Friday, January 29, 2010

Tall Boy question?

Do Ferraris come in orange? This one does.

Is that sexy or what? Belissima.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Big 'S' part three: "We Ride in the Rain Here".

"We ride in the rain here."
Nic from Specialized marketing dept.

As if to portend of things to come, the rain started up again after lunch as we prepared to get out and try and find a place to go for a ride. At the back of the warehouse, we spun wrenches getting an XL 2010 FSR Stumpjumper Expert 29er ready to ride. I felt kinda bad taking what is pretty much a new bike out in this weather. It was not going to be pretty.

We crammed the van full of bikes on the carrier and 4 of us inside; Myself, Nic, Eric and Robb. Nic was on a carbon 29er HT, Robb was on a 29er Epic and Eric was on his FSR Stumpy with a 1x10 XX set up running a 30 tooth front ring.

We drove out into heavy rain and winds with lightning flashing in the distance. OOofff. I kept thinking that these poor guys got sucked into taking this stupid media guy out in this weather...part of the job, Old Bean, etc...but looking at the faces in the van I think these nuts would have done this anyway if given half the chance. Hard core.

Nic had taken pity on this So Cal dryland rider and set me up with some wet weather clothing:

The Aqua Veto jacket, BG Deflect Gloves and some Tech Layer base layer pieces.

Combined that stuff with tights over shorts and some water shedding Sombrio baggies, the water proof BG Defroster Shoes and a head cap under my helmet and I was good to go. We ended up at the non-techy but super fun and super soggy-sandy soil of the Laguna Seca/Sea Otter area.

Now is this trick or what? I gotta do that at home.

We rode out in light rain and wet trails, although the sandy soil was very forgiving of our passing. No trail damage here. The FSR Stumpy 29er was a hoot to ride. I was aiming at every chunky thing I could find and watching the boys ride over the next hill while I wheezed along. These guys ride a bit, it seems. I was glad to have a granny on this bike.

The trails here are up and down, sandy and banked with fast bermed corners. What a great place to ride!

The FSR Stumpy is a really fun bike and obviously a different flavor than the Epic Marathon I have been on lately. I hope to get more saddle time on this one. I can see a trip to Blue Diamond in Vegas or Maybe Gooseberry Mesa. Yum.

I can't thank the guys at Specialized enough for taking such good care of me (and waiting at the top of the hills). It was fun and mildly epic in a wet kind of way. I will remember this ride.

Sitting in the San Jose airport the next day, I was listening to the reports come over the intercom as one after another the airports in So Cal were shutting down...San Diego, then Burbank. Nuts. I was headed to Burbank. Was. At the last minute I jumped ship and grabbed a flight to LAX where I could shuttle back towards home.

Standing in front of LAX waiting for the shuttle bus, it was raining, windy and in the low 50s. I was wearing a few layers including a raincoat and nice wool cap from Ireland. Out of the corner of my eye I see skin walking by. Lots of it.

There, coming out of the terminal building was a sight to see; a beauty of a women...tall, blonde, young and in oh-my-god shape. She had her entourage...two nicely dressed young men in front with the baggage and one at her side with the umbrella. She was wearing workout clothes; nice sweat pants that hugged the waist and a sports top/bra up top. You could see every toned and sculpted muscle as she walked...nay, not was more like a feline strolling along...languid comes to mind. The hip action was deliberate and remarkable. Like a living metronome, those hips could have powered a small town if you could have hooked a generator to them.

I watched the underdressed, walking, living testament to 'looking good in LA no matter the cost' cross the windy, wet and cold taxi way and move toward the waiting limo, no doubt. Ya' gotta laugh.

Absurdity and vanity on display. Welcome to LA.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Big 'S' part 2: In the Belly of the Beast

"First thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers"
From Shakespeare's King Henry the Sixth, Scene II

Without going into all the politics of it, something I have no real interest in knowing much about, I will say that there are things about big companies that can affect their...ahhh...popularity, shall we say. Think about the Walmart Syndrome; a big company that has been accused of being a bully, unfairly treating manufacturers, putting smaller companies out of business, etc. I have heard similar things leveled at the Big S as well, in one way or another. There are some real haters out there and Trek, Giant, etc all get their fair share of name calling. I will not make apologies for the way Specialized does or does not conduct business. Not my deal.

I wanted to meet the people that have their hands on the products you and I can wear, ride, and enjoy and see what they are all about.

And it was with that in mind that I stepped into the lobby of the Specialized HQ, dripping nicely on the carpeting. A matronly lady, no doubt having seen the Keystone Cops chase drama of my folding money cast to the winds, looked at me with a bit of a tsk-tsk look. I called my contact there, gathered my thoughts and looked around me. First I saw this:

I remember this bike!

In fact the lobby was adjacent to a museum of sorts with old bikes from the past, wild one-off custom bikes, new bikes, signed, cool stuff.

OOhhhh...I can touch Ned's bike????

The new Globe line represented here.

The tour included looks at the overall corp digs. Classrooms, testing facilities, warehouses of bikes for testing, employees bikes, secret bikes, old bikes, new bikes, borrowed bikes, blue bikes. This is a bike culture here, that much is apparent. You know, it could be a widget that gets designed here. A big company can make great widgets. They have the brains and the brawn to get it done. But a widget does not inspire. It does not call for lunchtime rides. Widgets don't get into your lives and create passion.

This is, as far as I can see a passionate place regarding creating a better bicycle. I know that it is also made up of layers and layers of emails, budget meetings, sales projections, engineering VS. marketing VS. accounting like any big company. And the legal dept too, at least until the torch bearing townsfolk catch up to them.

I have seen that same passion in the lives of other bike guys like Jason B. at Salsa Cycles. I have caught a glimpse of it in the halls of Giant Bikes HQ. The bike industry is made up of a lot of bike nuts that pinch themselves every day to see if they are dreaming. They may not be rich and life still happens, etc, but they get to work on, dream about, plan for, and play on bikes all day and they get paid for it. It could be worse.

Nice workout room for those days when ya can't ride outside.

I met the tire guy, the wheels guy, 2 29er guys and 2 marketing guys. Several of us sat in a room and discussed what I think, what they think, why this and that, etc. Interesting perspectives, for sure. In many ways, it feels odd for someone to ask my opinion like I have some great insight or something. Man, I am just an old dude who has loved mountain bikes for 25 years now and recently found that he loves big wheeled ones even more. I guess I have to blame that for getting me here. And, I suppose I have learned a few things along the way. Still and all, I do sometimes worry about, to paraphrase a wise old story, the 'emperors new lycra'.

Lunch happened at a local deli and as we walked over in the rain, I knew the next part of the journey was a bike ride on a 29er FSR Stumpjumper. Grey skies, rain, wind, monsoons, thunder, lightning...gonna be an interesting ride.

Next: Part Three - "We ride in the rain here". Nic Sims, Specialized

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Big 'S' Part one: Come Up and See Us Sometime

A while back I got an email from Specialized inviting me up to take a tour of the Corp HQ, meet some of the staff and test ride a bike for the day. Being a jaded bike journalist (hah), that was not quite enough to get me there, but the mention of Sushi tossed in to the deal capped it off and I was in.

The day rolled around and as we got toward D-Day, the weather turned to complete junk. California was seeing more rain in one week then it had seen in 5 years...nearly 10 inches in 5 days...tornados were touching down and mudslides threatened. Perfect bike testing weather? I asked Nic @ Specialized if this changed things. His reply: "We ride in the rain here." OK. I think I am among the hard core. Cool.

Flying out of Burbank I landed in San Jose with the weather looking just like I had left it in So Cal. Wet, windy, thundery. I was supposed to be met at the airport, I figured by a company grommet who got tasked with driving down through a monsoon to get this silly media guy picked up. I was told to look for someone with a sign. Cool, just like Justin Timberlake gets...his own sign.

But I saw no sign. A few phone calls and I was told that Al was there to meet me. Look for the sign. OK...outside, nothing but Middle Eastern cab drivers smoking cigs in the rain. Back to the baggage counter and this silver haired guy walks up and says, "are you so and so?". Yep. I had seen this guy at least three times in the baggage area during my sign. I ask him where his sign is. How am I supposed to feel like Justin T. without my sign? He steps back, looks at me, blinks once or twice and then points to the jacket he is wearing, emblazoned with big letters across the chest: SPECIALIZED. "I am the sign" says Al.

Oh...right. Sorry.

Ushered into the Lincoln Conti in much greater style than I expected (and typically warrant), we head off into the storm. Al is a great guy and we hit it off. Both of us have backgrounds in Martial Arts, so we talked about that. We also talked about his experience working for Specialized as a contract service, ferrying folks to and fro. He begins to speak about Mike Sinyard, owner of the company. It is unscripted and initiated by Al, and it is apparent that he not only respects Mike, but genuinely likes him. According to Al, the head of one of the most successful bike/component/accessory makers on the planet is a down to earth guy that is a bike nut at heart, often choosing to ride to work from an airport rather than take the Limo.

It is an interesting sideways look at someone's character. I have heard an adage that rings true more often than not. If you want to get an insight into a person, see how they treat people that are serving them: waiters, counter sales persons, customer service...and guys like Al. Mike does not need to invite Al on bike rides and encourage him to begin cycling. He could just sit in the car and be taken care of. But bike nuts tend to spread the passion they feel about bikes to others cuz they want everyone to know the fun and joy of it for themselves.

I have had the opportunity to hang a bit with Gary Fisher and he is that way. I never saw a sign of being jaded or uppity. he seemed to love bikes, bike people and the journey that two wheels has provided him through life and continues to provide.

Passion at the top of the corp ladder seems to be what is going on here at the Big S. It is going to be an interesting day.

Pulling up in front of the office building, the wind and rain is cranking. I reach into my pocket to grab a bit of legal tender for Al and the wind grabs my wad of cash (ok...wad is maybe the wrong word here) and flings it back in the direction of the airport. As I scramble around the parking lot looking under cars for that 20 dollar bill that remains missing,I hope that the guys I am meeting here are not watching out the window. I consider telling Al that I have good news and bad news....the good news is I was going to give him a 20 buck tip and the bad news is the missing bill is his!

I think Al would have laughed at that.

Part two coming up: In the Belly of the Beast - Putting Faces to the Faceless Capitalistic Juggernaut?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Double or Nothing?

Is the triple chainring mountain bike crank dead or dying? I think so. When I assembled my Leviathan a couple of years ago, I was coming off of a 1x9 Karate Monkey. And even though I knew I needed a granny ring on the Lev, I also knew that I really did not need a big ring either.

This was a real revelation for me since I had been running a triple crank for 20 some years. The big ring got used most of the time as a way to take up chain slack for rough sections and downhills, but of course it was used for faster sections of a ride. But I had found that the 1x9 Karate Monkey was pretty good with a 32T CR and 11T rear cog. Sure, it could have been taller, but it was 90% there, maybe more that that even.

2 years later I have little regret running a bash ring instead of a big ring. Every so often I lose the drag race if it comes to a flat, paved sprint to the parking lot with the boys but on trail I never miss it. It allows you to shorten your chain, run a shorter rear der, the shifting is either up or down...not up-up and down-down so it is dead simple to get the chain ring you want. You won't pit bull your calf on chain lube soaked teeth either. A bash ring is nice and smooth and the extra ground clearance is nice too. No more bent teeth on log crossing or shelf rolls.

And now I have been on the uber-gruppo XX 2x10 SRAM stuff mounted to the Epic Marathon. I will tell ya, except for the fact that I would like a slightly lower gear ( more on that later) it provides everything I need in gearing. A 39/11 is pretty darn tall. If you are spinning that out on the flats you are going really fast. A 39/36 is not very deep, but if you have momentum, it will get you over most trails. The 26/36 is deep enough gearing for most folks in most parts of the country and the better chainline that the 2x10 allows lets the 26T ring run the whole cassette in an efficient way.

And now, there is the news of the 2011 XTR/XT/SLX and XO groups being 2x10 as well. This is good as it means that dedicated 2x10 systems will be a bit better priced in the future. More on that here and possible discussion here

But, I do not see it as perfect...yet. Why?

  • Gears are TOO BIG! I guy I ride with that is fit and darn fast (racer boy) has a carbon Trek FS with an FSA double crank. It has a 44T outer ring (maybe bigger...can't remember). Even he thinks it sucks and this guy is a greyhound. Who is that gear for? Kansas racers? Even the XX group I have is barely...barely deep enough for me. I would jazzed about a 24/36 option but the BCD may not support that OR the option may not be offered by the makers. That may open up room for the small guys to tool up and give us deeper gear options.
  • Whatever happened to a 9 speed version? Man that was just glossed over with the Shimano 12-36 cassette that was panned as too heavy by a lot of folks. Think you will see an XT level, lighter version of that gear cluster now that 10 speed is hitting the streets? Not likely. And that is too bad. With a 12-36 9 speed and a 36 tooth big ring, that 12/36 is a pretty tall gear. A 24/36 double with a 12-36 would be my choice but offer a BCD that supports a 22/34 double as well. Why not? Have pity on the fat old guys of the world, will ya?
  • For crying out loud....what ever happened to the 180mm crank arm? With all the buzz on 29ers and the new dawn that it provided the big and tall among us...rise up and shout, oh gangly ones!!!...there are less and less longer cranks out there. No Race Face except a low line crank (V Drive), no Truvativ other than the SS crank, no FSA, no SLX, but at least we have (or had...not sure about the new 10 spd stuff) 180mm options in XT and XTR, no SRAM either, what else...hmmm....except for oddball stuff like Middleburn or White Industries (god bless them for their options for us SS riders) crank lengths are getting reduced in choice.
  • PUUULLLLEEEZZZEEE SRAM....give us 10 speed Gripshift. Please. I beg you.
  • Chain wear and replacement cost? Remains to be seen. Finicky shifting in difficult conditions? Well, 9 speed was worse than 8 speed. 10 speed? Not sure but I doubt it will be better.
I really like the double crank. I am sold. I do not like the way that the combo of external BBs and proprietary BCDs combined with more speeds than most of us really were asking for are driving us into a sheep pen that allows for little chainline adjustment, gearing options, and crank length choices.

I don't think we have any choice. 9 speed will become the new 8 speed eventually and guys will be hoarding XT 9 speed cassettes and shifters and bragging about it on the 'Classic/Vintage' forums. I will likely be happily riding on a double chainring-ed, 10 speed driven mountain bicycle. I just hope I am not forced to go "baaah, baahh" as I am pedaling too tall a gear on too short a crank on too wide a stance.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Road Trip...By Plane.

It is not often that a bike company offers to fly me up for a 3 hour tour of the shop, a bike ride/test session, and sushi after. Not often at all, in fact this is the first time. But that is the situation I find myself in as next week, despite the dismal weather predicted - nearly 7 days of rain forecast, something that I hardly EVER see happen on So Cal. So I asked the Nor Cal boys if the rain will change anything...postpone, etc...and the answer was "we ride in the rain, bring rain gear." Well, alright y then. Color me muddy.

I am totally stoked actually, and I hope I do not embarrass myself on the trail.

"So, where did the old writer dude go?"

"I dunno. I heard some gasping and wheezing sounds just before a pitiful scream and then silence."

"Huh, just another media hack after all."


Well, I hope to not disgrace the name of 29".com and have to go back to writing on bathroom walls for my creative outlet. Hey, it beats one hacks a bathroom stall.

But all of that kind of pressure aside, how bad can it be? Hang with some bike nuts, see how they turn passion into products we get to enjoy, ride a bike I don't have to clean up after the puddle jumping, and then write about it all. Oh, and sushi. Can't forget the recently dead fish rolls.

How bad can that be?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

New Pooch on the Porch.

Meet Sophie. Some kind of Whippet mix and really pretty lovable. I really need to keep my family away from the Animal Shelter.

She is an eventual replacement for Moots (yes, named after the bike) who is getting on in years and is still a great dog, but limited in what he can do. He was a pound puppy too. Some things never change.

This is gonna be one fast dog.

Moots (old dog), Chris (teenage Llama), Sophie (new dog)

She is feeling right at home on her new Sophie bed.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Good is Good

It has been my fortune to be able to ride some nifty bikes lately, most recently the Specialized Epic Marathon. This has let me compare a more modern approach to a 29er FS to my trusty Lenzsport Leviathan 3.0.

The Epic has slightly shorter chainstays, a longer toptube, a much stiffer front end/fork combo, the correct offset and fork height for the frame, hydroformed tubing, and the super Brain Shock tech working for it, all backed by the might of a mega bike company with cutting edge resources and multimedia all over the place.

The Lev has old geometry, 18" chainstays, a 3/4" shorter top tube (also an XL frame), a pretty stiff front triangle paired with a noodly old Reba, was never meant to run at 100mm (designed around 80mm) and has the wrong fork offset for the slacker HT angle, no hydroformed tubes, but plenty of hand formed and nicely welded aluminum pieces, and Propedal is required to keep it from being a bunny rabbit when pedaled vigorously, all backed by one man...Devin Lenz from a one man shop in Colorado who has not updated his website since WWII.

The Epic is more agile, steers more precisely, has the amazing Brain, and has better overall balance.


It is amazing how well the aging Leviathan holds up to times passing. I rode it again last night on the group night ride. I could feel the flexy Reba and the slightly slow steering when it needed to dance a jitterbug and not a salsa beat. And, I needed to do the Propedal Boogie to keep it climbing well AND descending well, but honestly other than that, it is a great bike still. If I upgraded the fork, say to a Fox 100mm with 15QR, that stiffer front end and increased offset would be a big improvement. I can't help the longer rear stays and shorter TT nor can I do much about the RP23 needing Propedal to perform well, and frankly, that is not a big deal to me, but it goes to show how well done the Lev was from the get-go.

Devin at Lenzsport continues to push the envelope of 29ers with his Milk Money FS SS and the PBJ 7" travel 29er models. I know the new Levs have shorter chainstays, tapered HTs, and longer TTs available. It goes to show how a little fish can still be relevant in a big pond.

Besides that, he is a darn nice guy.

Mr. Lenzsport, Devin Lenz

Monday, January 11, 2010

To Ride, Perhaps to Ramble.

So, it came to me in a word. Ramble.

intr.v. ram·bled, ram·bling, ram·bles
1. To move about aimlessly. See Synonyms at wander.
2. To walk about casually or for pleasure.
3. To follow an irregularly winding course of motion or growth.
4. To speak or write at length and with many digressions.

The other day I was speaking to Ed The Tall and we were batting about the age old question: "Where do we ride this weekend?" We were a bit stymied trying to decide on the 'perfect route'. Then frustrated by our lack of inspiration, Ed said something profound in its clarity and vision - "This should not be this hard". I agreed.

So it was later that I was mulling this over in my mind and the word 'Ramble' floated up out of the mist of my little gray cells like one of those Magic 8 Ball things.

And just like that, I had it. However, as clear as it is in my mind, it seems to be devilishly hard to get into words. But basically, it likely involves beginning the ride in an unlikely place; perhaps a city location or parking lot of a convenience store; maybe someone's house. A ramble is not pretentious and does not need an auspicious beginning. A ramble could mix in bike paths, pavement, fireroad, trails, whatever, but would end up a patchwork of sections that, taken on their own, are not a ride you would look forward to but when all mixed together become a mosaic for pedaling a bike across the landscape.

Now this may not be an original thought, in fact I am sure it is not, but for me, it has been a refreshingly new way to look at the question of "where to ride". The Wiki definition gets it for sure, and I think numbers two and three pin it down perfectly.

Will it be the revelation it seems to be? Perhaps not. But I am quite ready to ramble a bit and see.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Resolutions...if I have to.

The blog-o-sphere is full of New year's resolutions and I have to admit that some have come to mind for me as well. A bit late perhaps, but here are some thoughts.

I want to read more. Real books. Autobiographies, fiction, spiritual growth, travel experiences/adventures, etc. I have one started now; Fearless by Max Lucado.

I want to give more to charity, both from myself personally and financially. I already do some things with my time through the banks, homeless shelter, etc. But I should be doing more with the money I have. I does not really belong to me anyway.

I ride a lot, really. But I want to realize the promise of bikepacking this year. I have most of what I need except anyone else who is serious enough about doing it with me. That makes it a solo effort, which, sometimes is preferred, but not always and not for this type of experience. Regardless, I need to do this.

Pretty much it.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

New Years Day Ride, 2010

It seemed like a New Years ride was a good idea so I put out a few emails and phone calls. 18 folks showed up for a ride in Simi Valley on a gorgeous day for January. Usually this New Years ride is held on a semi-distant mountain top in the Angeles Natl. Forest, but I was kinda tired of riding in cold temps and, at elevation, it would have been in the high 30s and mid 40s for the normal ride. So not only was the Simi ride a change of venue, it would mean no cold fingers and toes and that appealed to me.

The ride begins among million dollar custom homes and then climbs 3.25 miles up an old wagon road on hard packed clay and sandstone rock. This is one of the rare smooth sections.

Tony I. flexes a calf muscle as he enjoys a January day in So Cal.

We had a big group and, like sometimes happens, there was a big gap between the fast guys and the slow(er) guys. But, it was all good since we were not in a hurry and we were there for everyone to have a good time. 45 minutes or so and we hit the 1st summit.

Pic stolen from JeffJ's camera.

There were are lot of other riding groups out as well. This pack of guys were wearing their colors for the day. According to their jerseys they are only Fast on Fridays. Good thing it was Friday.

It was good to see some faces I had not ridden with in a long time. That is always a sweet thing. Tony I. and I go back 15 years or so.

Tony I. at the summit looking disappointed the climbing is over with for a while. We had to talk him out of riding back down and doing it again. Animal.

Randy Boy was riding his freshly assembled Tangerine 2010 Rip-9. It is so light it wants to float away, so I had to hang on to it. Does his fork look bent to you or is it just me? Pic stolen from Randy Boy's camera.

I chose to ride the Epic Marathon over my Lev just to see how it worked on, what is for my area, very technical and rough riding. The Lev has lower gears and a bit more stability plus a higher BB. Was it a good fit for the day? More on that later.

The ride began on Johnson Mtwy, hit the summit on Rocky Peak fireroad, turned south to Hummingbird trail and dropped down on a section of winding, rocky, chunky, fun singletrack. Really better on a 5" plus travel bike, the Epic handled it fine, actually better in some ways than my Lev: stiffer front end, better balance and brakes, it danced along nicely behind Tony I. on his Titus Moto Lite and Ted on the Giant Trance. Would I have liked an FSR Stumpy version of the bike for this section of trail? Yes, yes I would. No pics...I was hanging on and having fun.

There is a trail in those rocks somewhere...right down through the middle to the bottom on the right.

You never know what you will see when out riding. Here some MUNIs (Mountain Unicycles) get ready to descend Hummingbird Trail. Seriously...that is soooo hard looking.

CA Descender (with camera on head) gives an interview to the MUNI guys.


At the bottom, poor Scott had graciously waited for the slower guys to show us the way to the next trailhead through some construction areas. The building is shut down till the economy improves (ask Obama....any time now...just wait). Unfortunately it meant that Scott's buddies in the front of the pack were home sipping brews by the time we hit the top of the last climb. Sorry Scott. You get a gold star for that one.

The next part of the ride was a climb up Chumash Trail. Mostly smooth, but with a constant grannygear grade, Chumash has some techy stuff near the top that hits you when your legs are the most tired. I was worried about the Epic's SRAM XX 2x10 gearing and the 26x36 low gear but it was actually better than I thought it would be. Still, if I had been really tired, it would have been too tall a gear.

The boys get to the top of Chumash on a section of sandstone that is much steeper than it looks on camera.

At the top of the last climb. By now the clouds had come in and it was getting cool. Still, it beats freezing rain and snow.

The rest was a blast down the checkerboard rock and ruts of Johnson Mtwy till we hit the trucks again. 5 hours of riding and hanging out on a New Years Day. The Epic was very capable all day. I have come to appreciate the 2x10 gearing and I sure see how racers would like it. I still want deeper gearing, but it is almost good enough for me, and if I was a stronger rider, it would be.

I would have liked more travel and a shallower head angle for Hummingbird Trail, but really, the Epic continues to impress me as a very capable and fast climbing, agile, light to mid weight trail bike. I could have done it on the Lev, but I would have been giving up some steering precision and a bit of rear travel in the process.