Dirt Rag Magazine

440 Miles to 24 Hours – Part 2


Words and photos by Devon Balet

I came up with this great bad idea over beers at my favorite bike shop in my hometown of Grand Junction, Colorado. Shop mechanic Alex and I were discussing ideas of how to spend the first two weeks of February when the shop was closed and he was left with ample time to ride. This being my first winter back in Colorado after three years of heading south like a bird, I was feeling the need for some hot winter days riding in just shorts and a jersey.

Looking over the calendar I noticed an unusually perfect alignment of two cycling events in Arizona: Single Speed Arizona in Cave Creek followed by the ever popular 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo, just outside of Tucson. The two events were situated a week apart, and that was how my idea came to be: let’s ride the Arizona Trail from Flagstaff to Cave Creek to join the SSAZ party and then continue on to the 24-hour race for an even bigger bike party in the Old Pueblo.

Part one is in the current issue of Dirt Rag, Issue #193, detailing the adventures of getting to SSAZ. This online installment continues the journey from there to Old Pueblo.


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Rolling away from Cave Creek after Single Speed Arizona almost felt comforting. The party was no let down—many friends, many drinks and many laughs. Waking on a couch outside the bike shop confused by my comfort, I had to only walk a few steps to hot coffee and food. Civilization was welcomed, but I wanted separation from the masses quickly.

Finding every possible roadside trail, Alex and I made our way out of Phoenix into the neighboring town of Scottsdale. Weaving our way through city park trails, we were soon climbing up on the far east end of town. We ascended far above the expensive homes lining the side of the mountain. Finding a clear flat spot we set up camp, looking out over the flickering lights of the big city.

Our day seemed to end as early as the next started. Leaving behind our vista over the city to avoid contact with any local residents, we were gone before most people had their first cup of coffee. It seemed strange to ride only eight miles knowing we still had well over 150 to go. However, the promise of a home cooked meal and cold beers a-plenty helped settle my anxiety to keep moving. Our friends Bill and Julie were driving down from our hometown to enjoy a little slice of Arizona themselves and we planned to rendezvous.

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As we rolled up to the Usery Mountain Regional Park campground in Mesa Alex double-checked the site number sent from Bill. The campground was nearly full, each site boasting a large, expensive RV or trailer. We rolled through the park aimlessly looking for site number eight, which we soon found.

Completely surrounded by nothing but RVs and campers, we set up a spot under a lone pallo verde tree in our site. Stringing up a tarp to shade the hot mid-day sun I removed all my clothes save for my shorts and relaxed beneath the sheltering canopy.

No sooner had we settled in before Alex took off for the showers. A few long minutes later he returned with a big smile and look of relief. “That was likely the best shower of my life.”

Leaving behind my cabana of comfort I headed for the shower myself. A double wash left my skin free from eight days and 200 miles of sweat and dirt—I felt like a new man. Taking advantage of the campground, I washed my socks and t-shirt in the sink.

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Soon Bill and Julie arrived. The stories of our trip thus far began to fly into the evening sky as the four of us sat back, enjoying good food and great conversation. The cold beer and warm food prepared by someone else was a nice treat, quickly fading my pressing desire to keep moving.

Ocotillo arms reached out into the sky, catching the days fading light. Soon only the tops of the tallest saguaro held onto the golden glow. With the setting of the sun came a still calmness in the desert as the birds discontinued their daily songs.

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Laying back into my sleeping bag in the dirt I smiled. All around us were expensive iron giants filled to the gills with stuff that goes unused day after day. Myself, I had already pedaled over 200 miles through the desert with only the things I could carry on my bike and one gear to move me forward. I smiled knowing I was the richest man in the campground that night.

Morning came quickly and my routine of rising with the sun was no different that day. I found myself readying my bike, preparing to tackle another long day with no real goal in mind except to go as far as we could until we felt like stopping. That day, Bill would join us for the first leg of the route. When I heard him curse another false summit on a rough doubletrack climb I chuckled. Welcome to the party Bill!

Rolling over the 300-mile mark that morning felt good, but I knew we still had a long way to go. The three of us took a seat under a lonely tree for an early lunch and beer before Bill went his own way. Enjoying a thick ham sandwich, it was exciting to know I had a second with me to enjoy that night. As soon as our beer cans emptied we sent off, back into our own unknown as we headed for the Superstition Mountains.

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“Who the fuck came up with this route!” I screamed inside my head. They surely haven’t ridden this trail. It began as so much fun, but no person in their right mind would want to travel through this crap now. The trail was more like an empty riverbed filled with nothing but rocks ranging in size from softballs to basketballs.

The route was relatively flat but there was no way we could ride it. Seeing pin flags along the way I felt sorry for the person who might one day come out to clean this mess. For now, I simply put my head down and pushed my bike through the rubble.

Narrowly avoiding rolling my ankles with every step, I knew Alex was in his own personal hell so I made sure to wait for him at any questionable section of the “trail”. Once again, I was relying completely on my GPS to send us in the right direction because there was no true path to be found. This section could not be behind us soon enough.

Finally leaving the rocks behind we rolled into Gold Canyon. It hadn’t been long since our last resupply with Bill and Julie but I knew this was our last chance before “24 Hour Town” at the Old Pueblo. I loaded up on salty snacks, calorie dense treats and two tallboy cans of PBR—knowing they wouldn’t stay cold long I would still enjoy them just as well that night. We set off down Highway 60 in search of the power line road that would take us off of the scary main highway.

We were soon cruising under two massive power line rows. Each tower loomed above us like massive steel giants. As the sun began to set the power lines brought on a golden glow. Soon we found a place to rest, making sure to be far enough off the road, hidden from four wheelers and meandering cattle.

Watching the sunset in a beautiful display of blue light was our entertainment as we enjoyed beer and food. This whole trip we had been lucky, having plenty of supply and resupply to eat and drink well. As I finished the last sip of my beer I looked up to Alex, comfortably laid out on the desert floor staring up to the sky. Laying back thinking back on the trip so far I fell quickly into an exhaustion hazed sleep.

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Day 11 had been long already. The sun climbed noon high and the heat grew thick and heavy on our brains. Dust clouded our eyes and mixed in with sweat. I had been in this place before. Not in a physical way but in my mind. Somewhat deliriously I pedaled up another long climb. In a hurry I grabbed for my bottle and gulped down nearly the whole thing without stopping for a breath.

Reviewing the route I saw no foreseeable spot to refill water anytime soon. I gave Alex fair warning of my findings, suggesting he start to ration his water as well. The trail began to level off and we are able to pick up some speed, continuing through the hot, barren landscape.

Several miles later the trail crossed a road. Not seeing Alex directly behind me I stopped to check my water levels. As I laid my bike down in a small patch of green grass I spotted a pair of one gallon bottles. Thinking someone must be a real jerk to litter way out here I walked over and discovered both jugs were completely full!

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Hand written on the side was a message, “Please save until November 11th, thereafter water is fair game.” Halle-fucking-lujah! I quickly sat down and began filling my bottles. As soon as Alex rolled up I screamed with excitement, “I found water! Two gallons of fresh water!”

The two of us sat quietly in the shade drinking water as if it were wine. As we enjoyed our bounty, Alex shared with me that today was his birthday and this was the best present he had ever gotten. I raised my bottle in cheers.

Our final day had us starting on the Gila River. Thankful for the ample water stashes found the day before, I passed on filling my water from a murky brown river. With no real idea of how much farther we had to go or how exactly to get there I was starting to get nervous for the first time.

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The day was tough—down right hard really. The trail seemed to go up and only up. Any amount of down was followed with more up. Eventually we crested a bit of a mesa as the sun began to set, I knew we would be in for a haul. I didn’t want to tell Alex the truth when he asked how much farther we had to go. Honestly I didn’t really know, but I did know we still had some long miles ahead of us.

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Realizing my light had not been the most dependable so far I rode on into the darkness, wanting to save power for a time when it was really needed. We seemed to pedal onward forever. Now, going completely off of a map and my gut feelings, we zigzagged our way through the desert with a faint glow in the distance being my last hope that we were headed in the right direction.

With every rise in the road I would hope for a sight of 24 Hour Town. I told Alex we would see it from a long way out. Maybe it was from the exhaustion, but Alex was not convinced we would see any of this so-called “town”. No sooner did he doubt me yet again did I spot the far off glow of what I like to call “the can man,” the gatekeeper of 24 Hour Town were all that enter must donate a can of food to a local charity.

Thrilling joy overtook my body and I screamed out in happiness. I finally knew exactly where we were. We had finally made it! As we approached 24 Hour Town, Alex began retracting his earlier words, completely blown away by the scope and size of the gathering in the Old Pueblo desert.

The two of us, like tired and weathered cowboys limped our way into town. I squinted at the bright lights after riding in darkness for hours. It seemed as though I was simply a passenger on my bike, barely keeping upright.

As soon as we entered camp a voice called out my name and it took several seconds to even recognize what was happening and stop. Completely shot, without an once of energy left I put a foot down and carefully turned my bike and body around to find my good friend Dejay with two beers in his hands. We had arrived. We made it!

With open arms Dejay greeted us, quickly filling our hands with cold beer and food. I could hardly believe it. My mind did not fully comprehend what was happening. Everyone around us began asking where we came from, how far we had ridden. I couldn’t answer anything more than, “It has been a good, long ride” as I dove head first into a platter of food.

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Sitting back I wiped the drool and bits of food from my chin. In the hours and days of dual solitude on the trail I found a renewed affection for myself through this temporary separation from civilization. Each day was a complete unknown—a rebirth backward in time and into primeval freedom on a singlespeed mountain bike.

Keep reading

Want to read about more adventures like this? Pick up the current issue of Dirt Rag on your newsstand or in our online store.

 

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Feature: No Sleep Till Denver


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Words and photos: Montana Miller
Originally published in Issue #191

My back just went numb, right between the shoulder blades. Which actually feels a lot better than the shooting pain I had a few minutes ago. I hike slowly next to my bike; hopefully I can make the top of this pass before sunset. I’m 16 hours into the first day and I’m still hours from the first resupply in Silverton, Colorado, at an elevation of more than 9,000 feet. This is way harder than I thought it’d be.

This is the Colorado Trail Race, a 540-mile competition from Durango to Denver. It’s entirely self-supported, with no entry fee, no registration and no pre-planned resupplies allowed unless you mail them to a post office along the way. The rules also forbid calling ahead to make hotel reservations (most competitors camp along the course anyway). It’s not broken into stages—it is an individual time trial—so riders who go the fastest will be riders who sleep the least.


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It’s a few minutes before the 4 a.m. start. Nervous. Seventy riders with crossed arms, some hopping up and down in rain jackets to stay warm. Headlight beams flashing, shoes clicking into pedals, derailleurs snapping through gears. The pack moves up the empty pavement, away from town.

Onto singletrack, a few guys get excited and we start to move fast. Jesse Jakomait, who’s one of the guys who could win this year, sprints away. His light gets smaller and smaller as he winds up the steep switchbacks. I wonder if he’ll be able to hold that pace. Dust swirling in front of my headlight makes it hard to breathe.

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A few hours later, in weak morning light, we are close to the top of Kenosha Pass in cold rain. I stop in a scree field to put my rain jacket on. “I hoped we wouldn’t get the weather so soon,” says a rider close to me. “Mountains do what they want,” is my reply.

It takes all morning to make it to the top of the first climb, 6,500 feet above Durango on Indian Trail Ridge. I can’t stop yawning; I would kill for a cup of coffee. I get on my bike and try to ride the rocky, knife-edge trail. A fat marmot stares at me, matted fur, yellow teeth curled over his lip, barely stepping off the trail as I dizzily ride past, making it perfectly clear who owns that spot.

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Gray clouds swirl around the mountains. I lean back until my butt is on top of my seat bag, pull the brakes, inch around a tight switchback with a long drop off the outside. Letting off the brakes, the bike picks up speed and drops fast to the bottom of the saddle. Blackhawk Pass, Molas Pass, Bolam Pass. Walk up, boil hydraulic fluid on the way down. The trail hits every little rise, every high point, never dropping below 11,000 feet. Late in the day, I finally make the top of another pass.

It feels like there’s no way I’ll be able to make it to Denver—16 hours of hard riding and I’ve covered only 75 miles. I’ve finished hundred-milers in half that time. I’ll quit in Silverton tomorrow. It’s too much.

I throw my sleeping bag on the ground at the bottom of a pass, and I’m asleep as soon as my face hits the pine duff. I started dreaming about this race seven years ago, a high school kid on a laptop under a steel bunk bed in gray, rusty Greensburg, Pennsylvania. Ethan Passant and Jefe Branham were breaking new ground, covering huge miles without sleep. I was skidding a dozen-year-old Gary Fisher around on some slag heaps. I’d never seen a real mountain, other than the ones that glowed through that little computer screen.

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Up before sunrise, headed for Silverton. The sun throws weak pink light on the reddish brown and gray mountains. There’s some good singletrack descending, and I can hear the highway. Pavement to the gas station, a few miles to relax. The sausage sandwich is hot, and that’s all the good I can say about it. Cold, canned espresso, because drinking watery gas-station coffee would be like trying to start a fire with olive oil. Stretch my back. Everything hurts. And only 475 miles to go.

The morning sun creeps over the tall walls of the box canyon. But, man, I’ve wanted to see this trail for so long. I could try another day, see if it gets better. Back in the gas station to resupply: three pepperoni Hot Pockets, two bags of peanuts and a couple cheese Danishes. I don’t think Salida’s much more than a day and a half away.

On the bike and out of Silverton, past the last coffee shop. For a really long time. I swing around and grab one more coffee. A couple hours later I’m grinding to the top of Stony Pass. A rider sits in the scree at the start of the singletrack; Colorado’s finest natural painkiller and antidepressant burns between his fingertips. I sit down next to him to rest. “Any idea how this next section is?” I ask. “Hard. You know how it is, man,” he says, and exhales a swirl of white smoke. “Just keep going until it stops.”

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He’s not a liar. I push my bike up to the top of a peak at almost 13,000 feet. Wind screams over the mountain fast enough to make me stumble sideways. Scrubby grass and tiny flowers ripple and wave, green, yellow and pink. The trail rolls for miles, then out of sight over the next peak. Crossing the San Juans. Next time I make it to a place where there’s enough oxygen for my brain to work, I’ll think this was incredible.

I clip in to drop down, picking up speed fast. I see a few tiny dots way up the next mountain. Hike faster. Bikes come into focus. An hour later I’m just a switchback below them. When I walk past, none of us can spare enough breath to say much, even though we’re barely moving. The riders slowly fade back to tiny dots.

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Hours later, I make the high point of the route at 13,300 feet. I lean my bike against the sign and sit. Man, there’s a lot more of this to go, but maybe I’ll actually be able to make it. Just keep going until it stops. I crunch on a mouthful of peanuts. Another sunset, and I struggle to the summit of a mountain that slopes so gently that it hardly deserves the title. But I still can’t ride it. The meadow is so rocky and the trail so faint that I have to just stomp along next to my bike, make beelines between wooden trail markers. Moving 3 miles an hour, making hundreds of miles seems hopeless.

Dark morning on the third day. I covered most of a long road detour last night, slept next to the road until I heard tires crunch past. I’m stopped next to an irrigation ditch to filter water; I wiggle my frozen fingers to try to get some feeling back. My water purification chemicals turn bright yellow in the mixing cup; the sun slides above the ridge.

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Trapped in an endless rock garden. Head down, walking up the steep trail. I thought for sure I could make it through this 20-mile segment in a few hours, but it’s already been four. Sargents Mesa. No views or summits—just trees, rocks and fall-line climbs. Close to the top of the mesa, an old guy on a moto buzzes up the trail. Cuts the engine.

“Nice bicycle you got there,” he says, smiling a little. “I know I shouldn’t be up here on my motorcycle, but no chance I could make it any other way with my back being the way it is.”

“Hey, doesn’t bother me, man.”

“You know where Sargents Mesa starts? I’m looking for the Vietnam memorial up there.”

“I think this is the top of the mesa. Couldn’t say where the memorial is, though.”

“Thanks. I’ll just keep looking.”

He cranks the motor over. I get back on and start to pedal away, a little embarrassed at how down I was a few minutes ago. You’re not doing anything actually hard out here, not compared to what that guy probably did when he was your age. It’s just a hard bike ride, and nobody’s shooting. Suck it up and enjoy the scenery.

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My back tire hisses, starts to squirm. Fudge. I put on the brakes and drift to the side of the trail. Sidewall cut. Dig through my frame bag to find my repair stuff. I’ll try a tire plug. Maybe it’ll save my tubeless. Another rider hikes up the trail toward me. We’re out of the trees in the afternoon sun, and he looks as burnt as my mom’s cooking. “How goes it? You racing?” I ask, crouched over my tire.

“Yeah. Left Denver on Saturday. Is there any water up there?” he rasps.

“I don’t remember anything until the other side of Windy Peak, and that’s pretty far. Some dirty puddles on the trail up there—I’d go for those if you’re close to out.”

“Oh. Damn, I should have filled up on Marshall Pass. I already lost a day in Buena Vista with heat exhaustion. Will the dirt in the water make me sick?”

I look up at him. Seems weird to be trying this trail without knowing how to filter water. “I don’t know, man; maybe try a sock to filter some of the dirt out.”

“Oh, that’s a good idea. Thanks. You have everything you need?” he says.

“Have any iced coffee?”

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I shove the plug into my sidewall and start pumping. Over Marshall Pass, on the Monarch Crest. The sun drops, deep raspberry red. I stop in an avalanche path, wide open between the trees. Mountains stretch out for hundreds of miles. I just rode (or mostly walked) over those things. It seems impossible. And felt like it. Halfway there, halfway to go. I climb a little longer, then flop down on top of some pinecones.

Descending Fooses Creek Trail in the morning dew. Big root drops, steep, wet. First my left hand—no tapping the front brake here. I really hope I can make Buena Vista before this afternoon; it’s already been two days since I resupplied in Silverton, and I’m down to a few handfuls of peanuts. After this descent, there aren’t any huge climbs, so hopefully it’ll go fast.

It doesn’t go fast. By the time I cover the 40 miles of relentlessly up-and-down trail around the base of Mount Princeton, it’s late afternoon and I’ve been out of food for a few hours. When I heard people say it was 200 miles without resupply from Silverton to Buena Vista, for some reason I assumed they were rounding up.

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I roll into town running on that handful of nuts from six hours ago, grab a burger and fill my top-tube bag with french fries. Maybe I’ll be able to get to Leadville before sunset.

I can’t. It’s midnight by the time I roll into the old mining town. A Nas track thumps from the kitchen of a closing restaurant next to the 24- hour gas station. I buy a few sacks of peanuts and call my wife from a pay phone. Leave a message after the beep. “Hey, sorry I haven’t been in touch. Phone died a couple days ago and I still haven’t found batteries for my tracker. This is real tough. I’m gonna go as far as I can tonight, though.” I hang up the receiver and pedal the dark highway out of town.

Over Tennessee Pass, there’s a puffy lump asleep next to a bike, then another. After seeing only tire tracks for three days, it feels like I’m in a race again.

Descend for an hour to the overgrown concrete slabs of Camp Hale, where the 10th Mountain Division trained to fight in the Alps during the Second World War. It’s almost three in the morning. I’ve gotta sleep for a minute.

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The next morning, I’m in a field of wildflowers, almost on top of the pass before the sun comes up. There’s a wooden sign at the top. Oh, boy—just a descent now. I’m gonna make it to Copper at a reasonable hour for coffee. I look at the sign for mileage to town: “Searle Pass 2 mi.” Turds. This high up, it’ll take almost an hour to hit the top of that next pass.

By the time I finish the long, pedal-y descent to town, it’s past lunchtime. No morning coffee. Everything takes longer than I think it should out here. I ride the highway down to a gas station next to I-70 and the place is jammed. Fleshy tourists jiggle to the bathrooms, a long line of people buy candy bars and coffee lighter than iced tea as an endless stream of cars whooshes by on the interstate. When I finally get to the front of the line to pay for my soggy ham sandwich, I can’t wait to get out of there and start pushing my bike up another pass.

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I don’t have to wait long. A few thousand shuffling steps and three hours later, I climb up to some pointless nub, which is inaccurately named Ten Mile Pass. (A pass should be in a saddle, on the low point of a ridge—something that must not have been explained to whoever routed this trail).

I push my bike over and start the rough, hand-numbing descent down the other side toward Breckenridge. After the downhill, the rest of the afternoon is beautiful, effortless, flowing dirt. With heavy legs, a pinched feeling at the top of my spine and tingly hands, it feels real good to just cruise.

Georgia Pass in the moonlight. Wind blows softly through the tundra. I get off my bike and put my forehead in the dirt. This trail is wrecking me. Completely. But I’m going to ride to the end of it. Deep breath and back on the bike. The white light from my Dynamo glows brighter as I roll faster down the mountain. Things reach out to grab at me. My eyes shut. Wake up in the middle of a corner, going 20 miles an hour. Pop a caffeine pill. Keep it together a little longer. It’s two in the morning. I’ll just sleep an hour. Six in the morning, the sun is coming up over the Front Range. The end of the mountains. Goddamn, I’ve almost made it.

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Seventy miles on a road detour through a burned forest starting to grow back. Little green shoots around the base of wood skeletons. The sun is searing, then it rains. Flowing singletrack in Buffalo Creek. Only 35 miles to go now.

Mud. Slow, sticky, sucking mud. I’m so close to the finish in Waterton Canyon. I grind along at a couple miles an hour. Check the GPS. Only 20 miles to go. That’ s 10 hours at this rate. I’m not riding through another night.

I snap, scream at the mountains, suggest that they enjoy eating Popsicles made out of feces. The mountains just stand there, unoffended. Real mad, I ride faster. Down to the river, up the last big climb, almost going cross-country race pace now, I crash on a dusty switchback. Pick myself up, spin the bars around. OK, relax, man. It’s really almost over now. Finally off the singletrack, onto the road through the canyon. I put it in a big gear and crank. The sun sets, I roll into the parking lot. My wife walks over to meet me.

“Nice work, five and a half days!” says somebody standing next to a van.

“Five? I thought it was six,” I say.

“Nope.”

Apparently I lost a day out there. “Oh, well that’s great.”

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Colorado Trail Race Facts

  • 540 miles
  • 74,000 feet of climbing
  • Race start time: 4:02 a.m.
  • My 11th place finishing time: 5 days, 16 hours, 28 minutes
  • Winning time and new course record set by Jesse Jakomait: 3 days, 20 hours, 44 minutes
  • Final finishers time: 12 days, 12 hours, 19 minutes
  • Trail Magic: Unexpected and unplanned support from a random person giving you a coke or snack or finding a box of girl scout cookies on the side of the road
  • 2016’s event on July 24 will run reverse: Denver to Durango

 

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Review: Salsa Powderkeg Tandem


This review was originally published in our sister magazine, Bicycle Times
Testers: Justin Steiner and Emily Walley

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Salsa first began prototyping tandems back in 2010 when former Salsa Engineer Tim Krueger and his wife Odia saw other couples racing the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival’s Short and Fat Race on tandems. Now, many prototype miles later, including a trip down the Tour Divide,the production Powderkeg is here.

While the Powderkeg is inspired by Salsa’s El Mariachi 29er mountain bike, the construction is much burlier. Salsa utilizes downright huge Cobra Kai tubes custom drawn for this project on the frame and fork to minimize flex. Despite the heavy-duty construction, the complete bike weighs just 42 pounds.

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Three frame sizes are available; medium/small, large/small and large/medium. According to Salsa, those offerings will fit captains from five feet, eight inches to six feet, three inches. Stokers from five feet, five inches to six feet even. It’s worth noting we’re both one inch shorter than the minimum stated fit range but had no issues fitting on the bike. Emily ran the standard stoker stem and Justin swapped to a 60 mm stem.

Salsa bills the Powderkeg as a mountain, gravel and touring bike. Big brakes and aggressive knobby tires hold up the mountain bike end of the bargain so long as you’re willing. On the touring side, a plethora of rack, water bottle and three-pack mounts provide ample options for hauling stuff and mounting fenders. Salsa’s Alternator rear dropout system works incredibly well with the company’s Alternator Rack, but doesn’t play as nicely with other racks.

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The rest of the Powderkeg’s spec is well thought out and reliable without being overly pricey. The Shimano SLX 3×10 drivetrain worked flawlessly and provided all the gearing range we needed. Avid BB7 cable-actuated brakes with 200 mm rotors provided ample stopping power and resisted fading throughout our testing.

It’s clear Salsa invested and lot of time and energy in this project and their hard work has paid off. The Powderkeg is a cohesive, rough and ready package. I’m so impressed with the ride quality and stiffness of this frame. Fully loaded for camping or on technical singletrack we never perceived a bit of fork or frame flex, which is incredible considering the length of the bike and the force two people can apply.

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The Powderkeg’s handling is similarly impressive. Of course, riding a tandem requires some adjustment, this bike’s 70-degree headtube angle and long wheelbase blend low-speed maneuverability and high-speed stability very well, regardless of whether bombing singletrack or cruising dirt roads. At tandem-friendly-speeds off road, I never felt much need for a suspension fork, but a 100 mm tandem-rated suspension fork may be used. Unlike a single bike, each person is only really dealing with the impacts from one wheel. The other wheel is so far away the bump forces are much smaller.

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The Powderkeg is one of just a few off-the-shelf mountain tandems available. Cannondale offers the Tandem 29er for $3,125 with some compelling component spec, but it doesn’t offer comparable touring versatility and has a strangely steep 72.5-degree headtube angle.

Aside from that, nearly every other tandem in this category hails from a smaller company and commands a premium. For instance, Co-Motion’s Java 29er starts at $5,595. Ventana offers a handful of tandems; the full suspension El Conquistador de Montañas 29er starts at $6,000 and the rigid, fat-wheel El Gran Jefe ranges from $3,200 to $6,500. All of these make the adventure-ready Powderkeg seem like a pretty good deal at $3,999.

More info from Salsa Cycles.

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To see action photos and learn more about this bike, check out the multi-day bikepacking adventure that begat this review by reading “Allegheny National Forest touring tandemonium” from the same issue of Bicycle Times.

 

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The One-Bike Challenge


Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt 790 MSL BC Edition

How far can a short-travel trail bike take you? From Issue #187

We are at an interesting point in the technological advances in mountain bikes. For years the idea was always more. More travel, more gears, more bigger wheels. But now we’ve started to dial things back: Single ring drivetrains, 27.5 wheels, shorter travel trail bikes, gravity riders dumping full blown downhill racers for 160 mm trail bikes that can climb.

With scenes of “Top Gear”, “Road Kill” and “Junkyard Wars” challenges floating in my head, the One Bike Challenge was conceived. Could a spoiled bike media guy be happy on one bike for three very different big events? Would I have fun? Would I spend the whole time thinking about bikes I’d rather be riding? Would I decide to give up riding for water polo? Let’s see what happens.

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Tester: Eric McKeegan, age: 41, height: 5’11,” weight: 160 lbs, inseam: 32″

The Events

Bikepacking: A self-contained bikepacking trip in Pennsylvania on a mix of pavement, dirt roads and technical singletrack

Endurance: The Wilderness 101, a brutal 100-mile race with 10,000 feet of climbing and rocks everywhere in central Pennsylvania

Gravity: Chomolungma Challenge, a 20-lap downhill race at Snowshoe bike park in West Virginia, totaling 30,000 feet of descending

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 The Bike: Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt 790 MSL BC Edition

Almost all the bikes on the shortlist were in the 120 to 130 mm travel range, and all were 29ers. My logic? Since the bikepacking and endurance segments of this challenge would be where the majority of my saddle time would take place, the larger wheels have been my go to for that type of stuff for over a decade now.  Also, bigger wheels can help make up for shorter travel when things get fast and chunky.

Slowly, each of my initial selections were crossed of the list for various reasons. Some brands were about  introduce an improved model that wouldn’t be ready in time. Some were so popular companies prioritized dealers and consumers over media when bikes were scarce. Some never bothered to return my calls or emails.

So I cast a wider net and started to consider the wide range of 27.5 wheeled bikes. It didn’t take long to hone in on the Thunderbolt in B.C. Edition trim. Strong wheels, Pike fork, adjustable geometry. Rocky Mountian was agreeable to the challenge, and I was in business.

Rocky’s BC Edition moniker refers to hot-rodded versions of existing bikes based on employees’ customization of stock bikes to make them more capable on the famous trails in British Columbia.  The stock Thunderbolt is a capable 120 mm trail bike, and the BC Edition drops in a 130 mm RockShox Pike fork, NoTubes Flow wheelset, 2.4-inch Maxxis Ardent EXO-casing tires, a wider bar/shorter stem and single-ring drivetrain.

Full disclosure: I did swap the wheels out for a set of the new Easton Heist 27.5 wheels, and the RockShox Reverb dropper post for a 9Point8 Fall Line dropper. Since both the stock wheelset and dropper are so well proven, I took the opportunity to test some new products.

Rocky utilizes its Smoothlink suspension design for the Thunderbolt (and all other full-suspension bikes in its lineup). Smoothlink is a four-bar system with the pivot above the rear axle, rather than below in Horst-link style. The Thunderbolt uses a full complement of bushings (not ball-bearings) at all pivots. A new collet system keeps the main pivot tight, and grease ports all-around keep maintenance time at a minimum.

Its Ride-9 System adjusts both geometry and suspension progression. With nine different settings, this is a tinker’s dream or a Luddite’s nightmare. I think most riders will either leave it where the shop sets it or experiment until a favorite setting is found and not touch it again.

The frame is fully carbon, with internal routing for the dropper and derailleur cables, and the rear brake hose is external.

Bikepacking

Since I have hand-pain issues on long days, I swapped out the stock 760 mm bars for some 28-degree Fouriers Trailhead alt-bars and a longer stem. I installed lighter tires and a thicker WTB Vigo saddle, along with bags from Carousel Design Works, Blackburn and Porcelain Rocket to carry my gear. I really wanted to retain the use of my dropper post, so I strapped a Thule Pack ’n Pedal rack to the seatstays, leaving plenty of room for the seat to drop. I set the suspension in the middle setting, figuring the most neutral handling would be the best for bikepacking.

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My trip was a loosely planned route that covered a lot of rarely used logging/fracking roads, rocky hiking trails and plenty of paved back roads. The trip started with a steady four-mile paved climb where I appreciated the firmest Lock setting on the RockShox Monarch RT3 Debonair shock.

The voyage was surprisingly without much fanfare, and this trail bike handled it all with surprising grace. Pedal mode on both the shock and fork helped to control the additional sprung weight added by the camping gear.

I really wasn’t expecting the ride-all-day comfort provided by the Thunderbolt, but it delivered with a combination of efficient pedaling, comfortable geometry and a playful attitude. The ride ended with a descent down that same four-mile climb, and even with bags I was able to relax on the bike; there was no weird shimmy, headshake or wobble from the front end. In fact, I was able to ride no-handed at speeds well over 20 mph, something rare even on dedicated touring rigs.

Endurance

The Wilderness 101 is a very hard race. And I didn’t find the time to do much training. By the time I hit mile 40, I was spent. But even after I was offered a friendly ride back to camp from aid station 3, I decided to continue. I had an article to write, and dropping out was less interesting that sticking to it. I downed handfuls of whatever looked tasty at the aid station and walked up the next hill (and many more after that), but I finished.

I lowered the stem by 10 mm and swapped to a WTB Volt saddle, other than that, my endurance setup was the same as bikepacking, minus the bags. I had cross-country tires to install, but after much frustration, I realized they weren’t tubeless and gave up and reinstalled the sturdy, but slow-rolling combo I used for bikepacking.

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On the many miles of dirt roads, the Thunderbolt was very efficient, although I missed the way 29er wheels roll on the road, particularly when trying to hang on to the back of a paceline. In the rocks the nimble geometry was a blast; the steeper the decent, the happier I was.

This event was where the Thunderbolt felt most at home to me, which isn’t surprising, as the 101 is very much like a typical mountain-bike ride, just longer.

Gravity

I took on the Chomolungma Challenge a few years ago, but that was on a real downhill bike. This was the event I was most worried about. A few bad choices here can mean a few months off the bike.

Due to deadline timing, I wasn’t able to take part in the actual race, but I did my best to reenact the conditions. After a warm up lap on each of the two tracks used for the event on a 160 mm bike, I then dropped in on the Thunderbolt. After a few laps of the Pro downhill track, I think I realized what makes the Thunderbolt such a great bike: It’s up for almost anything, including laps of a real downhill track. Good tires helped with this, and the Schwalbe Muddy Mary and Rock Razor with Super Gravity casings allowed me to attack the rocks with more confidence than I expected for a short travel bike.
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After a few laps of the pro downhill track, I realized what makes the Thunderbolt such a great bike: It’s up for almost anything, including laps of a real downhill track. Good tires helped with this, and the Schwalbe Magic Mary and Rock Razor with Super Gravity casings allowed me to attack the rocks with more confidence than I expected for a short-travel bike.

I ran the Ride-9 chip in the slackest setting, never futzed with the suspension setting all day, and was highly impressed with the bottom-out resistance of the rear suspension.

But, unlike riding a true downhill bike, instead of dialing in the lines as the day progressed on the Pro course, I started to get sloppier and sloppier, so I swapped to the other track, which was more jumpy, but still had plenty to keep me on my toes, including a long section of baby heads that I remember as torture by the end of the race. I felt much more in control here, but after stopping for lunch, I realized I wasn’t that interested in just banging out laps to just bang out laps. Instead I hit up some of the trails on the Basin side of the mountain, and finished the day with a handful of trips down the Skyline jump trail. I came up short of a full 20 laps by about five, but I’ll was still having fun when I quit for the day, so I put this down as a success.

Changes and Adjustments

Bikepacking: I’d get a custom frame pack to get some water weight off my back. Even with a good backpack, I was uncomfortable pretty quickly with most of my food and water on my back.

Endurance: I’d be sure I was prepared with better cross-country tires. Something that rolled more quickly would have been a huge boost, even if it was mostly just mental.

Downhill: I’d find more time beforehand to tune the suspension. The Pike, which felt great on the trail, bottomed out regularly in the bike park, which coud be remedied with another Bottomless Token in the air chamber.

One-Bike Challenge Conclusion

Was it a success? Absolutely. I had a lot of fun at these events, although my idea of fun might be on the masochistic side of things for some riders. But all that aside, I was highly impressed with what this bike could do, and expect with more time and more tuning it could be even better. While having a quiver of bikes is always going to be more fun for most people, a single mountain bike these days is a hell of a tool for a variety of riding.

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Thunderbolt Final Thoughts

At its core, this is a simple bike. Short travel, subdued graphics and a parts spec that is more about getting the job done than impressing your buddies at the trailhead. But dig deeper and this is one of the most versatile bikes on the market today. While setting up adjustable geometry and suspension settings can be tedious, a rider looking for specific handling characteristics, or one that falls outside the standard weight range can find a happy place here.

To me, this is almost perfect trail-bike geometry: A short rear end, longer front-center and a low-ish bottom bracket combined with a slack head angle are the key ingredients to a bike that can carve and pop and rumble. This is one of my favorite-handling bikes, ever. I love long rides on unfamiliar terrain, and that might be where this one is most at home: efficient enough to ride all day, but with enough handling in reserve to save a few bad line choices on some unexpected chutes.

What complaints I can muster are few. The rear suspension wasn’t the most plush on square-edged hits, but this is only a 120 mm rear end. The air valve is difficult reach with most shock pumps when in the slackest setting, making suspension tuning tedious. No ISCG tabs means no chainguide. On the positive front, this frame fully supports a front derailleur, the internal routing is dialed, and those grease ports on the pivots are awesome.

This review is the hardest test we’ve ever put a bike through, testing its abilities at the edges and even past its intended purposes. The Thunderbolt was part steady friend, part happy puppy and part secret lover. Whether you are after your own “one bike” or just one of the most fun and versatile trail bikes on the market, the Thunderbolt BC Edition is often just the right amount of bike for the job.

  • Price: $6,400
  • Sizes: XS, S, M, L (tested), XL
  • More info: bikes.com
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Hut to hut in Guatemala with Hans Rey and Tom Oehler


Words: Hans Rey
Photos: Stefan Voitl

A young man, 18-year-old Kevin, stood on a dusty street corner on the outskirts of Antigua, Guatemala, waiting for us. Two years ago he received a bicycle from Wheels 4 Life through his school, “Escuela Proyecto La Esperanza,” which was founded and is run by a UK-based charity.

When we found him, Kevin jumped on the back of our pick-up truck and guided us to his humble home where he lives with his mother—a primitive brick building with a metal door and no running water. His room is tiny and beside his bed he stores his few belongings, which consist mainly of clothes, school supplies, football trophies and his most precious possession: his beloved bicycle.

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Thanks to this bicycle, Kevin can travel to school much faster. He is now taking a university course to complete his education and in so doing, is building himself a platform for a brighter future. His passion is football but he rides his bike up a steep hill by his home with ease and cruises the 5-mile journey to school through cows and traffic like a New York bike messenger; I had to wonder if he could outride me.


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Austrian photographer Stefan Voitl approached me a few months ago and asked whether I would like to join him and fellow Austrian trials rider Tom Oehler on a bike adventure while also incorporating a trip to visit a Wheels 4 Life project.

We all met up with a local tour guide in Guatemala City named Matt to prepare for a unique and remote hut-to-hut tour in the Highlands at 10,000 feet. Beautiful trails, natural terrain and a wild Guatemalian backcountry would soon provide a great stage for our adventure.

But first, we were treated to day rides around the picturesque and cobblestoned city of Antigua, which is surrounded by several active volcanoes. We also got to ride the first bike park in Guatemala, El Zur.

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A few days later, after a 5-hour drive through the countryside, we arrived near Todos Santos at the base of the Cuchumantanes Mountain Range/Highlands. Our goal was to ride all the way via Laguna Magdalena and Chortiz to the town of Acul Quiche in three days, sleeping in simple backpacker huts and getting fed by local families. The trails, when we had them, were technical and slow going. Often we had to push, hike and literally trials ride our way on the little-used paths.

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When we arrived at the small settlement of Laguna Magdalena, the locals were rather surprised to see us come down the rough hillside on mountain bikes. We settled into the cabin and, after a round of dice and a flask of local moonshine, we crawled into our beds before 9 p.m. When we woke up, the stars where still visible in the dark sky and the ground was frozen; we didn’t waste much time climbing out of the freezing-cold valley to reach the first rays of sun.

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This was the big day, most of the route had never been ridden on bicycles and there were several parts with no trail at all. We knew that the small village of Chortiz had another backpacker cabin, but in between we had to traverse several valleys and mountain ranges always at an altitude of around 9,000 feet. Tom’s trials biking skills transferred very well into his mountain biking style, with ease he would pick his line through the gnarliest rock gardens.

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When we arrived at the hut at sunset, we found that two backpacking girls from the United Kingdom and their guide had already snatched up most of the beds in the cabin, so we scattered mattress and blankets on the floor and made ourselves at home. Showers were out of the question and drinking water had to be filtered. A local family invited us into their primitive home with dirt floors and a fire pit in the middle of the room, where the females of the family were preparing a tasty meal consisting of chicken broth, noodles, potatos and eggs; the same would be served for breakfast the following morning.

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The final leg of the trip was a long downhill to the Hacienda San Antonio, a working cheese farm. The trail reminded me of the old military switchback trails in the Italian Alps dating to Wordl War II. We only encountered shepherds and few packhorses hauling supplies into the highlands. One of the horses was accidentally spooked by the rolling wheels and fell off the trail into the scrub. We stopped to help remove the heavy load from the horse so that it could get back on to the trail and, luckily, he was OK.

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Back in Antigua we visited the Education For The Children (EFTC) school and met some of the previous Wheels 4 Life bike recipients, as well as the 31 new children who would receive a bike from us while we were there.

Wheels 4 Life is a non-profit charity I founded that provides bicycles to people in need of transportation in developing countries. EFTC provides education to over 600 children, and also gives them access to healthcare, nutrition, transportation (via the bikes we donated) and, where needed, psychological council and therapy for kids and families that have undergone traumatic experiences. Further educational support includes university scholarships to set these kids up for real jobs and an opportunity to break out of the vicious cycle of poverty. Many of these families live on less than $1 per day.

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I was chuffed to see Stefan and Tom supporting my cause and was also happy to see the project flourishing and succeeding after its initial phase three years ago. The donated bicycles had been put to good use and were still running strong. Some of the students are now attending university with dreams of administrative jobs or finding work in Guatemala’s growing tourism industry.

If you are interested in touring Guatemala, contact Oldtown Outfitters.

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One Bike Challenge: Is the quiver killer finally possible?


Last year when working on the 2015 editorial calendar for Dirt Rag, I realized the holy grail might finally be found.

Found is really the wrong word, and maybe the grail is the wrong metaphor, but who doesn’t love a good Indiana Jones reference? In any case, the grail I’m referring to is a single mountain bike that can handle all the riding I would want to do in a year, and do them all well enough that I wouldn’t regret not taking another bike that was more suited to the task at hand. And I had to have fun. Having to suffer through an event due to poor bike choice is never any fun.

In any given year I might be taking part in endurace events (100 milers, stage races), attempting to not crash too hard in a bike park, or exorcising demons on a bike-camping trip. That is a tall order to ask of a single bike, and an even taller order to ask when the rider (me) has access to bikes that are designed with a focus on just such events.

With all that in mind, I picked three events to see if a modern trail bike could really do it all.

Bikepacking

I planned a multi-day trip in the wilds of central Pennsylvania. With plenty of little-used pavement, dirt roads and singletrack, this would be a true test of my route finding and the bike’s ability handle a variety of terrain with the load of a self-contained camping set up.

What I’d be riding if I wasn’t on the “One Bike”: RSD Mutant rigid steel 29plus, a model that is now replaced with the Big Chief.

Endurance

I decided it was time to revisit the Wilderness 101. The last time I rode it was at least a decade ago, on a rigid Karate Monkey with terrible cable disc brakes, terrible IRC Mythos tires, and an inadvertently terrible 34-18 gear choice. It was a top 5 hardest day ever on the bike for me. And I’ve had a lot of hard days on the bike.

What I’d be riding if I wasn’t on the “One Bike”: Black Cat Custom 29er hardtail singlespeed

Bike Park

The Chomolungma Challenge at Snowshoe Bike Park is not the most well know downhill race, but it deserves more attention. Chomolungma translates as “Goddess Mother of Mountains,” a name used by Tibetans for the mountain we know as Everest. What does this have to do with Snowshoe, a much smaller hill nowhere near Tibet? Everest is 29,029 feet tall. 20 laps of the Western Territory at Snowshoe is roughly 30,000 feet. Line up some racers and see who can do it the quickest. Simple.

I did this race a few years ago on a downhill bike, and for the most part enjoyed it, even with a broken derailleur cable for the last five laps or so. This was also the race the broke our circulation guy’s shoulder. (This was a awful as it sounds)

Unfortunately due to deadline timing, I won’t actually be able to take part in the race, but I’ll travel to Snowshoe to do the laps to simulate the carnage. I’ll miss the nice ladies handing out drinks and snacks in the lift lines during the race.

What I’d be riding if I wasn’t on the “One Bike”: KTM Lycan LT 271.

The One Bike

I had a list of mid- to long-travel 29ers that I was working from when this idea was hatched. The big wheels are more suited to the endurance and bike packing parts of this challenge, and the bigger wheels would hopefully make up for some of the short travel when attempting to not die at the bike park. Some riders wondered why I wasn’t using a longer travel 27.5 bike, but I felt the bigger wheels and shorter travel were more important for the two longer events.

One by one the 29ers fell by the wayside. Some where about to be redesigned, some companies didn’t return my calls or emails, and some were being sold at a faster rate than they could be made leaving none for the begging media.

So I started searching again. And hit upon this:

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That is a picture of the 2015 Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt BC Edition. A few emails to Andres Hestler, and the bike was at my door.

Yes, it “only” has 27.5 wheels. Everything else about it is just about perfect. A 130 mm Pike fork is sturdy enough for Snowshoe, but not so long and heavy as to be a huge hinderance bikepacking or attempting to make quick work of 101 miles. The carbon frame keeps weight down. A dropper post is must, obviously. The real key that sold me on the Thunderbolt is Rocky’s Ride9 geometry adjust technology.

Via a simple chip system, head angle can be adjusted from 68.2 degrees to a delightfully slack 66.5-degrees. That is among the slackest available for a bike with a 130 mm front end, at least for a stock bike. Ride-9 also allows for adjustments for a more linear or progressive shock rate, and for lighter or heavier riders. This sounds pretty ideal for my uses. A single bolt holds the chips in place, although in the slackest setting, the frame blocks access to the air valve, making shock tuning a bit of a pain.

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I’m limiting myself to only tire and cockpit changes. I’ve made some swaps to stock parts to get some extra time on components I’m reviewing, but nothing that changes the nature of the bike.

Stay tuned for the changes I made for each challenge, the gear that helped me finish, and finally the big write up in the pages of our magazine. Subscribe right now and you might be in time for the full test to arrive in your mail box.

 

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Inside Line: First ride on new 2016 Salsa models


Ponyrustler

Spotted as a prototype at Sea Otter, the new 27plus full suspension bike from Salsa made its official debut today with two carbon fiber models and an aluminum model built around the excellent Split Pivot suspension.

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If you’re ridden the Horsethief 29er and enjoyed it, you’re likely to feel right at home on the Ponyrustler, as they share geometry figures. In fact, the 2016 Horsetheif is the exact same frame and each model can swap wheels thanks to the Boost hub spacing front and rear. Salsa will continue to offer them as two distinct models though, and the ride experience is quite different.

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A quick demo ride largely confirmed that the ride experience somewhat splits the difference between a normal 29er and a full suspension fat bike. Compared to the Bucksaw full suspension fat bike the Ponyrustler feels much faster and more like a “normal” bike while still offering the extra traction and compliance of the larger tires.

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The frame offers 120 mm of travel the complete bikes ship with 130 mm forks, all with 110 mm Boost spacing. The Carbon XO1 model ships with the Pike and SRAM XO1, of course, for $5,499. The Carbon GX1 model has the Fox fork and a 1×11 GX build for $4,499. Finally, the aluminum Ponyrustler has a Fox fork and 2×10 GX build for $3,499. All three models ship with SRAM hubs laced to WTB Scraper rims with WTB’s new Bridger 27.5×3.0 tires. The carbon frame will also be available on its own for $2,499.

 

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Are 27plus bikes going to be the new normal in a few years time? Don’t be surprised if they are.

Deadwood

Somewhat surprising is this 29plus touring bike that Salsa says will be produced in somewhat limited numbers. More evolutionary than revolutionary, it’s kind of like what you’d expect to get if a Fargo and a Mukluk enjoyed a little too much bourbon around the campfire before snuggling into a sleeping bag together.

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It’s built with Salsa’s more heavy duty Cobra Kai steel tubing also found on the Powderkeg tandem and Marrakesh touring bike. Here you’ll find all the features and mounts from a Fargo but with the Boost 148 spacing on the Alternator rear end to accommodate the 29×3 Surly Knard tires on WTB Scraper rims. The fork is identical to the standard Fargo model though.

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The deep copper paint is lovely in person, and subtle touches like the special logo treatment and subdued graphics are really eye-catching.

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I had a chance to take it for a quick spin and I think it could really be the perfect vehicle for riders who want to tackle touring/bikepacking routes at a more casual pace and are willing to trade some speed for comfort. The huge tires soak up the bumps without creating excess rolling resistance. My guess is it’s the kind of bike that will leave customers either salivating or scratching their heads.

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The Deadwood will retail for $2,599 or $1,099 for a frame/fork.

Cutthroat

Salsa says the Tour Divide race was the inspiration for the Fargo model, but in the ensuing years the bar for speed has been raised (or lowered?) and top gravel racers are looking for something even lighter and more aggressive. The full carbon fiber Cutthroat is the result.

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An even more streamlined vision of what the perfect Tour Divide race bike could be, the Cutthroat does away with some of the practicality found on the Fargo such as the Alternator dropouts and rack and fender mounts. The triple cage mounts on the fork are still there though, as it shares the Firestarter carbon fork with the high-end Fargo model.

In the back is the new “Class 5 Vibration Reduction System” that made its debut on the Warbird gravel bike. In an effort to absorb impacts and vibrations the seatstays bow outward considerably to flex. When you’re racing 2,800 miles in two weeks on unpaved roads and trails, any bit helps.

The Cutthroat with a SRAM Rival 1×11 build is $3,999 and the SRAM Apex/X7 2×10 build is $2,999. The frame/fork can also be had for $1,999.

 

Marrakesh

While the Vaya has been carrying the “light touring” torch in the Salsa lineup for a few years, the brand admits it can be a bit overwhelmed when carting heavy loads. The Marrakesh was built from from Salsa’s Cobra Kai steel tubing to carry you and ALL your gear to its namesake exotic lands.

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A touring bike in the classic sense, it has a 3×9 drivetrain and bar-end shifters on the drop-bar model. The flat-bar model is an entirely different frame geometry to achieve proper fit, but is otherwise identical. Each version is available in two colors with a Shimano Deore kit, SRAM BB7 disc brakes, a rear rack and a Brooks saddle. The Alternator dropouts allow you to rig a singlespeed setup if you destroy a derailleur or to built one with an internal-gear hub.

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The Marrakesh will retail for $1,599 or $650 for the frame/fork.

 

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Other changes in the Salsa line

Aside from spec and color changes, some notable tweaks:

  • The carbon Beargrease gets one of the coolest fade paint jobs ever. (Pictured above)
  • All of Salsa’s fat bikes now come with 150 mm spacing on the forks so they can be swapped with a RockShox Bluto if desired. Each of the hardtail fat bikes (Mukluk, Beargrease and Blackbarrow) is also available with one stock.
  • The Mukluk frame geometry changes to match that of the Blackbarrow.
  • The Spearfish is now available in carbon only, with two spec levels or a frame option.
  • The Fargo Ti rides off into the sunset, mostly supplanted by the Cutthroat.
  • The new carbon and aluminum Warbirds were unveiled earlier this year.
  • The Vaya Ti remains in the lineup as a complete bike or frameset.
  • The smallest Vaya models now use 700c wheels instead of 26-inch, and there are only six total sizes instead of eight.
  • The Colossal Ti rolls away, and the single steel model is offered with SRAM Apex or as a frameset.

 

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Shimano releases new gravity, touring and winter shoes


The new Shimano gravity series has been designed with input from Men’s Downhill World Champion Gee Atherton, 2013 Downhill World Champion Rachel Atherton and multiple British 4X National Champion Dan Atherton. The Atherton’s influence is clear to see in the AM9, which the whole GT Atherton team has been testing since the beginning of the season, with protection and grip to suit harsh riding conditions and the most aggressive riding styles.

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AM9

The newly designed pedal channel in the outsole of the AM9 makes it easier to re-engage to the pedal while unclipped. This feature also brings about a weight-saving of 217g per pair (size 40), a 23% reduction over the AM45. It features a comfortable EVA foam construction midsole and Volume Tour Last sizing outsole for extra volume at the ball of the foot, providing additional comfort and support on and off the bike. A Velcro strap on the upper of all new AM shoes keeps the foot securely in place with even tension across the metatarsal bones.


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AM7

The AM7 is identical to the AM9 but with a flat Virbram outsole for flat pedals. Armoured lace shields on the AM9 and AM7 provide additional metatarsal protection from the elements and keep laces confined, away from chain rings and cranks.


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AM5

The AM5 on the other hand, foregoes the lace shield to offer a street-inspired style, equally at home in skate parks, trail parks and everywhere in between. With a lightweight and non-compressed flat insole, the AM5 offers an even and comfortable foot cushion for a platform that’s ideal for both walking and riding.


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XM9

With its high-ankle protection and walking support, the XM9 takes on the appearance of a hiking boot rather than a traditional cycling shoe. Strategic ankle padding prevents debris from entering the shoe and offers more ankle support than a regular cycling shoe without interfering with pedaling movement. Further protection from the elements comes in the form of a durable rubber toe cap, natural nubuck leather and a breathable, waterproof Gore-Tex liner for optimal climate comfort.Traditional laces provide the closure system with metal hook eyelets for lacing, combined with a Mini Power Strap, TPU heel, and cupped and grooved insole to secure your foot in the shoe.


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XM7

Designed for riders who are likely to spend as much time off the bike as on it, the XM7 delivers the best of both worlds. Natural Nubuck leather and a reinforced rubber toe box provide protection and durability, whilst a Gore-Tex liner allows your feet to breathe. Much like the XM9, a Vibram® outsole provides grip and a flexible half-length shank plate and shock absorbing EVA delivers outdoor walkability in all conditions. The lace closure system with its Velcro cross-foot top loop-strap provides a snug fit and allows laces to be tucked away.

Both the XM9 and XM7 come with a screw-in plastic cap for the recessed SPD cleat. This multi-functional cap is designed for use with flat pedals but is designed to fit an SPD pedal for those who want to get used to the cleat entry and exit action before committing. The cap simply unscrews when you’re ready to add Shimano’s SPD cleats.


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MW7

A new addition in Shimano’s off-road shoe line-up, these insulated and waterproof boots are fleece-lined for protection from rain and cold. They have a waterproof Gore-Tex insulated comfort liner and heat-retaining fleece lined insole as well as Shimano’s Torbal torsional midsole giving you a stiff instep section and an independently flexible front and back section. This gives the foot a natural flow for descents and also provides you with efficient power transfer to the areas of the foot that need it most. Meanwhile high-traction rubber studs on the outer edges of the sole ensure excellent traction on a wide variety of terrains and conditions.

For mountain biking, the MW7´s molded toe cap and ankle support, cupped high sole and instep, and tough, padded synthetic leather surround protects the foot from on-trail basketball-shaped rocks. Lacing is taken care of with speed-lacing pull-cord and Velcro armored lace shield to ensure a quick and secure fit.


Pricing and availability

  • MW7 – September
  • XM series, AM9 and AM5 – October
  • AM7 – November
  • Pricing has not yet been determined.

 

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Maneha 250 event blends gravel, bikepacking and supported tour


It strikes me as a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg scenario as cyclists are taking their bikes to places they’ve never been, and new bike designs are allowing them to push them even further. That trend extends to events as well, and the Maneha 250 is an epic two-day bikepacking ride with a unique twist: a fully supported overnight stop.

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Starting at Ride Studio Cafe in Lexington Massachusetts, the route heads 125 miles to Midway Campsite in New Hampshire, staying overnight, and then rolls back on a different route. In all it totals about 16,000 feet of climbing.

Hosted by Overland Base Camp on May 9 and 10, the ride will traverse everything from paved roads to primitive goat trails. “The best rides are often the ones that push you past what you thought was possible,” said organizer Rob Vandermark. But the hard work has a payoff: “The best part is riding into the camp at night. The feel of accomplishment mixed with great food and sharing the stories from everyone’s ride is so much fun,”

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There are several options for participating, from carrying your own gear to having it shuttled by Overland Base Camp. Riders can also choose the one-way, 125-mile ride.

Sounds like an awesome experience and I’m looking forward to hearing how it goes.

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First look at the new Rocky Mountain Sherpa


We first got a look at the Sherpa concept last spring at the Sea Otter Classic, and now one year later Rocky Mountain is ready to introduce the bike to the world.

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Built around the 27plus tires—in this case WTB’s 2.8 Trailblazers—the Sherpa is loosely based on the Element 29er and contains much of the technology found on other Rocky Mountain bikes, including the SmoothLink suspension design. The inspiration for the bike actually came from WTB’s tires, Rocky Mountain said, and they found it fit perfectly with the kind of backcountry exploration that is becoming more popular.

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With 95 mm of travel in the rear through a new Manitou shock, the carbon front triangle is paired with aluminum rear swingarm with a standard 142×12 rear hub, not the new Boost hub. To fit the chain around the tire Rocky Mountain partnered with RaceFace to make a Turbine crankset with an 83 mm spindle to widen the Q factor a bit. Up front the suspension duty is handled by a Mantiou Magnum 120 mm fork (also new) which is Boost sized with a 110mm hub.

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Rocky Mountain readily admits that the concept isn’t for everyone, and won’t be replacing any other products in its lineup, but is an option for mountain bikers who love exploring as much as shredding.

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The Sherpa will be available in four sizes for $4,500.

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From Rocky Mountain: Early in Spring 2015 we headed down to Arizona for a few days of desert overland bikepacking. The roll-call included Olympian Andreas Hestler, freeriders Wade Simmons and Geoff Gulevich, renowned filmmaker Brian Vernor, and Rocky Mountain product guy Alex Cogger. The first goal was to escape the Pacific Northwest winter, and the second goal was to test our new Sherpa bike.

The Black Canyon Trail runs roughly 80 miles North to South. Beginning on a high plateau, it winds through rolling grasslands before descending into a landscape of Saguaros, Chollas, and other Sonoran Desert flora. We were treated to chilly nights and frosty desert mornings, but once that sun rose, wool layers were peeled and we had to contend with the steady, relentless heat of the day. The landscape we encountered was fully alien to us, full of incredibly beautiful things just waiting to stab you the moment you stray from the trail. Between the bullet-holes in everything and the buck-naked rider we ran into on day three, it was clear this trip was about getting weird in the desert.

 

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Adventure Cycling releases maps for new 518-mile off-road route


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The Adventure Cycling Association has release a new two-map set that guides cyclists through the breathtaking landscape of central Idaho. Idaho Hot Springs Mountain Bike Route (IHSMBR) offers a spectacular 518-mile off-pavement route, offering four substantial singletrack options, and featuring access to more than 50 hot springs in the Gem State.

The route is the first from Adventure Cycling that includes backcountry singletrack options, said Cartographer Casey Greene. “It’s also something that our members have been asking for, and with the innovative new bikepacking gear and techniques that have surfaced over the past 10 years, it seemed like the perfect time to develop this kind of route,” Greene said.

Learn more and see map.

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First Impression: Surly ECR


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Let me answer this question first: no, this is not a Krampus with holes drilled in it. While ECR closely resembles its 29+ brethren, it is a completely different beast. The frame is different, the geometry is different, the build kit is different and the fork is different.

Built for loaded touring, exploring and “Escaping Common Reality”, Surly designed the ECR from the ground up with versatility and cargo capacity in mind. It has eyelets for pretty much anything you can imagine: Up to five bottle cages, three sets of Salsa Anything Cage mounts, mounts a cargo rack out back, fenders (if you can find some wide enough), lowrider or cargo racks on the fork, a Rohloff hub, even a Surly trailer mount. All of this is made possible with Surly’s stout 4130 steel tubing (‘natch) and unique rearward-facing dropouts shared with the Ogre and Troll models.

Read more about this monster here.

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Review: 2013 Salsa Fargo 2


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Rather than a beefed-up touring bike, the Fargo 2 is actually a drop-bar mountain bike, with a lighter compact frame, 2×10 drivetrain, tubeless wheels, and slacker geometry than you would find on a road-going touring bike. A tall, 44mm head tube means a higher handlebar for comfort off-road, and suspension-corrected geometry allows a suspension fork upgrade. 

Click here to read the full, long-term review.

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