Two big-tire heavyweights go head to head.Tweet
From our neighbors to the north comes the Mutant, a hardtail 29+ monster hell bent on global domination! Hailing from Toronto, RSD Bikes (Rubber Side Down) is showing promise with its new line-up of hardtail trail bikes and the Mutant shows the company is willing to be among the first to put a 29+ bike to market.Tweet
For me, the hitch mounted tray rack is what you graduate to after toying around with other, lesser types of bike carriers. The Holdup 2 from Yakima is an excellent example of what a bike carrier can and should be.
The Holdup comes in two variations for receivers of either 1.25-inch or 2-inches. Yakima supplies you with a hitch bolt and lock for said bolt. The bolt screws into a receiver inside the rack itself and tightens, eliminating side-to-side sway.
For an extra $285, you can get an extension (the Hold Up +2) complete with extra trays and wheel locks for two additional bikes. Making your potential carrying capacity 4 bikes, though not without paying for it.Tweet
I woke to the sound of rhythmic scratching, my mouth a hollow, dry cavity that tasted like stale IPA. Subtle chanting in an unrecognizable dialect reverberated as if in confined quarters, putting an exclamation mark on the headache forming behind my eyes.
As the world around me came into focus, my attention fell to a diminutive figure fanning a small flame and rocking fore and aft to the chant, “ummm-se-bah-bah-umm-do-ah”, in the corner of what looked to be a small cave. I tried my damndest to appear asleep but the figure spotted me at once. The chanting stopped and I wasn’t sure whether I should be frightened or not. Read the full storyTweet
By Stephen Haynes
Twice a year, in the tiny town of Oakridge, Oregon, Randy Dreiling and Oregon Adventures host Mountain Bike Oregon with the help of trail maintenance and advocacy groups the Disciples of Dirt and Greater Oakridge Area Trail Stewards, as well as many local businesses and volunteers.
Now in its ninth year, Mountain Bike Oregon is a well-oiled, all-inclusive festival that brings together hundreds of riders from nearly two dozen states (and beyond) to sample what many consider Oregon’s premiere mountain bike trails, with shuttle service and guides included in the price of admission.
For $430, you get a spot to pitch your tent, breakfast, pack-your-own style lunch, dinner (with vegetarian options), free beer and wine from local breweries and vineyards, nightly spectacles such as bike toss and mini bike races, an expo area with bike demos, yoga classes, ladies-only rides and clinics, and enough stunning scenery to keep your mouth agape when it’s not smiling from the onslaught of awesome singletrack.
I rolled into Greenwaters Park on the shores of the Willamette River just before noon on Friday, quickly established camp and headed straight for the guide tent to suss out something to ride on.
Helpfully assisted towards a departing shuttle, I found myself in a van, in a strange town, with nine people I’d never met before, driving to a trail I’d never heard of. I was becoming slightly nervous at the prospect of potentially being in over my head. It bears mentioning that this was the first time I’d ever been shuttled anywhere before. All of my experiences in the short time I’ve been mountain biking have included riding uphill before I get to ride down. In this case, my fears were unfounded as the smooth singletrack and stunning scenery were all that awaited me. My biggest problem was cramping up from having not warmed up at all…
The other component I wasn’t wholly prepared for was camaraderie. Turns out, sitting on a school bus for 45 minutes and then enjoying hours of amazing singletrack with 20 other folks is a great way to get to know people. Who’da guessed?
The guides do an amazing job as well, both as guides and ambassadors for the area. Their knowledge of the trails and friendly demeanor makes it feel less like being “guided” and more like a buddy showing you around. The guides’ system of client control allows faster riders to move ahead and lets slower riders not feel like they’re getting dropped.
Of the trails I rode, ATC (Alpine, Tire Mountain, Clover Patch) stands out as the highlight of the trip. The scenic terrain includes stunning vistas of the Cascades, open glens with fantastic wildflowers and stands of old growth forest that had me pretending I was on a speeder flying through Endor (one insanely fun section of Alpine Trail is even called “Jedi”). It’s not all downhill on this one though—you’ll have to work for some of the fun. With 2,300 feet of climbing, your legs will know you’ve been riding all day. The plus side to that number is that there is 5,500 feet of descending… Keep smiling.
In addition to the standard list of guided trails, there are several additional “add-on” rides and activities available. For $30 you can do the Moon Point ride, a 16-mile screamer with more than 4,000 feet of elevation loss, proceeds from which benefits Greater Oakridge Area Trail Stewards. For $50 you can do the Entire Middle Fork, a 32-mile technical challenge. Or for $25 you can do a rafting trip down the Willamette River. Sign up for these when you register to make sure you get a spot.
While the atmosphere is friendly, the beer pours freely and the trails are seemingly without limit, MBO is not for beginners. A certain level of skill and confidence is definitely required for the trails that the festival promotes. They do offer a lower rate for non-riders to come and enjoy the event as well as reduced rates for children. There is enough riverfront and hiking trails to keep most kids happy, should you be turning it over in your head.
For what was once a logging industry hub and now turned outdoor enthusiast Mecca, I’d say the town of Oakridge and the folks at Outdoor Adventures have the right ingredients to make Mountain Bike Oregon a long-lasting and unforgettable event. MBO is offered twice a year with sessions in July and August. They cap attendance and space fills quickly, so book early.
By Stephen Haynes.
Click to see ithe infographic full-size.Tweet
By Stephen Haynes
There are very few cycling goods out there that live up to the perceived reputation inherent in the name given to them. The Wolvhammer winter boots from 45NRTH are a fine example of performance actually meeting perceptions.
“We started from the conceptual standpoint of making a mountaineering boot work for cycling, rather than taking a cycling shoe and trying to make it warmer” says Daivd Gabrys, brand manager at 45NRTH, a rather new brand that specializes in cold-weather cycling products. It is this focus that makes the Wolvhammer boots stand out from the competition.
The inner boot is lined with 45NRTH’s Monster Fur, a super soft and warm layer that makes me think of some masochistic plush doll hugging my feet. The inner boot is laced up with a cinch closure that can be tightened up with gloves on. No need to tie laces. The Aerogel Jaztronaut insoles are noteworthy as well for their suppleness and resistance to the cold coming up through the bottom of your foot. These insoles can be purchased separately for $50.
Getting my feet into the inner boot has been the biggest chore for me. There is a little pull tag to gives you a little purchase while cramming, but it always seems to be a bit of a struggle. I hardly consider it anywhere near a deal-breaker though, more like the price of admission, and a pittance at that.
Once you’ve got your feet secure in the inner boot, the three-part (Cordura, Sympatex, and fleece), water-resistant outer zips up with a water-resistant zipper that is locked down with a Velcro strip. A Velcro ankle strap also secures the upper of this mid-calf boot.
A nice mudguard on the heel, over the toe and surrounding the lower foot, keeps the really nasty splashback at bay. These things even have a gaiter hook should you need extra protection.
An SPD-compatible Vibram sole rounds out the bottom of the boot and reiterates the fact that “robust” doesn’t seem adequate it when talking about these things. On the dozen or so rides in the Wolvhammers they’ve not yet disappointed; keeping my feet both warm and comfy (and this from a guy who generally has cold feet issues). I can confidently say that they are, without a doubt, the most comfortable riding shoes I currently own as well.
The Wolvhammer’s are stiff yet responsive while pedaling. What I mean is, they interact well with the pedal as far as stiffness is concerned and seem to spring board you out of each pedal stroke. Plus, they’re oh-so-squishy comfortable. The one setback I’ve had while wearing them is walking in them. Despite looking at the construction from a mountaineering boot point of view, they hike more like a cycling shoe. Which is ok because, well, they’re cycling boots!
I look forward to many more rides with the Wolvhammers. I only hope that our winter here in Pennsylvania gets a bit more winter-ish to give me the opportunity.
By Stephen Haynes
P.R.O. Series Transfer Thermal
Zip Neck LS Base
- MSRP: $80
- Country of Origin China
- Lifetime warranty
The Pearl Izumi Transfer Zip Neck LS Base is part of the brands’ multi-tiered system of baselayers and outerwear. Athletes can choose from three levels (Select, Elite and P.R.O) to fit their personal needs. The levels range in both price and form starting from the lower tier Select, moving to the upper tier P.R.O., while maintaining the intended purpose of each item (i.e. a waterproof P.R.O. jacket is also waterproof in the Select line)
The P.R.O. Series Transfer is at the upper end of technology and warmth. Constructed with P.R.O. Transfer fabric that incorporates volcanic matter known as Minerale to aid in the transfer of heat and moisture. Volcanic matter is very porous and thus aids in the materials breathability and is claimed to be up to two times more breathable than Gore materials.
The XL fit me snugly around the chest and forearms and the material, though breathable, isn’t super stretchy so check the measurements online before you buy. Thermal fleece lined, this long sleeve base layer was almost too warm for me. Personally, I would reserve this piece for the very coldest days or perhaps as a standalone piece. An 8in zipper on the front of the piece is mandatory due to the non stretchiness of the material.
Elite Thermafleece Tight
- MSRP: $135
- Country of Origin China
- Lifetime warranty
The Elite series Thermafleece Tights make you feel invulnerable to the cold. I used to get the same feeling when I’d climb into my wetsuit as a kid before surfing on cold “Dawn Patrol” sessions. Slightly heavier front/rear quad and knee panels keep your pistons insulated and an 8in zipper makes them easy to put on or take off. A silicone strip on the ankle keep the lowers in place. Riding in the Thermafleece tight was great; strategic panels over the quads and knees made for great articulation through each pedal stroke. I paired these with the Elite Barrier WxB Pant for and incredibly warm combination down into the teens and would sever you well even colder I’m sure. A simple drawstring waist keeps thing secure up top and the Elite 3D Chamois is as good as any of my riding shorts. Reflective IP logos and strips on the calves round out a very well equipped pair of tights.
Elite Barrier WxB Jacket
- MSRP: $300
- Country of Origin Vietnam
- Lifetime warranty
The Elite Barrier WxB Jacket is a water resistant, cycling specific soft shell designed to ward off the worst of what Mother Nature can throw at you. The fabric itself is made of three layers. Two layers of stretchy material that PI calls “titanium thermo-regulating technology” sandwich a third middle layer that has been treated with polyurethane to make it waterproof. In the 2012/13 version of the Elite Barrier Jacket, PI will employ the same volcanic Minerale material used in the Thermal Base layer in place of their titanium thermo-regulating technology. This will allow for greater breathability.
Taped seams further ward off moisture and are employed on the full zip front and the jackets two pockets as well. Speaking of pockets, there is one larger-ish pocket on the back, good for energy bars, wallet, keys, bigger stuff. There is also a pocket on the left chest, big enough for an mp3 player and has a little cut out for internal headphone routing. While I like jackets with pocket on either side of the front, the storage capabilities found here are ample enough for just about any outing and are bike specific.
Overall the jacket fits well. A somewhat sporty cut is comfortable without being overly tight or overly flappy. The collar is a tad higher in the front for good coverage and has snaps in the back for a hood you can purchase separately. The back of the jacket extends lower than the front as do most cycling specific jackets, but the Elite Barrier has an auxiliary drop down that can be used for and extra 5in. worth of posterior coverage. The flap can be folded into the jacket and secured via Velcro when not needed.
The waist has a cinch chord and the wrists have a half elastic half Velcro closure that works really well. The first 6in. of wrist also have an extra interior sleeve of stretchy fabric that locks in heat around the wrists. I found this to be just a tad too much warmth personally and resulted in super sweaty wrists.
Reflective accents along the arms and back round out this very capable jacket. Look for a mountain bike specific design in the coming season, which utilizes the same high-tech features and may sweeten the deal for those willing to cough up the coin for this well made jacket.
Elite Barrier WxB Pant
- MSRP: $250
- Country of Origin Vietnam
- Lifetime warranty
The Elite Barrier WxB pant utilizes the same semi-stretchy “titanium thermo-regulating” material as does the Elite Barrier jacket, giving them water resistance and breathability. The semi form-fitting cut of the pants is great in that they are performance oriented, but are loose enough that modest folks needn’t blush.
Fully taped seams keep water from sneaking in and an 8in zippered ankle makes getting in and out of them easy, even with shoes on. On the interior portion of the ankle there are abrasion patches that help keep contact with moving parts from being destructive.
A bonus feature is that these pants have zip off lowers, allowing you to covert them to shorts should your ride heat up unexpectedly. The waist has elastic around the back and elastic belt-like tabs on either side that allow you to tighten up as needed.
These pants are super comfy and versatile whether it’s cold outside or if the forecast calls for rain.
Elite Barrier MTB Shoe Covers
Country of Origin: China
The 3mm, neoprene, fleece-lined Elite Barrier MTB shoe covers were a welcome edition to my cold weather kit. I can generally keep my body warm but my extremities always suffer when the thermostat takes a dive. Being that I don’t yet own a pair of cold weather riding boots, shoe covers seemed like a good interim step.
My size Large fit over my size 9.5 shoes well. The Kevlar bottom has enough give to squeeze your foot into place and is hearty enough to withstand continued abuse. Your shoes are held securely in place by way of a toe closure and a band across the arch of your foot. This is enough to keep things tight while allowing you to use your preferred clipless setup. Reflective accents along the sides and back of the covers make them versatile on road as well.
A 7”x 3.5”in. Velcro closure on the back secures the cover in place and while it seemed like it would be a pain to operate at first, is actually quite easy. The whole process of jamming your foot in, shifting as needed for desired fit and closing up the back takes about 30 seconds per foot, totally worth it in my opinion.
By Stephen Haynes. Photos by Justin Steiner.
Like a sure-footed dwarven fighter graced with the agility of an elven ranger, the Jamis Dragon 650B inspires confidence in hardy adventurers willing to straddle its sparkly green body.
The Dragon 650b is, at first glace, a very simple looking steel bike. A look at the geometry of the little monster tells a different story. More on that later…
A 120mm White Brothers Loop TCR 650b fork absorbs the hits and, once dialed-in, worked great for me. The TCR—or threshold, compression, rebound—has an eight-position compression-damping knob. The three positions that offer the most resistance are considered the threshold zone and give you a firm pedaling platform. While not a lockout, it was stiff enough to prevent significant bob while standing and climbing. This fork, while performing well, was a little loud when preloading or absorbing bigger hits.
The Syncros AM cockpit was highlighted by the 710mm-wide AM handlebars with 25mm of rise and 5 degrees of sweep. The Shimano SLX 3×10 drivetrain provided ample gearing options and was used, unapologetically, all the way down to granny gear by this tester. The Avid Elixir 3 hydraulic brakes performed well in all conditions, despite the warbling that seems indicative of the brand.
Part of the intrigue of this bike is the wheel size. The American Classic 650b XC wheelset is built up 3-cross with 14/15 gauge spokes laced to American Classic hubs—a 15mm thru-axle hub up front and a 135mm QR hub in the back. The Kenda Nevegal 650b x 2.1 tires proved to be great for all-conditions, working well on both wet and dry days.
As I mentioned before, the wheel size is what got my attention. There is a lot to like about the “tween,” but it has been helped in this case by the geometry. A 68 degree head angle (slack by cross-country standards) gives the Dragon great trail bike handling characteristics. Combine this with relatively short 425mm chainstays and you have a bike that is stable but can also be agile when you need it to be.
The larger (than 26-inch) wheels roll over small obstacles much as a 29-inch bike would, but in tight turns, or in instances when sudden changes in terrain occur, the smaller (than 29-inch) wheels feel responsive like those of a 26-inch bike and allow you to correct quickly without being locked into a particular line.
On long sit-and-spin climbs, the larger wheel size keeps the front end smooth and rolls over rocks and roots easily. The same is true for out-of-the-saddle climbing, though it felt more responsive than 29ers I’ve ridden.
The Dragon 650b rolls well downhill, too. The bike tracks well and is playful in tight stuff—the result of the 650b wheels and relaxed geometry. Rock gardens that typically give me fits on a 260-inch rig were tamed easily on the Dragon, though not as soundly as with a 29er. Popping wheelies to conquer trail obstacles like rocks and log piles was easy; the 650b wheels rolled over, or through, most everything. Any shortcomings were the result of the rider, not the bike.
The one thing I will take issue with is the placement of the cable routing along the top length of the top tube. I realize this keeps the cables out of the elements, but my wife and I have both suffered inner thigh scrapes because of it. A top tube pad would likely remedy this rather minor hang-up for me and would be an inexpensive solution for anyone who chooses to purchase a Dragon. Additionally, a larger diameter (44mm) head tube would be a nice addition, allowing riders to run forks with tapered steerers.
A lot has been made of this half-step wheel size, both for and against, and it seems like many manufacturers aren’t quite ready to pull the trigger on 650b just yet. I, for one, am glad Jamis was early to the 650b party. And the nerdy tabletop adventurer in me loves the idea of riding a bike called Dragon. I’d like to see more options in this wheel size; I think it could cork a lot of the partisan bickering over which wheel size is best. I’ve had nothing but good times on this bike. Jamis has nailed the geometry of the Dragon and made a playful yet forgiving rig. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for the best of what 26- and 29-inch bikes have to offer.
- Wheelbase: 42.9 inchs, 1,090mm
- Head angle: 68 degrees
- Seat tube angle: 73 degrees
- Bottom bracket height: 12.4 inches, 315mm
- Chainstay length: 16.7 inches, 425mm
- Weight: 27lbs.
- Sizes: 13", 15", 17" (tested), 19", 21"
- Specs based on size tested
- Price $2,700
- Made in Taiwan
- Age: 34
- Height: 5’11”
- Weight: 217lbs.
- Inseam: 30”
By Stephen Haynes, photos by Justin Steiner.
The Marin Team CXR 29er PRO is the top of the line carbon hardtail 29er from the storied California brand. This race-inspired bike is as light as it is capable.
The frame uses Marin’s Race Geometry, which has a longer top tube to put you in a race ready stance but I didn’t feel like I was way out over the front wheel which was nice.
For the 2013 model year Marin will be offering the CXR line in a size 15, though that size will come with an 80mm fork instead of the 100mm Fox 32. Also new is the internally routed cables, making for a nice clean, clutter-free look.
Pedaling performance up the cat littler-like fire roads in Bootleg Canyon here at the Interbike Outdoor Demo was about as good as you could ask for with installing a motor or paying someone to do it for you. Solid and stiff, the bike went were I wanted it to, when I wanted it to, as long as I kept the pedals turning.
Some of the more technical climbing found on Bootleg’s singletrack was eaten up just as readily. I didn’t have a problem lifting the front end up onto rocks and powering over them once the front wheel was clear.
Coming down the mountain the CXR 29er PRO was a lot of fun. I made it through all but the most exposed, gnarly sections of rock and I chalk that up to my riding ability, not any short comings on the bikes behalf.
While this bike doesn’t match my laid back, beach cruiser riding style, it flowed through bermed turns and over and off of rock drops as easily as any hardtail 29er I’ve ridden.
The Fox 32 100mm fork delivered a plush and confidence inspiring ride up front while the Shimano XT drivetrain kept the forward momentum going without incedent. Continental Race King tires were fantastic in the loose, dry, sometimes rocky terrain of Bootleg Canyon.
Overall this bike is a good time. I’m not sure how a carbon 29er is supposed to be anything less, but there it is. If you are someone looking for a superlight XC race machine, this could be one to watch.
The CXR 29er PRO will set you back $4,300 but you can get the same frame with slightly less impressive builds in the form of the Team CXR Race and Team CXR 29er for $3,800 and $2,950 respectively.
By Stephen Haynes
In case you didn’t know, Haro makes more than just 20-inch bikes for the likes of Dave Mirra and Ryan Nyquist to do amazing feats of acrobatics while flying through the air. They make mountain bikes too.
For the 2013 model year, Haro will roll out its Flightline Carbon 29 series (or FLC29 for short), named for a now defunct trail network near the Carlsbad, Calif., airport. What Haro was going for with the FLC 29 was a 29-inch ride that handled more like a 26. Smooth rolling yet nimble.
(Editor’s note: Gotta call you out on this one, Haro. "Handle like a 26?" We thought that cliche was finally dead and buried. We don’t want to ride a 26-inch hardtail. Besides, we want bikes that ride like great bikes, wheelsize be damned. Ok, off my soapbox.)
The sub-3lbs. frame is made from T-700 modulous carbon fiber and boasts a tapered head tube and a super beefy down tube.
The $3,500 FLC 29 Pro model is spec’d with a Shimano XT crankset and shifter and Deore XT derailuer and brakes. It also comes with Rock Shox SID RL 100mm fork with Push Lock, which allows you to lock out the fork with the push of a button mounted on the handlebars.
The shifters and brakes performed admirably running through the gears well, and the Rock Shox SID RL soaked up everything I ran it over, even with my less than elegant navigating.
Though much more aggressive of a bike then I’m used to riding, the FLC29 wasn’t uncomfortable. The carbon frame is as stiff as anything I’ve ever ridden but wasn’t off-putting. Climbing was a breeze with the fork locked out and the rigidity of the frame lending a firm platform for pedaling. Down hill and through corners the FLC29 did well. I can’t come up with anything noteworthy for or against the FLC29. In my opinion, it’s just a solid ride. I think on familiar trails, or in race conditions this bike could be pushed to the limits without batting an eye.
Overall I had a good time on the FLC29 and I think Haro has achieved the desired effect, a smooth rolling yet nimble ride. If the $3,500 entry fee is a little rich for your blood, check out the Comp or Expert models, $1900 and $2,400, respectively. That gets you the same quality carbon frame, with a slightly less bling build.
By Stephen Haynes, photo by Justin Steiner
Gates is a Denver-based company that has been manufacturing belts for automotive, agricultural, and industrial applications for more than 100 years. The company partnered with Spot Brand, located in nearby Golden, Colorado, to develop a belt-driven drivetrain for bicycles in 2007. Gates’ Carbon Drive System uses a high-strength belt that has carbon fiber cords embedded in a rubberized belt. The sprockets are machined from aluminum.
Early versions of the Carbon Drive System occasionally suffered from alignment issues; the forces generated by pedaling and braking could lead to misalignment of the sprockets, causing the belt to “walk” off the sprockets. In 2009, founder of Avid and owner of Spot Wayne Lumpkin developed Center Track technology in conjunction with Gates. The center ridge on the sprockets helps to mitigate alignment issues.
There has been some controversy over the validity of belt-driven bikes in the mountain bike community. Initial hiccups with my test bike seemed to validate many people’s suspicions of the Carbon Drive system for off-road use. Dropping the belt on a few different occasions—and potentially damaging the fragile carbon fiber cords by walking it back onto the cogs, as you would a chain—compelled Spot and Gates to insist I put a new belt on. I was sent a new belt and we set about installing it.
Here I come to my first hiccup with belt drive. The bike (a Spot Rocker SS. You can read the full review here.) came set up for a rider 40lbs. lighter than I am. I was assured this wouldn’t have been an issue for most consumers, as the shop you purchase the bike from would dial in the belt for you. Fair enough.
My second hiccup with the belt drive occurred when I had to tension the new belt. Installation is a delicate matter. The belt must be handed with kid gloves, as the belt’s carbon fibers can be damaged if kinked. Tensioning the belt was a different story. I was told to download the free Gates Carbon Drive Bicycle Calculator (GCDBC) app for the iPhone. The iPhone 4 and 4s to be exact. (Dumbphone users, those with older iPhones or Driods are S.O.L.) I enlisted the help of some co-workers with the required technology to assist in “tuning” the belt.
An adjustment that seemed like it should have taken five minutes ended up taking the three of us over an hour. The GCDBC app takes a hertz measurement, via the iPhone’s microphone, when the belt is plucked. The app then spits out a reading. You take this measurement and tighten or loosen the belt accordingly. Ambient noise often skewed the results and tightening and loosening of the dropout and tension bolts began to wear on us.
The hour spent toiling over the proper tension was worth it. After four months of abuse I have not had a single issue with the system. I’ll even admit that in the last few weeks of my test period I was trying to break the thing. Leaning back and mashing with everything my 225-pound ass could muster, only to have the damn thing spite me and continue to work perfectly. I’ve done no maintenance since it was installed; no scrubbing, wiping, or hosing down, and it continues to perform flawlessly.
I think this could make a great drive train for singlespeed racers. The Carbon Drive System is very light and, despite the finicky setup, has proven reliable in a multitude of sloppy conditions. For weekend warriors interested in the Carbon Drive System, I still say go for it, but be aware of the prep that has to be done beforehand, and the precautions you have to take when setting it up. The system has a two-year warranty against defects. Gates is also com- mitted to making customers happy and is willing to assess inquiries regarding belt problems on a case–by-case basis.
Belt drive pros and cons
- Belts perform well in harsh environments: Belt drives are less susceptible to mud, sand, and, unlike a chain, a belt will never rust.
- Exceptionally light: Weight weenies and racers take note: an entire belt-driven drivetrain can weigh as little as 250g (belt and both sprockets). A singlespeed chain weighs approximately 280g.
- Very quiet: My belt ran silent even when full of mud and muck.
- Goes the distance: Belts have excellent longevity and they won’t stretch. A single belt can outlast many chains.
- Low maintenance: No need to lube. I never so much as washed my belt off and it performed flawlessly.
- Not field serviceable: Other than carrying a spare with you, there is no fix for a busted belt.
- Belts are fragile: You must be careful not to damage the carbon strands embedded in the belt when installing or removing it. Once damaged, the belt must be replaced.
- Finicky installation: Having to handle the belt with kid gloves is one thing, having to tune it with the assistance of an iPhone app is another. Patience Grasshopper.
- Aglinement issues: Belts are much more sensitive to misalignment than chains.
- Frame-specific: Belt drive presents frame builders with several design considerations: chainstays must be within a certain length and the drive-side chainstay be dimpled or use a yoke to accommodate a much larger, and wider sprocket. The frame must have a break on the drive-side seat- or chainstay for the belt to be installed and removed.
By Stephen Haynes, photos by Justin Steiner
The Rocker SS is Spot Brand’s steel, belt-driven, singlespeed 29er. Spot started as a singlespeed-specific component manufacturer in the ‘90s, so they know a thing or two about the genre. Since 2006 the company has applied that know-how to 29ers.
Like an old, open-wheeled Ferrari racecar, the Rocker SS is classically understated. Spot uses the same high-end steel tubing as many custom frame builders, and the Rocker SS has the price tag to prove it. If you’re tight on cash take note: for 2012, production has moved from Colorado to Taiwan. The complete bikes will cost $300 less than the 2011 model we tested.
When it comes to geometry the Rocker is in lockstep with many other cross-country 29er hardtails: 71-degree headtube angle, 73-degree seat tube angle, and 444mm chainstays with the sliding dropouts set in the middle position.
Speaking of the dropouts. The Rocker SS sports a proprietary sliding drop- out system, which allows for tensioning of the belt and easy wheel removal via vertical dropouts. The tricky bit for belt-driven bikes is how to get the belt between the drive-side chain- and seatstay. (Read our separate review of the Gates Carbon belt-drive system here.)
Unlike a chain, Gates carbon belts have no master link and cannot be spliced. The frame must be made to accommodate the belt, not the other way around. To solve this, Spot has a made breakpoint on the drive-side dropout. With the slider bolts removed, you can slip the belt through the split between the stays. You can also run a more traditional chain-driven drivetrain, should you feel so inclined.
I’ve ridden the hell out of this bike. It has carried my doughnut-loving ass over hundreds of miles of singletrack. The high-quality steel frame is light and very comfortable.
Going uphill, be it short and steep, or long and sustained, the Rocker SS performed well. The bike handled predictably and was happy to be manhandled. Any ascents left unfulfilled were due to this tester’s short- comings as a rider, not because the bike didn’t want to go.
As a 225-pound singlespeeder I did experience a small amount of bottom bracket flex when I stood and mashed while climbing. The flex was enough to notice, but not enough to adversely affect the bike’s handling. I felt the Rocker SS was also a capable descender. The comfortable steel frame and 100mm- travel RockShox Reba RL Dual Air took enough of the shock out of high speed bumps to concentrate on pointing the bike in the right direction. The Sun Ringle Charger Pro wheelset and Avid Elixir 9 brakes also proved to be reliable components.
This is the first 29er singlespeed I’ve ridden for an extended test. The Rocker SS allowed me to rip through rock gardens and technical sections that had given me fits on my personal bike. I’ve had so much fun testing this bike that I lament having to send it back.
Riding the Rocker SS is very intuitive. Hop on, hammer on the pedals, and go like Hell. I’d recommend this bike to riders who are looking for a quality steel singlespeed. The Rocker SS is only offered in pearl white for 2012. Spot also offers a titanium Rocker SS, and a geared version of the Rocker in both steel and Ti as well. The Rocker SS comes with a three-year warranty against manufacturer’s defects.
- Price: $3,500 (as tested), $3,200 for 2012
- Weight: 23lbs.
- Sizes Available: S, M, L (tested), XL
- Country of Origin: 2011 frames made in the United States (tested), 2012 frames made in Taiwan.
- Age: 34
- Height: 5’11”
- Weight: 225lbs.
- Inseam: 31”
By Stephen Haynes,
The steel framed Jamis Dragon 650b is an understated beast ready to take you on any quest you may have in store for it. Saddle up and sharpen your broad sword, this bike is ready for adventure.
Right out of the gate the Dragon 650b felt good. I’m not the most tech savvy adventurer there is but I could tell something great was happening underneath that sparkly green paint job. A 68 degree head tube angle is relaxed for an XC bike and makes for great handling going fast and cornering. Relatively short 16.75” chainstays offset the slack HT angle a bit and give the bike a snappiness when you need to make quick turns.
A 120mm White Brother LOOP TCR 650b fork takes the hits out front and is the same model as the fork we tested back in issue #159, but set up for 650b and set to 120mm for the Dragon.
American Classic 32h 650b XC wheels feature a 15mm thru-axle up front and 135mm QR in the back. Kenda Nevegal 650bx 2.1” have performed well so far in a good mix of conditions from dry and dusty to muddy.
The wheel size is the big ticket here. Aside from the very rideable geometry of the Dragon, the 650b portion of the name deserves a little credit too. Easy rolling yet maneuverable, the wheel size instills confidence and gives a stable ride while not feeling like wagon wheels. It really seems to capture the essence of both 26” and 29”.
Shimano SLX 3×10 drivetrain gives you a wide range of gearing possibilities to get you up and over just about everything. Avid Elixir 3 hydraulic brakes do the stopping. The Syncros AM handlebars, with 25mm of rise and 5 degrees of sweep suite my riding style well and compliment the bike.
The only thing I’m not sure of is the decision to route the brake and shifter cables along the top length of the top tube. I’ve grazed my inner thighs a few times already and can see the potential for disaster there.
Jamis has thus far scored a critical hit with this tester. I’m looking forward to many more rides atop the Dragon 650b and the D&D geek inside me is stoked that Dragons are no longer the stuff of fantasy.
Look for the complete review in Issue #164. Subscribe now and you’ll never miss a review.Tweet
By Stephen Haynes
Having never had a new set of mountain bike wheels, I was excited by the prospect of testing the 26” FL wheelset from Syncros. My tester set came in their black anodized grunge color scheme with red and white accents. (They are also offered in matte white grunge.) They happen to compliment my black, red and white bike as well! The 28-hole Syncros DS25 rims are tubeless-ready (via Stan’s tubeless kit) and are 25mm wide (19mm internal). I ran the wheels with tubes and 2.35” tires that mounted smoothly. Stainless steel, DT Competition, J-bend spokes are laced three-cross for strength and are mated to DT Swiss alloy nipples.
Installation was easy, though I used my old quick-releases, as none were included. The front wheel has a 9mm QR or 15mm thru- axle option, while the rear is 135mm QR only. The Syncros hubs have 6-bolt rotor mounts and feature cartridge bearings adjustable with a 5mm wrench. The hubs stayed tight and smooth-rolling for the entirety of my test and the freehub has a non-intrusive buzz that lets you know it’s coming without being obnoxious, which I was thankful for after riding an attention-grabbing Hope hub.
The Syncros FL is intended for everything from XC on rigid singlespeeds to long distance trail riding or racing on bikes with 4”-5” of travel. These wheels ran true and smooth for the entirety of my test. They have great engagement when pedaling with six pawls and 12 points of engagement and are snappy through corners with no apparent flex.
Syncros offers a 29” version as well. Each wheel is hand built and the quality shows through in a solid, confidence-inspiring ride that has me sold.
Weight: 1,702 grams
Country of origin: Taiwan
By Stephen Haynes
Plagued by the memories of my first Punk Bike Enduro experience last year, I felt compelled to produce a poster that captured both the spirit of the event and my own nightmarish recollections. If you’re not familiar, Punk Bike is a
race event held every year near Pittsburgh that combines speed, skill, and standing around in the freezing cold woods drinking beer.
First, some haphazard, drunken sketches were scribbled:
Which leads to a more refined drunken sketch.
Of course sketches don’t stay sketches for long, eventually they grow up and become inked drawings ready to be scanned and colored. Or mocked, ridiculed and trashed in a rash, drunken tirade…
Alas, this drawing did not fall victim to such a tirade and made it safely from the scanner into the magical coloring what’s-it where upon a color mockup was spit out, complete with text!
At this point I began to mash the keyboard with both hands until I got confirmation that my file has been received by the Screen Burning Gnomes. Imagine Oompa Loompas, but with screen printing supplies.
Once received, the SPG’s take my files and transfer them to screens by way of secretive “exposure” process. I have no idea what this means but I’m almost positive it involves the SPG’s disrobing and giving the screens a full-frontal view of what I can only imagine is a glorious sight…
After the screens have been secured and proper dues paid to the SPG’s, I set to work on printing. The ability to multi-task is important. Especially when your counterweight system breaks and you’re forced to use your head to hold up the screen between pulls of the squeegee.
Wash, rinse, repeat until the stack of paper goes away.
First color down.
Miraculously, the second color simply appeared.
The third color was a stubborn prick and refused to simply show up like the second color.
Mustache Dave sleeping with his eyes open as I regaled him with stories of Eamos Stoutbarrel, my 2nd level Dwarf Fighter from my bi-weekly D&D game.
Finally, the culmination of weeks spent procrastinating. The 2011 Punk Bike Enduro poster. Top 3 finishers in each category of this year’s race will receive a copy, dutifully signed and numbered by this poor schmuck. See you Sunday.
By Stephen Haynes
Founded in 1999, Spot Brand bicycles out of Golden, Colorado, makes beautiful, no-nonsense bikes for going fast. When my bright green Rocker SS tester showed up at HQ I couldn’t wait to get it out and get it dirty.
I love singlespeeds. Easy maintenance, easy operation and you don’t need a background in engineering to wrap your head around what’s going on. The Rocker SS fits the bill here with a few exceptions. The Rock Shox Reba fork is anything but a simple mechanism. I had some trouble dialing in the right compression and rebound pressure for my weight but with a little tweaking I got it where I wanted it and now it performs beautifully.
Also, the Gates Carbon Belt Drive has been updated for 2011 and now features what they are calling Center Track technology. Essentially (and I’m way over-simplifying here) a line is cut down the middle of the belt notches and fits into a corresponding spline on the drive sprockets. This is meant to keep the belt from drifting off the sides of the sprockets, but I managed to do it nevertheless…
While competing in the 23rd annual Tour de Strongland I dropped the belt twice. Once about halfway through the race and again about two thirds of the way to the finish. To be fair, conditions were sloppy and I’m not a light dude, but it’s never a good time to drop your chain/belt, especially when racing. On a few other occasions I’ve had the belt slip on me as well. It makes a horrible “CLUNG!!!” sound and generally marks the end of forward momentum. Despite the setbacks, I finished mid-pack, which was much faster then my previous attempt at this race.
Tester’s Note: It should be noted that after speaking with Spot about the belt problems, I should have been walked through the belt drive set-up. I was told that a person my size (220+lbs) would likely need to increase tension in the belt to the higher end of the “Go Zone” before riding. This may have solved the skipping and dropped belt issues. I was also told that walking the belt back on to the sprockets (as one would do with a chain) after dropping the belt can damage the carbon strands running through the belt. In an attempt to remedy these problems, Spot is sending a new belt that I will dial in to an optimum starting point before continuing my test.
Belt drive hiccups aside, Everything else has been a dream. Out of the box the Rocker SS weighed in at a svelte 23 lbs (without pedals) and feels like a big, light, BMX bike. The WTB Prowler Race 29×2.1 tubless tires work well as an all around tire and only in deep mud or over snotty rocks have they faltered. The Avid Elixir brakes have been subtle but dependable and the TruVativ Stylo stem, bars, seatpost and crankset have vanished from thought while riding. The bike as a whole wants to go fast and asks that you lean back and hang on. Steering is done less form the handlebars and more from your body and is terribly fun once you get used to it.
It eats up rocks and is light enough to bunny hop over most small obstacles easily. I’ve enjoyed this first month immensely and look forward to riding the Spot Brand Rocker SS through the oncoming Western Pennsylvania Fall and Winter.
Look for my full review in Dirt Rag Issue #162. Order a subscription today.
By Stephen Haynes
Most folks aren’t aware of the growing population of aquatic mammals riding gravity inspired bikes in the far north. In fact, it’s laughable to think that such practices even happen, even on a practical level. How would aquatic mammals equip themselves for such exploits? Wouldn’t the components rust or freeze? Whales don’t even have legs, how are they going to pedal a bike?
Product guru and general pulse taker Karl Rosengarth knew what was happening and he was determined to make sure someone listened. Plagued by visions of horned whales going big began to permeate Karl’s every waking thought. He’d spin yarns at HQ so grand and outrageous that most though he’d gone off the deep end. There was a small contingent of “believers” made up of myself, Dirt Rag Editor Josh Patterson and Art Director Matt Kasprzyk who felt the stories needed to be confirmed. So we set to work to make that happen.
In an attempt to make real Karl’s vision, Josh and Matt tapped me to follow this cold weather snipe hunt to whatever conclusion would arise. In earnest, I traveled to Greenland and began researching this phenomenon of Arctic hucksters. Armed only with a sketchbook and salted pork for provisions, I was astounded by what I saw. ..
The following is a visual account of what I found.
Initial sketches of the fantastical beasts. So amazing were their feats, that I found it hard to capture on paper. Also, I’d lost two fingers on my drawing hand and found it difficult to grasp my pencil.
The amazing narwhal are as agile as they are dapper.
I commune with one of the elder narwhal and he tells me of one of his kind who far exceeds the abilities of his brethren.
A leader emerges. Frantic pencil strokes hardly do justice to this majestic and horrific creature.
After returning to HQ I set to work immortalizing the beast. Such power. Such grace. Such a long and pointy horn.
The painstaking process of color matching and properly branding the Arctic. My meager sketches do little to capture the spirit of the Greenland waters and the amazing feats contained therein.
Finally, the “Jedi of the Sea” is given proper credit. This magnificent, mustachioed mammal definitely puts the “Gnar” in narwhal. Look for the Gnawhal immortalized on T-shirts available from our online store.