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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CategoriesUncategorized

5 of the Best Places to Mountain Bike in Phoenix, Ariz.

EDITOR’S NOTE (May 1, 2012): This post is really old. I will publish an update soon. Subscribe (it’s free) in the box to the right so you don’t miss it!

EDITOR’S NOTE PART II (May 11, 2012): UPDATED and cooler than ever.

I just recently ran into an old classmate at an ad hoc high school reunion. He’d moved from the area, and mentioned that he was getting more into mountain biking, but isn’t sure where to ride here. Naturally, I promised him some tips … and then I thought, “hey, maybe some other people besides Mitch would dig some advice!”

So here are 5 places in the metro Phoenix area where you can ride. Each will offer something different. These are in no particular order. I’ve linked each to my buddy at MTBikeAZ.com, who has produced some fine maps and profiles!
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McDowell Mountain Regional Park: There is something for everyone here. The Competitive Loops host all sorts of races. You can choose from the Long Loop (about 9 miles), the Sport Loop and the Technical Loop (both about 3 miles). You can string them together for some uberloops. All require some skill to handle steep drops, breaking bumps, rocks and lots of loose nastiness. Speeds can run high. Leave your iPod at home … rattlesnakes love hanging out trailside, and your earbuds will mask their warning signal. And watch the trail closely – that big rock you’re zooming around just might be a desert tortoise! Also, the park offers a 15-mile loop called The Pemberton, aka Trail B. This is technically easier, a varitable mountain bike super highway. By the way, the MTBikeAZ site’s map of this is outdated. Pick up a fresh one when you come into the park. Some snobby riders will label it boring: Not true. It has all sorts of offshoots to explore – and if you’re not up for a 15-mile loop, it has lots of connections back to the trailhead to cut it short, some of which are so fast that you’ll arrive at the bottom before the sound of your tires on the ground does. The park entry fee is $6, and it’s a screaming deal: The race loops feature a beaut of a new bathroom. Trail B’s launching pad has a groovy restroom AND a vending machine!

Pima and Dynamite: This is great for winter epic rides. You can just go forever and really get away from the red tile roofs. As you head away from the intersection, you’re on a false flat as you roll your way up. The terrain undulates and wiggles beautifully. Lots of hardpacked stuff, but it gets more wild and wooly the further north you go. Bring lots of food, water, sunscreen and tubes! Epic high desert scenery makes it even better. The terrain can be tricky and the speeds can be high. I rode here once with a friend, and we went home bloody, thirsty and late: His wife banned me from their house for one year, saying I brought him home sun-baked, penniless and smelling of cheap perfume. I only participated in two of the three! No bathrooms or facilities of any sort here. A bummer … this is State Trust Land, which means you need a permit. Yes, you really do. It’s pretty cheap, though it requires prior planning.
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Phoenix Mountain Preserve: Trail 100 is the mainstay of this ludicrously awesome urban park. The visionaries who set land aside for this gem deserve medals. There’s a trail at Tatum just south of Doubletree Ranch Road. You can ride this monster clear to 7th Avenue … and don’t forget all the side trails! Bring a GPS for sure so you can log everything you ride. Some terrain can be tricky: Crossing the Dreamy Draw freeway and heading west takes you up a few nasty climbs, and into a hideous, rocky wasteland. That eventually turns into some wild, good-time singletrack. If you’re lucky, you’ll see a snake, a bunny or three or even a ringtail. There are actually water and toilet facilities scattered around, which is nice.
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Papago Park: You experienced riders out there better stop snickering. You were once a newbie, a squid, a beginner. And I’ll bet this is where you cut your teeth. Mountain biking isn’t just about YOUR ride – it’s about what you pass on to create a new generation of riders. And Papago is the place to train your apprentices. And let’s face it: this place is fun. That four-mile loop around the old golf course is fast as hell, with beautiful sweeping turns that’ll help even the stoniest veteran keep them skills up. Parking, bathrooms, vending machines and water fountains are scattered all around. As your skills (or those of your apprentice) improve, head south to some short but steep climbs and a few super-secret drop-offs way south toward the freeway.
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Fantasy Island North Singletrack (FINS): This is a new trail, and I pumped out 900 words or so about it for the awesome Mountain Flyer magazine. It’s a bit controversial, though, as you’ll see from the article. But we won’t worry about that, for now. Let’s focus on this: People who know and love mountain biking built this beast, and did a right bang-up job. They smashed a lot of miles (15 and counting at last check) into a really small footprint. It’s all hardpacked and groomed. These trails are fast, like bowling balls on a greased bobsled track. There are some switchbacked climbs that’ll burn your legs and scald your lungs. Lots of turning, barely any straightaway flying; that’s to keep the speeds reasonable and hone your turning and braking skills. No facilities here, either, so stock up on the water and be willing to pee outside.
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Okay, I know some people’s rides got the shaft. I know there will be weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth. I’ll give some explanations below about why some got left off the list, but here’s the bottom line: If you don’t like my choices, go write in your own blog about your favorite rides!

Onto those that didn’t make it:

South Mountain: The Mormon Loop, the National and the Desert Classic are legendary around here. But you know, they’re just too crowded and eroded to be my favorites.

Hawes Loop: Too much road pedaling to fully access everything.

Estrella Mountain Regional Park: Because it’s the most suck-a-licious, pointless, loose-rocked POS trail I’ve ever turned tires over.

A few quick mountain bike notes about Wandering Justin: Riding since 1992. Ex shop mechanic. Raced in several 12-hour races (including one win in co-ed sport category), several epic singletrack races, one state series. Rides a 2006 Gary Fisher Cake 2 DLX, but likes Santa Cruz and Specialized way better. Has been (falsely) accused many times for gross malfeasance, negligence and nincompoopery leading to riding parties getting lost.