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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.   



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. 


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