Monday, January 7, 2019

Testing one, two: Amazed..

Holiday travel and dumping snow put a hitch in our tire comparisons for a bit.  Yet on the last few rides we've done the trails have been zipped up tight, courtesy of all those unlucky saps that found snowshoes under their yule log.

The only noteworthy observation I can share from these last few rides is that immediately after swapping bikes to compare float, speed, and overall feel of the 2 tires we're scrutinizing, Jeny was quick to observe, "I'm amazed how much faster your bike feels than mine".

To be clear to the point of redundancy, she's riding Johnny 5's on 105mm rims, I'm riding 2XL's on 105mm rims.  

I completely agreed with her statement -- my bike had considerably better glide on the fast-for-us surfaces.

When we got back to the trailhead we gauged all 4 tires to make sure nothing was really 'off' that would skew our perceptions.  Jeny's tires were both at 4.1 and mine both at 4.4 psi.

When you consider that I outweigh her by at least 65#, you might conclude that I should be running *less* pressure to achieve the same combo of speed and float.  And if our tires had exactly the same air volume that'd be correct.

But the 2XL's are bigger.  Only a few millimeters wider, but a *lot* taller.  My suspicion has always been that that added air volume matters a lot in how well I can float at these relatively high pressures. Our observations on this set of rides seem to confirm that.

Next step -- once the weather pattern settles a bit and we can count on consistent conditions for a few days in a row -- will be to get scientific with repeatable rolldown tests.

A ride, recently: Out of our box.

We took advantage of strategically timed holidays from work to step outside of our normal routine and into someone else's.


The region to which we traveled is considerably lower in elevation, a little colder in temperature, and much shorter on snow than our backyard.

Which meant that we got to experience a certain sort of variety, with trails packed firm enough to run more than 5psi in our tires.  Unaccountable luxury right there, and we both noticed and were thankful for it.


Every few hours I like to check in with Jeny, to ask if everything is working OK on her bike.  She doesn't want me to have to wrench when on vacation, which means sometimes her shifting will be mis-indexing or her brakes schinging, but she won't say a word.  Which is considerate, but it doesn't make the bike work the way it should.

So I'll just ask, usually with a semi-specific question that opens the topic in such a way that she can feel free to answer more generally.  And although I can't remember how I phrased that question ~mid-way through this ride, I remember her laughing out loud while commenting that her bike was perfect, and that the riding was so easy (translation: the trails so well packed) that you could run any pressure at all and not even need to think about it.  

We don't often encounter such conditions mid-winter, and it was both noteworthy and super enjoyable to exist in someone else's reality for a spell.

Thanks for checkin' in.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Kuroshiro 6105 rims, long-term review.

I first laced these up in October of 2015.

They are 100mm wide internal, 105mm external.  550g/rim = very light.

90% of the miles they've seen have been snow of the incredibly soft variety.

The other 10% have been washes and sand dunes and some rock crawling.

I used DT Swiss SuperComp triple butted spokes, laced 2x, with DT Prolock alloy nips.  I find that with fatbike-width hubs the spoke gauge and lacing pattern matter very little, because so much of the wheel's stability is coming from the excessive center to flange distances.  Might as well go light.  More on that in a bit.

On normal doublewall rims the nipples are buried between the walls, and they never come in contact with the sealant or a tube.  On singlewall rims like these, the nips are right there, being bathed in sealant if tubeless, or poking into the tube if there is one.

I think it's important to cover the heads of the nips somehow.

Why?  Long term protection of the nipples from corrosion by sealant, and of the tube (should you ever need to use one) from being punctured by the nipples.  So in the pic above you're seeing blobs of Shoe Goo over top of the nipple heads.  Couldn't see a good reason to get more complicated than that.  YMMV.

This wheelset was built for a brand new chassis, and as such the first rides were spent more focused on getting my contact points in the right places, and marveling at the size and (slow!) speed of the tires.  Never really noticed anything about the wheels in any direction.

A few months later we'd managed a few deep snow alpine rides and a few local dirt/rock/ice rides.  The latter are emphatically not what this bike was designed for, and -- largely because these rims are so expensive and relatively fragile -- not the sort of place I like to take this bike.  I have other bikes for that.

After a ~month worth of soft snow, cold temp, high alpine rides, it became obvious that the Vee 2XL tires had massive float, but that the rubber compound was sub-optimal for subzero temps.  A few calls later and I'd not only learned that Vee made a cold-temp-specific compound, but I also had a few of those tires on the way.  Seen below, the 2XL's with creme-colored "PSC" cold-specific compound.  Much, much better.

I did a few springtime wash bashing rides using a Manitou Mastodon and (usually) with a set of B Fat wheels and tires on the bike.  Wash bashing is hard on bikes -- especially when there are pourovers or house-sized boulders that need to be clambered over or under -- and this bike is too rare and too precious to just beat senselessly like that.  I still ride washes but I typically do it on a stock Trek Farley with taller/skinnier B Fat wheels these days.  In essence I save this Meriwether for deep snow specific missions as it is so, so dialed for that purpose.

When we ride the alpine it usually means pressures of 1psi, usually less.  Basically just groveling along, almost riding on the rims.  Run more pressure, or narrower rims, or smaller tires, and you dig holes while remaining in place -- simple as that.  Anyone that doubts this is welcome to bring whatever bike they have and come join us sometime: We never tire of looking back to see their incredulous faces walking next to their inadequately floating bikes. And then we leave them with their thoughts.

I'm reluctant to say that any one part of this package is "the key" because without all of the attendant parts it simply wouldn't work.  Like, remove the crown race -- then what?

Pedantry aside, I get asked often which of the many attendant components make this bike work so well at it's intended purpose.  Is it the geometry?  The steering damper?  The enormous volume tires?  The gucci rims?

It's just never that simple.  

Below is a clip that shows a few seconds of an average winter ride in our backyard.

There is a clearly delineated and marginally packed trail.  There is no one else out, and the wind is drifting the trail in quickly.  I rode for another hour -- until I couldn't even make out where the trail had been -- then found an exit and got out while I could.

Because the snow we ride is so consistently soft, so devoid of moisture, with so little traffic compressing it before it gets buried again, and again, I think it's important to recognize that it's the sum of the parts of this package that make it work.

How do I know?  Last week I took my Trek Farley up to these same trails, shod with industry-standard rims and tires, and running low-as-you-could-go pressures.  The Farley is a great design, aimed at the bulk of the market whom ride trails with a lot less snow and a lot more traffic than what we get.  It is a universally loved bike -- I bought it because it is so good at so many things.

And on that day last week, with my trusty Farley by my side, I walked.  A lot.  While my wife (on her Meriwether) and Pete (on my Meriwether) pedaled along and conversed, somewhat oblivious to how soft the snow really was, and being careful to wait at intersections so that I could see which way they'd gone.

The Farley is -- just like every other box-stock fatbike -- adequate for an average range of conditions in an average range of places.  I love mine, and I use it when I go to those places, or when I ride fat in non-snow months.

In scenarios where maximum float is necessary I always reach for my Meriwether, shod with 2XL tires on these Kuroshiro rims.  Finally -- back to the rims.  The entirety of this post has been aimed at getting to where you the reader (and hopefully soft-snow-rider) could understand the conditions we have to work with when we ride snow.  And the pressures we have to ride, even with 5" tires on 105mm wide rims.


So, I've never had to true or round or retension these wheels since built.  I check the tension on occasion as a preventative thing.

And, not once in the hundreds of hours and miles that I've ridden these tires have I been able to get them to burp when riding.  Think about the forces you can put on a 5" wide tire that's effectively running on the rim.  No burps, no seeps, no fluid or air loss whatsoever.

As unexciting as the above might seem, I consider that the highest form of flattery I can offer.  

These wheels?  I don't notice anything about them, except that they just keep going and going with effectively no air in the tires.

Future changes?  I'll probably unlace them at some point and re-lace using Berd spokes.  Knocking ~100g per wheel off might not be that noticeable in the grand scheme of things -- especially when it's loaded for a weeklong self-support in the sub-arctic.  But it's not going to hurt anything, either.

Don't hesitate with questions.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Trust Message fork review.

Back in October, as the Outside bike test was winding down, we received one of the new Trust "Message" forks to ride.

Warning: The review below is verbose, opinionated, and nitpicky.  If you don't live and breathe bicycle minutia, skip this one.

+ + + + +

I'm no stranger to outside the norm suspension, and am always game to see what any new design brings to the table.  Through the years I've owned and ridden all sorts of standard telescoping forks -- Pike, Lyrik, Stage, 34, 36, Reba, Rev, Mattoc, etc... -- but I've also spent lots of time on Lefty, Maverick SC and DUC, USE SUB, Lauf, Rock Shox RS1, a few custom Action Tec's, and several generations of single and dual crown Dorado.

Granted, most of those are still telescoping forks, but in their heyday many were as controversial as the Trust fork is today.  You had to be willing to swim against the grain a bit to own and ride one.

I share the above simply to point out that I'm not afraid to drink the kool-aid, because there's usually a benefit to doing so.

When the Trust fork arrived the bike testing crew debated which chassis to install it on, ultimately giving the nod to the Ibis Ripmo.  I measured and found that the stock 36 that came on the Ripmo was about an inch taller (axle to crown) than the Trust fork, so I cut the steerer 1" longer to be able to keep the bar height at least as high as stock.  Note 40mm of spacers below stem -- this will become important later.

I did some fine tuning of pressures and damper settings by plowing through curbs and off small loading docks out back of my shop, such that while I never felt it was "dialed" by any stretch, I figured it was close enough to ride real trail with minimal need to stop and fiddle.

The next morning I brought the bike to the chosen test loop and rode with the group.  Although it is my backyard and the route chosen is one that I enjoy, I wasn't able to find much of a rhythm on that ~hourlong test loop, largely because the Trust fork had lowered the front end of the Ripmo over an inch, steepening the HTA and dropping the (already kinda low) BB substantially.  I sort of adapted to the steering change but I kept plowing (not grazing) my feet into trailside rocks, which didn't instill confidence nor a desire to ride faster.

Bike geo aside, the fork felt harsh pretty much everywhere.  It tracked undulations in the trail really well but anything square edged downright *hurt* both hands and wrists.  I stopped once to fiddle with damping -- basically to open it up more because it felt so overdamped -- and found that it was already almost completely open.  I backed the adjusters out completely, wanting the fork to move more and hurt less.  After another ~mile of trail with the fork still feeling really harsh on anything square edged, I stopped again and dropped the pressure.  Trust recommends putting your body weight into each chamber in PSI.  I weigh 190# so that's where I'd started, but the harsh feel was terrible, so I dropped it to 160# on each side.

And that felt a little better.  Slightly less harsh on square stuff.  I wondered about sag and whether I was blowing through all the travel by running it so low, but a quick glance at the travel indicator revealed that I hadn't yet used more than 80% of the stroke.

Curiously, running lower air pressure meant that now the rebound damping felt too slow.  I noted this largely in situations where I like to preload the front end to facilitate a quick manual over or through some obstacle.  Now the fork wouldn't rebound fast enough to take advantage of this technique.  So I stopped again and attempted to make the rebound faster, but it was already at minimum damping/maximum speed.  Huh.

When we closed that loop and got back to the trailhead many of the testers were interested in what I thought, and wanted to head out on it next.  I responded with some version of "I'm not sure what to think, but it might not be quite right", and then removed my pedals so the next tester in line could spin his on and take it for a lap.

Ultimately 5 others rode the Trust fork that day.  They took the time to set the fork up per Trust's recommended specs -- starting with body weight in both air chambers -- and then fine-tuned damping a bit before heading out.  

Ultimately all 5 other riders concluded that:
-The fork felt very, very harsh on square edged hits.  So harsh that we all agreed there must be something wrong with the compression damping circuit.  So harsh that no one was willing nor able to ride the test loops at full speed -- it was simply painful on the hands and wrists to do so.
-The fork never got more than 80% of it's travel, even on drops with harsh landings (Free Lunch trail).  Several of the testers were perplexed by this, ultimately removing all air from the fork and bouncing on it until a hard bottom could be felt.  Still the travel indicator would not move past 80%.
-Although we all started with recommended PSI, all 5 riders ultimately wanted to run far less than recommended pressures as a means for softening the overdamped compression stroke.  An informal poll revealed that we all ultimately ran it at least 30psi softer than recommended, and some as much as 60psi under.  And still everyone agreed it was way too harsh on square edged hits.

When the riding ended that day I wondered aloud if maybe the fork was simply overmatched by the rear suspension on the Ibis?  There were a few grunts and grumbles but everyone was tired -- tired from a week of riding hard, sleeping in unfamiliar beds and eating strange food, then riding hard again -- and we didn't really come to any solid conclusions.

The testing ended that night and the test crew dispersed.  Most of the bikes were left at my shop for me to box back up and ship home.  A quick glance over the remaining pile revealed a few other options where the Trust fork might make more sense: Shorter travel bikes with more of an XC bent, basically.  I removed the Trust fork from the Ripmo and installed it on an Intense Sniper.  Note 50+mm stack of spacers under the stem -- this will come up again later.

I'd ridden the Sniper a handful of times during the test, and liked it for what it was: Light, quick, and nimble.  It was not -- is not -- "plush" -- nor was it designed to be so.  It rewards a rider that is hard on the gas all the time on the flats and ups, and skilled enough to slalom around or loft the bike through the chunkiest bits.  Trying to plow straight through anything would reveal the limits of suspension and chassis stiffness lickety split.  I didn't think it was a great bike for the chunkiest local trails, but when ridden fast on the medium and mellower stuff it seemed to do really well.  So once I installed the Trust fork on it, that's the sort of terrain I sought out -- the mellower stuff.

And honestly it didn't really make much difference.  The fork felt every bit as harsh -- overdamped -- as it had on the Ripmo.  I fiddled with it every way I could think of -- leaving pressure stock but closing the dampers down more, opening dampers and dropping pressures, then reversing all of the above to some middle ground.  Differences were felt but basically it went from awful to terrible, and at best back to awful.  I figured something had to be wrong with the dampers, so I said as much.  The guy that organizes the Outside bike test agreed with me, and set up a conference call with Trust to tell them what we'd found on our first rides.

I didn't record the call although I wish I had.  So much was said and shared, on both sides.  The gist of the conversation was that they thought we had improperly set it up, and as such weren't getting the "Trust effect".  They never, ever used these words, but if I had to sum it up in my own words it sounded like they were saying, "You guys aren't smart enough to do this on your own.  We should have come there and set it up for you."

Given that I've been riding, racing professionally, and wrenching on my own bikes for over 30 years, as well as working as a professional wrench for most of that time, it was hard not to feel a bit chapped at being talked to that way.  The flip side is that the adjustments on this fork are few and rudimentary, and no matter what combination 6 different riders had used, they'd all agreed that the fork felt terrible.  

In the end Trust agreed to take the fork back, check it over, and let us know what they found.  Curiously, before I'd even shipped the fork back to them they sent an email with these quotes:

"Damping: 100% certainty that what you have is right. All of our products are individually dyno tested by our amazing damper testing robot before shipment, so we know there's nothing wrong with them. And the one that we sent you was validated by our staff in-house in Utah. Possibly you are picking up on what it feels like to have a front suspension with almost no damper hysteresis. The telescopics have our brains trained to equate "good" with "no damping", so it's new feeling to ride something so dialed in.

RE: not getting full travel, I'm not fully sure. If we are talking parking lot test, I can see that. It's going to feel stiff as all getout in a parking lot test if you are trying to make it feel like a telescopic. But get it onto the trail and start trusting that front tire and it will feel ridiculously supple. That's the "Trust Effect" at work.

Curious if you read any of the info we put together about trust effect on our site or the setup guide that came with it. We tried so hard to explain that Trust Effect. It's a tricky one to explain to somebody, kinda like explaining what a new flavor tastes like. It's a whole new sensation that your brain really wants to try to piece together with what it already knows."

After reading (and re-reading) and thinking about the above I concluded that they had drank their own kool aid, potentially overdosed on it, and had arrived at a place where they weren't really open to outside opinions.  If they could hear them at all.  Their prerogative to do so.  

As I was preparing to pull the fork off the bike and send it in, I had the idea to get an opinion from an outside, uninvested source.  I flung an email out to a good friend and local riding partner whom used to be a card-carrying pro DH racer.  He currently owns a local bike shop.  He's super sharp with understanding, explaining, and tuning suspension, and even more pernickety than I am when it comes to getting his setups dialed just so.  I knew that he'd be able to better put words to whatever he felt than I had, and was relieved when he quickly responded "I'd love to ride it -- when?"

He picked it up the next morning, still installed on the Sniper.  I gave him Trust's quick setup guide so that he'd be able to set it up to his liking, then off he went.

When he brought it back he summed up his experience with, "I'm not really sure what to do with that thing.  It's so overdamped on compression that you can't go fast on anything other than buttery smooth dirt.  Add in rocks or ledges and especially square edges and it just jackhammers your hands and wrists.  You have to slow way, way down to be able to maintain control of the bike.  Something is broken in that damping system -- it's just not working."

With that I thanked him for his time, pulled the fork off the bike, and sent it back to Trust to inspect and hopefully repair.  Problems happen with first-batch production all the time -- It seemed like we must have just gotten a bad one despite their admonitions to the contrary.

It took a few weeks to hear back from Trust.

Here is their response:

I wanted to get back in touch to let you know where the team is at. After taking a closer look at the unit, they could not find any issue with product quality. Related to the concerns brought up, here's what they discovered:  
  • The product gets full travel without abnormal activity.
  • The travel indicator functions properly.
  • The damper passed and passes EOL testing; the damper does not develop “too much high speed compression”.
Several issues stemmed from use:
  • Steerer tube was cut almost unusably short – almost definitely put bar position too low and CG too far forward.
  • Damper settings far off target, all the way open. 100lb rider settings being used.

After discussing next steps, the team reiterated that they should have been there with you from the start to set up the suspension - to get it dialed pre and during the ride. With this in mind, they'd love to meet up in person at some point in the early spring to ride together.
This was shared with me by the Outside bike test coordinator.  We conversed by phone and agreed that Trust had done a great job with communication throughout.  We applauded them for their willingness to bring the fork back and help us get set up on it -- how many companies would offer that?

Given what we'd already felt, and combined with their conclusion that it was performing as intended, we also agreed that we had zero interest in riding it any further. 

+ + + + +

I was psyched to be able to get to ride a new, unique, and highly-hyped product on my backyard trails.  In the end being able to do that saved me a whole lot of money and long-term frustration.

Don't hesitate with questions.

And comments?  Say whatever you like in the space below -- good or bad matters not to me.  However, I'm done publishing comments from people that don't/won't sign their name to it.  Anything that arrives for moderation with 'unknown' or 'anonymous' attached to it gets deleted, regardless.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

A ride, recently: The last of it.

Not every year do we get so lucky as to know when the season is about to end.  Even if Greg usually starts predicting "Last ride!" daily in late September.

And by "season" I mean dry dirt, often even hero dirt.

Because while we can still ride dirt in the valley, once there is snow on the ground you have to expect ice around some corners, snow on both tires and rocks, and even when you manage to keep your tires clean for a spell, the cool temps and humidity in the air mean that rubber just doesn't stick to rock like it does in warmer months.

So yeah -- we can still ride, but the riding is totally different.

So when the forecast starts to look just so, we start thinking about what our last real dirt ride should be.  This year we opted for one that we don't get out to do much anymore.  No real reason why -- it's just faded a bit for some reason that neither of us could immediately put our finger on.

Having ridden it so recently, it's hard to understand how it fell out of favor.  It's got a little of everything, and not too much of anything.  Maybe it's just the fact that you have to drive to get there?

Dunno.  Probably.  Glad we went though.  Hafta put it back on the docket once the snow is off.

Thanks for checkin' in.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Testing one, two: Simple visual.

Just so that people understand what's being compared here.

At left is the Terrene Johnny 5, which is a 26 x 5.0" tire, mounted on a 105mm rim, tubeless, at 10psi.

At center is the Terrene Cake Eater 27.5 x 4.5" tire, currently mounted and stretching on a 77mm rim, tubeless, at 10psi.  I will eventually run this tire on an 89mm rim.

At right is the Vee 2XL 26 x 5.05" tire, being run on a 105mm rim, tubeless, at 10psi.

Although all are tubeless and at the same pressure, I'm not going to give measurements as yet because the two Terrene tires pictured here have yet to be ridden at all.  Riding them causes them to stretch and grow several millimeters, especially when done at snow-low pressures.

I think the overall height of the Cake Eater and 2XL will be a wash once the CE is installed and ridden on the wider rims I plan to test it on.  

Lastly, one more pic for giggles: 45N Dillinger 4 on a 65m rim.  Can't believe I made it to Nome a few times on tires not quite that big.

Thanks for checkin' in.

Testing one, two: Drilling down.

Several more days and nights worth of rides have happened, but no new snow has fallen.  In a "normal" year there wouldn't have been enough traffic for us to ride at all thus far -- we're usually reliant on those poor saps that are gifted snowshoes to pack things down in the week between the two big upcoming holidays.  Some confluence of factors has given us both ample snow and decent traffic to leave behind rideable trail, and no complaints have been heard.

^ Being able to stand and climb, on snow, is a novelty to us.  Rare that things are zipped up tight enough to even think about it.

Pete was feeling sprightly on an early morning ride, and gave in to the notion by powering out of the saddle as hard as he could for a few strokes.  His rear tire broke loose -- loose snow being what it is, how could it not? -- and he damn near swapped ends before high-siding and slapping down on his shoulder.  He got up and continued the ride, and even joined us again the day after, but you could tell he was suffering a bit.

As Skippy likes to say, "Getting old isn't for sissies...".

We've compared these two tires in a somewhat wide range of conditions thus far -- from base pressures (somewhere around .2 to .5psi) when churning through snowmachine fluffed merengue or 8" of drifts atop a semi-firm base, to ~2psi when riding hollow hardpack.  That last is the kind where you're singing along at a decent clip, but always aware that the ephemeral crust could give way at any moment, swallow up your front wheel, and send you superman-style out the front door.  The net effect is, I imagine, how a long-tailed cat feels in a room fulla sweet geezers in rocking chairs.

Our trails simply don't get much better than this until spring thaw.

Because I've been riding the 2XL tires full-time on snow for a few seasons, I'm pretty well accustomed to their good and bad habits.  Their most admirable trait is how well they float compared to every other tire out there.  And worst?  Simply that they are slow on hardpack.  To the end of speeding them up I snipped the middle 5 rows of tread blocks, leaving the two outer rows intact.  This brought a compromise between soft-snow bite and hardpack efficiency, and I've adapted to it.  It's far from perfect, but it's adequate to the task at hand.  What would improve this tire even more would be for Vee to come out with a front specific tread -- something akin to Surly's Bud where this is virtually a carbon copy of Surly's Lou.  Bud and Lou were arguably the best snow tires ever made for the conditions we see most, they are simply outclassed in size these days.

Pete, Jeny, Creig and I have swapped bikes several times on different sections of trail, antennae tuned outward to sense minute differences as we traverse different varieties of snow.  Thus far -- and yes I'm aware that this is far from scientific -- we agree that if there is a difference between the J5 with full tread height and the 2XL with snipped treads, it isn't big.  As expected, the J5 is more grippy and thus more predictable when leaned, especially in corners.  We are evenly split as to whether one feels faster than the other: Jeny and Pete slightly favor the J5, Creig and I feel the 2XL is a wee bit speedier.

When we return from the holiday break we'll set up a controlled roll-down test to answer that question definitively -- at least for our backyard trails and conditions.  And we'll introduce the ENVE wheels to the mix.

Thanks for checkin' in.