Dirt Rag Magazine

Josh Patterson

Josh Patterson

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Santa Cruz unveils longer-travel Tallboy in aluminum and carbon

Mike Ferrentino of Santa Cruz Bicycles walks us through the new Tallboy LT carbon from Dirt Rag Magazine on Vimeo.

By Josh Patterson

Despite the April 1 release date I can assure you that the rumors that have been circulating for months are very true. Santa Cruz is building on the success of the carbon and aluminum Tallboys by introducing two longer travel versions, dubbed the Tallboy LT and Tallboy LTc. Both models—in aluminum and carbon—share geometery are designed around the 140mm travel Fox 34 and offer 135mm of rear suspension travel.

Santa Cruz has made a habit of leading with carbon before introducing more affordable, aluminum versions. While this was the case with the Tallboy and the Highball, the company will bring both carbon and aluminum versions of the Tallboy LT to market in the coming weeks.

Both bikes feature tapered headtubes; ISCG mounts, allowing riders run to run chainguides; an offset lower link to improve chainguide clearance; recessed grease ports on the lower link; and continuous cable routing. 

Santa Cruz refined their carbon layup and minimized the use of metal inserts wherever possible to keep weight to the absolute minimum—a medium Tallboy LTc weights 5.3-pounds with shock.

The Tallboy LTc is the first Santa Cruz model to come with a 142×12 rear end.

Price for the carbon bike will be $4,399-$5,299 and comes in matte carbon with orange decals (pictured), or gloss yellow with black decals. The Tallboy LTc frame will retail for $2,699.

The aluminum LT complete will sell for $3,199-$4,299. Stock colors are Gulf Racing’s blue and orange (pictured), or dark grey and black. The Tallboy LT frame will retail for $1,999. For a $300 upcharge buyers can personalize their color and decals via the Santa Cruz custom paint program

While the carbon model sports a 142×12 rear end the aluminum version comes with a 135mm quick-release. Santa Cruz cited a greater availability of affordable 135mm-spaced wheelsets as the reason for sticking with a quick-release rear end.

 

Santa Cruz prides itself on not jumping on every new standard that comes into fashion unless the company’s engineers believe there is a definitive improvement in performance that does not come at the expense of reliability. A traditional threaded bottom bracket, ISO disc mounts, and a traditional clamp-on front derailleur are three examples of this philosophy.

Here are the geometry numbers on this long-travel duo. 

Why no size small? According to Santa Cruz the placement of the VPP linkage prohibits making a small 29er Tallboy LT. The recently introduced Superlight 29’s single-pivot suspension has no such design constraints.

The 69.5-degree head angle puts these bikes on the steeper end of the long-travel 29er trail bike spectrum. “We experimented with slacker and steeper head angles,” said the company’s head of engineering Joe Graney. “We found that going slacker meant the front end was wandering off of the trail in tight corners.”

Ride Impressions

If you’re a frequent visitor to our site then you already know we spent a significant amount of time riding in Sedona, Arizona, this spring. The weather is ideal for early season riding and the rock-strewn trails are an excellent proving ground for everything from cross-country race bikes to all-mountain brawlers.

The Tallboy LT is neither.

This is a case where the nomenclature is very descriptive of the way this bike rides. Simply put (and at the risk of overstating the obvious), it rides like a long-travel Tallboy—more travel, a 1.5-degree slacker head angle, a half-degree slacker seat tube angle, a slightly shorter top tube, and slightly longer chainstays. The more aggressive geometry and additional travel make for a bike that’s handling is not drastically different than the shorter travel Tallboy. Instead, the scope of use has been increased—more comfort zone, less danger zone, if you will.

Carbon v. Alloy

Both bikes share identical geometry. Graney’s philosophy is that stiffness is more important than weight, and if it takes an additional 1.75-pounds to make the aluminum Tallboy LT comparably stiff, so be it. On the trail I was hard pressed to discern any difference in handling between the two models.

I was able to leave the RP23’s ProPedal off and climb without complaint. While the Tallboy LT climbed well, the real fun was had when descending. It was easy to forget I was not on a six or seven-inch bike as I plowed headlong through rock gardens. Well thought-out geometry, an appreciably stiff frame, big wheels, and quality suspension always saved my hide.

Santa Cruz did a good job of balancing comfort and performance when they tuned bike’s spring rate. The VPP suspension never felt wallowy, nor did it feel incredibly plush or “bottomless.” If you enjoy all-day rides through technical terrain you will appreciate this ride. I see this Tallboy LT’s handling appealing more to cross-country riders looking for a bigger bike than gravity riders looking for a 29er trail bike.

So what’s not to like? Well, if you generally fall between sizes and like to run a five-inch dropper post you may, like me, find that there’s not a lot of wiggle room due to the relatively tall seat tube. After three days of riding the carbon and aluminum models that is my only complaint.

I look forward to riding the Tallboy LT longer and on more familiar terrain in the near future.

 

 

First Impression: Niner Jet9 RDO

By Josh Patterson

To be fair, this isn’t really a “first impressions” blog. More like a second and third impressions blog really, since I first rode the Jet 9 RDO at a press camp last summer. Click here to read my actual first impressions, and here for our first take when we built our test bike up.

When I first rode Niner’s new carbon full suspension race bike I remember thinking that the suspension worked well, but that the bike handled a little on the fast side for my liking. The RDO ‘s 71.5-degree head angle is on the steep end of the spectrum when compared to most 29 cross-country full suspension bikes introduced in the last two years. It’s certainly a nimble bike, but in high-speed and technical situations I would have preferred to have the front wheel further out in front of me.

Thankfully, the RDO will accommodate 100-120mm suspension forks. My test bike came with a 100mm RockShox SID. I opted to replace it with a 120mm Fox F29 for our recent trip to the endless rock garden that is Sedona, Arizona. The 120mm fork relaxed the handling and made the bike much more versatile. The Jet 9 RDO really came alive; it still climbed well but now it flew through rocky chunder. Niner’s CVA suspension is quite active and does a commendable job of handling square edge impacts. To be fair, I would have enjoyed Sedona’s trails no matter what bike I was on, but this Niner made riding great trails a superlative experience.

The next step is separating the additional 20mm of suspension travel from the slacker head angle. Thanks to Cane Creek’s AngleSet I’ll be able to set the head angle to 70.5-degrees, reinstall the 100mm SID and see how it performs. Look for my conclusions in the print review.

I’ll leave you with some dusty glamour shots.

The front and rear derailleur cables are internally routed through the headtube.

My initial impression is that a 120mm fork makes the Jet 9 RDO a much more capable bike while giving up nothing in terms of race-day performance.

I’ve been very happy with how the bike rides in the lowest ProPedal setting— just enough platform to keep the bike pedaling efficiently while still allowing the suspension to work as intended.

I ran 29×2.3-inch Schwalbe Hans Dampf tires in Sedona and had room to spare. The Hans Dampf is proving to be a very capable tire over a wide range of conditions.

Look for my full review in an upcoming issue of Dirt Rag, and subscribe today to make sure you don’t miss it.

 

 

You’re never too old for spring break

Words by Josh Patterson, photos by the Dirt Rag staff

You can blame MTV for cultivating the notion that spring break is all about binge drinking and making as many bad decisions as one can cram into a week. Rather than squander a week blacking-out in a tacky, overcrowded resort, and waking up next to someone you’d rather not see again, why not spend a week doing something you will actually remember, with people whose company you actually enjoy?

What’s that you say? You’re not in college and you can’t afford to skip out on work for a week? Not a problem. A long weekend should do the trick.

There are few things more quintessentially American than the road trip—covering hundreds, or even thousands of miles of Eisenhower’s Interstate System in order to discover a new place to ride. Start by packing a vehicle full of friends and gear, and strapping mountain bikes to the roof and rear by any means necessary.

Pro tip: Mini vans=mega fun.

Once you are locked and loaded choose your destination. This may seem a bit backasswards—someone once said the journey is more important than the destination, and that notion certainly applies here. As long as trails are good the beer is cheap does it really matter where you’re going?

Use this felicific calculus to help determine your destination: multiply the number of days you plan to ride by the miles of singletrack you think you can ride per day. Take this value and compare it to your possible destinations. Select a destination with more miles of trail than you can ride, stick the key in the ignition and hit the road, Jack.

Adam at the wheel, dodging semi trucks and tumbleweeds.

Our spring break trip was born out of necessity: Dirt Rag HQ was locked in a vicious late winter freeze-thaw cycle, the trails were a mess, and we had bikes in need of testing. So we assembled a spring break crew and hopped aboard planes, trains, and automobiles to meet in sunny Sedona for eight days of “work” in the form of “product testing.” There we found warm temperatures, sunny skies, and an abundance of sharp, pointy plants.

Matt was the first to discover that, in the desert, every plant is out to get you.

The Arizona is the perfect place to make the switch to tubeless. Thanks to NoTubes for hooking us up with a spring break support kit.

Matt and Kevin from Hermosa Tours guided us through Sedona’s ever-expanding web of trails. They did a great job of making sure our every need was taken care of.

Karl on the lookout for vortices or UFOs.

We’re still not sure what we’re supposed to experience inside a vortex but there are plenty of people in Sedona willing to tell you, after taking your money, of course.

It was a great trip. We came back with sunburns, scabs, and plenty of stories. Everything a spring break should be.

What about you? Ever spend a spring break discovering new trails?

 

 

Catching Up With: Kirk Pacenti

By Josh Patterson, photo by Robert Ligon

From the age of 11 Kirk Pacenti knew he wanted to be a bicycle designer. “I figured the best way to learn how to design bikes would be to learn how to make them,” says Pacenti. He immersed himself in metalworking, machining, and drafting classes in junior high and high school. Following high school, Pacenti did a machining apprenticeship before going to work for Bontrager Cycles as a machinist/welder in 1994. Two years later Pacenti left Bontrager and founded Pacenti Cycle Design.

In 2004, Pacenti was turned on to 650b wheels by Rivendell’s Grant Peterson. He immediately saw 650b, a commonly used wheel size for touring rigs, as a possible solution to the problems plaguing early 29ers—sluggish handling, long chainstays, and poor tire clearance.

Few others in the bicycle industry shared Pacenti’s enthusiasm for this “tweener” wheelsize. For several years it appeared the development of 650b-specific bikes and components would be steamrolled under the momentum of the 29er onslaught. Many observers expected 650b mountain bikes to be relegated to small companies and custom builders. The tide is turning this year, as rumors of big names producing 650b bikes and components are coming out of the woodwork like so many medium-sized termites.

We asked 650b’s biggest advocate for his take on the future of 650b.

For several years it seemed that 650b was stagnant. To what do you attribute the recent revival of industry support for 650b?

What may be viewed as “stagnation” by some, could be looked at as “the calm before the storm” by others. Keep in mind I introduced the first 650b mountain bike tire just over four years ago. When you consider that development of a new product line from big companies can take up to 24 months, and that both Fox and RockShox are releasing 650b-specific forks this year, you can begin to piece together a more accurate picture of how quickly the industry got behind 650b. The other thing people seem to forget is just how long 29ers took to get to where they are today.

I like to think industry support is being driven by the exceptional, real-world performance of the 650b wheel size. In reality, there are probably several factors that come into play, some of which may have more to do with business models than singletrack.

What, in your mind, was the tipping point?

The momentum has been building for a while, but I think the announcement that Fox and RockShox are making 650b-compatible forks will prove to be the tipping point as far as the mainstream industry is concerned.

Why continue to push the development of 650b components when, in the long run, the big names will take over the market?

From the beginning I knew that if 650b was going to be successful it had to grow beyond me or my influence, and that it would take several much larger companies to make it happen. Big names are rumored to be working on bikes now. This will only grow the demand for 650b products and grow the potential market for smaller companies like mine. If I can leverage my role in innovating 650b wheels for mountain bikes, it may pave the way for some of my other design ideas down the road.

Do you think 650b will replace 26-inch wheels?

There is a place for all three wheel sizes. Ultimately the market will sort out which size, if any, will become predominant. The idea that one wheel size could address every need for a machine as varied as the mountain bike is a bit ridiculous. However, I do think the 650b wheel has the potential to become the “preferred standard” because it’s so versatile.

What drawbacks do you see to 650b?

The biggest drawback is the perception that the wheel is not “big enough” to make a significant difference to the ride. It’s difficult to convince people that you can’t judge how a bike will perform by reading the spec sheet—you really do have to ride it to see how well it works.

In the last two years 29-inch wheels have taken over the hardtail and cross-country full suspension segments of the mountain bike market. Do you see the recent interest in 650b changing this?

Twenty-nine inch wheels pretty much own the hardtail market—I don’t see that changing any time soon. But I think 650b wheels are a more rational choice for almost all full suspension designs. In fact, full suspension design was one of the driving factors for developing 650b wheels for mountain bike use in the first place. This will be where the wheel size really shines.

What is holding back the development of more 650b-compatible components? What is holding back 650b in general?

Educating consumers, bike shops, and product managers is always the biggest challenge. It will take a big push on the marketing side to move things forward. When that happens, more products will be brought to market.

Do you think your initial push was too early? That it was competing with 29-inch wheels?

If I recall correctly, 2007 was dubbed “the year of the 29er” at Interbike, just months after I landed my first shipment of tires. That certainly made me wonder if I made the right decision. But I came to the conclusion that if 29ers had finally reached mainstream acceptance in the market, it was the perfect time to start working on what the mountain bike would become next. Only time will tell, but I think the timing is working out perfectly.

Do you have a favorite mountain bike?

I am riding a prototype bike that’s showing a lot of promise right now. But my everyday bike is a Ventana El Bastardo. It’s a few years old, but has always been a solid performer.

What is your favorite place to ride?

Probably the Pacific North West, I love riding in the rain forests of Washington and Oregon. Santa Cruz is a tough place to beat, too.

You are best known for pushing the development of 650b wheels for mountain bikes, but you’ve also had a hand in many other innovations. Which of your designs are you most proud of?

That’s hard to say. Many of the things I have worked on were for other companies. But I think designing the first commercially available, singlespeed-specific mountain bike hub [for Bullseye in 1994] has to be up there. Not because it was all that innovative, but because it was the first of its kind. The basic design has been copied countless times—it created a sizeable niche market.

The one concept I would really like to see take off is my idea for a standardized polygon freehub body (pictured). The big component makers really have no incentive to do this, but if it happened, it would be a real win for consumers.

What, in your opinion, is “the next big thing” in mountain biking?

It’s tough to say. I think we are going to see more refinements and further specialization. “Smart shocks” will likely make a return soon, and electronic shifting systems will probably start making their way into the mountain bike market. I was playing around with a wireless, electronic-hydraulic hybrid braking system concept about eight years ago. I think it can be done, but the idea is too far ahead its time—maybe I’ll pick it up again some day…

What’s next for you?

There’s a lot going on—I’ve been thinking about starting a bike company for a while, the time may be right. We’re working on a cassette mechanism concept that could be a real improvement over current designs. I’ve also been kicking around some ideas for a rear suspension system that I would like explore a little further. And through our association with Oak Ridge National Laboratories, my partners and I are working on a “low cost” carbon fiber, as well as a new method for recycling carbon fiber. I think this is something that’s going to be very important to the bicycle industry in the very near future.

 

 

 

First Impression: Canfield Nimble 9

By Josh Patterson

Canfield Brother’s Nimble 9 is one of a growing number of 29er hardtails featuring short chainstays and slack—by traditional 29er standards—headtube angles. (Banshee, Chromag, Chumba, Kona and Transition are some of the other companies producing aggressive 29er hardtails of a similar ilk.)

It’s a challenge to build a 29er with short chainstays, ample tire clearance, and the ability to run a front derailleur. Pick any two of these three things and one can design a 29er frame with relative ease. But when all three of these criteria are required, that’s when the designer must get creative.

In the case of the Nimble 9 the seat tube is welded to the downtube, 35mm forward of the bottom bracket.

This provides enough real estate to run a direct-mount front derailleur without running into tire clearance issues. Tire clearance is good; the 2.35-inch Schwalbe Nobby Nic tires have plenty of room, even with the sliding dropouts in the forward most position.

The Nimble 9 is a versatile frame. It can accommodate 80-120mm suspension forks, and the sliding dropouts allow it to be built up geared or singlepspeed. I’m testing the Nimble 9 in singlespeed mode with a 120mm fork.

The goal behind making a 29er with short chainstays is to make the bike more, well, nimble. The Nimble 9’s wheelbase is not much shorter than a traditional 29er hardtail. The difference lies in how that wheelbase length is allocated between the front and rear of the bike. A short rear end and a slack front result in a more rearward weight bias. If a downhill rider were to design a 29er hardtail it would pretty much ride like this—playful, excellent high-speed handling characteristics, and carvy through turns without sacrificing maneuverability.

So far I’ve had a great time riding the Nimble 9. But I would not be doing my job if I said the bike was perfect and left it at that. I have small issues with several aspects of the frame but if you want to read about those you’ll have to pick up the next issue, #162, headed to newsstands and subscribers now.

 

 

Suspension and frame tech on display at NAHBS

By Josh Patterson

Bicycle Fabrications

Hank Matheson of the Bicycle Fabrications is not afraid to push the limits of bicycle design. This year, Matheson had two very interesting prototype downhill bikes on display.

No, this bike’s linkage does not employ old tubes and electrical tape. Bicycle Fabrications is attempting to patent a new multi-link suspension design. They are keeping things under wraps until the patent is pending.

Buried beneath the tubes and tape is a linkage that also allows for 1.5-inches of reward travel in addition to the bike’s 8-inches of vertical travel. The idea is that the 1.5-inches of rearward travel is activated when the bicycle encounters square-edged bumps.

The two DH rigs have slightly different versions of the same linkage. Our educated guess is that the suspension employs an auxiliary shock—perhaps something similar to Kona’s Magic Link, but rather than controlling geometry and suspension travel this shock is used to control the fore-aft axle path.

The bike’s 63-degree headtube angle was not slack enough for Matheson, who prefers to ride with most of his weight over the front wheel. He uses an AngleSet to relax the head angle to 62.5-degrees. He admits his setup is not for everyone and that the rider really has to be pinning before the bike comes into its own.

Matheson’s personal bike features Paragon Machine Work’s sliding dropouts designed for a 12mm thru-axle. The sliders allow Matheson to adjust the bike’s chainstay length from 16.5- to 17.25-inches. Rear spacing in 150mm.

Stinner Frameworks

Aaron Stinner of Stinner Frameworks built this fillet-brazed steel frame for a Denver-based rider looking to tackle to Tour Divide race. The customer’s five-foot-five stature and specific race needs made him an ideal candidate for a custom 29er.

Thoughful touches abound, including sleeved top and downtubes to bolster the very front end stiffness, and internally-routed shift cables running through the downtube.

The stand out feature is the partial seatmast. Full seatmasts can cause shipping and transportation issues. This “half-mast” uses a sleeved seatube with artful cutouts.

 

Note the 142×12 rear end and the internally-routed brake line.

Calfee

It’s hard to miss a big black tandem, especially one as striking as Calfee’s Tetra 29er.

There are few better applications for electronic shifting than tandem bicycles. K-Edge’s “Ki2” electronic shifting kit converts Shimano’s Di2 from a road to mountain/flatbar shifting system.

Much cleaner than Shimano’s Di2 battery, Calfee’s seat tube-mounted battery is housed in the stoker’s seatpost.

Running the timing chain on the drive-side allows the user to spec a much wider range of non tandem-specific components, such as this pair of e*thirteen cranksets.

 

The one-piece, seatpost/stem/stoker bar combo is an impressive, and very time-intensive piece of work, but Calfee can’t take all the credit. The seatpost is an ENVE setback and the handlebar is a 10-degree Ritchey WCS flatbar. They are joined together by a section of carbon tubing wrapped in strips of unidirectional carbon fiber cloth.

So how much does his carbon fiber masterpiece weigh?

 

Calfee was kind enough to humor my request to weight the complete bike.

 

The frame reportedly weights a scant 6.5 pounds. Calfee’s custom carbon tandems frames start at $6,195. This complete bike cost the customer a cool $19,000.


First impression: two new 29er models from Santa Cruz

By Josh Patterson

Santa Cruz invited Dirt Rag along with a gaggle of other journos out to Sedona, Arizona, to unveil four new models. We didn’t stumble across any vortexes, but we did have a great time testing four new bikes.

Superlight goes big

Photo by Dan Barham

The venerable Superlight gets big wheels this year. The addition of 29-inch wheels is the biggest change to this cross-country full suspension bike since its introduction in 1999. No VPP, no ABP links to adjust the shock rate, just a straight-up single-pivot XC bike with 100mm of front and rear travel.

According to Santa Cruz Bicycle’s marketing honcho Mike Ferrentino, the growing popularity of 29-inch wheels necessitated the development of a budget-minded full suspension platform for the masses. “The Superlight is the ‘gateway drug’ to Santa Cruz for many riders,” said Ferrentino. “Many first time buyers are now buying 29ers. These riders don’t want to buy a $5,000 mountain bike.”

The Superlight 29 has geometry that is identical to the Tallboy model. (We reviewed the carbon Tallboy in issue #148 and the aluminum version in issue #161.) Unlike the Tallboy, the Superlight 29 will be offered in a size small, with an impressively low stand-over clearance of 27.2 inches. Frame weight is respectable: 5.9-pounds for a large frame with a custom-tuned Fox Float RL—over a half-pound lighter than the aluminum Tallboy.

There’s ample tire clearance in the back. Note the additional guide for a dropper seatpost. The single pivot uses a 15mm axle with collet head. Small and medium Superlight 29er frames run a shorter shock (6.5×1.5 versus the 7.875×2-inch shock found on the large and extra-large sizes.)

The shock’s leverage ratio is higher on the small and medium frames than the large and XL frames.  According to Santa Cruz, this can benefit smaller riders, who generally tend to weigh less. “Lighter riders may find a low leverage bike feels overdamped. A higher leverage ratio can help with this,” said Santa Cruz head of engineering Joe Graney.

The Superlight has a standard 135mm quick release rear end.

The Superlight frame retails for $1,050, complete bikes will start at $1,850. Complete bikes are available now but it will be several months before the frame-only option will be in stock.

While carving through the red Sedona dirt I felt the Superlight 29 did most everything one looks for in a cross-country full suspension.

The rear suspension is firm enough for out-of-the-saddle mashing. The single-pivot design did not feel as active as the company’s VPP bikes, and the suspension stiffens just a hair while grinding away in the granny ring—not a bad thing for a cross-country bike. The Superlight’s rear end did not feel as stiff as the Tallboy’s, though I didn’t consider the flex significant enough to be detrimental to the bike’s handling.

Full suspension does not get any simpler, nor lower maintenance than this. The Superlight 29 could be a good choice for new riders looking to buy their first full suspension, and a great option for up-and-coming NICA racers.

Highball Aluminum

Photo by Dan Barham

Last year Santa Cruz introduced their first hardtail 29er, the carbon Highball. This year the are following suit with an aluminum Highball.

Frame geometry is the same as the pricier carbon version. The addition of interchangeable dropouts is a nice touch, allowing the rider to run gears or singlespeed. Santa Cruz does not plan to offer the carbon version with the interchangeable dropouts at the present time, citing the weight savings. (I would gladly take this small weight pentalty for this versatitlity.)The large aluminum Highball frame weighs 3.9-pounds.

Santa Cruz developed some very swank looking swinger-style dropouts. The sliders have 13mm of adjustment. The singlespeed dropouts will be sold separately and will set you back $80.

With the exception of the size small, the Highball frames have two water bottle mounts.

The Highball frame retails for $650, with complete bikes starting at $1499. Complete bikes are available now. It will be several months before the frame-only option will be available.

Santa Cruz really has their big-wheel geometry dialed. Good hardtails seem to be overlooked these days. I immediately felt comfortable on this bike. On the trail there was no unwanted flex, the handling is best described as neutral. It takes the smallest amount of rider input to get this bike to do what you want. I see a singlespeed version in my near future.

More to come 

Are we missing something? Well, yes. Two new bikes actually. There are big things in the works. But we can’t spill the beans just yet.

 

 

 


Catching up with Francis Cebedo

By Josh Patterson

We caught up with Mountain Bike Review founder and general manager Francis Cebedo at Interbike. As one would expect, Francis was hard at work, hunched over his computer, keeping tabs on the website and uploading news and photos for the thousands of mountain bikers who visit the site each day. MTBR.com is many things to many riders: a valuable source of information, a place to connect with fellow riders, and sometimes, an inescapable black hole, robbing riders of time that could have been spent mountain biking.

How did MTBR come about?

I started riding in 1995. When I first saw the Internet in 1996 my first thought was “there needs to be a site for mountain biking.” The vision was about trust. I trust the people I meet on the trails more than magazines or advertisements. If I could build a site with users who trust each other it would be better for me. I was not looking to start a business; I was just looking for advice to help make me a better rider.

What was the initial reaction?

The idea of letting people publish their opinion was very radical. Now it’s an accepted part of the buying process. It was cool to see the progression, within a year Yahoo choose [MTBR.com] as a cool site. In the very early days about 95 percent of companies were against it, now maybe five are percent against it.

When did the site transition from a hobby to a full-time job?

In 1998 I had 15 unbuilt bike frames in my garage, because that’s how advertisers paid me. My wife, who was supporting me, wised up and said I better start making money. What motivated me to build a company was that the idea was not unique to mountain biking; it worked for many products, on a larger scale. There’s no patent to protect the idea, the only way to protect it was to be an early adopter, to build the company first.

You have many more competitors than you did 10 years ago. How does MTBR stay relevant?

I respect what other online outlets are doing and I try to learn from them, magazines as well. You can’t get over-confident. People come up with better stuff every day. There’s a real push to doing our core stuff better, reviews and forums. We are redesigning our user interface. We already have 1.5 million users on our old, crappy interface. We could probably have 2 million with a redesigned site.

Have your goals for the site changed over the past 15 years?

The goal hasn’t really changed. I think the goal of creating a great resource for sharing ideas has helped from day one to today. It’s really an information kiosk for everyone.

Which forum is the largest offender/troublemaker/source of headaches?

We had a political forum but it kinda went awry.

You get to ride a lot of bikes. What are your favorites?

I tend to ride singlespeed 29ers because the trails close to my house are relatively easy—singlespeeding makes them more challenging.

It seems like many people in the bike industry have a love/hate relationship with MTBR. Companies love it when their products get positive reviews from riders, but hate MTBR when pictures of their cracked frames are plastered all over the Internet.

I’ve been through some factory tours and the VP of marketing always has MTBR open. Companies have to be in-tune with the community. The winners are those companies that can communicate well with users to create excitement and solve problems. If the medium is used right, it can be a great way to communicate with customers and loyal fans. Customers are more likely to judge companies on how they deal with failure than success.

Do you think this shifts the balance of power from companies to consumers?

Definitely. In the old days, if a manufacturer dealt with a customer’s problem by telling them “You’re overweight.” or “You were riding it wrong.” that would have pretty much been the end of things. If a company does that today they are screwed. Today the customer is in much stronger place if they feel they are being mistreated.

Last Question: Can you quantify how many hours people waste viewing your site when they should be working?

[Laughs] We are a culprit of lost worker productivity. Once people are hooked on a forum, they’re really hooked. When our server goes down my email and Facebook page blow up. I get messages like, “I cannot go on with my day!” This is funny because people are addicted. It goes from CEO’s of bike companies to avid consumers, government workers and teachers; they’re all on the site.

 

 

In for test: Niner Jet9 RDO

By Josh Patterson

Niner Bikes, the company that prides itself on its singular focus on producing mountain bikes with 29-inch wheels, unveiled their first all-carbon full suspension last summer at a press camp in Deer Valley, Utah. I was one of a lucky few to spend several days riding the Jet 9 RDO.

Since that time, I’ve been waiting patiently for Niner to send Dirt Rag an RDO to put through to paces.

My curvaceous test bike is spec’d with a full Shimano XT group, a 100mm Rockshox SID fork with remote lockout, a Kashima-coated Fox RP23, and Sun-Ringle wheels. As it sits, my size medium test bike tips the scales at 26-pounds.

Other features include Niner’s patented CVA suspension design, 100mm of rear travel, direct mount front derailleur, and post mount rear brake mount. MSRP for the frame and shock is $2,599.

I’m looking forward to getting reacquainted with the RDO. Stay tuned for more ride impressions and a full review in an upcoming issue of Dirt Rag.

 

 

Floating around the blogosphere

By Josh Patterson

There’s a lot going on the interweb these days. And the little corner of the blogosphere—yes, that is in fact a word—inhabited by cycling-related blogs and bloggers keeps expanding.

Here are four of the bicycling blogs I frequent:

Bad Idea Racing

A blog that needs no introduction, but I’ll give it one anyway. Bad Idea Racing is penned (more like hunt and pecked) by endurance racer, singlespeeder and Dirt Rag contributor Rich “Dicky” Dillen.

Dicky’s persnickety perspective on riding is always entertaining. His musings cover the gamut of the mountain bike experience. Over the course of an hour wasted spent browsing his epoch-worth of posts (Dicky is an O.G. blogger.) you will learn how to use Photoshop, poorly; how to service your bike with a mallet; which female racers have the largest cleavage; and what Mr. Dillen looks like naked—Dicky is an equal opportunity offender. Most importantly, you will learn what not to do when preparing for a race. Dicky is a sage of wisdom in this respect. Do as he says, not as he does.

Steve Tilford

Jens Voight is frequently cited as being the hardman of professional road racing. I beg to differ. In my opinion, there is no racer more deserving of this title than fellow Kansan and, as of this weekend, reigning masters worlds cyclocross champion, Steve Tilford.

Nobody has been doing it as long and as well,as Tilford. He’s as masterful at sewing himself up after a bad crash as he is at racing. Both are skills he has spent a lifetime mastering. On his blog he frequently weighs in on the state of professional cycling and, more often than he would like, comments on the sport’s ongoing doping problems. It’s on thing to read about from the media, its quite another to read the lamentations of an athlete who has been robbed of podium finishes because of other’s cheating.

Salsa Cycles

Many bike brands have a company blog, though few do as good a job of connecting with readers as Salsa Cycles.

Salsa’s blog documents the adventures of the Salsa staff. They’re not professional racers; they’re the type of riders you meet and the trailhead and trade stories with over post-ride beers.

The company relies heavily on input from blog readers to chart the course for product development. One recent example is Salsa’s post about the possible development of the first production full suspension snowbike. Is there a market for it? Who knows? But is certainly is innovative and got a lot of people talking.

Landon Monholland

When I’m feeling down about my local riding conditions this is my go-to blog. Landon is the head wrench at Over The Edge Fruita, though from his blog you would think all he does is ride picturesque singletrack with his wife and dog in the Rockies and desert Southwest—which is not far from the truth. Landon’s photos and stories inspire awe and envy in equal portions.

 

 

So that’s me. What blogs do you waste time on?


Review: White Brothers Loop TCR Fork

By Josh Patterson, photo by Justin Steiner

For years White Brothers forks were instantly recognizable by their press-fit aluminum lowers. Long after other companies had transitioned to using cast magnesium, White Brothers stayed the course. Why? Well, White Brothers is a small company, and casting magnesium is very expensive. Using aluminum allowed White Brothers to quickly develop suspension forks to meet the needs of new wheel sizes, i.e. 29ers and 650b, years before it was a viable business venture for larger companies like Fox, RockShox, Manitou and Marzocchi. The downside? The press-fit lowers were prone to misalignment, resulting in increased stiction. When White Brothers unveiled the LOOP suspension fork line last year at Interbike it was clear they were ready to go head-to-head against the big names in mountain bike suspension. Let the battle begin.

The Tech

The TCR in the LOOP name stands for Threshold, Compression, and Rebound. The LOOP TCR features an eight-position compression-damping knob. The three positions providing the most compression damping rely on magnets to create a firm pedaling platform—this is the threshold zone. The threshold settings can be fine tuned by inserting a 2.5mm Allen key into the middle of the compression knob.

The magnetic threshold differs in design and function from the inertia valve technology developed by Fox—which uses a brass cylinder to regulate the flow of oil through the compression circuit—yet the goal is the same: to create a fork that minimizes rider input (bob) while remaining sensitive to trail input. According to MRP’s Paul Aieta, magnets are well-suited to providing a firm pedaling platform. “If you’ve ever played with a magnet, you know that once you pull it a certain distance away from a piece of steel there is no ‘return spring.’ With our magnetic valve you get a locked-out feeling, but when you hit a bump the valve opens quickly and stays open until the rebound stroke closes it,” explains Aieta.

On The Trail

I found the LOOP’s threshold adjustments to work as advertised. It’s not a lockout, but a platform firm enough for out-of-the-saddle pedaling. There are downsides. The magnetic damper requires an initial impact to activate the suspension. It is also noisy. When trail impacts, rocks, roots, etc., exceed the fork’s threshold, the initial suspension action is harsh and, in the firmest position, there is a noticeable shudder as the fork moves through its travel. The noise and shuddering are both the result oil of attempting to move through a small bypass valve. I didn’t spend much time riding in the three threshold damping positions, as they were significantly firmer than my test bike’s (Yeti 575) rear suspension. This 150mm-travel fork was better suited to riding in the remaining five positions of compression damping outside of the magnetic threshold zone.

I felt the fork rode best two clicks out of the threshold zone. Once outside the threshold zone the fork moved through its travel smoothly, with no shuddering and less noise. Rebound damping is controlled by the red knob on the bottom of the right fork leg. The 14-position damper provides a wide range of adjustments; eight clicks from fully open is where I found my sweet spot. I settled on approximately 72psi for my body weight (150lbs. w/hydration pack).

The Loop has a linear feel and makes use of all of its travel without feeling divey. In fact, the LOOP rides significantly higher in its travel than comparable forks I’ve ridden. According to Aieta, this is by design. I appreciated this feeling through banked turns and high speed g-outs. Stiffness was excellent. All LOOP forks are 15mmQR and use White Brothers’ proprietary thru-axle. I can’t say for certain if it was the thru-axle, the suspension’s performance, or both, but the LOOP holds a line like a champ.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I found the LOOP to be a good trail fork with some eccentricities. The fork’s action is smooth, but noisier than others. The magnetic threshold is better suited to 80-100mm travel forks in an XC-race application than it is for long-travel trail bikes. Small bump sensitivity could be better, though medium and large hits were handled well.

Specs

  • Price: $795
  • Travel: 150mm, internally adjustable to 140mm and 130mm
  • Weight: 4.16lbs. w/ thru-axle
  • Steerer: aluminum, 1 1/8” – 1 1/2”
  • Spring: air
  • External adjustments: threshold, compression, rebound
  • Disc mount: 74mm Post mount
  • Country of origin: lowers and crown made in Taiwan, internals made in Grand Junction, Colorado.
  • Online: mountainracingproducts.com/white-brothers
 

 

Catching up with Ned Overend

Words by Josh Patterson, photos by Shannon Mominee and Josh Patterson

If you look up Ned Overend’s Wikipedia entry you’ll notice it claims he retired from professional racing in 1996, which goes to show you that you can’t trust everything you read on the Internet. While it may be technically true, Overend did stop racing mountain bikes full time to focus on other endeavors, like winning two XTERRA World Championships. Racing is no longer part of Overend’s job description; his daily duties include marketing and product development for Specialized, his long-time sponsor.

That’s not to say Overend is a desk jockey. One certainly couldn’t tell he was no longer racing and training at the professional level from his showing at this year’s Cross Country National Championship in Sun Valley, ID. “Deadly Nedly” finished ahead of 48 professional racers decades younger than himself—it has to sting knowing this guy was in his prime while you were in diapers, and you still can’t hold his wheel… Today, Overend is a legend in his spare time.

What has been your most rewarding accomplishment as a mountain biker?

Well, there are individual races, but at this point it’s longevity. When people talk to me that is what they are excited about. The fact I’m still passionate about racing has become my biggest accomplishment, more than winning a World Cup or World Championship.

Is there a race you look forward to each year?

I always look for different races, but the Road Apple Rally in New Mexico is a favorite. It’s a high-speed race with bermed turns—not as painful as a lot of other races. It is also the oldest mountain bike race in the country, must be going on 30 years.

Road, mountain or cyclocross, do you have a favorite?

Mountain for sure. I love ‘cross racing for the intensity, even though it doesn’t so much suit my style. It tends to be more power-oriented.

This July you finished 14th at Cross Country Nationals. How does it feel to be 56 and able to leave riders half your age in the dust?

[Laughs] I’m conflicted. I do a lot of different stuff for Specialized, my job is more than racing, but it does allow me to train a lot. At the same time, when I get a result like this, I think “Jeeze! If I focused more on training then I could probably improve that result.” That’s just the way a racer thinks. It’s cool to be able to perform at this level still—I think it helps that there’s no pressure for me to race.

Any advice to master’s athletes, or any mountain biker who wants to be able to ride at their full potential, regardless of their age?

I’m not too obsessive about cycling, or training in general. My training approach has obviously worked for me. You need to be informed about the training process, don’t rely on a coach. Living in the mountains has helped me—it forces me off the bike in the winter. I Nordic ski and do other sports to create a physical balance that I think is responsible for my longevity.

What is your favorite trail?

We have a new trail in Durango, the Skyline Trail. It was initially built for the Singlespeed World Championships in 2009. There was a lot of hike-a-bike back then—we made the climb more rideable. It’s a super technical trail along a ridgeline.

Tech question #1: Do you see 29ers taking over the XC market?

I do. The 29er has reinvigorated the hardtail market. They have evolved to the point where they are a superior bike for cross country in most situations. There are a lot of situations where 29ers are faster and very few where they are slower. I think this year is the tipping point for 29ers in Europe.

Tech Question #2: What do you think the future holds for disc brakes in cyclocross?

[Todd] Wells and I have had cross bikes with disc brakes for a while. It gives those bikes a lot of range. It gets boring training in the grass, we like to go out and do trail rides on our ‘cross bikes in a variety of riding conditions. That is where disc brakes excel. We’re still trying to figure out how big the disc needs to be—the weight really needs to come down, but discs will evolve in ‘cross and on the road.

Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?

[Laughs] I don’t know. I didn’t see myself doing this 10 years ago! I’m for sure a lifestyle rider—this will be part of my lifestyle. My wife and I moved closer to town for more of an urban lifestyle, I see ourselves moving even closer to town and using our bikes more and cars less.

Drink of choice?

IPA. We have some great breweries in Durango. Someone needs to start brewing more IPA’s in Europe! I enjoy the beer over there, but a good IPA is one thing I look forward to when I get home.
 

 

 

Homegrown – Cane Creek Components

Headsets are assembled by hand before packaging.

By Josh Patterson, Photos by Adam Newman

Located on a rural roadside outside the small town of Fletcher, NC—and about twenty minutes due south of the hipster haven of Asheville—is the headquarters of component manufacturer Cane Creek. A passing cyclist could easily overlook the long, non-descript cement building, if not for the plethora of bikes sitting atop roof racks in the parking lot, loaded in anticipation of an after-work ride.

Inventory and distribution is handled from the Fletcher, N.C., location.

History

In a roundabout way Cane Creek was the product of the “bike boom” of the 1970s, when everyone and their uncle was rushing out to by a 10-Speed. Japanese cycling component manufacturer Dia-Compe constructed the current Cane Creek headquarters to supply brakes and brake levers to companies in the United States like Murray, Columbia, Huffy, Roadmaster and Schwinn that were struggling to meet the demand for affordable bikes.

In 1990 Dia-Compe purchased the Aheadset patent—which recently expired—and became the sole licensee and sub-licensee for this extensively- used headset technology. Shortly thereafter, Dia-Comp USA became a stand-alone company and created Cane Creek to be their high-end component line. Today Cane Creek may be best known for their headsets, but over the years Cane Creek dabbled in many other components including wheels, an early hydraulic disc brake system, and even produced suspension forks for RockShox in the early days, when the Mag 20 and Mag 30 were state-of-the-art suspension forks. Currently, the company focuses their efforts on producing a comprehensive line of headsets, the Thudbuster suspension seatpost, rim brakes, brake levers, the Double Barrel coil shock and the just-released air version of the Double Barrel.

All CNC parts begin as aluminum bar stock.

Going Against the Grain

Cane Creek’s headset design engineer Jim Morison recently gave us a tour and discussed why the company chose to move much of their manufacturing from Taiwan back to the United States. The facility is divided between office, warehousing and industrial space. Voices echo over the whine of machinery, as office dogs run between shelves lined with finished products awaiting shipment. Until three years ago, most manufacturing was done overseas. Final assembly of Thudbusters and Double Barrel shocks was done in-house but the company’s bread and butter, headsets, were made in Asia.

“There’s this notion that if you want it cheap, you have to send it overseas, but when you get to a certain level of quality you really need to have control,” says Morrison. Concerns over quality control and the creation of a new flagship headset, the 110 series, led Cane Creek to purchase two state-of-the-art CNC machines and hire the machinists to run them in 2008—a risky proposition during the height of a recession.

The gamble paid off. “It allowed us to prototype faster, and make changes faster,” says Morison. To be competitive, the company had to figure out how to work smarter. “The key is efficiency, our headsets were made in two steps—we just figured out how to do it in one,” Morison proudly states. Under the watchful eye of a skilled machinist, a single push of a button sets the process in motion. In goes a four-foot length of aluminum bar stock and out comes shiny bicycle parts ready for anodizing and final assembly.

Cane Creek’s Director of R&D Josh Coaplen demonstrates one of the CNC machines that turn aluminum bar stock into shiny new 110-series headsets.

A Game-Changing Innovation

Rapid in-house prototyping played a significant role in the development of Cane Creek’s Angleset—an elegantly simple innovation that gives riders an unprecedented level of adjustment. For those not familiar with the Angleset, it is a headset that uses gimbles and an offset top cup to allow for changes to a bicycle’s head tube angle. An adjustment of up to plus or minus 1.5 degrees is available. This gives riders one more way to fine-tune their bike’s handling characteristics to suit local terrain and personal preferences. While it is a cool idea on paper, Cane Creek grossly underestimated how popular their adjustable angle headset would be. “We estimated we would sell 1,000 the first year. We were off by a factor of 20,” says Cane Creek’s director of R&D Josh Coaplen.

At Interbike 2010 we saw just how much of a game-changer the Angleset was—several bicycle manufacturers went so far as to halt production of new frames in order to redesign them around the Angleset. It has also proven to be a boon for smaller bike companies. Mike Reimer of Salsa Cycles noted how they were able to cut down on the number of prototype frames they produced thanks to the Angleset’s ability to fine-tune preferred ride characteristics.

Location, Location

Remember those bikes loaded on roof racks out front? Cane Creek is located in an ideal location for real-world product testing, with Pisgah and Dupont State Forests a short drive away. We took full advantage of the opportunity and would like to thank Holly, Chris, Jim and Josh for guiding us on the Pisgah trails and giving us a sneak peak into Cane Creek’s day-to-day operations.

More photos

 

 

Riding Dirty – Adventures of Toby Dog

By Josh Patterson

We’ve been riding with Toby since he was a puppy, mostly short excursions, no more than a couple miles at a moderate pace. At two years old he still acts like a puppy but is now old enough to bring on extended rides. Toby’s father was an English pointer and his mother was a border collie; an excellent mutt-mix for singletrack adventures. During the hot summer months he stays at home while I hit the trails but cooler weather means I can once again take to the trails with my favorite riding buddy.

Recently, the wife and I took Toby on his first trail run on the Allegripis trails at Raystown Lake, home to the infamous Dirt Rag Dirt Fest.

It was a good chance to test our new Ruffwear Singletrack pack. It features two .5-liter bladders so he can carry his own water (I may put him to work carrying a tube and my multi-tool as well). This ride also gave us the opportunity to attach a GoPro to Toby to get his perspective on our adventures.

Toby’s Trail Adventure: Part I from Dirt Rag Magazine on Vimeo.

Share your stories!

Ever go on adventures with your four-legged friends? Let us know in the comments below.


Review: Trek Fisher Collection Superfly 100 Elite

By Josh Patterson

The 2011 model year marks the end of Gary Fisher Bicycles as we have known them. Last summer Trek Bicycles, Fisher’s parent company, made the decision to completely absorb the Fisher brand into Trek’s lineup, now dubbed “The Fisher Collection.” What does this mean to the average consumer? Two things really, Trek now has 29ers in their lineup, and they are available at many more shops than Fisherbranded 29ers were. More choices for more riders are good things.

The Bike

So what makes the Superfly 100 Elite super? It starts with a lightweight frame, tipping the scales at 5lbs., including the Fox RP23 shock. The front and rear triangles are constructed using Trek’s proprietary OCLV carbon construction processes at their headquarters in Waterloo, WI. I had the opportunity to view this construction process firsthand. Carbon construction challenges the idea of what a “handbuilt” bicycle is. Without delving too far off topic, many more people are involved in the production of a carbon bike such as the Superfly than are involved in the fabrication of a custom Ti, aluminum or steel bicycle—and those labor costs are certainly reflected in the price of carbon bikes like this one.

Like all of Trek’s full suspension models, the Superfly 100 uses Trek’s Active Braking Pivot technology. ABP places the rear pivot concentric to the rear axle to mitigate the effects of braking on the suspension. Suspension stiffening under hard braking is less noticeable on a 4” XC race bike than it is on long-travel bikes. Trek’s engineers claim the ABP design improves shock actuation under hard breaking by 7% over the previous design, which relied on a pivot on the seatstays. Another added benefit of the ABP design is that the rear quick release passes through the pivot and acts as a “faux thru-axle,” adding lateral stiffness to the rear end. Up front, the 100mm Fox RLC fork lacks a 15mm thru-axle but does use a hub with wide flanges and oversized, 25mm endcaps, which Trek claims improves stiffness over standard hubs.

What makes the Superfly 100 Elite elite? Trek spares little expense with it comes to the parts spec. SRAM’s XO group handles, well, pretty much everything. Where SRAM leaves off Bontrager steps in with the cockpit, tires and a pair of tubeless-compatible scandium Race X Lite wheels. The lower of the two Superfly 100 models shares the same frame but with a more budget-minded components spec and a $4,930 price tag.

Overall, the Superfly 100 Elite is a well-apportioned bicycle, though I do have two nits to pick with the spec: The SRAM XO brakes have aluminum rather than the carbon levers found on the aftermarket XO brakes; and the wheels, while tubeless-ready, don’t come with Bontrager’s tubeless rim strips and valves. The tubeless system will set you back another $33. Both of these cost savings measures are minor in the grand scheme of things, but if I was shelling out this much cash for a bike, even one made in the USA, I don’t want to see any corners cut. That’s just me.

The Ride

This Superfly 100 Elite was chosen to test my fitness as much as it was chosen to test the bike itself. I’ll spare you the details—the bike won. I rode the Superfly 100 Elite all spring and raced it during the Trans-Sylvania Epic. My fit on the medium Superfly 100 was very good. With a few minor adjustments I felt right at home.

The handling took some time to get accustomed to. Fisher’s G2 geometry is used throughout Trek’s 29er line and gives the impression of a lighter steering feel than many other 29ers on the market. Fisher developed G2 geometry to address the sluggish handling characteristics of many 29ers. Custom forks with 51mm of offset are used to reduce the trail figure with the goal of improving low-speed handling while maintaining high-speed stability.

During my first few rides I found myself oversteering during slow speed maneuvers, simply because the front end was more willing to change direction. Once I adapted to the bike it was a non-issue in most situations. However on slow, technical climbs, the lighter steering required me to be more attentive. It was necessary to keep more weight over the front of the bike to keep the wheel tracking through rocks and roots, rather than glancing off them.

On the flipside, the Superfly 100 came alive at speed. Once I really started spinning the pedals, the bike’s agility became apparent. The Superfly 100 shines in high speed situations—it is a race bike after all. The bike is not noticeably stiffer than other carbon bikes I’ve ridden, but tracked well when pushed hard into high-speed turns. Despite the oversized endcaps on the stock wheelset, the 100mm Fox RLC could benefit from the added stiffness of a thru-axle.

The Superfly 100’s ride can best be described as trail bike manners with XC race performance. The rear suspension has 110mm of travel and relies on a race-tuned Fox RP23 for pedaling efficiency. Trek includes an easyto- use sag meter so suspension setup is a breeze. There is a noticeable difference in pedaling performance between the RP23’s “Open” and “2” position. I spent most of my time riding with the ProPedal engaged but would flip it open for long descents. With the ProPedal off the Superfly rides more like a trail bike, sitting lower in its travel and providing a more comfortable ride, albeit at the expense of pedaling performance.

Final Thoughts

A $6,300 carbon race bike is certainly not for everyone. The Superfly 100 Elite blurs the line between race and trail bikes. It is a worthy bike for marathon racing or for trail riders looking for a comfortable but nimble bike for long days in the saddle. If you wish Trek had a more affordable, aluminum version of the Superfly in their lineup, quit pining…it already exists. The HiFi shares the same geometry and suspension as the Superfly 100 with a slightly heavier aluminum frame and a significantly more affordable price. If you take racing seriously or are looking for a high-performance XC/trail bike, the Superfly 100 Elite warrants a test ride.

Bike stats

Country of origin: United States

Price: $6,300

Weight: 24lbs.

Sizes available: 15.5, 17.5 (tested), 19, 21, 23

Tester stats

Age: 29

Height: 5’7"

Weight: 145lbs.

Inseam: 30"

 

 

Specialized goes big on big wheels – Part 2

Read Part 1 of our report on Specialized and 29ers.

Words by Josh Patterson

Photos by Emmanuel Molle and Josh Patterson

It doesn’t get any more Euro than this

Our visit with Specialized coincided with Roc d’Azur, an annual mountain bike festival similar to Sea Otter, but on a much larger scale; an estimated 100,000 people attended the three-day event. As I walked around the venue it was immediately clear I was no longer in the States. Techno pop blared from the loud speakers, exquisitely-dressed women walked through the crowds wearing stilettos while toting lap dogs, and men clad in colorful Lycra enjoyed a post-race (or should I say après-race) cigarette as they traded stories. Only in Europe.

While there are dirt jump and slopestyle competitions, Roc d’Azur is primarily an XC-focused event. Cross-country racing may not have the allure it used to in North America, but it is alive and well in Europe; hundreds of competitors lined up for the cross-country and marathon events. Even the junior races had hundreds of participants. Hopefully NICA will inspire a new generation of American mountain bike racers. But I digress…

Specialized gave us unrestricted to their World Cup race team. We were given permission to hangout in the pits with Specialized’s World Cup athletes and the mechanics who keep their machines performing at their best.

In addition to being quite the hammer, Specialized’s Amy Shreve is also one heck of a barista.

Christoph Sauser took the win in Friday’s 83km Marathon race aboard his S-Works Epic by a healthy four-minute margin.

Sauser was hoping to double-up on his wins by also winning Sunday’s cross-country race. Sauser, who lead for most of the race, battled it out with German racer Moritz Milatz. The BMC racer put in a hard effort in the last 10km and was able to outsprint Sauser to take the win.

After Sunday’s race I sat down with the 35-year-old two-time Marathon World Champion to get his take on racing big wheels at the highest levels of competition. When you’ve had as winning a career as Sauser, you have the option to ride whatever you damn well please.

For shorter and smoother courses the Specialized racer opts for an S-Works 29er hardtail. For longer and rougher courses he chooses the Epic. Sauser has the Epic in 26 and 29-inch versions at this disposal. This season, Sauser has only used his 26-inch Epic for the first World Cup of the season, opting instead to split his time on the 29er Epic and his 29er hardtail.

His bike setup is very aggressive. Sauser’s cockpit consists Syntace stem, paired with 25.4 bars for weight savings, foam grips, and Extralight barends.

The world champ spins 38/26-tooth asymmetrical Rotor chainrings. Note the use of a QR code on the chainstay. Specialized uses these to track the development of thier prototypes.
 

 

 

Review: Tomac Diplomat

By John Herron

If you attended any of the big races in the 1990s, you had to love John Tomac. The date is a bit fuzzy for me, maybe 1994, but I can distinctly remember Johnny T. thundering down Mammoth’s Kamikaze downhill in a black skinsuit, riding a practically rigid frame with a booming Tioga disc rear wheel. He pushed a ridiculously large big ring and chattered through two-wheeled slides at 50mph sending dust and rocks flying. You couldn’t help but cheer him on while he rocked the DH, cross country and dual slalom races. Tomac would alternate National Championships in XC and DH over the next few years, and no doubt inspired many riders (like me) to start racing.

It’s this same admiration that company owner Joel Smith says inspires him to build bikes worthy of the Tomac name. The Diplomat attempts to bring together the best of big-wheeled rolling characteristics with the snappy nimbleness of a 26” rig.

The Bike

Fitting a robust 120mm of travel on 29” wheels introduces some obvious constraints when the goal is to mimic the ride of a 26” bike. As a result, the Diplomat sports some unique features. The chainstays are kept to a short 445mm by placing an arch in the seatstays around the seat tube, while the front derailleur is bolted to the chain stay yoke aft of the bent seat tube. The rocker-actuated single-pivot frame allows for a unified swingarm for stiffness. The rocker also provides subtle changes in the spring rate to keep small bump actuation and restrict harsh bottoming out.

The butted aluminum frame is respectably light at 6.8lbs. (with Fox RP23 shock), which, according to Smith, also passes the same strength standards as the company’s longer travel 26” bikes. It’s a high quality frame with purposeful bending, butting and a tapered head tube. The overall weight for the Diplomat 1 is reported to be 30.5lbs. I was pleasantly surprised when our size large test bike tipped the scale under 30lbs. with pedals and mud. The Diplomat 1 spec includes Easton EA70 wheels and EC70 handlebars, Fox F29 Fit RL fork, and Avid Elixir R brakes. It’s a parts mix that matches the bike’s intended use. The budget-friendlier Diplomat 2 build package (XT/SLX mix) is a nice option with only 2lbs. of additional weight.

The Ride

A fairly steep sloping top tube provides good standover clearance. With an unsagged bottom bracket height of 335mm, the Diplomat sat up very near in geometry to my 26” wheeled XC suspension bike, and didn’t induce the “Don’t look down!” acrophobia I’ve felt on other 29ers. The single-pivot frame gave no signs of lateral flex in the corners, while the 15mm thru-axle Fox F29 RL kept the front wheel as stiff as can be expected with big wheels. The 71° head tube angle is steep for a 120mm 29er, but felt very stable even on sustained downhills.

The light front end at slower speeds did require good form, but as long as I kept the weight on the outside pedal the bike corned well through the tight and twisty trails I most often ride. Pointed downhill, the big wheels and substantial suspension allowed me to let her roll with confidence. At breaks in the ride I was often surprised to see the O-ring at the bottom, having used all the rear suspension, but never felt it bottom out. Pedal bob was not an issue and what little I perceived could be dialed out with the Fox RP23 ProPedal adjustment. Once I swapped the stock Fizik Tundra saddle for my Barca-lounger-style saddle, I could slide up on the nose (rather than the nose sliding up my…) and more consistently cleared the steepest climbs on my test loop.

I had some initial concerns about the front derailleur position and tight fit up against the rear tire. The setup seemed ripe for mud collection and fouling the front shifting. But even after a very wet spring, I couldn’t find enough mud to clog the back wheel or affect shifting. I could see having to get my hands dirty if I hit the right sloppy mix of clay, but overall it wasn’t an issue. Like many 29ers, the back tire clearance is a bit limited, and while it fits some tires up to 2.5”, I found a tall 2.3” Bontrager that rubbed— something to keep in mind if you like to rock high volume skins. The stock Kenda Small Block Eights fit fine and seem like a good match for the bike.

Overall, the bigger wheels did require me to deploy a bit more leaning and body english, but they also propelled me through rough stuff at speeds I wouldn’t normally carry without more travel. While it’s true that the climbs are where you can best pull away from your riding buddies, it is a proven fact that it’s a lot more fun to try to make time on the descents. Twenty-nine inch wheels and 120mm of travel don’t magically turn rocks and roots to fluffy clouds, but the bike lived up to its intended design as a very nimble 120mm 29” bike that can handle abuse and speed like a 140mm 26” bike.

Final Thoughts

Tomac, the racer, crossed just about all categories of biking, and ruled the whole mountain. The Tomac Diplomat blurs the distinctions between wheel sizes and is a fine ambassador for big wheels, combining great descending, good slow speed handling, and ability to climb and roll over obstacles. Color options are black or white, with the two build packages, and a limited lifetime warranty. Skinsuit not included.

Bike stats

  • Country of origin: Taiwan
  • Price: $4,200
  • Weight: 29.5lbs.
  • Sizes available: M, L (tested), XL
  • Online: www.tomac.com

Tester stats

  • Age: 39
  • Height: 5’11"
  • Weight: 160lbs.
  • Inseam: 33"


Specialized goes big on big wheels – Part 1

Words by Josh Patterson

Photos by Emmanuel Molle and Josh Patterson

Specialized invited journalists from the United States, Europe and Israel to Frejus, in the south of France to highlight some of their 29er offerings. Just a few short years ago Specialized was perceived by many as behind the curve in 29er development. Now the company is leading the charge. Having chugged Kool-Aid from the 29-inch-wheeled goblet. For 2012 Specialized will have the largest 29er lineup of any bike company.

The lineup – by the numbers

Full Suspension

  • 5 Stumpjumper FSRs (plus 3 frame-only options)
  • 6 Epics (plus 2 frame-only options)
  • 5 Cambers

Hardtail

  • 7 Stumpjumper Hardtails (plus 3 frame-only options)
  • 3 Carves
  • 2 Rockhoppers
  • 2 Hardrocks

Ladies Lineup

  • 2 Fates
  • 1 Jett
  • 3 Mykas

Totals: That’s 10 models with 29-inch wheels, available in a grand total of 36 complete builds and 8 frame-only options. Here’s a few of the highlights of the 2012 line.

For the Ladies

Specialized feels that there are significant benefits and few drawbacks to 29ers, even for the smallest riders. Specialized women’s product and marketing associate Amy Shreve, standing five-foot tall, is a huge proponent of 29ers for women. “The larger wheels really inspire confidence,” says Shreve.

The pint-sized Shreve fits comfortably on a small Fate, Specialized’s premier women’s carbon hardtail.

One of the drawbacks for very short riders is the inability to get the handlars below, or even level with, the saddle. Shreve, like some other petite female racers, runs a negative rise stem and no topcap on the headset to get the handlebar as low as possible.

The Fate has a brace joining the seat tube to the top tube to reduce the standover height. Interested in learning more about women and 29ers? Look for more information in a future issue.

Big Wheels, Big Travel

Specialized global marketing manager Nic Sims walked us through Specialized’s long-travel 29er offerings. The Stumpjumper FSR features 130mm of front and rear travel. For 2012 most companies introducing long-travel 29er have chosen to spec Fox Racing Shox’s new 34 fork. Specialized choose to spec a 130mm version of the Float 32, citing weight savings.

The Stumpjumper FSR 29 is available in five models. One full-carbon version (S-Works), two carbon bikes with aluminum rear ends, and two aluminum versions, as well as two frame-only options. Pictured here is Stumpjumper Comp Carbon.

There is also an EVO model sporting even more travel (140mm front/135mm rear), and it’s available complete or in a frame-only option. Look for a review of the EVO  in an upcoming issue.

That’s not a dingle berry, that’s the Dangler, a simple plastic device Specialized adapted from similar devices used in Motocross. The combination of longer travel and longer chainstays on full suspension 29ers can create more chain slap. The Dangler minimizes chainslap while creating very little drag. The Dangler comes standard on all 29er Stumpjumper FSR models. 

Tires

Specialized started as a tire company and is constantly working to develop new tread patterns and refine existing ones. Specialized uses Finite Element Analysis (FEA) to help predict how each tire will perform under a wide range of conditions. The real test of a tire comes on the trail. The company relies on their athletes to provide them with real world feedback.

Specialized’s tire guru and all around good guy Chris Wyatt talking treads with Specialized World Cup racer Christoph Sauser.

There are currently five tread patterns in company’s 29er tire lineup. From left to right in increasing order of gnar-ness: Renegade, Fast Track, Ground Control, Captain and Purgatory. These five tread patterns are available in a dizzying array of sizes, and casing options, from the light and supple S-Works, to the heavier, but sturdy, Grid casing.

In the works…

Specialized is putting the final touches on a new aggressive 29er trail tire.

The 2.3” Butcher features an open tread patter with significant use of siping to improve traction.The 29-inch version of the Butcher is expected to be available in next summer.

Keep reading

Read Part 2 of our report on Specialized and 29ers.

 

 

 


Catching up with Chris Sugai

by Josh Patterson

Photo by Michael Darter

In 2004 Chris Sugai was an avid rider with a successful commercial window tinting business. That same year Sugai decided to turn his passion into his day job. Starting a bike company is no small feat, especially one solely focused on producing 29ers at a time when most 29er sales were custom, and only a handful of stock options existed. Sugai, along with co-founder Steve Domahidy, chose to bet the success of their start-up on the growing popularity of “wagon-wheelers.”

“I distinctly remember Sea Otter 2005, nobody bought a bike and nobody really came to our booth, it was kind of disheartening,“ says Sugai. “A lot of people thought we were absolutely nuts. But now it’s working out for us.”

I had the chance to ride with Niner’s president and cofounder at the company’s 2012 product launch in Park City, UT. While riding Niner’s new Jet 9 RDO Sugai shared his thoughts on life, bikes and big wheels.

What was your first mountain bike?

A Fat Chance Yo Eddy, size large. It was a loaner from a friend. It took me a while to figure out it was the wrong size—I was riding it for a year and a half before I got a bike my size.

What motivated you to start a bike company, and why did you choose to focus solely on 29” wheels?

The main inspiration came from that quote, “Do something you love, and you will never work a day in your life.” I had another company I started when I was 19. It was sort of running on its own. I looked at purchasing a bike shop, or an import/export business. Then I rode a 29er and immediately saw the benefits. On our Wednesday night rides I immediately went from mid-pack to near the front. That was the impetus to get things started.

Who inspires you?

I’m really impressed with Jeff Jones and Sacha White [Vanilla Cycles]. I really like people that make bikes that are functional and beautiful as well. Mike Sinyard [Specialized] also, people may like or dislike the company, but the employees are really passionate about what they do. To infuse a company that large with that much passion is impressive.

Favorite non-Niner bike you’ve ridden recently?

I have a Soulcraft commuter bike I really like. It’s an old road bike converted to a singelspeed with a high-rise stem and flat bars. I pull my dog behind it in a trailer when I go to work.

Now that every company has 29ers in their lineup—including companies that swore they would never build them—what does Niner, as a small company, have to do differently?

I knew this fight was going to come one day. We’ve invested heavily in our own R&D; we have our own lab, and our own test equipment. I think for a company our size, 17 people, we can hold our own. The main thing that keeps us relevant is that we are a highly-focused company. Everyone rides, everyone gets a say in product development. We’re not trying to be good in all fields, there are very few companies that can do that. Companies that are very focused on singular products tend to be very successful and hold their own.

Niner’s race team is very different from others. Is having a neckbeard a prerequisite for sponsorship?

Hah! Not at the moment, but many of our staff do have furry faces… I, unfortunately, can’t grow a beard. Racing should be fun—we look for people that are outgoing, people you want to share a beer with.

Has turning your passion into a profession made you jaded?

I wouldn’t say I’m jaded. I don’t get to ride as much as I did before, but I always try to stay humble. I remember what I was doing before, I liked it, but I wasn’t passionate about it.

What is the hardest part of your job?

Good question—probably balancing work and family life. I really enjoy what I do so working 12 hours a day is pretty easy for me, but I also have to get home, eat dinner with my family, and say goodnight to my daughter.

What’s next for 29” wheeled bikes?

I see 29ers moving up the suspension travel ladder. I think they are viable at longer travels. Bicycle sales are on a bell curve—making it more difficult to get manufacturers on board. We wouldn’t want to commit to a DH bike until we get a fork manufacturer on board. We have our hands full with our current bikes.

Any non bicycle-related hobbies?

My two other passions are Formula One and I enjoy playing poker

 

 

Interbike 2011: Devinci introduces 29er full suspension

Devinci is starting to make a push into the U.S. market. Last year, the Quebec-based company showed off three new full suspension models based around Dave Weagle’s Split Pivot suspension design. For 2012 Devinci will add a 29-inch full suspension to its three 26-inch Split Pivot bikes.

 

The Atlas is an XC/trail bike with 100mm of front travel paired with 110mm in the rear. It has a claimed chainstay length of 430mm/16.9". I didn’t have my tape measure handy, but if these numbers are correct the Atlas will have the shortest chainstays of any production 29er full suspension.

The Atlas has adjustable geometry, thanks to an offset chip in the rear of the rocker link. Changing the orientation of this chip allows riders to switch between a higher bottom bracket with a steeper head angle (13.1"/71.2°), or a lower bottom bracket with a slacker head angle (12.9"/70.6°).

The Atlas will be available in late 2011.

Keep reading

It doesn’t end here, we’ve got a lot more coverage of Interbike 2011, including demo rides.

 

 

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