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

Gifts in the mail are “Awesome”!

By Karen Brooks

So one fine day after I came back from some time off over the holidays, I found a package in my office mailbox:

What better way to commemorate such a gift than with a Team Dicky-style blog post? Here goes.

I eagerly opened the envelope to find a new and improved Awesome Strap Race, which I had heard about from Rich himself (he didn’t pass that task onto Sponsor Liaison and Equipment Acquisitions Director Admiral Ackbar). But also included was the Dicky-designed Tülbag, produced by Backcountry Research as well. Cool! Now I have a better way to carry pointy tools and other sharp objects in a wool jersey pocket.

(I don’t know what that “NYCO” tag is for. An ultra-advanced tire boot?)

I emailed my thanks to Mr. Dillen and said, “How did you know I wanted one of those things?” To which he replied: “Everybody wants some…” That is obviously my cue to include a metal video in this Dicky’esque post. This live version is nice. Warning: the mid-song monologue by Diamond Dave is NSFW.

As you might have read in his review in issue #158, Josh and I had a bit of trouble getting the Awesome Strap Hitch to fit, particularly on my bike. Of course I chose to not mess with it until we were getting ready to do a pre-ride shortly after arriving at the camp for the Trans-Sylvania Epic… no better time to futz with new equipment than when daylight is fading and you’ve got one chance to scope out a bit of trail before a weeklong stage race, eh? It was just a simple strap – how hard could it be? – but somehow my flat-fix things would not fit nicely under the saddle.

Josh tried in vain to get enough cell phone reception to watch Backcountry Research’s installation video. Then, who should come along to save the day but none other than celebrity spokesperson Rich Dillen. The pro strapper himself then proceeded to show us how it’s done, re-folding my innertube into a flatter shape and chastising me for using a too-large 40g CO2 cartridge.

Seen here is the Hitch installed using the somewhat-more-correct installation method. Note, however, that there isn’t much strap overlapping on the side for the sticky parts to stick the whole package together. It hasn’t budged, but still, more strap is always more better.

Of course, watching the helpful installation video now, I see what I was doing wrong… and am still doing wrong. But no matter. Richard Clark from Backcountry Research heard from Rich that I was having trouble, and he immediately set to work designing a new Strap that would avoid such trouble by making the sticking parts longer. How’s that for customer service?

Below is a photo showing the contents of the Hitch unwrapped. Apparently it’s protocol to include this photo. I think the point is to show how your Awesomely Strapped tube isn’t totally covered in muck – just a few small areas easily wiped off.

So now my bike is Awesomely Strapped, and with flames, no less. I will be so much faster with flames.

Can you tell what I was still doing wrong as of that photo? Hint: the installation video shows the CO2 cartridge on top of the tube, not to one side. This allows the tube to fit between the saddle rails and thus tuck in more neatly. Also, I left the flappy end of the tube hanging down – it should be facing the other way so as not to flap.

There is less mud in the later photo because it was taken after a bike washing and one ride, so what you’re seeing is the difference between two rides’ worth of mud and just one. It’s been Mudville around here, and not just because the Steelers lost.

And what kind of Dicky’esque post would this be without some mention of Team Dicky nemesis (and Dirt Rag contributor) Missouri… er, Montucky… er, Montana Miller? Not any kind I’d want to deal with. So: at the recent Dirty Dozen, I spotted Montana also using an Awesome Strap to hold his flat-fixing stuff under his seat. We were the only two with this sleek solution, in a sea of kitted-up, hardcore roadies.

Now, what else do I need for a Team Dicky’esque post? Probably some mention of the coming race season. Well, I liked the fact that in 2011, my races consisted of one that lasted five minutes (Massanutten Yee-Ha), one that lasted a week (TSE), my 20th 24-hour race (Seven Springs 24 Hour Champion Challenge), and my first Dirty Dozen. A good mix of short, long, old, and new, kinda like a wedding or something. I like that mix – think I’ll aim to repeat it in 2012. There, that’s done, “season” planned.



Review: Orbea Alma carbon 29er

By Karen Brooks

Europe has been slow to catch the 29er wave, although a recent World Cup win by Czech racer Jaroslav Kuhlavy atop a 29er may change some minds. Orbea is one Euro company way ahead of the curve, having introduced their first 29er in 2005, and improving upon this early aluminum experiment by going carbon and incorporating design innovations from their road frames for the Alma in 2006. The current line of Alma 29ers shows off Orbea’s proficiency with both wonder fibers and big wheels.

Soul of the bike

The Alma, which means “soul” in Spanish, is one sexy bike, in a very Continental way, with its angular, sculpted lines highlighted by sleek, understated graphics and shiny red fittings. Underneath the Alma’s glossy white paint is a highly-engineered monocoque carbon frame. Each of the three frame sizes has a unique construction, with differing carbon layups, wall thicknesses, and tube diameters, to impart consistent ride characteristics. The construction process is a time and labor-intensive process, requiring multiple prototypes for each size.

Following Orbea’s previous 29ers, the goal is to maximize pedaling efficiency while offering a measure of vertical compliance via their 4×4 Triangle frame configuration, best summed up extra angles in the chai stays, near the rear dropouts, and in the top tube, just in front of the seat tube. Another goal is to play up the benefits of 29-inch wheels while minimizing their drawbacks, aiming for good traction with quick steering. To this end, Orbea uses the standard 29er geometry for companies who get it: short-as-possible chainstays (439mm in this case), combined with a bent seat tube, bottom bracket slightly lower than the axles, 65mm drop, and a short head tube (110mm) with top and down tubes merging well behind it. The 71.5-degree head tube angle keeps the steering snappy. An integrated, tapered headset adds to the clean and futuristic look.

All of the frame’s “tubes” can hardly be described as such, what with their various polygonal cross-sections. This Alma shares the original’s “fender” sculpted into the down tube, which actually does shield some spraying mud. There’s plenty of room in the rear for big tires—a Schwalbe Nobby Nic 2.35” fit no problem.

About those shiny red fittings. They do more than just look good, they serve to route the bike’s vascular system in an efficient manner. The head tube cable guide in particular is a stroke of genius, eliminating the possibility of cable rub marring the finish.

The 29er Alma’s elegant frame comes dressed in four different configurations, ranging from the $5,900 Team to the $3,200 S50. My S30 came with a 100mm-travel Reba 29 RLT, Shimano XT 3×10 shifty bits and brakes, and Mavic C29ssmax wheels. Props to Orbea for spec’ing a 180mm front rotor.

Trial by fire

I started off the test with our own DirtFest weekend, followed closely by the Trans-Sylvania Epic stage race. Nothing like put- ting on hundreds of miles in the first two weeks. Although the S30 is not the lightest build, the spec was plenty race-worthy for my mid-pack aspirations. A few extra pounds disappeared from the equation given the bike’s amazing pedaling efficiency—I felt like I’d magically gained fitness on the first ride, and appreciated it more with each subsequent pedal stroke. Especially standing, all I had to do was let my weight fall on the pedals, no pulling required, and the bike sprang forward—awesome when I was tired.

I was apprehensive about using a carbon hardtail for the notoriously rock-infested trails of the TSE, but the Alma handled it all with grace. Its claimed vertical compliance wasn’t some kind of pseudo-suspension; the bike still felt like you’d expect a carbon hardtail to feel, yet it wasn’t as harsh as I feared, and it rode comfortably as the miles piled on.

The Alma has a playful nature to counter its disciplined efficiency. With its snappy head tube angle and fairly short chainstays and wheelbase, this is a quick-steering bike that feels smaller than it is. This, plus the settled-in feel of the bottom bracket placement encourages more shred-style moves than what’s normal for a racy bike. I did strike a pedal here and there on rocks, but not enough to make me wish for a higher BB.

I used, and appreciated, the entire range of the Shimano Dyna-Sys 10-speed drivetrain—although a 2×10 would make a lot of sense for such a climb-friendly bike (and indeed the Alma S10 uses it). My only complaint was that the 11-36t cassette’s wide range skipped over my preferred gear for rock gardens. The brakes worked beautifully and silently for the entire test.

On Orbea’s advice, I applied Shelter brand protective tape to the down tube and underside of the bottom bracket to prevent flying rocks from chipping the paint and possibly damaging the carbon underneath. I also added a LizardSkins chainstay wrap. But chips of paint came off beyond the wrap and from a couple other areas not covered in tape. Orbea says that the paint can be dislodged from the carbon’s smooth surface, but that it’s nothing to worry about, unless there is also evidence of damaged fibers. Orbea offers a lifetime warranty on the frame, and although the company doesn’t cover damage from pointy objects, it speaks to the company’s belief in their bikes’ structural integrity.

I also had an issue with the FSA BB30 bottom bracket. The seals on one bearing failed. The bearing become contaminated with mud and water and refused to turn. I was able to pry it open and clean it out while it was still on the bike. According to FSA, this would have been covered under warranty and remedied with a new bearing.

Final thoughts

The Alma would be an excellent choice for the privateer racer who includes “just for fun” rides as part of their training. Sure, this midrange version still costs a good chunk of change, but this is one “plastic” bike that I would consider a worthy investment.

Tester stats

Age: 38

HeighT: 5’8"

WeighT: 120lbs.

Inseam: 33"

Bike stats

Price: $3,700

Weight: 24.3lbs.

Sizes available: S (tested), M, L

Country of Origin: china

Online: orbea.com



In for test: Naked Loonie Singlespeed

By Karen Brooks

When Dirt Rag editor Josh set up a group of singlespeeds for a future test, I drew the lucky straw for a custom bike by a notable framebuilder: Sam Whittington of Naked Bicycles. You may remember Sam from such displays of framebuilding prowess as NAHBS 2011, where he won the People’s Choice award for his almost unbelievably clean and simple titanium singlespeed.

There was not a whole lot of time for Sam to put together a bike, so he opted for steel. He asked a bunch of pertinent questions about my riding style, fit and parts preferences, and about the fit of my current personal bike, which is (still) the Moots singlespeed I tested for issue #132. A rather short time later a beautiful, gleaming white bike with black and gold accents (good call!) arrived on our doorstep.
But like all mountain bikes, it was destined to get muddy. Quickly.
My first Naked ride was a scouting trip on the trails for our Punk Bike Enduro, and this was the result:

naked singlespeed

It was a bit hard to tell much about the frame’s ride characteristics from that ride, and the subsequent Punk Bike itself, as it was pretty sloppy. I did, however, determine that Sam’s choice of 32×21 gear, one step lower than what I’d been using on the Moots, is not a bad idea for steep-and-sloppy trails.

The dropout is a “rocker” style from Paragon Machine Works. I have the sliding style on my Moots, and have never had a problem with them sliding when they’re not supposed to, but it will be interesting to try this alternate style.
naked singlespeed
I’ve also gotten in a couple rides on my “home” trails in Frick Park near Pittsburgh. Fortunately they were frozen for a while last weekend, although by the end of the ride on the wider gravel paths toward home, the mud was thawing enough to cover the Naked. Maybe mud has a Puritan streak… I’d have thought it was more of a Bacchanalian sort of thing.
naked singlespeed 
One unusual detail I noticed right away is the top of the seat tube and the seat collar.
naked singlespeed
It’s basically an insert into the seat tube that narrows down to 27.2 for a common size of seatpost, then gets thicker again where the collar attaches. The process involves turning the piece on a lathe and boring it, then welding it into the frame. There are also two notches cut into it instead of just one (for the collar’s squeezing action to be possible), both facing away from where mud will fling itself toward the seat tube. Although as you can see, the mud has been trying mightily to get itself into every little crevice.
Sam shared a quick sketch of the seat collar:
It’s finding out about cool details such as this that makes my job interesting. The lengths to which framebuilders will go to make their frames as awesome as they can are amazing.
Here I must give a shoutout to Brian, Jason, Brett, and Timmy for showing me some of the trails at Kennerdell this past weekend. A fun ride on the Naked with like-minded singlespeeders. The best way to ride wet snow on top of wet leaves…
The reviews of this and some other singlespeeds will be appearing in issue #162, so make sure you’re signed up to get Dirt Rag in your mailbox before then.


Interbike 2011: Trek Lush Women’s Mountain Bikes

By Karen Brooks

A small but pesky obstacle for women getting serious about mountain biking: it’s tough, if not darn near impossible, to make a full-suspension frame with complex linkages in smaller sizes. Granted, you don’t necessarily need complex linkages to enjoy dirt, but sometimes it really helps.

Trek’s new Lush lineup for women features 120mm of front and rear travel in sizes down to 14.5”, with truly low top tubes. These bikes actually looked smaller than they were—Ross, a Trek staffer (female) who helps outfit women for demos, says customers often assume they’re on a too-small size when they can stand over the frame comfortably. But no, they’re just right.

There are four models, one carbon (shown here) and three aluminum, available in mid-January of 2012. The Lush Carbon goes for $4,600 and is dressed with a mix of Shimano XT and SLX (mostly XT) brakes and drivetrain with a Bontrager cockpit. Both Fox suspension bits, a Float RP-3 shock and 32 Float FIT RL fork, feature their Dual Rate Control Valve internals. The rear shock has a shorter eye-to-eye length to stuff it in that small space, and it’s also tuned for lighter riders. The rear dropouts are Trek’s APB Convert using a 142x12mm Maxle Lite.

Keep reading

It doesn’t end here, we’ve got a lot more coverage of Interbike 2011, including demo rides.



Catching up with Marla Streb

By Karen Brooks

Marla Streb is a legend. If you don’t know this, you’ve been riding recumbents, or not riding at all. Seriously, she was a dominant force in the downhill scene in the ‘00s (with a couple of Single Speed World Championship titles thrown in), and has a captivating personality. Now, Streb is focusing on family and managing her former race team.

How did you transition from racer to team management?

During the last nine (of 16 total) years of racing professionally, I started conspiring to one day become the GM or marketing manager of Team LUNA Chix. Clif Bar & Company is a notoriously loyal sponsor, and even supported me during both pregnancies as a pro. So if I proactively showed an interest and helped the team with PR and marketing while racing/pregnant, they might eventually hire me full-time after my career, which they did. For this “semi-retired pro,” it’s been a dream soft landing.

Do you miss racing? Plan to do any events just for fun?

Yes, I miss some aspects of racing, especially the community vibe and the feeling of total physical exhaustion that racing provides. I’ve raced one local XC event this year, and will certainly ramp back up now that the girls (two and five years old) are starting school.

The mountain bikers (and other athletes) on Team LUNA Chix have had incredible success in the last few years, earning the UCI’s #1 team ranking, with plenty of individual race wins. What’s the team’s secret?

It may not be a secret, but the LUNA Pros’ individual successes come from being a part of the most well-oiled, organized mountain bike program in the world. From the unwavering support of Clif Bar’s Gary and Kit Erickson, to enjoying the best sponsors, product, and staff available, the athletes can really focus on winning. Their salaries are also commensurate with that of the men, so that doesn’t hurt.

What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done on a bike?

I barely remember this, but I coasted down a sidewalk in Fruita, CO once at about 30mph with my calves on the handlebars (instead of my hands). The resulting crash was sudden, epic, and haunts me every time I look at my butt in the mirror. Personally, I was not scared (Red Bull + tequila), but others mentioned that it was the scariest thing they’ve ever seen. Scary perhaps, but I’ve done dumber. (And if this wasn’t the answer to the previous question…)

What led you to race the DH at Snowshoe, West Virginia in 2002 with no protection?

Again, I’m not the brightest firefly in the jar…so I probably thought that I could save a tenth of a second by dressing like a speed skater.

Not to sound cliché, but—how do you balance motherhood, work and fun?

The work part is impossible with young kids, so now I drag my “night person” body out of bed at 4 a.m. for work. When I was seriously training, I just dragged my kids behind me in the Chariot trailer and climbed 3,000ft. up somewhere. For fun? Luckily, I got a lot out of my system in the 42 years before I decided to have kids, especially the last 16 years of racing around the world, surrounded by fit, young men. So at this point, hanging with the kids is my way of having “fun.”

On that note—are you looking forward to raising your kids as total trail shredders?

If my two girls grow up to enjoy shredding trails with their mother, then my life will be complete. My maternal mission: to love, nurture, and take them to the emergency room.

I hear you are working on opening a bike cafe in Baltimore…

It’s a concept café—about a third dedicated to bike retail, mostly focused on the café, with fresh coffee, then there’ll be the fun liquor side of it. There are some combinations of café/coffee shop/bike shops, but not all three in one place. It’s called The Handle Bar Café. It will have indoor and outdoor bike parking (with locks available), a bikewash, a sink outside the bathroom for just washing up—anything that you can imagine as a cyclist that you’d like. We’ll also do clinics, women’s rides, kids’ rides, and we’ll have enough room to do a spin class to encourage exercise in the winter, not hibernation. It’ll be low key, fun, functional, comfortable, and community-oriented. It’s kind of my dream situation—I’m always looking for places like that that will accept my drenched body. We’ll even welcome recumbent riders. We hope to open around the first of September.

Keep reading

This interview originally appeared in Issue #157. Order a subscription now and you’ll get all our content delivered right to your door as soon as it’s published.




Review: Norco Vixa

By Karen Brooks, photos by Justin Steiner

When I first spotted this bike at Interbike 2009, the Norco Vixa was one of two women’s-specific freeride bikes at the show, the other from fellow Pacific Northwesterners, Kona. What is it about that area that produces badass chicks? A subject for another time. Anyway, since Kona has discontinued theirs, Norco is currently the only company to offer a women’s freeride bike. Although I thought the concept was way cool, I didn’t think I was the right tester for it, not having the skills to pay the bills as far as freeriding goes. However, as it’s true that a poor craftsman blames his tools, it’s also true that good tools can elevate the work of the craftsman (or woman). Such has been the case with testing the Vixa—it has encouraged me to improve my skills and given me confidence to push the envelope.

Nuts and Bolts

At first glance, the Vixa looks like a women’s bike, with its teal-accented white paint (thankfully Norco left out the flowers), but there are plenty of details to make this distinction functional as well as aesthetic. The 6061 double-butted aluminum frame is strikingly swept to fit 160mm of travel into a compact package. Most of the geometry measurements are shorter than the measurements for Norco’s nearest equivalent, the all-mountain Range: My size medium tester has a 570mm top tube, 744mm standover, 429mm chainstays, and a 1137mm wheelbase. The tubeset is also lighter than what Norco uses for their unisex freeride offerings, a welcome accommodation. Head and seat tube angles are fairly standard for this sort of bike at 66º and 73º respectively. The frame also sports ISCG 05 chainguide mounts and cable guides for a dropper seatpost. Overall, it could be better described as a light-duty freeride or heavy-duty all-mountain bike, strong enough for a man but made for a woman.

Norco’s A.R.T. rear suspension is a licensed version of Specialized’s patented FSR configuration, with the position of the pivots tweaked to point the axle path rearward in the first part of the travel, and thus glean some extra square-bump absorption and pedaling efficiency, along with more active braking. The forged rocker link is welded into one solid piece to bolster lateral stiffness; this link also has scalloped finger recesses thoughtfully added to the underside edge to make carrying easier.

Both front and rear squishing is provided by RockShox. The rear is a large-volume Monarch R, tuned for lighter-weight riders, with an externally adjustable rebound for the beginning of the stroke. The fork is a standard Lyrik Solo Air R with external rebound adjustment, set in a tapered head tube.

Naturally, this bike gets thru-axles front and rear: RockShox’s Maxle Lite for the front, and the Syntace X-12 axle and derailleur hanger combo system for the rear. In the 142mm-wide X-12 system, a bolt pinches the drive side of the rear dropout and passes through to a burly derailleur hanger; this bolt is designed to break loose, rather than the hanger, and Norco provides a handy spare bolt threaded into the frame.

Other parts of note include a Shimano SLX drivetrain featuring their latest 10-speed cassette with an 11-36t range, and Shimano M-575 hydraulic discs with 180mm rotors. To continue the women’s theme, Norco spec’d their own brand of aluminum riser bar in a not-too-wide 700mm width (680mm on the XS and S size bikes), with small-diameter lock-on grips, and a WTB Deva Comp saddle.

Free to Ride

I was a little nervous when I received the Vixa. My previous experiences with long-travel bikes taught me they were burly beasts in need of a firm hand to keep them in line. Some felt like they demanded more speed than I was comfortable allowing. But right off the bat, the Vixa’s compact size was reassuring. The reasonable handlebar width alone went a long way toward making this a bike I could control easily. A shorter top tube is expected for a women’s bike, but the shorter chainstays and overall wheelbase made the bike seem friendlier. The Vixa was equally easy to steer in techy stuff, whip around smooth but short turns, or lean over aggressively at speed. I didn’t have to get all aggro to make the bike go where I wanted. The shorter wheelbase might possibly become a hindrance at DH-racing speeds, but for my current skill level, it was a big bonus.

A basic non-piggyback air shock on the rear might seem like chump change to some freeriders, but since most chicks weigh significantly less than dudes, it gives plenty of cush while saving some weight. I kept the rear shock at the low end of the recommended 25-30% sag. The front end kept pace just fine with the rear, and felt nicely balanced, although it took an air pressure setting almost too low to measure to achieve the recommended 25% sag. The suspension feel is on the squishy side; unlike some five-inch-plus bikes that don’t reveal all their cards right away, the Vixa’s long travel is immediately apparent.

Norco achieved close to bottomless-ness with this set-up, and their claim of square-edged bump slaying also seemed to hold up. Although the bike handled responsively, the cushiony suspension feel led me to aim less and fire more on technical descents, opening up new possibilities. It was certainly hella fun to find a rutted, rocky ghost of a fire road and just point down and let ‘er rip, not bothering to pick a line at all or even deliberately seeking out the biggest chunks, letting the shocks just soak it all in. Unweighting for drops meant scooping into the travel, rather than actually getting the wheels off the ground, with plenty of smooth travel for soft landings. I had to learn to go at kickers with some speed to actually get some air.

Perhaps incongruously, I was impressed with the way this bike went uphill. The dreaded bob was almost nonexistent, at least in the rear wheel and while seated. I ended up barely using the granny ring—the 36-tooth big rear cog helped in that respect. Sure, the Vixa’s heft didn’t lend itself to scampering up slopes, but that didn’t prevent me from trying. The bike’s climb-ability allowed me to ride up some of my favorite cross-country trails without excessive suffering, and enjoy them a lot more on the way down. The whole package felt plenty stiff laterally—no doubt aided by the thru-axles. Granted, I’m not one to push the boundaries of a bike’s lateral flex, but I certainly pushed more boundaries with the Vixa than with other bikes I’ve tested.

The one quibble I had was with reinstalling the rear wheel. Syntace claims that their X-12 thru-axle makes it very easy to drop the wheel in place and screw in the axle, but I found I had to lift one side slightly to get the axle to thread. Norco says this isn’t a sign of poor finish or anything to be concerned about, but it would have been nice not to fiddle with it as much.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, the Vixa’s strength is in its versatility. If you’re a girl who enjoys focusing on the down more than the up on trail rides, and who wants to dabble in lift-assisted fun, you could skip the trail or all-mountain style bike for your next upgrade and go straight to the Vixa—you’ll enjoy the benefits of 160mm of travel, but not feel hampered on casual trail rides. Although I’ve been an XC weight-weenie type for some years, I have always kept an eye out for that epiphany bike, that one big-hit ride that would instantly make me see the light and want to join the dark side of speed and gravity. The Vixa comes closest to fulfilling that wish.

Bike stats

  • Country of origin: Taiwan
  • Price: $2,860
  • Weight: 34.5lbs.
  • Sizes available: XS, S, M (tested), L
  • Contact: www.norco.com

Tester stats

  • Age: 37
  • Height: 5’8"
  • Weight: 125lbs.
  • Inseam: 33"

Keep reading

Freeride superstar Darcy Turenne spoke with us about her impact on the development of the Vixa. Read our interview here.

Tester Karen Brooks put the Vixa through its paces at the Massanutten YEE-HA! downhill race. You can read her race report here.

This review originally appeared in Issue #156. You can order a copy though our online store, or order a subscription to get all our reviews as soon as they’re available.


Waking Up, or Going Back to Sleep

(Or, ‘Dicky Stole My Title’)

By Karen Brooks

Josh asked for a “look back” kind of post about the Trans-Sylvania Epic, and I’m glad he did – it’s fun and therapeutic to evaluate such an undertaking after a week’s worth of reflection.

It was strange, and grueling at times, that my “job” for the week consisted of riding fast and far, then recovering as best I could, day after day. But I found that I loved it. As someone who has avidly watched Le Tour for years, I got caught up in the drama, the intrigue, the tactical calculations necessary to do well. My goal was simply to finish, but it spiced things up considerably to find myself in a friendly duel for a placing somewhere in the 7th through 10th range. I had to evaluate my strengths and weaknesses compared to my closest competitors, Laura Gleason and Tanya Hanham – Laura was faster on the loose downhills and Tanya had better overall fitness, but I had an edge in the many rock gardens. There was also Kaarin Tae, who played “tourist” after she caught the dreaded stomach virus stalking the peloton, but who would probably have edged me out had she been able to continue. It was especially awesome to be able to mix it up with the pros on occasion, although generally I only saw their dust for a few seconds after each start.

Yet the simplicity of it all was refreshing – just fuel yourself up, ride your ass off, then attend to your bike and try to recover enough to do it again the next day.

The organization of this race was amazing. I can’t say enough about what a great job all around was done by Ray Adams, Mike Kuhn and their extensive army of volunteers. It certainly helped make this an epic adventure with very minimal consequences and a lot of rewards.

Some things I’ll always remember, in no particular order:

  • The many butterflies crossing our paths, particularly on Stage 3 (the “road” stage, which sounded awful but was in fact beautiful)
  • The otherworldly Tussey Ridge Trail, with views dropping off both sides and many dead trees (never did ask what they died from)
  • Beating Rebecca Rusch on one of the Mini-XCs of Stage 5 (even if she did have asthma)
  • The party after Stage 7 – I’ve never seen a group of people get so drunk so fast
  • The pools of standing water and/or very muddy sections on nearly every stage – actually quite refreshing given the extreme heat the first few days
  • My sudden and spectacular endo caused by a pedal strike on a hidden rock (which somehow didn’t result in injury)

In short: do this race if you can!

More from TSE: Read all our racers’ exclusive dispatches from the race.

Not Dominating, Just Documenting

By Karen Brooks

It’s the fourth day of the Trans-Sylvania Epic – humpday. Some of us have made it this far, but broken frames and broken dreams abound. A stomach virus has been creeping its way through the peloton, taking out contenders like Karen Potter, who was leading the women’s field until it got her. Our own Josh got it on Monday night and couldn’t start Tuesday. So far I seem to be lucky. 

Yesterday’s stage was a long, mostly fire-road journey through some lovely forest. Forty-seven miles of gravel sounds kinda like hell to me, and it was a scorching 93 degrees, but most of the mileage was under cover of friendly trees, next to a lovely river and going through picturesque settled areas. (Sadly, Josh was looking forward to the gravel, being a Dirty Kanza aficionado.)

The top of the last climb revealed a gorgeous view, including a peek at the bridge we had crossed just before starting to veer up, and just after the famous tunnel that graces the logo of the race. That tunnel was something else – a blast of cool and dark that was like jumping into a lake.
I was fortunate to ride alongside someone for much of the time, a woman named Kaarin Tae who came all the way with her husband from Nova Scotia. She rides with the Bicycles Plus club there. They had been taken out on Sunday night by the virus, but were continuing to ride just for the fun of it. It helped make the route more pleasant to get to chat. Kaarin also took these photos, playing “tourist” since she was no longer racing. (Lucky for me as she is faster.)
Gotta give major props to the volunteers. They handed us cold drinks, cold washcloths, and were smiling all the time.
A few of the top contenders went astray early on and had to chase back to the front – we saw Barry Wicks motoring with Sue Haywood sucked onto his wheel, followed by Rich O’Neil (of Stan’s NoTubes and Pittsburgh messenger fame). They still managed to place high.
Overall I tried to think of yesterday as “active recovery.” Probably only Mike Curiak rides 47 miles for active recovery. Heh.
Speaking of lakes, today we travel to Raystown. Looking forward to this one, a revisit of the fun trails at Dirt Fest – although forty miles is a lot of “fun” and I’m taking bets as to when the fun wears off and the suffering begins.

More from TSE: Read all our racers’ exclusive dispatches from the race.

Like Lambs to the Slaughter

By Karen Brooks

Josh, Dirt Rag editor, and I are now at the Seven Mountains Boy Scout Camp, nervously preparing for the start of the Trans-Sylvania Epic. We begin our adventure at three this afternoon with the opening prologue, a time trial of 10 miles. Josh’s wife Jamie is our directeur sportif.

Holy crap. Never thought I’d be saying such things as “opening prologue” in the context of a race I was actually doing, not just watching on TV.
As per usual with races I do, there was a bit of drama leading up to this one – bike drama this time. Our plan was to line up race-worthy review bikes for both Josh and me, since a full week of racing certainly is a good testing opportunity. Josh was already set up with a Trek Superfly 100 Elite, so we drew up a list of possible bikes for me, and procurement guru Karl got to work procuring. Strikeout after strikeout ensued. Finally the good folks at Orbea came through with a fast machine (I’ll try to keep the motor clean): the Alma 29er S30.
Purdy, ain’t it? At Dirt Rag’s DirtFest last week, remarks tended toward the “sleek,” “sexy” and “very Euro” variety.
Those slick anodized fittings really set it off.
There was some speculation around the office that these are runes of power on the downtube… I sure hope so, I’ll need ‘em.
Although I’ve been “training” somewhat for this race, riding more and longer and doing some core strengthening exercises to get rid of nagging lower back pain, my fitness level to start with was not great. So I’ve adopted Team Dicky’s strategy: “If I can’t be prepared physically, I shall at least be prepared metaphysically.”
Before the bike arrived, I did a lot of fretting over tire selection. I wanted something nice and fat to give me some fake suspension and mimic the feel of my beloved Moots singlespeed, which is still sporting the WTB WeirWolf LT 2.55” tires it came with (and which are no longer available). But since they have a good bit of flexibility in bike builds, Orbea shipped this one with Mavic C29ssmax wheels and Continental Race King 2.2” tires, rather than the wheels and skinny ultra-racy tires shown on their website, which was cool with me. I’ll probably run the Race Kings for several stages. I scored a pair of Schwalbe Racing Ralph 2.2” tires for backup just in case. (The 29er size comparison chart on Mtbtires.com was very helpful in my fretting.)
Orbea accidentally shipped the bike in a more Euro configuration than I would prefer, with a handlebar that looked like it belonged more on a fixie. Normally the bike comes with a nice, wide RaceFace riser bar for us non-Euros. (Hooray for the relaunch!) Note the King Cage top cap-mounted cage – the frame only has one water bottle mount. Not sure yet if I’ll stick with this or go with a hydration pack. It’s gonna be hot…
Fortunately we had a Truvativ Noir T30 bar and stem just waiting to be used. This is the wider 700mm version – I ended up trimming some off the ends. Josh graciously allowed me to snag Ergon grips he had lined up in white for extra matchy-ness, which naturally will make me faster. I hadn’t used Ergons yet and they seem very nice and comfy so far. I opted for the bar-end version for an extra hand position.
Note the very cool cable stop wrapping around the head tube to prevent unsightly cable rub marks.
I got an actual, professional bike fit from my bud Matt Tinkey, who works for Pittsburgh local sports medicine experts UPMC. (They helped me out with mental training for a previous article.) The fit session was quite interesting – I’ll be reporting more on that later. Matt made some small but crucial adjustments to my set-up, such things as cleat, saddle, and brake lever position, all things I’d been doing the same way for years out of mostly ignorant habit. So it will be cool to see the effect on my riding comfort. The most “out-there” thing that Matt did:

I did hear from some more well-prepared racer types that the week before the race is when one is supposed to “taper”: ride less, eat and sleep more. OK! That part has been no problem. We broke up our drive East yesterday with a stop at Clem’s Cafe.
I also have a couple of secret weapons as far as carrying stuff… (sorry for the blurriness, that’s me, not you)
On the left is a gas tank-type bag from Revelate, and on the right is a Hitch model Awesome Strap. We got a personal introduction in how to be Awesomely Strapped from Team Dicky himself. Unfortunately it looks like that one won’t work with my saddle for some mysterious reason (it works on Josh’s just fine), but Rich came through with a seatpost strap to save the day.
There’s also the matters of nutrition and recovery. Here I hold my secrets closely (at least for the time being). Mysterious jars of goo? Secret green packets? Weird foil-wrapped clothing? Some type of powdered substance from South America? Yeah, I’m in it to win it…or, uh… survive.
Check back here for more reports from the field. And send us your good vibes, so that Josh and I can “live to fight another day.”

More from TSE: Read all our racers’ exclusive dispatches from the race.

Pretending to be a Badass

By Karen Brooks

This past weekend, a few of us Dirt Rag staffers traveled to Massanutten Resort in Virginia for the Massanutten YEE-HA! downhill race. This is a venerable race with a long history… in fact, the guy that makes it all happen, George Willetts, entertained us with tales from way back of lake jumps, rigid rigs with toeclips (and plenty of broken frames), and insane photos ending up in the Rag.

These tales reached back beyond the times when I first started getting into mountain biking, some fifteen years ago. At that point I struggled to deal with the smallest rocky sections and terrible canti brakes, and had no thoughts of doing anything so “extreme” as a downhill race, let alone a lake jump. But Missy Giove, the queen of the U.S. downhill scene, was my hero. She possessed all the fearlessness and style that I lacked and desperately wanted.

A few years ago I decided to do something about my lack of “cojones” and went on a quest of sorts, detailed in an article for issue #133, “Becoming Un-Wimpy: One Person’s Journey Toward Mountain Bike Bravery.” Since then, I’ve made some progress, and had a few setbacks, but still hadn’t tried an actual downhill race.

This year, I tested a freeride/all-mountain bike, the Norco Vixa, the biggest-travel bike I’ve ridden. (See a full review in Issue #155.) That called for stepping up my game and further expanding my comfort zone. So I rode a fairly insane rocky trail in West Virginia, some of the stunts I’d never tried at Ray’s MTB in Cleveland, and the new (and awesome) Dr. J trail in our own local North Park. But as Norco is kind enough to let me keep riding the Vixa into nicer weather, another opportunity to shred the gnar came up in the form of the YEE-HA!.

Justin and Frank convinced me that this was an easy course, and well within the capabilities of the Vixa. I believed them. We made the drive on Thursday to get in a full day’s practice for the Saturday race. One borrowed helmet, pair of goggles, suit of armor, and my custom Dirt Rag DH jersey later, and I was dressed for battle.

My first run down the mountain was not pretty. The course starts off with a dropoff going into a big rock garden, and I rolled off less than gracefully, then flubbed the very next obstacle, a “pyramid” of logs and rocks. After that, the course really wasn’t that bad – typical Eastern-style woods sprinkled with mineral chunks, just tilted at more of an angle than I was used to. Muscles I had forgotten about were already screaming after just one run.

I must admit that the lift-assist aspect of downhilling is mighty convenient. It’s easy to catch a ride back up and try again. So I did just that, repeatedly. I got some good advice on line choices from Justin and Frank. I also messed with the suspension settings and decided to try clipless pedals (after getting bounced off my flats a couple times). The Vixa proved plenty capable – if I screwed up, the bike was all like, “It’s cool, brah,” and if I didn’t, it was all, “right on, brah!” And lo and behold, on each run I got more comfortable and a little bit faster, and even had some fun. There were two curves at work, however: my mental game was improving, but my body was wearing out. I tried not to say “one more run” out loud – gotta avoid the jinx – but just let my legs decide when sitting in a camp chair was the best option.

Race day dawned clear and bright. I was nervous, but it helped to hear that Justin was, too. Frank opted not to race, lacking health insurance; I tried not to think of the implications of that. But here my previous dabbling in mental training helped a lot – I was able to use the long lift rides up during my practice runs to focus, remember the course, and mentally replay riding all the right lines and imagine clearing all the obstacles that had been giving me trouble. “Flow like water… flow like water… flow like water” was my mantra.

At registration the day before, it looked like I might have a guaranteed “win,” being the only chick in the sport class. But another woman had signed up, a local named Jennifer Wolfson, and I watched during practice as she easily cleaned the harder of the two lines through the opening rock garden – on a cross country bike. Dang. Well, it would be interesting at least to see how close I could come. Maybe Jennifer would get a flat.

All of us girls gathered at the top. We were grateful that we got to go first, and get it the heck over with. Jennifer engaged us in conversation, and we marveled at the fact that the local badass DH racer, Lauren Daney, was only seventeen. (My age = too old for this shit.) The pros went first, and I tried to mentally embrace their line choice and speed, but of course they all went insanely fast, and took the harder line.

Then it was my turn. I pumped down the ramp, made it off the dropoff OK, and crested the top of the pyramid with one foot down – still an improvement. It got better from there, as I took the best lines I could, and even caught significant air from one optional jump. Crossing a small stream, I didn’t account for how scooped out it had become, and hit the bottom hard enough to get ejected from both pedals. I had to duck-walk to the top of the other side to reset. But I the finishing rock garden went by smooth as… not quite silk, call it corduroy. It was definitely my best run and I was happy to have made it without needing to be airlifted off the mountain.

Later on the results were posted. Satisfaction with my well-executed plan of just trying out DH racing and not getting hurt evaporated when I saw that I had lost by two seconds. Two seconds! Damn, I shoulda pushed harder…

Well, it looks like I’ll have to try it again.

Special thanks to Massanutten photographer Ian McAlexander for supplying some great images. Check out his website www.itmexposures.com for more Yee-Ha! coverage.


Darcy Turenne on the Norco Vixa

Editor’s note: Freeride superstar Darcy Turenne spoke with us about her impact on the development of the Vixa, which we reviewed in Issue 156. You can learn more about Darcy at her web site, hellodarcy.com.

What specific input did you have in the development of the Vixa?

From the beginning Norco gave me almost free-reign over the development of the Vixa. However, seeing as I am not mathematically or geometrically inclined, I worked closely with the engineers at Norco to create what I thought was the perfect bike for freeriding. I’ve been involved in everything from graphics, to angles, to spec.

Any complaints of yours about the 2010 model that were addressed with the 2011 version? (Dustan says the ’11 is much better.)

Yes, the 2011 Vixa is much lighter and stiffer. My complaints were really just the same complaints of the other riders who had tested the Vixa, and those were just that they wanted a lighter bike. So we made one by completely overhauling the platform so it is much lighter, stiffer, and stronger. Definitely a win, win, win combo!

What do you, personally, use the bike for?

I use my Vixa for everything, really. All mountain riding (although for longer rides I’ll use my Norco Phena), downhill riding, slopestyle riding — you name it, I ride it on the Vixa. At first I was unsure about the 2011’s downhill capabilities because it was so much lighter, but this summer I went to Are, Sweden and was faced with some of the steepest, roughest terrain I had been on in a long time. On the gondola up everyone around me had full-on downhill rigs and it was making a bit nervous, but then I started descending with the Vixa and she annihilated all the bumps like a pro. I had no problem keeping up with the downhillers and was far less tired at the end of each run because I didn’t have to maneuver a 50 pound bike. The Vixa and I bonded a little more that day.

What compromises had to be made due to cost or other constraints?

The only wrestling match we had in the design room was that I wanted the chainstays to be 5mm shorter than they are, however, because of the suspension geometry that couldn’t happen. In the end though, it was a good thing because the bike would be less stable and already it is very nimble with chainstays their current length. It was a good thing I lost the battle. 

New from Santa Cruz: Highball, Tallboy

Note: You can read about Santa Cruz’s other new offering, the Blur Carbon here.

(L to R: Santa Cruz staff Josh, Nick, Ariel, some fellow journalists, and Mike, giving his "serious face")

By Karen Brooks

Two other bikes that debuted at Santa Cruz’s Gooseberry Mesa camp were of the big-wheel variety. One is a dedicated speed weapon, the Highball 29er hardtail. This is an unabashed XC race machine with a feathery 2.45lb. carbon frame and aggressive geometry. In keeping with the Santa Cruz ethos of bikes you can beat on, however, it’s no fragile flower. The Cruz wizards have used their meticulous carbon layup process to strengthen crucial areas, such as around the head tube/down tube/top tube junction, and the frame has a tapered head tube as well.
Here is possibly the best bike photo ever taken (I say with obvious humility), thanks to the backdrop view off the Mesa:
I chose the Highball to ride on the fairly technical North Rim Trail that skirts the edge of Gooseberry Mesa on some convoluted slickrock formations. Some of my fellow journalists might have thought I was bringing a knife to a gunfight, but I figured this technical trail option would give me a quick read on the bike’s capabilities for the more rocky race courses we’re used to in the East.
The Highball has stiffness in spades, which proved very useful for heaving myself up on the many shoulders of rock on the trail, especially given my flagging energy at that point – not one calorie was wasted on frame flex. Yet the friendly 70.5-degree head tube angle meant the bike didn’t feel like a total road-racer wannabe. The Highball’s chainstays are the minimum length that the Cruz wizards could manage given the constraints of a front derailleur, at 17.3”, so it felt nice and compact.
Here is a Highball frame cut open to show its pretty innards:
The MSRP on the Highball frame is $1,900, and complete bikes start at $3,100.
The final dish to be served was a new aluminum version of Santa Cruz’s first foray into the 29er world, the Tallboy. The carbon Tallboy has been wildly popular, so Santa Cruz is graciously making this less-expensive aluminum version to invite more people to the party. Maurice tested the carbon Tallboy for issue #148 and said it was "just what I was looking for." Santa Cruz arrived somewhat beyond fashionably late to this particular party, but it’s obvious that they spent that time well and did a lot of research into what they liked, and perhaps more importantly what they didn’t like, about competitors’ 29er offerings.
It was interesting to talk to my fellow journalists, some of whom hadn’t yet found a 29er they were all that into – that is, until they rode the Tallboy. Some said that the oversteer they typically had issue with when riding 29ers was absent from this bike. I rode the aluminum Tallboy on the final day, on the fast and flowy Gould’s Rim and J.E.M. trails, and agreed that it would take little to no adjustment in handling style for someone transitioning from a 26-inch-wheeled bike. It could be flicked from left- to right-handed swoopy turns with the greatest of ease, and its steering feel was perfectly balanced between fast and stable.
Here is one of our expert guides, Bobby from Rim Tours, posing next to one of the new bikes:
Tallboy Aluminum cans – er, frames – will go for $1,850, and complete bikes start at $2,300.
My final mission after this camp is to choose which bike of the three to grab for a long-term test. I’ve entered myself in the Trans-Sylvania Epic stage race coming up at the end of May, and will be racing (or simply hanging on for dear life) atop a Santa Cruz test bike. So I’ve got a tough choice between the Blur TRc, the Highball, and the Tallboy Aluminum. Care to weigh in on which you’d prefer to see reviewed in the pages of the Rag? Leave a comment here. 

New from Santa Cruz: the Blur TRc

By Karen Brooks

The venerable brand from NorCal introduced three new bike models earlier this week, and I was one of the lucky stiffs who got to check them out on the kickass trails on and around Gooseberry Mesa in southern Utah. Santa Cruz really knows how to impress: not with slideshows of graphs, but with lots of time on singletrack.

First off, they’ve introduced a middle child to the Blur line that just may become the darling of the family: the Blur TRc (affectionately known by the end of our stay as the “Turkey”). “TR” is for “trail,” since that’s the designation usually given to such 5”-travel, yet pedal-friendly machines as this; the “c” stands for carbon, as this is another example of Santa Cruz’s mastery of the material.
The TRc geometry is a peanut-butter-and-chocolate blend of XC-style top tube length plus a slackish 68-degree head tube angle. The proven VPP suspension design supplies the squish. This was the first bike on my riding menu, for the Red Bluff Competitive Area trails and the Bearclaw trail on the first day and some of the fabulous trails atop Gooseberry Mesa on the second. The TRc felt like a fast XC machine – awesome pedaling response, stiff where it should be – until I landed hard coming off a ledge or slammed into a rock, then the suspension kicked in to save my butt. Our host Mike Ferrentino explained that they adjusted the shock rate curve from an “extreme smiley face” to a more flattened shape, so that there was less of a wallowy feeling in the middle of the travel and consistent squish all the way through to the end. In other words, going further in the quest for that Holy Grail of bottomless feel.
The TRc’s lower link is aluminum since it’s in a spot vulnerable to punctures, but the rest of the frame is sleek, sexy-looking painted carbon fiber, and comes in at a fairly light 5 lbs. altogether with shock. Santa Cruz claims their construction process is superior to most, something they’ve been perfecting since the development of the first carbon Blur XC that came out in 2009. Engineer Nick couldn’t reveal all the details, but I did learn one crucial detail and a new word: mandrel, “a cylindrical rod around which metal or other material is shaped.” Rather than simply wrapping fiber around a flat, plastic-bag-like bladder, as some other manufacturers do, the Cruz wizards use a mandrel inside a bladder, so that the fibers can be more accurately laid and more tightly wrapped before the bladder is inflated to press the fibers into the mold, to yield a shape that is precisely formed from the inside out. How this mandrel is then removed from the frame is one of their closely-guarded secrets. All Mike would say is that it may or may not involve midgets.
Here’s Nick explaining the finer points of a cutaway frame.
Nick told us that when they began experimenting with carbon, they purchased some examples from competitors and cut them apart to check out the frames’ interiors (that must have been fun). In some cases, they were horrified at what they found – haphazard fiber directions, voids, variations in thickness, and even bits of newspaper (!). Unfortunately for our morbid curiosity, they restrained themselves from getting catty and showing us these examples.
To complement the meticulous carbon construction, Santa Cruz continues to up the ante with frame fittings and hardware. They’re still using reliable, rebuildable, adjustable angular-contact bearings in the pivots, and any of the pivot points can be easily disassembled without removing cranks, derailleurs, etc. The stout 15mm axles going through the pivot points are a big part of what gives the VPP design its superior lateral stiffness. They also angled the grease ports in the lower pivot to better protect them against getting pounded, and threaded them to make them more easily replaceable just in case. Mike said that the Cruz hardware is the “unsung hero” of their bikes, and I’d have to agree.
Here demo guy extraordinaire Ariel shows a cutaway bottom pivot...
… and here he shows the easy disassembly of the bottom pivot.
Santa Cruz will be taking orders for the Blur TRc within the week, and should be able to deliver them by late May. The retail price on the Blur TRc frame and Fox RP23 shock is $2,700 and complete bikes start at $3,800.


For more: Read about Santa Cruz’s other new offerings, the carbon Highball and the aluminum Tallboy, here.


The park giveth, and the park taketh away

Bouncing around on a mountain bike tends to cause things to be flung away from one’s person; sometimes the loser is you, sometimes it’s another unfortunate rider. In the course of 15 years of riding my local park, certain objects have been lost to me, and certain others have appeared in my path. There’s a lot of the usual stuff like water bottles and reflectors (especially in the first few yards of a technical section), but there’s also more valuable items, and some that are downright strange.

When I lamented the loss of a favorite pair of sunglasses once, my partner reminded me of the transient nature of physical objects, especially ones carried via mountain bike, thusly: “Well, the park giveth, and the park taketh away.” The following is a documentation of some of the objects I’ve lost and found.
The pile of found objects, and some remnants of lost objects.


  • A couple of front LED lights and a couple of red blinkies.
  • A Topeak Alien tool, a Winchester-branded folding pliers tool, and one multi-tool just this shy of being too rusty to use.
  • Part of a front grille of a car from the ‘50s or possibly ‘40s (not sure what make or model).
  • Lots of old glass bottles. My partner and I started picking up broken glass on a couple of disused trails to try to make them rideable again. We progressed to picking up glass while hiking with our dogs after a nasty paw-cut. Occasionally, we found whole bottles, some of them pretty old; the oldest so far has “1919” stamped on the bottom. Now we have a collection that includes four sizes of milk jugs from two different long-defunct local dairies. (The “Bottoms Up” one in the photo is one of only a couple we’ve found with a painted-on label – cleverly, it’s upside-down.)

Taketh Away

  • Oakley Full Metal Eye Jacket sunglasses. Did the classic move of putting them on top of a hat, then taking the hat off and forgetting the glasses. I realized later they had fallen off, but they fell into six inches of fresh snow, so they were gone. First thing I ever bought on a shop employee deal, back in 1996.
  • Ryders polarized sunglasses. Hadn’t had these very long before I made the same hat mistake. Had sentimental value, as they were one of the prizes won at the 2006 Month of Mud race series.
  • Several cycle computers. These things never seemed to survive a crash.
  • NiteRider light head, NiteRider light battery. Two separate pieces, lost from two separate lights, in two separate nighttime crashes. It’s tough to look for lost parts when you no longer have a light. Of course the two leftover bits were incompatible.
  • Business half of a red blinky light. That’s what I get for cutting through the park with 28mm tires pumped to 80psi.


First Impressions: Mongoose Canaan Comp

Sometimes in the life of a test bike, things start out slowly, and the new wheels get eased into their new role. But some bikes get “tested” to their limits right off the bat. This latest specimen, a Mongoose Canaan Comp, has already been put through some difficult tribulations but has come out just fine.

Its first journey was as a pack mule for a three-day bikepacking excursion in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania. The poor thing carried two Freeload racks and an Extrawheel trailer loaded with gear and food. (You can read about the trip in the next issue of Dirt Rag, coming out July 1.) We traveled the entire spectrum of surfaces, from fresh, smooth pavement to fairly rough singletrack, and I used the entire spectrum of 27 gears, sometimes within a mile, going over the undulations of the land. It was a great time, and the Mongoose came through with only a loosening of one pivot bolt, which is understandable. It also earned me the nickname “Goose”  (or is it called a trail name?) for the trip. Uh, OK.

Despite being somewhat reluctant to go back down to 26″ in wheel size for XC use, I made friends with the bike. With all the un-sprung weight it was tough to get a read on the nature of the suspension, but I was darn glad to have any travel in the rockier bits.

Then there was some of the usual home turf riding, no big deal at all. Today the bike has tasted the sweet, flowing singletrack at the Allegrippis trail system, where we’re visiting for the first annual (or is it the third?) Dirt Rag Dirt Fest. We got in a good ride today before most of the Fest-ers began to arrive. It’s now 11:30 at night, and the Fest-ers are still arriving – looks like we’ll host over 800 people in all. We’re having a blast! Aside from the bands, beer, and friends, the trails are totally grin-inducing, especially on a 26er – the whoops and de-dos don’t get too smoothed out. How ’bout that.

Some people have asked me if this is the same Mongoose that’s now found in department stores – the answer is definitely “no.” Although you can find some BCOs that might share a brand name, the Canaan Comp (and the rest of the Canaan line) belong strictly in the realm of true mountain bicycles, found at your friendly local bicycle dealer.

The tale of the tape:
MSRP: $1700
FRAME: New Mongoose FreeDrive W/ 100mm travel, 6061 PG heat treated alloy, integrated headset and replaceable hanger
FORK: RockShox Tora SL Air 100mm travel, rebound adjust, alloy steerer, and lockout
REAR SHOCK: RockShox Ario 2.1, air spring, rebound adjust, 165×38 mm w/ 19×8 mm hardware
CRANKSET / CHAINWHEEL: FSA Alpha Drive ISIS 44 alloy 32/22t steel
PEDALS: Crank Bros. Smarty sealed bearing
SHIFTERS: SRAM X.5 27 speed
CHAIN: KMC Z9200 w/ Missing Link connector
RIMS: Mavic XM117 disc 32 hole
FRONT HUB: Shimano Deore disc
REAR HUB: Shimano Deore disc cassette
SPOKES: 14g Stainless
TIRES: 26×2.0 Continental Speedking folding bead
FRONT BRAKE: Avid Juicy 3 w/ 160mm rotors
REAR BRAKE: Avid Juicy 3 w/ 160mm rotors
BRAKE LEVERS: Avid Juicy 3
HANDLEBAR: FSA XC-300A-OS AL6061 riser, 31.8x20x680 mm
STEM: FSA OS-190LX 31.8×90 mm
GRIPS: Mongoose Lock on
SADDLE: SDG Bel Air RL steel rail
SEAT POST: 2014 alloy post with double bolt clamp, 31.6×350 mm

Niner Carbon Fork: Matt’s Impressions

Note: Niner was gracious enough to send us two of their new carbon forks to test. Eric McKeegan got one, and his review is in issue #148. Matt Kasprzyk put the other on his Niner bike – here is his take on the fork.

Niner Carbon Fork in Solid Gold

This is the first rigid fork I’ve used and it’s also the first carbon fork I’ve used. It’s a fairly new concept for me to think of a rigid fork as an upgrade. But after installing the two-toned gold and naked carbon fork onto my Niner SIR 9 singlespeed and seeing the XL bike tip the scale at 21.23lbs.—I was impressed. Dumbing down your bike might not be for everyone, but dropping 2lbs. off the weight of your ride is something you often can’t argue with.

I’ve found that with the lack of suspension, there’s nothing to forgive bad technique on the trail. A rigid fork forces you to be a better rider. The value of having a lightweight rigid front end becomes quickly apparent when you are forced to dance through obstacles instead of plowing through them. I also found that the Niner fork allowed me to get a better impression of the trail, certainly valuable information when riding in bad or unusual conditions. The input from the trail seemed more accurate without 100mm of moving oil and air in between my arms and tires. For winter riding in snow, the rigid front end seemed to be more of an advantage than a disadvantage. However, there were still times on rough terrain, even with big wheels, where I wished for suspension. I wouldn’t want my only bike to be rigid. No matter the benefits to my skill, I just don’t feel fast riding a rigid bike. –Matt Kasprzyk

World Tour Report: Ray’s Women’s Weekend

Have you ever been to a bike event that was jam-packed with women riders—not the typical dude ranch or sausage fest? Amanda and I have. This past Friday, we headed to Ray’s Indoor MTB Park in Cleveland for the third edition of the Women’s Weekend, which was bigger and better than ever.

This year’s Weekend was organized by a top-notch team headed by Ray’s staffer and BMX pro Nina Buitrago and Mad March Racing coach Tamara Peloquin, and featured an impressive list of 16 gracious pros to lead clinics on everything from basic skills to ripping it up. Some of us learned the basics of bunnyhopping (without clipless pedals, mind you) from none other than DH racing legend Leigh Donovan. Current gravity podium-topper Kathy Pruitt was there showing how to catch air, some of Nina’s BMX colleagues were on hand to teach the finer points of barspins, and Tammy Donahugh, who was recently featured in the pages of Dirt Rag, came back this year as well to show how to get the most boost from the ramps. There was an equally impressive list of sponsors, who provided sweet prizes—including bike frames!—and some awesome demo opportunities.

What impressed both Amanda and I the most, however, was the number of chicks who showed up. Each year the event has grown by leaps and bounds, and this year’s total was well over 150! Quite a few women have come back each year. We noticed how many participants came ready to rock with their own jumping bike. There were also freeriders, Lycra-wearing fast types, and fairly raw beginners who came and expanded their skills. We marveled at a couple of really young girls—there was one who couldn’t be more than eight who was clearing the box jumps better than I was, on a 20”-wheeled Specialized Rockhopper. (Darcy Turenne speculated that the purple flowers help boost air.)

Purple Flowers to catch air

Sadly, Amanda and I only got to hang out on Friday, and missed some party time and a movie premiere, but we know we’ll be back next year.

Check out our Gallery from the event, and look on our Forums for more photos and tales from the Weekend.

Dirt Rag’s 2010 Literature Contest Is On!

dirt rag literature contestThe Literature Contest is a celebration of the written word. It’s our annual effort to recognize and reward writers who possess the ability to deliver fine prose with a cycling bent and a unique narrative style.

The only requirements: your entry must be 1) cycling themed and 2) no more than 3,000 words, though that limit is not a quota. If you’re in need of guidance or are seeking the tastes of our judging panel, check out the winning stories from 2009 in issues #145 and #146.

Two winners will be chosen, first place and runner-up. Winners will get awesome prizes and have their stories published in Dirt Rag.


  • Entries must include a reference to cycling, preferably mountain biking.
  • Entries must be original and previously unpublished.
  • Judges’ decisions are final.
  • Plagiarism is a crime. Do not plagiarize.
  • One entry per person. No more.
  • Word count limit is 3,000 words.
  • Mail-in entries only.

Entry Guidelines
Include one cover page with title, name and contact information. Do not place personal information, such as name or address, anywhere on the article itself. Entries will not be returned. Send to Dirt Rag Literature Contest, 3483 Saxonburg Blvd, Pittsburgh, PA 15238. All entries must be postmarked by June 1st, 2010.

Here’s the Fine Print: All entrants grant Dirt Rag the rights to reproduce submitted material in the magazine and on dirtragmag.com. Payment for non-winning entries to be made 30 days after print publication. We assume that all entries are original works and are the property of the entrant, with all rights granted therein. We aren’t liable for copyright infringement on the part of the entrant.

First Impressions: Carver Killer B

The idea to do a long race of some sort had been kicking around in my brain for a while, and the stars aligned such that I had both a ride to the Shenandoah Mountain 100 and the time to do it this past August. The only thing I didn’t have was a test bike. One quick call to Davis Carver at Carver Bikes took care of that. (Thanks to Adam of A Circle Squared and Rob of West Liberty Cycles for the ride.)

carver-at-sswc09.jpgThe idea to try a 650B bike had also been rattling around in my noggin, and Carver makes a bike with the “tweener” wheel size by the name of Killer B, so that’s what I got. Carver is apparently unafraid of bucking convention, being a pioneer not only in messing with wheel sizes other than 26”, but in mixing and matching—a review of the aluminum-frame 96’er from issue #118 is here. The idea of a 650B rear/29” front (or should I say 27.5”/29” to avoid mixing units) was appealing, but since I’d never swung a leg over a tweener, I figured I should go with that for simplicity.

The bike arrived a mere two days before the SM100. Normally a race of that magnitude on an unfamiliar bike would be a big mistake, and one of the more careful planners in the office shook his head at my folly (that would be Justin of course), but as this is a fairly straightforward bike aside from the less-common wheel size, I figured it would turn out OK. The geometry measurements on this titanium hardtail were not too different from those of my Moots Mooto-X 29er singlespeed. I did swap out the Magura Louise brakes it came with for some previous testers, the Hayes El Caminos, that had a more favorable range of lever reach adjustment; good advice from Eric, since I would be squeezing those levers for hours at a time on the hundred-mile course. I also borrowed the Carver MyTi bar that Eric had recently tested (issue #144) for some comfy alt-bar action, and was damn glad I did. “Normal” straight bars feel strange to me now, and months-old wrist injuries speak up unless my bars are sufficiently bent.

The Killer B and I got along well right off the bat. (Whew.) The SM100 course is a mix of road, gravel, dirt and some of the most fun singletrack I’ve experienced, which made all the rest worthwhile. This being Virginia it has some rocky sections, but also some smooth and fast-flowing sections. The Killer B fit right in and handled it all with assurance, and I couldn’t help but think in Goldilocks terms about the wheel size: not so small as to feel sketchy and get hung up like 26ers can in the bumpy stuff, but not so big as to give up any quick-steering control in tight turns. Since drinking the 29er Kool-Aid I’ve maintained that their steering is not so much slower that it takes away from their sure-footedness, but I have to admit—it was nice to be able to fling the bike around with more ease, rather than needing to mindfully pilot it in tight sections, if that makes any sense.

The wheels on my tester were a little on the beefy side, with Velocity Blunt rims laced to Shimano XT hubs. For racing I wouldn’t mind a lighter pair. But the 28mm rim width gave the Pacenti NeoMoto tires a nice wide footprint. I tried not to think about the extra weight while climbing the mountain ridge.

Singlespeed World Championships in Durango, Colorado. This frame comes equipped with sliding dropouts (an EBB is also an option) so it was an easy task to lose the gears. I usually use a 32×18 gear combo on my Moots 29er, so asked around for a 17-tooth loaner cog to stick with the in-between, just-right theme; but none was to be had, and I heard dire warnings of the steepness of the SSWC course, so I settled for the 32×18 for an effectively smaller gear given the smaller wheels. Good choice—the elevation effects were brutal. Still, I was glad to have the Killer B as my weapon of choice. In singlespeed mode, the frame stayed nice and stiff, but not harsh, as one would expect from fine titanium. The SSWC course was fairly difficult even aside from the elevation (the Durango peeps really tried to give us the worst they’ve got, in the grand SSWC tradition), with a ridgetop slabs-of-rock section and some very tightly winding parts. There were moments in the big rocks when I felt like the medium-size wheels were getting sucked into the divots more than big wheels would have. The tight twisty parts were fun though. The Killer B’s top tube has a slight dip to it, and the rear end overall is fairly compact; the bike feels like it has a nice low center of gravity, and getting off the back and using body English is pretty easy.

One test for the bike, and the 650B wheel size for me, is just beginning – performance in the sloppy stuff. It had been unusually dry in the weeks leading up to the SM100, and Durango wasn’t too muddy despite some rain before that race. Only in the last couple of weeks have I been able to try the Killer B in some proper mud. Add to that a lot of fall leaves for extra slip-n-slide action. So far the bike has behaved about like I thought it would, slightly more likely to lose traction, but not so much that it’s jarring. On wet roots, I still might prefer to go big (in wheel size, that is)

The next event on the radar is not so long, but the conditions can be harsh: our own Punk Bike Enduro. We’ll see how the Killer B and I fare. Winter, here we come.

Interbike Mini-Review: Civia Loring

civia loring

During Interbike week, we borrowed a variety of bikes from companies to ride from our rental house to the indoor show, plus to parties and happenings around town after dark. Not only did this make our experience much more enjoyable, it allowed us a closer look at some of the latest offerings in the realm of transportation and utility bikes. Over the next couple of weeks, we will be presenting our impressions of our time with these bikes as mini-reviews on the Bicycle Times website.

Click here for Karen Brooks’ mini-review of the Civia Loring.

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