblin (View a few key specs here).
So, these bikes are close enough in design that either should give you true mountain bike handling characteristics.

mountain bike upgrades
If your suspension fork is your bike’s weak link, the X-Fusion Slide 29 RL2 is the mountain bike upgrade for you.

2. Is this a high-quality frame?

Look, you can do all sorts of cool stuff to a Geo Metro to make it better, faster, cooler. But at the end of it all, you’re still stuck with a Geo Metro. Very few mountain bikes at the lower price points will have super high-quality frames. Both the Diamondback and the Airborne are made from 6000-series aluminum tubing. That’s all we know. I have no clue which frame factory produced these. The Airborne’s claimed frame weight is 4 pounds – decent, but not likely to inspire many epic heavy metal concept albums.

On this question, it’s a wash for either bike. I simply don’t have the information to say either frame is definitely better than the other. All things being equal, both seem worth some mountain bike upgrades. At the end of it all, though, I still don’t think upgrading the Diamondback bit-by-bit is a very cost-effective strategy.

3. How much of the original components do I need to replace?

Aside from the frame, the fork and wheels are some of the most important mountain bike upgrades. Let’s start with the Airborne: I’ve ridden for 20 years -- epic singletrack races, 12- and 24-hour races, all that stuff. The only thing I’d change immediately on the Airborne would be the wheelset and the saddle. Otherwise, it’s solid. The Rock Shox Reba fork is excellent, as are the SRAM drivetrain and the Avid Elixir 7 hydraulic disc brakes. The stem, handlebars and other minor bits are house-branded components – nothing fancy, but good enough.

On the other hand, I don’t even know where to start with the Diamondback. The fork, brakes and wheels are pretty bargain-basement. Let’s say I did all these mountain bike upgrades: $350 for an X-Fusion Slide 29 RL2; $250 for Avid Elixir 5 brakes; $250 for a decent but low-budget SRAM/WTB tubeless wheelset; $140 for decent tires for said wheelset; $70 for a Stan’s tubeless kit. That’s $950 in upgrades -- without touching the shifters, derailleurs or crankset. Another $200, and you’re in an entirely new bike.

4. OK, so how can I upgrade my mountain bike sensibly?

Tires, for sure. High-quality tires are lighter and give you a better ride. Also, consider clipless pedals and shoes – you can easily transfer those to your next bike when you’ve ridden your current bike to death. They’ll give more power to your pedal stroke and improve your handling.

At this point, the best upgrades will be off bike -- a quality helmet, good shorts, gloves, hydration gear and a tool kit. Get all that. Ride your current bike like crazy – determine its limitations, hone your skills and save your money for your next bike.

Diamondback Overdrive: $600
20-inch Large
Top-tube length – 24.5 inches
Head-tube angle/Seat-tube angle: 71/73

Airborne Goblin: $1,200
20-inch Large
TT – 24.4
Head-tube angle/Seat-tube angle: 71/74

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CategoriesAccommodationsAdventuresFitnessTravel

What Would You Do With $3,000?

travel to new zealand
With trails like this, why wouldn’t you want to ride in Rotorua, NZ? (Credit: www.flowmountainbike.com)

A few weeks ago, I paged through the latest Mountain Flyer magazine and saw a review of the Foundry Broadaxe mountain bike.The base-level Broadaxe will set you back $2,950. That’s a hefty chunk of change. The Mountain Flyer writer describes the Broadaxe as "more capable than I would have imagined."

Look, if I drop $3,000 on a bike, I expect its biggest limitation to be me. I’d be appalled by a $3K bike that isn’t excellent. And it made me think of how a bike can be the smallest part of the mountain bike experience.

I started to think about what I’d do if someone handed me $3,000 with the condition that I spend it on something bike-related. Here’s my answer … and I’d love to hear yours in the comments.

travel to new zealand
Check out the trails near Auckland.

The last thing I’d spend my money on is another bike. I have two great bikes. And great as they are, they’re not the endgame. They’re the means to the endgame of great experiences. So I’d seek a great experience -- I’d travel to New Zealand and ride the trails near Auckland and Rotorua, which has great scenery and riding. I’d love to include Queenstown, but that would eat away at my budget and time.

travel to New Zealand
You can now grab a flight to New Zealand on Hawaiian Airlines. (Photo by Dylan Ashe)

First step: Find a flight from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. This overgrown regional airport has one intercontinental flight per day. But Hawaiian Airlines recently started service from Honolulu to Auckland -- and Hawaiian flies direct from Sky Harbor to Honolulu. I can skip the Los Angeles International Airport chaos and still travel to New Zealand. And I’d get to spend about a day hanging out in Honolulu before my connecting flight to Auckland on the outbound flight. Some people might like to split the trip into two flights, but I love long flights. A bonus – I’d finally get to fly Hawaiian Airlines, which has a reputation as one of the best U.S. carriers. But I’d be deprived of a flight on the Air New Zealand 777, which is one nice airplane. The Hawaiian Airlines bottom line is too attractive to pass, though: $1,212 for a round trip leaving Dec. 4 and returning Dec. 17.

travel to new zealand
You can rent a Yeti 575 in New Zealand – not a bad ride!

Next, hotels!

This is late spring/early summer in New Zealand – peak season! My standby, Anns Volcanic, was booked for weeks around my proposed date. But the YHA Rotorua website shows all sorts of options. A room with double beds and a private bathroom ("ensuite" in the local parlance) is $44 NZ. I should be able to match that rate at a similar hostel in Auckland, which also has great trails. That’s $550 NZ. And with the exchange rate? That turns into $465 US. Tack on $100 for a basic hotel in Hawaii during the layover, and that’s $565 US.

That leaves bike rental -- or bike hire, as it’s called in New Zealand. Hardtails are around $60 NZ a day, with dualies as high as $150 NZ. There’s a place that rents Yeti 575s from $75 a day. Factor in a price break for multi-day rental, the occasional day off the trails and I came up with a conservative budget of $541 US in bike rentals. That’s based on eight days of rental out of 11 full days on the ground. The days off are for other fun stuff like hiking, loafing and local flavors of adventure sports like the Zorb and Schweeb at The Agrodome, one of my favorite places ever.

Total? $2,318 US – with cash left over for meals, transportation and visits to places like the Agrodome.

To me, this beats the pants off a new bike, even something as cool as a Foundry Broadaxe (and make no mistake, it’s pretty sweet). Every bike wears out or gets less cool as new products roll out. But awesome days of adventure? They live forever.

This post contains affiliate links.

 

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CategoriesGear

Mountain Bike Reviews – Why They Suck

mountain bike review, x-fusion
The often-ignored X-Fusion Slide 29 RL2 gets some love on this site.

I hate mountain bike reviews. I hate them in magazines. I hate them on websites. And I double-dog hate them in podcasts.

But, but, but -- I do love quality mountain bike gear. I’m the target audience for mountain bike gear reviews. Why do I hate them so? Let’s count the reasons:

Most mountain bike reviews are less about gear and more about the author. Gear reviewers plunge into JargonVille to convince readers that they know their stuff. They spend valuable space saying "hey, I can use all sorts of barely comprehensible language. So I’m worthy of this gig, and you should believe me!" And many vomit up a bunch of marketing language from the manufacturer. The result? I skip most of the middle.

Those who write mountain bike reviews have lost all sense of perspective. I recently saw a review of a $600+ wheelset that the reviewer considers "mid-priced." And I’ve seen too many $3,000 bikes called "reasonably priced" lately. That’s a hefty bit of bucks, bones, clams or whatever you call them. But magazines and many websites are advertiser driven, so they have to do everything to convince advertisers that they can influence YOU, the reader, to spend spend spend. Part of the strategy? An ever-rising line of what’s considered a moderate price.

mountain bike reviews, Clarks Skeletal disc brakes.
Clarks Skeletal disc brakes – they deserve a flogging that the mainstream mountain bike media never delivered.

I haven’t run into a mountain bike review that tells me the bottom line: how Product X will make my ride better or make me better. Is this a product that a racer needs that just might make her edge that other person in the pro class, that one who’s just as good as she is? Or is this something that will make you sweat less about maintenance, and remove a barrier that might prevent you from squeezing in a ride each week? Or is this something that will make you able to ride in a new way that you haven’t been able to tap into yet? That’s what I want from the bottom line of mountain bike gear reviews.

Most of the better-known publications and sites play it safe with mountain bike reviews. They stick to the big, expensive items from the well-known manufacturers. I’ll give props to Mountain Flyer magazine here. Yes, it has many of the usual suspects. But I’ve also run into below-the-radar offerings like the Foundry Broadaxe and REEB Bicycles in its pages. I like that spirit of discovery, and more magazines and sites need to find those up-and-comers. (Hint: It’s no coincidence that some of those new players also spend less on advertising and have fewer products to send for review) But I’d also like to see more gear reviews from varied price points. And here’s a great example: Dirt Rag previewed a set of Clarks Skeletal disc brakes … and never delivered the full review (If you have evidence otherwise, send it my way – I never saw it). Why? Because magazines are afraid to publish bad mountain bike reviews – unlike me!

Here I am complaining about mountain bike reviews – and now here I am pitching in with my own solution: When I write reviews here, I will keep them free of ridiculous jargon. I will tell you whether it’s a luxury product or a true must-have. I will keep a sense of perspective. And I’ll try very hard to find products that everyone overlooks … and that offer a good value.

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CategoriesFitnessGear

Bike Gear I’ll Never Buy Again

The Specialized Comp shoe looks good, but has room for improvement.
The Specialized Comp shoe looks good, but has room for improvement.

Sometimes, I cross the fine line between brilliant bargain hunter and mere low-rent cheapskate. And it usually happens with mountain bike products. Here’s my list of mountain bike gear that’s burned me the worst.

Specialized Shoes
After 10 years with a pair of Sidi Dominator 3 mountain bike shoes, it was time to get a new pair. I was hoping for a bargain, so I picked up a pair of Specialized Comp bike shoes. You can read my full review for all the dirt. Bottom line? Weak ratchets and a plastic-like feel that never seemed to mold to my foot like the Sidi Dominator 3.

You could say I saved $60 by buying the Specialized Comp bike shoes. But I think I set $140 on fire when I should’ve just bought the updated Sidi Dominator 4 in the first place.

 

Stay away from Clarks Skeletal disc brakes.
Stay away from Clarks Skeletal disc brakes.

Clarks Brakes
I was skeptical of disc brakes at first, and I whinged when I had to bring home a bike that had the Hayes Nine hydraulic disc brake. My skepticism didn’t last but a ride.

When it came time to slowly gather parts for a new bike, I realized that hydraulic disc brakes are a big chunk of change to buy separately  Then I heard about a special deal on Clarks Skeletal disc brakes. There wasn’t much buzz about them – kind of like when I bought my first Santa Cruz Heckler way back in the pre-Superlight days. This was another chance to lead the way in finding something new!

Um, no. The Clarks Skeletal brake levers rattle like skeletons shagging on a harpsichord. Their stopping power is far below the generations-old Hayes 9 brakes, and far inferior to the Avid Elixir 5 brakes on my Santa Cruz Superlight. Never again.

Cytomax
For years, Cytomax kept my soreness and dehydration at bay. I loved the tropical fruit flavor. It was my gold standard.

A little more than a year ago, I picked up a new can of Cytomax. Mixed a bottle, froze it, hit the trails and took a drink. And nearly spit it right back out. Something tasted weird. And not in a way I could tolerate. Well, it turns out that Champion Nutrition added the sweetener Stevia to the ingredients. Sure, it’s plant based -- but I’m suspicious of low-cal sweeteners. Mind you, I didn’t know about the switch when I drank it. I detected the off flavor, researched and found out about the Stevia switch. So, see ya, Cytomax. These days, I’m in the middle of experimenting with Gu Brew, Nuun (bring back my cola flavor!) and Skratch Labs.

MagicShine Lights

For awhile, the MagicShine lights were THE hot pick for bargain hunters. Cue a battery recall, and everything just went down the crapper. The main MagicShine dudes, Geomangear.com, even went out of business. Look, I’m convinced light systems are overpriced. But even at the low prices of the MagicShine racer’s specials, they were still more TragicShine (or MagicShite?) than MagicShine. I hate to say it, but you have to lay out cash for good lights. And if you mountain bike at night, you need something you can count on. Nightrider, Lupine … stick with the big guys like them.

 

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CategoriesBlogging/WritingFitness

4 Dirty Lies Mountain Bikers Tell Bike Mechanics

This guy has heard all the lies mountain bikers and roadies tell.

Bike mechanics know when mountain bikers have abused or neglected their bikes – just like the dentist can tell that your choppers haven’t seen floss for the last four years. Here are some of the least-believable lines mountain bikers can spring on your local mechanic.

"I was just riding along!"

Your head tube is crumpled, and wood chips are embedded in the creased metal. Yet somehow your front wheel is just fine. The mechanic knows you weren’t innocently cruising along on a sidewalk. The truth? You forgot your bike was on the roof rack, and you drove into the garage. This happens to mountain bikers more often than you’d expect. No warranty frame replacement for you!

"I just put that tube in two days ago, and it popped!"

Flats happen. And thorny flora isn’t scared of new tubes. Any sort of rubber designed to hold air is a crapshoot. Quit trying to say it’s the tube’s fault. Pony up for a new tube and the mechanic’s time. Besides, all mountain bikers should know how to fix their own flats. Oh, and we also know that tires rarely “pop.”

"My friend tried to fix this for me."

If you’ve used this line, you’ve probably said to your physician "I have a friend, and he’s really interested in trying Viagra. I mean, he doesn’t have any problems -- he’s just curious about what will happen. Do you have any samples?"

Any good mechanic can tell when mountain bikers have monkeyed with their derailleur travel set screws, loosened the wrong bolts, hosed their chain with WD40 or sliced their chainstay with a hacksaw to remove the chain. There’s nothing wrong with learning to maintain your bike. But get some help from your local mechanic -- and come clean when your experiments go wrong.

"Um, my wife got it for me."

You walk into the bike shop with a shiny piece of bike bling that you ordered online. It’s pretty and new, but the wrong size. Your blubber out a sob story about how your wife got it here as a birthday gift, but picked the wrong part and lost the receipt. Your goal: Talk the shop into exchanging it -- and installing it -- for free. Legions of mountain bikers have already used the "blame the wife" trick. Don’t expect anyone to fall for it, and don’t deny it when you get called on the carpet.

I originally wrote this for the Trailsedge.com blog. Since that blog is now kaput, I figured it would be a travesty if I failed to give newer readers a look at this fun content.

  • J.r.a.
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CategoriesGear

X-Fusion 29er Fork – Slide 29 Gear Review -UPDATED

The group-think that can plague mountain bike culture led me to the new X-Fusion 29er fork. Many riders think you have to ride a 29er; you have to be on Strava. And of course, you absolutely must ride a RockFoxZocchi. (SCROLL TO BOTTOM FOR AN UPDATE)

Which is ridiculous. There are great alternatives out there, and I’ve uncovered one of the best deals in mountain bike forks in the X-Fusion Shox Slide 29 RL2.

Why Be Different?

So, why not skip the X-fusion 29er fork and just get a Fox? Fox makes great mountain bike forks. I’ve ridden a Fox Float R for six years and had it rebuilt once.

Well, the cheapest Fox fork I could find was $600 – more than I wanted to lay out for building my Raleigh XXIX frame into a belt-drive singlespeed mountain bike. You can pick up an X-Fusion 29er fork for about $400 – a great deal for a mountain bike fork. That’s enough extra clams to get a GoPro Helmet Hero so you can make bad mountain bike videos.

A side view of the X-Fusion Slide 29 RL2 on my Raleigh XXIX, X-fusion 29er
A side view of the X-Fusion Slide 29 RL2 on my Raleigh XXIX

Setting Up the X-fusion 29er 

I have a good home shop. But no headset press. I turned to a local shop for installation. Good thing, too – the tapered steerer tube combined awkwardly with the Cane Creek headset I planned to use. There was friction while turning the handlebar, and we couldn’t adjust it out. The shop staff put in a Chris King NoThreadSet as an experiment. The result? No friction. A bigger hit in the wallet. But I at least wound up with a cool gold headset.

I guessed at air pressure based on the manual’s 50-150 PSI range. I put it at 100, figuring it might be slightly soft. Did I do the whole bike geek "put a zip tie on the stanchion tube and get on the bike and see if it sags 20 percent into its travel"? Hell, no. The bike stand isn’t real life. Make an educated guess. Take your mountain bike for a ride. Bring a shock pump. Fork blows through its travel? Add some air. You bounce around like a Ping-Pong ball on ice? Let some air out. Done.

Let’s Ride!

On my first ride aboard the newly built Raleigh XXIX, I had questions. Do I have the Gates Carbon Drive Dialed in? Did I install the Stan’s tubeless conversion right? And will this crazy X-Fusion 29er fork detonate into a thousand pieces?

X-Fusion-BIKE Mag Ad, X-fusion 29er

Eight rides in, I’m alive. Looking forward to my next ride. Happy that I didn’t shell out 30 percent more moolah for -- a difference in performance that’s indistinguishable from my Fox FLOAT R. The 100 pounds of air pressure was on the money. I backed off a click on the rebound damping, and the fork was dialed.

Oil marks on the stanchion tubes tell me I’m getting a lot of the X-Fusion Slide 29 RL’s 100mm of travel (it also comes in 80- and 120-mm). But no harsh bottoming. No wiggly steering performance. What’s not to like?

Niggles and Nitpicks

The Slide 29 emits a conspicuous hiss when I smack it into a square-edged obstacle. It reminds me a bit of air-sprung shocks of an earlier era that were notorious for the hiss (Old-timers will remember  "Amp-physema"). But my air pressure checks show no noticeable drop in air pressure. So the air is staying put.

Also, the Slide 29 stanchion tubes attract gunk more than my Fox Float R. That might mean seals with a sloppier tolerance. Or I could be a fork hypochondriac.

The decals will look thrashed in a few months. I’ll probably wind up peeling them off, rubbing the residue off and winding up with a Spinal Tap "how much more black could it be?" look.

Where Do They Go Now?

After just short of two months, I like my X-Fusion 29er fork a lot. I hope I still like it as much after six months – if I do, I’ll say "Buy without Reservations". It looks good now, but time will tell. Right now, I ride my Raleigh XXIX and come home happy. That’s what it’s all about.

A close-up of the X-Fusion Slide 29 RL2, X-fusion 29er
A close-up of the X-Fusion Slide 29 RL2

The hard part is in X-Fusion’s court. It has to make a case with bike manufacturers’ product manager to get spec’d on bikes. They need to make a performance case and a business case. With the brand loyalty and economic power of Fox, Rock Shox et al, that could be difficult.

X-FUSION 29er UPDATE NOV. 9, 2013

A problem cropped up with my X-Fusion Slide 29 RL2. Here’s what I sent to X-Fusion:

Hi there. I’ve been riding a Slide 29 RL2 since February. It’s been a great fork, but I have a problem and wanted to see what you’d recommend. 

Here’s the situation: I did some work on my brakes yesterday, and had to remove the caliper from the threaded mount on the fork. The problem occurred when I re-installed the caliper. As I was tightening one of the bolts, I felt it something give and I could tell that somehow the threads had stripped. I removed the bolt and sure enough had some metal come out. Before I started tightening, I had the bolt lined up properly and there was no unusual resistance that would indicate cross-threading. 
If this info helps, I was using an old set of Hayes 9 hydraulic discs. I’ve also attached some photos. Do you have any advice that can get this fork back on the trail?
X-Fusion replied with advice to use a longer bolt on the affected mount. That’s a workable solution since only a few millimeters of thread are damaged. If more of the threads were trashed, we’d be in real trouble. The mounts are molded into the fork’s lowers, unlike the mounts on my Rock Shox fork (its mounts bolt to the lowers). So if this problem gets worse, I’m looking at a new set of lowers. Not really ideal. My guess is that the molded lowers let X-Fusion keep the price a bit lower. But it might be worth a few extra clams to have removable mounts.
Oh, and X-Fusion responded to my question within hours. I deducted points for the molded-in mounts on the Slide 29 RL2 (a factor I hadn’t considered before). But the company earned points back for being responsive.
  • 20 Signs You’re Addicted to Mountain Biking
CategoriesGear

5 Tips to Make a Mountain Bike Video That Doesn’t Suck

santa cruza superlight, pima & dynamite, mountain biking, arizona, adventure bicycle company, wandering justin
My bike, ready to roll video at Pima & Dynamite.

Someone just posted a 17-minute mountain bike video on YouTube. It’s a painful slog through a trail – one camera angle The.Whole.Damn.Time. This sucks. And there is entirely too much of this visual colon exam brand of suck on YouTube, Vimeo and the rest.

It doesn’t have to be this way. I’m no film maker. I don’t even play one on TV. But I can tell you how to make a mountain bike video that doesn’t suck.

Tell a Story
Are you making a video just because you bought a GoPro Helmet Hero? Woah. Slow your roll. Think. Would you watch a movie because Sam Raimi or Quentin Tarantino just bought a new camera? Even if the answer is "maybe," you didn’t direct Army of Darkness or Pulp Fiction.

So before you pop that camera into a helmet mount, think. What about your ride could be interesting? First time on a particular trail? Your longest ride ever? A really cool race? Did your favorite trail just get a maintenance facelift?

Find the story … and tell it.

I'm ready for my close up.
I’m ready for my close up.

Vary Your Camera Angles
The video I mentioned above? One single solitary view: straight ahead. What a god-awful snoozefest. Whether the terrain is forest, desert, tundra or sewer tunnels, one viewpoint makes for dullness.

What can you do? Well, here are some of my go-to angles:
-Handlebar, facing straight. I always show a little front tire for perspective.
-Helmet.
-Handlebar, facing to the side and showing hand and brake lever.
-Handlebar, pointing down to show the fork. Great for technical bits.
-Handlebar, facing rider. Always good to get a person.
-Seatpost facing rear. Awesome for passing people!
-Seatpost facing front. Definitely shakes things up.
-Have a friend with a helmet cam. Mo’ angles, mo’ riders, mo’ fun!

If you whine "But that’s a lot of work during a ride, and I don’t want to hold anyone up" -- then don’t make your movie during that ride. Go with some people who don’t care (every movie needs stars) about some delays. Yeah, it takes some time to move the camera around. Or you can have a bike with SRAM 9.0 instead of XO and maybe an X-Fusion fork instead of a Fox – that way, you can afford three Helmet Hero cameras and not have to switch so much!

Keep Each Bit Short
I rarely show one clip for longer than 10 seconds. I keep most clips at 3-6 seconds. I also try to vary the camera angle every 3 clips or so. This keeps it all from getting monotonous.

Just forkin' around.
Just forkin’ around.

Font Something Once in Awhile
Flash some text on the screen. It can be something informative, funny, insulting, whatever. It’s just a nice way to add something extra to the story you’re telling.

Shorter is Better
If you are guilty of making a 15-minute mountain bike movie with a helmet cam, do me a favor: Invite a bunch of random people over. Sit them down and make them watch your opus. Within 60 seconds, people will be playing "Words with Friends" on their smart phones, squirming in their seat and looking for rafters in your ceiling so they can hang themselves by their belt.

But if you apply all the rest of these tips and jam it into a sub-5-minute package, they’ll ask when the sequel is coming out.

Have you seen an amateur mountain bike video that you love? Link to it in the comments!

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CategoriesFitnessGear

3 Awesome Things People do to Mountain Bikes – Part 1

Use Simple Green instead of WD40 to get your chain and cassette clean!
Use Simple Green, t-shirts and brushes to get your chain and cassette clean!

Awhile ago, I posted 6 Horrible Things People Do to Mountain Bikes. Let’s flip it the the positive side – here are some awesome things people do to and for their bikes. This list is for new folks -- most longtime riders probably know this stuff. But if they’ve forgotten and it refreshes their memory, so much the better.

Add your thoughts in the comments, including your experience with these tips or what I missed. I plan to do a future post -- "XXX More Awesome Things People do to Their Bikes." If I include your tip, I’ll credit you and link to your blog or the site of your choice.

Pay Attention to the Chain
A bike’s chain needs attention. It needs to stay clean and lubed. I usually clean mine with a combination of old t-shirts, toothbrushes, a Park GSC-1 gear brush and Simple Green. That lineup also lets me care for the derailleur pulley wheels and the gaps between rear cogs (I know, I’ve just gone beyond the chain -- but while you’ve got the tools out, might as well hit it all). From there, I use a decent lube. I dab a drop on each link and spin the gears while shifting for a few moments. I’ll let it all sit awhile, then come back with one of those old t-shirts to wipe the chain of excess lube.

And change the chain completely every so often. Bike shops have a tool that can tell you when the chain is starting to stretch too much. My rule of thumb: A new chain every 6 months is good for enthusiastic riders. If you’re diving in whole-hog, think about a chain every four months. It’s relatively cheap insurance – ride around with a stretched-out chain, and you just might have to change your cogs and chainrings, too. That’s ‘cause the stretched chain will cause oddball wear on those surfaces, and a new chain won’t mesh quite right with the remaining metal.

I love my WTB Vigo saddle. But you might not - try before you buy whenever possible.
I love my WTB Vigo saddle. But you might not – try before you buy whenever possible.

Dial in the Fit
Your bike might be better than you realize – you just might have to set up all wrong for your body. Manufacturers try to make bikes fit a broad range of people. But hey, we’re all individuals. Get some help from a knowledgeable shop. A fit expert might see ways to make the bike fit you, rather than make you fit the bike. That can mean a different stem or changing the length of your crankarms -- or something cheap and simple as changing your saddle height or angle by a few millimeters.

A good fit can be pricey – I’ve seen some as high as $200, without the parts. But it could make you like your bike that much better. And you’ll have some knowledge for your next bike purchase -- you might get a better deal swapping the stock parts out for different lengths/sizes at the time of purchase.

Take Care of Your Ass
Newer riders always, always, always complain about their asses being raw. It’s part of the deal. But you can make it a bit better. First, get yourself some good bike shorts. Don’t skimp – there’s a world of difference between $40 bike shorts and an $80 bike shorts. More expensive models have more panels to fit formly to your undercarriage. The padded part – aka chamois – is also nicer in the more expensive shorts. Disclosure – I’m talking about form-fitting shorts here. I know nothing about baggy shorts. I don’t roll that way.

OK, now let’s talk saddles. This is a tough proposition. There are dozens of companies making dozens of legit saddles. Each will be just right for someone, but not for everyone. Borrow your buddy’s saddle, if possible. Or see if your local shop has a loaner program.

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CategoriesAdventuresFitnessGear

The Mountain Bike That Changed Everything

santa cruza superlight, pima & dynamite, mountain biking, arizona, adventure bicycle company, wandering justin
I couldn’t find a photo of my most-important bike ever. So you just get a photo of the best bike I’ve ever owned. Both are black, though my Balance had all sorts of 90s-required blue anodized bits.

There’s one mountain bike that made my life better.

It didn’t have any carbon fiber or hydraulic disc brakes. Its only suspension was my arms and legs. No clipless pedals. Just 21 speeds.

So what’s so great about it? It was my first real mountain bike. I learned to love mountain biking a year earlier … I’d ride my psuedo-mountain bike to classes at ASU during my freshman year. My roommate was a mountain biker, as were a girl on the fifth floor of my dorm and one of my classmates in a low-level engineering class. Between them all, I got my intro to real mountain biking.

I returned for my sophomore year on a shiny black Balance. Chromoly steel frame, a full Shimano DX group, real off-road geometry for efficient pedaling and agile handling. It was made to be a police bike, but somehow wound up at Bicycle Ranch near my house. Bit by bit, I upgraded it.

More importantly, it upgraded me. It was sturdier than my first bike. It let me ride better. Sure, it still got me to class (I protected it with two U-locks when I had to put it in the bike rack). But it also responded to my commands off-road. It could do anything I asked of it.

It made me a mountain biker.

That was a time in my life when I didn’t have to worry about being fast. I didn’t wear colorful jerseys. I wasn’t part of a team. The people I rode with didn’t “ride for” anyone but themselves. We just had fun.

Later bikes would make me a racer (half-assed and inconsistent, of course) or bike nerd or whatever you want to call me. This one … I learned to fix it. I crashed it. I made it my own. Everything I learned from it got me a job at a bike shop. It put me on the trail of friends, relationships, adventures. I’d be shocked if any other bike impacts my life as that old Balance did.

What’s the most important bike in your history?