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

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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