Two modern, full suspension trail bikes that can handle a little of everything.Tweet
Rather than a beefed-up touring bike, the Fargo 2 is actually a drop-bar mountain bike, with a lighter compact frame, 2×10 drivetrain, tubeless wheels, and slacker geometry than you would find on a road-going touring bike. A tall, 44mm head tube means a higher handlebar for comfort off-road, and suspension-corrected geometry allows a suspension fork upgrade.Tweet
Knolly Bikes’ CEO and chief designer, Noel Buckley (hence the correct pronunciation: noll-lee), not only has a degree in engineering and physics, but was born and bred on the trails of Vancouver. This is quite apparent in Knolly’s lineup of bikes built for the rocks and roots of the North Shore. From the Red Bull Rampage tested Podium and the all-mountain monster Chilcotin, to the relatively tame Endorphin, all are built to take a bit of abuse. Don’t let my choice of words fool you, the Endorphin would hardly ever be classified as tame in some other manufacturers’ line ups, but at 140mm, it’s the shortest travel bike Knolly offers.Tweet
By Jon Pratt. Photos by Justin Steiner.
Devin Lenz built his first full suspension bike in 1996, and started selling his frames the following year. Lenz started with mid-travel cross-country and trail bikes and quickly dialed up the squish with his gravity rigs. Lenz entered the 29er market in 2004 when he saw an emerging niche he could fill.
What are Devin’s goals when designing a bike? Simply put, simplicity, lightweight, and stiffness. It’s pretty straightforward thinking. Devin puts these design principles into all his bikes, including the Mammoth: a sturdy 5-inch-travel trail bike built around a linkage-driven single pivot.
The Mammoth inherits its DNA from two popular Lenz 29er models: the Behemoth, the first long travel all-mountain 29er, and the more cross- country oriented Leviathan 29×4.0. The Mammoth is designed to tackle technical terrain while still being light enough for all-day epic rides.
Lenz would rather not build a complete bike, preferring to sell the frame and shock to a shop and allowing it to be customized to the rider’s needs. That said, he will sell a complete build when one is requested. My complete Mammoth came with: a Fox RP23 shock, White Brothers 140mm LOOP fork, Terry Fly Saddle, Maxxis Ardent tires, Truvativ XO brakes and drivetrain, and DT Swiss XM 490 wheels. A very respectable build.
I had the pleasure of riding the Mammoth over varied terrain and found the bike to perform as advertised. Being the kind of rider who takes the more aggressive technical line whenever possible, and loving to sprint up hills when I’ve got gas left in the tank, the Mammoth was well suited to my needs from our very first outing. It glided over my favorite trails, and responded confidently when I ventured off the beaten path and encountered the unexpected trail feature.
The simple suspension design mated with the LOOP and RP23 worked well. The LOOP is incredibly stiff and responsive, even if it’s pretty noisy during its rebound stroke. Once I put it through a few rocky sections I never wondered if I would be sent flying off in the wrong direction…just point and go. The rear suspension design felt pretty spot-on as well. Because of the low placement of the main pivot, the rear wheel maintained traction during technical climbs, and the RP23 was able to handle larger bumps at speed. I didn’t notice any significant pedal bob while climbing.
The 69° headtube angle isn’t too slack to prohibit efficient climbing, but is slack enough to encourage forays down the mountain at speeds not comfortable, or safe, on steeper bikes. The 444mm chainstays felt perfect on the Mammoth, keeping the bike stabile during descents but never adversely affected the front end on tight, switchback climbs.
It’s worth mentioning that the bottom bracket is pretty high for this type of bike. The Mammoth’s high bottom bracket is not ideally suited to carving through corners. Its strength is in ground clearance. A half-inch can make the difference between getting through a tough section and hitting a pedal at the most inopportune time.
There are some things that I’d like to see in the next generation of the Mammoth: a rear thru-axle, which Lenz is planning to include, and water bottle cage mounts that allow me to run a standard cage and bottle under the downtube. The high placement of the mounts on my large frame forced me to use a shorter bottle in the cage than I’m accustomed to. Lenz told me he is looking into this. That being said, the medium and small frames will not accommodate a water bottle.
I really love the anodizing and the extremely low-key graphics on the Mammoth. Unfortunately it sounds like the anodized graphics are going to be replaced with a similarly designed sticker. It turns out the etching of the logo and graphics is an incredibly difficult process. I hope Lenz can find a way to either mimic the subtle graphics or figure out a way to keep doing what he’s been doing. Time will tell.
I dig this bike, in all its simplicity and toughness. The Mammoth is ideal for the rider who takes the technical line while everyone else chooses the easy route. Add in its climbing prowess and this is a great all-around trail bike that’s incredibly fun to ride.
- Wheelbase: 46 inches, 1168mm
- Head Angle: 69 degrees
- Seat Tube Angle: 73.8 degrees
- Bottom Bracket: 13.75 inches, 349mm
- Chainstay Length: 17.5 inches, 444mm
- Weight: 6.5lbs., 2.9kg (frame and shock); 28.3lbs., 12.8kg (as tested)
- Sizes: S, M, L(tested), XL, XXL
- Specs based on size tested
- Price: $2,350 (frame and shock)
- Made in United States
By Jon Pratt. Photos by Adam Newman.
Mark Lynskey from Lynskey Performance stopped by the Dirt Rag office a few weeks ago to hang out, shoot the shit and sample some of the local trails. After a fun-filled day he needed to get on the road, but we wanted some extra time on his personal rig… the 120mm full suspension, titanium Pro29 FS-120 he had with him. So, while he was packing up to leave we used some tried and true misdirection techniques to distract him, and bam… he left the bike in the basement. Score.
What is that you say? A full suspension 29-inch Lynskey? Yep. The Pro29 FS-120 has been available to the public for about four months. Mark has been riding prototypes of the current model for the last few years. Lynskey, well known for its hardtail titanium bikes, has been interested in developing a full suspension model for a long time, but there were a few hurdles to getting started in the full suspension game.
Building a system from the ground up is expensive and time consuming. Time wasn’t something Lynskey Performance had any extra of. The hardtail design and production was absorbing most of it. In addition, before work can even be started there needs to be an in-depth discovery phase to make sure you aren’t using any patented technologies in your suspension design. Fortunately there are people like David Earle from the Sotto Group.
To put it simply, David Earle knows his stuff. David has worked for many years as an engineer in companies such as Bontrager Cycles, Santa Cruz Bicycles and Specialized, as well as with Lockheed Missiles and Space. He’s been heavily involved in developing suspension technologies like VPP and Switch, and along the way has designed some pretty killer bikes like the Nomad, VP-Free, and P3 to name a few.
Lynskey wanted the bike to be bulletproof and the suspension to work from the very first build. To borrow an old adage, "First Impressions are Lasting Impressions". So they brought in Earle who designed the suspension around Lynskey’s desire for a cross country bike meant not for the XC racer, but more for the aggressive trail rider. Earle provided the pivot point locations and the size and valving for the shock. Lynskey designed the bike around those specifications.
The culmination of this partnership is the Pro29 FS-120, a bike at home on singletrack with moderately difficult technical features. It is designed to be stable while climbing and quick but not twitchy. Limiting pedal bob while climbing is achieved through the high main pivot that sits forward of the bottom bracket. Also 50 percent of the rear travel sees the axle moving backwards, pulling the tire into the dirt.
In addition to the suspension design, Lynskey wanted a bike that was stiff but not uncomfortably so. To achieve this Lynskey pioneered Helix tubing technology. Without going into too much detail, the helix shaped down tube balances the benefits of a round tube and a beam. Beams are good at resisting bending, while round tubes are good at resisting twisting forces. Instead of choosing one over the other, the helix shape provides both, evenly distributed along the length of the tube. In addition, the large swingarm pivot, attached to the helix down tube, uses a Shimano press-fit bottom bracket bearing. Beefy.
So how did it feel on the trail? Pretty awesome. The suspension works as designed and I didn’t notice any significant pedal bob while climbing. Leaving the Fox Float CTD in trail mode seemed to tackle most of the technical lines I chose. Mark had his bike set up with a remote lock out on the Fox Float 32, which I used on several longish climbs in concert with the climb setting on the CTD shock. I did venture into some more sketchy sections and the descend mode provided just enough plushness to get me through. Pretty much anywhere I took the Pro29 the suspension systems reacted well, and there were no unwelcomed surprises.
I’m guilty of always thinking titanium and suspension won’t get along, and I took the Pro29 out expecting to feel a lot of sway in the rear end, especially in some of the more bermy sections of my favorite trails. Well… not so much. The bike reacted well to quick lateral directional changes and the rear didn’t take long to snap back to middle when exiting the berms. It was predictable. And that’s good. I also didn’t notice any significant flex while under load from hard uphill pedaling. Maybe it’s the helix down tube, maybe the huge swingarm pivot… whatever it is, it works.
After about 15 minutes of adjusting to a new bike it really started feeling at home on my favorite trails. I was comfortable pushing it through some pretty aggressive sections and it handled the smooth flowy bits with ease. Good stuff Lynskey… good stuff. I was riding the 2nd generation of the Pro29 FS-120 which has the swingarm pivot built into the down tube. Gen 1 had it installed in a Ti plate above the bottom bracket. While the current Pro29 FS-120 utilizes sliding dropouts to allow for a thru axle or 9mm QR in the rear, the next generation, slated for 2014, will be fixed and accept Shimano or DT Swiss thru axles. No other changes are planned. MSRP is $5,900 with XT components (and right now it’s on sale). Choosing the XTR kit adds another $1,600 to the build.Tweet
By Jon Pratt
Recently a few select, privileged, cooler-than-the-rest, Dirt Rag staffers hit up Sedona for a couple of days of fun in the desert. With the guiding hands of Matt McFee, Kevin Waterbury, and Hermosa Tours we sampled some of the best singletrack and crazy crystal-powered-UFO folklore the region has to offer. Look for the story in the new issue of the magazine:
We were stoked to rest our heads at the Red Agave Resort, from where the trail system literally flows out of the brick courtyard. Miles and miles of red rock and singletrack with sharp needle bearing cactuses penalizing any tire that roamed off the well-beaten path. Or for that matter, any body that decided to come to rest in the wrong place along the way.
Sedona turns out to be quite an interesting (strange) place when you spend some time poking around. Crystals, skulls, UFO tours, and every type of new age movement has taken hold in and around the magical Bell Rock…which contains an alien spacecraft awaiting its launching orders to go back home…if you didn’t already know.
While we were there we had fun testing bikes and the vortices surrounding the town, and got to take some cool photos along the way. Enjoy a few here, then head on over to your local bike shop or newsstand to pick up a copy of the newest issue of Dirt Rag to read all about our adventures in the Valentine State. You really should grab yourself a print or digital subscription so you don’t miss all the great stuff we’ve got planned for the coming issues.
By Jon Pratt. Photos by Justin Steiner.
The LES is Pivot Cycles’ first entry into the hardtail 29er market. With a carbon frame, a slack 69.5-degree headtube angle, low 12.1” bottom bracket, short 17.1” chainstays, and weighing in at a scant 22.5 pounds, the LES is meant to be a high performance race bike that affords a smoother ride than its XC brethren. For our upcoming review we got our hands on a fully blinged-out carbon XTR build which came complete with a 100mm travel Kashima coated Fox Float 29 100mm CTD fork, XTR drivetrain and Trail brakes, 700mm carbon handlebar, and DT 240 wheels. Sexy.
On my initial outings this bike feels light, and fast. The wide 92mm press fit bottom bracket makes for a substantial bottom bracket junction which looks and feels like it will retain stiffness while putting the hammer down, and help transfer some of that energy from my legs to the gears. Matched with the Fox Float, and a stiff rear, climbing some of my favorite trails has been noticeably easier. The frame also feels pretty smooth when hitting some of the more chattery sections. All good signs for things to come.
One of the cool features on the LES is its ability to be run geared or singlespeed. While all the frames come with carbon dropouts, featuring a 142x12mm thru axel, post disc mounts, and a replaceable derailleur hanger, we also got our hands on Pivot’s Swinger Kit. The kit includes cold-forged aluminum dropouts, a front derailleur plate, and caps to cover all the geared cable locations. I’m interested just how easy it is to swap between the two. And because of its slackened head tube angle and short chainstays, I’m anxious to see how well the LES performs on some of the more technical lines.
Look for a full review in Issue #170 of Dirt Rag. Click here to subscribe.
- Country of Origin: Taiwan
- Warranty: 3 years
- Size: S, M (tested), L, XL
- Price: $6,700
- Website: www.pivotcycles.com
By Jon Pratt, photos by Justin Steiner.
Surly has long created simple, utilitarian, steel bikes built to do their jobs without complaint, like the Moonlander, the Cross-Check, and the Long Haul Trucker. They’ve added another feather in their cap with the introduction of the Troll, a 26-inch-wheeled off-road touring bike designed for a multitude of tasks: touring, commuting, mountain biking, hauling, and just about anything else you can think of. The Troll is based on Surly’s 1×1 singlespeed frame, and adds rack and fender bosses, a derailleur hanger, a spot for anchoring a Rohloff hub, and holes for Surly or B.O.B. trailer mounts. You can choose to run the chromoly fork, included in the complete bike build, or throw on your own 100mm suspension fork.
Initially, I set the Troll up with fenders and a Surly rear rack to commute to work and run errands around my neighborhood. On short trips to the store it did well smooth and capable of hauling everything I needed it to. On my 12-mile pavement commute, the stock 2.3-inch Kenda Kiniption tires slowed me down noticeably. I did, however, enjoy the view from a more upright cockpit thanks to the swept-back Surly Open Bar handlebars.
I had the opportunity to see how the Troll would do as a touring machine on our rail-trail trip to Washington, D.C. (see page 48). Expecting the worst—it was March and the 345-mile off-road route can get interesting with precipitation—I threw on a Surly front rack and a set of knobbier tires. The Troll weighed 39lbs. before loading any gear, and it topped out at 94lbs. when all was said and done. So, off we went.
The Troll did pretty well on this tour. Shimano Deore front and rear derailleurs dealt with the shifting demands under the heavy load without a whimper. The saddle wasn’t the most comfortable thing in the world, but it held its own. I did experience noticeable flex in the handlebars and some flex in the frame. While I may have been a little over-sensitive to the frame flex, the handlebars just didn’t stand up to the job. Along with their lack of stiffness, they didn’t provide enough comfortable hand positions for a long haul.
And while I enjoyed the 26-inch wheels around town and on some off-road shortcuts between destinations, I would have rather had 29-inch wheels on tour. Those touring in foreign parts may prefer 26-inch, since 700c wheels, tires, and tubes can be scarce outside the U.S.
My experiences with loaded bike touring have taught me that how you set up your racks and disperse the weight is very important to your overall comfort and the bike’s performance. The upright riding position of the Troll means the rear wheel carries more of the rider’s weight, so the front rack needs to carry enough gear to offset this. While you’re at it, make sure those racks are as low as possible, close to your wheels or fenders. Initially, I had my rear rack a bit too high and experienced some shimmying from the front end as a result. Low, balanced, and well-secured gear is the way to go.
I came away from my time with the Troll both loving its multipurpose beauty and disliking its few shortcomings. Taking the good with the bad, the Troll succeeded in its do-it-all, burly goals, but fell a little short in its commuting and touring prowess. I’d recommend it for someone interested in light touring, or needing an urban utility vehicle. Three-year warranty on the frame, one year on all the Surly parts.
- Country of Origin: Taiwan
- Price: $1,399
- Weight: 30.4lbs. (without pedals)
- Sizes Available: 14”, 16”, 18”, 20” (tested), 22”
- Contact: www.surlybikes.com
- Age: 41
- Height: 5’11”
- Weight: 185lbs.
- Inseam: 32”
Trek has announced a new cross-country mountain bike race team for 2013 dubbed Trek Factory Racing. Forged with Olympic veterans, the team will feature US National Champion Sam Schultz, Canada’s Emily Batty, 23-year-old rising star Annie Last, two-time Olympian Dan McConnell, and U23 podium finisher Rebecca Henderson. Managing the team will be industry veteran Jon Rourke.
“Trek Factory Racing represents both the current and next generation of XC superheroes,” said Travis Ott, Trek’s global mountain bike brand manager in a statement.
The team will be racing on Trek’s all-new Superfly SL and Superfly 100 SL, featuring Shimano XTR components, FOX suspension, Bontrager tires, and of course, Trek branded gear.
Also with Trek this year will be Russell Finsterwal, racing internationally as well as defending his U23 US title, along with Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski and Heather Irmiger tearing up the dirt in the increasingly popular field of enduro racing.
With last year’s announcement that Trek World Racing (a separate team) would drop XC racing for 2013, it’s great to see the team find a new home under the Trek Factory Racing banner.
Also, be sure to check out our "Catching Up With: Emily Batty" feature in Issue #166 of the magazine.Tweet
By Jon Pratt,
The Aurum 2 is Norco Bicycles’ entry level downhill bike offering. At a mere $1,000 more than an Aurum frame kit, this complete bike packs a lot of punch for the money. It’s also a significant upgrade from the Team DH model it replaced; with better square edge bump compliance, more efficient pedaling through increased chain growth, a reduction in brake jack, and a more easily tuned suspension.
One of the more interesting bits on the Aurum is what Norco is calling their Gravity Tune technology. Gravity Tune adjusts the bike’s geometry through the use of different bottom bracket assemblies in each of the frame’s three sizes. As the bike size increases the change in the assembly allows the rear end of the bike to lengthen and keep the rider’s center of gravity consistent.
I’m pretty impressed with what $3,550 can get you. Geometry is pretty much on par with today’s downhill bike offerings with a 14-inch bottom bracket height and 63.5-degree headtube angle, making it great at carving the turns and accelerating through the more technical steep sections. Component selection is decent with the RockShox Boxxer fork, X-Fusion Vector shock, SRAM X7 shifting, and Avid Elixr 5 brakes. I particularly dig the integrated fork bumpers and seat post clamp, both showing great attention to detail. Bikes that fit well and respond consistently instill confidence, and so far the Aurum has done just that.
I’m looking forward to many more runs on the Aurum this season; keep an eye out for the full review in Issue #167 of Dirt Rag.Tweet
By Jon Pratt,
This past week I found myself in familiar territory for Magura’s press camp; the Red Agave Resort in Sedona, Arizona, where Dirt Rag had spent Spring Break earlier this year. A world-class trail system literally starts in the resort’s backyard. Trails like Llama, Highline, Templeton/Baldwin, and Slim Shady, show you all that desert riding has to offer.
Because of unseasonably hot weather, and a lack of rain, the trails were incredibly dry and powdery. Local singlespeed legend Zach Stanford said it best when describing them as “loose butt fun.” Just the place to test out Magura’s new products for 2013!
Magura’s lineup includes their new TS (Team Suspension) series forks. Available in 29” and 26”. The 26” with a Maxle Lite thru axle accepts 650b/27.5” wheels as well, or you can just go with the standard quick release and stick to your smaller hoops. All 29” models come with the new Magura M15 thru axle, designed with a self-retaining thread that makes locking the thru axle unnecessary. Just tighten the axle with a Torx T25 and you’re good to go.Oh, and once your finished cranking it down, just slide the included T25 tool into the thru axle where it’s held securely by an internal O-ring.
A nice bonus is all Magura MT brakes are attached with the same T25 bolts. No more riffling through your pack trailside for the right tools to readjust your brake levers or to change a flat. You can also remove the pads on the MT series with the same tool. You’ll need a 3mm Allen to bleed them though.
Magura likes to use the acronym “SLE” to describe their forks. “SLE” stands for stiffer, lighter, and easier. Translated to mean drop as much weight as possible, stiffen the fork with their double arch design and thru axle, and equip the forks with an air pressure guide printed on the lowers for simple setup.
Magura uses a four-part Fork Meister Concept in their TS line, which consists of a white Magura grease instead of oil, full surface bushings in the lowers so the larger surface can take more use before wearing out, a super slippery stanchion surface, and seals. Magura’s choice not to use lubrication oil in their forks is meant to keep the grease in the areas it is needed, and make servicing the fork a little less painful, as no oil will pour out when you take off the lowers. As for those new stanchions? They were noticeably smoother than the golden Kashima coated 32mm Float that was on-hand.
On all the thru axle models hard plastic caps adorn the bottoms of the lowers, protecting your fork when is it sans wheel. One of the protection caps doubles as your rebound adjuster.
The forks come in two build levels: TS6 and TS8. The TS6 is heavier and less expensive due to the use of steel instead of aluminum in some of the internals. And while both forks come with straight and tapered steerer tubes, the 29er is phasing out the long taper in favor of a shorter one to better support the numerous short headtubes found on today’s 29ers.
Both forks are available in 80, 100, and 120mm; black or white. Magura adds a 26” TS8 R 150 which also comes with or without Lift Select, allowing you to adjust travel in two stages between 120 and 150mm. The smallest brake you can run on the forks is a 180mm, and it’s directly mounted to the fork, no adapters here. Prices for the 26" range from $599 to $849, and to get one of the 29" models you’ll have to throw down either $649 or $849.
I rode a Specialized Camber Carbon with Magura MT8 brakes and a TS8 R 120 29” fork. The brakes were powerful, and saved me once or twice when I made some poor line choices on some hairy trails I wasn’t familiar with. The TS8 fork felt smooth and stiff, doing a good job of absorbing a lot of the fast small bumps along the Sedona trails—most notably the fields of moderately sized rocks strewn about the dried-up streambed crossings. G-out dips in the trail system didn’t leave me wanting, using all the compression the fork could offer, and the double arches keeping everything nice and stiff up front. My limited time on the fork left me with a favorable impression of the build quality and simplicity of the 29” TS8 R 120.
Alongside the launch of the TS6/8 forks, Magura introduced its MTS brake. Don’t get too excited though, it’s just a MT4 with additional colors to match Specialized bikes. Also on hand were their new TT Brakes; the RT8 TT and RT6 TT, which were pretty badass.
Magura also confirmed that its brakes will be the OE spec on 2013 Specialized, Cannondale, and Pivot bikes. The OE-specific colors will also be available as aftermarket items.
Some of Magura’s sister companies were in Sedona showing off their best. Uvex had some great new helmets which are extremely lightweight and adjustable. All of the brand’s helmets come with ingenious, optional LEDs for safer cycling around town. The LEDs either clip onto the rear of the helmet, or onto the tops of the straps where they are attached to the helmet body.
Along with the helmets Uvex introduced some new sunglass models, a few with their variomatic lenses that darken or lighten in various lighting conditions. The brown variomatic lenses were incredibly nice. I’m definitely going to get a pair for myself.
Last, but not least, SKS Germany was on hand showing off some of its products. Along with its great pumps they have a cool fender called the Raceblade Long that attaches to any racing bike without interfering with rim brakes and with quick installation and removal through the use of clip connectors. Also there is a new water bottle attachment system for use on frames without bottle mounts.
I had an incredibly fun and informative few days in Sedona. Thanks to all involved.Tweet
By Jon Pratt
I recently sat my lazy butt down on the couch to check out a new movie we got in the Dirt Rag office: Pedal-Driven a bikeumentary. It’s a film about how a group of mountain bikers in Leavenworth, Washington, fought to build and ride their local trails, and won.
Leavenworth is all U.S. Forest Service managed land, and mountain bikers were being forced onto a boring old fireroad to get their kicks. Of course this didn’t sit well with the locals; they wanted to enjoy 700,000 acres of the surrounding Cascade Mountains, on their bikes. We can all guess what happened next….illegal trail building, and land mangers up in arms. It’s a common theme we’ve all experienced. Every year I hear about some cool new trail that a few dedicated riders have put their blood and sweat into being threatened with extinction because they decided the best way to deal with a land manager was to just ignore them.
The film follows a few riders through their interactions with the government agencies that are entrusted with maintaining the land around Leavenworth for the public’s use. Riders initially built trails and had them ripped out by the Forest Service, then gained insight on how to express their desire for fair use of their public lands, worked with the land managers, and joined with local and national trail advocacy groups like I.M.B.A.
The movie was slightly boring in spots, mostly when it tried to teach correct building techniques, but it also showcased a lot of success stories around the nation: I-5 Colonnade, The Lair in Bend, and Duthie Hill in Issaquah.
I’ve been involved in a similar process over the last few years; a local, illegally-built freeride trail that grew into a county approved skills park. So the film resounded well with me, and it’s something I think a lot of trail builders should watch. Especially if you’re one of those evildoers building where you shouldn’t.
Oh and it’s got some cool riding and tunes we have all become accustomed to in our favorite bike porn, but that’s not the main focus of the film…more of a nod to the riders the filmmakers want to reach out to. Check it out.
How to watch
By Jon Pratt
I was fortunate enough to be invited to Milwaukee to attend the 2011-2012 annual grand opening at Ray’s this past weekend. Being a longtime rider at Cleveland, I was excited to see the new fun Ray had dreamed up. But first, a short history lesson: Ray’s Cleveland opened up in 2004 and has been growing ever since. Last December, with the help of Trek Bicycle, Ray was able to open a new location in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
What I expected to find in Milwaukee was a basically a Ray’s 2.0—a facility fine tuned from the years of experience garnered in Cleveland. What I hoped to find was a riding destination that hadn’t lost its soul in the process. Cleveland has an attractive “patina”, as Eric Schutt, head honcho at Ray’s Milwaukee, so eloquently
stated. The new park was born from a relatively new building which used to house Menards, a home improvement chain. The idea of riding around in a gutted home improvement warehouse didn’t resonate with me too well. Would I miss the stained, cracked floors, and steel beamed ceilings of Cleveland?
Along with all the excitement of a new place to play when the winter months bring their cold, wet weather to my outdoor cycling haunts, I was pumped to see the pros that were coming out for the opening: Aaron Gwin, Jeff Lenosky, Lennie Westfall, and Stu Thomsen. Aaron, of course, is the first American to win a World Cup overall title; Jeff, one of the premier riders in the world who also helps design many events and parks; Lennie, an incredibly talent rider and employee of the Mirraco Bike Company; and last but not least, Stu who dominated the BMX scene from the mid-70s to mid-80s. Turns out Jeff would not be able to make it due to some scheduling conflicts, but hanging out with the other pros was a pretty cool way to spend the weekend.
Now let’s get to the park. As soon as I started a short tour of the facilities with Eric Schutt I knew they had learned well from Cleveland. Most immediately apparent to me was that there was a well thought out way to get around the entire park while visiting all the separate skills areas and jump lines: the cross country course. Painted green, like the line in the “turn here” Fidelity commercials, it connects literally every section of the park together, making it easy to fine tune your skills in the beginner or sport skills area before moving on to the expert lines.
Another new feature of the cross country course is the inclusion of lines that are more beginner friendly and that keep the flow going around some of the more difficult sections. All the easier lines are included in the simple to follow green path, while the more difficult sections are optional spurs. One of the spurs on the cross country course is an old jump line which includes a Red Bull wall the more advanced riders can play on. While the more BMX oriented rider may miss the feature this year, it opens up a new experience for the riders who tend to stick to the more mountain bike friendly areas of the park.
Along with the upgrades to the cross country course, there is an out-and-back Micro Rhythm track which is a great place for people to get comfortable with how a jump line feels. Built with an out-and-back design, the track features several boxes and jumps. Instead of a bermed turn at the end of the outbound rhythm line, there is a platform that allows the rider to reset themselves if they hadn’t been ablt to get in sync with the course before attempting the inbound line. Personally I had trouble getting back in sync once interrupted by the platform, something that I had issues with on the out-and-back in Cleveland as well. But, I understand the idea behind the exclusion of a bermed turn.
The wooden features in the sport and expert sections felt much sturdier than the ones I’m used to riding in Cleveland. There always seems to be something loose or out of wack in Ohio….not so in Wisconsin. For instance, I can’t count the number of times the sliding bridge in the expert section of Cleveland got stuck and was closed. The sliding bridge in Milwaukee is built level across the ground (a change from the elevated version last year), running on pipes and rollers similar to the construction of a modern rollercoaster. It is noticeably smoother, and slightly easier than its Cleveland cousin. The teeters all felt more solidly built, as did the elevator.
There are a few things I didn’t like about the Milwaukee skills areas. The lines felt very close to each other, especially in the expert area. I also found most of the lines were similar to the ones in Cleveland. There are some cool new things, but things just seemed a little too familiar.
Good, bad and ugly
Unfortunately, I was unable to ride the jumps which consists of sport, expert, and super rhythm line, or the street park, because my front tire slipped off one of the skinnies and I ended up breaking my thumb. My accident did segue nicely into a conversation with Eric about safety in the park though. The entire staff is well trained in exactly how to deal with accidents, and the park is actually constructed with safety in mind. For instance, sections of track can be taken out of the jumps to get a stretcher where it might be needed. It’s not something I want to dwell on in an article, but just know I saw a few crashes and the response of Ray’s crew, and it was immediate and professional.
Back to the park. The jump lines looked great, and everyone was out having a blast on them. I was told that the jumps and street park were designed for both mountain and smaller wheels, but they definitely looked like they’d be much more fun on the latter. At least it looked that way watching Stu, Lennie, and Reese from Pinkbike rip them up.
The novice section, tucked into the right side of the building comes complete with skills cards hanging from the ceiling detailing the correct way to execute particular moves, including falling, through words and pictures. Believe it or not, there were actually kids in the novice area practicing how to fall onto a soft stack of foam. Alongside the novice tracks were hooks where season pass holders could store their bikes. Many of the bikes belong to people who have 9-5 gigs and come over after work instead of going to the gym. I’m completely on board with that!
Like in Cleveland, Ray’s Milwaukee provides a great weekend package deal including hotel and park entry for out of town visitors. There are two hotels to choose from in Milwaukee, the Hilton Garden Inn and the Four Points. All the press and pros stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn. Rooms were great, food was great, no complaints at all! While both lodging choices offer free shuttle service to Ray’s, only the Four Points offers a free airport shuttle. Important, because the airport is a good 30 minutes away from both hotels. The shuttle is just a large passenger van, so there really wasn’t a good way to transport bikes back and forth…someone at Ray’s or the hotel should invest in a hitch rack for the van.
It was a great weekend, and I think Ray and Eric, with the help of Trek Bicycle, hit this one out of the park. Milwaukee is indeed a refined version of Cleveland, with its own soul. There’s enough of a new experience at Milwaukee to advocate that the devoted Cleveland rider venture north.
Oh, there are rumors of another Ray’s in the works; I may need a new jersey soon.
Women are welcome too
Women’s weekends are back in Cleveland on Feb 17th and in Milwaukee on March 9th.
“It’s a super fun, free event for women, by women," Shutt said. "We staff the park with female BMX and MTB pro coaches, and women are able to come in to learn and polish their bike skills. Anything from the most basic to the most advanced. For this event, only the women participating in the event are allowed inside the parks!”
Check out Raysmtb.com for more info.