Thursday, July 29, 2010

Happiness is a full bladder.

Or, 'Hydration Packs I have known and loved, or just liked a little bit'.

Most everyone has heard of the concept of the 'Quiver', that being a selection of various shapes, sizes, weights, lengths, etc, of whatever it is that helps you do what it is you do.  So, a long board and a short board for surfing; a powder or a down hill ski; an AM bike and a hardtail SS, etc.  The quiver is the idea of having more than one kind of arrow at the ready.

And so it is with hydration packs.   I have a passel of them right now where I used to have one, then two...a regular one and a bigger one.  Now I have a small one, a medium one, a few large ones, a red one, a green one, etc.  So I thought I would talk a bit on what I like about a few of them and encourage you to build a quiver as well.

Go fast, go light:  The Baby Bear pack

The Camelbak XLP

When I first saw this pack I thought, "holy smokes, I can't put anything in this".  I am a consummate over-packer of stuff.  So I saw this as limited use.  But over the year, this has changed.  It may be the perfect summer-after-work-ride pack and I think it would be killer as a race day pack if the race is supported or not too long.  First, it is darn light.  The stretchy pouch can hold a windbreaker OR arm warmers/leg warmers but not much else.  That keeps it into the warmer climate zone for me as it is hard to carry shed layers like jackets, etc.  The tool section is perfect for the basics like a CO2, multi tool, etc and maybe some snacks.  I slip my longish pump into the bladder compartment, a 70OZ version, and I have stuffed extra food or gloves, etc, into there as well.  I took off the waist strap as the pack is so short that it was like having a 'ribcage strap'.  It is easy to remove the strap...velcro.  All summer long, this has been the pack of choice for a 2 hour and under (supplemented with a bottle for 2 hrs) rides from home.  Complaints?  Well, the little loop of string that the bladder clips onto is stupidly hard to get out of the clip on the bladder, especially with gloves on.  That is about it.

Ready for most anything, daily driver:  Momma Bear packs

The Camelbak M.U.L.E. NV.

Perhaps the quintessential all-rounder, the M.U.L.E. was my first decent hydration pack years ago and is still around today, having been refined over the years.  It has enough carrying capacity to bump it into a semi-epic pack for 3-4 hours rides unsupported and holds 100oz of water.  Camebak does a great job of compartmentalizing their packs.  If you can't find a pocket/pouch or stuff spot for something on the M.U.L.E., you may not need need a Poppa Bear pack.

JeffJ (AKA Circus Bear on a Bike) is rocking this pack and he is still happy with it.

Honorable Mention:

Osprey Raptor 10.

Osprey has a very impressive line of packs and they are very well made.  I love the nice touches like the zipper pulls that can easily be used with gloves, the killer Hydraform reservoir set-up, the Lid Lock helmet holder and the sleek overall feel to the pack when worn.  I think some of the organization of tools, etc, needs to be re-thought a bit along with the silly hip belt pouches that allow things to fall out too easily.  But, overall the line of Raptors from the Six (liter) to the Eighteen (liter) offer a wide choice of sizes and all of them are really good packs.  Osprey is making some real inroads into MTB hydration packs and I bet with some refinement they will only get better.

Deuter Race EXP Air:

I have had this pack for quite a while and it has not been used lately with all the new stuff to play with, but it has a LOT to like about it.  The mesh back panel and the support wings at the hips are excellent.  It is expandable with a zipper in the main compartment, the bladder is set up with a nifty clip that opens fully to allow for ice cube entry or cleaning, and it has a stow-a-way rain cover and helmet holder built-in.  The main compartment is kinda one big bag, so a bit more organization would be nice, still and all, I really like this pack and it is killer on hot days with the mesh back panel and a full load.

Bigger Days:  Goin' all Poppa Bear on ya'.

Osprey Raptor 18:

An expanded version of the Raptor 10, I have used this pack on some bigger days and it is super.  My absolute fav part is the Shove-It feature that allows for clothing, cameras, food, small animals, interesting fossil be stuffed in it and then compressed with the straps.  Love it.  Perfect pack for days that require lots of clothing changes.  When you are wearing all the clothing, the pack is pretty tidy, but begin to strip jackets, jerseys, etc, and the Raptor 18 just swallows it all up.  Add in the typical Osprey stuff like the Hydraform 100 oz Reservoir, the high quality of the construction, and the tool and smaller item organization and you have a winner.   What would I add?  A rain fly option built in, but at least I can get one separately.

Honorable mention:  Camelbak H.A.W.G. NV.

If the M.U.L.E. NV is the Prince of pocket storage, the HAWG is the King, the Bwana, the Big Mah-Mu.  It is a pack rat's delight.  the NV back panel carries the load with comfort, the adjustable and pivoting shoulder straps, the killer side pockets that swallow up cameras, GPS, etc...the list goes on.  It is a big pack that has a couple of things against is heavy to begin with. Lots 'o material here.  The main compartment gets 'intruded into' if all the other compartments are stuffed full, so it is not as big in there as you might think.  Still, if you like the MULE and want more of everything in a pack, you will love the HAWG.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A new pony in the barn.

 Earlier this year I had the chance to test ride a 2010 Specialized Rockhopper SL SS bike.  I found it flawed, but still a fun bike to ride and not at all bad for the price.  I also felt that the frame was good enough to offer as a budget minded frameset.  That has happened for 2011.  Recently there were mutual gauntlets tossed down between the product manager for the Rockhopper line of bikes and I.  It was friendly, but he felt that I was a bit, well, harsh about the bike considering the cost of the thing and I felt that I was quite fair and that perhaps the parts compromises made in the name of cost cutting were holding the bike back.  I wondered aloud if it would be worth another shot at the 'Hopper SS as a frame-up build with a bit better parts selection, but still keeping to a moderate budget.

Deacon, the Specialized manager person, agreed that the idea had merit and so this is on its way, so I have been told.

I love the BB set-up on this thing.  It was trouble free before, so we shall see what a longer visit brings.  A fork is coming from RockShox...not sure what it is, but I suspect it is a new Recon 29er.  We shall see...could be a Tora or Reba.  There may be some new brakes from the latest line of hydro stoppers...that is pending as well.

Other wise I will be moving over parts from the SS Jabberwocky, which for the last year has been faithfully taking me everywhere that I asked it to.  The Jabber is a fine bike, but there are some plusses to the 'Hopper...and some minuses too.  I know it will be lighter, so that will be good.  I am pretty sure I will prefer the handling of the 'Hopper as well, but the past test bike did not quite ride as well as the steel-is-real Jabber.  Aluminum, ya' know.

Anyway, more details to come when the big brown santa comes to town.  It should be a fun build.  I may even play with a different crank set-up if I can come to a cheap and clean solution.  I am torn between staying old school with a tapered BB Phil Wood style and some version of a matching crank...or...go new school with a external BB (maybe a Chris King) with some kind of older XTR...or...just keep running the XT Octalink II cranks I have now.  Meh!  We shall see.  Suggestions?

Meanwhile, the clock ticks.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The State of the Art

My recent blog thoughts on the spiraling cost and complexity of bikes and bike components seemed to to strike a nerve in a few folks.  No surprise there as we are all on the boat in one way or another.


Here is the flip side.

Bikes have never shifted, braked, turned, climbed, descended, rolled, and sucked up the bumps of the trail better than they do now.  Period.

We are at an amazing point in mtn bicycle performance, regardless of the cost; hydraulic disc brakes, smart suspension that is way-tunable, tubeless tires, and frames that hit stiffness to weight targets that were the dreams of engineers in days gone by.  Want to grab a gear with certainty?  No biggie.  When was the last time you missed a shift?  If you keep things tuned even reasonably well, then it just works.

I know that there is a tendency to wax philosophic about the bikes of the days of yore.  But the brakes were a shadow of what we have now, needed to be toed in just right or they howled nicely; shifting was not even close without the pinned, ramped, and computer matched CRs and cassettes of a modern drivetrain.  Handling?  Pfah!  The gradual progression of geometries and angles along with improvements like hydro-formed frames, tapered head tubes, and better hub/frame/fork interfaces have taken us to a better handling bicycle.

I won't even talk about suspension, but even if you eschew the boingy parts for your ride, you cannot deny that a modern fully suspended MTB is incredibly capable of covering rough terrain at frightening speed.

So although I do feel that we are on the precipice of a very expensive cornice and the avalanche of costly, over-engineered parts is looming behind us, I do not wish to go backwards into the past. Luddites need not apply.

There needs to be a balance somewhere and I am not sure where that is.  But I think it will shake out in the end.  After all, it is the consumer that has the last say with cash in hand.  The trick is in knowing what we want.

I know I want to keep riding bikes that work the way these new ones do.  Can I have it both ways? Perhaps.  It is a fine line to ride, is it not?

Friday, July 16, 2010

The 12 hours of Denver.

No, it is  not a new endurance race series, although if it was, it would be a criterium of sorts cuz Denver is flat as a billiard least, that is my take on it.

No, the 12 hours of Denver is the time it took me to get home, travel time wise.  From the shuttle bus at Keystone to the car ride from the Flyway...12 hours of travel joy and mirth.

It all began well enough with a pleasant ride into Denver with a few fine fellows with plenty of time to make my 1:10 flight to Salt Lake.  I went to the self service kiosk just like all the other guys and looked forward to lunch with the group one last time.

Not to be.

The screen gave me the airport equivalent of the 'Blue Screen Of Death' and said the fatal words, "There may be a problem with your flight.  Please see an attendant."  Oh dear.  It turns out that the airplane was delayed or lost or broken or something and now, the race was on.  I joined the line of woe and desperation along with all the other Salt Lake hopefuls looking to get outta' Denver.  Kathie, a Delta counter person, was in a pay it forward mood and hooked me up with a direct flight to LAX, leaving three hours later from Denver, but getting into town only 2 hours later than I was supposed to hit Burbank.  Cool.

Off to the American Airlines counter and the next line of patience and penitence.  I called Nic, the Specy guy and world famous TDF commentator, and told him to have a nice lunch as I stood in line for an hour.

That done, I waded through the security screening and headed to the East Wing of the airport in search of a place to use my lunch vouchers from Delta.  "So sorry about this....have lunch on us".  OK, I will.  04:00 boarding turned to 04:30 boarding and then we were off on a 737, an upgrade from the commuter jets of Delta.

LAX finally, then the baggage dance, and then off to the waiting station for the Fly Away bus that will, for a few coins, take me back closer to home preventing the wife from having to fight traffic into LA.  I waited.  Other folks joined me.  We waited.  Nearly an hour goes by and then, the bus.  Then the freeway...5 miles an hour for another hour.

Wow.  It was a bedraggled Grannygear that finally met the wife on a hot summers night in the San Fernando Valley to make the last leg of the journey home and a nice bowl of Albondigas soup in a cool restaurant.

I know that endurance racing is catching on all over, but I cannot recommend the 12 Hours of Denver.  Take my word for it.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Goodbye, Colorado.

As I sit in the condo, looking out over a lake, where some bird is doing a fine imitation of a rubber bulb squeeze horn (or a rubber bulb squeeze horn is imitating a bird), the Tour is on VS. and I am full of breakfast.  The shuttle arrives soon and it is all downhill from here...literally.  I will not get any higher then this till the plane takes off.  Just turning over in bed at 10K' sends your heart rate up!

It has been a killer few days.  The trails here on the Keystone slopes are lift served, fun, and challenging.  The views are typical Co. high country spectacular and the weather has been perfect.

Specialized is an amazing company.  I have gotten to know many of the key people that bring the products to market and they are all good folks so far.  The vision they have and the ability to keep putting out great stuff is pretty impressive.  To all you at the Big S who made this happen for me, I thank you - Nic, you are the best and you look taller on TV.  Eric and Racheal...thanks for all the support.  To Rebecca R.....go win that race.  Nice gals need to finish first.

SO, back to the hot and brown of a So Cal summer.  There are lot's of things on tap with testing stuff and new bikes and gear to review.  I think there may be a new SS ride working its way to me and that is cool to look forward to.

Meanwhile, I will take a few more moments to savor the day then turn toward home and the waiting arms of those I love.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Me and Rebecca.

Yeah, I know it should be Rebecca and I, but I like the sound of it the other way better.

So, here I am at the MTB Demo tent, talking to Nic Sims of Specialized about the possibility of getting a ride on a 29er Camber, and a young woman walks up to Nic and asks him a question.  I have no idea who she is, but she looks very pro in her full on Specialized team kit.  Nic says to me, "Mike, I want you to meet Rebecca".  At that moment, I glance at her jersey and see '24 Hour World Champion' screened onto it.

Oh.  THAT in Rebecca Rusch.

I actually say to her, in a disarmingly witty and suave moment, "That Rebecca?".  "Yes", she says.  That one.  Cool!

So, it turns out that a film guy is here to shoot some footage for the next movie covering the Leadville 100 (remember last year's Race Across the Sky?)  and this day will cover some time for Rebecca leading up to her race.   She was asking Nic if he had anyone that would not mind being on camera in a trip up the ski lift with her and the camera guy.  I guess they just needed an extra so it was not her all by herself.  I was headed up anyway with the Stumpy FSR 29er, so up we went, chatting and such.

Then, she asked if I wanted to be in the singletrack footage in front of a guy filming us with a helmet cam.  Sure, I can do that.  Then, I actually wore the camera on my head to get some faster sections of trail filmed that was a bit beyond the limits of the camera man.  Cool.

I will tell ya, Rebecca can ride a bike.  Not doubt about it.

Video guy... Frank, IIRC,  fiddles with camera mid-mtn.

She can ride that 29er hardtail pretty fast downhill.

After that, we had lunch with her and some other media folks.  She is a very cool lady to hang with, is quite the rider, and I wish her the best of luck.  

I may end up either in front of the camera or behind it if any of the footage gets used in the next movie.  Or, my moments of fame may end up on the 'cutting room floor'.  Either way, it was a lot of fun.

Sometimes you are just standing in the right place at the right time.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Monday is for travelers.

From 06:00 till 06:00 I was either sitting in a car, an airport, a plane or a bus.  Yuck.  Tiny planes, too.

But now, I am here and it is pretty darn nice.

The view from the back porch.

I am way up in the Rockies...I think it is the Rockies.  Out of Denver up into the hills for a couple of hours, right outside of Breckenridge.  I looked at the altimeter and it read PDH.

Pretty Darn High.

Can I even ride at 11,000' anymore?  We shall see.  I used to be able to, but I was younger then.  And while I may be wiser now, I don't think that counts for much in this case.

Dinner rocked.  Time for bed.


A necessary evil.  Heading to Denver, Co for a look at the 2011 Specialized bikes 'n stuff.  Meanwhile, sitting in Burbank's Bob Hope Delta terminal waiting for the circus to begin.  Watch for more posts here and on

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Old Dogs, Old Tricks part III

I was following behind a very fit woman rider on a group ride the other day as we wound our way down a rutted and twisty singletrack.  She had a very nice bike, had the look of a very competent rider, and yet was barely moving down the trail....brakes on, arms locked, body nearly rigid.  This trail was not that hard and has very good flow, but she was making it sooo difficult and the only thing flowing was the sweat running in bullets down her face.

So what turned this fit, capable looking rider into a scared rabbit?  She did not trust her bike.  And this is not a 'chick thing'.  The guys that crash the most often on our group rides are the ones that trust the least.  They blame the tires or the fork set-up or the trail conditions, when really none of that is true.

A mountain bike is an amazing conveyance.  With its big tires, suspension (if any), gears (even if it's only one), and great brakes, they can be pedaled over a surprising variety of surfaces and conditions....if you believe they can.  If you trust the bike it will do its job nicely,  brakes will be used sparingly, and it will roll smoothly and flow under a relaxed rider.

If you do not believe, do not trust, then it all goes wrong.  Every obstacle is doom waiting to happen in the eyes of the non-believer.  Progress will be a continuous path of near misses and bobbles, all ridden with a death grip on the bars, brakes firmly on, body unable to move and adjust as it needs to.

No flow.

Trust your bike.  Obviously there are margins of safety here, so just letting go of the brakes and closing your eyes is a bit much, but the truth lies in between the imagined precipice of disaster and the bliss of Shangri-La.

Try this.  Slow down a bit on a trail that you know well, but one that causes you to struggle a bit.  Consciously use less brakes.  Put your fingers off the brake levers.  Relax your elbows and knees...eyes down the trail and let go a bit.  It will be hard and it will take time to trust, but you will have tiny victories...a corner taken with a smooth line, rock steps rolled down, sandy patches floated across.  Eventually the little victories add up to a better ride and they create habits that you will carry with you for years.

This Old Dog has learned to trust his bike, yet I still find myself doubting on occasion, using too much brake, wavering off the best line and drifting into the the path of self doubt.  Even Old Dogs can forget how to hunt every so often.

Trust your bike and you will become a better rider.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

When will the honeymoon end?

Sure, the romance is fun.  She moves fast and sweet and looks great.   She makes us feel younger and faster just to be out with her.  But, some morning will we wake up and find that she is expensive to keep, unwilling to change, and finicky when life gets messy and rough.  Just like that, the honeymoon is over.

I am talking bike parts here, specifically the new drivetrains to come out of the factory doors and shipping crates to the bike showrooms near you.  The latest and greatest shiny and spinny parts are taking shifting and pedaling performance to a new high.  I have been on the SRAM XX 2x10 for 6 months now and I will never go back to a 3x crank, not unless I decide to pedal across the country or something.  It shifts like magic, has been solid and reliable, and is crazy light.


The last 2x9 set-up I had worked really well too.  In fact, 8 speed XT was not any slouch.  I am no retro grouch and I sure don't want to go back to chainrings without pins and ramps, etc, but carbon fiber in a chainring?  Who asked for that?  It is getting crazy $$$ to replace a new bike's drivetrain. Bikes can fulfill a basic need such as transportation or hauling freight in some third world country.  These bikes are simple, heavy and very strong.  Parts need to be easily replaced, cheap and rugged. Bikes can also be light and fragile cutting edge racing machines that are never meant to last a long time before they are replaced.  In between are you and I, Mr. and Mrs. Joe Average.

We have needs that are somewhere in the middle of beast-of-burden and thoroughbred filly.  We appreciate the light weight and fine engineering of a well designed piece of hardware and are willing to pay for that...up to a point...and I do wonder if we are crossing that point.

I did not ask for a $300.00 XX cassette.  A nine speed XT cassette is light enough for me and is under $100.00.  I did not ask for carbon fiber/alu composite chainrings either, thank you XTR.

A quick check of replacing an XX cassette, CRs, and chain comes out to a whopping $516.00.  I have not seen pricing on the new Shimano XTR but I bet it is pretty close to that.

So, while I agree that I am picking on the best stuff and that those levels of components are always expensive, the cost is trickling down as we move to a 10 speed rear cassette, dedicated cranks and derailleurs/shifters world.

Now, if this stuff lasted LONGER than the old parts and gave us more shifting performance in poor conditions, then that may be overlooked.  But, that does not seem to be happening.  If anything, it is going the other way towards a more fragile and finicky set-up and less and less cross component compatibility.

So while the new stuff is stunning when it is new and working well, I do have to wonder just how good it needs to be?  I would have accepted a 9spd wide ratio cog and a 2x9 crank with no issues at all.  Give me an XT version of the 12/36 Deore level cassette and a 36/24 or 34/22 crank set with nice, ramped and pinned CRs and life would be just fine, thank you.


How about an 8 speed rear cassette...12-36 with bigger steps between gears, an aluminum spider, all the little shifting ramps, a wide and cheap ($15.00 for a good quality SRAM) chain, chainrings that have a bigger BCD like the new XX crank for a stiffer shift but thicker for increased life.  I could live with that.  I could live with spending $150.00 to replace the drivetrain....$70.00 for the cassette, $20.00 for the chain, and $60.00 for the CRs.  That would last me a year I bet.

It may be time for an company like SRAM or Shimano to take it backwards a notch....make the new 'Rugged 8' drivetrain.  Think it will happen?  It should, but what does that say about the latest and greatest stuff that they want us to ride?  Is it less than rugged?  No marketing guy wants to go there.

And what would Trek, Specialized, etc do with that 8 speed group?  It would be a gamble to spec that on thousands of bikes.  I don't think that big companies like gambling.  What I can see is a bike like the Salsa Fargo being offered with the 'Rugged 8' drivetrain.  I can see a lot of custom and aftermarket frames being set-up with a modern 8 speed build as well.

But, I don't think it will ever happen...too much momentum in the other direction to spend money going backwards.  9 is better than 10 and 11 will be better than 10...8 is too yesterday.

It does make me love my SS a bit more and I am sure eyeing the latest IGH stuff.  I do believe that hubs like that are a significant future part of MTBs given enough time and refinement.  When that happens, there will be a sizable jumping-of-ship by many riders tired of getting ground down at the LBS's payment counter.

In the meantime, I will hope for a company to step up and swim upstream towards the waiting market that has less and less choices.  FSA?  Maybe Origin?  Salsa/QBP?  It is a bicycle after all.  It should not be disposable or nose bleed expensive unless we choose to make it that way.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

S24O with JeffJ and Ted.

I am coming off of a week long vacation and had a night free to get out on another local overnighter, an S24O (Sub 24hour Overnighter).  The invite to JeffJ went out kinda late in the week, so we had to scramble to get him and his son, Ted, set-up.  But between his stuff, my stuff, and some good old garage engineering, we were loaded up and off.

I made a Blackburn rear rack work on the 29er by using some clamps onto the seat stays.  My REI 3 man tent went on that and the sleeping bags went into or onto the Osprey Talon 22 or Gregory Z22 packs.  I was using the Osprey Manta 25 this night, something, along with the Talon 22, I am evaluating for  I also was sleeping in the Topeak Bikamper tent to see how it works in the field.

We parked at a buddies house in the early evening and set out on our quest to a local campground that typically only sees thru hikers on the PCT as it is gated at the access road for cars, etc.  After our 6 or 8 miles of climbing on pavement and dirt, we were there.

The Osprey Talon 22, stuffed for all it is worth.

The Topeak Bikamper tent.

Home sweet home for the night.

MMMmmm...PB@J with Guava jelly from The Dominican republic.

It was a great trip and it showed that if you have the desire, you can bikepack without the expensive custom bags, even though they do make things awfully nice!  I am working on some new ideas in the area of budget bikepacking.  More on that soon.

S24O's rock.

Direct you tube link here.