Sunday, November 16, 2014

New Design the King of Light XC Fork World?

I never quite understood Larry's love affair with his old AMP fork. I suppose there was a definite cool factor to it's quirky, unorthodox design. But, if I were a betting man, I'd guess that the overriding quality that warranted it's mythic status in his mind had a lot to do with weight. He is Lightness Larry, after all. Well, there's good news for fans of light, quirky, unorthodox suspensions forks and it comes out of the isolated island country of Iceland.

Lauf forks has come up with a radical new design that shaves a whole pound off of the weight of a typical xc suspension fork. If turning heads is your aim, you could hardly do better than the Lauf. If actually using your fork to smooth out big hits is what you're after, the meagre 60mm of travel may leave you wanting. Reviews I've read are mixed, as it seems that lateral flex is an issue. I guess it's a little premature to hand over the oddball suspension fork crown over to the newbie...

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Fat Bike Shootout: Budget vs. Beauty

26" Mongoose Dolomite Men�s 7-speed All-Terrain Fat Tire Mountain Bike, Navy Blue/Red 

Ever wonder what a brand new, $250 fat bike from Walmart would ride like? How do you think  it would compare in a shootout versus a $3000 Surly Moonlander? Last week, on a night ride with the local Blind Creek Bike Club, I had the opportunity to test ride both and my findings may surprise you...or not.

A quick glance at the Mongoose from Walmart leaves a person somewhat impressed. The bike looks just fine. Of course, the big question is whether the ride would end up being in the same league as it's "good from far" looks. My first ride was on a parking lot. Here's the initial impression...

  • rolls all right.
  • doesn't seem too unwieldy...rolling around a parking lot.
  • the cranks are loose, as is one pedal, so the pedaling is wobbly.
  • handlebar is loose.
  • for some reason, the steering feels "heavy", as though the tire wants to flop over when you turn the bars. Upon closer inspection, the owner noticed that the forks were crooked. It was as if someone took the fork ends and moved them slightly to the side. They were still parallel, just no longer perpendicular to the ground. Hmmmmm....that's not good.
  • braking is very poor. Reefing on the levers gave the distinct feeling that they were about to snap off.
But, despite that, I thought that the bike, with a tune-up, could be a serviceable short distance commuter.

How would the bike handle itself on singletrack? That's where the massive difference between the carbon forked Surly and the Mongoose Dolomite became apparent. Riding the Mongoose up any kind of incline was torturous. I am guessing that it weighs over 50lbs. Handling on the short, flowy section I rode left a lot to be desired, as did braking. I wonder whether fine tuning the  tire pressure would improve the steering and overall handling of the Mongoose. Immediately after sampling the trail with the Mongoose, I took the Moonlander for a rip. What a difference. The Moonlander feels like a fleet mountain bike in comparison. The trail feels flowy, like it should, and inclines are completely manageable.

The verdict? If you want to ride a cheap bike, don't ever try one that's good. If all you and your riding buddies ever had to ride were Mongoose's from Walmart, you could have a gas with them. But the minute you try something like the Surly, you'll be ruined for the ordinary.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Copper Harbor Ride Report

On the Edge trail has the best vistas of the surrounding hills.

The last post posed the question of whether Copper Harbor is better than Cuyuna as a mountain biking destination. Having never been to Cuyuna, I had to rely on the opinions of my 3 riding companions who have ridden Cuyuna numerous times. They decide that yes, C.H. is better, but that Cuyuna stacks up really well. They both have similar riding, the main difference being that CH has more elevation to work with, and so the descents are longer and more sustained.

My take on the riding in Copper Harbor? we go.
  • it's amazing.
  • it reminds me a little of a ski hill. The town at the base, the uphill trail climb, and then the choice of runs back down. 
  • I'm amazed how they managed to make climbing seem so easy, and fun. Really. The trail that you climb to access upper trails has enough downs mixed in that you have a blast, all the while going upwards. Weird.
  • Every time we sampled a new trail I came away thinking that it was the best trail ever, until we tried the next one. 
  • There were times I felt like the trail I was riding combined all the best elements of all the best trails I'd ever ridden. Yes, they were that fun. Perma-grins, the whole time.
  • Speaking of downs, in much the same way they designed the uphills to still be fun by mixing in some downhill sections, the downhills never felt crazy, out of control fast because they build in whoops and uphill features that result in super controlled, flowy perfection.
  • Berms. Oh the berms. They are awesome. 
  • Slope. These trails just go to show that you can have a great time on trails that never really exheed 3%(guessing, as I don't own an inclinometer). The bonus is that you always feel in control on the descents and they last longer. Basically, there are no fall line trail sections. Beauty.
  • There's quite a bit of boardwalk sections that add flavour to the network.
  • The town is remote. And has a flavor that is distinctly Upper Peninsula Michigan. 
  • If you haven't seen this interactive trail map, you should. 
So, what does it take to get a silver rating as an IMBA ride center?
  • volunteers
  • support from the land owner - Dept. of Natural Resources
  • money
  • The Flow Trail is the newest addition to the network. It's over 4k long and was built over 3 months, requiring the use of big machinery to rough cut it, tons of volunteers, and $85,000 - part of which was contributed by Bell Helmets as some sort of contest win.
  • I had the distinct impression while down there that mountain biking is exploding in popularity in the UP region. Nearby Marquette is aiming for 100miles of trail built by 2020, and Duluth is pursuing a similar goal. Judging by the wide range of riders on the trails, it appears that machined, fun, flowy trail systems are appealing to more than just hard core riders.
Are there any downsides?
  • it's 960km away (from Steinbach that is). The route includes some small highways, so it's tough to make time. It took us just over 11 hours, including all gas and pitstops. Cuyuna is under 500km away. Advantage: Cuyuna.
  • It doesn't have that epic, long trail, Ï'm in the middle of nowhere feel you get when riding in the Rockies. Advantage: Bozeman.
  • They have 30miles of trail, which may not be enough for a week of riding. Advantage: Burr Oak, BHP.
  • They are, however, in the process of building a 30 mile loop that will take in the tip of the peninsula, so I guess that would take care of the epic ride category.
  • Cuyuna, according to my friends, is more beginner friendly.
So there you have it.  Great times.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Copper Harbor Michigan - better than Cuyuna?

So I'm heading to Copper Harbor, Michigan for a fall mountain bike trip over the long weekend. I think it should be pretty stellar riding, if all the rave reviews online are any indication. It's  comparable to the Cuyuna Trails in Minnesota, except better. I can't wait to see what they're like.
Initially receiving an IMBA (International Mountain Bicycling Association) “Epic Ride” recognition in 2009,  the Copper Harbor Mountain Bike Trails were designated as an IMBA  ( “Bronze Level” Ride Center in October of 2011.  This designation was trumped in 2012 with that of an IMBA “Silver Level” Ride Center, which currently ranks our trails among the top 5 in the world!   Points were scored on our variety and quality of gateway, cross-country, flow and gravity trails, in addition to being considered as a mountain bike friendly community, complete with a bike shop and a brew pub!
The photo above doesn't represent the variety of trails at C.H. as well as the vid below.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Dark Cross Reflections

Another Dark Cross has come and gone, and I figured I'd share some random reflections after the fact.

  • DX ran like a clock. The organizers had their act together and made it look easy. HUGE kudos for the massive effort of pulling this off.
  • The old members of the Red River Racing team were all in attendance, but only one of them finished the race. Nice work Brad. Of course, that's not factoring in the next generation of racers from the old guard.
  • Flatting out of a race sucks. Another couple PSI would've meant a solid finish, as would feathering the landing at the bottom of the flyover. 
  • The top A racers are fast. crazy fast. 
  • I forgot how much I enjoy catching up with the cross crowd. Friends I don't see very often  always show up and I'm reminded of how good it is to hang out.
  • It's amazing how much smoother the course felt at race pace than it did during the pre-race warm up. 
  • I liked the infusion of new racers in the A category. It was great to see the B racers do so well in the big leagues.
  • There was a lot of carnage on the grass section in back. Exactly where did that drainage come from? I don't remember it in previous editions. It was just enough to make the corners sketchy. In a good way, of course.
  • There was a drone filming the action. That is really cool. Question is, when will the final video make it's debut???
  • Speaking of footage. Is there a collection of pics of the event somewhere on the interwebs?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

25km Sandilands Singletrack Loop

Sandilands Forest is littered with singletrack trails created primarily by dirt bikes. There used to be more trails, but the big forest fire of 2006(?) ate up the best of them. Anyhoo, in my journeys out there I've stumbled across threads of different trails and always assumed that it would be possible to string together a loop. This past week I decided I'd give it a shot and loop together the pieces that I'd ridden previously, starting from the Sandilands race loop parking lot. The race course doesn't overlap the loop I hoped to ride, but I figured that would be a logical starting point.
I packed up my 3L Camelbak HOSS in anticipation of a long day of riding with no pressure other than to ride trail and enjoy the woods. 

In short, I was able to string together a loop that is about 26km long, although you could extend the length of it by starting from the Labbe Road spur. Here's a map from my Mountain Bike app from Runtastic.

Btw; the mountain bike app from Runtastic is a top performer when you're mountain biking. As you can see from the map, it provides a lot of detail in terms of contour lines, clear cuts(light green spots), power lines (there are 2 that traverse the forest and provide great reference points when you're turned around out there),logging roads and atv trails (dotted lines). Another huge plus is that you can download maps so that when you're out of cell range(virtually 10 miles East of Steinbach), you can run off an offline map and still know where you are.

The trail I rode is typcial of what you'll find in Sandilands Forest. It's a softish mix of soil and sand. I tried to time my ride after some heavy rain, as that leaves it in great riding shape, but I don't think I beat the dirtbikes to the trail after our latest rain, and so the trail was a little soft in spots. It's fun to ride, but it takes away just enough roll so that you have to work. I would definitely recommend 29er's as they carry way more speed on this surface. There were a couple of hike a bike sections, mainly when the throttle twisters pin it up a sandy hillside, leaving it unrideable for cyclists. Fortunately, this isn't common - maybe 5 times over 26k.

Gives you a sense of the trail surface.

A clearcut section that feels like you're riding through a savannah.
Here's a quick rating of the trail...
  1. Epic Factor - 4/5 . You sure have the feeling that you are far from anywhere at times. The potential for getting lost is pretty high, although there are enough landmarks that should help you regain your bearings. The length of the loop makes being prepared a little more important. A gps device/app is a real good idea.
  2. Fun Factory - 4/5. Would get a 5/5 if it were hardpacked. The rolling sections are fun, and the ferny undergrowth and open spruce forest sections are awesome. There's a lot of variety over the full loop. The clear cut area is actually kind of cool - it's been replanted, so it'll be interesting to see how different it feels over the years. 26k of singletrack is tough  to come by, so that's a plus.  A chainsaw crew would increase flow in some spots, as there are sections with logs crossing the trail, esp the stretch after the Beaver Pond. 
  3. Wildlife Factor - 3/5. Did not see a cougar, although rumour has there are some. Did see bear scat and a big paw print. Did see some huge deer, and a snake. Did see hawks and a woodchuck.
All in all, a good day on the trails. If a person wanted, they could tack on the 7k race course for a 32k day. I know that at one point there was an 80k enduro style race held in Sandilands, I wonder if any of those trails are still rideable? I also wonder how much more is out there that I haven't yet stumbled across.  There was one small spur that I followed for a little bit but ended up turning around on. I guess exploring that trail will be left for another day.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Rims Produce 18% Less Rolling Resistance

So the other week I took off with the family on a quick trip to Alberta. The bike was on the roof rack and on a whim I decided to use my Thule wheel carrier. Despite double checking the tightness of the skewer, the wheel flew off my roof within 20 minutes of home, never to be seen again. I scoured the ditch where it likely landed up, but the 6ft reeds swallowed that wheel whole.

Anyway, I got a used set of HED Ardennes SL's that use a 23mm wide rim instead of a 19mm. Evidently the advantages are numerous.

  • larger contact patch
  • better cornering
  • run lower pressures
  • better aerodynamics
  • and the kicker for me? Continental's testing lab calculated that there's 18% less rolling resistance with the fatties.
I was pretty interested to see how they performed, as I figure an 18% decrease in rolling resistance would be huge! I was halfway through my application for Team SKY when I figured I should maybe ride them to see just how crazy fast my bike had become. Well, after riding them I figured team SKY might not be needing me after all. The cornering and bump absorption was noticeably better, but I experienced very little increase in speed due to any perceptible change in rolling resistance. Maybe it's a matter of dialing in the tire pressures to maximize the smoothing properties of the tires?

Links to info