Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Part 3 - Thunder Mtn Trail, Red Cyn, Utah

On to part three. But first, the night after the Moab ride was kinda interesting. Back at camp after a fine Mexican food dinner in Moab, we settled in to our digs. I had long abandoned the silly bunk bed made for average sized people for the expanse and fresh air of the front porch of the cabin. From there I could see some stars and feel the night air on my face. Also, I could hear the drunk college age blond chicks from Europe. Yep. All blonde, all young, all one degree of drunk or another, all loudly playing some obscure drinking game in languages unknown to myself.

Add the obnoxiously smokey campfire they had and toss in the pretty tough day we had on the trail and I was in no mood for German/Scandinavian/Aussie beer games. So I sauntered over and spoke to a responsible looking older man and explained the rules of campground etiquette, that being, 10:00 is quiet time and 11:00 is about the limit of everyone's patience. It worked, cuz at 10:45, they were all quiet and loaded into a van to go clubbing in Moab, I guess. Maybe karaoke?

So, back to the next day.

I found out I could not walk very well. Did I mention I sorta' crashed the day before? Well, I did fall down in a non-graceful way. Silly really, considering how many times I had flaunted death on some last minute course decision and line change off of the uncountable ledges of that ride. I was JRA (Just Riding Along) down between a little pinch of rock, easy to thread both wheels through, but I decided to pop the front wheel off the outer lip and then drop it down into the sand, allowing the rear wheel to hit the middle of the notch. Almost, but not quite. I was kinda tired and only half committed to the move. As I touched the front wheel down and leaned my weight forward, the rear wheel hung on the outer ledge and flipped up behind me. I landed on both wrists with my bike clipped in one leg and trying to come all the way over my back. Racked out like a swayback mule, it was not the best thing for my lumbar area.

I was paying for it now as I hardly made it to the restroom with pain into my back and left buttock with every step. Nifty. Definitely some nerve issues going on there. Well, if I could not walk, hopefully I could ride. I popped some Aleve and sent up a prayer.

We had originally planned to do Gooseberry Mesa on the return trip, but we were pretty shelled from the rough trail and I suggested we hit a ride that was not more of the same. I had seen Thunder Mtn on many posts and it was on my short list of places to visit in that Southern Utah gold mine of rides.

So we checked the road map and off we went, leaving Moab for some other day.

Parking at the Red Cyn Visitor center, we got a map and headed up what must be one of the most scenic bike paths around. Red rock Hoo Doos all around, we climbed gradually under sunny and perfect weather.

Finally some dirt, and then the trailhead after a gentle fireroad climb.

It is hard to imagine how stoked we were to begin this trail and it never ceased to be anything but pure, sweet, and tasty.

The trail is not a breeze, like all downhill, but it is soooo sweet as it climbs and drops, swoops, beckons and rewards its way through the red dirt and wide vistas of Utah sweet Utah. I noticed we were riding at over 8000' so it is a bit of a breath taker some times but never for long.

And, after a big drop in elevation on some steep switchbacks, we hit canyon bottom level and rode the next 1.5 mile section of trail with our cheeks (no, not THOSE cheeks...our face cheeks!) hurting from the big grins on our faces. I swear, if there is a section of singletrack that is like flying in the dirt, this was it. Total stoke.

So, 2 hours of riding, 15 miles or so over some really good stuff. Francisco said that he "never would have imagined he would be here riding a trail like this". Made me feel good as I was the one making the decisions for ride choices. Made me feel especially good to hear a relative newcomer to mtn biking (but a pretty fast 'old guy')like Francisco see how great our sport can be. This guy who would be a great endurance racer. I think he has the quiet determination and vision for it if I can talk him out of those silly XC NORBA type races he keeps winning.

So, another great day on a bike (but I still could barely walk).

Monday, September 29, 2008

Deuter Hydration Pack

Well, I picked up one of these at I-Bike.

Race EXP Air hydration pack by Deuter. I had heard of the packs from reports on the net. I have been looking to replace my day to day pack since the one I was using was not quite what I was looking for. The old one had tons of nifty features like an MP3 pouch and lots of separate storage compartments. However, like all the packs I had tried, mostly Camelbacks, once you added a full water bladder, it rode like a hump on the back of your back.

"Hump...what hump?"

Igor, Young Frankenstein

And, once those packs were all water laden and rolling around between my scapulas, the stuff space for jackets, lunch, etc was very small.

What caught my eye with the Deuter pack was the air comfort back system. A combo of a spring steel frame, mesh panels, and pads promises to keep the pack stable and away from my backside and should allow for expansion of the bladder without turning into a party balloon.

I tried a larger day pack at the Deuter booth that had a laptop and such in it and even though it was as heavy as you would imagine, it sat very stable and comfy on my back with the Air Comfort system. One thing I noticed with all packs is that they feel fine empty but maybe less so loaded and it is hard to load them up in the bike shop/retail outlet. The spring steel in the Deuter system actually feels better against the back loaded than empty as the 'wings' flex and conform to your body.

I sat down and transferred my stuff over once I got home and I did miss the variety of smaller compartments the old pack had but I also need to work on consolidating my tools and such better. Also, I am an admitted packrat. I tend to carry too much, but better safe than sorry.

I will use the mesh outer pockets for ride snacks and such. The main compartment is very large and there is an expandable panel zippered around the edges if you need to gain a bit more space for shedding layers of clothing mid ride, etc. The pack also has a concealed helmet carry strap and a concealed rain pouch.

I think I may look into sewing a few velcro straps in for a pump strap and a separate, removeable pouch for tools, etc. In fact, I think that would be a welcome feature, that being a tool roll/pouch that is integrated into the pack but is removeable for repairs, etc.

100OZ (3L) ought to get me there on longer rides. I intend to use this on multi hour unsupported rides. I also just added another pack option by ordering a smaller pack for quick rides and supported races, but more on that later. As well, I plan on a larger pack for overnight bikepacking but again, that is for another day.

The only other thing that has jumped out at me on the Deuter, was the thought of having a wider strap at the waist, but that may not be an issue once I actually use it.

We shall see.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Part Two: Moab - The 3/4 Enchilada

When the trip was proposed to me, Moab was mentioned as a midweek destination in between the I-Bike stuff. I was the only one of the four of us that had been there, so it kinda fell to me to choose the rides there. There is one ride I always do when I am in that town, Porcupine Rim. I know there are new options getting ridden now, like Sovereign, but I had a bigger idea. The Whole Enchilada. Named for the ride that begins at Burro Pass and ends on the Porc Rim at the river, it is a consummate Moab Sampler IMO. From the Aspens to the sand of the petrified dunes, you get it all in 25+ miles of riding.

We discussed the route and decided, based on riding experience of the group and the fact we wanted to have fun, not get into an epic, we decided to have our shuttle company drop us off at Hazzard Trailhead below Burro as a beginning point, thus the 3/4 Enchilada moniker. I was debating my decision all the way to the trail head since I am kinda the all or nothing kind of guy, but in the end, we made a good decision to shorten the ride.

So it begins with, like all good trips, smart packing. We 4 fit into Steve M.'s Honda Pilot-mobile with little room to spare. Steve is the consummate master packer. The pyramids at Giza got nothing on him.

Once in Moab, we rolled into our swank cabin and unloaded, got on our bikes, and rolled around town to spin out the cobwebs. We rode over to Chile Pepper bikes, where we were to pick up our shuttle tomorrow morning, and then rode over to Pasta Jays for dinner.

The next day, we met our driver for the trip the trail head. Say hi to Christie and John, the dog.

A group pic, and we were off, GPS, maps, and more clothes than we needed. The weather was fabulous and the oak trees were blazing red next to the yellow aspens. Say hi to Cliff, Francisco, Me, and Steve M. Cliff was riding a Gary Fisher Cake, Francisco a Blur LT, Steve a Speshy Enduro, and me on the Lev 3.0 29er.

The tiny uphill at the beginning of the ride was a clue-in to the elevation we were pedaling at. 10K' is no place to search for extra oxygen.

It did not take too long before we had our first mechanical. Francisco ended up with one screw missing from an SPD cleat. We found out that a water bottle cage bolt fits the cleat plate, but the head was kinda fat to allow the shoe to clip in. Finally, we swapped around until Steve could use the bigger screw with his Eggbeater pedals. If we had a button head screw for our bottles, it would have been better, but we were rolling once again.

One thing that surprised me was how Hazzard trail was pretty bumpy/rocky/techy. I guess I had imagined swooping down a Aspen laden trail on a smooth path. Not so. It set the tone for the day, that being bumpy/rocky/techy. Ah, Maob.

Soon we hit Kokopelli Trail, which was not what it used to be after a fire called for a bulldozer to improve the trail a bit. Still, it was all good and soon we spilled out onto Sand Flats Rd., turned right, and headed to Lower Porc singletrack (we had bypassed Upper Porc due to a signed closure). Here, Francisco drops onto the road in a blur (and ON a Blur LT as it so happens).

Riding over to the beginning of the rim edge trails, we stopped for a moment to hang our legs over the abyss. This called for lots of cameras and finger pointing at the Castle Valley below.

From here, LPS got pretty techy and fun, weaving through the Pinion Pine and such. Soon we hit the hike-a-bike through the chute that I hear some folks actually ride. Wow. Hard to believe.

This was a real beat-down on a XC bike for an old guy like me. I do not remember it being that rough, but time does that to ya, smooths out the rough spots of life. Porc Rim is a great but demanding ride. I would have LOVED to have 2 more inches of travel and bigger tires, not to go faster, but to reduce the abuse and add a comfort/security factor. Still, 29" wheels are nearly magic on the ledges and drops of the Porc Rim and the 3.0 Lev did just fine being a bit out of its element and all. A Lenz Behemoth would be the ultimate 29er for this with the beefy travel, light frame, and shorter stays for all the manuals and drops.....hundreds of them.

Soon, well if you call 5 hours soon, we were back in town with the heat up a notch or to, sitting under a table in the shade, eating double cheese burgers, home fries (real ones), and killer chocolate shakes from Milts, 300 W and 400 E. Highly suggested as a post ride grub spot.

We done the deal, us old guys. Only one and a half mechanicals, one and a half crashes, and 4 complete smiles on grimy faces with chocolate milkshake mustaches ended the day.

6600' of downhill, 29 miles of riding, 5 hours.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Part One: Demo Days 2008

So begins the 4 part saga of a week centered around bikes and bike stuff...riding, examining, exploring, hand shaking, and schwag gathering. Part one are my thoughts from the Demo Days, an opportunity to ride yourself silly on nearly any bike you have on your dream list. Part two is Moab, part 3, Thunder Mtn Trail, and finally ending at Interbike.

Part One:

I had never been to Demo Days before and I only had 4 hrs to ride as much as I could. Stepping off the air conditioned bus at the expo was pretty impressive. It looked like a tent city laid out in the shimmering air. An oasis in the heat of the desert, an oasis of goodies. Oh boy! Riders were already crawling around the XC course like ants at a mtn bikers picnic. The course wound through the desert hills offering an XC and a DH option. I rode the same XC loop each time, about a 20 minute ride, that way I could keep the comparison as fair as possible. Each bike was set up by the vendor, I never changed a thing on the suspension. Many bikes would remain untried as I simply ran out of time, but I was focused on one thing: Riding as many FS 29ers as possible to see what the newest suspension offerings were bringing to the table and to see how my Lenz stacked up. Had I made a good decision or should I have waited for a newer wunderbike? Time will tell. Read on!

Ride one: Salsa Big Mama - Can the Mama dance?

Much buzz about this one. I was pretty sure that Salsa was coming out with a FS 29er and I was hoping it would be reasonably priced. When it hit the net, it was quite the stirrer up of stuff as it was well priced and good looking AND innovative in subtle ways. I was really looking forward to this one as Guitar Ted had really liked it and had left the impression that it rode better than the sum of it's parts would lead you to believe.

I got a red one, and Steve M. got a black one.

After introducing myself to Jason from Salsa (I link to his very fine blog), I checked out a Big Mama, LG size if I remember correctly. Right away it felt good to pedal, but I could tell it was a bit heavier than the Lev. However, compared to my Lev, it had burlier tires and more heft overall as befit the trailbike aspect of the build (true of most of the bikes I rode except the Pivot). I got to the first rolling hill and stood up and pedaled. Very nice, stiff and responsive. Nothing amazing, just solid. And that feeling remained throughout the ride. It was solid, predictable, accurate, comfortable, nuetral, and very, very fun to ride. I have been riding bikes for a long time, and if I can get on one and feel right at home, I count that as high praise. No adapting, no wondering, "is it me or the bike that feels a bit off?"

Oh, one more thing...I am an advocate for shortish CS length but I had heard that the Big Mama was pretty long back there. I had also read that it was easy to wheelie and manual, something that many other 29ers I have ridden were unwilling to do. Darned if it was not true. I never pulled out the ruler, but it was simple to wheelie and very easy to manual, as least as good as my Lev.

Nice bike. Very balanced, no suprises.

Ventana El Rey - Old Standard gets judged.

When I was trying to decide if I liked 29ers a year or so ago, I rented an EL Rey and rode it for a couple of days. I loved a few things about it. It was beautifully made, pedaled in and out of the saddle like it was built to run fast, and handled like a school bus in the tight trails around home. I figured maybe it was me not being used to the subtleties of a 29" wheel, so I figured I would grab one and see if I felt any different this time.

[NOTE: This one was set up with narrow bars and stupid angles on the brake levers. Why narrow bars on a FS 29er? It felt wrong. I ride wide bars and all the other bikes I rode had wider bars as well. Hmmmm...how can that happen that a test bike can be built up that way? Bummer.]

Was it all better now that I had a few hundred miles on 29ers? Nope. Still gorgeous, still sexy, still stiff, still clumsy and odd steering with a floppy front end and a very hard to manual, unbalanced ride. Huh. My first impression stands, and after the Big Mama, I was thinking I would not spend another 1000 dollars for less fun on the trail. When I rode by the Salsa booth, I called out to Jason that the "Big Mama won", at least so far. Impressive.

Still mystified about the manual-ing (sp?) issue. What is the deal? I had the same issue with the Fisher HiFi. I dunno. Cockpit position? Weight balance? Magic spell? All I know is that I can manual my Lev pretty easily, the Mama was about the same, maybe easier, and the El Rey was waaaay harder just like before. Huh.

Pivot 429: My first shot at a DW link bike.

Man, was I putting a lot of hope in this bike. I have a, well, you can't call it a vision exactly, but it is a feeling I dream about when I rise out of the saddle and pedal an imaginary FS bike and it scoots forward like it was a hardtail, but rides like an FS bike. So far, that exists only in my mind. Would the Pivot be the fulfillment of that dream?

Looking at it, it is a very well made bike, very sexy links and struts connecting it all together. To me, most DW bikes look cluttered and clunky but the 429 looks organic. After more setup time than the other bikes, including careful measurement of sag with a calibrated little tool, the Pivot guy blessed the set up and off I went.

Sitting and pedaling along it felt the equal to the others, maybe a bit 'deader' feeling, but it scooted when prodded. It certainly did not feel plush, but I like that anyway as I am slanted towards a firmer ride. Standing on the first rise, I thought maybe I had a low tire or the suspension was moving under pedaling force. Nope, the links were not cycling at all and I was moving pretty fast, it just felt odd. I was to find that all the DW type bikes felt like that to one degree or another, the JET-9 the least. I got used to it, but it felt very different than my Lenz and the El Rey and the Mama. Not a deal breaker.

One other thing that bugged me about all the DW type bikes: I would stand and pedal, look down at the BB area and see all that stuff hanging out there and my mind would say, "hmmmm......un-sleek" Yeah, I know....but there it is.

Another thing I noticed when I dropped into the first twisting section of trail was that this was one of the finest feeling front ends I have ever ridden. It just was dead accurate. Wow. I never quite got into sync with the rear end though. It was a fast bike and it was not a plush ride, but it never felt balanced between the front/rear. The rear would kick a bit on a ledge that the fork just flowed over. When you went fast and the bumps racheted up a notch, it was a firm but fast ride and it just railed the turns. I liked it a lot and I would not mind owning it if only for the fine front end and the cool looks. Still, it had not knocked off the Mama as the #1 fun bike.

Jet 9 - Ready to make me sad about buying my Lev 3.0?

OK, not a trailbike for this area of the country, but as a fast, lighter and more race oriented version of the RIP-9, many folks in some parts of the world would make this their one and only bike. How would it compare to the Lenz? Both have the same travel in the back (3" or so) and 100mm forks.

It was the best pedaling bike of all the DW-type bikes as you might expect since it is designed to be racey. It was obviously less plush, but it handled the trail with grace. However, you better keep an eye on the front end as it was a bit quick, especially on the scrabbly and rocky trails of the demo course. I liked it, but the Lev feels more slanted toward the trail bike feel, but with light weight and responsive pedaling of the JET. The JET is what I would ride if I liked a right-now type of steering or I needed to dance through the roots and rocks where quick turning is desired more than stablity. I would buy this bike, but I would not get off the Lev for it.

Sultan - Did Dave get it right?

Man you would think that the Turner folks found a new way to suspend gravity or something, the way that the internet buzz was going on about the turn to DW link frames. We shall see. I always held the Sultan in high regard but never got to ride one before I bought the Lenz.

Right away, I liked the bike as I pedaled out of the tent area. It was a bit short in the TT (LG size), but close enough. I actually got to swap to an XL halfway through the course and it was a closer fit to me at 6'2" and long arms. Somewhere in between as the perfect size?

Remember the fine steering 429? Add that to the Sultan, make the rear end feel as good as the front, have it track on rails, steer effortlessly, climb better than all the DW bikes except the JET (and it was close), run the DH sections so fast that I was scaring myself but let me pull it off anyway...well you get the idea. Simply amazing bike.

When I got back to the Turner tent, I mentioned it was the best trailbike of all I had ridden, but it needed a better fork to match the superb rear end. He looked at me with a wry grin and said, "you mean better than a Fox F29 120mm?", like I did not know what I was riding on, and I just replied, "Yeah. Better than that." Maybe a fork with a little bit more travel, I am not sure, but if it made the 120mm Fox look a bit less than excellent, that is kinda amazing.

So, the final tally?

Bike I would buy if someone else was writing the check or I just was flush with cash?


Bike I would buy if my Lenz broke and I wanted to stay racey for endurance stuff, etc? Niner Jet-9. I never got a chance to ride the RIP-9, obviously the more trailbike of the two.

Bike I would take home from the dance? The Big Mama. Not the best in any one area, but the cost, the fun factor, and the simple design and excellent performance all added up to top the charts IMO. An excellent everyday, weekend warrior bike for the average Joe (or Jill). Basically most everyone.

It has got me thinking about a longer travel bike, but I really can't justify it in my area. For around Vegas or areas with this much chunk, 29" wheels and 4" plus is the deal. I also figured out what the Nevegal tires are for. Trails like this. I hated them in my town, loved them here.

The Lev? How did it stand the comparison test? I made a great purchase with my Lev and no bike made me feel like I missed the boat.

A few more pics from the gallery:

The new Selma SS from Salsa, the beef on the RIP-9 front end, and the revised cog set-up on the Spot Longboard followed by the 69er El Chuco.

My only regret was that I ran out of time. Next time I will be there for more hours if not days. Frankly, I would cut back on time spent at the I-Bike show and be at the Demo more. I wanted to ride a Selma, a Spot Longboard, a Fargo, a Moots YBB, a....well, next year.