Friday, May 25, 2018

(Not) Chasing waterfalls.

I am a goal oriented individual. Have been as long as I can remember. I have a hard time sleeping when focused on a project -- and since I've always got a queue of projects I'm chronically underslept.  On the flip side I can be more or less incapable of getting out of bed without a firm task toward which I am driven that day. No task pressing?  I'll sleep til ten. To be fair, sometimes after an extended string of 16 hour days building wheels and updating inventory, my goal for Sunday morning will emphatically be *only* to sleep in. But that's rare.

Goals exist on many levels -- from the smallest things like endeavoring to ride my bike to work instead of driving, regardless of weather, to enormous, daunting, seemingly impossible tasks like trying to initiate cultural change.  Often achievement of smaller goals helps to maintain motivation and drive toward the biggn's.

Singular goals themselves aren't that important. It's their mere existence that motivates.  I raced bikes for two decades, taking on larger and more complex missions every year. The end goal -- I can see it with hindsight, but wasn't clearly aware of it back then -- was to put all the pieces together to have a "perfect" race.   Shorter races and lap races became uninteresting -- not enough variables, not enough challenge.  The process began (several times each year) with months of training blocks, included all of the extrapolation and assumptions made with gear prep and route research, and continued right through execution of the event. Winning was never the goal: striving, learning, and growing were.  Underlying this process was the fundamental understanding that we can always be better than we are today.

I never achieved that perfect race.  Came close a few times -- close enough to keep trying, years beyond when I should have stepped away.  Does that mean my race career was all in vain?  From my perspective it means that I spent two decades actively endeavoring to be better than I was at any -- maybe even every -- given moment.  To this day I can't think of a better ethos to apply to one's existence.

That same mindset still exists in my actions and intentions. I endeavor to learn, to apply knowledge, to understand.  Afoot or on the bike I can no longer ignore nor hide my physical limitations, but in my boat I can still attempt to piece together some semblance of competence, and to continually improve on it.

I joined John Baker, Ben Phillips, and Thor Tingey on Vallecito Creek a few days ago.  At the ~180 cfs flow we had John calls it "Easy class V".  John has thousands more hours in boats than I, thus I take him at his word -- I simply don't know enough to disagree.

I came to boating too late in life to reasonably expect to become competent at class V.  My reaction times are too slow, raw skill non-existent, time available to devote to immersive learning extremely limited.  Thus I very rarely find myself within her committing grasp.  Mistakes are too costly, life already too short.  Once, maybe twice a year the ingredients -- crew, flows, timing -- come together in such a way that I'll step across that line.  Each time I do I am anxious, nervous, apprehensive, as well as equally grateful, humbled, and inspired.

Every time I suit up for class V I think to myself "I'm not sure how many more times I need to do this".  At some point the anxiety will overpower all else.  I've come to hate the accompanying adrenaline hit -- it seems only to exacerbate my already tense on-water demeanor, and I become both less competent and less confident at the same time.  I usually end up making a handful of silly, regrettable, preventable errors, and I always want another shot to demonstrate that I've learned, progressed, adapted beyond. Plus ca change...

This crew is about as good as it gets from where I sit.  Thor is an average paddler, about as competent as I but far more confident.  I am never not impressed by his on-water persona: I know that confidence can carry you a long way but I never seem able to internalize what he exudes.  Ben is an exceptional, lifelong paddler -- deeply skilled and experienced -- but a bit rusty because he has 2 toddlers and gets out infrequently.  John is just stupid with how smooth he is.  Witness his *perfectly* executed delayed boof at :25 of the video below for one example.  I've only paddled with him a handful of times but each time I feel as though he's participating in an entirely different sport -- one filled with grace and control and poise, where by comparison I feel like I just bludgeon and hack my way through while trying to survive.

John once wrote something that resonates now more than ever:

It took decades for style to become a big part of the conversation in kayaking, but it’s not just about looking good. When you run a rapid with style, you are in complete control. This makes you inherently safer on the river; more likely to reach the takeout injury free and less likely to put others in jeopardy while they attempt to rescue you during a swim. As we start to push the limits of packrafting, I hope that we collectively value the importance of style.

Paddling with John reminds me that I am out here not necessarily to achieve so much as to strive -- to become better, safer, more competent, all while exploring the less trodden corners of my backyard.  At the same time I am keenly aware that in striving in these committing environments, there is an element of risk that can creep up and catch one unawares.  When I called myself a bike racer the challenge was to take myself -- mind and body -- way beyond the limits of what I (or anyone) thought possible with frightening regularity.  With whitewater the stakes are too high to go that far, thus the challenge has become merely to feather the edge of my comfort zone, endeavoring to learn and grow while maintaining a healthy buffer within which I can make repeatable mistakes.  Running an occasional waterfall is fine, chasing ever bigger versions compulsively is not.

Each time I paddle with this crew in a place like Vallecito I learn so much, realizing how far I've come, and how far there is -- and always will be -- left to go.

Thanks for checkin' in.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Ringing hollow.

Yesterday afternoon, at the end of a particularly exhausting workday, I wheeled my bike out the back door of the shop, turned out the lights, closed the door, and pedaled in the general direction of dirt.  I didn't have a set target in mind, just knew that I needed some downtime to decompress, sort out the chaos in my head, incinerate a few endorphins, hopefully even take a break at a silent overlook.  All in the name of recharging the spirit within.

The closest trailhead is less than a mile away and my most frequent objective: Getting onto dirt ASAP tops all else, usually.  But as I approached Hwy 340 I could see a line of cars stretching all the way back to Riverside Parkway, all lined up to turn left, all heading more or less for that same trailhead.  I aborted that plan and stuck to the bike path awhile longer, thinking I could head up Miramonte -- a less used entrance only a little further away -- but heavy traffic deflected me away from there, too.  So as the bike path ran out I found myself merging onto Little Park Road.

LPR is fairly steep as roads go in these parts.  I've climbed it literally hundreds of times in the 20 years I've lived nearby.  It used to be my preferred training ground, then when racing ended it became the quickest way of getting to some of the lesser used trails.  That would be it's purpose yesterday.  As I labored up the grade, breath ragged and sweat stinging my eyes, I was passed by a virtually endless stream of diesel duallies, #vanlifers, and mini motorhomes, seemingly all with a pile of bikes hanging off their back ends.  Shards of music pierced the air as each motored past, puffs of cigarette and dope smoke escaped the windows, there was even a (potentially unrelated?) stereotypical Red Bull can in the gutter adjacent to the steepest bit.  

Given that it was 5PM on a weekday I had no good reason to expect any of this to be different.  People -- you, me, us -- have been blowing off steam after work since forever.  But something about this day really made it obvious that the demographic that is "mountain bike users" has changed, shifted.  My hope is that there still exist people whom use bicycles to get out, get away, to find silence and solace in the mountains and the woods.  I know that they must exist, I just don't ever seem to cross paths with them no matter how far out I go.  Thus their existence remains hypothetical and seems less likely by the day, as each successive ride shows more evidence of shredding endurbro's skidding into corners and cheater-line creating (and maintaining) dolts veering off the trail and through sensitive soils -- all in the name of shaving a few seconds so that their name climbs higher on an online list populated by similar miscreants.

When did we become this crowd?  How are these actions in any way morally defensible?  Has our demographic gone completely batshit in the past few years, selling our soul in exchange for a map that no longer shows us the way?

These were the questions swimming through my head as I did, eventually, find a sliver of silence and solace on last night's ride.  I can't say that I discovered any answers -- I don't even think I'm yet asking the right questions -- but I did, in that one silent moment spent catching my breath while overlooking the Gunnison River, draw one solid conclusion: 

We are failing.

Failing to educate new riders on etiquette.

Failing to criticize the actions of fellow riders.

Failing to listen when they criticize us.

Our trails are being systematically shredded -- yes, by skidding endurbro's, straightlining shuttle monkeys, and shortsighted stravassholes.  By an industry that "sells" the sport largely by glorifying the above abusers.  But also by you, and by me, by remaining complicit in the shadows and not saying "enough".

Please note that in every way here I have said "we" and "our" and "us", because while it's easy to point a finger and place blame on others, doing so solves nothing.  The problem is us as a user group.  Ignorance is ruining the trails: Whether we're actively doing the damage or standing idly by and letting it happen we're all to blame.

Riding bikes is something I've done my whole life.  In ways big and small, intentional and not, bikes have defined the trajectory of my time on earth.  I wouldn't change that for anything.

Not to say that I don't have regrets -- I do.  I regret that our sport hit the mainstream doing 100mph and totally unprepared for the havoc that was about to be wrought.   That our trails are being flooded by people whom don't understand what it took to get said trails, nor what it takes to keep them, nor do they seem to care. Mostly I regret that we don't have infrastructure to educate these people -- not that many of them would listen.

What I would do, given a time machine and the ability to change the conversation in some meaningful way, is to slip back in time and plant some sort of a seed of understanding -- some way of grasping what was coming -- in the mind of someone influential in the sport 20 years ago.  A John Tomac or Juli Furtado or Don Cuerdon or even -- gasp -- Zapata Espinoza.  Maybe they could have done, or said, or pushed for *something* that would change the reality of where we are right now.

I don't know exactly what I would say to them, then.  Nor does it matter, now.  Our sport has fundamentally changed, jumped the tracks you might even say, and nothing short of a wholesale reckoning is going to change that.  Whatever words I might have conjured then would and do ring utterly hollow today, as we veer recklessly into an unsustainable future.

I think most of us have been in denial about this wave of change even as it steamrolls our beloved local trails.  It's time to move on to acceptance -- recognizing that the problem is real and not going away -- so that we might begin to think about and craft a long term plan.  The biggest focus of such a plan would be on education, and specifically on recognizing that just getting people outdoors is no longer enough -- you have to prepare them to behave appropriately and respectfully, toward both the land and each other, once out there.

I know better than to think that this little essay is going to be widely read.  Nor do I believe that it will open the eyes of many whom read it.  But if it only reaches a few, and if a handful of those point the finger at themselves in recognition of the fact that we're all to blame for our current state, then maybe we can begin to gain momentum toward a more sane, sustainable future.

Thanks for reading.  Copy this link to share:

Comments:  Any/all opinions are fair game here, but you have to have the juevos to sign your name to them for them to be published.

There have been a number of quasi-inflammatory comments submitted. But they were left anonymously.

Monday, May 7, 2018

A ride, recently: Where "mountain bikers" fear to tread.

I've been singing the praises of this ride for 15+ years.  How beautiful the rock, how gorgeous the big-picture views, how obscenely, absurdly challenging the riding.

Scott, Scott and I rode it on Friday.  10+ hours out on the rock.  Not one other soul encountered at any point.  This despite the fact that you could practically see the dust cloud of the overcrowded trails around Moab from where we were.

From that I can only conclude that "mountain bikers" aren't into this sort of thing.  Which is just boggling to me.

Their loss, on many levels.



As long as I'm able to swing a leg over a bike I will yearn to touch my tires to this rock, and thus to be both humbled and inspired.

Thanks for checkin' in.

Friday, April 27, 2018

29+ fullies: 3 bike review.

Might wanna grab a fresh beverage before starting in on this one: It is verbose.

I got my first taste of 29+ full suspension back in July of 2013.  It was eye opening, in many ways.  The Knard tires were sub-optimal for our local trail conditions and no one had yet delved into what geometry tweaks would allow us to get the most out of *any* 3" tires.  This is said bike, on Andy's trail near Grand Junction, just before sunset on that July evening 5 years ago.  

Despite those rather glaring drawbacks, plus the fact that there didn't yet exist a fork that could readily take 29+ rubber, I loved the concept and knew that it would figure prominently in my future.  We just needed to start chipping away at turning the problems into solutions.  

Along the way we've gained fork options from all the major players with travel options from 80 up to 160mm, while tire choices have gotten better and more numerous by leaps and bounds: Many tread options, many casing options, almost exclusively tubeless ready.  

With fork and tire options aplenty, what was left was to sort out frame geometry.  Before you can understand where you're heading you need to define where it is you want to go.  Back in 2015 I wrote this WRT 29+:

Will this morph into a big-hit bike to replace the LunchBox?  Will it shine on all-day techfests, or will multi-day bikepacks prove to be it's raison d'ĂȘtre?  Can this genre transcend silly marketing boundaries and become a true quiver killer?

The truth is we just don't know yet: The jury is and will be out for a bit -- lots of variables to pin down.  

My answer to the above rumination is that I both want 29+ to be a quiver killer, and I believe that it has arrived at that place.  In the intervening years I've experimented heavily with myriad combinations of fork travel, frame travel, frame geometry, rim width, tire casing construction, and, of course, tire pressure.  Each iteration was ridden bunches on the types of trails that matter to me.  I wasn't able to find a truly bad or even average combo, but I definitely found certain preferences along the way.

It isn't surprising to note that I've settled on preferring a 5" bike, give or take a few millimeters.  The bulk of riders nowadays are in that same range for everyday riding, mostly because it's adept at such a wide range of tasks.

At some point I decided to take a step back and color outside my own narrow lines a bit by experimenting with a carbon chassis.  The Farley EX is a FS fatbike by design, but I couldn't see a good reason *not* to stick 29+ meats into it and give it a whirl.  I knew going in that the geometry was far from my ideal, and that was proven out immediately and repeatedly.  What I couldn't have predicted was how much I liked, even preferred, the muted trail feel of the carbon chassis.  Below it's pictured with 27.5 x 3.8" tires, but it easily fit and was fun to ride with 29 x 3" too.

Given enough time to think about a project -- say, over the course of a northern hemisphere winter -- it is not remotely surprising that I found myself flinging out emails to prospective builders.  The goal: To improve the genre, of course.  Specifically, I wanted to try a different frame material and to tuck the rear center tighter than had been done before.  The result -- the Waltworks Braaap pictured immediately below -- can be read about in some detail here with additional photos here.

Within a week of receiving the Waltworks Trek released their new Full Stache -- a bike that targets the same short rear center goal while also using 29+ tires.  I hadn't planned to buy one, but seeing how close the numbers were to Braaap I simply had to know how they'd compare.  So after briefly demoing my friend Greg's I sourced a frame and built it the way I'd want to ride it.

As you'd expect, I've ridden them bunches the past ~month, all on the same trails where I've been riding the various other 29+ FS sleds I've owned for years.  Which gives me a pretty good basis to compare what's currently out there and available in this genre.

My goal here was not in any way to do an exhaustive iterative test to prove which was the bike to end all bikes for every person everywhere.  There is no such animal -- we all have different preferences and tolerance for compromise.  I just wanted to ride all three on my home trails, comparing them directly to each other in as similar a fashion as was reasonable, in an effort to determine if there were substantive differences in geometry or suspension performance.  And then to think about those differences, if any, in terms of what makes the most sense for me, living and riding where I do and how I prefer to.

These days you can go to Outerbike or fat tire festivals and demo lots of bikes, on trail, on the same weekend.  But they never have 29+ FS bikes and few of the demo venues have much in common with my backyard.  So effectively I created my own demo day which, admittedly, cost a lot more.  It also lasted a lot longer, happened in my own backyard, and allowed me to fine tune each bike to my preferences.  

In addition to tweaking the suspension on each chassis to match my preferences *before* I started thinking about all the other things happening, I also fine tuned the position to the Nth degree.  All 3 bikes used the RockShox Pike up front and I ran all 3 bikes with 130 and 140mm of travel before settling on 140.  All were fine with less, all were better with more.

I experimented with carbon and aluminum rims, steel and polymer spokes, and many different tires on each bike.  These are all known quantities to me, and while they *do* affect the overall ride (and weight) of a bike, they weren't the focus of these sessions.

Without further ado, here are the conclusions I drew from comparing the Trek Full Stache, Waltworks Braaap, and LenzSport Behemoth 29+.

The Trek's rear suspension feels incredible.  Might be the best overall stock setup (not just with 29+, but across the spectrum of bikes I've ridden, ever) I've ridden when factoring in the big picture of top end suppleness, mid-stroke support, and end stroke ramp.  Cannot be overstated how good it is.  I think that's the benefit of a big-box player coming to the table -- they buy such volume that they can ask for, and receive, custom valving mapped to the particulars of the chassis.

The Trek's overall geometry feels good.  I like high BB's so I flipped the Mino to high and stretched the fork to 140.  This resulted in a very neutral, natural feel for me, where I live and ride.  I wouldn't argue with another 1/4 or even 1/2" of bottom bracket height, but for a stock bike it was really good.

The Trek's frame weight *really* surprised me.  8.2# including shock, seat collar, and rear axle.  Gulp.  You'd need close to five figures and a few tricks up your sleeve to get this bike under 30# without giving up wide rims, competent 3" tires, and a dropper.

Rear end flex surprised me.  I don't think of myself as particularly picky when it comes to that metric, but I can't *not* notice it.  I've rubbed the tire on the chain many, many times when climbing, cornering, and descending.  Not just when the chain was in the big cog, either.  Some of this is because I run my ring flipped inboard to bias the chainline toward the (friendly) gears I spend the most time in, but even with the ring flipped out and no buzz happening I still notice the wiggle when bursting up a stinger or slamming into a corner.  I don't take myself so seriously that I think this matters in the overall, I just find it unsettling when it happens.  Feels like the tire is low on air or the thru-axle is loose, even though neither is true.

Braaap's strength lies in it's ultra-short chainstays.  410mm with a 29 x 3" tire is mind-bending.  All that traction combined with all that suppleness.  The bummer is that I'm so old and so weak, because I can't begin to get every ounce of performance out of this bike.  It begs to be climbed like a singlespeed: Out of the saddle, hammering and slobbering away, cleaning the steepest, most technical pitches imaginable.  It is a league apart from any other bike I've owned when it comes to steep, technical climbs: The harder they are, the better it is.  And then once you crest the top you can either choose to get low over the front end and carve the shiznit out of corners, or sit back and manual, hop, and pop over everything.  The geometry of Braaap is incomparable to anything else that exists in Plusland, and better than 99.9% of the rest of what's available, too.

The top-end suspension feel on Braaap is a bit harsh when compared directly to the Trek -- think riding both back to back on the same trail on the same day.  Ride them a day apart and that difference is minimized.  When I find some time I'll undoubtedly be pulling Braaap's rear shock apart to figure out how to better the top end, which might include switching shocks entirely.

Weight on Braaap was almost identical to the Trek -- less than one ounce lighter.

Straight out of the box I was able to rub the tire on the chainstay yoke when bursting -- out of the saddle -- up a steep climb with good traction.  Walt recognized that he might have chosen anemic dropouts, so I dropped it off at his place and he beefed up said dropouts.  I didn't bother to re-weigh the frame but I'd guess that he added 2-3 ounces of steel overall.  And in so doing more or less eliminated rear end flex from this frame.  Since getting it back I've been able to rub the tire to the yoke twice.  Both times were in very high traction/very high body english situations -- scenarios that I don't encounter every ride.  Is tire rub once every 4-5 hours of riding a problem I need to be concerned with?  Especially given how awesome this chassis feels?  I'm still ruminating on that.  As Walt has said himself, "Maybe 410mm chainstays is flying a hair too close to the sun".  Maybe, but damn it feels good up there.

The Behemoth is the 29+ chassis that I've spent the most time on.  I've had some small part in it's development through the years, largely because Devin Lenz is an old friend, but also because we share a similar philosophy on how bikes are supposed to feel and we have similar trails on which to ride them.  If I have an idea on how to improve something he usually listens.  If he has an idea I'm usually cutting him off and saying "Take my money!" before he can finish.

Probably the best way to start describing the Lenz is not with what it does so much as what it doesn't: Meaning, it doesn't flex and it doesn't weigh -- at least not compared to the two bikes above.  I am sure there is someone out there strong enough to touch tire to frame or chain when bursting up a steep, grippy climb, but I haven't yet been able to do it in *years* of trying.  That fact might be especially noteworthy given that the Behemoth weighs 6.8# with rear shock, seat collar, and rear axle.  Lightest *and* stiffest of the bunch.  

I can't say that I notice the heft of the Trek or the Walt when pedaling, but I really notice both when I need to pick the bike up or carry it for any reason.  I can't say the Lenz feels any lighter when pedaling, but it seems substantially so -- again -- when I need to heft it.  Perhaps the real takeaway is that it's been too long since I've lifted weights?

On the trail the Lenz has the most neutral, composed, predictable feel of the three.  The geometry is quick but not overly so.  It is stable but not ponderous.  It can be manualed through chunk at will, hopped with a hip snap and set down *exactly* where needed, or -- if you're going so fast that you've run out of talent -- just hang on and plow.  The suspension doesn't complain, doesn't seem to necessarily mind nor reward any given riding style.  Of the three being discussed here it holds the middle ground of not doing any one thing exceptionally well, but doing everything well enough to not get in the rider's way.


Scorecards are stupid.

If sporty geometry is the most important thing to you, Braaap.

Want the most composed suspension feel?  Full Stache.

Want a good blend of both, with less weight and no flex?  Behemoth.

I'm happy to answer questions on things I've inadvertently omitted.  

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Snapshots from Idaho.

I don't get there often enough.  Same could be said for lots of places, I guess -- but Idaho (and similarly, Nevada) have a certain hold on my curiosity and imagination that never seems to be sated.

Gerard spearheaded the trip and Jeff, Thor and I joined him.  We paddled near Bruneau, Banks, Riggins, and Lowell.  A hoped-for exploration of the SFS was kiboshed by too-high-for-us water.  Next time...  A ridgeline hike near Crouch and a short alpine ride off Lolo Pass rounded out the trip.

Can't wait to get back there again.

Thanks for checkin' in.