Dirt Rag Magazine

Trail Talk With Cush – Camping and racing

I’m not sure about camping these days. I used to camp in the desert a lot on dirt bike trips but more often than not it was in a tent or the back of my pickup next to my parent’s motorhome so, while I could say I was roughing it, I had all the necessities like meals cooked by mom 20 paces from my tent. Really the only thing lacking was good coffee—my folks didn’t like the strong stuff so while the coffeemaker was always full in the morning it seemed to contain a watered down mix of cheap supermarket brew.


Once I moved away without the luxury of what amounted to a house on wheels I stopped camping completely. Heck, I live in the country so every day is camping, sorta. But then something changed three years ago when I joined the Dirt Rag family. These guys love a good campout and are ready to go at the drop of a hat. As such I’ve been forced back into it.

The problem is they’re seasoned campers with all the necessities. Sure, I have the bare essentials and can rely on past experiences to make it and have fun but there is one thing that seems to bother the troops about my presence: a lack of coffee making. I’ve tried various forms, including a nice glass press pot which I broke immediately so ultimately, during events like our famous Dirt Fest I’ve simple made cowboy coffee. While not always pretty it gets the job done and I’m pretty good at making it at this point.


But that changed a few weeks ago when I found a new favorite product. As I was gathering up stuff for a camping trip to a race in the Arizona desert Brian Siebert, owner of Canyon Coffee asked me if I wanted to try his Press-Bot, an ingenious way to get amazing coffee, save carrying space and not have to worry about filters or glass containers by making any 32 oz large mouth Nalgene bottle into a press pot.

The press consists of a thread on lid with a hinged plunger shaft and a winged aluminum filter. You start by putting ground coffee in the bottom of the Nalgene bottle. Then, fold up the wings on the filter and insert it into the top of the bottle. Lightly pull up to lock open the wings and then tighten the lock ring. Heat 32 oz of water (I used a Jetboil) to almost a boil then angle the filter so you can pour it in easily. Shake it up a bit, let steep for about four minutes and then press like any other press pot. Bam! A lot of coffee for me to share or hoard.

I like it because it’s based on a Nalgene bottle, which I can’t break and once it’s cleaned it doubles as my campsite water bottle (and carry on bottle if I’m flying somewhere). Canyon Coffee sells just the press for $25 or you can get a “gift pack” with the press, a Canyon Nalgene bottle and an insulating cozy for $45.

This year camping at Dirt Fest I won’t have to be a coffee thief anymore.

Race season is here

Our “sponsored” SoCal racer Lance Nicholls kicked off the season with a singlespeed class win at the first round of the Kenda Cup West. Congratulations my friend and here’s the report.


“Last weekend’s first round of the Kenda Cup West series presented by Sho-Air Cycling Group at Vail Lake in Temecula, California, was one to remember in not-so-sunny Southern California. With rain throughout Saturday evening and all day Sunday it made even the smallest obstacles challenging. This felt more like a ‘cross race than a cross-country mountain bike competition. The course was shortened to 7.2 mile per lap of mostly single track with the climbs being on access roads. The Cat 1/Pro field went off at 1:30 p.m. —I ride Cat 1 Singlespeed on an Ibis Cycles Tranny 29 with a Lauf fork and the Gates belt drive system.

My class went off six minutes after the pros, up a wide access road with some of the younger Cat 1 groups and after about 500 yards it funneled into a left hand turn into singletrack for the next mile or so. The next small climb we hit was a hike-a-bike and that set the theme for the day. I was the first singlespeed, running as much as I could to gap the others. With all the mud it was really taking a toll quickly on the chain driven bikes and they were dropping like flies everywhere. Not to say I didn’t have my issues either.

At about mile four I lost my belt due to extreme mud. After using what water I had to clean up the cog and belt to get it reinstalled I was down around nine minutes on the leader at the end of the first lap. Now knowing I was better off running the extreme muddy sections to preserve the belt, I only lost it once on the second lap but I was still five minutes back in fourth place overall.

Going into the third and final lap the rain was dumping and I was now able to ride through the lake-sized puddles to keep my belt somewhat clean but still running quite a bit. I caught third place about two miles into the lap. The way the course ran up and down the canyons I was able to spot second going down the canyon as I was going up. I continued to push harder on the descents through the parts that I could ride and with about a mile and a half to go my wife yelled, “One minute ahead!”

That gave me even more drive to hammer out the last section and I caught second place up the climb and kept my pace high through the next small valley.

Over a rise I found the first place rider and went by him as hard as I could, hoping he wouldn’t notice I was on an singlespeed. He did and it was on. I hit the last long hike-a-bike uphill, running as fast as I could get my tree stump legs to move. I glanced back and no one was there, riding the last bit praying nothing would happen and crossed the finish line with about a 35 second gap on second place.

This was by far the hardest test for me and the most rewarding at the same time. My wife played a big part by giving me split times every lap to keep me pushing.

A huge thanks to Ibis Cycles for the amazing Tranny 29, Lauf for a maintenance free, superb fork, Dirt Rag for my snazzy kits and ESI grips for keeping my hands on the bars in these conditions.”



Trail Talk With Cush – We have a winner

Editor’s note: Last weekend Dirt Rag’s “sponsored” SoCal racer Lance Nicholls lined up for his first cross-country first race of the new year. While the rest of the vet pros (and open pros) were on geared bikes, Lance races only on a singlespeed. Here’s how his winning ride unfolded. Congratulations Lance and thanks for doing us here at Dirt Rag proud.

singlespeed racing

By Lance Nicholls. Photos by Chris Jones

It was the first round of the Southridge Winter Series in Fontana, California. Laps are approximately 5.5 miles with about 1,200 ft of climbing—Southridge is known for very rocky, technical singletrack and steep punchy climbs. It’s great early season racing to get back into competition mode.

I ride the Vet Pro class for the extra laps compared to the singlespeed class and to also just have more competition. There were eight guys on geared bikes and myself on an Ibis Tranny 29 singlespeed with a Gates belt drive. My game plan was to try and get out front early to put time on everybody since there is a long flat finish where “geared” riders can easily ride away from me while I’m spinning out. We started two minutes behind the open pros.

singlespeed racing

Since the start chute is fairly narrow I was on the second row. The horn sounded and we were off. I went way inside into the first turn, got to the front and tried to control the pace as well as my breathing. I was able to stay there for a mile or so through some rocky singletrack. Once we hit the initial climb one guy got around and I stayed on his wheel up that climb until we hit a long, steep asphalt ascent. I made my move around him as soon as we hit the pavement and went hard up the hill until it turned left onto singletrack. By then I had a good gap and continued to put my head down to increase it.

With the first lap down, I had about a 30-second gap and was catching younger riders in the Pro class ahead. I kept trying to control my breathing and heart rate so I could hit the climbs hard and keep opening the gap farther. By the end of the second lap I had caught two guys from the class ahead and had about a minute lead going into the final lap.

Maintaining my pace, I caught one more guy and then started to relax some knowing my lead was good enough to stick as long as I stayed upright and without any mechanical issues. I crossed the finish line with a time of 1 hour and 21 minutes, which was 1 minute and 12 seconds ahead of second place in the Vet Pro class. I also ended up third overall out of all the pros on the course. It was a good day for singlespeeding.


Trail Talk With Cush – Going to the junkyard


Bilenky’s Junkyard Cyclo-cross celebrated its ninth anniversary and as usual, it was a scene like no other. It’s the first and only race held entirely in a junkyard.

Bilenky crop-1

More than just a legendary North Philadelphia, Pennsylvania party, it’s a signature of all that’s great with bike riding. A true gathering of tribes from not only every style and discipline of biking, but spectators as well. Given the nature of the course, namely a tough circuit around a junkyard complete with car jumps, oily concrete turns, rhythm sections made from truck and tractor tires, a giant teeter-tooter, ruthless heckling and beverage hand-ups, it’s no surprise that guys and girls with mad mountain bike technical skills and dudes on BMX bikes routinely ride away from the Lycra-clad ‘cross racers who try to make a showing. To say it’s a fun event is like saying Jesus Christ was a well known carpenter.

The man himself, Stephen Bilenky began building frames in 1983 and he still makes award winning bikes in all disciplines from a small shop nestled next to Big Guy’s Used Auto Parts, which serves as the race venue. If you don’t have this on your bucket list, you should. Next year will be the diamond celebration so bring your flask, leather jacket and anything with two wheels. See you there.

Stephen Bilenky keeps tabs on the day.

Stephen Bilenky keeps tabs on the day.

Barriers look different at a junkyard race.

Barriers look different at a junkyard race.

The Huxtable Hut heckle pit.

The Huxtable Hut heckle pit.

Officer Dangle showed up.

Officer Dangle showed up with his cat.

Care for a drink...

Care for a drink…

...from the bar...

…from the bar.

There was dirt...

There was dirt…

...and a proper pit zone.

…and a proper pit zone.

This is a door bike. it didn't handle so well.

This is a door bike. it didn’t handle so well.

The teeter-totter was a crowd pleaser.

The teeter-totter was a crowd pleaser.

And too all, filthy Santa says, have a Merry Bilenky Holiday.

“And too all,” filthy Santa says. “Have a Merry Bilenky Holiday.”


Trail Talk With Cush – Losing weight while getting fat


Tale of the scale

Fat bikes are it right now. While generally heavy—usually near or above 30-pounds—I do know some savvy riders who have gotten theirs down in the 23-pound range. Still, even with a healthy dose of carbon fiber, a top-shelf drivetrain, tubeless technology and a wad of cash to make it all happen the weight penalty on a fat bike remains in the worst place possible: wheels.

This is completely counter to what we’ve always been told about where losing weight on a bike matters most: the wheels, better known as rotating mass. (Hmm… sounds familiar…) A fat bike’s frame weight isn’t that far off from its 29er brethren, nor is its fork weight. No matter how you slice it the bike feels heavy and slow due to one thing (or two to be technical): its fat bottom.

Following post ride, afternoon beverages at the local brewery and then a few of these in my palatial garage I was inspired to set up a very unscientific breakdown of how the rotating mass of a fat bike, a 29er and a 26 stack up. Make no mistake, this isn’t meant to be conclusive nor perfectly matched. I’ll leave that to the sober bike geeks with too much extra time.

What this really is is a ballpark analysis and a way for you reading this to kill some time at work. And while it may sound like a knock on fat bikes there’s no denying that they are ridiculously fun to ride pretty much anywhere you take them, and I’m suspecting they can (and will) get even lighter given their current development focus.



Here’s how the front wheels rate:

  • 29-inch (NoTubes aluminum Crest rim with 3.30Ti hub, aluminum nipples): 1.43 pounds.
  • 26-inch (NoTubes aluminum Crest rim with 3.30Ti hub, aluminum nipples): 1.30 pounds.
  • Fat bike (single wall aluminum rim with cutouts, aluminum hub and nipples): 3 pounds.

No surprise here. But, as fat bikes grow in popularity and we see more wheel makers join the fray and make high-end offerings readily available you can bet the difference between 29 and fat bikes will decrease.



While the wheels were close in specifications, we were able to compare three of the same tires: Specialized Ground Control.

  • 29×2.0: 1.21 pounds.
  • 26×2.0: 1.15 pounds.
  • 26×4.6: 3.04 pounds.

Not surprising, that’s a lot of meat to spin on the fat bike. And, it’ll always be the biggest weight factor.


For this, I used two carbon hardtails with a suspension fork and SRAM 1×11 drivetrain. Both are among the lightest available.

  • Specialized Stumpjumper World Cup 29: 13.21 pounds.
  • Borealis Echo: 13.91 pounds.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Both frames had everything you need except for wheels. Both frames were full carbon with comparable lightweight parts and two bottle cages. But…the Borealis has a RockShox Reverb dropper post. Change that to a comparable carbon post found on the Specialize and the frames become nearly the same in weight.

And Just For Giggles

 I weighed two comparable rear wheels complete with tires, aluminum rims, 160mm rotors and SRAM XX1 rear cassettes.

  • 29er: 4.19 lbs.
  • Fat bike: 7.25 lbs.


Once I sobered up the next day I found out what I already knew the day before. Fat bikes can be expensive, they have a lot of cool technology and high-end parts but they’re still going to be slow and quirky because they have all their weight in the worst place possible. Although, once the industry figures out how to make a 5-pound wheelset for fat bikes they may just rule the world.


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