Dirt Rag Magazine

First Ride: Surly Krampus


Folklore describes the Krampus as a half-goat, half-demon Christmas wrecker that punishes children who are bad and will not be getting a visit from Saint Nick. If misbehaving is wrong, I don’t want to be right. The new Surly Krampus is too much fun for that nonsense.

The Krampus roared to life five years ago as one of the first plus bikes in existence. Since Surly also makes rims, hubs and tires, it can largely do whatever it wants, which is what it did with this bike. The Krampus turned out to be a harbinger of the overwhelming diversification we’d soon be mired in, and was due for an update.


The most welcome and obvious adjustments to the new Surly Krampus are the use of tubeless-ready rims, thru-axle dropouts, adjustable Gnot-Boost spacing to allow for multiple hub widths, stealth cable routing for a dropper post (on a wider, 30.9 seat tube) and new tubing that cleaned up the head tube area and strengthened other areas without adding weight. For the bikepacking set, Krampus is now more welcoming to racks and cages, and will sell with the same braze-on-covered fork that other bikes get.

The original Krampus could take a 120 mm fork, but Surly was lukewarm on recommending it (not that Surly owners obey orders). It also meant you’d have to re-lace your front wheel to a different hub since the bike was stocked with quick release. Ugh, too much work. Anyway, Krampus now embraces the bounce, though the bikes will come stock with a rigid fork.

How else does this one differ from its predecessor? The head tube angle is half a degree slacker (now 69). Chainstays are half an inch shorter (down to 17.1). The new build kit includes a SRAM NX derailleur and shifter, SRAM Level brakes, a WTB Volt Saddle, updated Surly Dirt Wizard 29×3.0 tires and 11 speeds.


Yadda yadda yadda; how does it ride? At this point, there are not many unique ways left to describe the ride feel of a steel hardtail. In a way, that’s a good thing. If you like steel, if you like fun, if you aren’t a weight weenie, if you like play, then you will like this Krampus. The ride is tremendous. Those huge wheels, huge tires and slackened geometry meant I was less careful than I might otherwise have been on completely unfamiliar terrain.

Krampus ate up the rocks, steeps, sand, dust, berms and slower riders. It’s far from the fastest bike I’ve ever ridden, but it was also far easier to handle than I ever expected. Slowed way down on ledgy, twisty bits of trail, I deftly kept it upright without tiring out my waif-like arms. Get one. I can tell you it’s gonna be great, believe me. Huge. You know what I mean.


For a long time, I turned my nose up at the 29plus thing for one reason: I am 5’4″. I assumed there was no way a 15-inch frame wearing clown shoes could accommodate me comfortably. Despite the awkward look of my size small test bike–like a teenager whose feet grew to full size before their height caught up–the Krampus proved me wrong. I felt “in” the bike, immediately comfortable with how it rode and handled. If you have been pedaling hardtails for a while, this one won’t feel unfamiliar.


The Krampus really could be your one mountain bike. The stock rigid fork with bottle mounts means it comes ready to travel. Add suspension and a dropper and you have a capable trail bike for all but the biggest hits or fastest cross-country races. That’s the beauty of the 29plus trail hardtail–to ride one is to have it all make total sense. These bikes occupy a middle ground that, rather than making them dull, makes them incredibly versatile. Depending on how you build it, you can fiddle with the ride characteristics to suit your desires. Install a carbon fork and lower-profile tires and this thing could really rocket if you’re willing to give ‘er.

I greatly enjoy my full-suspension carbon wunderbike, but it seems to have just a single purpose in life: go fast over gnar. It gets all pissy when you need to slow down or want to go on a gravel road ride, instead. A friend like the Krampus says, “Whatever you’re up for, I’m cool with it.”


What does a Surly Krampus have over other brands? A good price, the ride quality of Surly’s CroMoly “Natch” steel, the bikepacking-friendly fork, the ability to find them in lots of bike shops and attitude. Lots and lots of attitude. Also, the Gnot-Boost rear is pretty cool since you can choose to use either a 10 x 135 mm QR, 12 x 142, or 12 x 148 Boost hub. Yes, it’s heavy. Yes, custom is all the rage right now. But if you’re ready to try steel, give this candy apple a bite.


My primary complaint–or confusion, rather–is that the new Krampus is now a lot like the new Karate Monkey (read my first ride review of the 27plus version of that bike). Both the Krampus and the Monkey got the “lay-back, get-rad” treatment for 2017, each with a longer top, shorter stays and slacker angles. Uh oh, is this Surly following a trend rather than creating one? How do you decide between the two?!?


Those changes pushed each machine into the trail bike category previously only occupied by the Krampus (and Instigator, but we’ll have to see what happens with that bike). Surly admitted the two bikes are now much more similar than they used to be, with wheel size the primary difference now that the Monkey no longer sports traditional cross-country geometry, which I am kinda bummed went away.


I really, really hope Surly decides to sell this bike with a suspension option. Apparently, the rigid forks weren’t ready for prime time when Interbike rolled around, so all of the test bikes sported Manitou Machetes. I had a blast riding this setup, particularly because suspension is a huge factor in not needing to choose your lines so wisely–good for adventures on unfamiliar singletrack and faster descents.

The Machete, a 120 mm fork that impressively retails for under $400, felt excellent. I don’t have much more to say about the fork since it wasn’t the focus of my ride, but if you’re looking for a Boost option that is reasonably priced (for what it is), I don’t think you’ll be disappointed in the Machete.




New: Jamis expands line of plus hardtails

Dragonslayer 27plus

Dragonslayer 27plus

Jamis has expanded its lineup of hardtail plus bikes in both unisex and women’s-specific models. The new Dragon, Komodo and Eden Series bikes are designed for trail riding with 120 mm forks, slackened geometry, short rear ends and 3-inch tires.

The Dragon Series is made of Reynolds 520 steel and has been expanded to six models (four unisex and two women’s-specific). Dragonslayer will be available either in a 27plus or 26plus, while the women’s Dragonfly models move to 26plus.

Dragonfly 26plus

Dragonfly 26plus

The Dragonslayer sports a 68-degree headtube angle, 73-degree seat tube angle and 16.7 inch/425 mm chainstay length. The top-of-the-line bikes in the series will feature a FOX Rhythm 34 Float fork, WTB Scraper rims, a 1×11 Shimano SLX build and a KS eTen Integra dropper post.

All Dragon Series bikes feature adjustable sliding dropouts with 15 mm of range, thru axles front and rear, rear rack capabilities and multiple cargo/water bottle eyelets for bikepacking, plus oversize 44 mm head tubes, Boost hub spacing, tubeless wheelsets and internal dropper post routing.

Komodo 27plus

Komodo 27plus

The Jamis Komodo and Eden Series bikes are made from triple butted 6061 aluminum and feature Boost hub spacing, tapered head tubes, tubeless wheelsets and internal dropper post routing.

Eden 26plus

Eden 26plus

The women’s bikes have better standover clearance, come in smaller sizes—down to 14 inches—and are stocked with narrower handlebars and different saddles.

The steel models will range from $1,400 to $2,500. The aluminum bikes will range from $1,000 to $1,700. 2017 Jamis Plus bikes are expected in stock beginning at the end of September. All 2017 Jamis products including the new Plus bikes will be live and online with the 2017 Jamis website in mid-September.



New: Rocky Mountain Growler 27plus hardtail


The market expansion of plus-size trail hardtails with don’t-need-to-mortgage-the-house prices continues with the new Rocky Mountain Growler, a 120 mm, 27 plus hardtail. All models feature an aluminum frame, 1×11 gearing and 3-inch WTB Ranger tires. None of the models get a dropper post, womp womp, even though the top-end price point of this bike is comparable to plus-tire hardtails with droppers.


Notably, the Growler is available in six sizes, including XXS(!!). That and the XS will run 26plus wheels/tires, which makes a whole hell of a lotta sense.

Geometry highlights include a 67-degree headtube angle. On the XXS and XS, the bottom bracket drop goes from 58 mm to 40 mm, and the rear chainstay shrinks a bit from 440 mm to 430 mm. Rocky Mountain resisted the short-as-possible trend on many mini-fat hardtails, helping it stand out a bit against brethren such as the similarly spec’d Salsa Timberjack.


  • Growler 750 — $1,700
  • Growler 740 — $1,250 (pictured above in red)
  • Growler 730 — $900

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Canfield Brothers updates trail hardtail

Canfield Brothers Nimble 9 Boost Build5 (1)

For the Canfield Brothers cultists, there’s a new steel hardtail on the block. Canfield updated one of its staples: the steel, get-rowdy 29er Nimble 9 to be Boost compatible, slacker and more sparkly.

The Nimble 9 combines the revered ride quality of a steel frame with a slack 66.5-degree head angle and stubby chainstays adjustable down to 16.25 inches via sliding dropouts, making it a candidate for singlespeeding and providing clearance for 2.5-inch tires.

Available in S, M, L and XL, the Nimble 9 frame retails for $749 and sells directly from Canfield Brothers.

Nimble 9 Boost Features and Updates

  • 29er all-mountain bike
  • 4130 chromoly steel
  • Increased reach and shorter seat tube
  • 66.5° head angle (w/ 140mm fork)
  • Custom sliding Boost 148mm x 12mm rear dropouts, axle included
  • Adjustable 16.25“ – 16.9” chainstays
  • Singlespeed-able
  • Stealth cable routing
  • Sparkle metallic painted finish
  • ED Black treated for superior anti-corrosion resistance
  • Removable direct mount front derailleur block
  • Two water bottle bosses



Trek Stache 29plus gets the carbon treatment

Trek Stache-5

Stache 9.8

If you follow this stuff at all, you knew this one was coming from Trek Bikes: a carbon Stache 29plus. And you won’t have to wait long, with aluminum models available now and carbon models hitting your local bike shop in September.

The newly expanded Stache lineup includes two OCLV mountain carbon models—Stache 9.8 and 9.6—plus two Alpha Platinum aluminum models—Stache 7 and 5. You may also get a carbon frameset.

Stache 9.6

Stache 9.6

The new carbon frame of the 9.8 and 9.6 weighs about 400 grams less than its alloy counterpart and benefits from a more aggressive geometry with a 15 mm-longer reach and a bottom bracket that’s 5 mm lower.

Trek Stache-3

Stache 7

Stache 9.8 is equipped with the all-new Rock Shox 29plus Pike, a SRAM X0/X01 build kit and a Bontrager Drop Line dropper post. Bontrager Line Pro 40 OCLV carbon wheels complete the lightweight build on the blinged-out, top-o-the-line model to tip the scales at 27.2 pounds.

The Stache 5 aluminum starter model gets a Manitou Machete 32 fork, Bontrager Chupacabra tubeless-ready tires, Race Face Aeffect crankset with a 30-tooth chainring, Shimano Deore shifting and basic Shimano hydraulic disc brakes.

Stache 5

Stache 5

All carbon and alloy models feature additional travel, with an increase in suspension from 110 mm to 120 mm. The carbon models will comes in sizes in 15.5, 17.5, 19.5, and 21.5 inches. The aluminum models also get an 18.5-inch frame size.

Pricing is as follows:
Stache 5 aluminum: $1,580
Stache 7 aluminum: $2,100
Stache 9.6 carbon: $3,000
Stache 9.8 carbon: $4,700
Carbon frameset: $1,580



First Ride: Surly Karate Monkey 27plus

TEST Surly Karate Monkey-1

Ed note: This is part of our initial bike test of three new hardtails introduced at QBP Saddle Drive 2016, each shod with 27plus tires: the aluminum Salsa Timberjack, carbon Salsa Woodsmoke and steel Surly Karate Monkey. Despite their obvious differences, we will draw some comparisons and distinctions among the three, so make sure to check out the other first ride reviews, too.


Original Karate Monkey ad ripped from Surly’s Facebook page

In case you’ve been under a rock for the last decade or so, a primer: The Surly Karate Monkey was one of the first production 29ers on the market. Surly bikes are not the fastest, lightest, newest, fanciest or most technically whiz-bang on the market. That’s probably why I like ’em so much (have to admit my bias, here). When I start to feel like I’m just being aggressively and excessively marketed to as an editor in the cycling industry, I take a break and ride my Surly. To be fair, I also own a modern carbon full-suspension trail bike that I adore, but I wear the mantle of steel-loving retrogrouch much better.

TEST Surly Karate Monkey-8

The new Monkey is slacker and longer. It sports a 69-degree headtube angle (formerly 72 degrees), a slightly shorter chainstay length, a wheelbase stretched by about an inch and a longer top tube. Seat tube angle is the same. The seat tube diameter bumps up to 30.9 for greater dropper-post compatibility while the frame comes stock with Surly Dirt Wizard 27.5×3.0 tires. I’m nuts for Dirt Wizards, especially since they were updated to be less tear-prone. They have grip, grip, grip for days.

TEST Surly Karate Monkey-5

Whereas the old Monkey was either rigid or built with a 100 mm fork, the new one will take up to a 140 mm fork. A 140 will raise the bottom bracket 17 mm and kick the headtube angle out to 67.5 degrees. The frame is loaded with even more braze-ons than ever. Yessiree, this is intended to be a bikepacker, a rigid singlespeed, a cross-country bike or a trail shredder. Or, all of the above. Choose your own adventure. Choose all of the adventures.

TEST Surly Karate Monkey-4

What’s your clearance, Clarence?

The new Monkey made me smile. It’s not better or worse than the two Salsa’s I also test rode at Saddle Drive: the carbon Woodsmoke and aluminum Timberjack. In fact, those other mid-travel 27plus bikes outshine the Monkey on several points. For $600 more (OK, yes, that’s a lot) you can get in on a carbon Woodsmoke with suspension or, for the same price as the Monkey, grab the Timberjack and get suspension.

Surly’s entry in this category is just different. If you want a plus hardtail, you have to find the one that suits your riding style and calms your inner demons. The Karate Monkey is my drug of choice. I would probably build it just like this Surly employee did. No, yes, this is exactly what I’d do.

Karate Monkey-6


Anyway, how does it ride? It rides like a Surly. The Monkey is still made of the company’s 4130 ‘Natch chromoly steel, but with slightly bigger tubing than previously used on this bike. It doesn’t have internal cable routing or weird tubing shapes. It’s not light but it’s mighty comfortable. Get off my lawn.

One of the Surly guys said the company strives for balance with its bikes. It didn’t try to do stuff like make the rear chainstays as short as possible just for the sake of making them as short as possible. The Monkey is intended to ride well in a multitude of situations, not just one or two. And that it does.

TEST Surly Karate Monkey-11

The bike is extraordinarily stable, almost to a fault if you’re intending to play. It’s not as flickable as some other bikes but rather trucks along with confidence, those big meats digging in all the way. To that end, it climbed far better than I expected. In fact, on the ride up the dirt service road, I kept looking around to see if I had a tailwind. No such luck. (I’m not very strong but I had just downed two shots of espresso; maybe that had something to do with it?) I caught up to two dealers also riding the Monkey who made the same comment: “This thing climbs really well!”

TEST Surly Karate Monkey-7

On flat to rolling singletrack, the Monkey felt a little sluggish. It’s weight and big tires means it’s a bit slow to get up to speed. The bike also doesn’t hold its momentum as well as other options. I felt that I was working it harder than the aluminum Timberjack and carbon Woodsmoke that I also sampled that same day on the same route in the hills of Northstar at Tahoe. Yes, those bikes have lighter frames. Still, if I were looking for a single hardtail that’s versatile, reasonably priced, comfortable and fun, I’d pick this one.

TEST Surly Karate Monkey-2

On the way down, the Monkey is a blast. I would have loved to have tried out a version with a suspension fork; I can image the addition of some squish would make this bike truly shine. I plowed it along the same intermediate DH trails I tested the other plus hardtails on and it held its own, rigid fork and all. It confidently led me down slow, techy sections that required taking it more carefully but was also just as happy being pushed hard through the chunk. With the help of the big tires, it hugged the dusty berms, despite being not as easy to throw around.

TEST Surly Karate Monkey-12

Don’t mind that funky chainring setup. This is just a test bike. Production bikes won’t look like this.

Some on the interwebs have called this a 27plus Krampus. Not so. The geometry numbers aren’t even close. The Monkey is more like a slimmed-down Surly Wednesday (read our full test of that bike), from which this frame borrows some tricks. One of them is a proprietary dropout called Gnot-Boost that offers spacing of 145 mm, allowing the steel frame to expand to fit 148 mm Boost hubs or pulled inward to work with a 142 mm hub. Surly is also now offering an add-on that allows you to transform the rear track dropouts to standard, vertical dropouts.

True to being a Surly, this thing is so versatile that I’m just going to send you to the Monkey’s homepage rather than trying to detail all the details, here.

TEST Surly Karate Monkey-10

The stock bikes are orange (geared/frame) for $1,400 complete, purple (singlespeed/frame) for $1,175 complete and black (frame only). Frame/fork can be had for $600. On the 1×11 geared version you get SRAM NX components, an 11-42 cassette, SRAM Level brakes, an Answer Pro Taper handlebar and a WTB Volt saddle (note that not all of that is pictured; the demo bikes at this event had different builds). The singlespeed will run 30×17 gearing. Go nuts.

TEST Surly Karate Monkey-9

This test bike is a size small, FYI



First Ride: Salsa Woodsmoke 27plus

TEST Salsa Woodsmoke-5

Ed note: This is part of our initial bike test of three new hardtails introduced at QBP Saddle Drive 2016, each shod with 27plus tires: the aluminum Salsa Timberjack, carbon Salsa Woodsmoke and steel Surly Karate Monkey. Despite their obvious differences, we will draw some comparisons and distinctions among the three, so make sure to check out the other first ride reviews as we publish them.

OK, we know most of you think it’s ugly. You told us all over social media. We also know that elevated chainstays are not a new design, which you also rightly pointed out. But here it is, Salsa’s new carbon hardtail, the Woodsmoke, and it is sporting elevated chainstays in order to get them as short as possible while being able to squeeze in a 29plus tire. On the 27plus bike I tested, you’re looking at a chainstay length of 400-417 mm. (More specifics below.)

That funky rear end also means no chain slap and the ability to run a belt drive. Even though you can’t see it, there is indeed a hidden front derailleur mount (those two holes between the chainstay bend and chain in the below image). The large frame triangle leaves plenty of space for a frame bag—way more than I’m used to on the size small bikes I always ride.

TEST Salsa Woodsmoke-4

Once, when you said “carbon hardtail,” the assumption was automatically that you were speaking about an XC race bike. That is not what this is, although the Woodsmoke can run a rigid or 100 mm fork. It’s also not just a trail bike, even though you can spec a 140 mm fork and big meats, should you so choose. It’s actually all of those things.

On the XC bike side, the Woodsmoke climbs remarkably well for having such a short rear. Part of that is its carbon frame; part of that is the grip of the tires. The 67.9-degree headtube angle is by no means traditional (and is different than the Trek Stache 29plus at 68.4 degrees) but was more manageable on climbs than I expected.

But the Woodsmoke leans more heavily on the trail bike side of its split personality. The 27plus Woodsmoke I pedaled comes with a SRAM GX1 build and a RockShox Yari RC Solo Air 130 mm fork. My Saddle Drive test route on the slopes of Northstar at Tahoe went like this: climb up a long, dirt service road; rip around on some rolling, rooty cross-country singletrack; descend on rocky, dusty, intermediate DH trails.

TEST Salsa Woodsmoke-2

The bike was simply fast—too fast, sometimes. I got airborne more than once when I didn’t intend to. You can run out of suspension and control in a hurry because this thing just rips for a hardtail. It’s much quicker to get up to speed, and holds on to that speed much tighter, than either the Karate Monkey or the Salsa Timberjack.

The slacker geometry means it’s extremely exuberant and, if you ride it right, that geometry allows you to stay in control through some nuts situations. Let’s call the Woodsmoke good ‘ol jazz hands. Get out there and dance with reckless abandon, my friends.

The bike can accept 29plus, 29 or 27plus setups, made possible by Salsa’s Alternator 2.0 Dropouts (which also makes singlespeed setup simple). Since I wasn’t able to ride anything other than the 27plus, I present you with Salsa’s stated intent for each tire size:

  • 29plus creates monumental rollover, traction and momentum
  • 27.5plus delivers quick, punchy grip and increased line choice
  • 29er boosts traditional cross-country and climbing speed

TEST Salsa Woodsmoke-6

So who is this bike for? Almost anyone, it seems. Well, anyone with a good bit of spare cash. All this fun doesn’t come cheap, which is the bane of carbon. I am sort-of lukewarm on how carbon mountain bikes ride, to be honest. They make plasticky noises and can creak and rattle unnervingly. That said, the Woodsmoke benefits greatly from its carbon frame because it keeps the weight down when you’re building it up with a bigger fork, bigger wheels and bigger tires.

Depending on the build you choose, this bike will cost you either $,2000, $3,000 or $4,000. Add to that any extras you might want to occasionally alter the personality of the Woodsmoke and you’re well into the pricing territory of very good full-suspension bikes. My test bike desperately needed a dropper seatpost and grippier tires, for example. With those two things, it would have become a truly badass trail bike.

And that’s the thing. It used to be that if you wanted a really fun, playful, whippy bike, you almost certainly needed a full-suspension rig (or, a dirt jumper, I suppose) because that’s what was being built with this kind of slacker, more downhill-oriented geometry. If your trails aren’t super tech-gnar-chunk all day, every day, but you still want to flick and pop and juke and jive while you ride, this kind of bike should shoot to the top of your wish list.

TEST Salsa Woodsmoke-7

You now have endless options and, with this bike, options within your option. This “trend” of longer-travel, short-rear hardtails is gaining steam on the heels of early attempts by companies like Kona and Surly, and I wholeheartedly endorse it.

As I said before, it’s worth noting that plus bikes do ride differently than your standard 2.2-2.4 tire—you can’t straight compare all hardtails. You will feel a bit of sag if you run low pressures on long climbs (kind of like a rear shock in trail mode rather than climb or lockout). The tires can bounce if you don’t get the pressure right. The noise those big meats make can sound like you actually have a flat because so much more rubber is contacting the dirt and gravel than you’re used to. You have to learn to block that out of you mind.

But all that contact equals grip equals fun times. That’s the deal with these 3-inch tires: confidence. They float over more chunk than you imagine is possible and they will claw you up and over all kinds of trail crud.

TEST Salsa Woodsmoke-1

Woodsmoke 27plus geometry

For full geometry and build details across the line, visit Salsa’s website.

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Moots launches Farwell 27plus hardtail

Moots Farwell

The plus tire juggernaut of 2016/2017 continues its roll now on a titanium Moots hardtail, the Farwell. You can run this bike 27.5 x 2.8 (that is max tire clearance) or up to a 29 x 2.25. The Farwell was designed around a 120 mm fork, 17.1-inch (434 mm) chainstay length, 68.5-degree headtube angle (68 on the XL) and a 12.6-inch (32o mm) bottom bracket height.

Options include internal electronic routing, fender mounts and rack eyelets, a polished or etched finish, an engraved head tube and color decal options. The frame and FOX 34 fork retails for $4,789. The build as shown goes for $7,900. See full details and options from Moots.



First Ride: Salsa Timberjack 27plus

TEST Salsa Timberjack-11

Ed note: This is part of our initial bike test of three new hardtails introduced at QBP Saddle Drive 2016, each shod with 27plus tires: the aluminum Salsa Timberjack, carbon Salsa Woodsmoke and steel Surly Karate Monkey. Despite their obvious differences, we will draw some comparisons and distinctions among the three, so make sure to check out the other first ride reviews as we publish them.

The Timberjack arrives on the heels of the demise of the steel El Mariachi, a longtime singletrack-and-bikepack staple of the Salsa lineup. This new bike follows most current hardtail trends of more than 100 mm of travel, short chainstays and plus-size tires. By building the bike out of aluminum, Salsa created a machine friendlier on the wallet, lighter weight and perhaps less intimidating for a newer mountain biker/bikepacker to approach in their local bike shop (Salsa will also be sold by REI very soon).

TEST Salsa Timberjack-3

Personally, I don’t fancy the way most aluminum bikes ride or look, especially hardtail mountain bikes. Despite being the youngest person on Dirt Rag’s staff, I am the resident steel-loving retrogrouch.

That said, it is hard to argue with what you can get for $1,400 (the test bike I rode): 120 mm of RockShox Recon SL suspension, 27.5×3.0 Schwalbe Nobby Nic tires, tubeless-ready Whisky (in-house QBP brand) rims, trail bike mannerisms, internal cable routing and a 30.9 seatpost size for greater compatibility with droppers (which also can be internally routed).

At that price point, and after a couple of hours romping in the woods together, I can’t think of a single bad thing to realistically say about the Timberjack.

TEST Salsa Timberjack-5

My Saddle Drive test route on the slopes of Northstar at Tahoe went like this: climb up a long, dirt service road; rip around on some rolling, rooty cross-country singletrack; descend on rocky, dusty, intermediate DH trails.

My bike was set up with a wildly short stem (40 mm, I think) and tubeless tires (necessary). Despite the short, 420 mm-long chainstays on my size small, the Timberjack motored up that service road without complaint. It’s a little sluggish when you stand to hammer out of the saddle but if you are, like me, a sit-and-grind climber, the tire grip should please you.

The top tube is on the long side, helping to facilitate that short cockpit, so riders with short torsos might have a little trouble getting situated. It also meant I had a bit of a harder time getting my butt back behind the saddle on some of the gnarlier descents. I would absolutely add a dropper to this bike if it were to be ridden on steeps.

TEST Salsa Timberjack-2

On the singletrack, the Timberjack was playful, confident, held its momentum decently well and generally rode a lot like its carbon sibling, the Salsa Woodsmoke (yes, really). Its stability and speed fell right in between the Woodsmoke and the new Surly Karate Monkey, the latter of which is more stable and assuring, the former snappier and easier to get silly on.

I did almost face plant off a wooden feature when I took it too fast to simply roll but wasn’t positioned correctly to get air. The big tires, brapping cockpit and whippy rear end means you can easily get out of hand on the Timberjack because you’re having too much fun and forget you lack a rear shock…

TEST Salsa Timberjack-12

The bike held its own at speed, railed berms and stayed patient with me when I needed to slow way down to pick my way through bigger rock gardens that I didn’t feel I had the bike to just blast through.

These plus bikes are your bad-idea cousins. Take one down chunky trails without rear suspension? Sure, why not? Just stay light, stay back and bounce your way over those rocks with your fingers mentally crossed. The chain slap and general rattle of an aluminum bike does get a bit noisy through rock gardens and you can bottom out those low-pressure tires if you take it off too big of a drop, but, whatever. It’s also a sweet trail bike for your hometown singletrack.

TEST Salsa Timberjack-7

It’s worth noting that plus bikes do ride differently than your standard 2.2-2.4 tire—you can’t straight compare all hardtails. You will feel a bit of sag if you run low pressures on long climbs (kind of like a rear shock in trail mode rather than climb or lockout). The noise those big meats make can sound like you actually have a flat because so much more rubber is contacting the dirt and gravel than you’re used to. You have to learn to block that out of you mind.

But all that contact equals grip equals fun times. That’s the deal with these 3-inch tires: confidence. They float over more chunk than you imagine is possible and they will claw you up and over all kinds of trail crud.

The Timberjack is a bargain at $1,400 and it’s one of the only bikes in this category available in extra small. Get yourself a used dropper post off Craigslist for $100 and you have yourself a really nice trail bike at a really nice price.

See full geometry and build-kit specs on Salsa’s website.

TEST Salsa Timberjack-8

The aluminum 27plus bike category

The Specialized Fuse was a big player in kicking off this category a year ago and the entry-level aluminum model comes close to the Salsa at $1,600—that $200 difference gets you a dropper post. As much as I love droppers, I think the new SRAM GX/NX spec on the Timberjack works better than the SRAM X7/X5 build the Fuse gets.

TEST Salsa Timberjack-6

Also in the aluminum 27plus bike family (around the Timberjack’s price point) are the following:

  • Kona Big Kahuna at $1,400 (100 mm fork, Shimano Deore, 440 mm chainstays, 69-degree headtube angle)
  • Cannondale Beast of the East 3 at $1,600 (120 mm fork, Shimano SLX, 435 mm chainstays, 68.4-degree headtube angle)
  • Scott Scale 720 Plus at $1,700 (120 mm fork, Shimano Deore, 439 mm chainstays, 67.7-degree headtube angle)
  • Norco Torrent 7.2 at $1,450 (12o mm fork, Shimano Deore/SLX, 422.5 mm chainstays, 67-degree headtube angle).

All stats are from each bike’s size medium.

The Fuse is the only one with a dropper; all of the bikes wear decent tires and hydraulic disc brakes. We really liked the slack Torrent 7.2’s nicer and more expensive brother, the Torrent 7.1 (read our review of that bike).

I’m personally stoked to see this category growing. For someone who wants just one bike to do many things but doesn’t have a wallet fat with Benjamins, this is one type of mountain bike they should closely consider, and the Salsa is a strong contender.



Foundry launches XC race bike, the Firetower


Boost spacing and plus-sized tires burst into our collective consciousness so quickly and so definitively that a bike like the Foundry Firetower looks slightly odd in the current, trend-soaked world of mountain biking. But here it is, a brand-new cross-country race machine that lacks Boost, takes only a 29×2.25 tire and runs a 100 mm fork mated to a 70-degree headtube angle.


The Firetower features a Press Fit 92 shell, a blend of carbon fibers and will come in sizes small through XL at a price of $3,700 for Shimano XT and a RockShox Reba SL (the only build kit offered). While it will ship as a 1x build, the frame will accept a front derailleur. Whether or not you think this rig is already “old-school,” the Firetower certainly stands out in the newly crowded sea of plus-tire bikes.


One of the Foundry guys mentioned that this is an “affordable” race bike the company would like to see under NICA (high school) racers. We’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, but we disagree. That is a lot of coin these days for a bike like the Firetower. You, the consumer, will decide this one when it shows up in local bike shops around September.

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Salsa unveils new plus-size hardtails

We’re at Saddle Drive near Lake Tahoe this week checking out new bikes from Quality Bicycle Products (QBP), the parent company of Surly, All-City, Foundry, Heller and Salsa. Salsa went all in, releasing all of the brand’s new-for-2017 bikes and updating most models across the range. Here’s a look at the two new 29plus bikes, both of which we’ll be riding later this week for initial reviews.

Salsa Woodsmoke

Salsa Wolftooth-57

Entering the fairly small ring of carbon-framed 29plus hardtails is the new Salsa Woodsmoke. The goal was simply to create a highly versatile hardtail and, from the looks of it, that’s what we have here. The frame even has four—count ’em—bottle mounts for all of your whatever, wherever adventures.

Salsa Wolftooth-32

The frame was designed to be friendly with 29plus, 27plus and traditional 29er setups. The looks-like-a-Trek-Stache chainstays (we had to say it before you did) got an elevated design to facilitate a short-as-possible-for-a-plus-bike length: 400 to 417 mm depending on the frame size. Those funky chainstays also allow for a front derailleur, multiple drivetrain possibilities and the elimination of chain slap.

This bike utilizes Salsa’s Alternator Dropouts Version 2.0, which allow the geometry to be properly adjusted for your chosen wheelsize. It also means singlespeed!

Salsa Wolftooth-26

Those short chainstays mated to a relatively long top tube, 50 mm stem and the ability to take rigid or 100-140 mm forks, you have a weirdly and wildly versatile trail bike that has multiple geometry and ride quality possibilities. For example, headtube angles are as follows: 68.4 degrees (traditional 29er, 2.4-inch tires, 120 mm fork); 67.9 degrees (27plus, 130 mm fork); 67.8 degrees (29plus, 120 mm fork).

Salsa Wolftooth-19

The 2017 Woodsmoke is available in five complete builds and five colors (red, white, matte black, khaki and green) and should land in your local bike shop this December:

  • Woodsmoke 29plus XO1 – $4,000
  • Woodsmoke 29plus GX1 – $3,000
  • Woodsmoke 27plus XO1 – $4,000
  • Woodsmoke 27plus GX1 – $3,000
  • Woodsmoke 29 GX1 – $3,000

The stock bikes are spec’d with either 120 or 130 mm RockShox forks. See Salsa’s website for complete build kit information and the geometry breakdown of each bike.

Salsa Timberjack

Salsa Wolftooth-46

We know that the high cost of carbon hardtails can really rub some riders the wrong way, which is why we’re always happy to see models like the Timberjack appear in bike company lineups. The trail-oriented Timberjack is a new aluminum hardtail that can either be a 27plus or traditional 29er with forks ranging from 120-140 mm and a price starting at $1,000.

Salsa Wolftooth-60

The Timberjack also gets Salsa’s Alternator Dropouts, meaning you can fiddle with the rear-end length to adjust the way this bike rides. Those dropouts also allow flexibility on which rear end you’d like, from 135 mm quick release to 148 mm Boost hubs. Additional trickle down technology includes internal cable and dropper post routing and 1×11 gearing, plus three bottle cage mounts.

Salsa Wolftooth-41

The Timberjack is available in both 27.5plus and 29 versions, each in two of these colors: dark red, matte khaki, dark blue, matte gray. Look for it in your local bike shop around October. See full build kit and geometry details on Salsa’s website.

  • Timberjack 27plus GX1 – $1,400
  • Timberjack 29 NX1 – $1,000
  • Frame only in matte gray – $400

Salsa Wolftooth-49

Rumors of the demise of the #steelisreal El Mariachi have not yet been confirmed, but the bike was nowhere to be seen at this event are true; that model is done and Salsa no longer has a steel mountain bike (other than the Fargo touring rig, which now accepts 27plus but is stocked with a rigid fork and drop bars). There’s always the newly updated Surly Karate Monkey.



Surly updates the Karate Monkey

We’re at Saddle Drive near Lake Tahoe this week checking out new bikes from Quality Bicycle Products (QBP), the parent company of Surly, All-City, Foundry, Heller and Salsa. Because of the proliferation of cycling events across the country, these companies aren’t launching all of their new stuff right away, but we did get a look at a big update from Surly: the re-designed Karate Monkey.

Karate Monkey-2

If you ride a Surly bike and have owned it for some time, you’ve probably messed with it so that it’s no longer still stock. Surly said it used to smile and nod at the crazy modifications people did to its bikes but otherwise kind of let it be. Now, it’s embracing more and more of the customer-driven tinkering and adapting frames to better accomodate your whims.

Karate Monkey-5

The 2017 Karate Monkey got a bunch of tweaks, many of them borrowed from the Instigator 2.0 trail bike and Wednesday fat bike. The tubing is mostly new, including using Trumpet tubes from the Instigator 2.0 on the front triangle. From Surly: “The main triangle’s tubes are internally butted and some tubes are externally tapered, flared like a trumpet and ovalized to add stiffness and strength without adding weight.”

The new frame has internal dropper post cable routing and a 44 mm head tube for broad fork compatibility.

Karate Monkey-3

The Monkey’s geometry was adjusted to be slightly more trail-oriented, its numbers coming rather close to the Surly Wednesday fat bike. The headtube is slightly slacker and the top tube slightly longer than older versions. The longer front center also allows the Karate Monkey to now be available in extra small.

On the medium Monkey, top tube length is 582 mm (22.9 inches), standover height is 783 mm (30.8 inches), seat tube length is 419 mm (16.5 inches), 69-degree headtube angle, chainstay length of 423 mm (16.7 inches) and a fork offset of 47 mm. Full geo numbers below this story.

Karate Monkey-1

The new frame will accept up to a 140 mm fork. Seriously. A 140 will raise the bottom bracket 17 mm and take the headtube angle from 68 degrees with rigid/100 mm to 67.5 degrees. We expect to see more than a few of these built up with dropper posts and 120/130 mm forks.

The Monkey uses a horizontal dropout with a derailleur hanger that features “Gnot-Boost” spacing, which gives the rider the ability to run any mountain bike hub. You can build your Monkey with 10×135 mm QR, 12×142 or 12×148 Boost. The frame/fork will clear up to 27×3.0 or 29×2.5 tires.

Karate Monkey-4

On the 1×11 geared version you get SRAM NX components, an 11-42 cassette, SRAM Level brakes, an Answer Pro Taper handlebar and a WTB Volt saddle (note that not all of that is pictured; the demo bikes at this event have different builds). The singlespeed will run 30×17 gearing. Both builds utilize tubeless-ready Alex rims and tubeless Surly Dirt Wizard 27.5×3.0 tires.

You can't buy it like this, but you can build it like this.

You can’t buy it like this, but you can build it like this.

The two stock complete models will be a purple singlespeed for $1,175 and a yellow/orange 27plus model for $1,400 (yep, no more stock 29er but you can still build it up as such). These bikes should be available in October/November. You can also just get a frameset in black.

Also, when poking around the Surly website, we noted that the good ‘ol fashioned Pugsley is now listed as available in a frameset, only. RIP, complete Pugsley.


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Blue Bicycles launches mountain line for 2017

Blue Bicycles was once based in Georgia but is now in California. It was once struggling to survive but now has new life breathed into it. It was once only (or best) known for triathlon and cyclocross bikes but now has three different mountain bikes in its line. We took a peak at what’s coming in 2017 for Blue while at Press Camp in Park City, Utah.

Crew EX and Crew AL

press camp bikes DR-19

The Crew is Blue’s new 11-speed, 27plus hardtail (pudgy tires not pictured because these bikes are pre-production). The EX is carbon and the AL is—you guessed it—aluminum. Blue first tried its hand at mountain bikes in 2009 but by the time it got its first 26er together, 29ers had come on the scene full-force and the company didn’t think it would be able to properly sell its small-wheeled bike. Now that new wheel sizes have (somewhat) settled (for now, at least), it was ready to jump in, again.

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The carbon EX retails for $3,000 and comes with a FOX 32 SC fork, Shimano XT build, Hayes Prime Sport disc brakes and DT Swiss M wheels. The production carbon bike features internal cable routing, special seat stays designed for vibration reduction and is predicted to tip the scale at around 22 pounds.

press camp bikes DR-17

The Crew AL still runs Shimano XT and the same Hayes brakes but steps down to a FOX 32 Performance fork and loses the special, flat seat stays to retail for $2000. An SLX build for $1,500 is also expected. Four sizes (small through extra-large) will be offered.

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Crew AL M-140

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The Crew AL M-140 is a full-on trail bike with 140 mm of suspension front and rear and 27.5 wheels. Suspension is handled by a FOX 34 Performance up front and a Float X Performance in the rear. Build kit is Shimano XT 1×11, Hayes Prime Sport brakes, a few in-house bits and a FOX dropper post. The bike will retail for $3100 and be available in only three sizes: small, medium and large. Expect to see a carbon model at Interbike in September.

press camp bikes DR-16

Blue said it chose a 140 mm full-suspension trail bike to target the widest possible audience and complete its bike lineup.

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Philly Fat Bike

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Finally, the Blue Philly is an all-aluminum fat bike with a SRAM X5 (1×10) build kit, mechanical Tektro disc brakes, PF30 bottom bracket and four-inch tires. The bike is available in four sizes for $1,259.


Blue Bicycles also earned the Dirt Rag prize for “best USB drive of bike Press Camp.”

Blue wrench



Cannondale shows off updated mountain line for 2017

At this year’s bike Press Camp in Park City, Utah, Cannondale released several new models, as well as existing model updates and an expanded women’s line for 2017. Keep reading for details on the new plus bike and refreshed carbon rigs.

Cujo 1 27plus

press camp bikes DR-23

The Cujo is a new 27plus bike based on Cannondale’s other trail bikes (namely, the Beast of the East) that is designed to come in at a lower price point. This top-of-the line model will retail around $1400, with the rest of the range going down to $800.

press camp bikes DR-24

The Cujo 1 will come with WTB Ranger 3-inch tires, Shimano Deore brakes, SRAM NX 1×11 cassette, SRAM GX derailleur and a tapered headtube. All models will get a 120 mm fork. Cujos 2 and 3 will come with 2x drivetrains. This bike will be available in July in sizes extra small through extra extra large.

Bad Habit 1 Carbon

press camp bikes DR-25

The Bad Habit will now come in carbon with a new build spec all around that includes house-made 40 mm internal-width carbon Hollowgram rims wearing 3-inch tires, plus flat-mount brakes, Shimano XTR build, a LEV dropper post and 120 mm of travel front and rear.

cannondale bad boy

This model will retail for around $5000. Sizes small through extra large.

Women’s Carbon Habit 1

press camp bikes DR-29

The women’s Habit has been updated with new colors, an updated drivetrain, dropper post and a new high-end build kit at the top of the line (pictured) that features carbon cranks, a FOX dropper post, the Lefty fork, a Shimano XTR build and XT brakes. The bike will become available in the next couple of months.

Scalpel Si Carbon Women’s 2

press camp bikes DR-26

Also showcased was the new Scalpel-Si for women, a carbon cross-country race bike that was designed around newer, more technical courses. We did a big story about the launch of this bike where you can check out all of the details and read our interview with Cannondale’s MTB product manager.

press camp bikes DR-27

Featuring 100 mm of travel front and rear, the bike is slightly slacker than traditional XC race rigs. This one is outfitted with a Shimano XT 1×11 build, 160 mm brake rotors, simplified Di2 routing for upgrade-itis, Stan’s ZTR Rapid rims, remote shock lockouts, carbon crank and a Fi’zi:k Arione Donna saddle. The bike will retail for $4,260 as shown.



GT previews updated mountain lineup for 2017

At this year’s bike Press Camp in Park City, Utah, GT released several new models and significant updates for 2017, including a plus bike, more women’s models, a sub-$2,000 full-suspension bike and a throwback bike you’re probably going to want. Read on for details.

press camp bikes DR-5

Pantera 27plus

The Pantera is a GT model not seen since the 1990s, but now it’s back as a 27plus bike to be offered in three builds. The Expert model seen here is the top build with tubeless 2.8 Schwalbe Rocket Rons on rims with a 40 mm inner width, a Shimano 1×11 setup with hydraulic disc brakes,  120 mm RockShox Revelation fork with Boost spacing, thru axles and a 69-degree head tube.

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The Pantera Expert will retail for $1,620, meaning the two other models will ring up for less than that. Note that it has rear rack mounts for your pending off-road bikepacking adventures.

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One trend for 2017 seems to be a move toward offering sub-$2,000 full-suspension bikes. (We might have to lower the price point on our annual test!) The Expert model pictured here sits at the top of the range and will retail for $1,620, with sibling prices dipping all the way to below $1,000.

press camp bikes DR-9

The Verb features the same rear suspension design as GTs higher-end bikes (just with an entry-level rear shock) and is designed to sit between those bikes and GT’s hardtails. The Expert will come with a 2x Shimano Deore drivetrain, hydraulic disc brakes, an integrated headset, 120 mm air-sprung fork with full lockout, and an all-aluminum cockpit. GT calls this bike “upgrade-worthy” for the weekend warrior.

press camp bikes DR-10


GT is working to expand its line of women’s-specific mountain bikes and has hired a former female pro racer to its design team. One step toward that goal is the new Helion for women. It’s the same frame and rear suspension design as the men’s/unisex Helion but features a lighter shock tune and different saddle, bars and stem.

press camp bikes DR-11

The Helion Expert pictured here has 27.5 wheels, 110 mm of rear travel paired to 120 mm in the front (Fox Rhythm 34), hydraulic disc brakes and a 2×11 Shimano drivetrain. It also has a pretty sweet paint job. This Helion women’s Elite will retail for $2,130.

press camp bikes DR-1


The GT Performer is a complete replica of a 1986 BMX bike, but with a long-enough seatpost and 26-inch wheels to facilitate cruising about town. It’s the bike you rode as a kid (or lusted after) now in an adult-friendly size. For $560, GT might just have your new bar bike.

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Review: Advocate Cycles Hayduke


Tester: Adam Newman
Age: 35, Height: 6’2”, Weight: 180 lbs., Inseam: 34”
Price: $750 (frame). Complete bikes from $2,699
Sizes: S, M, L (tested), XL
More info: Advocate Cycles

The Hayduke is named for the infamous anti-hero of “The Monkey Wrench Gang,” Edward Abbey’s 1975 cult classic novel of radical environmentalism (and sabotage) in the wild American West. George Hayduke was a master of crippling the heavy equipment that built roads and dams on land he considered sacred, but he had no qualms about tossing an endless stream of empty beer cans out the window of his dusty Jeep.

Like George, the bike from the new brand Advocate Cycles has something of a split personality itself, in that customers can configure it with 29 inch wheels or 27plus. Thanks to its replaceable dropout design, it can also fit standard 142 mm thru-axle hubs or 148 mm Boost hubs. There’s even a singlespeed option with either hub spacing. Each is an entirely separate design, however, so the geared dropouts can’t be called into singlespeed mode the way some rocker or sliding dropouts can.

The steel frame is fairly straightforward in its construction, with Reynolds 725 tubing joining a 44 mm headtube, a BB92 bottom bracket shell and internal dropper post routing. One downside to the Hayduke is its weight— a full 7 pounds for the size large frame we tested. As pictured it spun the scale past the 32 pound mark.


The Hayduke has no trouble holding its own against other trail hardtails on the market these days. While I would normally go straight for an XL, I was actually glad I ended up on a large. The reach is still plenty long enough to keep the front wheel far out front, where I like it, while the slightly smaller stature helped it feel more responsive than it might have with a longer wheelbase. Because my saddle was also extended higher, and thus farther back, it also moved my weight slightly rearward, and helped make lifting the front end effortless. The 16.9 inch chainstays didn’t hurt either.

Just like Hayduke’s Jeep, this bike can tackle a little bit of everything— trail or no trail—and help you escape over the next mountain pass. It works well for a mix of uses beyond traditional mountain biking, veering into bikepacking and light-duty fat biking on sand or snow.


The extra weight will always be a drawback for 27plus compared to a standard 29-inch platform, and almost all of that weight is rotating mass in the wheels and tires. I think it does hold the Hayduke back if your goal is to go top speed all the time, but the versatility earned by those big tires more than makes up for it. The fore-aft traction is downright remarkable, and despite the weight I found it to be very capable on low-speed, techy climbs. The plus platform floats over holes that would typically catch your tire and kill your momentum or buck your behind off the saddle. The added surface area on the ground improves braking, but it’s not true that the big tires act as a suspension— this is still a hardtail through and through.

The truly unique thing about the brand, and thus its name, is that Advocate Cycles has pledged to donate 100 percent of its profits back to bicycle advocacy. Incorporated in Minnesota as a Specific Benefit Corporation, it has a legally binding social purpose in addition to its business ventures, and customers can give input on which of the organizations they would like to support. So far Advocate Cycles has partnered with IMBA, PeopleForBikes, the Adventure Cycling Association, Bicycles for Humanity and NICA.

Advocate Cycles are available through your local bike shop, but if you can’t find one in your area, give them a call and they will get you set up.

The build you see here isn’t a stock setup, but rather a mix of new and existing components as part of our Project 27plus test. Read our introduction to the bike here.



Thanks to its own in-house design and manufacturing in North Carolina, Industry Nine was one of the first brands out of the gate with Boost compatible hubs. Its Torch Classic hubs use traditional J-bend spokes and spin on a six-pawl driver with 120 points of engagement. Do a little math and you’ll see that’s a nearly instantaneous three degrees of engagement.

The hubs are laced to WTB’s Scraper rims, the first “plus” rim designed for a 2.8 to 3 inch tire, with all the advantages of the TCS tubeless system. It’s a double-wall rim with a massive 45 mm internal width to help spread the plus tires out wide. For this project I’ve been running the WTB Bridgers.



Hayes started with a clean-slate design for the Radar brakes, moving away from DOT fluid to a more user-friendly mineral oil fluid it calls Venom. They have a long lever arm that has plenty of room for two-finger braking, but can also be adjusted fore and aft for perfect single-finger fit.

If you’re a Brit or just prefer moto style, you can easily flip them upside-down and run them backwards. At the other end of the line, the calipers use Hayes’ Crosshair design that lets you micro-adjust their placement on the post mounts for drag-free operation.

Built for an entry-to-mid-level market, they have linear braking power but lack the sheer stopping force of some of the competition. Aside from a little squeal in the wet they performed great throughout the test, and sometimes reliability is more important than outright performance.



With such a big front wheel to wrangle I grabbed a pair of Easton’s Haven carbon handlebars with a 35 mm clamp and a manageable 750 mm width. Combined with the big tires the carbon bars absorbed any sort of hard knock or buzz traveling to my hands. With nine degrees of sweep and a modest 20 mm rise they felt great right away.

At the ends are the Primergo Jet ergonomic cork grips from Herrman’s. Though they are designed for city bike users, I found their modest size to be comfortable without being hard to handle when I’m constantly adjusting my position. They have a single locking bolt and offer plenty of grip in the wet.


Up front is the new Manitou Magnum, designed specifically for “plus” bikes; it’s available in both 27plus and 29plus versions, and this is the Pro version with adjustable high and low speed compression as well as rebound and bottom-out. Watch for an in-depth review in an upcoming issue.


  • Reach: 18.0”
  • Stack: 24.7”
  • Top Tube: 24.8”
  • Head Tube: 68.5º
  • Seat Tube: 73º
  • BB height: 12.4”
  • Chainstays: 16.9”
  • Wheelbase: 44.9”
  • Weight: 32.2 lbs. w/o pedals (specs based on size tested)



Review: Surly Wednesday


This is our third annual roundup of trail bikes that aren’t priced to the stratosphere. We could call them affordable, budget, real-world, blue-collar or college-fund-friendly, but someone would take offense at our assumption of disposable income level. It doesn’t really matter though. These are great bikes for the price, and we’ll leave it up to you about what to spend. Each bike was hand picked, not just for its price, but its components, geometry and modern features. From Issue #189.

Get an overview of all of the bikes in this test, here, and keep an eye out for full reviews of each.

Surley Wednesday

Tester: Katherine Fuller
Age: 29, Height: 5’4”, Weight: 120 lbs., Inseam: 30”
Price: $1,500
Sizes: XS, S (tested), M, L, XL

P.J. O’Rourke opined in a 2010 issue of Car and Driver about why he chose a Jeep Wrangler as his daily vehicle. He described the utilitarian machine as “three things not easily found these days: straight, square and forthright.”

O’Rourke wrote of irrational love, acknowledging he would rarely use the Wrangler off road and explained that cars are largely outward manifestations of our inner selves. All of that essentially sums up how I feel about the Surly Wednesday: It’s a bicycle that is “straight, square and forthright” and deserving of your irrational love no matter how you intend to use it.

Surley Wednesday

Building on a decade of fat bike design experience, the affectionately cantankerous Minnesota company cross-pollinated its lineup to create a bike equally capable of crushing your local trails as it is wandering off for loaded touring. Not as shreddy as the aggressive Ice Cream Truck but more singletrack-curious than the old-school Pugsley, the Wednesday carries on the “Addams Family” nomenclature and offers four-season ride capabilities.

The use of 4130 chromoly steel and voluminous rubber mean you can have a lot of fun plowing over rough stuff. That is really the only way to ride the Wednesday since its 100 mm wide bottom bracket means you’re not daintily threading rock gardens. You might be pedal striking more than usual on your favorite 12 inch singletrack until you get used to the Q-factor girth.

Surley Wednesday

The Wednesday won’t respond to dainty, last-minute wrist flicks like a svelte carbon bike, but that’s actually part of the fun. Handle it aggressively and see how big of a smile it puts on your face. Whenever the trail turned playful, its front end was more than willing to rear up and launch over rollers on fast descents. Yep, this is a pudgy rigid hardtail that wants to go airborne.

The seat tube and head tube angles are each one degree in the slacker direction than the venerable Surly Pugsley, a bike I have owned for a few years. The Wednesday’s top tube is also a full inch longer. The difference is noticeable on long, steady climbs and hour-long grinds over flat ground where I found the more laid-back, stretched-out ride of the Wednesday to be slightly less comfortable for the job. A simple parts swap to a more upright cockpit, and ditching the stock seatpost for one with no setback, should help make it more suitable for non-rowdy cruising and touring.

Front hub spacing is 150 mm and rear is 177 mm (symmetric) and—hooray— the bottom bracket is threaded. Thanks to track dropouts with 20 mm of fore-aft adjustment, you can move the rear wheel (relative to the wheel/tire combo you are running) to achieve a rear chainstay length of 17 to 18 inches. With the rear wheel fully aft in the dropouts, it fits up to a 4.6 inch tire on an 80 mm rim. With the wheel slammed full-forward, you’re looking at 3.8 inch tires on the same rims.

Surley Wednesday

Take advantage of that adjustability based on how you want this bike to ride. I can imagine that a shorter stem and a 100 mm suspension fork (which slackens the bike and raises its bottom bracket) would make it even more of a blast on singletrack. You can endlessly mold the loveable Wednesday to your whims thanks to its versatile frame design that accepts an internally-routed dropper, has room for 29plus tires and features numerous braze-ons.

The SRAM X5 build kit, tubeless-ready rims, 3.8-inch Surly Nate tires and Hayes MX Comp mechanical disc brakes all make sense for keeping the price down and offered a reliable ride experience. With the right pressure, the Nates’ aggressive traction is phenomenal on wet trails and climbing on snow, but they are painfully sluggish rolling on smooth, dry ground.

Surley Wednesday

“So, what can a person of modest means do to get a life?” O’Rourke asked at the end of his Jeep Wrangler story. He was writing about cars but, if you feel that way about your bikes, try a Surly Wednesday; you just might like how “straight, square and forthright” it is. It’s one of the most fun, versatile fat bikes out there.


  • Ultra-low maintenance without suspension or hydraulics
  • Grows with you better than the clothing your mom said you’d “grow into”
  • Bawitdaba da bang a dang diggy diggy


  • Wide load can be cumbersome on skinny trails
  • Balloon tires don’t negate that it’s still a rigid hardtail that can beat you up
  • It’s heavy and, oh, who the hell cares


  • Wheelbase: 43.3”
  • Top Tube: 22.7”
  • Head Angle: 69°
  • Seat-Tube Angle: 73.5°
  • Bottom Bracket: 12.5”
  • Rear Center: 17 to 18”
  • Weight: 35.6 lbs. w/o pedals (specs based on size tested)



Review: Norco Torrent 7.1


This is our third annual roundup of trail bikes that aren’t priced to the stratosphere. We could call them affordable, budget, real-world, blue-collar or college-fund-friendly, but someone would take offense at our assumption of disposable income level. It doesn’t really matter though. These are great bikes for the price, and we’ll leave it up to you about what to spend. Each bike was hand picked, not just for its price, but its components, geometry and modern features. From Issue #189.

Get an overview of all of the bikes in this test, here, and keep an eye out for full reviews of each.

Norco Torrent-3

Tester: Eric McKeegan
Age: 41, Height: 5’11″, Weight: 155 lbs., Inseam: 31”
Price: $2,425
Sizes: S, M, L (tested), XL

As a society, we seem fond of declaring things dead. I’m guilty of it myself recently in regards to singlespeeds (they make better zombies anyway). But it was years ago that certain media types declared the hardtail dead. Fortunately no one listened, otherwise the Norco Torrent 7.1 wouldn’t exist, and that would be a damn shame.

Norco Torrent-1

Let’s start with looks. Something about this bike just looks so proportional to me, from the size of the wheels, to the curve of the seat tube, to the angle of the fork; everything lines up to make a right smart looking ride.

Norco Torrent-6

But you can’t ride appearances, and fortunately there is plenty of serious performance to back up the minty paint job. Geometry plays the main role here, with a yoke allowing for 16.7-inch chainstays on my size large. Smaller frames get shorter stays, larger get longer stays, a feature rarely seen outside of custom builders. Head angle sits at a slack 67 degrees, 25.1-inch top tube, and a 12.8-inch bottom bracket.

Norco Torrent-4

Nothing is a let down on the parts selection either: SRAM GX 1×11 drivetrain, Avid DB5 brakes, wide bar, short stem, KS dropper and the real stars—Nobby Nic 2.8s on WTB Scraper i45 rims. Solid all around. I didn’t get to sample the stock RockShox Yari fork; it wasn’t ready in time for the review.

Norco Torrent-7

The Torrent looks good on paper, but it absolutely shreds on the trail. I’ve never ridden a bike that handles damp trails and wet leaves so well. The widely spaced knobs on the Nobby Nics dig in, but also let go and slide around with a predictability that made me feel like a much better rider. Smart geometry and a dropper certainly help with this, but the tires are truly a stand-out for wet weather.

Norco Torrent-5

That short rear end invites all manner of rear wheel shenanigans, someone with more skill than me could really make this bike dance, but even I am always looking for things to jump up, over or around. The long front center keeps things feeling stable when pointed downhill, but steep greasy climbs can be a handful. Keeping enough weight on the front to keep the wheel down while not losing traction in the rear is frustrating at times. I’m more than willing to trade off a bit of walking on climbs for the fun going down.

Norco Torrent-8

Those biggish tires really shine on this bike. The aluminum frame is obviously a stiff platform, but even on rough terrain, the tires do a great job keeping things in control. I still get a few rude reminders from time to time that this is a hardtail, but that is part of the fun of riding a hardtail on rough trails.

After spending many miles on the Torrent, I can confidently say this bike is exactly what a modern trail hardtail should be. What complaints I can muster are few. The dropper is only 100 mm, a tooth on the GX cassette bent and needed to be cavemanned back into place trailside, and the grips are rubbish.

Norco Torrent-2

Norco has been making some of the best-handling trail bikes on the market for years, and the Torrent doesn’t interrupt this streak. Bikes like this will make the widespread acceptance of 27plus tires inevitable for everyday mountain bikers, and I can get behind that 100 percent.


  • Solid part spec
  • Almost-perfect trail bike geometry
  • Boost spacing and a threaded bottom bracket


  • Paint job not for everyone
  • Lock-on grips still twist on bars
  • Dropper post could use more drop


  • Wheelbase: 45.9”
  • Top Tube: 25.1”
  • Head Angle: 67˚
  • Seat-Tube Angle: 72.7˚
  • Bottom Bracket: 12.8”
  • Rear Center: 16.7”
  • Weight: 31.7lbs. w/o pedals (specs based on size tested)



Review: Charge Cooker 4


This is our third annual roundup of trail bikes that aren’t priced to the stratosphere. We could call them affordable, budget, real-world, blue-collar or college-fund-friendly, but someone would take offense at our assumption of disposable income level. It doesn’t really matter though. These are great bikes for the price, and we’ll leave it up to you about what to spend. Each bike was hand picked, not just for its price, but its components, geometry and modern features. From Issue #189.

Get an overview of all of the bikes in this test, here, and keep an eye out for full reviews of each.

Charge Cooker-2

Tester: Jon Pratt
Age: 45, Height: 5’10.5”, Weight: 190 lbs. Inseam: 31” 
Price: $2,400
Sizes: Small, Medium, Large (tested)

One could argue that the Cooker 4 from Charge Bikes is possibly the most mundane, simple bike in our bike roundup, and I don’t say that in a negative tone. I dig simplicity. Designed around the increasingly popular 27plus wheel size, the Cooker is your basic aluminum hardtail. Not meant to be a hot rod hardtail, but more of the cross-country/adventure bike that can handle most scenarios.

Charge Cooker-4

Look past the larger tires and you find most of the regular bits you would expect. There is a solid 100 mm travel Rock Shox Reba fork to keep the trail chatter to a minimum, a smooth 1×11 SRAM GX drivetrain to keep you moving and powerful Shimano SLX brakes to stop you from running over your buddy at the bottom of the hill. Everything here seems right as rain, but there’s a cloud with that silver lining.

Before I delve into some of my ride impressions, there are a few things I need to get off my chest about the Cooker. In the ever-expanding landscape of plus sized bikes, I find it puzzling that Charge hung their hat on the old 135 mm QR rear spacing. Without the extra clearance afforded by Boost 148, you won’t be able to just grab any old 27plus tire off the shelf and expect it to fit. While the Cooker ships with an adequate 2.8 inch WTB Trailblazer, several newer 3 inch tires I tried would not work without some amount of rub on the chainstays, especially when the stays flexed during pedaling and cornering. This is an oversight that could possibly limit the future upgradeability of the Cooker.

Charge Cooker-3

Even more puzzling to me is that the bike comes with a 110 Boost RockShox Reba. I guess it’s OK to go big in the front, but there’s no junk happening in this trunk. And let’s not get me started on that 27.2 mm seatpost. Whew, that was painful, but now it’s over—on to the riding bits.

Because there was adequate space in the fork, I was able to swap the less-than-ideal-in-wet-and-loose-conditions Trailblazer for a 3 inch WTB Trail Boss. With the new rubber crisply leading the way, the bike felt lively but direct. This was especially noticeable during some long, bermy sections where the low-pressure Trail Boss really allowed me to pick my line and stick to it, while the back of the bike followed a bit of its own path but maintained an essence of control. Always fun roosting those turns!

Charge Cooker-5

Even with the moderately steep 70 degree head tube angle, the Cooker was surprisingly capable on the more technical sections of trails. The larger tire diameter and low pressure had a lot to do with the bike’s ability to absorb repeated impacts and maintain control. Areas where I’ve taken similarly designed cross-country bikes and wished for a better rig, didn’t feel so out of bounds on the Cooker.

After a few outings the more-upright-than-I’m-used-to cockpit felt a little less foreign to me, and the bike started to grow on me. That upright posture, headtube angle and stiff rear end made climbing a breeze. The front of the bike didn’t wander around in the least, and the transfer of power to the rear wheel was as perfect as one would expect on a hardtail. The gravity-assisted treks back down the hills weren’t too shabby either. The Reba married to the big rubber gave me the confidence to plow through some ugly lines at pretty decent speeds.

Charge Cooker-1

The Cooker is definitely set up to tackle most things you’ll run into on your next adventure. To wrap it all up—I have a hard time coming to terms with this bike. It was fun to ride and was a good match for most of what Charge designed it for, but its long-term usefulness is limited due to tire clearance issues.

If you are looking for a cross-country oriented hardtail and wanted to try the plus sized thing, this could be a decent choice. Anyone who is well-versed in modern trail bike geometry is going to have bit of a tough go loving this one. I’ve been told there are some additions to the Cooker lineup coming in 2017, perhaps we’ll see a more trail-oriented hardtail in the future.


  • Hardtail simplicity
  • No crazy paint or stickers
  • Big tires and wide rims


  • 135 mm rear spacing
  • No dropper post
  • More slack would be more better


  • Wheelbase: 44.9”
  • Top Tube: 24.5”
  • Head Angle: 70°
  • Seat-Tube Angle: 73.5°
  • Bottom Bracket: 12.4”
  • Rear Center: 17.1”
  • Weight: 29 lbs. w/o pedals (specs based on size tested)



Sea Otter 2016: Fuji updates 27plus bike, adds carbon fat bike

Fuji trail bike-1

Fuji’s Bighorn 27plus trail hardtail will recieve an update for 2017 that was showcased at Sea Otter. The bike is ready for whatever with 27.5 x 3.0 Schwalbe Nobby Nics, SRAM GX components, a KS Lev dropper post, internal cable routing, three sets of bottle cage mounts, rack and fender mounts and 120 mm of RockShox Pike suspension. The bike will retail for $2,649.

With all the attention the Fuji Auric has recently been getting, it was good to see some love still going toward the rowdy trail hardtail category.

Fuji fat-1

Fuji also stepped up its fat bike game by adding a carbon model to its 2017 Wendigo line. The bike features a 197 x 12 mm rear dropout, which an accept up to a 5-inch tire. The carbon fork has 150 x 15 mm hub spacing. Build kit is SRAM XO1 (1×11), DT Swiss BR 2250 wheels, Schwalbe Jumbo Jim tubeless-ready tires at 26 x 4.8 and SRAM Guide RS brakes. The frame also has internal cable routing, plus rear rack mounts and ample bottle cage mounts for all of your bikepacking adventures.


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