Tuesday, May 26, 2009

So long DiSSent

Well, it was a short romance, this grand adventure called a DiSSent. I plan on moving the frame onto another owner as soon as one pops up. So what happened? Did it suck?

Not at all. In fact, it is an excellent product, especially for the money, but it is not for me. Remember that this was a bit of an experiment to try some things I had wondered about for a while. To follow the whole thread, just clicky on the tag DiSSent, left column of the blog page. I was very interested to see how the aluminum thing was going to treat me, how the longer TT length would feel, and if there was to be a compromise in ride quality over pedaling perfomance, would it be worth it?

This is what I found:

  • Oversize aluminum is what it is. There is little magic going on to make it supernaturally behave other than its nature suggests. The Dissent is a mixed bag of emotions when you point it into the bumpies. The back end is surprisingly smooth, in fact I would not be surprised if it is smoother than the KM is or at least pretty darn close. The front end of the bike is very stout and therin lies the rub...I have not figured out how to ride only on the back wheel for every bump. Until I do, the DiSSent shows its oversize, gusseted nature quite plainly here. It may not be 'harsh', but it is certainly 'abrupt'.
  • It is a fine handling bike. Not only does it crush the KM in overall handling prowess (except in one area), it is a better handling bike than my Lenz FS. Here I am sure the resolute frame is working for me. It turns, holds the line, and just is unfazed by whatever I can hang on through.
  • The longer TT length is a mixed bag. I went from a 24.25" TT on the Karate Monkey to a 25.25" TT on the DiSSent, pulled back the cockpit 1/2" with a shorter stem, leaving me one half inch more to stretch out into. It feels great when I stand to pedal, really great. But I needed to move the saddle forward a bit, maybe another 1/2" to get the feel right when seated, so what was the point? To run a shorter stem? That is about all I really changed, that and having a longer wheelbase. What I did lose was a bit of playfulness. The 19" DiSSent I rode was not this way, so I feel that, at least for this bike and set up, the extra length needs to come from something other than frame length. However, it still turns like a guided missle, despite the size of it and I bet for a slightly taller person than I it would be killer.
  • Pedaling perfomance Vs. Ride quality. So, I had a theory: Does the high demand for pedaling performance on an SS, and by that I mean the ability of a frame to take the high pedaling loads and transfer that into forward motion, does that allow for compromise on ride quality, what we call 'suppleness' or smoothness' or what have you? At this price level, steel is often less than fabulous in that if it rides very smoothly, it will likely be flexy at the BB. If it is stiffer, like the KM, it likely will not be all that nice of a ride. And, cheap steel is heavy. Result? I think the DiSSent is absolutely worth the tradeoff with one proviso...can you take the beating that will result? The DiSSent is simply fabulous when it comes to surging forward under hard pedaling, steep climbs, fast charges, etc. It rocks. But, it 'rocks' me in other ways that, at my age and level of frailty, is just too much to enjoy over a long trail day. But, if you are not too concerned with that and are more bulletproof than I (not too hard), then the DiSSent, for the money, is 'Da Bomb. It would be a fabulous race bike for XC duty.
That begs the question, "What is next?". Not sure. But whatever it is it will be living in the shadow of the DiSSent, a flat black shadow of a mean and fast bike that does what it does very well indeed.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

More than a sport

A few days ago I was watching a documentary called Riding Giants. It is a fascinating look into the world of big wave surfers as seen by the director, Stacy Peralta (an old skater from the era of my youth). I never surfed as there is too much water involved in surfing and I never saw any way to get around that, but it was a powerful film to watch.

One thing that stood out, a strong impression among many, was the clear and profound influence that surfing had across the lives of the men who spoke on camera in the film. They did not just surf, they were surfers. At some point in their lives, they picked up a surfboard, waxed it up and paddled out to try this wave riding thing. I bet they fell off a lot, struggled to learn the basics, swallowed some sea water and got scared more than a few times. But something about the water, the oceans power, the challenge of reading the wave, moving across it, with it, not fighting it...something grabbed them down deep and never let them go and they never let go of it either. Surfing became more than a sport, a thing to do, it was a way to be.

I can only think of a few sports that transcend that way. Surfing. Skiing. Cycling. Running perhaps. Golf? Nah. Tennis? Hardly. Those are bound up little contrived physical activities. They have tight, neat, little contrived rules that are controlled by tight, neat, little controlling people. Stay within the lines. Keep score.

Surfing, skiing, mtn biking...they let us touch the earth in a unique way. The powder is deep, the day is bright, you draw the lines, you make the rules on the slope. The surf is up, breaking pretty big for early in the morning. The water allows you to come along for the ride. You are not in control of it...it knows it and you know it. Wheels roll across the earth and leave their own lines; skinny lines on paved roads, dusty lines on gravel roads, faint lines on sandstone mesas where there are no roads.

As I was riding alongside KT the other night, I was thinking about all this, sifting through it. We were chatting, pedaling, just like we have done in some way or another for so many years that it seems like we never began to do it, it just always was, like we were born to it from the womb. The dirt road we were on offered us some boundaries, but we were free to draw our own lines within the lines.

Looking backwards and forwards at my life I see a line left by a knobby tire. It is clear and distinct at times and faint in others, but never disappears completely. It begins so far back that I cannot see it's origin and it rolls over the horizon to a place I have yet to go.

And, God willing, I am eager to get there.

KT, out drawing some lines of his own, Utah desert.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Getting to know the DiSSent

I have three rides on the new SS scoot so far, two with some changes to the handlebars (Groovy Luv Bars...more on that coming up) and another seat post and I am getting a pretty good feel for the little aluminum warrior.

  • It is a much better, and by better, I mean stiffer, responsive, resolute, snappy, etc, pedaling bike then the Karate Monkey (KM). The KM was not a dog, but when you hit those very steep grades or times when you were really reefing on the bars and barely turning the cranks over, the Km would just kinda go "uuuunhhggg" and slow down like a tired dog looking for shade. It would keep moving, but it did not feel all excited about it. The Dissent looks at the hill and dares you to turn the cranks over and hammer, cuz it knows you will give up before it does. It is very stout and racy feeling. That is good.
  • It is a fair amount more abusive then the KM as far as overall ride quality. It is not crazy beat-you-down stiff, in fact the rear end feels very smooth but that big, oversize and gusseted front triangle, the one that makes the BB seem so rock steady...it will let you know in no uncertain terms that it is no luxury liner, sit back and float over the trail, ride.
  • It is a very good handling bike. It is more stable then the KM when things get fast and rutted...the KM would push the 'tighten sphincter' button real fast, but the DiSSent just runs through with very little fuss. So, it is more stable and it is a bigger bike then the KM, longer wheelbase, etc. So why does it turn so much better too? Very nicely done. If I danced through the woods more and bounded over ruts and rocks less, I would go for the 19" frame, but the XL supertanker version is still easy to move down the trail. It is harder to get the front end up then the KM was, despite the same CS length.
Time will tell about if I can live with the fair beat down it gives out. It may be relatively smooth riding for an oversize aluminum frame, but it is not magical and it cannot defy the nature of the beast. Also, keep in mind that I am an older guy with crummy wrists and a worn out back. YMMV. Steel may be real, faithful, and true like the Lone Ranger or Clark Kent, but oversize aluminum is the guy with lots of ink and a few scars from battle. Think cage fighting.

One thing I would hate to lose is the fabulous response that the frame gives to hard pedaling efforts. I will keep riding it and tweaking things for a while and see what happens. If it is not for me, I will move it to another buyer and take what I learned to the next bike choice. What will that be? Dunno. I still have to finish up some work with a custom builder I know and if I could blend some of the qualities of this frame into a steel one and gain some cush in the overall ride, that could be the holy grail.

Of course, the grail is just a myth. Maybe the perfect bike is too.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Frazier Mtn Loop With KT and His Merry Men

Any time you join KT on a ride, be ready for anything.

The heat has been pretty intense for May, so any weekend rides needed to be at a decent elevation to avoid major suck-age. I had a solo loop planned that was going to be pretty long and include pavement, fireroad and lots of singletrack. But, another offer came up from KT to join a group ride in the even higher mountains of the Los Padres Forest.

KT is a pretty fit guy and the riders he runs with are all pretty fast, so when I go along I just figure I will be last up the hill and maybe even down the hill. Oh well. Someone has to do it, so it may as well be me.

A few of us met on Saturday AM on a day that was supposed to hit 75*. Notice the lack of baggy shorts or big packs here? Patrick even brought his carbon S-Works Stumpy hardtail, Roval wheels and all. OK, then.

Part way up the 6 mile climb to the top of Frazier Mtn at about 09:00, it was already over 75* in the valley below. It would get hotter, especially once we hit the canyon bottom. I was somewhat familiar with the route and I knew the area, but it had been years since I was on any of the OHV trails that criss-cross the mountain. The 6 mile climb was not too hard and I was pacing myself knowing I was not in top shape. I had a fair idea I should save a bit of oomph for later. Good plan.

Say hi to Lance. No, not THAT Lance, this Lance. Still, a Giant of a guy, I understand.

I was riding the Lev and had two bottles of Accelerade, one 70 oz Camelbak, a bunch of snacks, a burrito, and a Soft Flask of gel. I was using the fuel cell that was part of the ensemble from Carousel Design Works to carry the stuff I wanted quick access to rather than remove the Camelbak all the time. That really worked well. My only complaint was that I found I brushed my knees on it when standing and climbing unless I bowed them out a bit. No biggie.

Soon enough we descended a bit on fireroad and hit the singletrack. This is motorcycle country and the trails are really better suited to a throttle then pedals. I took off on a fast pace only to come around a corner and run right into three BIG whoop-de-dos spaced about 3/4's of a bike length apart. These things looked big enough to swallow up my 29" wheels. Not good.....I got on the brakes hard until I ran into the first one then I HAD to let off the brakes or die. I hit the first one OK, but each one boosted me a bit higher and higher until on the last one I was pretty well airborne and nearly cased it into the final upslope. Made it out alive...man, that was a rabbit out of the hat. Thank you God. Maybe I better slow down a bit until I get a feel for this trail. It ended up being fun, being pretty swoopy, a bit loose, but playful and then you would drop down a v'd out, filled with silt and loose rocks chute that got your attention, then more whoops and swoops. I have to say that most of the time, I really do not think much about the legendary flexiness of the classic Reba fork I have on the Lev. But, I don't often ride techy stuff like this. It gave me an appreciation for those calling for stiffer forks, wheels, and frames on 29ers. I could feel the front end squirting and squirming left when I was pointing it right. Everything felt like I had a flat front tire.

I really need to upgrade that Reba and I will never buy another fork that does not have a serious QR interface like the 20mm or 15mm options out there, at least on a trail bike 29er. Very eye opening. One day I will replace the Lev with a better rig suited for rougher trail, 120mm fork, etc, but I sure hate to give up the lighter weight of this bike. Oh well, tradeoffs.

I would have taken more pics, but KT cracks the whip pretty good and his rest stops are barely anything at all. No tea and finger sandwiches served. Get 'em up, move 'em out, Rawhide! It was absolutely the hardest day I have had since my crash and maybe even since Vision Quest. We hit the creek bottom and found that the trail which we had expected to continue at riverbed level out to the road instead turned upwards and climbed back in the direction we had come from. Bummer. It was really hot now and the warm water in the pack and what was left in the bottles was not at all satisfying. Pedaling was beyond me. The group was gone out of sight. I was pushing a lot while ahead of me I imagined KT's band of merry men chatting and pedaling up the sandy, loose trail while singing ballads of old and hoisting water bottles in toast to their merry-ness. Pffhaa! Merry making is over rated. Real men are not afraid to walk their bikes.

We popped out in the open after finding ourselves at a fireroad which led to a familiar OHV area. From here, the pack split. I took another guy that had had as much fun as he cared to and we headed out to the pavement for a few miles of pedaling back to the trucks. The rest of the miscreants continued on the dirt with an estimated 1500' climb to close the loop from where we started. I really wanted to go with them, but I was feeling the onset of cramps and that would be better handled on the road then up that mountain somewhere.

It was a good choice as I rolled into the parking lot right at 4 hrs, got off the bike, and cramped up completely if I tried to bend my legs, take shoes off, etc. Good timing. I had a bottle of Fluid recovery drink on ice in the cooler and it tasted wonderful as did the bag of cheesy/ranch Ruffles. Ambrosia.

It was 86* at the parking lot and 96* a bit lower in the valley. Is this May or July?

6000' climbing
26 miles
4 hours, 3:51 riding time

Junkyard Dog

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Wrenches are turning in a frenzied effort.

Last night me and about 256 moths were busy building up the DiSSent by porch and floodlight just outside my front door. All I need to do is run the cables to the BB7s and set them up, something I thought I would do with daylight and a fresh brain, so I am 95% there.

I am very anal when it comes to cable housing length, prepping the cable ends with a sanding/grinding wheel, etc. And, I guess that there is a certain process to getting the BB7s to be the best that they can be.

So, about an hour or so of routing, cutting, adjusting and fretting remains till I can ride and tweak things into something that can be taken into the hills.

Hee heeeee!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Titanium Thing

Ti. The magical mystery metal of dreams for most hardtail riders. It never rusts, seldom breaks, rides nice, and looks, well...like Ti. Magic pixie dust comes with every Ti frame, I suspect.

GT is playing with one right now over at The Cyclist.

I have never owned a Ti frame. I have owned a few off the rack bikes, a lot of hand made steel frames, one custom aluminum frame and a few high end FS bikes, but never Ti. Is it a big deal? Not really, I mean it is not like it makes or breaks me, etc, but I have to admit that, once I get a bit more time on the singlespeed bike I am building up now and I figure out some frame geometry, etc, I am looking long term to a Ti frame of some kind. Likely not an Eriksen or Moots, but there are some decent options out there like the Lynskey Ridgeline, Vassago Ti frame, etc. Who knows, maybe I will pop for a really nice, handmade to order frame, but that would be a long shot given my typical budget in life.

And you know, it would not be all magical compared to a great steel frame or even a really nice aluminum sled, but there is something about Ti. It calls to me. I don't get all wadded up over it and lose sight of having fun on whatever I am blessed with being able to afford...run what ya' brung, etc...but I have to admit that in many ways it defines the ultimate statement of having 'made it' to the promised land of welded tubes and satin finishes. And it simply rocks as a hardtail SS choice. Beauty, eh?

So, God willing, I will have that SS Ti frame one day, but until then I will keep pedaling what I have now and be happy. Hopefully GT will lie to me and tell me the Lynskey is really not all that great, that light bikes are overrated, that Ti is not as good as it seems, I really don't want one at all, and he can't wait to ride a heavier, slower, painted, steel, non-magical, no pixie dust impregnated singlespeed again. I would feel soooo much better.

One can only hope.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Countdown to one.

One gear, that is. Hopefully this week with bring me the parts I need to complete the DiSSent build and then I have a pretty big loop planned to break it in properly, likely the single biggest ride on an SS to date.

I really do miss the SS. I had to back off of the riding after the crash to let my wrist heal. I could not have been riding SS anyway till recently since I could not stand and pull on the bars. I thought I would have lost a lot of fitness, but I am still riding pretty strong.

But there is geared strong and single speed strong. I have a feeling that I may find out that I am one but not the other, kinda like this Singlespeed Mystery.

I bet I will have a few mystery moments ahead of me.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Choosing not to ride.

It happened Sunday afternoon. I chose not to ride my bike and that is quite odd. I pretty much always choose TO ride. But I found myself standing there, in my bedroom, holding a pair of riding shorts in my hand and instead of gearing up, I put them away and took a shower.


It began with a yet another cancellation of a ride I have been trying to make all year...heck, even part of last year. I ended up having to stand-by for work duties this weekend, so I had to change plans at the last minute. It also meant there would be no rides of any significance since I have to stay close to civilization. And, that meant that I had to ride the same old, same old stuff...again. Some guys do that every week....week after week. Same day, same ride, and they are happy to do it. Not me. Strike one.

I have been assembling a kit to get ready for bikepacking adventures and have been talking about it to most of the guys I ride with. It seems like I may be the only guy to get all excited about this, at least beyond saying, "hey that sounds like a great idea!". So, I may be all dressed up for the dance with no dance partner. Stike two.

The SS DiSSent ran into a snag which delayed the build-up a couple of weeks, so after having it since Sea Otter, still no SS joy happening. Strike three.

I could find no one to ride with that might have helped me get out the door and pedal a while. Strike four.

I'm outta' there. Back to the benches.

So, there I was in the bedroom, holding a pair of baggies in my hand and finding no heart to put them on, click into the pedals, and roll out of the garage. And, I have to say that it worries me a little bit to feel that way. Do I always have to ride when I have the opportunity? No. Should I be able to choose not to ride? Sure.

What does concern me is the way I let circumstances affect my attitude to where I missed out on spending time on my bike, even if it was just a spin around the neighborhood. The act of riding a bike is its own reason, really, and that should be enough. Last night it was not enough and I need to not let that happen again.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Anthony, I already miss ya'.


I don't know how many of you had the pleasure of viewing the images that Anthony brought to the computer screen, but if not, go here and spend some time getting lost in wonder and awe at the fabulous world that God created as seen through the insightful lensing of Anthony Sloan.

I never met him, but I always hoped to. I am saddened by his passing, sad for Grendel the dog, sad that there will be no more mornings spent opening a post by Anthony and disappearing into Moab sandstone, Colorado high country, or New Mexico desert, all without leaving my desk.

Man, I am bummed. Anthony, I never knew ya', but I knew ya' anyway and you touched my life in very nice ways.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Where's the Length?

Speaking of top tubes here. If 29ers are for bigger/taller guys, and they certainly are, then why do the sizes of the larger frames stop at under or just at 25"?

Last night I was riding with a few guys, one of them being a 6'4", relatively new rider. He is on a 26" wheeled HT that is the biggest frame size they make, a fairly rangy 21" frame with a 25.25" TT. He has a 100/120mm stem (est) and an offset seatpost with the saddle slammed all the way back. He is juuuust a bit cramped. He also had just put a deposit down on an Ellsworth 26er FS that he found at a great price in a local shop, a local shop which likely is not too pleased with me right now.

When he was talking about his new bike, I did not want to get into 29er evangelizing and cast doubts on his new purchase. But then I heard that he had not actually bought it yet. Well then, that is different.

So I asked him, "have you ever ridden a 29er? " He said no. We were at the top of the hill by then and headed down a swoopy singletrack, so I gave him the keys to my Lev and we traded bikes. His hardtail is the heaviest non-FS bike I have ever ridded. Good lord....35 lbs if it is an ounce. So my 28 lb Lev felt like a vapor in the climbs and he was amazed at how smoothly the big wheels rolled. But, the key here is how he looked on my bike...proportional. Yes, the cockpit was a bit short for him as is it set up for me at 6'2", but it still was waay less clown bike looking.

So we got to talking bikes and he asked for suggestions as to what to look at in a new 29er. I knew right away that there would be an issue getting them long enough for him since he is not into the custom frame budget arena. I knew that Specialized builds big bikes and Turner as well, but a 2009 Sultan is what, 2500 clams? Wow.

No Canzo for him, Kona barely hits 25" as does the Salsa Big Mama. The RIP is a bit all mountain for his use but it barely gets there as well. Most other stuff is too pricey like a Ventana or such thing. And, what really sucks is that Specy stole the Brain shock off of the FSR for this year, which, IMO, really hurts the performance of that bike. I loved it with the Brain on there.

Anyway, to my first point. If you are going to naturally attract the taller riders to the bigger wheels, the frame sizes need to go another notch up into a TRUE XL, not just a bit taller at the seattube, but stretch those babies out there into the 25.5" range. Better to run a shorter stem and a non-offset post if that is the set-up then get into 120mm stems and saddles all the way off the back of the rails.

My new SS frame has a 25.25" TT and a 100mm stem. It is a bit of an experiment to see how that works out from the 24.25" KM size. Will I like it? Time will tell as I am not that tall compared to the 6'4" to 6'6" guys that I see on 29ers that still are not as stretched out as they should be. But, if I was 2 to 3 inches taller, I would still be out of the sweet spot as far as frame fit, wheel size not-withstanding, and that needs to change.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Solitary Cyclist

Sunday morning and no one to ride with. Well, that is not quite true as I missed a group ride by 20 minutes or so...still pajama time for me, but the local loop they were riding was the same old same old and is hard to get all excited about that again.

I had a ride set up, a nice epic one a fair distance away, with Ed the Tall but he had daddy duty this weekend. Buddy Steve is coaching La Crosse, KT and his cronies are off to the Wildflower event, no one else could say yes to my e-mail invite so here I am, pondering and eating breakfast cereal and that is never a good thing...the pondering, I mean. Frosted Flakes are killer.

Often I read on forums where the question is posed, "how often do you ride alone?" and from what I read in the replies, it is quite common for most serious cyclists, serious meaning there is the need for a fair amount of miles and or hours on the bike to keep themselves where they want to be fitness wise OR to satisfy the need to 'get out there' in a meaningful way. I know I ride alone quite a bit, sometimes because my schedule does not allow any other way, sometimes on purpose, etc, but I have to admit a certain amount of jealousy felt when I see a person that seems to have a core group of regulars to ride with. It is a delicate balancing act, finding and sifting out a group that has the same ride interests, schedules, relative fitness and abilities, etc. Not easy.

For instance, there is one local group of very nice fellows that ride at such a social pace, I get bored and barely get my heart rate over the Barcalounger mark. Another group seems to be very happy to ride the same trails every week at a very early hour. The pace is fine, but getting them out of the valley to ride something new is like pulling teeth. Sigh...all good guys, but not that compatible...no soul mates as it were, when it comes to riding new and long stuff.

It is not all that bleak as I actually enjoy riding alone, but lately I have craved company. Not sure why. Age maybe. I used to think nothing of driving an hour to ride a multi hour ride all by myself and then return, but I seem to do that less and less now. Good or bad? Unsure. Safer, that is for sure, but it does tend to dampen the chances for solitary discoveries and adventure moments.

Well, I am heading out with the son of mine to do a quick ride, just he and I and maybe another guy and his kids, then I am on my own for the rest of the pedaling day. I am not sure what I will end up with, but it seems certain that whatever it is, I will be alone and I suppose that will have to do.

Such is the fate of the solitary cyclist.