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

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.


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.

 


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.


We take a spin through the Fox iRD suspension setup app

By Justin Steiner

Here at Dirt Rag and Bicycle Times Headquarters it seems nary a day passes without a delivery person rolling a new bike through the door. Awesome as it is, there are challenges to constantly swapping from bike to bike. In terms of suspension bikes, quickly setting up a new bike at its manufacturer’s recommended baseline is key to kicking off a proper test.

So, it was with much interest yesterday that I watched Matt set up his new Ventana Zeus test bike using Fox’s Intelligent Ride Dynamics (iRD) App.

Fox uses ID Tags on all of their 2013 and newer shocks and forks. These ID tags communicate the necessary info to the app. All you have to do is locate the ID tag and enter the code.

 

Next, you follow the instructions to select “descend’ mode on the shock, and dial rebound damping to the minimum setting.

Next, you enter your weight, including all riding gear, into the App. Using all the information provided by the ID Tag, the App will recommend a baseline air pressure.

You then mark the sag position by assuming a normal riding position, per the instructions.

With the travel o-ring marking the sag position, you then use the iPhone’s camera to check the sag.

We double checked the iRD app’s recommendation and found it to be right at 22 percent sag. Since Matt wasn’t wearing his hydration pack for this sag measurement, he’ll be at closer to 25 percent sag with a pack, which is a good starting point for this test. With sag set, the iRD app then recommends a rebound setting.

With the rear suspension set up, we moved on to the fork. Again, based on the information from the ID Tag along with the rider weight Matt entered, the iRD app provides a recommended air pressure.

Then you’re back through the process of marking and checking sag.

In this case, the app was spot on first time through. From here, all Matt had to do was adjust rebound damping to the recommended settings and go ride.

I was highly impressed with the app’s ability to simplify what can be a very complex process. The iRD app takes the mystery out of suspension setup, and provides a solid baseline that will should work well for most riders in most situations. I’d wager a vast majority of app users will arrive at better baseline settings than those using the traditional measuring tape approach.

As of now, Fox’s iRD app is available for iPhone, iPod touch, iPad and iPad mini running iOS 4.3 or later. Android and Windows phone people will have to borrow an i-device.


First Impression: Specialized Enduro Comp 29

By Justin Steiner. Photos by Justin Steiner and Jon Pratt.

Given the amount of buzz this year surrounding 27.5-inch bikes, Specialized sure surprised a lot of folks when it pulled to wrapper off the Enduro 29 last week. Many of us around the office were skeptical of a 155mm-travel 29er, but the overall geometry package looked rather promising, in particular the 16.9-inch chainstays.

The Comp’s aluminum frame is paired to a very impressive parts package for the $3,500 retail price. Everything from tire choice to the roller-type chain guide seems very well thought out. Of course the star of this show is the new mid-mount SRAM front derailleur and Specialized’s “Taco Plate” mounting system (yum, tacos).

We’ve already seen some readers complaining about this “proprietary” front derailleur system, so I’d like to point out this new front derailleur mountain system was co-developed by Specialized and SRAM and is available to the public. Progress is not proprietary. I’d wager we will see quick acceptance of the mid-mount front derailleur as it has shown to facilitate some very short chainstays on the Enduro 29.

Fortunately for me, this black and blue beauty arrived just two days before we headed south to Pisgah National Forest in western North Carolina. In the rough, mountainous terrain, the 29-inch wheels rolled over roots and rocks at slow speed like we’ve come to expect, but really came into their own when pointed down hill. Sure, it offers the traction of a 29er, but the short chainstays allow you to ride it like a 26-inch wheeled bike, manualing, wheelying, and j-hopping your way down the trail in a way you never would have expected from a 29er. Though it sounds like a back-handed compliment, this bike doesn’t feel like a 29er, it simply rides like a very cohesive and competent bicycle.

After riding a bunch of bikes with lots of anti-squat built into the suspension design, the FSR suspension does feel somewhat sluggish. It rewards a sit-and-spin approach to climbing. The Fox CTD rear shock is effective, however, and I used the Trail setting quite a lot. Fortunately, the trade-off is a suppleness and small bump sensitivity that’s second to none in Descend mode.

Climb mode does offer a firm and supportive platform, but the ride feels somewhat dead and the additional damping decreases traction. Hauling this bike’s 30.3 lbs. (33.2 lbs. with pedals and a dropper post) up the trail wasn’t awful, either. Stiffness and durability are far more important characteristics to this test rider.

 

Heading down the trail, the Enduro surely lives up to its name, and surpassed my expectations by a large margin. Given the big wheels and 155mm of travel, I found myself riding the Enduro much like I’d ride a DH bike—pop and transition, rumble across the rough sections. This bike is scary fast. It’s truly terrifying how fast you can roll through gnarly terrain.

Overall first impression? This bike is a game changer. Seriously. For a company that was staunchly anti-29er, Specialized has come full circle to deliver what might just be the most rally-able 29er on the market today. Every design choice simply works. The 67.5-degree head tube angle is slack enough to be stable, but not so slack as to wander drastically when climbing. The bottom bracket is low, but you’re able to carry so much momentum on this bike it simply isn’t a problem.

The stays are short, half an inch shorter than my 26-inch wheeled all mountain bike, in fact. Those short stays keep the rider’s weight over the rear wheel in a way that’s familiar to gravity-oriented riders. The long front center is stable at speed and on steep sections, too. In short, this bike is a complete package for mountain riding. I’ll need more saddle time to weigh in with a final verdict, but things certainly look extremely promising.

Look for the long-term review of this bike in an upcoming issue of Dirt Rag. Subscribe now to make sure you don’t miss it. And click here to read more from our Tech Editor about why the Enduro 29er is a potentially revolutionary design


 


Point/Counterpoint – Clipless pedals for downhill

By Justin Steiner,

Crankbrothers recently announced a new version of the Mallet dh. According to Crankbrothers, rider and racer feedback lead them back to a pedal with a larger platform and more traction. The first two versions of the Mallet both had a fairly larger platform, while the third iteration, launched in 2011, offered a narrower platform. Generations two and three offered six adjustable and replaceable traction pins apiece.

For this 2013 redesign, Crankbrothers increased the pedal body size back up to that of the original Mallet and incorporated two more adjustable and replaceable traction pins for a total of eight. The body is more open for better mud clearance, while the Q-factor has been increased by 5mm per pedal for a wider stance. The retention spring has also been beefed up for more positive entry and exit. The claimed weight is 479 grams.

In terms of durability, the spindle is said to be 50 percent stronger, and sealing has been improved for better bearing life. These are positive changes, as bent spindles and roached bearings have long plagued Crankbrothers pedals. According to crankbrothers, these recent changes have brought warranty claims down to less than one percent. 

I haven’t yet ridden these new pedals, but they’re certainly very visually appealing for DH riding and racing, or even aggressive trail riding. The platform is big without being cumbersome, and I really like the idea of the adjustable and replaceable traction pins. Look for a full review in an upcoming issue of Dirt Rag. For now, let’s take a look at some of the other clipless DH pedals on the market.

Shimano PD-M647

The M647 pedal has been with us for quite some time. Though Shimano technically classifies this as a BMX pedal, you’ll see a fair number of these pedals on the DH racing circuits from amateur to World Cup levels. As with all Shimano pedals, they tend to be dead reliable, but a hefty impact will break the resin platform. I’ve always been a Shimano pedal guy, and currently run these on my DH and trail bikes. Shimano claims 568 grams per pair.

Compared to the new Mallet DH, the M647 pedals offer a smaller platform and less grip due to lack of traction pins.

Time ATAC DH4

Time’s ATAC DH4 pedals are perhaps the most similar in design to the new Mallet DH, with a large and burly platform. I don’t have any direct experience with the DH4 pedals, but we all know how much Time users love their pedals. I imagine these pedals are a wise choice if you ride Time pedals on your XC bike. Time claims 517 grams per pair.

Like the new Mallet DH, these pedals have a large platform, but again do not offer traction pins.

Xpedo G-Force 1

Though I haven’t heard much talk about folks using the Xpedo G-Force 1 for DH riding and racing, it doesn’t seem like that much of a stretch. The magnesium body is similar in size and shape to the M647, and it does include some built-in traction pins. Xpedo claims 465 grams per pair. Anyone out there riding these pedals? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below or on facebook.

Compared to the Mallet DH, the G-Force 1 has a smaller platform and the traction pins are not replaceable.

Comparison

After researching the above pedals for this blog, it’s easy to image crankbrothers continuing to gain market share in the clipless DH realm. This is the only clipless pedal currently on the market to offer adjustable traction pins. The overall package looks good and appears to be highly functional. So long as they hold up for the long haul, crankbrothers will have a winner on their hands.

Of course, we haven’t even touched on the clipless vs flats debate for DH riding and racing. Having transitioned to DH from a XC/trail background, I’m a fan of running clipless. My muscle memory has evolved to count on being clipped in, for better or worse. That said, this season I’m going to work on riding flats more to become a more well rounded rider.

I’m curious about your thoughts on the flats vs clipless debate. Tell us what you prefer in the comments below.


Review: X-Fusion Vengeance HLR

By Justin Steiner

X-Fusion may not have the name recognition of Fox, RockShox, or Marzzochi, but its parent company has been quietly producing suspension components for other brands since 1989. The X-Fusion brand itself was launched in 1999. In recent years, X-Fusion has been making a big push into the market, gaining significant OE spec and recently penning sponsorship deals with both Brian Lopes and Anne-Caroline Chausson.

X-Fusion introduced the Vengeance chassis in 2009 and refreshed it for 2012 with a new Syntace X-20 tool-less axle system and a new crown, which reduced axle to crown height by 7mm. Maximum travel bumps up to 170mm this year, while retaining the ability to adjust travel internally from 170mm to 100mm with a combination of X-Fusion’s Internal Travel Adjust (ITA) settings (at 160mm, 130mm, and 100mm) and as well as adding internal spacers to achieve settings between the factory options.

 

The HLR model offers a high volume air spring for a fairly linear feel while a coil negative spring help to overcome stiction and control top out. High and low speed compression damping adjustments as well as rebound damping adjustability round out the tuning options.

Fit and finish are on par with the competition, if not exceeding some of them. All of the adjustment knobs are nice CNC’d bits, in fact you’ll be hard pressed to find any plastic parts on or in this fork aside from the cable guide.

Suspension setup was straightforward in terms of air pressure and rebound damping thanks to the setup guide, but X-Fusion leaves compression damping adjustments up to the rider. While this is OK for experienced riders, less experienced or less diligent tuners might benefit from more discrete baseline recommendations. Your local shop will help you sort out suspension setup, or a quick call to X-Fusion will yield baseline settings.

On the trail, this fork is best described as buttery smooth, with supple small bump response and just enough spring rate progression to handle larger hits with control and confidence. I ran all the damping adjustments near the middle of their respective ranges, and found there to be plenty of meaningful adjustment in either direction from that point. Light or heavy riders should have no trouble setting this fork up for their needs.

Chassis stiffness is on par with the other forks in this class, which is no surprise given the similarities between this fork and the compe- tition in terms of the 36mm stanchions and weight—5.07 lbs with a cut steerer. Axle-to-crown height is identical to the Fox 36 I had set to 170mm of travel.

 

My test fork felt smooth out of the box, but developed pronounced stiction after a couple months of riding. I sent the fork back to X-Fusion where they found an out of spec bushing to be the culprit. With new lowers installed, this fork feels downright magical. I’ll go so far as to say it’s the most supple fork I’ve ridden—it’s that good. I’ll chalk the initial experience up to manufacturing variability.

All told, I’ve found the Vengeance to be a solid performer for the $835 asking price, which is roughly $200 cheaper than the equivalent 1.5” tapered steerer offering from Fox or RockShox. This fork holds its own on performance alone, if not edging out the competition in terms of small bump response, with a price tag that’s simply icing on the cake. It’s easy to see X-Fusion’s appeal to shoppers on a budget and those who don’t harbor existing brand loyalty.

The Vengeance is a legitimate offering from a company that stands behind their product with responsive support and a two-year warranty against manufacturer’s defects and workmanship.

Made in Taiwan.

www.xfusionshox.com
 


Review: Trek Slash

By Justin Steiner

Meet the new Slash, but don’t confuse this bike with Trek’s previous all-mountain bike, the Scratch. While Trek positioned both bikes to be extremely capable descending rigs, the Slash delivers a level of all-around versatility that’s head and shoulders above the Scratch. The stats speak for themselves: 160mm of front and rear suspension, an adjustable 65.5/66 degree head angle, and just a touch over 30lbs. My old 29er hardtail weighed nearly that much—guess which bike is more fun bombing down the mountain?

The Slash’s suspension design employs what Trek calls Active Braking Pivot (ABP) and Full Floater shock mounting. The main pivot defines the rear wheel’s axle path, while the rear pivot rotates concentric to the rear axle. This arrangement isolates braking forces, allowing the suspension to remain active under braking. Full Floater refers to the rear shock being mounted between the rocker link and the swingarm; this allows Trek to further fine-tune the spring rate.

At the heart of this suspension platform is the Trek-designed Dual Rate Control Valve (DRCV) Fox RP3 rear shock, which features two in-line air chambers. During the first half of the stroke, the shock operates solely on the smaller, initial air chamber for a snappy, responsive beginning stroke.

A plunger opens up the secondary chamber when the suspension moves into the remaining half of its stroke, allowing for a large volume end of stroke feel that does a better job of absorbing bit hits. It’s the best of both worlds: small volume for a lively initial stroke, large volume for linear, big-hit performance.

 

The RP3 rear shock is an early adaptation of what appears to be the next wave of platform damping adjustments: a three-position ProPedal lever with settings for climbing (3), trail riding (1), and descending (0). In terms of outright pedaling performance, this single-pivot design does benefit from ProPedal utilization. I only felt compelled to use ProPedal 3 on road climbs, spending a majority of my ride time in the ProPedal 1 setting. Only on long, chunky descents did I feel the need to use the fully open setting.

The high-end Slash 9 build kit is a smart mix of SRAM X0 brakes and X0 2×10 drivetrain parts with Bontrager wheels and cockpit. The RockShox Reverb Stealth seatpost provided slick dropper duties, and the internal hose routing was a blessing—I can’t wait for the Stealth routing to go market-wide later this year.

I’ve read reviews elsewhere complaining about the stock Bontrager XR4 tires, but these 2.35” tires worked well for me when inflated to 30- 35psi. They provided excellent traction in both wet and dry conditions and are a good match for the bike, in my opinion.

Trek bills the Slash as a “technical trail” bike, designed to be a capable climber that can rip technical singletrack on the way down.

Hop on the Slash and you’ll quickly notice how pedal-friendly the riding position is. It’s clear that Trek intends you to pedal this bike long and hard, with a neutral, efficient riding position. My size 18.5-inch test bike fit like a glove right out of the box, and I really dug the width (750mm) and sweep (9-degrees) of the Bontrager Rhythm Pro handlebar. The wide and relatively low handlebar increases reach in spite of the relatively short (586mm) top tube.

On the trail the Slash proved to be a willing partner in all sorts of terrain. The slack angles and long wheelbase provide stability that coddles you with a sense of security, while somehow never managing to seem unwieldy. Quite the contrary, I found the Slash to have a very snappy ride thanks to the superb suspension feel and light-for-a- 160mm-bike nature.

With such a neutral position on the bike and average-length chain- stays (434mm), steep and technical climbing requires a moderate amount of body English to keep the front wheel on the ground. These characteristics also helped to keep wheel flop in check while climbing.

Of course, with 160mm of travel, the Slash certainly enjoys being pointed downhill. The long wheelbase and slack angles provide heaps of stability and a composed ride when things get ugly. Not surprisingly, the nearly DH head angle encourages a committed lean into tight corners— slam that Reverb and crank it over!

The Fox 36 TALAS FIT RLC absorbs small and large hits with the control we’ve come to expect from Fox. This fork is a great performer but is slightly outclassed by the positively stellar small-bump response of the rear suspension. I personally found little value in the TALAS functionality on this bike, as I felt the drop to 120mm was too drastic. Had it dropped to 140mm I might have used it more, but frankly, I’d rather have a Float and save some money.

Balanced chassis design delivers a bike that’s nearly too good to be true. I’m still amazed by this bike’s ability to balance nearly DH bike descending capabilities with responsive, trail bike pedaling performance.

Trek’s Mino Link, located on the rocker arm, adjusts the head angle and bottom bracket height. Riders can choose between a steep and high (66-degrees/368mm) or slack and low (65.5-degrees/360mm) setting. I preferred the slacker setting and would love to see a lower bottom bracket height for both settings, something like 66-degrees at 360mm and 65.5-degrees at 353mm.

I’m extremely impressed with the Slash. This is one of the only test bikes I’ve ridden that has satisfied my needs without swapping a single part. It’s a highly refined package that delivers burly performance in a capable, all-around chassis. While I feel the Slash would hold up to bike park abuse, it’s a bike that’s designed to earn its turns. The Slash is well-suited for enduro and super-D racing.

No matter how you slice it, $5,880 is a lot of money, but I do feel this bike delivers the performance to back up the price tag. This model will carry over as-is to 2013. Riders looking for a supremely competent all-mountain bike should check out the Slash. There’s been a lot of buzz about the Slash this year, and my experience supports the notion that this is one hell of a bike.

Vital stats

  • Price $5,880
  • Made in Taiwan
  • Wheelbase: 45.8-inches, 1,163mm or 45.7-inches, 1,161mm
  • Head Angle: 66 or 66.5 degrees
  • Seat Tube Angle: 71.9 or 72.4 degrees
  • Bottom Bracket height: 14.2 inches, 360mm or 14.5 inches, 368mm
  • Chainstay Length: 17.1 inches, 435mm or 17 inches, 433mm
  • Weight: 30.3lbs., 13.7kg
  • Sizes available: 15.5", 17.5", 18.5" (tested), 19.5", 21.5"
  • Specs based on size tested

2012 gift guide and staff picks – Justin’s picks

By the Dirt Rag staff

This is our first attempt at a holiday gift guide, and, in typical Dirt Rag fashion, we had to do it our way. We’ll share a dirty little secret with you: most magazines’ gift/buyer’s guides are not created based on the recommendations of riders, but by the wants and desires of advertisers.

That’s not how we roll. Instead, we asked each staffer to select two items that they had experience with and would wholeheartedly recommend to fellow a mountain biker. Real riders, honest recommendations, realistic prices—the way it should be.

Each day we’ll be sharing a different staffer’s choices for their favorite gear of the year. Today’s picks are from General Manager and Photographer Justin Steiner. 

Wingnut Packs – $65 to $245

Wingnut’s Hyper 3.0 pack is my go-to pack when I’m not testing something else, and the same can be said for nearly half the Dirt Rag staff. My love for Wingnut revolves around their Low Rider pack positioning, which places the packs weight on low on your hips, rather than high on your shoulders. If that isn’t enough, they’re made in the US from quality, waterproof sailcloth. 

www.wingnutgear.com

RxGoggle – $145

RxGoggle’s optical docking vision correction system is by far the best solution I’ve found for goggle wearers. From my experience, contacts dry out, while wearing glasses and goggle is pain in the ass—not to mention the risk of breaking your glasses in a crash. RxGoggle’s offers adapter to fit most major goggle brands. $145 gets you the adapter with your prescription lenses installed. When it’s time to update your prescription, send in you old lenses and adapter and the new setup costs just $100. Made in the USA.

www.888rxgoggles.com

2×2 Moto Rack – $298

When I reviewed 2×2’s Motorcycle Bike Rack just last issue, I fell in love with the ability to combine pedaling and motoring. This US-made, off-the-shelf solution is the perfect gift for the two-wheeled junkie in your household. Can be fit to nearly any make and model of moto without permanent modification. 2×2 also sells a golf bag rack so you can carry your clubs on two wheels too.

2x2cycles.com

Pelican 1015 Micro Case – $22

Sure, you can keep your fancy smartphone dry inside a plastic baggy, but I’ve always been worried about crushing mine in a crash. Pelican’s 1015 case offers me the peace of mind that it’ll keep my phone dry and in one piece. I’m able to put my phone, small money clip, and car key inside all at once. It’s a nice stocking stuffer that might just save hundreds of dollars in the right situation. Pelican also offers the i1015, which offers a water resistant external headphone jack for $40. Molded and assembled in the US. 

www.pelican.com

Cartecay Bike Shop Changing Kilts – $70

A changing kilt may seem like a strange Holiday gift, but consider just how many pasty-white bum sightings you’ll be sparing. We discovered Terry Palmeri’s changing kilts on our Georgia two years ago, read that story in issue #149. Palmeri hand makes all her kilts out of 100 percent cotton flannel. Spending $70 for a kilt might seem steep, but you’ll get years of use out of it, and it’s a whole lot cheaper than a fine for indecent exposure. I’m at a loss when I forget to pack my Palmeri kilt. Handmade in the USA. 

www.cartecaybikes.com

The North Face Indylite Jacket – $99

The North Face’s Indylite Jacket is made of 2.5-layer HyVent mini-ripstop material, which has a wonderfully light feel. This jacket is said to be water-resistant, but turns away water better than anything I’ve worn lately. With it’s mesh underarm panels and cape vent back panel, the Indylite wears very light, indeed. Perhaps best of all, this jacket zips into its own back pocket for storage—just toss the tiny-for-a-jacket bundle in your pack for a rainy day. This one is well worth the asking price.

www.thenorthface.com
 


Dirt Rag’s first Impression: Yeti SB-95

By Justin Steiner,

Our review of Yeti’s much anticipated, and subsequently revered, SB-95 has traveled a rocky trail to fruition. First, we intended to do a head-to-head comparison with the SB-66 like we had with Specialized’s Stumpjumper 29 and 26.  

Unfortunately, it didn’t work out as planned. When our SB-95 tester arrived, yours truly was “forced” to ride my first 29er since the Jones Diamond frame back in late 2011. Prior to that, my last full suspension 29er was Niner’s WFO 9 in late 2009, early 2010. It’s been a while.

That’s a long-winded way of explaining that my riding has evolved to a more gravity-inspired style over recent years. I’ve been enjoying the fun, playful nature of my recent string of 150mm+ travel 26-inch test bikes, and have to say I wasn’t thrilled to switch back over to “wagon wheels.” I use that term in jest, as I do fully see the value of the various wheel sizes depending on a rider’s style, terrain, and physical size.

Enough already, let’s talk about the bike. The SB-95 is one of a growing group of “new school” 29er trail bikes with more suspension travel and slacker, more rugged trail bike geometry. This 127mm (5”) travel frame can be paired with either a 130mm-travel RockShox Revelation or a Fox 34 CTD set to 120mm of travel out of the box. The beauty of the Fox 34 is its ability to increase to 140mm of travel with the removal of an internal spacer. With the fork set to 120mm, the SB’s headtube angle sits at 68.5-degrees. At 140mm, it slackens to 67.6-degrees.

From the beginning, Yeti’s approach to the geometry of the SB-bikes intrigued me. The SB-66 is designed with longer-than-average top tube lengths to accompany shorter-than-average stems. However the SB-95 offers shorter top tube lengths with longer stems. For instance, the size small SB-66 I tested has the exact same top tube length as my size medium SB-95 (given the choice, I would have tested a medium of both). The end result, and I’m guessing one of Yeti’s key design ideals, is very similar wheelbase measurements size-for-size.

Though the wheelbase measurements may be very similar, the ratio of front-center to rear-center lengths goes a long way toward explaining handling differences. The SB-66 has shorter chainstays coupled to a longer front-center, while the SB-95 has a shorter front-center teamed with longer chainstays. As expected, the SB-66 lofts it’s front wheel with less effort and offers a touch more stability descending steep terrain. The SB-95 handles with a bit more traditional “steering” feel, requiring a less committed lean into corners, while the larger wheels provide ample stability. The SB-95 rolls through rough terrain with less effort, but requires more effort when trials-style moves are required. Everything has a trade off.

Overall, the SB-66 handles with a bit more gravity influence while the SB-95 feels comparatively XC inspired—exactly what the suspension travel suggests. In my opinion, Yeti really nailed the geometry on both of these bikes, given their intended use.

Like the SB-66 I recently reviewed, the SB-95 utilizes the Sotto Group’s Switch suspension design, which employs an eccentric lower link. This eccentric lower link provides snappy pedaling thanks to healthy anti-squat characteristics during the initial stroke, as well as a plush, controlled end of stroke as the eccentric “switches” directions.

Out on the trail, the SB-95 handles rough terrain quite capably, rolling through chunky rock sections with little effort required of the rider. In general, it begs to be ridden hard, as its capable geometry and suspension comes alive as speed increases.

After swapping the fork to the 140mm-travel mode, I personally dug the SB-95’s ride even more. The slacker angles provide a touch more stability and a little bit more carve when turning. If you’re running the 34 fork, you’re carrying that extra 20mm around regardless. Might as well put it to good use.

Thus far in the test, the Yeti has gone a long way toward reinstating my confidence in 29-inch wheeled bikes. It’s much more fun and capable than XC-ish 29ers, while offering an efficient pedaling platform. For the time being, I’d personally opt for the SB-66 thanks to its more playful nature, but can’t help but wonder how awesome an SB-27.5 might be…

Look for the full review in an upcoming issue of Dirt Rag. Subscribe today to have that issue delivered directly to your mailbox.


Interbike 2012 Dispatch: More 650b forks from X-Fusion, Suntour, and Formula

By Justin Steiner

If there’s one thing Interbike 2012 has shown us, it’s that 650b is here to stay. Ironically, on the plane flight home from Interbike, a fellow asked me if 29ers were here to stay. With much disbelief this dude was shocked to hear yet another wheel size is in the works and certainly looks poised to stay the course.

In addition to the 34mm-chassis, 160mm-travel offering from Fox and the 32mm-chassis SID, Reba and Revelation forks, varying in travel from 120-150mm, from RockShox, we spied three other manufacturers showing support for the tweener wheel size.

X-Fusion

We saw X-Fusion’s 2013 lineup earlier this year and you can read our ride impressions here.

In terms of 650b forks, X-Fusion will be offering two models for 2013; the Velvet with 32mm stanchions and the Slant with 34mm stanchions.

 

The burlier Slant, will be offered in a 160mm version, adjustable internally to 150mm and 140mm, or a 120mm option that can be internally swapped to 100mm. These forks are said to weigh 4.2 lbs and 4 lbs respectively. Both versions will be offered in tapered or straight steerer versions with 15mm thru axles. Unlike the demos pictured here, all X-Fusion forks will include the Gold Slick Ano stanchion coating for 2013. Look for the Slant to retail for $625 to $800 depending on model and damper selected.

With 32mm stanchions the Velvet chassis, is targeting the XC and Trail end of the spectrum by offering a 130mm-travel fork that can be internally adjusted down to 120mm, 100mm, or even 80mm. Both a tapered and straight steerer versions will be offered, and buyers will have their choice of 9mm QR or 15mm thru axle dropouts. The Velvet will weigh in at 3.8 lbs. Price range will be similar: $625-$800.

Another interesting bit in the X-Fusion booth is this 160mm-travel, 4.2 lbs., inverted fork. As of now, it is simply a design exercise; X-Fusion has no plans to bring it to production as of yet. According to X-Fusion, they’ve employed some new technology to keep the lowers from twisting. We’ll have to wait and see on this one.

SR Suntour

SR Suntour is also fully embracing the 27.5/650b wheel size with two models; the Axon Werx and the Epicon. In fact, both of these models will be available in 26-inch, 650b and 29-inch options. Axon Werx 26-inch and 650b forks will be internally adjustable between 100mm and 120mm of travel while the 29er fork offers 80mm to 100mm adjustability. Epicon forks will vary between 100mm, 120mm and 140mm depending on wheel size.

The Axon Werx, pictured above, and Epicon share the same stanchions, crown, and steerer tube. The difference is the Epicon has magnesium lowers while the Axon Werx employs carbon fiber and magnesium lowers to save about 65g. Axon Werx forks offer a remote lockout with adjustable rebound and compression damping. Expect the Axon Werx forks to retail in the $1,000 price range while Epicon forks will retail from $400 to $700 depending on damping and travel adjust options.

In non-650b related news, SR Suntour was showing prototypes of a 37mm-stanchioned dual crown called the Rux RC2. The RC2 damper will, as the name suggests, offer rebound as well as high- and low-speed compression damping. As you can see from the photos, the Rux will utilize a tool-free axle system.

 

Retail price has not yet been announced. I’m certainly stoked to see some competition in the dual crown market.

Formula

Last year Forumla showed us the “33” fork with 33mm stanchions. This year they brought out the 35mm stanchions of the, wait for it…, “35”. Though many final production details need to be worked out, the basic parameters have been established. A 650b model will offer internally adjustable travel between 120mm and 160mm while the 29” version will offer 100mm to 140mm of travel. Get this: there are no current plans to offer a 26” version. 

 


Interbike 2012 Dispatch: Niner unveils RIP 9 RDO

By Justin Steiner

Niner continues to expand Race Day Optimized (RDO) carbon technology through its bike lineup. For 2013, it’s the RIP 9 that’ll receive the RDO treatment. This Rally Blue beauty offers 125mm of Constantly Varying Arc (CVA) suspension travel and is designed for use with 120mm- to 140mm-travel forks. Frame weight with shock is quoted at a reasonable 5.8 lbs. for a medium-sized frame.

Geometry numbers are consistent with Niner’s aluminum RIP 9, though with slightly shorter chainstays. Headtube angle will sit at 70.5 degrees with a 120mm fork, while slackening out to 69.5 degrees with a 140mm fork. Chainstays will measure 17.7-inches, down from 17.9-inches on the aluminum RIP.

The RIP 9 RDO frame offers all the standards you’d expect: 142.x12mm rear axle, tapered headtube, ISCG mounts, dropper post routing, as well as internal cable routing. The beautiful carbon rocker and lower links both rotate around oversized angular contact bearings. I really dig the aluminum “skid plate” mounted under the carbon lower link for protection. It gives the RIP of bit of a Moto vibe.

Excpect the RIP 9 RDO to be available March 1 at $2,900 for frame and FOX CTD shock or $3,550 for frame, shock and a paint-matched, 130mm-travel RockShox Revelation RT3. 

Flat Top alloy bars

Niner was also showing a new version of their Flat Top Alloy handlebar measuring 780mm in width, which will retail for $50.

Titanium cogs

For the blinglespeeders in the audience, Niner will be offering CNC-machined titanium cogs in 2013 for $130.


Interbike Dispatch: Syntace wheels, pedals, low ’29er’ stem

By Justin Steiner

W MX Wheelsets

If there’s one overarching theme to this year’s Interbike, it seems, to me, to be all about wheelsize choice. Manufacturers are presenting options to suit a rider’s terrain, intended use, and riding style. Syntace’s new wheelset offerings are a prime illustration of that theme. They’re offering light rims in four different widths from average to wide: 25mm, 30mm, 35mm, and 40mm (outer width). And, all four of these widths will be available in 26”, 27.5”, and 29” diameters. Not only that, but Syntace’s Hi-Torque MX hubs can be converted via end caps to any of the modern 135mm and 142mm axle stands, including traditional QR. 150mm and 157mm version of the rear hub are also available.

Syntace wanted to push the envelope of wide and light rims with this project, and they certainly seem to have met that goal. The W40 MX 29” wheelset is said to weight in at 1,872g with 32 spokes—that’s extremely light for such a wide rim. On the other extreme, the 28-spoke version of the W25 MX 26” wheelset is said to weigh just 1,295g.

Syntace’s Hi-Torque MX hubs utilize a ratcheting system that’s very similar in execution to DT Swiss’ Star Ratchet design, but utilizes four springs instead of two.

Pricing has not yet been finalized for the US market, but these high-end wheels will likely retail for $1,200 to $1,300.

NumberNine Titan Pedals

Syntace was also showing a new version of their NumberNine pedals; the NumberNine Titan. The CNC machined, concave body is a carry over from previous generations of the pedal, with the addition of a titanium spindle which drops weight by 30 percent—288g for a size medium.

Speaking of sizes, the NumberNine Titan comes in three sizes for various size feet: small, medium, and large. Each pedal spins on 4 cartridge bearings and comes with a 10-year warranty.

FlatForce Stem

Syntace’s new FlatForce stem is specifically designed to keep the handlebars low on 29ers, a problem for flexible elite racers and smaller folks. The negative angle is designed to keep the stem roughly horizontal, which is said to place the handlebars 12mm lower. 


Interbike 2012 Dispatch: Liteville’s innovative full-suspension bikes

By Justin Steiner,

Though Liteville may not be a household name in the US, it’s been going strong in Germany for years. For 2013, Liteville’s 301 and 601 frames will be coming stateside and distrubted by Syntace USA.

Liteville utilizes an interesting fit concept it calls “Scaled Sizing,” which shortens and lengthens a bike’s chainstays with each frame size—four to five different chainstay lengths in total, depending on model. For instance these Tuned Chainstay Lengths yield an extra small Liteville 301 with super short 405mm (15.9”) chainstays that will only accommodate a 24” rear wheel while a XXL can run 26” or 27.5” rear wheels. Along that same vein, varying sizes of front wheels can be used depending on desired fork travel; 26” wheels on the smaller bikes or 26”, 27.5”, and 29” front wheels on the bigger frame sizes.

Though this seemed like a strange concept to me at first, it makes a lot of sense to tailor wheel sizes within a specific model; select your desired bike, then choose which wheel size you are willing and able to run.

The 140mm-travel 301 offers a slack 66.5-degree headtube angle, a 13.5” bottom bracket height and 16.9” chainstays on a size medium—overall a pretty aggressive setup for a 140mm bike. A second set of suspension links can be purchase to increase wheel travel to 160mm as well. The 301 frame and shock will retail for $2,495.

Liteville’s burlier 601 offers 165mm or 190mm of suspension travel and is designed to be run with 160mm or 180mm single crown forks for all mountain and bike part/light duty DH use. In the 165mm-travel mode, a 222mm eye-to-eye shock is used, while a 240mm shock eye-to-eye shock damps the 195mm-travel mode. In addition to shock length, geometry can be adjusted by 1.5-degrees, from 65 to 66.5 degrees in the shorter travel mode or 64.3 to 65.5 degrees in the 190mm mode, via a multi-position upper shock mount. Frame and shock will sell for $2,999.

Both models utilize a Horst link pivot on the chainstays, which Liteville has been allowed to use thanks to Syntace’s close relationship with Specialized. Additionally, both frame utilize Syntace’s X-12 rear axle system as well as offing all the latest standards; tapered headtube and ISCG chainguide mounts. All Liteville bikes are covered by a 10-year warranty. Liteville is currently seeking dealers in the US, so do inquire at your LBS if you’re interested in Liteville’s bikes.
 


Interbike First Ride Impressions: Giant Trance X 29

By Justin Steiner, photos by Stephen Haynes

Despite being one of the many large manufacturers who were slow to adopt 29-inch wheels, Giant is now safely on the longer-travel 29er bandwagon. New for 2013 is the Trance X 29er, offering 5 inches of travel out back, paired with a 32mm-chassis, 120mm-travel fork out front. According to Giant, the Trance X 29 is aimed at the “epic” trail, enduro, and super D market.

We reviewed Giant’s 4-inch Anthem 29, its first foray into the 29er full-suspenion market, back in Issue #159, where Karl found the steep headtube angle and long chainstays to be a bit at odds with one another. According to Karl, “The bike has what I’d describe as “mullet” handling—clean and tight up front, and long and flowing in the rear. Thanks to its 71-degree head angle, the bike initiated turns quickly. However, due to the long chainstays, the rear wheel wasn’t always keen to follow the front’s lead.”

With the Trance X 29, Giant has shorted the chainstays to 17.8-inches and slackened the headtube angle to 69.5 degrees. With the low 12.5-inch bottom bracket, these changes made for much more balanced handling that’s stable enough to take advantage of the increased wheel travel.

With a headtube angle 1.5 degrees steeper and chainstays that are 0.3” longer than the Intense Spider 29 Comp I rode yesterday, this bike steers more quickly, but does require a touch more effort to loft the front wheel. Overall, the Trance X 29 felt like a quicker, snappier bike—thanks to the front end—while the Spider 29 Comp felt burlier and more capable when the going gets rough. The Giant will likely be a better bike for those looking for more of a marathon XC, or endurance trail bike and for those who enjoy snappy steering. One fringe benefit of the steeper headtube angle; you don’t have to work as hard to weight the front wheel while cornering as it’s closer to your center of mass.

Giant’s Maestro suspension system felt stellar, with great pedaling performance, and the ability to handle large hits with reasonable bottom out performance. I think the chassis and rear suspension are up to the task of handling a little more travel out front. For gnarly super D and Enduro racing, I’d love to try a 34mm-chassis, 140mm-travel fork up front. Granted, this would raise the BB a bit, but it would also slacken the headtube angle nicely. That said, I’m not certain of the aftermarket availability of a 1.5 to 1.25-inch tapered steerer fork in a 34mm chassis that’s compatible with Giant’s proprietary Over Drive 2 headtube. You’d likely have to swap headsets and run a standard taper fork. Be sure to do your homework on compatibility of parts prior to committing to that swap.

I walked away impressed the Trance X 29’s efficiency while pedaling, and its lively handling. Kudos to Giant for spec’ing the Contact Switch dropper post as standard. The Trance X 29 photographed here retails for $4,250 with the XT drivetrain and Giant’s new house-brand tubeless wheels.


Interbike first ride impressions: Intense Spider 29 Comp

By Justin Steiner,

The new Spider 29 Comp from Intense is the slightly longer-travel version of the original Spider 29. Though still intended for XC and trail use, the Spider Comp has been brought into the modern trail bike realm with a 68.5-degree headtube angle when equipped with a 120mm fork. The 17.5-inch chainstays, while not short, keep things reasonable out back. The low-ish 13.2-inch bottom bracket height will climb to 13.5-inches with a 140mm fork installed. With that same fork, the headtube angle slackens out to 67.5-degrees.

This 5.5 lbs. carbon frame offers internal cable routing, with internal tubing to ease cable instillation, and includes accommodations for a RockShox Reverb Stealth seatpost. Travel can be set to 4.5 or 5 inches, up from 4.25 to 4.75 inches on the original Spider. The G1 replaceable dropouts can be swapped to accommodate 135mm QR wheels or 142x12mm axle systems. For those looking to run a single ring setup, the new Spider offers ISCG mounts.

The Spider 29 Comp I rode today had a 32mm chassis, 130mm-travel fork installed that directly splits the difference between the numbers above. On the trail, the 45.25-inch wheelbase makes itself known in technical situations, but delivers stellar stability at speed—there’s always a trade-off.

It quickly became clear to me this bike would be ideal for covering large swaths of rough terrain with minimal effort expended manhandling your bike—just aim and keep on pedaling. If, on the other hand, you like a playful ride, stunting every possible feature, the Spider’s longer wheelbase and chainstays may require more effort than you’d prefer to expend.

Overall suspension quality felt excellent, with solid pedaling performance and stellar ability to absorb larger hits. That said, I’m not terribly excited about Fox’s Climb, Trail, Descent damper; I just don’t want to feel compelled to flip a lever every time I go up, down, or around. Particularly in the rolling setting of my demo ride, you’d be switching suspension settings every couple of minutes. That said, my ride was more than satisfactory leaving the suspension in the “Trail” setting, which dials in a touch of low speed damping to maintain chassis control.

The Spider 29 Comp seen here retails for $5,300, while an frame and shock retail for $2,300.

 


Interbike First Ride Impressions: Devinci Dixon and Atlas Carbon

By Justin Steiner,

The Devinci camp is in high spirits after taking home first and second place finishes at the final round of the World Cup Downhill circuit this past weekend in Hafjell, Norway. Winner Steve Smith took the victory aboard Devinci’s new Carbon Wilson SL, but that’s not the only carbon fiber bike Devinci is showing and demoing here at Interbike.

Dixon Carbon

Devinci’s 145mm travel Dixon may not be a new model, but this is our first look at the new version with a carbon front triangle and seatstays and aluminum chainstays. Combined, the carbon frame is said to be 350 grams (0.77 lbs.) lighter than the aluminum model.

The adjustable geometry is identical across the Dixon platform, regardless of frame material. The LO setting offers a 67-degree headtube angle, short 16.7” chainstays, and a low 13.6” bottom bracket height, while the HI position yields a 67.5-degree headtube angle and a 13.9” BB height. Chainstay length remains the same.

Like all manufacturers making the transition to carbon frame construction, Devinci is sourcing these new bike from Taiwan—the epicenter of all things carbon. All carbon frames offer a lifetime warranty, just like its aluminum counterparts.

I spent some time aboard the new-for-2013 Dixon RX model, the RX designating a build kit spec designed to appeal to more aggressive riders. The standard Dixon’s 32mm-chassis, 150mm-travel Fox fork has been swapped out for a 34mm-chassis, 160mm-travel TALAS version. Cockpit parts are swapped for a shorty stem, a much wider Truvtive BooBar, and a RockShox Reverb dropper post.

I walked way from my brief stint aboard the Dixon RX quite impressed. The shorter, wider cockpit and dropper post played to my preferences and gave the bike a burlier, more playful disposition.

Frame stiffness felt superb, making for a very planted and composed ride feel—even with the longer fork and cockpit facilitating additional punishment. Though lateral stiffness felt excellent, the carbon frame did feel like it was damping high frequency vibration admirably.

Handling-wise, the longer fork slacks the bike out just a touch to roughly a 66.5-degree headtube angle. This change also raises the BB slightly. The Dixon is very playful on its rear wheel, thanks to those short stays, manualling effortlessly and predictably.

This RX build will be available with the aluminum frame for $3,900 and with the carbon frame for $4,600.

Atlas Carbon

The Atlas, Devinci’s first 29er, was first released in 2011 as a 2012 model. For 2013, the Atlas will also be available in a carbon version with aluminum chainstays. Carbon materials have shed nearly 290 grams from the front triangle of this 110mm-travel machine.

Traditionally, the Atlas has been geared toward XC and marathon use, but, just like the Dixon, Devinci will be offering an RX version of the Altas with the same wide bars, short stem, and a long travel fork. This time the standard 32mm chassis, 100mm-travel fork is replaced with a 34mm chassis, 140mm-travel Fox Talas fork. 

The trails around Devinci’s Quebec headquarters are tight, so they placed a high priority on quick handling via short chainstays. At 16.9” the Atlas’ stays are some of the shortest available on a full suspension 29er. According to Devinci, this 110mm is the max travel that can be accommodated with such short chainstays.

I was unable to score a ride on an Atlas RX, pictured here in the alloy version, but was able to take a spin aboard the aluminum Atlas RC. This bike’s rear suspension feels wonderfully capable, more so than the 110mm might suggest. The geometry of the traditional Atlas spec, however, left me wanting for something slacker, though XC and marathon racers will feel right at home aboard this bike. When pushed hard, the otherwise capable bike overpowers the stock 100mm-travel fork quite quickly. I do feel the Atlas’ rear suspension is more than up to the task of handling the 140mm-travel fork of the RX spec. My guess is that trail riders will be thrilled with the Atlas RX.

With chainstays just 0.3” longer than the Dixon, the Atlas is more playful on the rear wheel than any other full suspension 29er I’ve ridden yet. Though still requiring more effort than its 26” brethren, the Atlas is playful for a 29er.

The aluminum Atlas RX will retail for $4,000, while the carbon RX will sell for $4,300.

A note about shock spec

Devinci will be specing RockShox Monarch shocks on the Dixon and Atlas this year as Fox will only be producing CTD shocks for OE spec in 2013. Due to the high placement of the main pivot of the Devinci Split Pivot design, Devinci felt the additional damping of the CTD rear shock was unnecessary. I have to concur, both the Atlas and the Dixon pedaled extremely well without additional platform damping.

Wilson Carbon

Well, we know this bike can win World Cup Races, so what else do you need to know? We didn’t have a chance to ride the Wilson, so these photos will have to tide you over until we’re able to get on in for long term review.

 

 


Race Report: Chomolungma Challenge at Snowshoe Mountain Resort, WV

By Justin Steiner and Eric McKeegan. Photos by Emily Walley and Philip Duncan.

This past weekend more than 100 racers lined up to test their mettle at Snowshoe Mountain Resort’s Chomolungma Challenge. This endurance downhill event challenged riders to race down nearly 30,000 vertical feet of elevation loss, which amounted to 20 runs down Snowshoe’s Western Territory—1,500 feet of loss with each run.

Racers could choose to tackle this event solo or as a member of a duo or four-person team. Race promoter Mike Baker was wise to segregate solo and team riders on two separate courses. Upon race start, solo riders tore down the natural terrain Pro DH trail, while team racers ripped the mostly flowly, bermed jump line consisting of Judi Chop, Ninja Bob, Ball ‘n Jack, and finally Powerline. At Noon, racers switched tracks to keep things interesting.

Dirt Rag staffers Jon, Eric, and myself rolled down to represent in the Solo category. We arrived Friday afternoon and rode a few practice runs in between weather holds due to storms in the vicinity. Fortunately for us, very little rain fell in the Snowshoe area to spoil the absolutely perfect trail conditions.

For Saturday’s race start, riders were organized in Snowshoe’s Village area at the top of the mountain via random number generation. With a shotgun start, we were off, ripping down through the village, and down the road to the trails. Despite the road section, things piled up quickly on trail, resulting in a somewhat frustrating first lap—that’s racing, however.

Everyone from the middle of the pack and back had to deal with pile-ups on trail, as there were simply too many people on trail to make passing productive. This first lap was the only time all day I experienced a line at the lift. Even then, I wasn’t waiting too long. That said, the race leaders were completing their second lap just as I was starting up the lift for the first time. Lesson learned; next year I’ll be hammering as far to the front as possible. Better start working on my sprint training…

By my second lap down the mountain, the pack had spread out far enough to allow for quite a bit of flow before catching other riders. Despite an amateurish crash on my third lap, it was easier than expected to tick off laps over on the Pro DH track, which offers nice flow through a variety of terrain. For the most part, the course held up amazingly well to the abuse, though some of the more flowy sections sprouted gnarly braking bumps after a few laps.

Going into this race we were uncertain how our bodies would hold up during 20 laps of abuse. For me the first 13 laps on the Pro DH course went well, with just some hand and wrist fatigue/pain creeping in around the 10-lap mark. After switching tracks to the longer and more pedaling intensive flow track, I started to fatigue quickly and my pace dropped significantly. Who knew you ride every berm from top to bottom by sitting your inside thigh on the seat? I didn’t, but quickly found it to be the easiest way down the mountain. There’s a relatively straight, blisteringly fast section of Ball ‘n Jack that’s littered with baby head rocks which was simply torturing my hands on the last handful of laps.

I have to admit to being mighty happy to finish my 20th lap, both because I could stop riding and because I came away nearly unscathed. I wish the same could be said for your intrepid Subscription Guy, Jon. Unfortunately, subscription customer service may be running just a bit slow for a few weeks while Jon’s arm heals. Check it out below. Yikes! Here’s to a speedy recovery, Jon!

With mostly cloudy skies and moderate temperatures, we couldn’t have asked for better conditions for this race. Everyone I spoke with was thrilled by how well organized and executed this entire event was. Many thanks go out to Baker and the rest of the Snowshoe crew for putting on such a wonderful event. As the pain of my sore muscles fades away, I’m pretty certain I’ll be back for next year’s race, which will certainly be bigger and better than this year.

Racing aside, the opportunity to spend that much quality time in the saddle was great for my riding. This race pushed me to become a better rider, and that’s all I can ask for from any event, really.

Tech Editor Eric McKeegan’s race report:

I thought I’d sworn off DH racing, I really only ride downhill for fun, a timed run usually takes the fun part out of it for me. The Chomolungma Challenge and its focus on endurance rather than outright speed changed my mind.

Considering the broken bones, hard crashes, and mechanicals I saw and heard about, my race was pretty uneventful. Other than loosing some skin off my knuckles in low speed collision with a tree I was crash-free, and a broken shift cable was the worst of my mechanical issues.

I probably lost a few places bandaging up my fingers and adjusting the derailleur limit screws to get my bike out of its hardest gear, but I wasn’t really there to race other riders, I was there to see if I could finish 20 laps.

After our three run practice session on Friday I was worried I’d be a mess by lap 15, but I ended up feeling great for most of the race. My hands started to cramp on the Pro DH side, but once we switched to the course with more flow I started to recover.

At this point my XC fitness (thanks Trans-Sylvania Epic!) came into play, allowing me to pedal, pump and jump my way past some obviously flagging competitors, moving up from my first lap second-from-last position.

The Dirt Rag pit area was well-equipped with food, tools, and spare parts, but other than a few bottles of water, a banana and a 3mm allen wrench I had little use for it. This was mostly because the neutral aid provided as we got on the lifts was awesome. Two pleasant ladies stationed there provided fluid and food hand-ups, and the 10-minute ride to the top was plenty of time to eat and drink.

After a few days my hands are still a little weak feeling, but over-all I feel great, both physically and mentally. I had fun and bumped my DH skills up a few notches. This may be the best 1st year event I’ve ever attended.

There aren’t many events like this in the country, and none that I’m aware of on the east coast. Trestle Bike Park is hosting the Red Bull Final Descent 12-hour race on Sept. 8th and Mountain Village Bike Park will be hosting the Fall Tilt Telluride 12-hour race on Oct. 6th.

Across the pond, there’s the Fort William Downhill Endurance 6-hour race, which went off in July this year—you’ll have to wait for the 2013 event. So, the Chomolungma is nicely positioned to become the go-to event for east coaster downhillers looking to go long. Don’t dally to register for next year, I’m guessing this race will fill up quickly.

 

 


Descending 30,000 feet at the Chomolungma Challenge

By Justin Steiner, photo courtesy of Snowshoe Mountain Bik Park

We’ve packed up the van and we’re on our way to the Chomolungma Challege – the race to descend nearly 30,000 vertical feet. That’s the height of Mount Everest, from which the event draws its name.

Snowshoe Mountain‘s western territory drops 1,500 feet with each run, meaning riders will be racing to complete 20 laps over a variety of terrain. Solo, two person, and four person team options are available, with solo and team riders confined to their own courses.

Course A will be Snowshoe’s challenging Pro DH track, while course B is the fast, jump-filled Ninja Bob to Ball ‘n Jack to Powerline. Racing will begin just after 8 a.m. tomorrow, with solo racers on track A, team racers on track B. At noon, racers will switch tracks for the remainder of the day.

I’ve been stoked about this race since the very day it was announced, and look forward to testing my fortitude over 20 runs. I’m sure it’ll be far more difficult than I’ve projected, but it’ll also be incredibly fun.

Snowshoe has outlined a bunch of prudent rules (.pdf) around the race, perhaps most interesting that riders must complete the race utilizing one bicycle frame. 

I sure hope I can hold it together for 20 laps!

Check back for a race report next week.

 

 


Tackling the Chomolungma Challenge – 30,000 feet of descending

By Justin Steiner, photo courtesy of Snowshoe Bike Park.

Snowshoe Bike Park announced final details for the Chomolungma Challege this week. This race to descend nearly 30,000 vertical feet—the height of Mount Everest, from which the event draws its name—is scheduled for Saturday, August 25.

Snowshoe’s western territory drops 1,500 feet with each run, meaning riders will be racing to complete 20 laps over a variety of terrain. Solo, two person, and four person team options are available, with solo and team riders on their own courses.

Course A will be Snowshoe’s challenging Pro DH track, while course B is the fast, jump-filled Ninja Bob to Ball ‘n Jack to Powerline. Racing will begin just after 8 a.m., with solo racers on track A, team racers on track B. At noon, racers will switch tracks for the remainder of the day.

I’ve been stoked about this race since the very day it was announced, and greatly look forward to testing my fortitude over 20 runs. I’m sure it’ll be far more difficult than I’ve projected, but it’ll also be incredibly fun.

Snowshoe has outlined a bunch of prudent rules around the race, perhaps most interesting that riders must complete the race utilizing one bicycle frame. 

Just 50 solo race entries (men and women), 25 Duo Teams, and 10 Quad Teams will be allowed to enter, so signup quickly or miss this opportunity to punish both bike and body! If the race itself isn’t enough for you, a cash purse of $7,000 might just do it.

I sure hope I can hold it together for 20 laps!

 


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