Dirt Rag Magazine

Karen Brooks

Karen Brooks

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

I try to think as little as possible, and listen to the birds.

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

ZERO. I drank a lifetime supply already, when I worked in a bike shop.

Complete this sentence: "My other bike is …"

Broom! Heh. No, more like a singlespeed mountain bike.

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

Eating: lots of chocolate, always. Drinking: the darkest, blackest, stoutest of beers I can find. Reading: too many magazines, not enough books. Fearing: the imminent collapse of society, the environment, Earth's magnetic field, etc. etc. It's a pleasant surprise to wake up and find things to be relatively normal!

Elvis or the Beatles?


Say something profound and meaningful in exactly seven words…

She sells sea shells by the seashore.

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

412.767.9910 x104

Smoke signal: two big puffs, one small

Email me

Review: 616 Fabrications fat frame complete


In the varied and ever-changing garden of bicycles, it seems that the fat bike corner is the latest area of flourishing growth, producing new ideas and iterations at a rapid pace. Two longtime mountain bike innovators—Aaron Joppe, former owner of Slingshot, and John Muenzenmeyer, former owner of Nukeproof—have been drawn into this bloom and are making interesting contributions with their relatively new company, 616 Fabrication.

The company name comes from the area code of western Michigan where they manufacture frames, forks and hubs at their own facility. They offer frames for fat bike, cyclocross and mountain builds, all made in high-end steel. Artistic touches, such as laser-cut seatstay bridges and custom-etched ID plates, further set these creations apart from the average mass-produced models, as does a classic paint job.

The first thing I and other staffers noticed about the Fat frame is its relatively steep 72 head tube angle. It also sports short-for-a-fat-bike 17.5-inch chainstays. Hub spacing is 135mm front and 170mm rear. It’s designed to ride light and nimbly over sand, snow and rock. Custom geometry is available to suit anyone’s taste, but for our tight turns and four seasons, the stock numbers suited me just fine.

Read our full review of the 616 Fat.

Lapierre brings new mountain bikes to US shores

By Karen Brooks

Lapierre is a storied French brand that has been making bicycles since 1946. Last year it debuted an electronically controlled suspension system in Europe, for 2014 that system, called Ei, will be available in the States on a trio of bikes: the Spicy and Zesty 27.5-wheeled trail bikes, and the XR 29er for cross country.

These bikes were so eagerly anticipated that it was tough to get a good look at them, let alone a ride. But I managed to snag one for a run down several trails at Deer Valley and shoot another between demo sessions.

Both the Spicy and Zesty AM (pictured here) were redesigned with input from no less than Nicolas Vouilloz, the enduro racer, former WRC rally car driver and 10-time (yes, 10) UCI downhill world champion.

The biggest change is the move from 26 to 27.5 wheels. The Spicy is the enduro specialist, with 150mm of rear travel and 160mm up front, while the Zesty has 150mm travel all around. (There is also a Zesty Trail version with 120mm of travel on 29-inch wheels.)

So, about all those wires… basically, the EI system activates the platform switch on your rear shock for you. It operates on a combination of sensors that feed into a computer which controls a servo motor mounted to the RockShox Monarch RT3 shock to change between Floodgate compression settings: open, platform, and closed.

There are accelerometers on the fork and in the headset top cap that detect the size of the bumps you’re hitting, and a cadence sensor in the crank to tell the system when you’re pedaling.

A small display on the handlebar gives some basic cycle-computer functions, and also switches between five sensitivity settings and turns the system on or off.

In general, pedaling and no bumps at the fork means the rear shock is locked out, while combinations of bumps and pedaling cause the system to choose between platform and wide open, depending on what it senses. Reaction time is only 0.1 second.

I got a chance to ride two new Lapierre bikes, a Spicy with the Ei and a Zesty AM without it. Both bikes were a helluva lot of fun, and seemingly tailor-made for Deer Valley’s extensive network of lift-serviced trails—lots of turns and some rocks, with loose sections and occasional sand traps of deep powdery soil. (Just like the snow!) Very enduro-like.

So what difference did the Ei system make? The Lapierre folks said, and in my case it was true, that many people neglect to use their platform switches and just leave the shock open or in platform mode. I did this with the non-Ei Zesty and still had fun, even if I worked much harder to climb the short uphills in the thin air.

But the Ei-equipped Spicy was certainly busy as I rode the same set of trails, clicking and whirring as it did its stuff. I can say that it did improve the ride, making the rear end more plush when the trail turned chunky or stiffen up when I hit the fire road climb.

However, it remains to be seen whether this fancy electronic system does as good a job with automatically changing the suspension feel as a mechanical system, such as a dw-link, would. I also wonder how all those wires, and the battery, will fare in a rainy, muddy climate. But of course, that’s why we test things.

Some stats:


  • Available in Team or 527 models
  • Head tube angle 66.5, seat tube angle 73.5, bottom bracket drop 10mm, chainstay length 430mm (same length as the previous 26-wheeled version)
  • Carbon frame with an aluminum swingarm
  • Replaceable down tube/BB protector
  • Internal cable routing for shifters, brakes and dropper post
  • 142x12mm thru-axle, ISCG05 tabs


  • Available in five models
  • Same frame as Spicy but with 150mm fork instead of 160mm (67 head tube angle, 74 seat tube angle)
  • Rear shock settings are slightly stiffer than on Spicy
  • Carbon frame with an aluminum swingarm
  • Replaceable down tube/BB protector
  • Internal cable routing for shifters, brakes and dropper post
  • 142x12mm thru-axle, ISCG05 tabs

Pivot gets in the 27.5 game with new Mach 6 and LES hardtail

By Karen Brooks and Adam Newman

Mach 6

Pivot showed off three new bikes at their DealerCamp oasis. First off: the highly anticipated Mach 6.

We’re at a point in mountain bike history when factors are converging to create a fresh bloom of creativity—namely, the enduro racing scene and the 27.5 wheel size. Pivot’s been working on a bike that takes advantage of “Goldilocks” wheels to dominate this new form of racing.

The Mach 6 has 6.1 inches (155mm) of dw-link travel with a new upper linkage design that allows maximum tuning flexibility. Chris Cocalis, the mad genius behind Pivot, said that they aimed to make a bike “that can descend like a full downhill machine and climb like an XC race bike.” Ambitious, yes, but it’s a bike that looks like it can deliver.

Some pertinent numbers: head tube angle is 66 degrees, bottom bracket is 13.6 inches high, and the chainstays are 17 inches (16.929” to be exact)—in short, low and aggressive.

The new upper linkage has a wishbone-shaped piece that goes from the shock around the seat tube, and short, almost hidden links that connect its two rearward pivots to the seatstays. There are bearings with offset races rather than bushings behind those big silver covers, to eliminate play and provide the smoothest travel possible. A custom-tuned Float X CTD or Float shock will provide the cushion.

As with other Pivot bikes, the finish and fittings are impeccable. For instance, the lower drive-side pivot points are inset to clear a front derailleur, but if you choose not to use one, a nifty plate covers the mounting point. The shift and dropper post cables are routed internally, and rubberized bits protect the lower down tube and drive-side chainstay.

Prices for the Mach 6 will depend on build kit, but will range from $4,700 to $7,600, and frames will go for $3,000.


Key features

  • 6.1” (155mm) travel next-generation dw-link suspension design with position-sensitive anti-squat that pedals, accelerates and handles like nothing else for aggressive trail riding conditions.
  • All new upper linkage design provides additional control over the suspension curve.
  • This new Mach 6 linkage design also eliminates the rear shock bushing; replacing it with two large Enduro max cartridge bearings resulting in a substantial improvement in small to mid size bump compliance and better traction in all conditions. It is also compatible with most shocks in the marketplace so it does not require a proprietary shock design.
  • The new Mach 6 linkage design was one of the keys to achieving short (even for 26-inch wheels) 430mm chainstays (16.9 inches) and 155mm of rear travel while clearing 27.5×2.35 tires.
  • Pivot-exclusive hollow box, high-compression internal molding technology allows for greater compaction and smoother internal walls resulting in a lighter, stronger, highly optimized frame design with the best stiffness to weight ratio in the class.
  • Pivot-specific, custom tuned Fox Float or Float X CTD shock technology: Increased performance and adjustment range allows riders to quickly and easily adjust for changing course or ride conditions.
  • Internal top tube shift cable routing and down tube dropper seat post routing keeps cables clean and running smooth.
  • Rubberized leather chainstay, inner seat stay, and down tube protectors for a quiet ride and higher impact resistance.
  • 142×12 thru-axle, ISCG-05 tabs, Press Fit 92 bottom bracket, direct mount front derailleur, post mount brake tabs. 

LES 27.5

We reviewed the 29er version of the LES (pivotles, get it?) in Issue #170 and fell in love with its high performance. The 27.5 version offers the same package with, you guessed it, 27.5-inch wheels. Building a bike under 20 lbs. is now within reach, and smaller riders can get on board with the Small and XS sizes. 


The LES 27.5 will share most features with its larger-wheeled sibling, including full carbon construction, internal cable routing, 142×12 thru-axle, and the chainstays are just 16.77 inches. 



This was another bike that looked ready to dominate races, the short but painful CX kind or the long-distance gravel kind. This carbon wonder is built with “longer, slacker, lower” geometry than a typical CX bike. So, very much the same as other gravel-specific bikes, but in the high-end, sharply finished fashion we’ve come to expect from Pivot.


The dropouts come stock set for 135mm spacing, but have removable inserts to convert to 130mm.


The bike can also swap easily between discs or cantis, with more clean fittings to cover evidence of either one you’re not using.

The full-carbon fork was carefully designed to offer a bit of compliance but without chatter. There’s a lot of room for tires in there, both front and back.

The full build offering will have Ultegra 11, TRP HY-RD disc brakes and Stan’s wheels for $3,599. Frames will go for $2,299.


Salsa unveils carbon Beargrease fat bike and updates Fargo

By Karen Brooks

Between their excursions to “adventure by bike,” the folks at Salsa have been busy making improvements to their stable. We recently covered the 2014 Horsethief and Spearfish, which both got the Split Pivot treatment. At SaddleDrive in Snowbasin, Utah, they also unveiled a host of other changes to the 2014 model lineup.


First up is a bike that is truly fat, yet weighs less than its brethren: the Beargrease Carbon.

The geometry has been tweaked to essentially “feel more like a mountain bike” and also shift the rider’s weight rearward, via shorter chainstays and a new Whiteout carbon fat fork with 51mm offset. Salsa says this also serves to get a better steering response in snow, keeping the front wheel from pushing sideways and allowing it to be guided around a turn.

It will come in an XX1 or X9 versions. The XX1 is pictured here, with sweet graphics in bright green on matte black. It will also sport the Alternator dropouts (pictured below with the Fargo). The Beargrease’s path is diverging further from that of the Mukluk — becoming even more of a dedicated snow racer, while the Mukluk is for exploring at your own pace.

Mike Riemer, Salsa’s marketing manager, let it be known that the bike is suspension-corrected for a 100mm travel, 51mm offset suspension fork for fat wheels, something that doesn’t exist — yet. A full-suspension version could also possibly appear someday…

The complete bike weighs around 26lbs., pretty darn light for something that looks so… substantial. I got a chance to ride it a bit on singletrack, and really appreciated its weight savings over other fat bikes — between that and its improved handling, it felt kind of like it was filled with helium. If I had one, I’d love to set it up tubeless for ultimate float.


Next is a bike that started with a cool concept and just keeps getting better: the Fargo. The new version looks and feels like a cohesive package.

The Alternator dropouts are a rocking type that give 17mm fore-aft adjustment. Different plates will be available to accept a standard quick-release, 142x12mm thru-axles, or Rohloff hubs, and also for dedicated singlespeeding. Note that the non-drive side has just two bolts—the top one is also one of the brake caliper bolts.


The fork is a new carbon one, called the Firestarter, and the frame is corrected for a 100mm suspension fork.


The Woodchipper handlebars felt natural and right on this bike, as did the Cane Creek Thudbuster seatpost. I didn’t get to ride it nearly as much as I wanted to (right on across the state and beyond), but the little bit of dirt and gravel I did experience left me impressed.


First look: New mountain and adventure bikes from Surly

By Karen Brooks

The first day of Saddledrive—a dealer and media-only event put on by distributor Quality Bicycle Producuts—the whistle sounded (yes, really) and eager attendees stampeded toward the line of waiting demo bikes in a grassy area at Snowbasin Resort in Utah. Among those were some surprise new models from Surly.


First off, the Surly bikes. (drumroll please…) They’ve finally put disc brake mounts on a Cross Check-style steel cyclocross bike! Cleverly enough, it’s called the Straggler.

It comes in a sparkly purple paint job to call attention to how awesome it is. It will have slightly different geometry from the Cross Check—a tad lower bottom bracket drop, and a tad longer head tube for sizes 54cm and up. The size run is also spread out evenly in 2cm increments, with a 64cm largest size added.

The dropouts have an interesting two-stage opening—an angled slot makes a bend to a horizontal run of about 17mm. This is so that the wheel will drop out normally given the disc brakes, but then can be adjusted horizontally for singlespeed use or to lengthen the wheelbase for touring. There are rear-facing set screws, and threaded holes to flip them forward for horizontal use. Here is a helpful napkin drawing by Adam Sholtes, Surly’s product manager:

The rear brake caliper is bolted to slots for corresponding horizontal adjustment.

Note the tires—those are a new 700×41 Knard tread that will come stock on complete bikes and is sure to be popular on all sorts of other multi-purpose ‘cross bikes. They did well on the loose rock and powdery soil at Snowbasin.

The bike also comes stock with the Salsa Cowbell 2 bar, a favorite of mine, and one that proved to be popular on other SaddleDrive bikes. This was a fun bike to ride all around the area— trails, gravel road and parking lot.


Next up is the ECR— something that the Surly dudes had in mind during the process of designing the Krampus. Basically, it’s a bikepacking Krampus, with more touring-friendly geometry and lots of braze-ons for all your backcountry needs.

What does “ECR” stand for? According to sales dude Trevor Clayton, there are about a hundred different iterations floating around the Surly office. A few of the shareable ones are “Enduro Camping Rig,” “Exit Cities Rapidly” and “Einstein Can’t Rap.”

It will come stock with a Jones loop bar. Jeff Jones himself worked with Surly to make the bar a little wider at the grip area, and it can be trimmed down to size. Surly also got Microshift to produce a special version of their thumbshifters that can be switched from index to friction shifting.

The dropouts are the same industrial-strength, multi-multi-purpose ones found on the Troll and Ogre, compatible with just about anything you can stick on the rear end of a bike.

Of course the bike is also festooned with tons of mounts.

It’s not a light bike, but is fun and capable on the dirt, with a more “settled-in” feeling than the Krampus and very suitable for long days spent exploring.


Lastly, we have the return of the notorious Instigator — re-imagined as a “26+ all-mountain hardtail.”

It’s built around a 140mm travel fork (a Fox 32 Float will be stock) and Rabbit Hole 50mm-wide rims with new Dirt Wizard 26”x2.75” tires. With that much volume, the true wheel diameter effectively becomes 27.5”.

It has a 142mm thru-axle rear and ISGC mounts for a chainguard. Who’d want a front derailleur on this, anyway?

On the trails this was a bike that definitely begged for starting trouble, but seemed more than capable of handling the results.

Stay tuned: we’ve got more coverage from Salsa Cycles coming. Check back tomorrow!  

First Impression: BMC Four-Stroke FS01 29

By Karen Brooks

Once again, I raced the Trans-Sylvania Epic seven-day mountain bike stage race in central Pennsylvania a few weeks ago. This “summer camp for mountain bikers” is one of the only races I put on my calendar in (digital) ink. It’s a ton of fun. It’s also a great opportunity to put a bike through its paces in rather extreme conditions— tons of rocks, distances of 25-45 miles a day, and a seriously fast pace (if one is trying to be serious, that is).

This year my test sled arrived just two days before we were to leave. I had time for one shakedown cruise on the rockiest trails I could conveniently get to, at Roaring Run in Apollo, Pa. Then it was off to the races.

Fortunately I happened to have chosen a good bike for the job, and one that proved to be popular among my fellow racers as well. Its XC-ish 100mm of travel front and rear is made more playful by a 70-degree head tube angle and a long top tube/short stem combo, and total weight for this carbon-framed beauty is well under 24lbs. BMC was also a sponsor of the TSE this year, and thus would be on hand to offer help, or even a replacement bike if things went totally sideways.

BMC’s APS virtual pivot point system delivered an excellent ride. I felt that it offered a distinct, and much appreciated, difference between the Fox CTD BV Factory shock’s three settings: Climb was fast and responsive for climbing, Descend was plush and controlled for the crazy, radical descents, and Trail was trail-gripping for the many rocky sections. Perfect. The bike even has a handy graphic on the top pivot for setting suspension sag.

The Fox 32 Float CTD FIT Performance fork, on the other hand, gave me some trouble. I aimed for about 20% sag initially, but at the low pressure necessary to get there, the fork was sluggish to rebound, even with rebound damping set full open. After a couple evenings of tinkering I remembered Fox’s handy smartphone app and gave that a shot. The result—more air and more rebound—did feel better, but I still didn’t get the butter-smooth plushness over the rocks that I got last year with the Lefty on the Cannondale Scalpel I tested then. I ended up leaving the CTD knob in Descend most of the time. Maybe I’m missing the Kashima coating that the shock has? More research and tinkering are needed.

As far as other parts go, the SRAM X0 drivetrain performed solidly. I can’t imagine dealing with a triple crankset in a race situation anymore. I swapped the stock Fizik Tundra saddle for my preferred Fizik Vesta, and installed Ergon grips, both choices to minimize pain over a week of jarring.

So how did the race go? Amazingly, for the second year in a row, I had no mechanicals and only a couple small crashes, nothing major. I’m still pissed at myself for missing the starting card-swipe for the enduro section on the Tussey Mountain trail on Stage 6, as that was probably my one and only shot at standing on the podium. An uphill enduro! With rocks! That’s my jam! AAARGH! But that’s racing. All in all, though, this year was extra fun and exciting since the Women’s Open field grew by leaps and bounds, and I had to keep my racing wits, and legs, about me through the final day. I earned my now-traditional 8th place, but it felt like a real victory. Shout-outs to my fellow female competitors for keeping the pressure on day after day.

Watch for my long-term review in an upcoming issue of Dirt Rag.

Wheelies, wine, and oh yeah… racing too!

By Karen Brooks

It’s 10:21 p.m. and I’m typing this at a rustic wooden table in the dining area of a Boy Scout cabin. My cabin-mates are chatting, drinking water (or beer) and snacking, discussing today’s racing (and shenanigans) and tomorrow’s stage. Someone says, “Aw, it sucks you guys have to work.” But then I remind them that I’m technically at work when we’re out on the trail, too.

This is the third year I’ve ridden in the Trans-Sylvania Epic—it’s always a work gig I’ll angle to get because I enjoy it so much. The setting is beautiful, the racing is difficult but fun, and the company is laid-back and friendly.

Last night there was a “ladies’ dance party” in our kitchen, fueled by wine from the local winery. This evening was the annual Wednesday-night Wheelie Contest (won by Gunnar Bergey), which turned into a derby (won by Derek Bissett) and then a limbo contest and also a skid contest (won by today’s singlespeed winner Dax Massey).

Oh yeah, and the racing. I feel pretty good, despite not being able to ride to Washinton D.C. and back this spring like last year. My BMC Fourstroke FS01 29 test bike seems to be the hot set-up for this year (more on that later), and experience is certainly helping. There have been some moments of actual back-and-forth dueling and strategy use between me and my closest competitors, which makes it more fun. I still seem to be stuck in my usual 8th place, but once again, most of the names ahead of me are actual paid professionals, so I don’t feel too bad about it. Most importantly, I’ve managed to keep the rubber side down so far.

Tomorrow is the notoriously technical stage at R.B. Winter State Park. It’s only 22 miles but contains enough rocks for twice that, plus a nearly mile-long crazy chute of a descent that’s more of a controlled fall. So I’d better get to bed and rest up.

Juli Furtado unveils new Juliana bikes built by Santa Cruz

By Karen Brooks. Photos courtesy of Santa Cruz.

One of the coolest parts of my job is getting to meet those athletes or personalities who have inspired me in my own struggles to be a better mountain biker. So when I got an email from mountain bike legend Juli Furtado—one of my heroes from way back in beginner days—inviting me to a press camp to introduce a new brand she’s spearheading, I stared at the computer screen for a while in amazement. Juli Furtado! Wow! 

In case you are not familiar, Juli Furtado earned legend status by absolutely dominating the XC (and sometimes DH) race circuit in the early-to-mid-90s. She was forced into an early retirement in 1997 after being diagnosed with the autoimmune disease lupus and has remained largely out of the spotlight ever since. Serendipity landed her in Santa Cruz, Calif., and she got a job organizing sponsorship for Santa Cruz, the bike company. She also inspired the very first women-specific mountain bike model, the Juliana, which has been steadily selling since its debut in 1999.

Now she has decided to step back into the spotlight with the debut of an entirely new brand of women’s mountain bikes bearing the same Juliana name. The bikes will be built using Santa Cruz’s proven designs and manufacturing, but Furtado herself has taken the reins to insist upon details that she considers important to giving women the “comfort, performance and beauty” they deserve.

“I want women to feel like queens on the bike,” she said. Fitting for the Queen of the Mountain herself to head up this project.

I was part of an all-female group of journalists who got to ride the new Juliana bikes in some primo locations around the company headquarters in Santa Cruz.

The Juliana line is made up of four bikes, all featuring signature components and smaller sizes designed to fit women better, plus graphics that are feminine without being girly. Each bike has three stylized icons on the top tube: a flame, a lotus flower and a wolf, symbolizing powerful, beautiful and natural, respectively. This may seem silly to some, but it’s just the kind of thing that could inspire me to keep truckin’ up some godawful climb, or find the cojones to tackle that nasty downhill. 

The most exciting model is the Furtado, a new flavor of bike that doesn’t yet exist in a Santa Cruz mens’—excuse me, "uni-sex"—model: a 27.5-wheeled trail bike with 125mm of Virtual Pivot Point travel.

Its geometry is designed for ruling the mountain just like its namesake. We rode the $5,999 Primeiro build kit, a carbon fiber frame decked out with Shimano XT brakes and drivetrain, plus a Fox 32 Float 130mm fork and Float rear shock, both sporting the silky-smooth Kashima coating. It’s also available in the Segundo kit, based on an aluminum frame, for $2,999. This was a rippin’ fast bike, perfect for shredding the famed Mailboxes trail, among others, at UC Santa Cruz.

The Furtado has nifty internal cable routing for a dropper post, which is included in the spec.

The Joplin, “Queen of Rocks and Roll,” is akin to the Santa Cruz Tallboy and also rocks VPP suspension. The Joplin’s top build kit mirrors the Furtado’s for $5,399, and it comes in two others built on aluminum frames, the Segundo for $3,099 and the Terco for $2,599. 

The original Santa Cruz Juliana has been updated and folded into the new brand as the Origin, a single-pivot model. Here it is in the “Persimmon” color that Furtado wanted to match the California poppies that grace the landscape around the town.

Not pictured, there’s also a Nevis aluminum hardtail offering starting at $1,650.

The Origin and Nevis feature 29-inch wheels for the medium and small sizes but 26-inch for the extra-small, to fit the suspension into the smaller geometry, plus crank lengths tailored to each size.

Juliana components, which will also be available aftermarket, are designed for comfort and fit for women. The highlight of the components is the Compact Mountain handlebars and grips, with a smaller diameter at the grip area. This combination made it easier to hang on and brake in more technical stuff, particularly the monster berms and rollers of the Flow Trail at Tamarancho State Park.


All Juliana models share geometry with Santa Cruz bikes—no women’s specific geometry, just smaller sizes. The real difference in this women’s line is the high-end emphasis, female-friendly interface parts spec, and a marketing effort that obviously treats women as serious riders. Is that enough to attract female customers? In my opinion, it will. The passion behind this brand is obvious, and with the design and marketing know-how of Santa Cruz behind the scenes, expect the to see plenty of fast ladies tearing it up on Julianas very soon.


NAHBS 2013 – Breadwinner Cycles

Portland framebuilders Ira Ryan, left, and Tony Pereira joined forces to create Breadwinner cycles.

By Karen Brooks

Covering NAHBS is always tough—just about every booth has a cool story and some nice shiny bits to attract attention. This one was a bit of a surprise: a name I hadn’t heard before, but one that I think will make a big impact. Breadwinner Cycles is the secret-until-yesterday project of framebuilders Tony Pereira and Ira Ryan.

Pereira and Ryan’s business plan is to bring handmade bikes down from the rarified air they tend to inhabit and make them more accessible and affordable for the general public. They’re collaborating on a complete line of bikes, available as frame and fork for $2,000-$2,300, with just a 6-8 week turnaround time. They’ll do complete builds as well. In the next six months they aim to secure and outfit a Portland location in which they can produce 1,000 bikes a year. Since their current shops are located close to one another, they’ve been able to begin producing some bikes already.

The example that stuck out was this 650b-wheeled city bike with a front rack, dubbed “Arbor Lodge.” Aside from the usual generator lights, Honjo fenders, and disc brakes, it has a U-lock integrated into the frame in a convenient, yet unobtrusive way. The rack bag is by Blaq Bags, and that white stripe along the bottom flashes blue.


Breadwinner also displayed a road racing bike, a cyclocross model, a mountain bike, and these two: a black classic road bike with fenders and good tire clearance and a brown touring bike with front and rear racks. Both had matching pumps, naturally.

While we were chatting, another of Portland’s well-known framebuilders, Joseph Ahearne, came up and joined the conversation. We talked about why Portland boasts so many framebuilders—I haven’t added it up, but a significant portion of NAHBS exhibitors hail from there, this year and most years. So I asked these three if there was something in the water. It comes down to the city’s bike-friendliness, said Pereira. Getting around by bike is easy and common there, and so inventive types tend naturally to gravitate toward the bicycle as a good platform for experimentation and improvement. It’s cool to think that as more cities make bikes feel welcome, we’ll no doubt see more innovation and creativity surrounding the bicycle in years to come.

NAHBS 2013 – Road bikes

By Karen Brooks

Sometimes you just want to imagine yourself sailing down a silky-smooth country road, wine and cheese in the bag, and sun shining… Here at the 2013 North American Handmade Bicycle Show there are plenty of classically beautiful road bikes to inspire just such a vision. Here are a few.

Shamrock Cycles Fluid Druid

Simply a traditional road frame with fender capability. Pretty fenders, too. I love the little Brooks tool roll on the back of the saddle.

Soulcraft Grasshopper

“Sort of halfway between a road bike and a cross bike with the ability to do both.” Has clearance for 32c tires and, of course, a nice matching rack.


This more modern, stealth Ti beauty showed off Shimano 11-speed Dura Ace parts. Builder Drew Guldalian says that the front derailleur shifts so well, thanks to its extra leverage, “you could shift it with a broken finger.”



This lovely midnight-blue bike was dressed in new-old stock Campagnolo Nuvo Record parts. I asked builder Chris Bishop where he soured such things, and he said he’d found a collector that was more interested in early 1900’s stuff to him, these Campy parts were new, so he let them go. The hubs were still in a sealed box.

The rear spacing is the very old-school 120mm (BIshop’s first build with this size), and the cogset has only five speeds—the customer wanted a simple bike to ride in a relatively flat place.


This builder was a surprise—former road and track pro Rich Gängl has been building and painting custom bikes in Colorado for 34 years, but hadn’t been seen at NAHBS before. He had a full lineup of beauties, including his personal titanium road bike with carbon fiber seatstay and fork.

There was also this classic randonneuring bike, built with a generator hub and (Of course) matching pump and fenders.

This rare 1985 Gängl is built of Reynolds 753 steel and had a way cool vintage saddle.

Gold Coast

This Gold Coast bike was waiting to be entered in the Best New Builder competition. The frame decoration is inspired by a stained-glass window made by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Coming up next

We’ll have more coming from NAHBS all weekend, and don’t forget to follow us on Instagram or Facebook to see more behind-the-scenes photos. 

NAHBS 2013 – City bikes

By Karen Brooks

Building a bike to be an everyday vehicle gives a lot of opportunities for creative framebuilders to add all kinds of amenities to their NAHBS show bikes. Here’s a few that have stood out so far.


This Donkelope caught my eye right away. Builder Greg calls it a steampunk bike. It has an actual bike lamp—yes, a lamp—from the early 1900s, retrofitted with a modern LED light inside. 

You’ll notice the curly bits to the left of the light—that’s stainless steel hydraulic housing making its roundabout way into the handlebar, then back out, then inside the frame. Pretty slick.

Here you can see the front housing entering the left fork leg, and the prettiest fender mounts I’ve seen.

Here’s the back end, with that housing peeking through before joining the rear brake, and another pretty fender mount. It’s tough to see here, but the paint was a sparkly black.


This Geekhouse Brentwood had a nice big front rack, generator lights, disc brakes, and a sweet old-school chainguard.


Metrofiets participated in the Disaster Relief Trials in Portland—read about that in issue #21, “Disaster Bikes.”

This bike had a vibe like an expensive car from a 1930s movie—refined, classy, and maybe a little intimidating. The dyed and embossed saddle is by artist Carson Leigh.


Here was a rando-ish practical looking bike from Sycip that had what is turning out to be a popular combination this year: a Roholoff 14-speed internal hub with a Gates belt drive.


Ti Cycles

This was one of the most interesting bikes I saw today—a monster of a cargo bike, with a serious motor to help push an insane load, from Portland builder Ti Cycles. It has a Shimano Alfine 11-speed internal hub plus a Patterson transmission crank, for 22 speeds total, in case you feel like pedaling.

What’s going on here? That’s the exposed EcoDrive motor and drive wheels. That sucker puts out 1300 watts. Builder Dave Levy said it was awesomely fast… unless you’re testing it indoors, at a crowded bike show… anyway, EcoDrive is also from Portland. Their Velociraptor controller for the system is programmable.


The front generator hub trickle-charges a battery—the black box just behind the headlight—which then powers the lights and a USB port. The front basket also has a solar-paneled cover (forgotten in the rush to get to the show, alas).


When you’re hauling that much of a load, you might need some moral support. Check out the stack of headset spacers, in alternating colors and with logos meticulously aligned.


Renold Yip returned this year with the third version of his complete city bike. This one is on loan from the customer, an employee of Bikes Belong, who rides it daily. This one goes as well as shows.

For this iteration, Yip integrated a cable lock as well as a ring lock, and that’s a pump tucked between the twin top tubes.


And the sunflower rack is as pretty as ever.

Coming up next

We’ll have more coming from NAHBS all weekend, with collections of fat bikes, road bikes, and some of the really wild and crazy show bikes. Stay tuned. 

And don’t forget to follow us on Instagram or Facebook to see more behind-the-scenes photos. 

First Impression: 616 Fatbike

By Karen Brooks

I’ve been wanting to try one of the latest crop of fatbikes for a while now. I got to ride the Surly Pugsley we tested for Dirt Rag oh so long ago, and it was a lot of fun, as was the Jones Spacebike with its fat front tire.

Now suddenly fatbikes are everywhere, and not just for sand or snow. I’ve seen a few people in my local park riding big huge tires on dry summer days. In fact, with the couple of fatbikes at DRHQ currently, we wanted to test the theory that they’re fun and capable for “normal” conditions. This 616 Fat arrived just in time to get a couple of “normal” rides before the local trails got mired in mud, and then…



So much for “normal.” We had such a mild winter last year that I think we thought we’d escape again. Anyway—fatbikes are good for snow.

616 gets its name from the area code in its home turf in western Michigan, where folks know a thing or two about harsh winter conditions. The founders of the brand are the two former owners of the Slingshot and Nukeproof companies—an interesting combination of old-school innovation. 616 makes its own frames and offer standard or custom geometry at no extra charge.

It even partners with another Michigan manufacturer to produce its own line of hubs, as well—and they’re injected with Morningstar Soup lubrican t, which is rated from -50 to 140 degrees F. Now that’s cool! What’s the point of a monster fatbike wheel that seizes up in deep cold?

That rear is a 170mm spacing, the front is 135mm. The rims are Snowcat from Alaska, 44mm wide, paired with 45NRTH’s Hüsker Dü tires. I love these tires. They have a good amount of knobs without being ridiculously heavy. Surely I’m not biased because of my love for the band of the same name:

The rims are on the narrow end of the fatbike spectrum, but for my weight and the local conditions, I wouldn’t want to go any wider.  

Tire pressure is crucial with a bike like this. Small differences in air pressure can make the difference between basketball-bouncing, squishing all over the place, and a Goldilocks perfect medium. I started out with 9psi, and have been going with 5.5psi in the front, 6psi in the rear lately. (Yes, that’s low, but keep in mind I weigh 120lbs.) 


At pressures this low, it’s necessary to use a digital gauge to get an accurate picture. As you can see, a typical pump gauge doesn’t even register. Fortunately I have an SKS digital gauge that seems to measure these low pressures just fine. I’ve thus far neglected to measure the pressure after a cold ride (10-20 degrees F) to see how it’s affected (PV=NRT and all that), but since the area of my house where this bike is stored is typically below freezing, the difference may not be too much.

(We’re going to experiment with converting the wheels to tubeless later in the week, so stay tuned for a post on that!)

The one really muddy ride I had was interesting. I went on some little-used old moto trails and had a great time, up until the point when the tires picked up a critical mass of half-frozen mud and leaves on the north side of a hill, at which point I experienced a sudden and complete loss of traction. It was pretty cool for a minute, seeing my back tire come around almost perpendicular to the front. Epic drift! But then the front went as well and I went sliding down the hillside, off the trail completely. Apparently one of the few drawbacks of fat tires is that you lose the ability to dig down into the soft stuff.

On the first snow ride, in a heavy, almost sandy 4-5 inches, I found myself wishing for XC skis instead, as it was tough to push the wide tires through the heavy white stuff. But the next day I took out the skis and it was no better. The bike is much happier in the fluffy stuff, which is fortunately what we’ve been getting lately. It’s also awesome over that rock-hard, choppy surface that results from a thaw-and-refreeze cycle, which we’ve also had a couple times in the last month. At times it feels like “hero dirt” with all that rubber to grip it.

Ivan approves, even if he doesn’t like standing around in the cold for photos. It’s tough work, being a model.

The 616 Fat is scheduled to appear in the #169 issue of Dirt Rag, hitting newsstands and mailboxes around April 2. Subscribe now and never miss an issue!

2012 gift guide and staff picks – Karen’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 for the next two weeks we’ll be sharing a different staffer’s choices for their favorite gear of the year. Today’s picks are from editor Karen Brooks. 

Platypus GravityWorks Water Filter – $110

A few staffers and I made the trek to Washington, D.C. this past spring via the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal rail-trails. We were traveling in the off-season, and thus the water wasn’t turned on yet at the camping spots, so we had to either buy or filter. We opted to save our money for beer and filter water with the GravityWorks. The filter was a good choice: lightweight and compact, simple to use (even after too many miles and in the dark), and trouble-free. I’d opt to carry one even on some one-day excursions in the backcountry, just in case. 


Emergen-C Electro Mix – $11 for a box of 30 packets

From the makers of the ubiquitous Emergen-C immune-boosting vitamins in fizzy drink form, this electrolyte supplement has been my cramp-preventing elixir for more than ten years. One packet gives a liter of water a pleasantly refreshing slight lime flavor. It can mask the taste of water from sketchy public sources, and the makers even claim that it turns chlorine residue into a more body-friendly compound (although I’m not clear on how the chemistry works). Hint for holiday parties: it’s also excellent hangover prevention—drink a full liter before crashing and you won’t be suffering so much the next morning. 


Review: Naked Loonie singlespeed

By Karen Brooks

You may know Sam Whittingham or his brand Naked Bicycles & Design by the award-winning bikes he’s shown at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show. Whittingham won the 2011 People’s Choice Award for an ultra-clean and minimalist singlespeed dubbed the Gentleman’s Scorcher. The Loonie 29er singlespeed Whittingham built for this test recently won the Best Mountain Bike award at the 2012 show, still caked mud from the many miles I put on it.

Like all good custom builders, Whittingham likes to find out as much as possible about the customer before designing and building a frame. Besides the detailed “How To Get Naked” instructions on his website and a brutally honest “Bike Picker” chart the process involves many conversations, measurements, and ideally a ride with Whittingham on his Quadra Island, British Columbia, trails. Since time was short we had to make do with some emails and phone calls. The result of these measurements and conversations is a stunning frame with tubing and geometry customized for my mountain biking bliss. Hell yeah!


Whittingham’s basic design is shaped by the gnarly technical terrain he likes to ride. His general philosophy on 29ers is short in the back for flick-ability, a bit long in the front to keep the wheelbase stable, and a fairly high bottom bracket to clear obstacles. All in all, he aims for a bike that “likes to play,” in a speed-trials sort of way.

My general wish was for a lightweight frame that is stiff enough to lay the power down. This particular Loonie is made from True Temper Platinum tubing, with butting profiles and wall thicknesses carefully chosen to balance comfort, light weight, and durability, tipping the scales slightly toward durability.

The chainstays measured at 416mm where the rocker dropouts were set. That’s certainly short, and the subtle curve of the oval seat tube helps tuck the rear wheel under the rider. The bottom bracket height is 323mm. The effective top tube of 614mm is on the long side for me, but when paired with an 80mm stem the cockpit felt just right.

In a technique Whittingham first tried on the Scorcher, the seatstays continue past the seat tube and are joined on either side of the top tube—no bridge required. Besides allowing more tire clearance, this configuration lends lateral stiffness to the rear end, along with the wide, BB92-specific bottom bracket shell mated with ovalized chainstays. Whittingham uses Nova brand chainstays, as he says they’re the only ones that are this wide but with thin walls. The front end is designed to give fairly neutral, but not sluggish, handling with a head angle of 71 degrees and trail measurement of 82mm.

Refreshingly, Whittingham doesn’t claim that the bow shape to his seat- stays is some kind of pseudo-suspension; it is mainly an aesthetic choice. He also cautions that the upward curve of the top tube is not for everyone—he has curved it the other way to provide more standover clearance for shorter or less experienced riders.

As you’d expect, the frame’s details reveal a high level of artistry. The frame’s bends are subtle yet striking. The elegant seat collar has two forward-facing slots to keep dirt out and provide even clamping pressure. This was my first use of Paragon Machine Works’ rocker-style dropouts and I dug ‘em—no slippage, easy to adjust. And then there’s the show-quality paint job: white, black and gold, with a bit of “foliage” detail.


The standard “Full Flow Single” build kit matches the frame aesthetically and functionally. This frame has a 44mm head tube, allowing for a 120mm Fox F29 RLC with a 15mm thru-axle. (I’ll go ahead and declare that 9mm quick-releases, especially for 29ers should become extinct.) The wheels are lightweight Industry Nine 29er Cross Country.

I must admit I didn’t think I’d be a good candidate for a custom frame, as I don’t have any unusual geometry requirements and can get along fine with stock sizes. I must also confess that I didn’t have great expectations for a steel frame, thinking from past experience that they are generally heavy and dull-feeling. But after riding this Naked, I now realize my error. The feel can most definitely be tuned with the right tubing selection for the rider’s weight and style, and this is plenty of justification for going custom.

The Naked feels light and lively in a way that I would have only expected from titanium, and perhaps even a bit more “springy,” in a good way, without the “whippiness” or weird feedback Ti frames can sometimes give. I’m well aware of steel’s reputation for feeling more “alive” than other frame materials, but until now, I’ve never experienced it for myself. The frame still holds up to singlespeed mashing just fine. It may not have that instantaneous leaping-forward feeling of carbon, but it also doesn’t rattle my bones in certain situations.

Whittingham’s favorite techy trails jive perfectly with the rocky stuff we have around here. This was a bike that liked to leap up and flow down, meant to aggressively tackle big rocks and leap over logs with deer-like agility. As promised, I could pop up and over stuff naturally. The steering did indeed feel neutral to me, not so different from my personal Moots 29er singlespeed, pretty cool given that the Naked has 40 more millimeters of travel. All of that travel ended up coming in handy—what leaps like a deer must also land like a deer.

The height of the bottom bracket put me off at first. In past 29er tests, I’ve appreciated the settled-in, carving feeling of a lower BB. But for the type of aggressive, gnarly riding this bike shines in, the higher BB assisted up- and-over maneuvers and kept the cranks and chainring clear of rocks. It’s a configuration that definitely encourages playing hard.

One drawback of the curved seat tube is that there is only one bottle mount, on the downtube. Those that like to travel in hardcore racer fashion with no hydration pack may be disappointed. But then again, it’s a custom bike, and if two bottle mounts are important to you, you can have ‘em.

Sam Whittingham builds beautiful bikes, no doubt about it. But this bike is not meant to be a museum piece; it should be ridden, hard, and often. You can have a custom builder do whatever you want, but it’s best to pick a builder whose own riding style matches your own, for a melding of personalities and riding styles. If you like to achieve flow on crazy-technical trails, the classic look and feel of steel, and getting caught in the rain, write to Sam and escape.

Vital stats

  • Price: $2,000 frame, $5,800 as built
  • Weight: 22.6lbs. complete
  • Sizes Available: Custom
  • Country of Origin: Canada

Tester stats

  • Age: 38
  • Height: 5’8”
  • Weight: 125lbs.
  • Inseam: 33”

Race recap: ‘Be careful what you wish for’, AKA, ‘The Stoopid 50’

Yes, that’s the trail. Not pictured are the rattlesnakes.

[Photos courtesy of Bob Popovich]

By Karen Brooks 

So I came back from the Trans-Sylvania Epic a couple weeks ago feeling great. The race had gone quite well—I carefully budgeted my efforts, posted faster times than last year, and had a great time riding the rocky stuff. Didn’t even get a flat. But I had a nagging doubt that perhaps I had budgeted too well… I didn’t feel all that tired. Maybe I had not “left it all out on the trail”? Maybe I could have squeezed out some extra effort and done better? That seventh place prize podium spot glory could have been mine!

Then there were all those roads. TSE co-promoter Ray Adams had asked me after Stage 6 what I thought of the day, and I said, “Too much road!” To which he replied, “We’re working on it.” I don’t doubt that they are. But I realized that I was just whining. (Race promoters don’t need any more whiners.) My plan to take it easy on the dirt roads and attack the rocks was successful, but I kept getting passed on the smoother sections by ultra-fit roadie types, especially those from out West. At some point I said to myself, “Rather than whine [or train on the road more] I should just buck up and enter the Stoopid 50.”

So that’s what I did.

Diabolical race promotor Chris Scott.

The Stoopid 50 is sort of a “greatest hits” of the TSE: 50 miles of epic trails in Rothrock State Forest, with a touted mix of 30 percent roads and 70 percent trails. It includes such fabled, rock-infested trails as Tussey Mountain Ridge and Three Bridges. It was the rocks and the ratio that drew me in. I figured I could stick to my previous plan and float effortlessly through the rock sections (as my memory told me I had at TSE), then recover on the roads, but those pesky roadies wouldn’t have as much of a chance to make time on me. I began to dream of a real podium spot…

Race day dawned clear and bright. I was feeling less than rested, after driving an extra hour the night before to grab my bag of clothing I had forgotten at home. I decided to try to start fast, unlike each TSE stage, since there was no next day’s stage to worry about.

However, there’s a big difference between starting with 150 people at a moderate pace like at TSE, and trying to slice and dice with 250, as at this year’s Stoopid. I managed to rudely cut one guy off just before the first singletrack, Tussey Ridge, only to walk a good bit of the beginning along with every other racer in the traffic jam.

Once things cleared out I began riding, and cramping. Every hard pressure on the pedals resulted in my toes trying to curl toward my heels. Then my calves started tying themselves in knots. I don’t know what went wrong; same general nutrition and hydration plan as at TSE, drastically different results. I began to daydream about Pringles. Nevertheless, the trails were still fun. It was such a picture-perfect day, the dirt was dry, and the scenery was lovely (when I could shake out of my tunnel vision).

Topher, at the finish.

I blew through the first aid station according to plan, forgetting that they’d probably have Pringles. I remembered them the second time through and stuffed a bunch in my mouth, feeling better instantly. Then I hung out and chatted with Justin from Freeze-Thaw Cycles, then posed for photos with his dad. Meanwhile my closest competitor had been through and gone. I finally realized this and gave chase.

So how did I end up? In 8th, same result as at TSE. Figures. [Edit: Actually, looking at the results again, I got 7th. Woo!] Of course, some of the same super-women, such as Kristin Gavin (the winner) and Karen Potter (second) were there, as well as State College’s local fast females. I’m satisfied with my result, and glad I went, as it was a great ride on great trails. The total-body beat-down I felt on Monday told me that I had given it my all.

Special congrats to Vicki Barclay, who seems to be mostly recovered from her injury and took third.

The women’s podium.

Mid-week update from the Trans-Sylvania Epic

By Karen Brooks,

We are having a great time here at the Trans-Sylvania Epic. Once again, Mike Kuhn and Ray Adams have put on a quality event, and I’m stoked to be here.

Eric is stoked about his high-viz glasses that ensure he stands out in photographs. 

We’ve had some hot weather, but thunderstorms in the evening have cooled things off and have made the trails interesting, to say the least. Today was the “road” day—although like they warned us, these weren’t “roads” that you drive your Honda Civic on, they were more Jeep style. But there were lots of lovely scenic stretches.

The obligatory vista shot from the top of the longest climb… totally worth it.

I’m doing fairly well this year, consistently faster than last year, but the stacked women’s field means I’m still in about the same spot. No matter—it’s a lot of fun to mix it up with the pros, at least for a few seconds at the start. Eric is hanging with them at least a little longer.

Sue Haywood of the dominant NoTubes team is looking especially sharp this year, and nabbed the win today by four seconds. (Four seconds! It’s amazing how close things can stay after 47 rough miles.) She says that a lighter bike is helping her, but she also feels better. Sue was at Dirt Fest last weekend, and despite coaching at the women’s clinics and socializing at night, same as me, she seems none the worse for wear. I should have asked her what she did for recovery…

Our own Team Dicky came in second in the Singlespeederiffic class, led by Dejay Birtch. In third is Chris Merriam, my host during my stay in Washington, D.C. for the National Bike Summit. (That “long commute” is turning out to have been excellent training.)

That’s Chris on the right, Dejay in the center, and Dicky on the left.

And here’s Dicky relaxing while awaiting his turn at the massage table. It’s tough work, being an international superstar.

Kaarin Tae was my companion for most of this “road” stage last year and took some cool photos along the way. She and her husband Lawrence are competing as a Co-ed Duo team this year—fortunately for me, because she’s fit as hell and would have undoubtedly bumped me down another notch had she been in the women’s field.

That’s Kaarin and Lawrence on the right.

I neglected to nab the best podium shot—the men’s winners, with Jeremiah Bishop’s son Connor standing in front of him on the top step and enjoying himself very much.

Hanging out in the dining hall and around camp after the racing is one of the best parts of the day. I got to talk to current women’s leader Cheryl Sorrenson of TeamCF—she said it was tough to hold back and try to spin for recovery on today’s stage (the smart thing to do at this point), but she’s having a great time. Cheryl was also waiting for a massage. Gonna try that myself tomorrow.

Sadly the women’s field is missing Selene Yeager, who got called away for work at the last minute, and Vicki Barclay, who suffered a concussion in a recent road crash. Both may show up for some socializing later in the week.

I also spotted Sarah Hansing, a close competitor of mine, and Keith Bontrager, here to have some good ol’ East Coast fun. Sarah said the longest, rockiest climb today was “soul crushing.” It was indeed.

Here I must give a shoutout to Justin Wagner of Freeze Thaw Cycles, who is in charge of the on-site repair service. He is kicking ass and taking names at bike repairs, and still managing to chat with everyone.

Here is pro Karen Potter from the MTBRaceNews.com team waiting for a repair. She had to drop out yesterday due to a pair of nasty crashes, but was able to ride today. Last year she got taken out by the stomach virus that decimated the field… sorry to hear bad luck visited her again.

Check back for more posts later in the week, check our Facebook page for a passel of photos, and definitely visit TSEpic.com for some excellent photos and video from A.E. Landes.

Assault on the Trans-Sylvania Epic, with a Cannondale Scalpel

by Karen Brooks

The Trans-Sylvania Epic stage race was so much fun last year—in that wonderful suffering kind of way—that I couldn’t wait to sign up again for 2012. Fortunately, Dirt Rag is now a presenting sponsor, so this event counts as “work.” Both Eric and I will be racing the Solo category, and various other staff may also drop by to check things out, particularly on Monday for the Ride for the Trails happening during Stage Two.

My preparations are off to a good start. I boosted my endurance by riding to and from the National Bike Summit in March, plus some commuting in D.C.—a total of 781 miles in ten days. I also got to race the Massanutten Yee-Ha downhill race again this year. Good practice for steep rocks and roots.

Next, I scored a sweet test bike, a Cannondale Scalpel 29’er Carbon 2, in plenty of time to dial it in.

I’ve had plenty of time on Cannondales some years ago, but never on a Lefty. I was a big fan of Headshoks back in the day so I’m excited to try this shock out. Yes, the view from the cockpit was weird at first, but I got used to it quickly. It’s amazing how the hub and spindle assembly supports the whole front of the bike.

The rear shock is a RockShox Monarch RT3, which has been butter-smooth so far. I love that RockShox prints a little sag chart on their shocks — set-up was so easy. I’ve been experimenting with the Floodgate switch; most likely for TSE, it will be off all the time, but for some of those long dirt road climbs, I may turn it on. It will depend on how harsh it feels if I forget to turn it back off once the racecourse points back downhill.

A sweet-looking pivot. That “seatstay bridge” under the shock is supposed to help keep the rear end in line, along with a thru-axle out back.

One thing that has already become apparent is that I’ll definitely need to put the tires in tubeless mode — changing a flat with a thru-axle adds precious seconds. It could mean the difference between 8th and 9th place! I’ll also have to take the reflectors off, or risk being mocked at the start line (if not before). Love the Schwalbe Racing Ralph tire spec, by the way — I used a Racing Ralph/Nobby Nic combo last year, and will most likely do that again. So I only need to swap the front.

Believe it or not, I was an early adopter of two-by drivetrains, back when Cannondale spec’d a 2×9 on my ’99 F3000. I dug it then, and continue to dig it now. Of course it’s way easier with the 26t front/36t rear low gear combo. I only had 29t/32t back in the day.

Naturally I’ll be going with an Awesome Strap again. This time with flames! That will boost me to 7th place at least. Why is Viva the hound looking at me so skeptically?

As is her dad, Ivan. He doesn’t like photo shoots very much — too boring. But the hounds do like how fast this bike was at the Roaring Run trails in Apollo, Pa.

There were some pretty spring flowers out next to the trails. Here is some Phlox maculata, AKA wild sweet William.

And what about my nutrition? Thanks to a post-Easter sale, I’m all set on that front:

Wish us luck!



My bike at NAHBS: Naked, except for mud

By Karen Brooks

It was a sad day when I packed up the Naked custom singlespeed test bike I’d been riding. Sometimes it’s tough to let go of test bikes, and this one was particularly tough. A custom bike! That means only I am supposed to ride it! But the sad reality is that I couldn’t afford this sweet ride, and its maker, Sam Whittingham, can’t afford to just give it away, so someone else will make out.

A sidenote: the bike was not nearly as muddy as it could have been. Its maiden voyage was on the Punk Bike Enduro trails – rutted, nasty, clay-heavy moto trails that love to bury bicycles in muck – and it got worse from there. But the last few rides were in snow, or on rocks with almost no soil, or indoors at Ray MTB’s, so the Naked was looking pretty clean at the show. I rode around in the backyard of DRHQ to add some splatters before I finally wrapped it up and stuffed it in a box.

This particular test ride just got a lot more notoriety: it won one of three Best Mountain Bike awards at NAHBS, mud and all. Andrea Blaseckie, the other half of Naked Bicycles, asked that I send the bike back dirty to show how much it’s been ridden.

The inside word from the judging was that initially, the mud was thought to detract from the “show quality” of the bike. This is understandable – NAHBS is the place, after all, for chrome so shiny it will blind you if you’re standing in the wrong spot, and for paint so glossy and deep you could drown in it. But the Naked folks (heh heh) wanted to prove that their bikes were made to be ridden. Thus, some testing mud from Western Pennsylvania made its way to the Sacramento Convention Center, standing out proud and dusty under the lights.

Sam and his employee Aran demonstrated their belief in rideable pieces of art even more by riding their other two show bikes right in the Naked booth. They started in northern California and had a sweet little adventure.  The backdrop was of photos taken along the way. These bikes attracted a lot of attention as well, even though Sam said they didn’t get as dirty as they had wanted them to. Too much good weather.

I’m sad to see it go, but I’m really happy I got to spend some time with such a beautiful machine.

Read more about the beautiful machine in our First Impression blog.



Dirt Rag visits Ray’s Women’s Weekend

By Karen Brooks

My favorite event on our calendar was this past weekend: the Women’s Weekend at Ray’s Indoor Bike Park in Cleveland. This is always such a good time, riding-wise and socially, and I’m not exaggerating when I say it has been fundamental to my development as a mountain biker.

The first day, Friday, is when we ladies get the park to ourselves. Like last year, the legendary Leigh Donovan led the coaching staff of pro-level women of all riding persuasions, helping women improve on everything from body positioning to backflipping. Also like last year, I honed in on the intermediate-level box jumps and picked up as many tips as I could from BMX legend (and future ABA Hall of Famer) Deanna Jamieson. She showed us the right line through the tricky turn section, and gave us individual feedback on how to improve. I’m not sure I’ll ever fly through the air in perfect arcs like Deanna can, but it’s a helluva lot of fun to try.

This was the fifth year of the Women’s Weekend. As she has all five years, Dirt Rag Original Subscriber Elizabeth Klevens came along on the trip, and continued what’s become a tradition: adopting and tending a mascot. This year it was not just one, but handfuls of mascots, tiny rubber chickens. These little dudes found their way into all kinds of situations.

On Friday night, there was a party. It was a lot of fun, partly because, as with all good parties, it got a little out of hand. It seems that Ray thought it would be fun for the girls to get a private show by a male stripper. Someone else thought it would be funny to chuck a bottle at the guy (who might have been left over from the cast of Jersey Shore) while he did his thing, and he got mad. But things calmed down and we kept dancing.

Saturday and Sunday, those who were not too hung over came back to hone their new skills amidst a packed throng of dudes. It’s also a tradition that this weekend is the busiest in Ray’s calendar (go figure), and this one did not disappoint on that count. It was really cool to watch ladies who had previously been a little trepidatious go out and own the pump track, jumps, and stunts.

The newer Milwaukee location of Ray’s has a Women’s Weekend too, and it’s coming up – March 9-11. By all means, ladies, go if you can!



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