Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Burro Down.

I don't typically care for POV videos of bike rides.  I get bored or dizzy and the music usually sucks.  The stuff that Mike C does is awesome...he is an artist, but this vid really is a cut above most and it took me back to a classic of all classics in Moab, the Burro Down ride.  Technically speaking,  The Whole Enchilada refers to riding to the trailhead and THEN down the trail back to town...that is an epic day.  But in any case, whatever you call it, it is a great ride.  A couple of years ago we did the ride from Hazzard down but this begins higher in the Aspens of the La Salles at Burro Pass.  So have a look and enjoy.  Makes me want to ride Moab again.

The Whole Enchilada: Top to Bottom - Moab, Utah from Phil Shep on Vimeo.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Well, that stirred the 650B pot

Always controversial, the subject of wheel size and what is best.  My blog was picked up on MTBR and I made the mistake of commenting on it...should have just stood back and watched.

MTBR post

Some interesting comments from Walt at Waltworks on what is possible with 29" wheels and longer travel.  I have seen his, what looks like Ventana based rear FS, steel frames before.  Very creative.  And Devin Lenz has had the PBJ out there too.  So in this case the small guy works around the issues of stuffing it all in there.  I know the Lenz stuff works very well , I have no idea how the WW stuff is in FS but Walt is a pretty smart guy, so I imagine it is good too.

But.  That is a long ways from being a viable solution to the bigger bike makers woes, that of getting 29ers to make sense and behave in bigger travel designs.  His point that if a small guy can do it, then the big guys should be able to as well may be true.  I am sure that they have smart guys too and engineering resources that a garage guy can only dream of.   But the idea of bigger travel 29ers may not scale up well when it needs to work across a broad range of suspension designs and drivetrain components.  It may well be that, at the end of the day, when the prototypes are built, ridden, broken, tweaked and re ridden, that they may not be all that good, especially when you have to face the wrath of the bean counters who forecast sales numbers.   The thing it WORTH IT? 

Maybe not for any real numbers of bikes, but maybe for a small builder like Lenzsport.  Meanwhile, Walt had some thoughts on big travel 29ers.

So the thing about 650B and whether it is the solution to getting the biggest wheel reasonable underneath you on a real AM/DH bike may well be the real deal, even if it is not the biggest wheel we ride.  We shall see.

SS stands for Singletrack Singletrack

Three of us took off at 0-dark-Thirty and drove a couple hours North to a trail I had been told about for a couple of years now, but had never made it to.  The Kern River trail offers 20 miles of singletrack goodness as it follows the contours of the hillsides above the Kern River in the Kern Cyn.

Well, I finally dipped my toe in the stream of dirt and it was good.  We sampled about 15-16 miles of it as an out and back so we could plan a longer ride later in the Spring.  Wanna' do 40 miles of singletrack?  Wow.  That would be a good day.

We, myself, Navy Mike, and Tony the Tiger, all were riding singlespeeds.  I had a new scoot to break in, the Carve SS Pro, all 23.25 pounds of it.  Speedy, yes?  Yes.

When we began, it was in the mid thirties and frost was all on the grass.  After one hour of climbing, we caught up with the sunrise and things warmed up nicely.  The trail was really nice for singlespeeds, although the grades took a toll.  A bit of pushing took care of the real soft, steep sections....pushing, the other SS gear...and we moved along smartly.  Only one crash that I wish I had a pic of.  Navy Mike ended up upside down and mousetrapped by his bike like a big bear trap on his leg, keeping him nicely wedged into a rock pile.  I would have snapped a pic, but I though he was hurt since he was not moving and I ran back up the trail to recover the body.  Not dead...just laughing and needing a helping hand.  Oh good.  No place to land a helicopter on this trail for an airlift.

We ran into a group of riders about half way back to the truck, three of them on singlespeeds too.  One straggler rode up to us as we were talking, looked at me and said, "Hey, I watch your videos on You Tube!  You are Grannygear!".  Wow, that was kinda odd.  I declined an autograph or picture opportunity and rode on, living legend that I am. 

Great day despite the cold start and yeah, we will be back for more.  I may even sign an autograph next time. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

650B - Finally a reason to exist?

When I first heard about 650B, I figured that it would replace 26" wheels at some point, but I did not expect 29ers to be so quick to take over XC duties, basically making 26ers antiques as far as a hardtail or shorter travel XC/Trail applications.  That rapid acceptance killed any momentum that 650B had gained.

26ers are done...stick a fork in 'em (to paraphrase a bit...sorry RC).  But where is 650B?

650B seemed to die on the vine as an XC app, offering less than the full bennies of a 29er wheel and only slightly more than a 26" wheel, but vastly complicating things for a bike shop or manufacturer who had to stock a whole bunch of new SKUs.  Then, tire selection, fork options, etc, never happened in any real numbers.  Brands that made 650B bikes were few and Haro dropped them, leaving, what, Jamis?

So here we are in 2012 and 29ers are poised to take over the hardtail to 120mm XC/Trail bike world.  But the clamor for bigger travel 29ers has been loud, even though it may be a small group doing the yelling.  130mm and above seems to be a place where the complications of a 29" wheel and tire really start to be a bother.  Forks get tall, swingarms and wheel bases get long, front ders get in the way, wheel are heavy and a bit fragile, and a true DH ready 29er tire is heavy.  Want a 6"+ travel 29er that is ready for heavy trail use?  You have one choice in frames (Lenzsport) and hardly any forks or tires to match.

But, 650B may be the solution to all that.  If the biggest wheel that makes sense for any application is the right one, then 650B as a 'big wheel' for AM/DH may just be the niche it was looking for all along.  It could allow frame designers to fill all those needs into a reasonable package as far as keeping things tidy and manageable.  It would allow for a lighter and stronger wheel/tire combo (well, it could...when they make them) compared to a 29er, but still give a bit more of that big wheel feel to the bike.

I dunno...I bet it will happen, but it will take a major player to believe in it and forge the initial cost, then the middle players and smaller builders will follow suit,  Will 2013 be the year of the long travel, 'big wheeled' bike, even if the wheels are only somewhat bigger?

I think so.  Ready for a 150mm travel 650B bike?  I might be.  Sounds like fun.

New motto:  Ride the biggest wheel that works for you.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


Ya gotta' know where you came from, so I present the original singlespeed rider.  We have not come so far after all.

Darwin got it pretty wrong, but in this case....well, I wonder?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The grateful dead ride

Saturday was my 'rising up from the dead' ride after the plague visited my sinuses for a few days.  The drugs were working miracles and I was either going to enjoy a ride or die trying.  I sent out a few invites for a singlespeed only ride on a local trail that is a crown jewel of the forest.  The oak trees up there are not the typical Live Oak that stays green all year, but these trees turn color and drop their leaves in big drifts of clutter that gather in all the sweeping corners of the trail, or, at least they do that just as soon as they are done placing acorns on the rest of it.  So what you have then is a stratified layer of detritus that is deadly and lovely all at the same time.

The loudest thing in the forest was our tires rolling through the leaf piles and the occasional "brrrrraaaaapppp" of one stuck against the tire like a paper boy's bike laced with playing cards.  Well, that and our SS induced wheezing and breathing and panting.

It ended up just being Navy Mike and I as all the others were unable to come out and play.  It is great to ride with someone that is at the same level of ability and fitness as you and has nothing to prove.  We rode-pushed-rode-pushed-rode until we were close enough to the top to call it good.  And it was good.  Out of the wind, under the oaks, in the sun, on the grass.  We were unhurried on purpose.

Not dead...just rusting.  New steel and old steel.

 Singlespeed 29ers are just amazing beasts of conveyance.  I never tire of the challenge and the rewards they offer.  I never tire of the amazing creation I get to ride them on, this earth.  Flawed as it is, it is a special place.  Today was just a couple of old guys on simple bikes in a lovely place on a great trail, and we had the good sense to slow down and enjoy it.

Yeah, that could happen way more often than it does and it would be ok with me.  Label me alive and grateful, not dead yet....just resting.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Elves in the garage and keeping up with Santa

Been bike building again.  I swapped the fork on the bikepacking Lenz and my wife's 29er.  I have the new SS test bike 95% built up with some things old, some things new, some things borrowed from other bikes, and a fork that has blue stickers on it.  Perfect.

The garage has become a loosely organized bin of bikes, bike parts, tires, wheels, forks...oh my.  The box of hydration packs alone is big enough to be a small row boat.  My cup runneth over.

So what do you do?  Get a bigger cup?  That is the typical response for today.  Accumulate.  The only good thing is the next thing.  More is better. 

Hmmm...too much or not enough?
 Fah!   If it were not for the situation I am in for the time being, I would have two bikes.  A 29erSS and one bike with gears and FS.  No spare wheels.  I would be looking for deals on tire sales, not packing them into milk crates in the corner. 

My natural man tends toward complication and I need to remind myself to keep it simpler.  It helps that I can pass a lot of this stuff on to those who need stuff, stuff that I have too much stuff of.  Keeps me from being too stuffed with stuff.  And really, that is the way it is supposed to work anyway.  We should be conduits of our gifts and blessings to those around us who are in need.  None of this goes with us in the end and none of it really belongs to us, in that we did not get any of this stuff completely on our own.

One of the neat things about Christmas is the gift giving.  I know it gets beat on as crass commercialism and it does burden the lesser fortunate with the guilt of not being able to give as they would like, but it allows us a scheduled reason to give, even if that is only a little.

Giving is far underrated.  I think we need more of it.  Pure, unadulterated giving;  ourselves, our talents, our possessions, our surplus.  Christmas, where the ultimate gift of all time is recognized as hittin' town, gives us a reminder or excuse or prodding or whatever, and lets us participate in, and receive in turn, gifts and well wishes from those we know and love.

I was shopping for the wife and buying some cuddly, snuggly things to keep her warm in winter (no, no jammies with feet in them, although she would wear them if I could find them) and I realized I was truly enjoying picking them out and thinking how she would receive them, enjoy wearing them.  When I got back to the car, I called her and said, "I sure like shopping for you".  I realized I hardly ever do that.  Budgets, busyness, boredome...who knows.  Life tends to lay down the trump card and bends us down under the weight of the daily grind. 

Christmas changes that for a short time and I am grateful.  So I need to decline the bigger cup option and pour out a bit of that overflow to others.  And I really have too many tires anyway. 

I sure want to see the look on my wife's face when she opens that gift bag of 29er tires.  Man, will she be surprised. Merry Christmas, sweetie.

Check out these elves...nice bit of charity work, it seems.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


Brought to you in a non-bike moment cuz there is more to life than pedaling.  There are tiny bunnies and truths to be spoken.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Another Six Hours

Last spring I had a crazy idea.  Host a ride that followed a solo endurance race format in a loose way by doing a set course over and over till we ran out of time.  I laid out a local loop that was pretty much ten miles even and took me an hour at a moderate but steady pace.  I made it fun...some singletrack sections...and not too hard with non-techy climbs and about 1000' of elevation change per lap.  We roll by our trucks every lap so re-fueling is easy.

I had a group start time and a closing time of six hours later and no one could roll out past that time. I ended up with a few nut cases that came along and a couple of us made it to 5 laps within the allotted time.  Six laps would mean a less than one hour per lap average and I knew I could not do that, but I figured if I came in with 30 minutes or more to go, I would look at a 6th lap, finishing over the 2:00 stop time.

Did not happen.  I pulled in at 5 minutes before the bell and called it good enough.  Maybe next time that 6th lap will happen, but it still made for 50 miles and according to one guys stats, 1200' per lap, so about 6k' of climbing.  That will have to do.  We had pretty good headwinds and that slowed the ascents a bit but made for blistering fast downhills, even on the singlespeeds.

We began with 8 of us.  One guy was shooting for 4 laps as that would have been more miles on a MTB than he had ever ridden.  He made 3 laps and still set a PBR, but just barely.  One very fit lady joined us and she was recovering from some wear and tear repair on the hamstrings, so her pace was moderate but she still got in 4 laps.  Two other guys did the 4 laps as well.

Ed the Tall and Navy Mike brought out the singlespeeds.  Really?  Man, I should have done that too, but there were two things holding me back...I needed to get some ride time on some carbon wheels I am testing and honestly I am not sure I could do 5 laps on a singlespeed.  Hard to say, but I was hurting at times and was in energy conservation mode a few times...hard to do that on a singlespeed.

I was trying a new endurance drink by Fluid and used that as my primary source of energy.  I ran with one bottle per lap mixed two scoops per bottle.  I had a 2/3 full 70oz hydration pack with Elete in it as well and a few of my oat bars stuffed in my pocket.  I want to find a liquid based product that keeps me fueled, even, and prevents cramping.  I was pretty happy with the way the Fluid Performance worked.  I felt very even and did not get any blood sugar issues, something I struggle with.  I ate 4 of the oat bars squares (not very big...two bites each) and that was it for the 6 hours of nearly constant riding at a fast pace.  I did get some hints of cramping at lap three, and I think I underestimated the amount of water to bring as the dry winds and warm-ish temps tended to dry out the bod pretty good.  At one point I took the squeeze bottle of Elete and put two shots of the additive straight under my tongue.  I swear that did a miracle and gave me no hint of cramps again for another two and a half hours of pedaling.

Ed the Tall ran out of water due to a spilled supply jug and pulled the lug at 4 laps, but he was holding a one hour time per lap.  Man, he is strong.  He does not say much or brag or talk smack...he just rises out of the saddle and lets the cranks turn while the bike moves forward out of sight.  Ed is my hero.  I have enclosed a picture of Ed below, or at least the way I see him, in the spirit of the old west.

Navy Mike is becoming a monster on that new SS of his, a monster I created by selling him the little steel beast.  When he began the ride he had legs like this guy below.

When he finished the five laps into the wind on that SS, his legs looked like this.

Yep.  All true, I swear.  The home grown 6 Hour is a fun thing to do and I bet most areas near you can support it.  Keep it fun but hard, let everyone shoot for their own goals, and then go grab Mexican food or a brew sample...or both.  Be careful about the singlespeeds and leg muscle thing though.  That is gonna' cost Navy Mike a bunch of money in blue jeans.

Thanksgiving morning.

Thanksgiving morning dawned cool and overcast and I joined a ride up a nearby canyon that KT the Man hosted.  There were all kinds of people there.

Old guys on singlespeeds...

guys who used to be really fast...

Bicycle Bettys...

...and a bunch of other folks.  Looking around you would think it was an Ibis Bikes only ride as it seems the Ibis Demo van was in town.  Neat bikes.  We all headed up into the clouds in search of singletrack.

The Old Guy on the SS beat me to the top...the Guy Who Used to be Fast still is (some things never change), and I rode up talking to Bicycle Betty and KT the Man.  I have known some of these folks for over 20 years and that is a lot of pedal time.  I was thankful to be there, if only for part of the ride (family obligations) and it was good to see old friends and be on a bike.  Great combination.  I am always thankful of what I have been blessed with and I know from where all blessings come.  May I never forget.

Obligatory hero shot....

Friday, November 25, 2011

Home Grown Energy Bars

OK... for all those folks I know that keep raving about the oat based energy bars we make (and I share on-trail), here is the recipe.

1 C Brown Sugar (Splenda brown as option)
2/3 C peanut butter (your choice,,,JIFF...whatever)
1/2 C honey.  We are lucky enough to have a honey house nearby
1/2 C low fat butter
2 tsp vanilla
3 C quick cooking oats
1/2 C coconut (shredded)
1/2 C sunflower nuts (I like the salted ones)
1/2 C raisins or craisins.  I like the cranberries better.
1/2 C flax meal
1 C semi sweet chocolate chips or carob chips if you like.

Heat oven to 350 degrees, grease 13x9 pan.  In large bowl, combine brown sugar, peanut butter, honey, butter, and vanilla.  Blend well.  Stir in remaining ingredients.  Press mixture evenly into pan.  Bake for 15-20 minutes or until light golden brown.  Cool completely, cut into bars.  Ride.  Eat.  Be happy.

Monday, November 21, 2011

We got mountains.

One thing we have in spades in So Cal are mountains.  Ok, not Fourteen'ers, but still, we got some pretty good hills to ride up and over.  Most of them are criss crossed with fire trails (dirt roads) that allow access for wildfire fighting or whatever.  We have singletrack too, but there are waaaayy more fire roads than true trails.

This last Sat a group of pilgrims set out on a loop up and over one of those mountains that split the boys into two partitions....a slower paced group that began at the base of a serious dirt climb and a faster group that I was in (hey, every train needs a caboose) that began 6 miles lower and connected things with a paved climb out of town first.  The idea was that we would all summit at around the same time so there would be little waiting at the top.  Good thing too as it was full on clouds up there on the ridge and likely in the high 30s for temps.  Brrrr.

But the slower group got a late start due to a late arrival of one rider (who turned around early in the ride...well thanks a lot...make us late, then leave).  So we ended up passing them not even half way up the 2 hour climb.  Not a good sign.  The fastest of the fast were long gone now and were nowhere to be found at the top of the main climb.  It turned out that one of the guys was a bit under dressed and was feeling the weather up there.  We waited for a while at the top...maybe 45 minutes, till we could not wait anymore...too cold.  We completed the ride by running 8 miles of ridgeline in the clouds and then dropped down 5-ish miles of singletrack.

A chicken burrito later at a Mex food joint, and no slow group.  I called JeffJ who was coming off a head cold and a month or so of little riding, and I got a broken reply on the phone before the call dropped:  "...halfway down Gridley...legs...locking up....feels like I might....throw-up...*click*"  Oh my.  Not good.

We were planning the rescue mission when we saw the entourage coming back into town.  JeffJ (in the blue windbreaker) looks like he is smiling in the pic.  I think it was a grimace that stuck there...kinda' like the Joker on Batman.  But it is amazing what a plate of Mexican food will fix and in the end, things worked out just fine.

We got mountains here, by George, and we ride over them on occasion.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

"You Must Like Pain"

"You must like pain".  That was said to me in a recent email after I announced a 'Six Hours Of' ride in the local trails.  Simple idea.  We all begin at a set time, ride a one hour, ten mile loop as many times as we can, coming by our trucks every lap for re-supply, and we cannot begin another lap once the clock hits the beginning of the sixth hour.  Fun loop, too.  Hard, but not too hard and good payoffs.  Really, just a fun way to train a bit and see what that kind of experience is like for those who have never done anything like that.  At about 3 hours, then 4 hours, then 5 hours, it does begin to hurt a bit.

I had plenty of time to think about the 'loving pain' comment as I was chin deep in a multi hour hill climb this past Saturday.  This 5 hour loop begins with a 6 mile paved road section, pretty much all uphill to one degree or another, then hits it hard into the dirt and just goes up....and up...and up.  It was maybe 40 degrees at the top and cloudy and we were all pretty cold as we traversed the ridge line toward our 5.5 mile singletrack descent.  It was a very painful climb and suffering abounded.

I am planning a ride next year of the White Rim in Moab.  The WRIAD covers 102 miles of dirt road in remote territory in a day.  Pedal, little mtn biker.  Pedal.  It will hurt, I suspect.  I can't wait!

So now I am considering the comment made by the person, himself an experienced rider, and wondering if it is true.  Mountain biking is hard.  Yet I do not go out of my way to do hard things by nature.  No Everest ascents or runs across Africa.  You won't see me on Shark Week.  However I have to admit that I embrace the more difficult aspects of riding a bike over longer distances and such, although I am certainly on the moderate end of such endeavors by many people's standards.  So what is the deal?

I think is it more complex and yet simple than just a pain fetish.  I am a mountain biker.  I love being all that that encompasses.  And folded up in that knobby tired wrapper is a healthy dose of pain and suffering.  It just goes with the territory.  And the territory is exceptional.  The big climb into the clouds we just did looked down on hundreds of folks who were scurrying around the valley floor doing their busy things, looking up into the clouds we were in and thinking, "sure glad I am not up there in all that weather".  Honestly there were times I wanted to be warmer, but I would not have traded places with them.  There were times I wanted to have the climb over with, but I would not have skipped it to stay where it was easy, down in that valley with the coffee shops and heated cars.

I guess what it comes down to is that I like the view from the saddle more than any other view I know of.  And that view is a fine one indeed.  From slow, plodding efforts that lead to vistas and high places to blurry ones where gravity is pulled and stretched as we slingshot along with the laws of physics firmly in our jersey pockets.

And, I guess that is that.  Mountain biking is hard but rewarding and it is that balance of sweet and salty that has captured my heart for over 25 years.  The pain is not something I seek, but just comes with the territory.  I do admit that I enjoy the looks of non-riders who, when hearing about a recent ride will look at you like you are crazy.  "You rode up there?  On a bike?  Pedaled up there?  You are nuts!"

Maybe I am, a bit.  But I think I am smart.  God's grace has allowed me to participate in a great sport for many years now and has kept me fit, younger feeling, and happy.  It gives me goals and rewards me with great friends and great experiences. 

And the pain part?  Well, OK...I like it just a little.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Could it be?

I knew it was somewhere and then, while cleaning out some old files, I found it;  a folded piece of yellow, lined paper with hand written, faded blue ink on it.

26 min. 40 sec.
From S/S to S/S
Ridge Rte

This simple message is haunting me.  Taunting me.  Smackin' me down.  That note records a time trial result I used to do on a local road.  It is a pretty constant 8 mile climb and in earlier times I ran it with a heart rate monitor and a cycling computer to train with...measure myself against.

I long since stopped using a heart rate monitor and I have no use for a cycling computer, so I kinda lost track of any measured times.  But I still ride this, especially on the singlespeed, and I have a pretty good idea how long it takes me.  Let's say 50 minutes, a bit less on the road bike.  50 minutes.  Fifty.  Five...Oh.  Not 26 minutes and 40 seconds.  Not even close.  How can that even be?

Well, the other day I did that ride again and kept the pace up as fast as I could manage on the SS.  Yep...50 minutes.  So how is it possible that I used to be...what?...twice as fast?  No way.  I would need a scooter or something.  So I am left with the only real possibility...I wrote it down wrong.  I remember it being 46 minutes 40 secs. 

Now I know that I am not the rider I used to be, but I don't think I am that much slower.  The other day I rode up The Beast, another local hill climb, dirt this time, that is a 3-ish mile butt kicker of a climb.  I did that in 40 minutes.  That is as fast as I ever have done this climb, at least as I can remember.  A local fast guy I know who used to be a top ranked Expert/decent Pro racer said he did that in 30 minutes.  Wow.  Well, if that number on that yellow note is right, and I used to be that much faster, then in ages past I should have been able to do The Beast in half the time it took me the other day.  Never happened.

So I really want to think that I wrote that note wrong.  Otherwise I used to be really fast and I sure don't remember it that way.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Mad Scientist at work

I am creating again.  I am elbow deep in metal shavings, silicon bits, wire, and JB Weld.  It is time for another set of LED bike lights.  I made a set of bar lights and helmet lights a couple of years ago when LED DIY (Do It Yourself) lights began to be turned out by hobbyists all over the country.  At the time, a high end set of bike lights was typically HID based with a big batt pack and very expensive parts.  But the LED changed all that and allowed for smaller batts and smaller and lighter lights with looong burn times.  LEDs are very efficient that way.  And they were embraced by a few brave and curious folks and so the 'modding began.  Human kind loves to tinker and improve things, do they not?

So, at the time the new commercial LED lights were still darn expensive...$250.00 or I built my own set of bar/helmet at a cost of $130.00 all in.  Yes, they were not as slick as the store bought ones, but they were bright and simple with a high/low bar mount that put out 400 lumens on high and maybe 30% of that on low...good for climbing...and a helmet light that was a one-button clicky 200 lumens deal.  Both were built from those little 5 dollar flashlights you see on the counter at the auto parts store, gutted, and then stuffed with high power LEDs, drivers, and wires.  The batt pack was 10 AA rechargeable cells.

But LED technology has moved on fast and even the batteries have taken huge leaps in size and capacity.  So the new lights will be at least twice as many lumens and will be half the weight.  The new Cree XML LEDs are more efficient (less Vf) AND put out more lumens per mA then the ones of a year ago.  The batts will be half the size and just as powerful.  Sweet.

The funny thing is, I can do it cheaper if I just pulled out the credit card and hit the Buy Now button.  Yep, now I can buy a commercial/premade light cheaper than I can build one.  Thank China for that one. The Magicshine shown at left, and others that have followed, have been a game changer allowing you to get at the 800 lumen range for 80 bucks or so all included...charger, etc.  The thing is, the cheapest components are often used here so long term may not be the best results, but hey, if you get two seasons out of it, then you can just pick up the new version for even less, most likely.

So why should I build?  Well, it kinda is like building your own bike from parts rather than buying it whole.  You typically spend more in a custom build unless you really get some bro-buddy or eBay deals/steals.  I get this light to be just the way I want it within my own limits of construction, at least.  No lathes or mills in my garage, so I am using square alu tubing and scrap I had around the garage.  Some work with a cut off saw and file, JB weld, some Lexan from the scrap pile, and wire scavenged from work from the toss-it bin, then add in some store bought components and hopefully I will be in the light zone with a new torch set that I made for myself.

And really, that is the real issue here.  I made it myself and for some reason, that appeals to me, even if it does not make practical sense.

Now, if I only would get an answer to that ad on Craig's List for a laboratory assistant.  I thought folks were looking for work?

Wanted:  Laboratory assistant needed for a local Mad Scientist.  No prior experience needed, but must be shorter than I am and have the inability to look me in the eye when I speak to him.  Groveling may be required.  Hunchback optional, but is a plus as is being bi-lingual in Hungarian.
Apply here with qualifications and any references.  Address reply to 'Master'.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Magic Carpet (Fibers)

Now that's a top tube!
Carbon Fiber...often derided as Carpet here to stay for cycling products.  No doubt there.  But the last year I have been able to ride three bikes, all full suspension, both in aluminum and carbon frames, and the difference has been quite striking.  Each time the pedaling response and the overall chassis feel has been noticeably superior.

Now I am on the 'Half-Caff' carbon front/alu rear Camber Expert 29er and the difference is there too.  It just pedals 'lighter' then the scale says it should.  And stiff too, from end to end, no doubt the 142+x12 back end is helping.

I am somewhat conflicted in that carbon is quite a nasty bit of chemicals and such in the making of it.  I am not a hard-core Greenie, but even I am not so crazy about this part.  Then the cost is high and likely to remain so unless you want to buy China Direct.  And, it breaks.  The shadow of fragility hangs over the carbon component like a shroud.  But I think that is fast becoming a thing of the past.  Everything can break (and will).  I have broken alu frames.  I have seen plenty of broken steel frames.  Ti can break too and does.  And, carbon can be repaired.

So it becomes a bit of a gamble.  Carbon is really good at hiding warts under a skin of beauty...hard to see how well the lay-up went and such what.  But the bike guys that do this well seem to have a very strong track record of longevity and I think that, unless you have a track record of bike abuse and breakage, that carbon should be fine for most folks.

I know it sure is wooing me and winning me over ever time I pedal one of the little dears.  It has me wondering when the right carbon fiber SS frame will come along and tempt me over to the dark side. 

Magic carpets indeed.  They only had one gear too.  I will pass on the monkey option, though.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The more things change...

...well, the more they stay the same. 

Lately some really cool stuff has been coming though the garage.  Carbon wheels, carbon bikes, etc.  And I will tell ya', carbon when it is done right is a real game changer.  Last weekend I did a pretty big ride with the carbon wheels on the Epic and they are pretty amazing.

You know what I miss the most right now?  My singlespeed.  Crazy huh?

Then, when discussing the possibility of a WRIAD ride next year, I was talking about it with Ed The Tall and I casually mentioned that many folks do it on an SS.  "Really?", he said?  I could see the wheels turning.

And it brought out from the shadows of my mind that I really would like to do it on an SS as well.  Silly me.  I worry that my body may let me down.  Gears and full suspension help a lot when it comes to avoiding a beat down.  But the SS always amazes me as to how well it can cover ground.  I swear there are times on the trail that I am going faster than a geary guy and not working as hard.  Over and over again, if you compare my times over a typical ride between SS and geared, I am the same nearly to the minute.  But there is little grace there to tired legs.  No cruising gear.  Just a pedaling gear and a walking gear.

Then there is the punishment to the low back.  I avoid geared hardtails due to all the sitting and pedaling and most hardtails these days come with oversize seatposts.  Whap...whack...smack to the back.  But could I make it work with a very compliant post, a good saddle and a low pressure tire?  I would sure like to find out.

I just think that it is funny, when I could be riding a uber-bike or when I am considering doing the longest MTB ride I have ever done, I find myself drawn to the simplest bike I have.  I do have one consolation though.  I am building up another SS, just to make it even harder to choose.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

WRIAD on the brain

WRIAD:  White Rim In A Day.  The 100+ mile loop in the Canyonlands Natl Park that most sane cyclists do with SAG over a few days.  Other not so sane riders do it in one shot, pre-dawn to dusk. 

The route is not terribly difficult from what I have read.  The elevation gain is moderate at, IIRC, 5K' or so.  And it is not really all that technical.  But 102 miles offroad is still 102 miles and 9 to 12 hours in the saddle is not something to take too lightly.   It is remote with no water or supplies over the course and no cell phone coverage.  The weather can play into the time it takes to complete the loop and when you are so far in, keeping going is just as good as turning back.  Mechanicals need to be dealt with.  No easy way to get out of there.

Still, it is well traveled as far as backcountry routes go and the jeep road (no singletrack) is well marked and easy to follow.  The scenery is like one postcard shot after another.  It is quiet that far out in the Canyonlands.  Moab and the surrounding areas are magical in many ways and you can look around and feel like you are the only man on earth.

Just one man, all alone, who has a long ways to pedal.

I am intrigued. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Rise of the 'Everybike 29er'

I was running down a rocky, rutted trail in Southern France after just enduring a short but intense ascent up a dirt road overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.  We had gotten to that point by way of a few miles of back alley riding around town.  I enjoyed the tight and responsive ride of a sample bike I rode to the trail head with nary a pedal bob or sluggish feel.  Then I had saddled up on a carbon FS and ridden the dirt section of the ride enjoying a bike that pedaled really well and was quite light despite the XL frame and less-than-Gucci parts spec. This one climbed very well and I remember thinking that I could race this bike just as it was.

Now I was on this roller coaster of a downhill ride on a longer travel feeling FS 29er with moderate trailbike angles and thinking that it was almost as good as the Specialized FSR I have on long term test, but it was more agile.  This would make a great medium to light/heavy trailbike and would do likely 90% of what the FSR does.

The thing was, it was all on the same bike.  The townie ride, the fast climb, the tricky bike changes.  One bike, in this case a Specialized Camber Evo, a Euro spec bike, but comparable to a Camber Expert Carbon for the most part.  Carbon main frame, 110mm of front and rear travel, 70* HT angle, decently short chainstays, good tire clearance, bigger front rotor, nice 2x10 SRAM build.  Lock out fork and Propedal.  Fast but strong wheels.

And it occurred to me that 2012 is seeing the rise of the Everybike in the 29er world, that being a nearly do-all scooter that is light enough to race but tough enough, long enough (travel wise) and slack enough to trail ride.  It is a 29er bike you can take nearly anywhere and be good to go and that has not been the case until now.  Last year the Santa Cruz carbon Tall Boy caught my attention as a bike that, when run with a 120mm fork, was a pretty good do-all bike.  Light enough, stiff enough, capable enough.  Only 100mm of rear travel, but that was not too much of a deal breaker.

Now this year we see the promised Ibis Ripley, something my buddy that works at Ibis called a "Quiver Killer".  There is the Camber I was riding, the new Lenz Mammoth just announced, perhaps the Salsa Horsethief, and others to come.  So what makes a great Everybike?  Glad you asked.

Light weight -  Not crazy light but somewhere in that 27lb or less range in a XL.  25lbs would be a great target to shoot for.  Now that is a number pulled out of thin air a bit, but at that weight and with good wheels, it begins to pull itself along nicely.  Some aluminum bikes will not get there.  Some will.  The Lenz likely will as Devin is a wizard at whittling frame weights down...not sure about the Horsethief or the new Yeti SB95 but they are strong contenders.  Perhaps with the right parts.  But, in this case, carbon is king and the better Everybikes will be carbon and not cheap.

Enough travel - 100mm is not enough.  130mm is perhaps too much.  120mm is likely the sweet spot for the Everybike, but the overall balance will count for more than just the travel numbers.

The right spec - Parts need to be prudently chosen to keep the bike responsive and wheels need to be very good.  Tires cannot be a weight weenie 2.0 but on the Everybike, you can always change tires for the occasion. 

The right geometry - Just a bit slacker is better for an Everybike.  Not way into the 60*s, but 71.5* HT angles ain't gonna do it either IMO.

Now if you have a few 26ers in your garage, then you likely already have one of these 26" Everybikes.  Something like a carbon Stumpjumper or a Yeti 575 or maybe even a Ibis Mojo SL.  It is a bike that you can run on the weekends with your buds and still hang in the Team 12 hour before you head off to the Bike Park to ride the 'Blue' rated trails.  Not brilliant at anything, but very good at everything.

The Everybike 29er is here now too and they are gonna' sell a ton of them. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Leaving is Verboten.

Well, the time in France was over and we bid adieu to the soft winds and soft sand of the coastline, loaded up in the six speed diesel mini-van rental bus, and drove to the airport at Nice.  In the airport I enjoyed a crazy good chocolate muffin and a cappuccino and waited with the others for our flight to arrive.   The flight status board showed our plane on time at first, then 15 minute delayed.  Then 30 minute delayed.  Then it got worse.  The loudspeaker told us that there were issues at the Frankfurt, Germany, airport and that we might be quite late for our connecting flight.  We only had 90 minutes to make that plane change and that was looking grim.

The cool thing was hanging with Gary Fisher...yes, the Gary the Nice airport as we waited.  I have met Gary before on several occasions and I am always glad to see him.  Aside from any controversy on what he actually did or did not do as a founding father of Mtn Bikes, he was and is a bike nut of the first order and is a smart and creative person.  If you ride a bike, he is your friend.  Gary, we sure are glad you came along when you did.  Thanks for all you do and I sure miss your name on the downtube of a Mtn Bike in BIG letters where it belongs.

Finally on the tarmac in the plane, we were once again delayed by the removal of three drunk passengers.  And their luggage.  Oh my.  Quite tardy arriving at Frankfurt, it was obvious that our plane home was long gone.  There was a pre-strike meeting for all the ground crews that service the planes, so very few flights were moving.  Some lucky folks made it on another flight that afternoon, but not this little soldier.  Nope.  Seven hours and multiple lines later, I was re-booked on a later flight the next day and headed to a hotel courtesy of Lufthansa.  Well, how about that?  I had actually figured I would be sleeping in the airport, but the hotel room was a welcome relief.

The next morning I was headed home on a 747-400 double decker nicely stuffed into economy class.  I had been away from home a long time and I was feeling lonely and vulnerable.  I was drawn to a girl next to me.  Her big eyes caught my attention and her wonderfully shaped ears spoke of fine breeding.  I missed what she offered...a warm touch, soft breath, playful kisses, a wet nose.  Gotta have a wet nose.  I have to admit it...I stole a few looks and shared some meaningful glances between us.  I think she liked me.  But I felt the pangs of guilt for the lady I have at home.  That lab/greyhound mix just would not understand my airplane 'fling'.  So, I left it at that, turned back to my iPod and drifted off to sleep feeling lonely still, but virtuous.  What happens in Germany very nearly stays in Germany and I was headed home.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Vive la (in)différence

Ah, yes...the French waiter.  We had many meals in France, some really good, some really bad, but on the average the food was quite tasty.  But the service was, ahhh...unique.  There was a pattern that repeated over and over.  We would be seated and wait.  Drinks would be ordered.  Water was not a given.  You had to ask, and even then it was likely to be bottled (not free).  If you did get it in a pitcher or caraffe, it would not be refilled when empty, no matter how long you sat there.  Ice with your drinks?  Not likely.

Then, after quite a while, food orders would get taken and written down, typically on a little pad of paper like here in the US (or maybe on a PDA looking thing).  Now waiters here, even in the normal restaurant, will write the orders down so that they know who gets what plate when it is delivered.  I have never been a waiter, but there must be a system they use.

Apparently that has never made it over the 'pond'.  The food would eventually show up and the waiter would ask, in French of course, who had the [insert some French words here of mystery] platter?  Heck, we could barely read the menu to know what we wanted much less pronounce it an hour later.  So this comedy would proceed meal after meal.  Order with vague for meaning at food delivery time.  It was amusing and annoying all at the same time.  The only thing that would have made it better was for the waiter to be a mime.  Marcel Marceau, where are you when we needed you?

"No, Monsieur American customer...I have no idea what you ordered, nes pa?"

The other thing I noticed was the, well, not rudeness really, just indifference.  You out of bread?  Need water?  Want your plates cleared away?  "I do not care, nes pa?"  Apparently.  Tons of impersonal attention going on here.  Truly odd.  In one eatery we made an error in ordering and ended up with an extra meal of pasta.  No biggy.  We will take it back to the guys in the mechanics truck.  I asked for a to go box.  You would think I requested the Holy Grail.  Really?  Maybe they do not do 'take-out' in France.

The nice thing was a much more relaxed approach to the meal.  They took a long time and no one seemed to be in a hurry to get you out of the table space.  Kinda' cool and I wish that was more common these days.  It does make for long lines for the next customer though.

So all in all, one can expect food equal to a fine eatery and service equal to a bad cafeteria.  Does the government run the food services?  Very civil servant like.  In France, Burger King says "Have it our way".  Want to know where all the French waiters were trained?  At the American Department of Motor Vehicles.  I could go on, but I feel the need to be ignored and pay for the privilege.  I am heading to the Post Office for a cappuccino.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I am an island

In the US, unless you are at an airport or Disneyland, you typically hear English spoken.  Of course there is a huge Latin population and other groups from far-away lands who live here, but by and large they tend to speak English too at some point.  In fact, English is the defacto language for most international travel and business.

The end result of this has had one unfortunate by-product.  We as Americans tend to speak only one language...English.  To be bi-lingual is usually due to having an ethnic background where the parents speak another language or you were raised as a youth in another country, etc.  But largely, linguistically speaking, we are a rock, we are an island.

In Europe (and in Israel too) it is very common to proficiently speak several languages or at least be decent conversationally.  I guess some of that is the close borders that make it easy to have move between countries.  You can travel thousands of miles and never leave the States.  Why else?  Not sure.  Maybe it is more of a world awareness.  Maybe the educational system...dunno.

In any case, it is a bit of a smackdown every time I travel and realize that the waiter at my table speaks French, German, and English.  In Israel it was Hebrew, Arabic and English.  Me?  Stoopid American.  I can just fall back on the old sloooowly and loudly in bad English like some Steve Martin comedy and gesture accordingly.  That always helps annoy the locals.

Most of what I know came from watching movies and TV.  The funny thing is, I have a pretty good ear for languages.  I just never put in the effort to learn one.  Island living does that to ya'.  But, I think I need to change that.  I don't buy into the "I am a citizen of the world" stuff.  I am a citizen of the US.  But I think I need to get off the island more.