Gravel Bike Versus Road Bike

A few years ago when the gravel bike trend was starting to take off, one of my local Wise Veteran Riders sniffed "I can do all that stuff on my road bike."

Great. Maybe he can hop off the pavement on his road bike and hit some singletrack. But not all of us can plow through loose gravel on 25C tires pumped to 110 PSI without winding up on our heads. 

I see his point, though. Many of us cyclists are too quick to buy new stuff when we can re-purpose old gear. Here’s how to figure out once and for all the Gravel Bike Versus Road Bike conundrum.

Your Road Bike is Really Old

My road bike was a 1999 Lemond Zurich. Beautiful Reynolds 853 tubes welded in the US. Smooth riding. Strong. Relatively light.

lemond zurich gravel bike versus road bike
My Lemond Zurich before repaint and reassembly.

But I got my money’s worth out of it. So if you have 10 or more years on your road bike, maybe it’s time to treat yourself. There’s nothing wrong with that. 

Your Road Bike Can’t Fit Bigger Tires

Age plays into the tire clearance question, as well. My Zurich had rim brakes, so that limited the size of tires I could jam in there. 28c, tops. 

gravel bike versus road bike

Most gravel bikes are rolling 32c and up. I trained on 40c tires from April to November before I popped on a set of 30s for El Tour de Tucson (where I broke my previous record by 30 minutes).

Enormous gravel tires will slow you down if you’re riding on the road most of the time. Don’t worry — ride ’em until they’re worn out, and replace them with skinnier gravel tires in the 30-32c range.

You Want Disc Brakes

I love the disc brakes on my mountain bike. And there are times on long descents when my old rim brakes felt more like I was melting the pads than actually slowing my roll.




Adding discs to a frame like my Zurich would’ve been possible, but not cost effective. I’d have to strip the components and paint, turn it over to a welder, repaint it and then rebuild.

gravel bike versus road bike
In 2018, I set my PR on a gravel bike at El Tour De Tucson.

You Want Stable Handling

For stability, there’s no question about gravel bike versus road bike. When I plow into softer or rockier ground, my Lynskey Urbano doesn’t twitch thanks to its relaxed cyclocross geometry. Lemond made road bikes with steep road-racing angles, and they never fared well on soft or loose surfaces. 

Do some number-crunching over geometry. Wheelbase and standover will reveal quite a bit about how a bike will fit you if you can’t test ride.

Still Want to Convert Your Road Bike? Do This.

Go Tubeless: Tubeless tires are way better at shrugging off flats when use them with sealant. Pluck the thorn or other foreign object out, spin it and add more air. Done.

Schwalbe G-One Tubeless Gravel Tire gravel bike versus road bike
This is a super-awesome gravel tire mounted on a set of tubeless rims.

Get a Flared Drop Bar: A flared drop bar will make you way more comfortable. I was amazed at how much better I felt on long rides, even when I never left the pavement. In fact, I’d say most road riders should consider one.

Bigger Tires, Lower Pressure: Jam on the biggest tire you can, and take some pressure out of it. Drop 20 PSI from your usual pressure and see how it goes. Experiment a bit.

 

Why 2018 is the Year of the Gravel Bike

The year 2018 is going to be the Year of the Gravel Bike. Really, it might be already.

The Ongoing Gravel Bike Mission

This year, many of my rides have had a mission beyond logging miles. I’ve been trying to find as much off-the-road riding as possible. Not off-road, like for a mountain bike. More like paved canal paths and separated bikeways. I was hoping for some improvement in complaints I had years ago about how hard it is to commute by bike in Phoenix.

gravel bike
The All-City Cosmic Stallion is a great example of a gravel bike with everything I like: A steel frame, through axles, disc brakes and a healthy dash of personality. (photo from the All-City Cycles website)

The reason is two-fold. Obviously, cyclists and cars have a hard time dealing with each other in Arizona. And it’s always the cyclist who comes out on the wrong end of that equation. Secondly, I like to get into a nice groove when I ride. On a mountain bike ride, I can literally pedal for hours without interruption. On a road bike, it seems like the traffic lights are actively out to get me every quarter of a mile (I’ve started thinking Scottsdale’s slogan should be City of a Million Ill-Timed Traffic Lights).

Here’s a piece of deep knowledge: Arizona has more miles of canals than Venice or Amsterdam. Many of those miles have bike-accessible, unpaved banks. They are perfect for gravel bikes. Some canal banks are closed off, and it would be good to open them up. Also, innovative projects like Grand Canalscape are underway to make canals better suited for bikes – the biggest benefit will be traffic signals where canal bike paths cross streets.

My mission has led me to two big conclusions: Every piece of decent bike infrastructure in metro Phoenix has at least one big flaw with it. And the gravel bike, in many cases, is a potential game-changer to rectify those flaws. We’ll save the flawed infrastructure for a future post and go straight to the gravel bike.

What the Hell is a Gravel Bike, Anyway?

gravel bike
The Central Arizona Project – Local gravel bike people would ride the hell out of this. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For those of you unfamiliar with the term "gravel bike”: It’s a lot like a road bike, but with bigger tires, stronger brakes (usually discs), a longer wheelbase and often accouterments for long-distance, unsupported riding. Some people, especially overseas, called it an audax bike. Here in the U.S., marketing nerds position them as road-plus bikes, adventures bikes or — gag — alt-road bikes. They’re more stable than cyclocross bikes.

During my off-the-road explorations, I’d ride a beautiful piece of paved bike path that would inexplicably have a huge break in it. We’re talking a few hundred feet of chunky rubble. Or I’d spot a perfect unpaved workaround that would keep me away from cars.

One day, pointed my LeMond Zurich into one of these unpaved areas. Let’s just say a short wheelbase, aggressive road geometry and 25c tires inflated to 100 psi don’t exactly fit well in that milieu. A gravel bike would cruise through this sort of thing on 30-40c tires and a longer, more-stable wheelbase.

Right now, there are gravel riding Facebook groups swapping secrets. That’s a sign that the gravel bike movement is growing fast. One elite female racer told me that many of her friends are tapping into gravel bikes for training away from cars. And connecting with the overlooked female cyclists could be a huge shot in the arm for the bike shops, the manufacturers and the culture.

The Gravel Bike Can Also Help Transit Planners and Bike Shops

Now, the gravel bike also has implications beyond the users: They also have implications for government transit planners, especially those focused on bicycle infrastructure. It has huge implications for bike shops.

gravel bike
I’m going with a gravel bike for the future, too.

Let’s focus on the bike shops. The bike industry as a whole has a bit of a problem with re-inventing itself. It needs new stuff to keep customers engaged, and it needs stuff that customers will actually use. Too often, these attempts at re-inventing relevance take the form of “innovations” of dubious value.

The Gravel Bike Changes Things

They’re perfect commuter bikes in addition to being great for experienced, fit cyclists looking for a new challenge. The capabilities of the gravel bike were what finally prompted me to pick up a new frame to start the retirement of my LeMond, which I’ve ridden since 1999.

And bikes that can go anywhere means less need for paved bike paths. Planners could designate a stretch of unpaved canal, install signage and add crossings where needed -- and not worry at all about pavement. A perfect example is the Arizona Canal. This stretches for miles on the west side of Phoenix with underpasses and signed crossings.

But over on my side, it goes for miles with no pavement at all. I’ve tried it on my road bike, and it’s completely squirrely. If the road-plus/adventure/gravel bike becomes the standard, that’s something planners won’t have to worry about (though some signaled crossings would be nice still).

Buying a gravel bike is going to be a nightmare of options for customers, especially those newer to cycling. Should your new bike have a one-chainring setup or two chainrings? Through-axles or quick releases? How much air should you put in the tires? Even I’m still working through this as a long-time cyclist. The answers are going to come down to intent. I plan to use mine as a road bike -- but I want it to be able to swing onto an unpaved path and hammer for miles without being a squirrely pain in the butt. I’d also like to commute with it.

Gearing Up a Gravel Bike

As for myself, my new gravel bike – or more Road-Plus, in my case – will be equipped with through-axle hubs, hybrid hydraulic disc brakes and tubeless wheels that will allow far wider tires. It about 3c longer in the wheelbase for stability. I expect it will not only allow me to ride on canals and other unpaved surfaces, but it might even allow me to ride rather than walk the infernal sandy hell that is part of the Tour de Tucson 70-mile course.

And then there’s this Rio Salado bike path. The Mesa side is fairly well dialed in, aside from a ludicrous 15-mile-per-hour speed limit and a really silly break to cross McClintock (they’re working on an underpass, but it will literally be years before cyclists can use it).

gravel bike
These bikeshares are adding more traffic to urban cycling infrastructure. Gravel bikes are a great way for riders to get a little more space to themselves.

The Gravel Bike = Better Experience for All

Having people on bikes that are able to handle any surface also cuts down on the possibility of user conflict. Rollerbladers and dog walkers can be the bane of a cyclist’s existence on a shared paved path. The rise of bike share services have also increased the number of people on bikes – and the bike share users aren’t exactly great bike handlers and haven’t yet learned the situational awareness skills that help serious cyclists stay safe. Spreading the load away from the paved path has huge benefits for keeping us all safe and friendly toward each other.

A little breathing room a la bikes that can ride on more surfaces will definitely be a great thing for all of us. I love bike shares despite some of their flaws – and I welcome any chance to get more people on bikes without waiting years for governments to catch up on infrastructure. The gravel bike is making this happen – and I, for one, welcome our gravel bike overlords.

HEY! I’m building a gravel bike for myself right now. I’m doing it bit by bit, part by part. Once I have it built and get a few rides in, I’ll share what I learned. Follow the blog or my twitter account so you don’t miss this post!

Coolest Things to do in 2015

Coolest Things to do in 2015
GORUCK events are an up-and-comer that will be very cool in 2015. (Photo courtesy of GORUCK)

I won’t drink until I soil myself. I’ll cut back on snorting rat poison. I’ll quit inhaling high-fructose corn syrup by the troughful.

These are the spirit of New Year’s resolutions: things we won’t do anymore. Me? I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. I certainly don’t do "bucket lists." But I identify opportunities to do things that will make my life better. I scour the world looking for activities and destinations I’d like to do, get to as many as possible and then annoy everyone around me by not shutting up about them, ever.

So what would make my list for 2015? I’ve got a few for you that I’d do. I wish I could get to them all, but you know how that goes. Maybe a few of you can help out by standing in for me! And I’d also like to hear what would make your list.

One of These Crazy GoRuck Events

You’ve heard of all the mud runs, the color runs and all that hoopla. Now GORUCK, whose ads I’ve noticed on Facebook, is getting the word out about its series of events all over the country. They have something for everybody this calendar year, from 48-plus hours of mayhem that require you to move 80 miles all the way to scavenger hunts that are more about beer drinkin’ than bravery. The events started Jan. 9, with many more throughout the calendar year. GORUCK says these events offer a "slice of Special Operations training." I have a feeling these events will draw a lot of CrossFit sort of folks and more than a few ex-military types. So yeah, my long hair will likely stand out!

I have my eye on starting with a GORUCK Light event in Flagstaff, Ariz. this May (registration is now $50) and following up with a Challenge event near Tucson in September. Check the events list for descriptions, and to find one near you. If you’ve ever done one of these events, drop me a line – I’d like to hear about it and share the info with readers.

coolest things to do in 2015
Weightlessness inside a Reduced gravity aircraft (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lose Nearly All Your Weight With Zero G

We all know I’m a sucker for anything that flies. So the Zero G Corporation flights that simulate weightlessness would OF COURSE make my list. The flights start Feb. 14 in San Francisco for $4,950 plus tax. Eep. That’s a pretty hefty hit to the bank account.

Still, we’re just talking about floating around in the air like a freakin’ astronaut. No big deal. It was one of the coolest things to do in 1959 aboard the original Vomit Comet, and it is still one of the coolest things to do in 2015.

LaplandX Extreme Lapland Tour Still one of the Coolest Things to do in 2015

Northern Lights tour
Meet sled dogs and the occasional wall of ice during the LaplandX Northern Lights tour.

I’ve already yapped about this 7-day Northern Lights tour at length. But it bears repeating that you still have time to sign up before the fun starts on Feb. 16 in Finland. If you have about $4,000, I don’t think you’ll find a much better way to spend it.

I’m not going to be able to get to this one, so I’ll have to miss out on the icebreaker cruise, the sled dogs and the snow machine hijinks -- and the aurora borealis light show up there near the Arctic Circle. If you are LaplandX-bound, please get a hold of me afterward for a guest blog post. I want to hear all about this.

coolest things to do in 2015
This is not the Flanders you’ll see on the beer bicycle tour!

D’oh, Flanders!

I’ve been reading an awful lot about beer lately: Someone at work got me a book called "The Brewer’s Tale: A History of the World According to Beer" as a Secret Santa gift. The chapter about Belgian beers makes me want to get over to Belgium. And as you probably know, I’m a bicycle guy.

So that makes me think these 10-day Flanders Adventure Tours have to be one of the coolest things to do in 2015. Riders will cover 40-80 days on flat terrain every day, and they’ll hit eight towns and 10 breweries. You’ll see some of the big breweries, and some of those below-the-radar locals. The first tour starts April 10; check out the itinerary for dates and more details. Tour cost is $2,600 at the moment, which includes: nine nights hotel; breakfast and lunch each day; bike and bag rental; two tour guides (one Dutch-speaking); all brewery tours plus beer; sampling at breweries; and luggage storage before and after the tour. Not bad at all!

Drop Into the Mouth of a Volcano

OK, I’ve also mentioned this one before. But how can descending into the magma chamber of an extinct volcano – the only one known to exist intact! – not be one of the coolest things to do in 2015?

The fun starts on May 15 when Inside the Volcano starts running tours to the Thrihnukagigur volcano. It’ll cost you about $300, and will remain one of the most stupid-awesome things you ever do. Ever. Just get yourself to Reykjavik and be ready to do a short hike before you plunge into the volcano!

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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Your Opinion: The Best Hydration Packs

best hydration packs
My Camelbak is on its last leg. What should replace it?

I’m looking for your advice about the best hydration packs out there.

See, my Camelbak MULE is ratty and old. It’s salt-encrusted and engrodiated. It’s missing a zipper pull or two. The cat may have peed on it for all I know.

I’ve had it since it was among the best hydration packs out there. But a quick look at my local bike shop made me wonder if it’s not time to put the MULE out to pasture. Clearly, Camelbak is no longer the only legit choice. More than a few bike shop dudes around here talk up Osprey like it’s the greatest thing since the singlespeed 29er.

So, the guy who usually gives advice is turning to you: What do you think are the best hydration packs for long rides in hot weather? That means I need room for stuff like food and tools. I need 128 ounces. I’d also prefer a fairly neutral color – no purple, no salmon. Gimme greenish or tannish so when I hike, I can sneak around a bit.

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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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Be Good to Your Dog – Keep it Leashed

be good to your dog
Keep your best buddy leashed – we’ll all be better off.

I love dogs. It’s just the people who hold their leashes who I often want to boil in a vat of porcupine urine. Or more accurately, it’s the people who should hold their leashes – but instead feel entitled to turn the whole world into an off-leash dog park.

If you leash your dog in public and (this is important) keep a hold of the leash throughout the duration of your time out and about, I salute you. You know how to be good to your dog. My fellow bicyclists also appreciate your consideration.

Now, the rest of you lot. The people who don’t think they need to leash their dogs. Or better yet, you put the leash on, drop it and let Fido run about. Yes, you.

You are a giant pain in the ass for bicyclists.

You see, I don’t know your dog. Your unleashed, 110-pound ball sniffer might be the sweetest dog on the planet. But -- I just don’t know that. I am unfamiliar with your dog’s personality quirks – the little things that might startle it into an episode involving barking, chasing, biting, stitches and possibly a rabies shot. When I’m on my bike, your dog becomes an X factor, a potential threat. The best way to nullify that threat is to put a leash on your pooch, and keep a solid grip on the leash. Problem solved.

Now, let’s talk about you people with the little dogs. They don’t propose much of a threat to me, aside from making me crash while trying to avoid them.

But I do not want to hurt your dog – not even if it’s a Chihuahua. You are being a bad human to your dog by letting it dart around unleashed. Your job is to protect and care for your dog. A fast-moving 200-pound dude on the trail or in the bike lane is a threat to your dog. Thing is, I’m legally allowed to be there. But I don’t know of a single city where your dog is legally allowed to roam at large. So, you’re breaking the law with your dog as the unwitting accomplice.

So, be good to your dog. Put it on a leash. We’ll all be safer for it.

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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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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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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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SixSixOne Helmet Review

SixSixOne Recon MTB Helmet, SixSixOne helmet
A close look at my SixSixOne Recon mountain bike helmet, sans visor.

A week before I picked up a SixSixOne helmet, I really hadn’t heard of this new-to-me mountain bike company. But then, I rarely think about my helmet much. Ride after ride, I plop it on my head and go.

Until that one day when I realize that the straps are crusted so thick with salt from evaporated sweat that they barely bend anymore. Then I take a look at the pads and realize they’re so squished that they don’t offer much comfort or safety. Finally, I start to see all the nicks and scrapes.

That’s when it’s time for a new helmet. I started to do a little research at the bike shops – I’ve worn a Giro mountain bike helmet of one variety or another for years. They’ve been great, but I have a soft spot for up-and-coming companies.

I found a few interesting helmets out there. The POC Trabec helmet from Sweden has a modern look to it. And POC also claims its design dissipates shock over a wide section of the helmet. The prices start at $150, which is a bit steep. I know, I know – it’s only my head. But one thing I’ve found is that extra money doesn’t always equal more protection. I also didn’t see any at local bike shops.

If you’re helmet looks like this, it’s time for a new one. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had visions of the Trabec in my head when I stumbled across the
SixSixOne 2012 Recon Wired XC/Trail Bicycle Helmet
at one of the local bike shops. And I always like getting a first-hand look at something. I liked the very solid look of the retention system that dials the SixSixOne helmet firmly to the head. And the shape fit my head well, which is always something to consider. It was about $100 at my local shop; you can also find a SixSixOne helmet online if your local bike shops don’t carry them.

So far, I have a handful of rides with my SixSixOne helmet. It hasn’t had to lay its life on the line for me. But saving you from crashes isn’t the only reason to wear a mountain bike helmet. For me, they’re great for keeping the intense sun off my head – and the protect my from flora that encroaches on the trail. The SixSixOne Recon has been more than capable – all while fitting well and being reasonable priced. My only change was to take the visor off, which is pretty standard with every one of mountain bike helmets. I took a ride with it first just to see if it would be any different, but no dice. Off it came.

If it’s time for you to get a new mountain bike helmet, check your local and online bike shops for a SixSixOne helmet.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

 

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Scottsdale’s New Mountain Biking Trails – First Impression

This pretty spot is, unfortunately, a dead end in the trails "redesigned" by the City of Scottsdale.
This pretty spot is, unfortunately, a dead end in the trails “redesigned” by the City of Scottsdale.

I’m not used to being confused while mountain biking near the Pima & Dynamite trails in Scottsdale. But today? Flumoxed, mixed up, mystified. Like “watching Vanilla Sky” puzzled.

I mean, these are the Pima & Dynamite trails, but not as local mountain bikers know them. It’s almost like Disney’s Imagineers came out, erased the existing trails … and then slapped up their own vision of what mountain bike trails should be.

But nope, it’s not Disney: It’s the city of Scottsdale. I read about the new trails on a divisive thread on mtbr.com. I kind of forgot about the thread. Then I blunder across an unfamiliar trail and think, “oooooh, yeah …” I see a lot of interesting things on this ride. The biggest impressions, though, are the thoughtless destruction of existing mountain biking trails – and new trails built with no thought for flow or logical direction.

A case study in the wrong way to close a trail. Way to go, Scottsdale!
A case study in the wrong way to close a trail. Way to go, Scottsdale!

There are right ways to close mountain biking trails to be reclaimed into the natural environment. Look at the photo to see what Scottsdale did: Ripping into the earth with heavy equipment, and then peppering the trail alignment with wood, bits of cactus and whatever else happens to be around. One heavy monsoon storm, and guess where this will go? If you guessed “right into the new trail,” congratulations! You’re smarter than the Scottsdale officials who signed off on this travesty. I would bet Scottsdale didn’t get any input from the experts at the International Mountain Bicycling Association, either.

Notice the deep, sandy scree and the bike it caught? Bad trail building.
Notice the deep, sandy scree and the bike it caught? Bad trail building.

Alright, onto the second point: “Flow” is an elusive characteristic. What does it mean? Well, if you build a mountain biking (or multi-user) trail that required riders to be on their brake levers constantly, your trail doesn’t have flow. If you have so much sand that riders expect to see The Hoff sunbathing, your trail doesn’t have any flow. The new trails are wide and usually off-camber i the turns. There’s not a berm to be found. There’s too much loose scree on top that can make for some hairy situations. The only good thing? The trails have a bit more traction in many spots, which should be fairly friendly for singlespeed riders … or at least the strictly-OK singlespeeders (like me). One rider said on MTBR.com “However, I kept thinking of anti depressants when riding them. All the highs and lows are taken out.”

A mystery trail through a bunch of fox tails. Kind of cool.
A mystery trail through a bunch of fox tails. Kind of cool.

Look, building good trails is hard. I don’t have any answers. And clearly, Scottsdale doesn’t, either. The next time city officials want to build some new trails, they should look to the best trails in the region: Talk to Rand Hubbell at McDowell Mountain Regional Park. Get some input from the West Valley Trail Alliance. The city of Phoenix mountain biking trails are also far ahead of Scottsdale. These trails will never be a destination, nor sought after as a venue for mountain bike events.

In other bad news:

  • Riders can’t park along Dynamite Boulevard anymore because of the road-widening project. I parked at a Chase Bank about a mile east of Pima.
  • The trails are unsigned, so it’s hard to know where you’ll wind up.
  • The city is also splashing out on a huge trailhead with parking. Yay, more pavement!
My ride route. New bits are in the northeast. The new trailhead is the dangly bit hanging from the south.
My ride route. New bits are in the northeast. The new trailhead is the dangly bit hanging from the south. Looks like sea horse, doesn’t it?

My bottom line: The people responsible for the changes deserve a good whack upside the head with a stainless-steel soup ladle. But I’ll keep my ladle in the drawer if they at least think about getting some help before they build/modify trails without proper adult supervision.

A spy shot of the new trailhead under construction.
A spy shot of the new trailhead under construction.
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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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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

Raleigh XXIX, Belt Drive, X-Fusion – A Few Thoughts

Raleigh XXIX, singlespeed, belt drive, McDowell Mountain Regional Park
An awesome new bike, my favorite local trails … what’s not to love?

Something about this bike that makes me a happy, friendly rider. I realize it as I greet a mountain biker headed the opposite way. Every time I ride this thing, I get so chipper that I’d say "hello" to a rattlesnake.

It’s more than "New Bike Syndrome." I’ve had plenty of new mountain bikes, and there’s something different here.

Maybe it’s the Gates Carbon Drive; I’ve wanted to try one for years. I salivated when I first saw the Raleigh XXIX with its belt drive. And hey! Wouldn’t you know it? That’s pretty much what I’m riding. I found a Raleigh XXIX stripped of all its parts at a local shop. They also had its belt drive bits lying about; I took those home, too (and ordered a new fork – more on that later).

Seven rides into life as a belt-drive singlespeeder, and I’ve had no problems. Haven’t touched a shop rag or a bottle of lube. Every bit of power I put to the pedals goes to the rear wheel. In just more than a month, I see a difference in my abilities.

And that belt drive. Many a mountain biker scoffs about it: "Is it really that hard to maintain a chain?" No. It’s not. But any extra work is a barrier – a barrier that can make it easier to say "You know, I’m tired and don’t feel like getting my bike ready. I’ll ride tomorrow." Maybe that never happens to you. But it does to me. And the belt drive is, as Forrest Gump says, one less thing. It’s also light and reliable, though the rider bears some responsibility for dialing it in right. By the way, you don’t have to be a mountain biker to ride a belt drive – they’re popular with the commuting crowd, too.

Hmm, what else about this bike makes me such a cheery nutjob? The X-Fusion Slide 29 RL2 suspension fork. I love the Fox FLOAT on my Santa Cruz Superlight. But those things are expensive! For about $400, the Slide 29 does everything my FLOAT does. And even something it can’t – it locks out.

On the trail, the Slide 29 works hard. Square-edged hits make it hiss a bit. But it steers where I point it. It makes short work of stuff in the trail. It didn’t cost me an arm and a leg.

 

X-Fusion Slide 29 RL2
A close look at one of the X-factors of my Raleigh XXIX – the X-Fusion Slide 29 RL2.

So we have a steel hardtail belt drive with a cool fork. Oh, and it’s a 29er, a novelty for me. If you’re a 26er holdout and expect me to say the Raleigh XXIX handles like a porker, sorry. It just doesn’t. And it rips through fast corners. The combination of hardtail and singlespeed pairs well with the 29er wheel; the big wheels softer the ride and preserve your precious momentum. I’m still not convinced 29er wheels are a must for every mountain bike (or mountain biker), though.

Speaking of wheels, I ordered some WTB Frequency i23 rims built on SRAM 9.0 hubs and added a Stan’s tubeless conversion. The wheels seem durable, but the Stan’s wheelset on my Santa Cruz Superlight spoils me. The bearings roll like nothing else, and the SRAM hubs don’t compete. The WTB Frequency i23 rims, though, look like they can take a flogging from a heavy-riding mountain biker. So far, they have.

Other bits: A gold Chris King NoThreadSet. An old set of Hayes Nine hydraulic disc brakes. A Shimano SLX crank, Answer carbon handlebar, Thomson seatpost and an excellent WTB Vigo saddle. Some people complained that the Raleigh XXIX looks goofy with its World War II graphics. Hmph. Maybe it’s because I grew up watching Black Sheep Squadron, but I like it.

There’s really only one thing I’d change: the top tube. I’m 6’2 with a 34-inch inseam. When I stand over the top tube of the XL frame, there’s flesh-to-metal contact (feel free to chuckle and infer whatever you wish). Raleigh could make a nifty bend in the top tube like my XL Santa Cruz Superlight. Boom. Problem solved.

Chris King headset aside, there’s nothing fancy here -- but each part is an upgrade from a regular Raleigh XXIX. It all adds up to a bike that’s one big chunk of fun to ride.

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First Ride on “New” Mountain Bike Trail – with video

McDowell mountain bike
The newly rerouted bit of the Pemberton Trail has some nice new rock scenery.

Nothing gets me as excited quite like a new mountain bike trail. Or even a re-routing of an old favorite trail.

Ever since McDowell Mountain Regional Park announced that crews had re-routed a bit of its 15+-mile Pemberton (aka Trail B) loop, I’ve been eager to see what it’s all about. I purposely avoided reading up on exactly what would change – I also love surprises.

Here’s what you need to know:

    • The McDowell Mountain Regional Park managers made the best change possible: They took the trail away from a sandy service road on the north side of the park and cut some new doubletrack (it ain’t singletrack, but it’s no Jeep road, either) See the end of the post for video.
    • Racers who will participate in the Fat Tire 40 should be stoked. This makes the worst portion of the course quite a bit more fun. I expect racers will be a touch faster without the sandy slog.
    • The new bit of trail is about 15 minutes long at my leisurely but experienced speed. At some point, it reconnects to the original trail. I’m not sure where because it was a sneaky transition.
    • The extra twists and turns should add a bit to the trail’s original mileage.
wandering justin mtb
Hey, it’s me!

The new bit of trail is not some sort of mind-blowing singletrack experience that will inspire epic heavy metal songs. So why am I excited? Because it makes a favorite local trail about 20 percent better. And that’s nothing any rider should take for granted.

It’s also a nice signal of intent from the McDowell Mountain Regional Park staff. They continue to seek ways to make the park’s experience even better for mountain bikers. Consider some other first for the park: the first competitive race loops, the first official night rides and the first pump track on Arizona government lands. In the future, I suspect you’ll see a flow trail open.

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Lance Armstrong Cheated – and I Don’t Care

English: Cyclist Lance Armstrong at the 2008 T...
Cyclist Lance Armstrong at the 2008 Tour de Gruene Individual Time Trial, 1 November 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lance Armstrong admitted to Oprah – and her larger-than-usual viewership – that he doped through 2005. And some people blinded by hero worship had the nerve to act surprised. Maybe not as many as would have two years ago, but still there were some.

I’ve said the same thing all along. I’m convinced that anyone near him in the standings also doped.

And you know what? I. Don’t. Care.

It helps that I was never a Lance-O-Phile. Something about him always bothered me. I always preferred Greg Lemond – and Marco Pantani. But doping or not, there are  things about him that you will never, ever be able to take away from him.

First, up Lance Armstrong had an excellent on-bike code of conduct. If you’re not into cycling, you might not remember how Jan Ullrich – one of Armstrong’s best adversaries at the time – crashed. What did Armstrong do? He slowed down. He waited for Ullrich. When Ullrich was back in position, the battle resumed. This happened twice – in 2001 and 2003. Ullrich also waited for Armstrong after he crashed.

Lëtzebuergesch: De Marco Pantani 1997 zu Lëtze...
Marco Pantani – my personal favorite racer – in 1997. But he had his demons, too. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As Phil Liggett said, you don’t attack a fallen rider. It’s one of many unwritten rules of conduct in the pro cycling peloton.

And second -- no matter what pharmaceuticals are involved, pro cyclists have mind-boggling skills. There is no injection that can make you able to corner at 60 miles per hour. No treatment can give you the balance to ride handlebar-to-handlebar with 120 other riders – with your hands off the handlebars. I once heard a story about Bob Roll stripping naked while riding in the middle of the pack – and putting his kit back on before race officials caught him. I wasn’t able to confirm it … but can you imagine having the bike-handling skills to do that while riding at a high pace? I sure can’t!

There’s only one way to become so facile on a bike: Love it, ride it all the time, be willing to get hurt for it.

And I never believed any of the denials from any of the racers for a millisecond. Not one. So the Lance Armstrong confession changes nothing for me.

And no matter how little I liked him, how many times he lied, what cancer survivors he let down or who he intimidated to stay silent … I can’t say Lance Armstrong is not, or was not, an incredible racer.

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What’s Your Oldest Bike Gear?

Hayes nine
Hayes Nine Brakes. Mine are still slowing my roll.(Photo credit: Saint Hsu)

Back in my bike shop days, the other mechanics liked to say I was like junkyard owner Fred Sanford from the old TV series. I earned it, I guess – by not buying new stuff constantly, by wringing every last mile out of my bikes and parts. Sure, sometimes I pushed the notion too far and wound up riding jalopies.

Those days are over. Kind of. I still love taking care of my bikes and stretching my gear-buying dollar.

I hadn’t really thought much about this until today’s ride. My rear derailleur got a bit glitchy. It took me longer than usual to dial it in. Then I realized something: My Shimano LX shifters and XT rear derailleur are eight years old – which qualifies them for AARP in bike years. They came from my 2005 Gary Fisher Cake 2 DLX (still one of the most awkward bike names ever).

santa cruza superlight, pima & dynamite, mountain biking, arizona, adventure bicycle company, wandering justin
Many of the parts on my Santa Cruz came from its predecessor – a Gary Fisher Cake 2 DLX.

Same goes for my Fox Vanilla fork and my Hayes Nine hydraulic disc brakes. I think Shimano, Fox and Hayes all deserve props for making stuff that stands up to years of use. These parts have been through multiple epic races. And they still work well. Adventure Bicycle Company rebuilt the fork a few years ago, and I’ve just kept fresh pads in the Hayes brakes – I’ve never even needed to bleed the lines.

Here’s why this makes me so happy: I can think less about gear and more about having fun when I ride.

So, what are the oldest bike parts you use for every ride?

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Traveler’s Overview: The Twin Cities

You’ll see a variety of architecture in the Twin Cities.

Wow, there’s something stinky on this Delta flight. Kind of like a bison pooped around seat 37D, and they used a dirty diaper soaked in Febreeze to clean it up.

This was the Facebook post that brought my trip to Minneapolis to a close. I was the last person off after nearly three hours stuffed in seat 41A of a 757. Other than the funky odor, I had no other complaints about the Delta flight. It was on time, and the crew was pleasant.

Let’s break down the rest of Minneapolis on the double, with more to come in the future:

  • Minneapolis and St. Paul are both good places to grab a regional craft beer. There are tons of local breweries, and they get adventurous with the recipes.
  • The Twin Cities has a first-rate “rails to trails” system. If the Phoenix area had a cycling infrastructure even half as good as this, the time I spend on my road bike would increase 10-fold. Cyclists would love a visit to this area. Well done, Twin Cities.
  • Like your ethnic food? How does copious amounts of Thai, Himalayan, Ethiopian and Chinese sound? I saw less Japanese or Mexican (the latter of which is less “ethnic” and more “default” to a guy from Arizona). The Twin Cities might be in the Midwest, but you won’t eat like you’re in the stereotypical Midwest.
  • Yes, this really is the land of 10,000 lakes. Whether flying or driving, you’ll see all sorts of bodies of water.
  • I noticed plenty of stylish and varied architecture – office buildings and homes alike.

In future posts, I’ll get more specific and tell you where I went, stayed, ate and quaffed. Let’s just say that I’ll give props to Minneapolis and St. Paul for being pleasant summer destinations. I’d recommend the Twin Cities for any quick getaway for anyone eager to escape the Southwest heat for a spell – especially if you’re a cyclist and willing to travel with your bike.

 

Challenge Yourself on a UK Bicycle Holiday

This should make you want to ride the Yorkshire Dales. (Photo by Amber, courtesy of Sykes Cottages)

The English county of Yorkshire is an outdoor lover’s paradise. Locally known as God’s own county, the soaring mountain peaks and sweeping moorlands make Yorkshire one of the greenest places in the UK and the perfect place for a biking holiday. With two national parks and a number of designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, you are sure to be enchanted by the rugged Yorkshire landscape. Bicycle enthusiasts will find no shortage of trails and courses to challenge their skills. Champion road racers and daring mountain bikers will find a test of their mettle in Yorkshire.

Way of the Roses

The newest of the UK’s coast-to-coast cycle ways stretches 170 miles across the north of England, from the Irish Sea coast in Lancashire to the North Sea coast in Yorkshire. While peddling your way along this well sign-posted route, you’ll pass through the cities of York and Lancaster and innumerable quaint towns and country villages. The terrain is varied, including traffic-free paths, cycle lanes, and country roads – all of which are part of the National Cycle Network. A reasonably fit biker can complete the route in 3 days, but there are some testing areas of steep hills so you may want to give yourself a little extra time if you’re less experienced. Taking it a little slower will also give you time to explore on foot along the way, and maybe treat yourself to a well-earned tasty treat or two! For accommodations, there are a number of options available to you. Maybe consider one of the many Yorkshire holiday cottages available along the way – a great place to lay your head after a long day of cycling!

Three Peaks Cyclo-Challenge

If you seek a bigger challenge, maybe the Three Peaks Cyclo-Challenge is for you. Billed as the toughest cyclo-cross event in the UK, this isn’t for the faint of heart. You’ll cover 38 miles. … which doesn’t sound so bad. But you’ll climb and descend the three highest peaks in the Yorkshire Dales, Pen-y-Ghent, Whernside, and Ingleborough. You won’t even get to ride the whole distance – 17 miles is on road, 20 miles is unsurfaced road, and 3 to 5 miles is unrideable terrain. The first person to complete the challenge was a 14-year-old school boy in 1959. It took him 6 hours and 45 minutes. Last year’s winner, Nick Craig, completed the route in a staggering 3 hours and 8 minutes, a feat of human endurance few could even dream of accomplishing! This is not an event for an inexperienced rider, and you’ll need the right equipment. But even just visiting the Yorkshire Dales to watch the spectacle would be an experience.

The UK is a great place for a cycling holiday, whether you like to amble down country lanes with a picnic in your basket, or test your endurance and take on an extreme challenge like the Three Peaks. There are many great guiding companies throughout the country who can help you organize a trip or just rent you a bicycle for the day. Either way it’s a great way to see the countryside and will eliminate all the guilt of over-indulging on the local delicacies while on vacation!

This post was written by Amanda, who writes for Sykes Cottages. While she admires the endurance and nerve of those who undertake challenges like the Three Peaks Cyclo-Challenge, you’re more likely to find her peddling along a country path with flowers and foraged berries in her bicycle basket!

WanderingJustin.com thanks Amanda and Sykes Cottages for this great featured introduction to UK bicycle holidays.