Dirt Rag Magazine

Justin Steiner

Justin Steiner

Title

General Manager

Yeah, but what do you ACTUALLY do around here?

[quizzical look]

What do you think about when you're riding your bike?

[awkward silence]

How would you rate your coffee consumption on a scale of 8-10?

What's up with a scale from 8 to 10? Who does that? Nine: couple of cups in the morning, but rarely any caffeine after noon.

Complete this sentence: "My other bike is …"

... a motorbike! Two wheels, one love. The only thing as fun as pedaling two wheels is twisting a throttle.

What are you eating, drinking, reading, or fearing these days?

I'm fearing the slow, global radioactive poisoning of the globe post Fukushima. We're all screwed. This is a game changer and we're choosing to not to address the issue.

Elvis or the Beatles?

Elvis

Say something profound and meaningful in exactly seven words…

Pedal as though your life depends on it.

I like your answers. How can I get in touch with you?

412.767.9910 x106

Email me

Trail Shooter: The Dirt Rag guide to mountain bike photography – Part 1, the basics


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Those of us dirt bags reading this magazine have a common interest, for better or worse: riding mountain bikes. Additionally, most of us like looking at engaging photographs, as well as documenting our own adventures. It’s high time we write about making better photographs of our adventures, so you can share them with your friends, or even better, in the pages of Dirt Rag in our Rider’s Eye section. Note for photo nerds: I’m breaking some very complex ideas and concepts down into easily digestible chunks for people who aren’t photo geeks.

Ready to take better photos? Click here.

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First Impression: Marin Rocky Ridge 7.6


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Marin designed the 27.5-inch wheeled Rocky Ridge series for aggressive trail riders that prefer hardtails. There are certainly are lots of folks out there who prefer hardtails over full suspension for a multitude of reasons: lower initial purchase price, better parts spec at a similar price point, mechanical simplicity, or just riding style.

This is a lot of bike for $2,600. The stout aluminum frame offers all the latest standards we’ve come to expect, including a tapered headtube, ISCG mounts, internal dropper post routing and a 142×12 thru-axle. Interesting spec choices include a SRAM 1×10 drivetrain with X7 shifter and X9 Type 2, clutch-style rear derailleur. Crankset and chainguide are supplied by e*thirteen. Braking duties are assigned to SRAM’s four-piston Elixir 7 Trail units with tool-free reach adjustment. The inexpensive-but-excellent RockShox Revelation provides 130mm of travel up front. KS provides a Supernatural 125mm-travel dropper post with one of the more ergonomic remotes I’ve used.

Read more about the Rocky Ridge here.

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Review: Shimano Saint M820 group


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This Saint group is the third generation of Shimano’s high-end gravity offering. Where the previous two iterations erred on the heavier-duty freeride side of gravity riding, the new group has been nipped and tucked for a new focus on DH racing.

We previously review Shimano’s Zee group in issue #169. Since Zee features a lot of trickle down technology from Saint, we can’t help but compare and contrast the Saint vs. Zee value proposition.

Click here to read our full review of the new Saint group…

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First Impressions: Mongoose Teocali Expert and Santa Cruz Heckler


Editor’s note: Here at Dirt Rag we don’t really do “comparison tests” or “shootouts” or declare “winners”. Every bike we review has a story to tell, and they’re all interesting. That said, we rounded up six full-suspension trail bikes in the $2,500-ish range to see what’s really out there in the heart of the mountain bike market. To get the party started, we spent a week riding in and around the beautiful Shenandoah Valley, Virginia. Watch for full reviews of each bike, as well as more about the trails, in an upcoming issue, but for now, a teaser:

stokesville-5

I admit to being more than a little bit skeptical at the outset of our trip down to Harrisonburg, Va. The idea of thrashing $2,500-ish bikes on some of the most raw and rowdy trails I’ve ever ridden gave me nightmares of bad brakes boiling over on long descents and under-damped suspension systems bucking me over the handlebars in protest of being pushed hard.

However, not long into our first ride, I realized just how spoiled my perspective had become. Both bikes I rode performed flawlessly over five days of punishing trails. Read the full story

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First Impression: Intense 951 EVO 27.5


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Just a month ago we previewed the build up of our Intense 951 EVO test bike. Now with some hours on this boundary-pushing machine, it’s time to weigh in with a First Impression.

Aside from this being a very slick and purposeful looking, US-made bike, two characteristics really stand out; one, 27.5-inch wheels, and, two, the very progressive geometry. Read the full story

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Review: Yeti SB-66


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By Justin Steiner

There’s been much hubbub in recent months about Yeti’s newest flag- ship trail bike, the SB-66. At first glance, it seemed strange that Yeti might keep their venerable 575 alongside this new 152mm-travel machine, given their similar geometries and travel figures. Yeti’s Chris Conroy described the differences and the reasons for having both bikes in the Yeti lineup: “The 575 is plusher, the SB-66 will feel more ‘performance.’ Those are subjective descriptions, but the SB-66 will pedal better than the 575. Riders interested in comfort and being able to blast through rock gardens with a more muted feel would prefer the 575. On the SB-66 you will feel the nuances of the trail more.”

Having reviewed, and thoroughly enjoyed, the 575 in issue #154, I was eager to experience the differences for myself. Read the full story

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Ride Guide: Copper Harbor, Michigan


By Justin Steiner

Copper Harbor, Michigan, lies at the very northern-most tip of the Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, marking the northern terminus of both the M-26 and US-41 highways. This sleepy, little one-stoplight town boasts about 120 year-round residents, all of whom are far hardier than I to deal with the region’s yearly average 125 inches of snowfall.

While this region’s copper mining heritage may be in the distant past, the town’s most recent natural asset comes in the form of silver. Specifically, a Silver-level Ride Center designation bestowed by IMBA—one of just four Silver-level ride center designations in the world right now. These Ride Center designations are designed to highlight areas where professionally developed trail networks cater to riders of all skill levels, ensuring a good time for beginners through experts. Think of the Ride Center designation as an IMBA “stamp of approval,” where you’re guaranteed an awesome mountain bike experience.

Copper Harbor has been on my list of places to visit for quite some time, so my girlfriend Emily and I took advantage of a friend’s wedding as an excuse to drive north for a visit. We choose to base our Copper Harbor stay out of historic Fort Wilkins State Park, just a mile from the town’s main drag. This location offers ride-in, ride-out access for all of Copper Harbor’s official trails, as well as heated restroom/shower facilities and even WiFi. Check out copperharbor.org for more information about accommodations.

All the trail information you’ll need can be found on the Copper Harbor Trails Club (CHTC) website. The interactive map includes elevations profiles and video footage of each trail from beginning to end. Locally, you can pick up a physical trail map and route advice at the Keweenaw Adventure Company. The Keweenaw folks even run bike shuttles up the mountain Tuesday evenings, Saturday and Sunday.

Trails range in difficulty from beginner to a double black diamond trail with large gap jumps. Three trails are gravity specific, one-way trails so even bigger bikes have terrain to run. With 24 miles of trails that can be linked in a variety of ways, we found plenty of riding to keep us occupied for three full days, while leaving a few trails to explore the next time we’re in town. Additionally, trail builder Aaron Rogers told us there are plans for expansion of both the gravity and XC riding in the area, including the Overflow Trail, a downhill trail running from the top of Brockway Mountain down into town. All trails are clearly signed in conjunction with the map, including difficulty ratings. 

Back in April, Bell Helmets announced that Copper Harbor was one of three locations chosen to receive the 2013 Bell Built Grants. A total of $100,000 will be split amongst these three locations for specific projects.

At the end of each day’s riding we cruised into Copper Harbor’s new microbrewery, Brickside Brewery for a beer before heading back to our campsite. Emily and I both highly recommend their dry-hopped Fish Camp IPA.

Overall, the Copper Harbor experience was well worth the drive. Be sure to put this destination on your bucket list, and pick up a pasty at Toni’s County Kitchen in Laurium on your way north. Call a couple hours ahead and they’ll make you vegetable pasties too.

Keep an eye out for our Access column in Issue #172 (now shipping to subscribers and newsstands) for more background on this trail success story.

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First look and first ride impressions: 2014 Salsa Horsethief and Spearfish


By Justin Steiner,

With the launch of the 2014 Spearfish and Horsethief, Salsa Cycles has become the first US-based brand to license Dave Weagle’s Split Pivot suspension design. For Salsa, this partnership with Weagle is their first collaboration with an outside designer. They considered redesigning their current single-pivot platform, but ultimately decided licensing an existing design would achieve better results and mitigate potential patent infringement concerns.

The folks at Salsa wanted to maintain the simplicity of their single-pivot design and mimic the existing design aesthetic. Candidly, and somewhat jokingly, the Salsa folks said their dealer base was asking for an “acronym” suspension system, meaning a design with a proven track record and the catchy marketing that comes along with it. Those criteria ultimately led them to Weagle’s doorstep.

When Weagle takes on a design project, he starts defining how the client wants the end result to feel on the trail. In this case, Salsa wanted to maintain the vibe of the Spearfish and Horsethief models, while increasing the suspension’s performance under braking, acceleration and cornering loads. Once the intended use and desired suspension feel are established, Weagle selects a stock tune from Fox’s portfolio of rear shock offerings. Weagle and Salsa Engineer Pete Koski then developed the frames around those criteria.

Weagle’s Split Pivot design employs a high main pivot location to build anti-squat into the suspension for snappy performance while you’re on the gas. According to Weagle, this pivot location is optimal for pedaling performance, but as a purely single pivot design would jack noticeably under braking. To get around this, Weagle employs a pivot concentric to the rear axle, isolating braking forces from the swingarm for neutral performance under braking.

Each of the new design’s Fox CTD rear shock are driven by a linkage in order to tune the spring curve, which Weagle says is lower in the beginning stroke for small bump compliance but ramps up for end of stroke progression. Also, since the Split Pivot design combats pedal bob through the physical placement of the main pivot, the shock is not burdened with excessive low speed compression in order to minimize movement under load.

Spearfish

Internally, Salsa uses a set of four emotional keywords to define their products: explore, discover, endure and devour. Each of their models must fulfill one of these guiding principles. The Spearfish falls solidly into the “endure” category. It’s designed for ultra-endurance racing such as 100-milers and epic excursions on point-to-point rides like the Colorado Trail, Arizona Trail and the Great Divide.

To fulfill this mission, the existing bike’s 100mm front and 80mm rear travel was retained from the previous design. “Why only 80mm,” you ask? According to Salsa, the Spearfish is designed to facilitate long distance riding and racing, not to get rad on the trail. The goal is to simply take the edge off over the long haul. For perspective, the spiritual predecessor to the Spearfish was Salsa’s Dos Niner softtail with just one inch of suspension travel.

Aside from wheel travel and the aesthetic similarities, not much else remains the same about the Spearfish. Geometry has evolved substantially. Rear center length has dropped from 17.8 inches to 17.2 inches. The headtube angle is slackened from 71 degrees to 69.3 degrees. Paired with a 51mm-offset fork, this arrangement maintains similar rake and trail figures for snappy handling, but the increased front center ads stability at speed and in steep terrain. Despite the shorter chainstays the wheelbase grows slightly across the range. In my mind, all of these changes are solidly in the right direction; longer out front for stability, shorter in the rear for maneuverability. The reverse mullet, if you will.

Frame interface updates include a 142x12mm rear axle, BB92 bottom bracket, chainstay clearance for 1x and 2x drivetrains only (no triples here, folks), and cable routing for an externally actuated dropper post. The new rear suspension design is said to be 21 percent stiffer laterally and offers ample room for up to 2.35-inch tires.

Out on the trail, it was quickly clear to me the Spearfish will nicely fulfill it’s intended mission of helping rider’s endure long hours in the saddle. Though I wouldn’t describe this bike’s suspension as plush, it is responsive when pedaling and offers great traction over roots and rocks. This is a hard-edge tool for covering ground with speed and efficiency, not a cushy trail steed—exactly what Salsa set out to build.

Handling-wise, the Spearfish offers a lively package that handles quickly but never feels nervous or twitchy. By shifting both wheels forward under the rider—compared to the first generation design—Salsa increased the poise, composure and confidence of the Spearfish while greatly decreasing the effort required to loft the front wheel.

Though my brief experience aboard the Spearfish is far from a conclusive long-term test, I feel confident insisting you put this bike on your short list of XC race, marathon, and adventure dual suspension 29ers.

Complete Spearfish bikes will retail at $5,500, $4,100, $3,300 and $2,750 price points, with frames available for $1,700. Sizes range from XS to XL, targeting riders from five feet, two inches to over six feet, three inches. Frame weight is said to be right around six pounds with shock, rear axle and seat collar.

Horsethief

The Horsethief represent Salsa’s “devour” keyword. This trail 29er targets big adventures over rugged terrain. Moab’s Whole Enchilada and Colorado’s Monarch Crest Trail come to mind. While the Horsethief is designed for tougher trails, Salsa dealers and customers were asking Salsa for a less slightly less burly build than the existing bike. For 2014, Salsa has swapped the 120mm-travel Fox 34 for a 130mm-travel Fox 32 fork. Rear wheel travel remains the same at 120mm. NoTube’s Flow rims have been replaced by with Arch rims to save rotational weight.

Like the Spearfish, the Horsethief receives the short chainstay, longer front center treatment. Chainstay length is down from 17.8-inches to 17.2-inches, and headtube angle slackens from 68.6 degrees to 68.1 degrees. But, fork offset increases from 48mm to 51mm to maintain slow-speed handling. Again, smart move in my opinion.

Horsethief frames offer a 142x12mm rear axle, BB92 bottom bracket with ISCG 05 tabs, chainstay clearance for 1x and 2x drivetrains, and cable routing for external or internal dropper posts. The new rear suspension design of the Horsethief is 18 percent stiffer laterally and officially offers room for up to 2.35-inch tires, though Koski was running Maxxis Ardent 2.4 tires on his bike.

Saddled up on the Horsethief (sorry, couldn’t resist), I was immediately struck by the bike’s sense of poise. Again, with both wheels shifted forward under the rider, rider weight distribution is similar to that of a 26-inch trail bike; weight back over the rear wheel, with the front wheel well out in front for stability. Within minutes aboard the bike, I was extremely comfortable with capable handling. The increased fork offset kept things moving along nicely at slow speeds, too.

I’ve been a fan of every Weagle-designed suspension system I’ve ridden and the Horsethief is no different. Weagle’s ability to design a suspension system that’s efficient, has great traction under power, offers a supportive mid-stroke, and provides great big-hit capability is simply amazing. Never once did I feel a need to flip the CTD rear shock into Trail or Climb modes because there’s very little pedal-induced suspension movement. I’m a big fan of these set-it-and-forget-it suspension designs, as I don’t like to flip levers with every change in grade. My rear shock’s travel o-ring indicated full use of available travel at various points during our rides, but I never felt harsh bottom out—even when casing a few landings at Spirit Mountain’s Candyland flow trail.

For the launch, I was aboard the Horsethief 1 model, which will retail for $4,600. This model will be equipped with SRAM’s 11-speed X01 drivetrain, though my test sled was not so equipped due to lack of current availability. Equipped with X01, X0 Trail brakes, nice DT Swiss/NoTubes rims, and a smartly appointed cockpit, this bike will be a hell of a machine—with the addition of your favorite dropper post, of course.

As with the Spearfish, I was very impressed by the cohesiveness of the Horsethief’s ride. This will be a highly versatile bike. Its efficiency and reasonable weight make it adequate for amateur XC racing, while its capability and confidence are up to the task of recreational enduro racing. More importantly, this is a mighty fine all-around bike due to its versatility.

Complete Horsethief bikes will retail at $5,700, $4,600, and $3,300 with frames available for $1,700. Sizes range from S to XL and expect frame weights around 6.5 pounds with shock, rear axle and seat collar.

Sea Change

This is a big turning point for the Salsa brand, and is a stellar setup right out of the gate. Salsa’s choice to employ Weagle’s Split Pivot (that’s him pictured above) moves the brand up-market to compete with the big players such as Specialized, Trek, Yeti, Santa Cruz—to some extent event the boutique builders like Tuner, and Pivot—in terms of performance, while maintaining a price point that’s very attractive. Kudos to Salsa for stepping up their game with these redesigned models.

 

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First Impression: Santa Cruz Bronson


By Justin Steiner. Photo by Matt Kaspryzyk.

Man, it sure is a good time to be a mountain biker. With all of the recent innovations—from dropper posts to 27.5-inch wheels—development sure is cooking along. Seems like this year, more so even than recent years, there’s simply a flood of incredible bikes and products coming to market.

Though far from a well kept secret, Santa Cruz’s new Bronson certainly falls into the “badass-new-product” category. Thus far, we’ve touched on the specs and details here, and posted another update as soon as we got our grubby little hands on our blingy Tennis Yellow test bike.

So, first impression? Damn, with the full-bore, every-option-selected build kit this bike is a status symbol, particularly considering the $10,420 price tag. As you might expect for a $10k+ bike, it also works incredibly well. Everything about this build kit is incredibly dialed for the intended use.

The SRAM XX1 drivetrain is flawless. After spending a bunch of time on it, it’s easy to see this 1×11 setup capturing significant market share when and if the technology is trickled down to lower price points. If I never had to switch back to a 2x or 3x setup, I wouldn’t complain a bit.

Of course, the Shimano XTR brakes work incredibly well. Good overall power, good modulation.

XX1 aside, the star of this show might just be the ENVE carbon All Mountain rims laced to DT Swiss 240s hubs. Sure these things are damn expensive, but they feel incredible on the trail. Given their reasonable weight, these rims are very laterally stiff on the trail, yet seems to damp a bit of high frequency chatter and noise that provides a calm and serene ride. Sure, the price will push these wheels out of reach for a lot of riders, but if you have the money, they sure are nice.

Initially our bike shipped with Maxxis’ High Roller II tires in the 2.4 inch size. These tires are huge, and arguably on the large and heavy end of the scale for the Bronson. They fit with room to spare, despite the 2.4-inch tire’s tall and aggressive knobs. These tires hooked up incredibly well braking and cornering, but roll accordingly slow.

Shortly thereafter, Maxxis hooked us up with the stock spec’d High Roller II in a 2.3-inch width with a tubeless ready bead and EXO reinforced casing. The knobs on these tires were only slightly smaller than the height of the 2.4-inch tires. As you might expect, they rolled better, but offered a bit less grip, too. Overall, the 2.3-inch tires are a much more appropriate tire for the Bronson.

I’m incredibly stoked about the internally routed Reverb Stealth. Regardless of your preference for infinitely adjustable vs. a three position post, This internal routing is the ticket, and, if I was a betting man, will become the standard moving forward.

Granted this particular build is incredibly expensive. Just for comparison, let’s see what we could score on our local Craigslist for $10k:

  • 2008 Ducati 1098 with 10,000 miles.
  • 2006 Honda Civic with 85,000 miles.
  • 2003 Toyota 4Runner with 129,000 miles.
  • 1994 36-foot houseboat.

Though none of those vehicles are brand new, they all have the added complexity of internal combustion engines.

It’s clear this bike is well out of the price range of most folks, myself included. If you have the money, it’s not hard to justify as it works impeccably well. On the othger hand, if $10k for a bike is a little rich for your blood, there are Bronson models starting at $3,400.

Look for the full review of the Bronson in issue #171, which will go on sale in mid-June. Also, we’re hoping to keep the Bronson around for a full season’s worth of testing, so look for future updates.

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