Friday, April 30, 2010

Meaty beaty big and bouncy.

It's not often that I geek out technically here, but I'm long overdue on sharing a new product that I've been involved in bringing to market. Plus, I really oughta write about wheelbuilding once a year or so, dontchathink? Today is gonna be a geek-out day. Deal with it!

More and more often I've been spending my on-bike time aboard 6 and 7" travel machines. Light they are not, and fast climbers they are not. If, when riding, you're in a hurry to get uphill, they are probably not for you. But if you'd rather look around a bit and be social while climbing, or climb the chunk line with some success instead of simply racing on hardpack to the top, what 6+" bikes can do for you on the way back down is truly amazing. Especially for those of us weaned on hardtails before they were called hardtails.

Because my riding time is increasingly on these much-more-sure-footed machines, I've gotten very interested in rims and tires capable of handling what the bikes can. 99% of the time an on-trail mechanical for me means a pinch flat, simply because the bikes can handle a lot more than a standard XC tire can. You go fast, you get air, you smile huge, you rail a corner, you plow through a rock garden, and suddenly you hear air escaping because the anemic little tube got smashed to bits inside of the anemic little tire that should never have been on this bike in the first place.

Thanks largely to Mark Slate at WTB, the wimpy tire conundrum was solved last year with the introduction of Dissent in 29".

It is NOT a something-for-nothing tire as so many on the market purport to be (Weighs nothing! Does the dishes! Carves in antigravity! No unsightly stains! Flat proof!). It is big, meaty, and yes, heavy. It is also very difficult to flat. I was fortunate to be able to work with Mark a bit on the development of Dissent, and got to see the evolution of the casing from underkill to massive overkill and then back to just about perfect. I haven't ridden, seen, or owned a tire that I can ride the way I ride Dissent.

Until Dissent came available we could only dream about pushing this hard on big wheels, but now that it's here the sky's the limit. With any other tire any kind of hard impact (whether from landing a drop in chunk, smacking an errant ledge, or manualing through a boulderfield) meant a quick flat and often a dented rim. It isn't fair to expect a single ply XC tire to be able to hold up to that kind of riding.

Even the 800g+ tires (Nevegal, Stout, Ardent, etc...) couldn't come close to surviving. Tubeless was tried and although tubeless has come a LONG way the past few years, it still wasn't the solution as the tires still weren't durable enough: Instead of basic pinch flats we'd punch rocks right through the casings of the tires, resulting in holes big enough to stick the meat of your thumb through, which (often) meant that the rock kept on going and dented the inside of the rim as well. Sub-optimal. And expensive, and often the rim would be so jagged inside we'd need to walk the bike out.

Anyhoo, the advent of Dissent meant that the tire part of the equation had been solved.

But what about rims? A year ago I was pretty frustrated at the available choices and some of their bad habits. If you wanted a beef-baloney rim in 29" that could handle aggressive use, abuse, bashing and banging day in and day out, essentially you had three choices. On paper they look good, but in practice they all have a fatal flaw. Some have more than one flaw. Beating the daylights out of them on our local and regional rides was an easy way to expose these flaws, but sometimes they never made it out of the truing stand before the flaws became apparent. In other words, bad quality control often followed bad manufacturing, and in one case a rim redesign meant that overnight it became a poor choice for the intended use.

I'm not going to list names or go into any further detail, I'm simply going to sum up by saying that a year ago there wasn't a rim on the market that could handle what these bikes can dish out for more than a few weeks. Every option was explored, built, and ultimately kilt, and usually pretty dang fast. We're talking about a rim a week at times.

For my money, I need to get *at least* a season out of a rim to call it money well spent. Anything less is unacceptable.

Like I said, a year ago I was frustrated.

So I went shopping.

I wandered around all of the bike shops in the valley as well as a few in Moab, asking the shop rats about their experiences riding, building, and maintaining their own personal wheels, as well as what they see come through the shop. As you have no doubt guessed, there was no consensus about any *one* rim (they're shop guys after all--as biased as can be!) but there were only a few that were spoken of favorably by all, and among these was the 26" SunRingle MTX 33. I hadn't the time to build and ride a bunch of 26" wheels, nor did I have a bike to put them on, so to some extent I was going on faith. But I also know and ride with lots of these guys, and I know the trails that they're riding even better. I had a pretty clear idea what I'd be getting with the MTX 33.

So I contacted Scott at SunRingle and he agreed to have a few samples made. When the samples arrived I laced them, tensioned them, and rode them, making notes all along. The MTX 33 rims are a few MM taller than their closest competitors, meaning that you end up using shorter spoke lengths. Taller rim + shorter spokes = stiffer wheel. Not an earth-shattering difference in stiffness, but every incremental improvement matters here. Lacing was normal and they came up to tension in an odd but ultimately good way. Odd? At ~95kgf the tensions weren't balancing out quite the way I would hope, but as the wheel got tighter the balance got better. At ~110kgf everything seems to fall together, so to speak, and they balance out beautifully between 110 and 120kgf. I haven't built them any higher than that--I haven't seen a need to.

And the ride? Just a solid, dependable, predictable rim. All else equal, they have a stouter feel laterally than the competition, and somehow feel slightly less harsh at the same time. I won't go so far as to call them 'compliant', but there is a difference. My seat of the pants is not that finely tuned that I can say *why* it feels different, I can only say that it *does* feel different.

A harsh winter has limited the number of hours I've been able to put on production versions of the rim, so I cannot yet comment on long term durability. They are aluminum rims so they will not be indestructible--no rim truly is. But they seem to resist dents and flat spots better than anything else available, and tension has been holding steady at 110+kgf so they've already surpassed the competition. All signs point to this being the most durable rim available for 29" bikes today.

Lastly, when the samples were made I was most concerned about tire fit. We wanted the MTX to be more friendly to the burlier meats, so we relaxed the fit by just a few millimeters. Not enough to call it loose by any stretch, just enough to be able to get Dissent on and seated without need for multiple DH levers, or massive air pressure, or a mandatory Turrets moment.

To sum up, I'm no longer frustrated! I've now got a trail bike and a DH bike with appropriate rims and tires, allowing me to keep up with any pack of riders on the trail, and sometimes even push them farther than they'd like to go. Hard to imagine such a turn of events just a few years ago.

Your favorite LBS can order Dissent from BTI.

The MTX 33 rims are available directly from SunRingle in 32 and 36h, black.

There are a limited number of the MTX 33's in winter camo as seen above. Those are a exclusive.

Thanks for reading.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

The blooming desert.

'Tis a feverish time of year in these here latitudes. Seems like most of us have already gotten out of the blocks in our race to live life faster through this beautiful season. So much to do, so much to see, it can prove difficult to simply focus on what's beneath your feet.

Especially these next few weeks, I recommend forgoing the long view and focusing beneath your feet!

Fergawdsakes, drag your mouse over there--------->, click on VIMEO, and watch this'n in HD--------->

I'm not yet capable of stringing back-to-back days together on the bike. Instead of dwelling on that, I'm enjoying the heck outta the off-days, toodling afoot with Fang, stopping as often as needed to see, sense, and yes, stick my nose into the blooming desert.

Get out and enjoy it while it lasts!


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Perception. Reality?

To call this time of year in this corner of the world 'heaven on earth' is to toss out a cliche that few whom haven't been here can grasp.

Just about perfect temps, humidity, and soil moisture content. A little too much work and a bit too much post-AK brooding, both of which serve to point up just how good it really is here, now.

I still feel as though moving underwater whether it's walking to the grocery, pedaling a bike, or replying to the heaps of wheel-related emails every day. I owe a debt of gratitude to all that have been patient with me in each of the above scenarios. And to those that haven't?


But then a part of me wonders if I'm not just dragging this whole recovery/re-entry thing out? You know--perception is reality and all that? Riding slower because I prefer to, not because I need to? Taking my time on walks to the grocery or post office and smelling the lilacs and cherry blossoms along the way? And the emails? I can only type so fast with three fingers (the others must be resting...) so...

All I need to do to disprove that theory is attempt to speed up (riding, walking, *thinking*) for all of 3 seconds, and both mind and body revert (revolt?) to a sort of tunnel vision. Everything *immediately* slows down, except the things that start to hurt, and those speed up.

So much for perception.

At any rate, I've been enjoying the daylights outta "just being outside" the last few weeks. Soft breezes, warm light, lots of laughs with friends. 5 minutes of proof right here:

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> click "Vimeo" and watch it in HD and full screen ^^^

Life is good here, now. Change, recovery, re-entry--they'll all happen at their own pace. Might as well just roll with it.

Ya think?


Saturday, April 3, 2010

In search of: A good night's sleep.

Although I had planned not to write any more about the Iditatour until this fall, when (I assumed) sufficient energy and perspective would have been achieved, I'm surprised to find that I can't quite disconnect from it that fast. In no way was I sick of being out there, or tired from the effort of doing what I'd been doing. I just expected that being back in the desert at this time of year would rip me into a fast lane of chunk riding, canyon hiking, crust skiing and the attendant photogeeking that's always a part of all of the above. Plus, work.

But re-entry has been different this time around. My first glimpse of it was in Anchorage, in the rental car, while haphazardly dashing about for a few short hours before flying back to Colorado. I felt as though I was absolutely hauling on the Seward Hwy at an unthinkable 35 (thirtyfreakinfive!) miles per hour, as early-out commuters sped angrily past me at 60+, screaming incessantly into their cell phones the whole while. How could they move so recklessly fast? Weren't they afraid of crashing into each other, or hitting those potholes, or not being able to stop for that traffic light 1/2 mile ahead?

My next glimpse has been the longest lingering: insomnia. At best I've been able to unwire myself enough to get horizontal by 11, but my mind keeps racing along whether I'm in the mood to sleep or not. Since I'm awake I might as well do something productive, right? I've been sorting photos, clipping video, answering email, paying bills, etc... But LOOOONG past the time when I don't want anything to do with any of that, I am totally and completely AWAKE. And exhausted. Napping between ~5AM and ~11AM has been the only guarantee, and has kept me somewhat functional, but it's an unrewarding way to live a life and not one that I plan to continue.

The last evidence of how, um, odd my post-AK re-entry has been this year is a complete inability to wrap my brain around the least puzzle. I can't think clearly beyond what to eat, and even then only if there's food in at least one of my hands. To some extent this would be expected given my (non) sleep cycles, but I think it runs deeper: For the previous three weeks it was my stated goal not to think beyond the moment I was in, and I got *good* at being in that never-ending moment. Leaving it behind has proven difficult. Not that I'm trying very hard.

The questions generated by my last post have had me thinking a bit about the gear I used. On the one hand, it's nothing special, and most of it would be considered outdated or somehow inappropriate by just about any gear-geek worth his salt. On the other hand, something about it must be working right to have helped me to do what I just did. Gear is either working for you or against you--it can't really be in limbo when you've got to schlep the weight of it along regardless.

To specifically answer one of the questions generated by that last post, I had *one* item that I hauled the entire distance and never used: A pair of neoprene glomitts that I had planned to use while cooking inside the tent at night. As I settled into the bag and fired up the stove each night I'd remove these mitts from the kitchen bag, stash them in the tent pocket to my left, then not think about them again until the next morning when I'd stick them back into the kitchen bag. Their sole purpose became keeping my stove from rattling about inside my pot, a job that could have been done by any number of other soft goods I carried.

Thinking about that pair of mitts made me realize how set I am in my ways with respect to certain gear specifics like clipless pedals, butted spokes, wool, or the evolution of my footwear system over the last decade+. But it also made me realize that at some point I was NOT set in my ways about these things, and only trial and error (and heaps of it) has gotten me to where I understand what works, what doesn't, and why, for this eentsy esoteric niche of winter bikepacking in the sub-Arctic.

I'm not *quite* rambling or confabulating just yet, but I'm getting close! Honestly I'm doing all I can to NOT just give a 'gear list', as the simple act of writing that list (to me) tears the still-beating heart out of all that has gone into adapting one's mind and body to the intricacies of each item on it. I can type "Nemo Tenshi" in the slot next to which tent I used, but that tells nothing about how I adapted myself and my cook and sleep systems to work within it, how many nights of sleeping in it I needed before I could start carving it down to just over 3lbs, nor of the countless solo missions to the alpine over the past 4 winters to experiment with different tie down systems to allow it to pack and pitch equally fast without tangling (which means gloves-off for detangling), to be able to handle the expected blows in the mountains and on the coast, and at the same time to be vented well enough that condensation and exhalations from cooking and breathing don't end up as so much frost raining down on me when I roll over to take a leak (yes, inside the tent) in the wee (<-ha!), brittle cold hours.

The tent example is a fine way to point out that I don't seem to be capable of using an off-the-shelf product as-is. I have a compulsive need to tinker with it until I understand it, and then to make changes that improve it. In effect, what this says is that the bulk of the gear I used on this trip didn't really work for me until I'd adapted it to. That's my self-serving rationalization anyway. What it really says is that I can never leave well enough alone.

But if not for constant incremental improvement, how else do you get 3+ weeks worth of *good* food, fuel (with some extra), a 4-season tent (with spare pole), expedition stove (and spare parts), a complete rack and panniered fuel-carrying bike (and all attendant tools and spares for it, including two Surly inner tubes, chain links, spare bolts, plus a spare pair of pedals), a minus 60 sleeping bag, insulated pad (and patch kit), a 20oz camera, SPOT, and GPS, plus 50+ lithium batteries into a 147lb package?

There isn't another way. There simply isn't. It took years to get it there, with years of enjoyable tinkering along the way. It might take me years to divulge the gory details of what I took, and why, because I'm just not capable of putting it all into a list.

Thanks for understanding, and keep the questions coming! ;)