Dirt Rag Magazine

Featured Ride: Fresno-Sauceda Loop – IMBA Epic



Photos courtesy of MTB Project unless otherwise indicated.

 

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Big Bend State Park2

As fall and winter continue to march south, so too will our featured rides. This week we’re highlighting Big Bend Ranch State Park, which sits just north and west of Big Bend National Park in the southwest corner of Texas. It’s extremely remote, extremely beautiful and highly likely to provide you with a big does of solitude. The closest towns of Lajitas and Terlingua feel like wild west outposts and Mexico is merely a stone’s throw away, should you be feeling adventurous.

Big Bend State Park4 Big Bend State Park5

Given its southern location, this IMBA Epic ride is best enjoyed in the cooler months from October to mid-April. And it is epic, indeed, clocking in at 59 miles and nearly 4,000 feet of elevation gain, despite being just 40 percent singletrack. You’re guaranteed to feel small riding through purple, yellow and orange hills and past ruins of old mining camps full of rusty trucks.

Photo: Tom Fuller

Photo: Tom Fuller

Mileage aside, this is not a ride to take lightly. Due to the prickly nature of the Chihuahuan desert, tubeless tires are recommended, along with spares tubes with sealant. Plan to manage all mechanical issues because this is lightly trafficked, remote terrain with no cell phone coverage. If you’re feel adventurous, pack your bivy and make an overnight trip out of this loop.

This IMBA Epic ride combines much of the best riding in Big Bend Ranch State Park into one Epic Loop. The loop consists of a variety of riding conditions with a mix of singletrack, creek beds, and 4×4 roads. The singletrack is a nicely flowing combination of hard pack and rocky trails with lots of short steep climbs and dry creek crossings. Many of the 4×4 roads have not seen motorized traffic for many years and are essentially two track trails. There are significant numbers of long, steep, technical and rocky climbs and descents. Creek riding conditions vary from hard-packed and easily rideable to sandy and soft with some rocky and technical sections.

Be sure to check out all the details on MTB Project before you visit. And, consider supporting the Big Bend Trails Alliance for all their hard work maintaining these trails. If you would like to spend a long weekend exploring this Epic and other nearby trails with likeminded mountain bikers, check out the Chihuahuan Desert Bike Fest, Feb. 11-13. Our web editor is a native Texan who attended the event last year. The landscape so moved her that she intends to keep going back, despite the 13-hour drive from central Colorado.

True, Big Bend State Park is in the middle of nowhere, but that’s a big part of what makes it such an adventure. Don’t miss Big Bend Brewing Company in nearby Alpine (a college town) and the quirky Starlight Theatre in Terlingua. If you have time, travel about two hours north to explore the fine art, fine food and NPR station in Marfa (population 1,800), attend a star party at the McDonald Observatory in Ft. Davis, and take a hike in Big Bend National Park.


Photos courtesy of MTB Project unless otherwise indicated.

 

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Review: 45NRTH Sturmfist Gloves and Jaztronaut Insoles


45NRTH Collage 2

As you might expect with a name like 45NRTH, as in the 45th Parallel, this company knows a thing or two about cycling in extreme winter conditions. The Minneapolis-based brand was founded under the Quality Bicycle Products (QBP) umbrella back in 2011. 45NRTH’s initial product offerings were tires, but they’ve since branched out to offer products that keep your hands and feet warm and cozy as the mercury drops.

In order to fulfill this mission of providing warm goods for your hands and feet, 45NRTH is employing some space-age materials. Back in 2012, the company started using aerogel insulation in their Jaztronaut insoles. This aerogel offers the lowest thermal conductivity of any solid and the highest insulation value of any existing insulation. It’s the stuff NASA uses to protect astronauts in space.

Like other insulation materials, aerogel relies on air as an insulator. But, unlike your favorite puffy jacket, it doesn’t rely on loft to provide this insulation. Instead tiny nano-sized air bubbles in the aerogel create an insulating barrier between you and the cold. And, because the material is highly compression resistant, its ability to insulate does not diminish with pressure. So, it’s the perfect material to use in high-pressure locations like the soles of your feet and the palms of your hands.

This fall, 45NRTH announced two new glove offerings under the Sturmfist name; both employing a layer of the aerogel insulation on the palms and fingers to isolate your paws from cold handlebars.. The Sturmfist 5 (five fingers) target a temperature range of 15- to 35-degrees Fahrenheit, while the Sturmfist 4 (four fingers, with the pinky and ring finger paired) are aimed at the 0- to 15-degree range.

Sturmfist gloves utilize wind and water resistant Polartec NeoShell fabric for the outer shell material and Pittards water resistant goat leather for the grip surface. Both models also offer functionally awesome and luxuriously comfortable Merino wool lining material. A suede nose whip also graces the thumb of both gloves.

A note about sizing. The size 10 (XL) gloves we tested ran true to size so those with larger hands will find themselves wishing there was a XXL option, of which there is none. Try before you buy.


 

Sturmfist 5 Gloves – $100

by Justin Steiner

Though the Sturmfist 5 may use the same aerogel grip insulation as Sturmfist 4, its 100g Polartec Alpha insulation targets warmers temps. I’ve found 45NRTH’s temperature recommendations to be a good baseline. At 35-degrees, my hands were on the verge of sweating, but the Merino lining handles moisture incredibly well and the shell material is highly breathable. On the colder end of the spectrum, my hands weren’t toasty, but they weren’t freezing either and my hands tend to run cold. Adding a Merino wool liner glove helped with comfort in the 15- to 20-degree range for me. In these colder temps, the shell’s breathability sometimes left a chill in harsh winds or at high speeds on the road. But, the glove’s breathability is excellent for the slower-paced and higher exertion level of mountain biking, which keep the gloves from becoming a sweaty mess.

On the other hand (har, har!), the palm’s aerogel insulation was incredible. It isolated cold handlebars so well I could hardly believe it. No kidding, if the gloves were warm, the aerogel kind of felt like a heating pad on my way home from work.

Regardless of materials, gloves are only as good as their fit. I’m happy to report the Sturmfists were spot-on for me in size 10 (XL) and run true to a standard XL fit. The fingers were appropriately long for gripping handlebars without being short and binding or long and awkward. Considering the warmth of these gloves, the freedom of movement and dexterity is awesome.

Bottom line; these are the best gloves I’ve used. The quality materials, good fit and incredible dexterity come together in a top-shelf package. Sure, they aren’t cheap, but the price seems very fair to me considering the materials and comfort.


Sturmfist 4 Gloves – $130

by Jon Pratt

Like a lot of people, my hands tend to be one of the first things to get cold on those blustery winter rides. Not so with the Sturmfist 4. The zero- to 15-degree comfort rating is no joke. With 300g of Merino-lined Polartec insulation, and a removable 250g Merino wool glove liner, these mitts are toasty!

I’ve used a lot of winter gloves ranging from five fingers, to lobster claws, to full-on mittens. The four finger construction of the Sturmfist 4 feels just right. I was able to ride, shift and brake comfortably on multiple flat bar configurations and on the Shimano STI drops of my gravel/commuter bike. Obviously there is a little loss of sensation, but nothing as drastic as I would expect from such an insulating glove.

What I really appreciated was the ability to start a ride with both the liner and glove and as my body temperature rose, ditch the liner but still have a soft Merino lining to handle any residual sweat. The glove also extends well past your wrist and features a cinch cord that is functional without having to remove the glove to tighten or loosen it.

I wouldn’t recommend you rock the Sturmfist 4 on the warmer days of winter as I found my hands overheating once it broke through the 20-25 degree barrier, but for those bitter cold days these are definitely my glove of choice.

As an added bonus, the Merino glove liner, with its ribbed palm, makes a great cool weather glove and I find myself leaving them on while driving back and forth from the trailhead. The liners are available separately for $50.


 

Jaztronaut Insoles – $50

by Justin Steiner

Anyone who has ridden clipless pedals in cold temps is all too aware of the dreaded heatsink effect of the cleat and pedal. On really cold days you can feel the heat being pulled out of your foot. Remember the bit about compressibility? Well, most other insulating insoles I’ve tried simply lose their ability to insulated under pedaling or standing pressure, which leads to cold feet.

With the Jaztronauts, however, that cleat and pedal heat-sink impact was nearly eliminated. There was still a small sense of heat loss through the bottom on my foot, but it was far less than with any other insole I’ve used. I’d say it added at least 10- to 15-degrees of comfort to my Lake MX303 boots. Where my feet would begin to succomb to the cold around 20-degrees with the stock insoles, the Jaztronaut insoles kept me much more comfortable down into the low teens. Although I haven’t had a chance to try them down to zero, I’m certain I’ll be much more comfortable at that temp with the Jaztronaut insoles.

My only disappointment revolves around the lack of arch support. They offer virtually no arch support beyond that of your shoe. But, to be fair, the insulating insoles I replaced didn’t offer any arch support either. Regardless, the $50 upgrade to warmer feet is worth it to me.

The Jaztronaut insoles also come stock in 45NRTH’s Wolvhammer boots, which we reviewed back in 2013. Read the review here.

 

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