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Review: Niner Jet9 RDO

By Josh Patterson,

This bike has been a long time in the making. It lived in a cobweb-filled corner of company co-founder Chris Sugai’s mind—and on many scraps of paper covered in doodles of a new and striking frame—before development began several years ago. The Jet 9 RDO is the company’s second carbon bike and its first carbon full suspension. RDO stands for Race Day Optimized; this acronym is not to be confused with Race Day Only, as the bikes that will share this designation are bred for racing but are capable of much more.

When I look at the Jet 9 RDO’s carbon frame, I see a killer whale. The black-and-white livery, the swoopy lines, and the seat tube brace—which is clearly a dorsal fin—make me think of an orca, breaching the water’s surface. I could spend the rest of this review making dim-witted analogies to killer whales, maybe even give the bike four out of five mackerels… I’ll spare you that indignity.

 

Compared to its aluminum sibling, the Jet 9, the RDO is slightly slacker with a slightly longer rear end, which sports a full 100mm of travel. The Jet 9 RDO is designed to accommodate 100mm to 120mm suspension forks, while the Jet 9 was designed around 80mm to 100mm forks. Other refinements to the carbon model include internal cable routing through the head tube, a Press-Fit 30 bottom bracket, and a direct mount front derailleur. Niner would neither confirm nor deny my suspicion that the aluminum Jet 9 will be updated to match the Jet 9 RDO, though I consider it a safe bet that this more-afford- able bike will benefit from some high-end trickle-down.

Niner’s recently patented CVA design, short for Constantly Varying Arc, uses two links that move in series through the suspension’s travel. The upper link, mounted to the seat tube, is of the rocker variety and actuates the Kashima-coated RP23 shock. The lower link is what makes Niner’s design different from many other dual-link bikes on the market: the link is located under and in front of the bottom bracket.

My test bike came equipped with a full Shimano XT group, Sun-Ringle wheels, and a 100mm RockShox SID fork with a remote lockout. With a solid selection of parts that left me with nothing to complain about, I was free to focus my attention on the frame and suspension.

I first rode the Jet 9 RDO last summer at a press camp in Park City, Utah. The bike rode well, but if anyone had asked me what I thought of the handling, I would have said “slightly old-school.”

When compared to many other 29-inch cross-country race bikes released in the past two seasons, the Niner has a steeper head angle, at 71.5-degrees, and chainstays that are on the longer end of the spectrum, measuring 455mm. This makes for a bike that feels very responsive in front but that also requires the rider to swing the rear around when things get tight.

I tested the RDO with the stock head angle and fork, swapped the 100mm RockShox SID for a 120mm Fox F29, and finally, tested the bike with the stock SID fork but with Cane Creek’s AngleSet installed and the head angle set at a more relaxed 70.5-degrees. The verdict? I prefer 70.5-degrees regardless of what gets me there—be it more travel or an adjustable-angle headset. I found the Jet 9 RDO to handle much better in high-speed situations with the slightly slacker head angle. If this were my personal XC/ endurance race bike, I would run a 120mm fork simply because it makes this bike that much more capable while giving up nothing in terms of race-day performance.

Once I had the handling sorted out to my liking, I turned my attention to the rest of the bike. Niner’s CVA suspension is noticeably more active than many other dual-link designs I’ve ridden. One criticism often leveled at bikes that use the suspension’s links to resist pedal-induced movement is that they never feel plush. This is not the case with the Jet 9 RDO—turn the ProPedal off and you have a very supple rear suspension that tracks well and absorbs square-edged bumps with poise. I rode the Jet 9 RDO through terrain that was well outside the realm of dainty XC bikes, and it never let me down. For all-around riding I kept the ProPedal in the “1” position and felt it suited the bike’s personality well. For smoother courses, and for pure XC racing, I would opt for the “2” position.

Niner chose to use the tried-and-true 135mm rear spacing with a quick-release, citing its desire to save weight. I have nothing to complain about in the stiffness department. The short links kept the front and rear triangles moving as one. Speaking of those links, the lower one is very exposed; it would be nice to have the ability to purge those bearings with grease for the sake of longevity.

 

As a “tweener” in Niner’s sizing I found the medium with a 90mm stem to be a perfect fit, and my only quibble is that the tall seat tube/ top tube junction prevented me from running a dropper post—the “RDO” vibe is the reason Niner chose not to include guides for a dropper remote.

My advice to fellow riders is to look beyond the “RDO” branding. Yes, Niner’s Jet 9 RDO is perfectly suited to XC and endurance racing. But even if you are a rider who has no desire to put a number plate on your bikes, you will find a very capable bike in the Jet 9 RDO. Some riders may find the stock geometry suits them just fine. If, like me, you want a bike that can perform well over a wider range of trail conditions, run a 120mm fork and take the harder line.

Vital stats

  • Wheelbase: 43.9-inches/1116mm
  • Head Angle: 71.5-degrees
  • Seat Tube Angle: 74-degrees
  • Bottom Bracket: 13.0-inches /330mm
  • Chainstay Length: 17.9-inches /455mm
  • Frame Weight: 5.2lbs./2.36kg
  • Complete: 26lbs./11.79kg
  • Sizes: S, M (tested), L, XL (specs based on size tested)
  • Price: $2,600 (frame only), $5,570 (complete)
  • Made in Taiwan

  

Tester stats

  • Age: 30
  • Height: 5’7”
  • Weight: 145lbs.
  • Inseam: 30”

Keep reading

Since this review was first published in Issue #163, Niner has tweaked the Jet 9 RDO slightly. Read about those changes here. 

If you’d like to read all our full-length reviews as soon as they are published, pick up a a subscription for just $19.95 and they’ll be delivered straight to your door—or mobile device.

 


Bicycle Fabrications unwraps its 2-D suspension design

By Josh Patterson, photos by Justin Steiner and Maurice Tierney.

In issue #163 we covered five of the most interesting bikes of this year’s North American Handbuilt Show. Hank Matheson of Bicycle Fabrication had this downhill prototype on display. It caught our eye because it stood in such stark contrast to the rows of glossy, finished frames. That, and because it appeared that a significant portion of the suspension relied on old bicycle inner-tubes and electrical tape…

 

The tube and tape rat’s nest was concealing a new suspension design. “It’s hidden because Jon Heim [was] actually writing the patent for that particular system,” said Matheson in our NAHBS video interview. Our educated guess was that the suspension used an auxiliary shock—perhaps something similar to Kona’s Magic Link, but rather than controlling geometry and suspension travel the shock controled the fore-aft movement of the rear axle.

Now that all the paperwork has been filed and a patent is pending (so reads the Sharpie writing on the frame), Matheson was willing to give us an exclusive first look at this new suspension design.

Unwrapped

Matheson worked in concert with engineer Jon Heim to create a suspension design that would allow the wheel to travel in a vertical arc, as well to travel rearwards when the suspension encounters a big hit.

Dubbed “2-D” as in two degrees of freedom. The main shock, in this case a Fox DHX RC 4, controls the majority of the suspension movement through the single pivot suspension’s 225mm of vertical travel. A polyurethane elastomer spring, the black wedge bolted to the down tube and to an eccentric pivot housed in the downtube, controls the suspension’s 19mm of fore-aft movement.

  

The coil main spring and elastomer auxillary spring work independent of each other. “You can’t measure the travel in vertical inches—it’s best measured in square inches,” said Matheson.

Background

Matheson and co-developer Heim set out to design a suspension that would better handle large square-edge impacts, which have a tendency to slow riders down, or stop them in the tracks. “Everyone’s had this experience riding a full suspension: you come up to a square-edge hit and it yanks the bike out from under you—it’s too big for the vertical travel to deal with. This suspension design allows the wheels to move back, up, and out of the way,” Matheson explained.

Matheson was inspired by the Cannondale Gemini DH, a decade-old downhill bike, developed for World Cup racers Cedric Gracia and Anne-Caroline Chausson that never made it past the prototype stages. “I liked what the rear axle was doing…Cannondale did a really good job of isolating one from the other.”

How it works

Where Cannondale used five pivots and an auxiliary air shock for the Gemini DH’s vertical and rearward travel Matheson looked to automotive suspension, which uses polyurethane bumpers to dampen forces coming into the chassis. While elastomers may be synonymous with the first generation of suspension forks and shocks, Matheson and Heim believe they are the right tools for the job.

Illustration by Jon Heim

“We’ve talked about a bunch of different ways of tuning the movement of the rear axle. We’re not asking for a ton of rearward travel, [an elastomer] is light, simple, and compact. If we went to an air shock, yes, it would be more tuneable on-the-fly, but it’s more than we need,” said Matheson.

The main suspension controls the majority of the suspension movement. The fore-aft suspension duties, handled by the elastomer and the eccentric pivot, only comes into play when the rear suspension encounters abrupt impacts in the 4:30 to 6:00 range of the rear wheel, as viewed from the drive side of the bike.

Once an impact is encountered, the elastomer allows for a controlled rearward movement of the rear wheel; the eccentric pivot allows the swingarm to rotate backwards and slightly upwards, away from the impact, while the main shock controls the suspensions vertical movement.

Because the eccentric allows the swingarm to rotate back and up, it does have an effect on the spring rate of the main shock. When activated, the movement of the eccentric pivot slightly steepens the shock angle, making the suspension more progressive.

No Switching

I’ve used the words “eccentric pivot” several times to explain how the 2-D suspension works. Some readers may immediately think of Yeti’s recently introduced Switch suspension system.

According to Matheson, the only thing these suspension designs have in common is the use of an eccentric pivot, in place of a linkage, and the eccentrics are used for two entirely different reasons.

Yeti uses an eccentric pivot to control and improve pedaling performance. The eccentric rotates backwards during the initial stroke, counteracting chain forces and increasing anti-squat to provide a firm pedaling platform. As the suspension compresses further, the eccentric rotates forwards, giving the suspension an active, plush feel.

In contrast, Bicycle Fabrications’ 2-D design uses an eccentric pivot to control the rearward movement of the axle. “My eccentric activates a separate shock and axle path, which the Yeti’s design does not,” says Matheson.

The next step

Now that a patent is pending Matheson plans to do a small run of 20-30 frames to get feedback from riders. After than he plans to do more tweaking and possibly increase production. If nothing else, this is a refreshing effort from a small company to improve mountain bike suspension.

Keep reading

There were a lot of cool mountain bikes at the 2012 North American Handmade Bicycle Show. See our coverage here.


Review: Canfield Nimble 9

By Josh Patterson

Canfield is a small, Utah-based company that has been building downhill and freeride bikes since 1999. Lance and Chris Canfield have four bikes in their current line, two of which are 29er hardtails with short chainstays and slack head angles.

The Nimble 9 and its aluminum counterpart, the Yelli-Screamy, were built because the Canfield brothers needed bikes to train on when they were not able to ride downhill. “As much as we love riding downhill, we can’t do it every day. Basically all our bikes are built for downhillers,” says Lance.

Making it fit

Lance Canfield designed the Nimble 9 to address some of the shortcomings of other 29ers. “All the products we build are things we want to ride. I liked 29ers, but the geometry of most is terrible,” says Lance.

He wanted the Nimble 9 to have short chainstays, ample tire clearance, and the ability to run a front derailleur. Choose two of these three things and one can design a 29er without much fuss. The designer must get creative when building a bike with all three elements.

Canfield’s solution was to weld the downtube 35mm forward of the bottom bracket. This provides enough tire clearance to run a direct-mount front derailleur without running into clearance issues that result from big tires and short chainstays. (The sliding dropouts will change the chainstay length from 412mm to 429mm.) As for tire clearance, my test bike was spec’d with Schwalbe Nobby Nic 2.35” tires and there was room to spare between the stays.

To the trail!

I’ll get right to it, the Nimble 9 lives up to its name. I immediately noticed how easy it was to navigate tight switchbacks. Pedal kicking over obstacles was also a breeze. The frame is extremely playful and really comes alive as your speed increases.

I was underwhelmed by the performance of the Marzocchi fork that came with the bike and promptly swapped it for the Fox TALAS 29 reviewed in issue #150. (The Nimble 9 can accommodate 80-120mm suspension forks.) The Fox TALAS gave me a chance to test the bike with the fork in the 120mm and 95mm settings, which gave the Nimble 9 unsagged head angles of roughly 68° and 69° respectively. Even with 120mm of travel, the bike never felt sluggish nor did the front end wander excessively while climbing. Though I did find myself weighting the front end more than usual to get the front wheel to bite while cornering.

Canfield Brothers incorporated gracefully curved seatstays to act as leaf springs, taking the edge off. Despite this, my impression was that the rear end was stiffer than most other steel hardtails I’ve ridden. Perhaps this is due to seat and chainstays that are shorter than the norm, and therefore flex less along their length. The frame as a whole was appreciably stiff. No bottom bracket sway while hammering up climbs and no awkward front and rear yaw under hard cornering.

The Nimble 9 rode well, but there are design elements I took issue with. This is the only bike I’ve ridden that my heels routinely clipped the chainstays—a byproduct of trying to maximize rear tire clearance with remarkably short chainstays—more shaping of the chainstays could solve this. The junction of the bottom bracket and chainstays acts as a shelf to collect mud and debris, something to keep in mind if you live in a wet climate. A 44mm headtube would have been a nice addition, giving riders the option to run forks with tapered steerers. Finally, the Nimble 9 is only offered in three sizes. Thankfully, this will be remedied with the introduction of an extra large size this spring.

Final thoughts

The Nimble 9 is versatile enough to suit riders of many different backgrounds. It offers excellent handling characteristics in an affordable package. If you’re looking for a versatile 29er without cookie-cutter geometry, throw a leg over the Nimble 9.

 

Vital stats

  • Price: $650 (frame only)
  • Weight: 5.5lbs (frame only) 24.5lbs. (as built)
  • Sizes Available: S (tested), M, L
  • Country of Origin: Taiwan

First look at new helmets from Kali Protectives

By Josh Patterson

The Avana, above, is Kali’s new all-mountain helmet. We reviewed the company’s popular Avita model in issue #156. One of our quibbles with the Avita was that it didn’t offer quite as much rear coverage as comparable models from other companies. Kali took this criticism to heart when designing the Avana. This new model offers more rear coverage and uses multiple foam densities to increase the helmet’s ability to dissipate energy upon impact.

The Avana will retail for $139.

Kali also has a new performance cross-country lid. The Maraka XC weights approximately 250 grams and offers reinforced structures around the helmet’s front vents to lessen high-speed impacts.

The Maraka will retail for $189.

On the more budget-minded end of the spectrum is Kali’s Chakra Plus. This helmet offers a full in-mold shell, one-handed dial adjust, and a breakaway visor. It’s Kali-sponsored rider Eric Porter’s go-to helmet and it retails for a very reasonable $50. Not bad, Kali. Not bad.

Eric Porter, rocking the Shakra Plus and leading the way. “It’s just over that next hill…”

 

 


Hands on with Turner’s 650b full-suspension prototype – the Burner

By Josh Patterson,

Dave Turner revived the ‘Burner’ name for the latest bike in the Turner lineup. The new Burner is a 650b trail bike, sporting 140mm of front and rear travel. Turner has gained a loyal following by building full suspension bikes that are efficient, durable, and are made in the United States. The Burner has a 44mm headtube, 142×12 rear thru-axle, and ISCG 05 chainguide mounts. Like all Turners, the Burner is built around Dave Weagle’s dw-link suspension design, with zerk grease fittings on the pivots to keep the bushings smooth and silent.

I picked Dave Turner’s brain while he was setting up my demo bike about everything from where he sees the wheelsize fitting into the mountain bike spectrum, to what to call the damn thing—there are many tongue-in-cheek nicknames floating around for 650b.

“I want to call it the ‘waffle,’” Turner said. “As in waffling, but also because it’s sweet.”

Turner sees a big future for 650b. “I won’t build anything I wouldn’t want to ride,” he said. The company’s 29er trail bike, the Sultan, has been Turner’s best selling bike for several seasons. (Read our review from Issue #145 here.) The Sultan served as the first test mule for 650b. Turner saw merit in the wheelsize and a handful of prototypes were produced.

In the coming years he expects 650b will take marketshare from the emerging breed of long-travel 29ers and annihilate 26-inch wheels on everything but downhill rigs.

“Downhill racers are not like the rest of us,” Turner said. “The bikes are already really long, and [the riders] need bikes that are very maneuverable.”

On the Trail

I set out on a test ride with a handful of other journalists. The trails overlooking Park City have a little bit of everything (and a lot of elevation). Our ride included a great mix of terrain on which to test the merits of the wheelsize and the frame itself: some fast and flowy terrain, bermed switchbacks, and just the right amount of rocky chunder.

 

My Burner was spec’d with a RockShox 650b Revelation fork and a Rockshox Monarch RT3 in the rear. I used all 140mm of the Revelation’s travel. It proved to be a smooth and highly tunable fork. My experience with dw-link bikes has generally been positive; the suspension design provides a firm pedaling platform that’s unfazed by out-of-the-saddle mashing, while still managing to hug the ground when the going gets rough. The Burner was no exception. I rode with it with the platform damping turned off for everything but the road climb back to Deer Valley resort.

As soon as I through a leg over the Burner it was very apparent that I was not riding big wheels, just big-ish wheels…

Acceleration was very good. The Burner is more flickable than 29ers with a comparable amount of travel. (The feather-light and incredibly stiff 650b ENVE wheels certainly didn’t hurt either.) A stiff chassis and stiff wheels kept the Burner pointed where I wanted it to go. It rolled over rocks and roots OK. I could not plow through rock gardens the way I could with a 29er, but it was easier to make quick line adjustments and pop off berms and other trail features.

Wheelsize is only half the Burner’s story. Turner’s interpretation of the 650b trail bike is low and slack. The exact geometry numbers are yet-to-be determined, but if they are in the same ballpark as the prototype I rode, I think the Burner will be a hit. The Burner could appeal to a wide variety of riders: it can be built up as a lightweight trail bike or as an enduro-ready machine with a 1×10 (or the soon-to-be available 1×11) drivetain, chainguide, and dropper post. I think the Burner will excel in either configuration.

The Burner will be available this fall with an estimated retail price of $2,500 for the frame with shock.

What do you think about 650b?

Is it good to have choices? A solution to a problem that does not exist? A ‘just right’ wheelsize? An industry-driven ploy to sell more bikes? All of the above? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.


Hutchinson: New treads to shred

By Josh Patterson

Hutchinson is investing a lot of resources in developing its gravity-oriented tires. The French tire manufacturer now has full range of DH tires to suit most conditions. From top to bottom you see the Toro, an all-arounder, available in 2.5 and 2.35; the DZO, for wet and muddy courses; and the Squale, for dry and rocky conditions.

Note the stepped blocks on the DZO. These serve as guides for shaving the tread.

Hutchinson readily admits the company was caught with its pants down when the 29er boom hit. While they are just now getting up to speed with a full line of 29er rubber, the company made sure it would not make the same mistake twice. Three of their most popular treads are available in 650B sizes with more to come. From left to right, the Toro, Cougar, and Cobra:

The Black Mamba is a very low-profile version of the Cobra, with more space between the knobs. This tubular tread was designed for Julien Absalon’s Olympics aspirations. Hutchinson makes treads for Dugast tires. This Mamba tread will be mated to a Dugast casing for a super-light, race-day only tire that most of us would be too afraid to ride.


Camelbak unveils new, redesigned packs

By Josh Patterson

Camelbak seems to be in a constant state of refinement. There’s always something that can be made lighter, more ergonomic, or easier to use. For example, last year’s Charge LR has been updated with a back-loading (Your back, that is.) reservoir. This allowed the company to up the cargo capacity significantly.

I’ve used the Charge LR for numerous endurance events and my only criticism is that I wish there was a version with a three-liter bladder. Enter the Volt LR, below. It’s a larger version of the Charge LR with 10 liters of cargo capacity and a three liter reservoir for long days in the saddle. The Volt LR will retail for $125.

Through the R&D process Camelbak found it needed to change the shape of the three liter lumbar reservoir. (The manta ray-esque two-liter bladder, below left, didn’t work as well when the volume was increased.) The three-liter bladder, below right, also uses an internal baffle like the company’s traditional bladder to keep it flatter against your back when topped-off. 

On the more traditional-side of the Camelbak line, the stalwart Mule NV, below, has been updated with a clamshell main compartment, an integrated bottom-loading rain cover, and new pod-like back panels said to improve airflow over the previous design.

 

Camelbak has come up with a pretty clever helmet carrying method for their packs. These clips, located on either side of the pack, securely hold your helmet’s straps and are very unobtrusive when not in use. Camelbak will be incorporating this helmet carrying system throughout its line.

For the ladies

The now has a women’s version of the Charge LR dubbed the Spark LR. Like the Charge LR it has a two-liter bladder and 7.5 of cargo capacity. The straps are contoured to fit a woman’s body and the pack is slightly shorter than the Charge LR for shorter torsos. The Spark LR will retail for $110.

The Luxe NV is essentially a women’s Mule NV. Like the Mule NV it’s redesigned with updated features including the new back panels. The Luxe NV will retail for $135.


 


First ride report: Niner’s redesigned S.I.R. 9 steel hardtail

By Josh Patterson

Last year about this time Niner Bikes unveiled its first carbon full suspension platform, the Jet 9 RDO (read our review in issue #163). This year Niner took time to reinvest in one of the first frames in its line-up, the geared and singlespeed-compatible S.I.R. 9. The company felt steel bikes were being equated with retro, which seemed unfair to such a versatile frame material.

“Steel was being left behind,” said company founder Chris Sugai. "You couldn’t run tapered forks, you couldn’t run Maxles.” Niner’s goal was to revise the frame to make it compatible with current standards while maintaining the S.I.R. 9’s soulful ride quality.

The two most visible changes include the use of a larger diameter, 44mm head tube, which will allow riders to run straight or tapered steerers on their forks, and a 142×12 Maxle rear end to bolster stiffness and make it compatible with the latest hubs and wheelsets.

Other, more subtle changes include switching the rear brake mount from IS to post-mount, and moving it from the seatstay to the chainstay. Not only does this change give the rear end a much cleaner look, it also does away with the need for a brace between the seat- and chainstays, and allows for the use of thinner-walled seatstays to improve the ride quality.

Niner also redesigned its eccentric bottom bracket. Dubbed Biocentric II, the new unit uses two 6mm bolts, versus a single 8mm used previously, to more evenly distribute clamping forces and lessen the chance the unit will creak. There’s also a keyed 8mm slot to make chain tension adjustments. The Biocentric II is also compatible with Niner’s CYA modular bottom bracket system, allowing riders to choose the bottom bracket technology that best fits their needs: BB30, PressFit 30, BB92, or a tried-and-true threaded system. Best of all, Biocentric II is backwards compatible with Niner frames that use the Biocentric I EBB. Pricing and availability are not set.

Niner will also be offering their Maxle hardware to custom frame builders.

The Reynolds 853 front triangle was redesigned to accommodate the larger diameter headtube. Niner worked with Reynolds to select the right butting profile to ensure the frame would pass stringent EN testing requirements.

While the S.I.R. 9 receives numerous updates the frame’s geometry remains unchanged.

Colors will be Tamale Red (with an option to purchase the frame with a color-matched RockShox XX SID fork), and Arctic White. Weight for a medium S.I.R. 9 frame with Maxle hardware and seatpost clamp is approximately 4.8 pounds. It will retail for $999 and will be available in approximately 12 weeks.

On the trail

As mentioned previously, the updated S.I.R. 9 has geometry that is identical to its predecessor—quick, but not twitchy is how I would describe it. The frame is designed around 80-100mm forks. My demo bikes was spec’d with a 100mm RockShock SID fork and a mostly XTR drivetrain, all of which worked well enough that I could focus all of my attention on the frame.

I was curious to find out of the inclusion of modern features, designed to bolster frame stiffness, might exaggerate the steel frame’s lively feel to the point that “complaint” turned into “flexy.”

I’m happy to report that this was not my impression. Through tight switchbacks, bermed turns, and the occasional blast through rocky chunder the S.I.R. 9 displayed the refined ride quality one would expect from a high-end steel frame: comfortable, lively and precise.

So I mentioned the S.I.R. 9 will not be available for 12 weeks, and that it comes in red or white. Well, there is a loophole. Think this is the right bike for you? Want to help IMBA fight the good fight? Well, there’s a way to do both at the same time.

Niner is auctioning off on eBay six custom-painted, IMBA-themed S.I.R. 9 frames with matching carbon RDO forks—seen here with the yellow paint. One hundred percent of the proceed go directly to IMBA. The auctions end June 29, so bid early and often!


Anatomy of a gravel race bike: my Dirty Kanza 200 rig

By Josh Patterson,

One of the things I enjoy most about endurance gravel events is that they challenge participants to innovate. Gravel racing is a new and evolving niche. Companies are starting to take note, but for the most part it’s about improvisation and ingenuity.

I’ve toed the start line at Dirty Kanza five times, each year with a different bike. (Read Josh’s race recap here.) This year I think I’ve honed in on my ideal endurance gravel setup. I would not go so far as to say this is the perfect gravel race setup, but it was good enough for my mid-pack finish.

Salsa Cycles was kind enough to allow me to ride an aluminum prototype of their upcoming gravel race bike. (There was also a titanium version at this year’s race.) The yet-to-be-named bike takes design cues from Salsa’s existing cyclocross bike, the Chili Con Crosso. The new bike will be disc-specific and features many subtle changes, which are the result of “many, many miles and years of gravel racing experience,” said Mike Reimer, Salsa’s marketing manager.

The bike

Like the Chili Con Crosso, the new bike will have a Press-Fit 30 bottom bracket.

 

The seat and chainstays are flattened to allow for a small amount of vertical compliance.

The frame has mounts for three water bottles. I chose not to carry a bottle underneath the downtube—there are plenty of cowpies on the roads and I don’t enjoy drinking from a bottle encrusted in bovine excrement.

Wheels and tires

There is no doubt in my mind that there is exponentially more hand wringing about tire choice for gravel racing than all other disciplines of cycling combined. Tire choice will make or break your ride. Kansas gravel is generally composed of limestone and flint. Flint can be sharper than steel and will make short work of thin tires.

I opted to run Clement’s brand new X’Plor MSO 700x40mm tire. Gravel is an unpredictable and ever-changing surface; I find it hard to conceive of any tire that would allow one to “rail turns” on a gravel road. The X’Plor’s round shape, and consistently spaced, low-profile tread make for a tire that rolls fast and is extremely predictable. I ran 42psi in the front and 45psi in the rear.

I also opted to run them tubeless on a pair of Rolf Ralos 29er wheels. I’m sure Clement does not recommend this (it’s my job to try these things and occasionally make poor decisions so you don’t have to). They seated with a floor pump and held air with three scoops of NoTubes sealant. X’Plor MSO has a supple, 120tpi casing, my pair weigh approximately 430 grams, and carried me across miles of flint-strewn roads without any issues. I’m sold.

The Rolf Ralos wheelset rolls on White Industries hubs laced to what are essentially NoTubes Arch rims drilled for Rolf’s paired spokes. On my mountain bike I found this wheelset to flex more than I like, but for long gravel rides I appreciated the compliance.

Gearing

I ran a Shimano 105 group with an FSA Gossamer crankset. Nothing special, just solid, reliable stuff. For events like this I’ve found the wider range of a 50/34 t compact crankset is a better option than a traditional 48/38t, or 46/36t cyclocross gearing. Sometimes you need the little ring, other times, when you’ve got a tailwind on your side, it’s nice to be able to take full advantage of it with a 50t ring. I paired this with a 12-28 cassette and was never wanting for gears.

Frame Packs

Frame packs like this one made by Jandd and similar bags made by Revelate Designs are excellent options for carrying all the food and gear you need easy access to during your ride. I planned to carry a three-liter hydration bladder in my bag and forego a hydration pack, but when full, the pack rubbed against my knees. I ended up riding with a CamelBak Charge LR and it proved quite comfortable.

Saddle Bag

In my saddlebag I carried two tubes, a multi-tool, patch kit, tire boot, two links of chain, and two 16-gram CO2 cartridges.

Lighting

Front and rear lights are mandatory. Many riders who are confident in their ability to finish before sunset opt to run a very minimal headlight. I was not one of those riders, so I opted to run a Cygolite TridenX 750 OSP. If you think you’re going to be riding well into the night I also recommend running a helmet-mounted light to make map reading and navigation easier.

Frame Pump

Portland Design Works’ Magic Flute is my pump of choice.

Handlebar

I ran my a Salsa Bell Lap 2 handlebar about two centimeters higher than I normally would for road or ‘cross to ensure I had a position in the drops that would be comfortable for hours on end.   

 

Questions?

Have a question about gravel tech? Feel free to ask below.


200 miles of bad roads – Dirty Kanza 200 race report

By Josh Patterson, photos by Josh Patterson and Corey Godfrey 

At the Dirty Kanza 200, the volatile Kansas weather shapes the outcome as much as the racers’ fitness and preparation. Scorching heat, soul-crushing headwinds, and high humidity often upset the best-laid plans. Last year an afternoon outbreak of severe thunderstorms forced many racers to seek shelter in barns and ditches, but this year mild temperatures and light winds created ideal conditions for 200 miles of gravel road racing.

Here’s the winning video from last year’s DK200 video contest. (Ben Thornton was not lucky enough to find refuge in a barn.)

This year unseasonably mild temperatures, light and variable winds, and rain showers several days prior—just enough to pack down the gravel—conspired to make this year’s race one that would see previous records broken.

At Friday night’s pre-race meeting many riders talked in hushed voices about who would break the 12-hour barrier, and best former 24-hour National Champion Cameron Chamber’s four-year-old record of 11 hours and 58 minutes. Would it be DK200 stalwart Dan “the diesel” Hughes, owner of Sunflower Outdoor and Bike in Lawrence, Kansas; Lincoln Nebraska’s Corey “Cornbread” Godfrey; or would the Queen of Pain, three-time World Champion Rebecca Rusch chick everyone?

The next morning more than 420 racers lined up in downtown Emporia, Kansas, for the start. It appears that 2012 will go down as the breakout year for this race. It has reached a critical mass, having made the transition from a popular regional event to one that draws participants from across the nation and beyond; riders from 38 states, Canada and Great Britain journeyed to the Flint Hills of central Kansas for this year’s race. Paying money and traveling long distances to ride 200 miles of Great Plains gravel—who would have thought?

As the depth of the field increases, so too does the pace. From the start, the in-it-to-win-it group set a tempo that left the in-it-to-survive-it riders like myself strung out over miles of rough gravel roads.

It came as quite a surprise when, two hours into the race, riders from the lead group began passing the pack fodder. The course is well marked, but navigation is still a critical element of the Dirty Kanza; in their haste the lead pack missed a turn and went several miles off course before realizing their error. Some of these racers blew past at breakneck speed, frantic to regain lead while other, more seasoned racers slowly ratcheted up the pace.

As the clock ticked towards the 12-hour mark two riders rolled onto Emporia’s main street: Dan Hughes and Rusty Folger of Golden, Colorado, crossed the finish line, arm in arm, tying for the win and setting a new course record in of in 11 hours and 56 minutes. This was Folger’s first attempt at the race, and Hughes third win.

Soon afterward Rebecca Rusch rode across the line, finishing in 12 hours and two minutes, finishing third overall and setting a new women’s course record by over an hour.

Stay tuned for a breakdown of the gear I used that didn’t, well, break down. 


Another Dirt Fest in the books

By Josh Patterson

The dust has settled from the third annual Dirt Fest. The demo crews have packed their bikes and headed to the next town; music no longer echoes through the woods; and the local ground squirrel population is breathing a collective sigh of relief; as are we at the office, as we do our best to recover from the weekend’s festivities.

During the three-day festival nearly 2,300 mountain bikers took to the rollercoster trails at Raystown Lake. By most accounts the event was a success. In an abstract sense, this should be a no-brainer: quality singletrack + free beer + blinged-out demo bikes + live music = a good time. In a very real sense it took a lot of hard work by a lot of dedicated volunteers to pull off—thanks to all.

I, for one, enjoyed myself immensely. Saturday I helped lead a group of riders on Rays-to-Lake; the fastest riders to the shoreline were treated to a houseboat cruise, post-ride recovery keg, and cliff jumping. Harlan Price of Take Aim Cycling, below, put on two skills clinics. I attended one and came away with some valuable insight on how to improve my cornering technique; I immediately put this newfound knowledge to use on the trails.

Speaking of the trails, last year I spent most of my time riding the trail network closest to the expo area. This year I ventured further away from the hustle and bustle of the expo and was rewarded with new and exciting singletrack. I highly recommend exploring all the trails at Raystown; you will not be disappointed.

If you couldn’t make it this year, no worries. We’ll be back. And check out our huge photo gallery of what you missed.  Got your own photos? Be sure to tag them with Dirt Rag’s Dirt Fest on Facebook.

Something special happens when you assemble a large group of people so passionate mountain biking—friends are made and stories are swapped. What are your favorite memories from this year’s event? Share in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

Thanks to our sponsors, exhibitors

Dirt Fest would not have been possible without the support of these fine companies. Hope you enjoyed their wares!

  • Appalachian Outdoors
  • Cannondale
  • Club Ride apparel
  • Elk Creek Cafe
  • Erie Brewing Company
  • Felt
  • Flying Squirrel Organic Hops
  • Foundry
  • Fox Racing Shocks
  • Freeze-Thaw Cycles
  • The Gamble Mill
  • Giant
  • IMBA
  • Industry 9 wheels
  • Infinit Nutrition
  • Kuat
  • Lone Wolf Cycling Clothing
  • Niner
  • NiteRider
  • Osprey
  • Oskar Blues and Reeb Cycles
  • Pedal Pushers
  • Pittsburgh Trail Advocacy Group
  • Pivot
  • POC protective gear
  • Rebecca Rusch – Gold Rusch Tour
  • Reynolds wheels
  • Rothrock Outfitters
  • Salsa
  • Santa Cruz
  • Scott
  • Shimano
  • Shower’s Pass
  • Specialized
  • Stan’s NoTubes
  • Suntour
  • Swiftwick
  • Thomson
  • Trek
  • Wheels Manufacturing

Plus, more shirts!

We had a run on our one-chance-only Dirt Fest T-shirts, so we’ve decided to do a second printing. Order between now and June 1 and we’ll print one up for you, with an expected delivery of June 10. We’ll even throw in free shipping. Don’t delay, this is your last chance!

 

 

 

 

 

 


Review: Fox Van 36 FIT RC2

By Josh Patterson, photo Justin Steiner

Ongoing refinements in air spring technology have made coil springs an increasingly rare commodity these day. For Fox Racing Shox, the long-travel realm is the last bastion of the coil-sprung fork. The Van series comes in 160mm (tested) and 180mm flavors and is designed for all-mountain and park riding.

Unlike the air-spring Float 36 series, the Van 36 FIT RC2 has separate high and low-speed compression circuits, allowing the rider to fine-tune the fork for the many different types of trail and rider input that could otherwise require one to make a compromise between performance and comfort.

For the uninitiated, low-speed compression damping mitigates excessive suspension movement during hard braking, i.e. brake dive, cornering, G-outs, and rider weight shifts. High-speed compression damping handles the big hits, high-frequency stutter bumps, and other sudden, high velocity impacts. Both compression adjustment dials are located on the top of the right fork leg, with the rebound damping adjustment knob located on the bottom of the right leg. Preload adjustments are made via a dial on the left leg.

Like the Float series, this fork employs FIT damping. Fox began using cartridge damping units on their high-end forks in 2010 to improve performance by reducing the amount of air mixing with oil, which can lead to inconsistent performance in open bath systems. For riders looking for a less techy and slightly more affordable option, Fox offers the Van 36 with an open-bath damper, no external compression adjustments, and no friction-fighting Kashima coating for $795.

The Van 36 FIT RC2 ships with the medium spring installed, intended for riders weighing between 150-180lbs. With gear, I’m on the very low end of this range. After one ride it was clear I needed to swap the medium for the lighter, 115-155lbs. spring. Any capable home mechanic can do a spring swap; it took all of two minutes.

With the light spring installed, all was well. Small bump sensitivity was excellent and the separate high and low-speed compression adjustments allowed me to fine-tune the fork’s performance to suit general trail riding, as well as more aggressive park riding. The test sled for this fork was the Ibis Mojo HD I reviewed in issue #155. I rode everything from XC-oriented singletrack to the stunts and berms at my local terrain park, and even spent a several days riding this setup instead of a DH rig at my local ski resort.

After a season of riding, my impression is that the Van 36 FIT RC2 will be overkill if you’re on the longer travel cross-country side of the all-mountain spectrum. I was never able to get full travel during what I would consider general trail and all-mountain riding. It was only when I rode this fork in the bike park and on extended downhill runs that it really came into its own. Fox Racing’s Race Program Director Mark “Fitzy” Fitzsimmons says this is by design. The fork’s damper prevents harsh bottom-outs, but will also make it difficult to use the last bit of travel on everything but the biggest hits.

“We don’t want the fork to be the limiting factor of what the rider can do,” says Fitzsimmons . There you have it—no excuses—pin it, push it, whatever you choose to call it, this fork was designed with aggressive riders in mind.

If you’re on the downhill or freeride end of the all-mountain spectrum the Van 36 FIT RC2 will serve your needs with ample stiffness, a wide range of usable adjustments, and consistent performance. If I were building up a bike for enduro racing, this would be my go-to fork.

Vital stats

  • Price: $955
  • Travel: 160mm
  • Weight: 5.12lbs.
  • Spring: Coil
  • External Adjustments: Preload, Rebound, High and Low-Speed Compression
  • Axle: 20mm Thru-Axle
  • Country of Origin: United States

First Impression: Niner Air 9 RDO

By Josh Patterson

Niner expanded their RDO (short for Race Day Optimized) line this spring with the introduction of the Air 9 RDO. Niner used the Air 9 Carbon (read our full review here) as the foundation for building this carbon hardtail. The company’s goal was the shed weight while adding a bit of compliance to the new frame (two objectives that generally go well together).

Where the Air 9 Carbon uses Niner’s CYA bottom bracket system—an oversized bottom bracket shell with a 55mm inner diameter that is compatible with press-fit, threaded, and Niner’s eccentric bottom bracket—the Air 9 RDO forgoes this expansive range of compatibility in favor of a lighter PressFit 30 bottom bracket.

To improve compliance, the company used smaller diameter top and downtubes. The rear brake mount was moved from the seatstay to the chainstay, allowing for a lighter, more forgiving carbon layup to be used on the seatstays.

One subtle revision that is sure to please mechanics is full-length cable routing through the headtube. This should simplify Niner’s internal routing; I would not be surprised if Niner’s other carbon models follow suit.

Sea Otter’s mountain bike fondo was a good proving ground for this race-ready hardtail. Being a Fondo, we were not technically “racing," although that didn’t stop me, and a handful of like-minded participants, from turning it into a competition—I have my Strava reputation to think of…

After twenty miles of fire road and singletrack, I feel Niner has done a good job of balancing comfort and performance. The trails around Monterey are mostly hardpack, but are full of stutter and braking bumps that quickly take their toll. The RDO’s rear end did a commendable job of muting high-speed trail chatter, and I never encountered a situation in which I was left wanting for stiffness. I could see this bike being an excellent choice for endurance racers who prefer the lightweight and simplicity of a 29er hardtail to a full suspension.

 

 

Sea Otter downhill – the right tool for the win

By Josh Patterson

Sea Otter’s downhill course is tame by World Cup standards; it’s short on elevation, devoid of large drops, and lacks technical terrain. One racer described the course as “a single-slalom course on steroids.” This is not a dig at Sea Otter’s DH course, far from it. It’s oddball courses such as this one that challenge racers and team mechanics to re-evaluate their set-ups. For many gravity racers, both professional and amateur, the biggest challenge at Sea Otter is choosing the right bike.

Dirt Rag interviewed three racers before Sunday’s DH finals to find out what they planed to ride. Each had a different approach to the race, but the common theme was that a full-on downhill bike would be overkill for this course. They felt a long, slack bike with eight or more inches of suspension would be excessive and would result in wasted milliseconds, wallowing through berms and turns. A shorter-travel bike would be more of a handful to control, but would also give them the abiliy to carry more speed.

Aaron Gwin

Trek World Racing’s Aaron Gwin chose to ditch his carbon Session 9.9 in favor of the 160mm-travel Slash 9. The five-time World Cup champion cited the Slash’s agility and pedal-friendly nature as the reason he thought it would be the right bike for the race. The Slash was designed with aggressive trail riding and enduro racing in mind, which is not too far removed from the terrain found on the hills overlooking the Laguna Seca Raceway. Gwin piloted his Slash to a third-place finish at this year’s race.

Look for our review of the Slash 9 in an upcoming issue of Dirt Rag.

Troy D’Elia

“We built this bike specifically for this race,” said company founder and fabricator Brent Foes, “though it could also be a fun play bike for skilled riders at places like Whistler, or in bike parks.”

Foes Racing athlete Troy D’Elia rode this heavily-modified Foes Shaver to a 65th-place finish in a stacked Pro Men’s field.

Compared to the production version, D’Elia’s race bike has lower standover, for better maneuverability, and a slack, 64-degree head tube angle (the production bike sports a 67-degree head tube), and 140mm of travel.

Jared Graves

Jared Graves knows a thing or two about choosing the right bike for Sea Otter. Going into Sunday’s race the Yeti/Fox racer had two consecutive Sea Otter DH wins under his belt.

When the dust settled, the Aussie had bested the field for the third year in a row. And he did it on a rig with less travel than most trail bikes.

Graves’ one-of-a-kind prototype blends elements of Yeti’s 4X bike with rail technology borrowed from the company’s 303 downhill race bike. The rear suspension has 100mm of travel via a Fox RP23. Upfront, there’s a 120mm Fox 831—a variant of the 32 Float specifically designed for dirt jumping, dual slalom, and 4-cross racing. The 831 has firmer high and low-speed compression damping and a more progressive spring rate than the standard Float series.


Sea Otter 2012: New Knolly Endorphin

By Josh Patterson

If you consider yourself an aggressive trail rider, Knolly’s new Endorphin should be on your radar.

The Endorphin has 140mm of rear travel and can accommodate 140-160mm forks. This pre-production bike sports a 140mm-travel Fox 34mm. Fox Racing Shox’s new 26-inch 34mm stanchion forks look to be the perfect match for aggressive, shorter-travel bikes. We’re hopeful the increased diameter stanchions address our gripes about front-end flex on longer travel 32mm forks.

Out back, the Endorphin uses Fox’s new CTD shock, which supplants the RP23. The new shock features three modes—climb, trail, descend.

Wondering what’s up with the linkage? Knolly’s patented Four by 4 linkage separates axle path from spring rate, allowing each to be independently tuned to suit the needs of each model. Company owner and frame designer Noel Buckley places a premium on suspension performance under pedaling and braking, lateral stiffness, and low-maintenance.

The Endorphin is ripe with current “standards” and thoughtful touches: the frame uses a 142×12 rear end, ISCG tabs for a chain guide, dropper post routing along the underside of the top tube, and artfully machined CNC hardware.

The highlighter yellow bike pictured weighs in at 26-pounds.

Endorphin Specs:

  • Head Angle: 67 degrees
  • Seat Tube Angle: 73.5 degrees
  • Bottom Bracket Height: 13.4 inches
  • Chainstay Length: 16.7 inches
  • Frame Weight: 6.55 pounds (raw frame)

Look for more new stuff from Knolly in the coming year: new bikes, and new wheel sizes…

 

 

 

RockShox adds 650b, drops Dual-Air

By Josh Patterson

While the addition of a 650b Revelation is big news, the more sweeping change is the elimination of the RockShox’s Dual-Air system in favor of a single air adjustment. For those unfamiliar with Dual-Air, two separate chambers were used to regulate the fork’s positive and negative air springs. The Dual-Air system was highly tunable, but left a wide margin for error in setup.

The new Solo-Air system uses one valve to regulate both the positive and negative air chambers, making setup much easier. The new system has the added benefit of decreasing the amount of parts in the fork, which also sheds precious grams. Solo-Air will be found on 2013 RockShox SID, Reba, and Revelation models.

Rockshox revised their cable-actuated Push-Loc system to mimic the feel of the hydraulic X-Loc lockout lever, found on high-end forks. The new Push-Loc is also Matchmaker compatible.

In the back of the bike the Monarch RT3 is revised with a wider lever throw between, the open, pedal, and lock-out modes. This should make it easier for riders to make on-the-fly adjustments.

Rockshox has decoupled each adjustment, allowing bike companies a greater ability to tune the feel of each of the three settings to suit the ride characteristics of their bikes.

New for 2013 is the addition of what the company calls Rapid Recovery, this feature allows the rear suspension to rebound faster on high-speed, successive hits. This could help shorter-travel bikes by preventing them from “stacking up.”


Sea Otter 2012: Continental creates own tire sealant plus new tubeless rubber

Continental’s new Revo sealant uses four different sizes of fibrous particles to help seal punctures. A 250ml bottle of sealant will retail for $10 and should seal about three high-volume tires.

 

Conti is also offering a new tubeless-ready tire construction that features an additional rubber-coated nylon ply that aides in sealing and improves durability.

The new tubeless-ready tires will be offered in four of the company’s most popular tread patterns: Race King, X-King, Trail King, and Mountain King.

See all our coverage from Sea Otter 2012 here.

 

 

Sea Otter 2012: SRAM adds 650b wheels to Rise lineup

By Josh Patterson

SRAM unveiled a 650b version of their Rise 40 wheelset. The aluminum wheelset shares the same rim profile of the 26 and 29-inch Rise 40 wheelsets: 19mm inner width; 24 bladed spokes laced two-cross, front and rear; and compatibility with quick-releases or thru-axles.

Weight is not finalized—it’s a safe bet the 650b version will fall somewhere between the 26 and 29-inch wheelsets. A tubeless kit is in the works as well.

One thoughtful addition to all the Rise wheelsets is a red decal that indicates the size of the wheel.

See all our coverage from Sea Otter 2012 here.
 

 

 

Review: Rocky Mountain Flatline Pro

By Josh Patterson, photos by Justin Steiner and Adam Newman

Rocky Mountain introduced the Flatline series in 2008. It was a step in a new direction for the company that helped pioneer the freeride movement. The Flatline replaced both the burly RMX and more nimble Switch in the company’s gravity line. This was a move away from Rocky’s freeride heritage and towards a full-on downhill race bike. The Flatline, now in its second iteration, was developed with input from the Maxxis-Rocky Mountain team. The current version of the frame has six World Cup wins under its belt, so don’t go blaming the bike when your race runs don’t stack up.

The bike

There are two bikes in the Flatline family: the no-holds-barred World Cup model, spec’d with top-of-the-line goods from Fox and Shimano, and the significantly more wallet-friendly Pro model. Both bikes share the same 7005 aluminum frame. Bike companies love buzzwords for suspension designs. Rocky Mountain calls their linkage-driven single pivot suspension Low Center Counter Rotating, or LC2R.

Keeping the frame weight low and centered was one of the primary design goals. The suspension and linkage are tucked neatly below the rider, with the main pivot located above and behind the bottom bracket. Dual row, angular contact bearings are used in the linkage to bolster stiffness.

LC2R uses two counter-rotating links that provide a gradually rising spring rate with a linear feel through the beginning and very active mid stroke that ramps up nicely as your max out the 213mm of travel. The company calls this system Tuglink and claims this system also increases small bump sensitivity.

The Flatline Pro comes with a mix of mid-level components from SRAM, RockShox and Raceface. The Avid Elixir 5 brakes did a better than expected job of providing consistent, fade-free braking, while remaining quiet. Rockshox handles suspension duties. The BoXXer RC fork lacks the myriad of tuning options found on the high-end BoXXer World Cup model (reviewed in issue #159). Low-speed compression and rebound are the only external adjustments offered. The same is true of the RockShox Vivid R2 rear shock, the only adjustments being, preload, external beginning and end of stroke rebound, and low speed compression damping.

For many riders less can be more. More fun and less headaches. For beginners there are fewer adjustments to screw up. For riders like myself, who are less interested in shaving milliseconds off their runs than they are with having a low-maintenance, set-and- forget suspension. Fewer adjustments mean less time fiddling around and more time riding.

The geometry is on the steep end of the DH race bike spectrum: the head angle is 65 degrees and the wheelbase on my size small tester bike is 1,150mm. This goes against the prevailing triumvirate of longer, lower, slacker.

The ride

On the trail the Flatline Pro is a nimble bike. On tight and twisty trails it requires very little body English to initiate steep turns and navigate tight chutes. I didn’t mind the relatively quick-handling nature of this bike. It suited my XC race-weenie background just fine. Riders looking to slow things down can take advantage of the Flatline’s full 1.5-inch head- tube to run Cane Creek’s Angleset, which has the potential to bring the Flatline’s head angle down to a relaxed 63.5 degrees.

Once I had the suspension tuned for my weight and riding style— which, with the front and rear suspension’s minimal adjustments, didn’t take more than about three runs—the LC2R suspension design works as advertised, being very predictable in all situations. Lateral stiffness was good; the Flatline Pro tracked well through chunky rock gardens and highspeed brake bumps. The bike is very playful, particularly when hitting kickers, doubles and other park features. The combination of a well-designed suspension, low center of gravity, and a stiff chassis results in a bike with good trail manners.

While it is lower and longer than its predecessors, it still has a short wheelbase and steeper head angle than most other DH race bikes coming out these days. The handling is certainly quicker than many other DH rigs on the market, though the difference is subtle. This didn’t bother me, as I never needed to exaggerate my riding position in order to keep the bike in check. Handling is neutral and intuitive. I also didn’t have to get my weight as far forward to keep the wheel from pushing through corners.

I can understand how some World Cup-level riders would want their bikes as slack as possible. But the average Joe is not moving at those breakneck speeds and could benefit from a bike that trades a modicum of stability for agility, particularly if, like me, most of your gravity-assisted riding is just for fun or if you spend most of your time navigating tight and twisty terrain. If this does not sound like you, then consider looking elsewhere.

The Flatline’s ability to deftly maneuver though tight terrain should come as no surprise. This bike was born and bread on Canada’s North Shore, where tight, twisty and technical trails abound. The Flatline series remains the same for 2012, with the addition of a frame-only option.

Final thoughts

This is a good bike for the weekend warrior who spends most of their time playing in the park and scratches the occasional itch to race. The components and suspension are basic, but all perform well. In addition to being an outstanding value, the Flatline Pro is built on an upgrade-worthy chassis, so as you hone your skills, or find you have podium ambitions, the bike won’t be what’s holding you back.

Bike stats

  • Price: $3,100
  • Weight: 40.5lbs
  • Sizes available: S (tested), M, L
  • Country of origin: Taiwan.

Tester stats

  • Age: 30
  • Height: 5’7”
  • Weight: 145lbs.
  • Inseam: 30”


 

 

 

Catching Up With: Sterling Lorence

By Josh Patterson, photos by Sterling Lorence

In the world of mountain bike photography, Sterling Lorence is the closest thing to a
household name. Over the past decade his photos have documented the rise and evolution of the freeride movement. Living in Vancouver, British Columbia, Sterling bore witness to the early pioneers of the sport, riders named Berrecloth, Hunter, Watson, Simmons, Shandro, and Vanderham. His skill behind the lens catapulted these riders into the cycling media and introduced mountain bikers across the globe to locales such as the north Shore, Whistler and Kamloops. Despite his accomplishments, Sterling is humble enough to chalk his success up to being in the right place at the right time.

What made you realize you could turn photography into a successful career?

I knew deep inside that I had a lot of creative energy towards mountain biking and the photography of it. I thought if I could get a bunch of those ideas into photos, I would not only be able to make some money from it, but I would also be able to properly express the love I had for this sport in an artistic way.

Do you have any formal training, or are you self-taught?

Some schooling during high school and college—I majored in environmental studies. I am lucky to have a cousin that is a professional photographer. He acted as my mentor for many years.

Are there other photographers you look up to, or whose work you admire?

When I started to pay attention to the photos in the mags, I liked the work of John Gibson and Scott Markewitz. These days, some of the young shooters that have caught my eye are Reuben Krabbe and Jordan Manley. (Manley’s work was featured on the cover of issue #158. ed.)

Describe your style behind the lens:

Sniper-like. With a desire to extract as much soul, style and stunning light as possible. If you’re going to waste the Earth’s fine paper products on my work, it has to stoke the reader.

Describe your style on the bike:

Swiss precision in the tech (I grew up on the Shore.) and I smile at huge climbs through alpine passes.

What’s the most difficult aspect of being a professional photographer?

I am completely freelance which can be a bit scary—I can’t predict my paychecks more than a few months out. But, I will say that cycling has been great to me and I have found a solid career in this industry. The most difficult part is the travel. To work in this sport means that you’re moving around to find new places and create new looks from new places. It can be hard to be away from my family when I am on the other side of the globe for weeks at a time with people I don’t really know.

If you were not making a living as a photographer, what would you be doing?

I have always had a huge desire to help save our precious fisheries. I would be a badass politician in this area, and/ or would work in habitat restoration, making sure our rivers were healthy for the salmon to return to.

What inspires you?

My family, people who are willing to think outside the box, people with an environmental conscience, evening light that is raging the land, and riders with style.

What is your favorite destination for riding/shooting?

British Columbia has the most diverse collection of mountain bike landscapes imaginable. But I can knock it a bit due to the excessive forest landscapes, which can limit access to sunlight. I will say that Utah, with its dry, clean air and uniquely colored landscapes, still blows me away photographically.

You get to work with a lot of talented riders. Any new riders we should be on the lookout for?

A couple of young groms from Whistler Bike Park named Jack and Fin Iles.

Camera and lens of choice?

For action, I would say the Canon 1DX with a 70-200/2.8 lens. For lifestyle, a Hasselblad with an 80mm lens.

Bike of choice?

Trek Remedy Carbon spec’d with an aggressive vibe, so I can shred the shore and then hammer through some mountain passes a few days later…

Beer of choice?

That is a tough one. Let’s just say that when I get to the supermarket (except in Utah), and the variety is so diverse that they dedicated the entire aisle to beer, I am radically stoked and can never decide what to get. I will take a lifetime to try and savor them all.

What advice can you pass on to fellow riders who want to improve their mountain bike photos?

I tell people this all the time “Mountain biking looks boring in photos unless the rider is completely pinning it into a dynamic part of the trail, so shoot the fastest parts and get the rider to f’n pin it!”

What equipment suggestions would you make to aspiring photographers?

Shoot lots of photos and be your own toughest editor. Once your photos begin to look quite professional you can start worrying about buying nice lenses, lenses are more important than megapixels and frames per second.
 

 

 

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