16 November, 2017

Size Matters - The Tweaking Continues

Yes, I'm an avowed tweaker. Guns. Cooking. BBQ. Projects around the house. And, bikes. Especially bikes... I just can't leave well enough alone. So many things become projects.

My Niner ONE9 single speed mountain bike is among them. I purchased this bike last year to make the jump to a more performance-oriented bike from the SE BM Flyer. Scored a good deal. It was in good shape. And, I really enjoyed riding it.

But...

The frame was a medium. And at 6'0" with a long torso and short legs, I'm in a weird place with bike sizes. I'm usually a large. But sometimes can squeak by with medium, depending on the geometry. After the first few rides, I began to feel like the frame was too small. Because of my longer torso, the front just felt a bit cramped.

So, I swapped out the short stem for a 100mm Thomson Elite X4 stem. Definitely better. Rode it a number of times - all the while falling more in love with this cool bike. But, over time, it still felt cramped. So a Thomson Masterpiece setback seatpost was ordered. Again, it bought me some more space, but things still aren't quite there.

In the meantime, I am just completely digging on my Salsa Bucksaw X01 (in size large). The bike just completely fits me. Great while climbing, and descending. Comfy for long rides, and nimble enough for fairly tight spaces.

Finally, I reach the simple conclusion - this size Medium just doesn't fit me. Good news is that my riding buddy loves the bike and is a couple of inches shorter. He wants it. Of course by now, I've also become quite fond the the striking atomic blue color. Great. It's a few years old. Not made anymore. And now I need to find a large, in that color. Within two weeks, one pops up on eBay. In great shape, many recent component replacements. And, at a reasonable price. It's go time!

When the bike arrives, I do a little component swapping from my old bike. This benefits both me and my buddy -- I get the parts I want, as does he. Perfect.

It took me a couple of weeks to get out and ride the new whip, but finally this week I was able to get in a couple of laps at DTE Energy Foundation Trail. I had a little time before my buddy arrived to spin around the parking lot and dial in the seat height, pedal tension, etc. Things are definitely feeling pretty good. Then we set off on our ride. The difference in the larger bike is immediately obvious. First is pure, simple comfort. I just have more room to shift weight, pedal, etc. At the same time, it doesn't feel too big. Plenty able to handle tight turns and spaces.

The old M (front) and the new L (rear)
the difference is significant!
After a few miles I realize I'm riding faster, taking turns harder and deeper, and feeling really loose and confident. Now the value of my upgrade really sinks in. I know a lot of experts who advise that when you're in between sizes on a mountain bike to go to the smaller.

The only remaining issue is the fork. The new bike has a RockShox Reba suspension fork. Part of what I like about singlespeeds is that simple, crisp feel. Will I lose this with a boinger up front? After one ride, I will admit that I think it feels softer than my old carbon rigid fork. But, I've only begun to experiment with air pressure and other variables. More tweaking to come!

27 October, 2017

Salsa Bucksaw X01 Review - Part II

Pulled a fast one on you with Part I, eh? Thought you were getting a review, but what you got was the prelude. Sorry about that, but I think the best product reviews demand context. If I don't know what you're about, why you bought the product, your level of experience and knowledge, and the expectations you brought to the situation, I have no way to judge whether or not the review is useful to me.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY - My Bucksaw X01 ROCKS!

With that out of the way, here's why...

It gives me confidence, and that means speed: The combination of bigger, grippier tires, along with full suspension that soaks up the terrain means less time worrying about my line and more time ripping it. Roots and rocks that would have thrown me off-line, or even off-bike are no longer a big deal. Pick a line and charge it. The Bucksaw delivers.

The handling is DIALED: All the reviews I'd read told me this bike wasn't really like others. the soul of a trail bike in the body of a fat(ish) bike. I especially love this bike on fast, flowy trails. Pick a line, set your speed and GO! The biggest challenge going faster is between my ears (or maybe in my shorts...).  

It's just right: At 6' with a long torso and shortish legs (31" inseam), fit is an issue for me. I've been wrestling with other bikes for over a year now. Large is just a touch too big, while Medium feels cramped. Not so the Bucksaw. I have zero doubts about the sizing of this bike. From my first test ride, I knew the Large was perfect.

It doesn't beat me up: I'm not 22 anymore. Hell, I'm not 42 anymore. Given that I'm rapidly approaching 52 trips around the sun, I find myself more interested in comfort than I had been in the past. With full suspension and bigger tires, I get a ton more compliant ride so I can go faster for longer. What's odd is that the Bucksaw doesn't ride like a fat bike. It's much more precise, yet still has the forgiving qualities of a fat bike.

The build is oh-so-right: Kudos to Salsa for packing value into this ride. The solid SRAM X01 drivetrain shifts flawlessly, the RockShox Reverb dropper seatpost has brought an interesting new dimension to my riding. Thomson stem (my fave) and carbon bars (not my fave). Sure, I have some minor quibbles, but that will come with any bike.
A caveat on my experiences - as mentioned previously, I had a second set of 27.5+ wheels built for trail riding. Bearclaw Bicycle Co. carbon rims, Industry Nine Torch hubs, and DT Swiss spokes. Light. Fast. Smooth. Really glad I made this investment! I'm eager to ride the stock 4" fat tires on 80mm rims. The Bucksaw was designed around these, so it will be interesting to see how they perform. As of now, my plan is to swap them over after the Iceman Cometh race next weekend.

Salsa hit a winner with this unconventional ride. It's smooth, fast, and feels very nimble. I have some questions of how it will be in the snow, but time will tell. 

MISSES
The Bucksaw X01 does an incredible number of things right. Which makes it easy to overlook some misses. Honestly, these misses are incredibly minor.

It comes stock with a WTB Pure V Race. Initially, I couldn't decide if I like it or not. After some hours in the saddle, I reached the conclusion that I didn't. Just to plush and cushy. That's not surprising, given my predisposition toward more race-oriented saddles with minimal padding. Interestingly, when I put my standard SQ Labs 611 Race on it, I didn't like that either. On the recommendation of the guys at Einstein Bicycles, I went to the WTB Volt Pro. Perfect. The goldilocks of saddles. Not too firm. Not too soft. Just right.

The actuator button for the RockShox Reverb dropper post rubbed me wrong from the outset. The push-button actuation seems doomed to always be in the wrong place. It makes for a weird angle, and at those critical moments when I need to find it quickly, I can't. Enter the Wolf Tooth Components ReMote Sustain. Traditional lever, and it looks to offer a better actuation interface at the post, too. We'll see -- dropping the bike off today for installation.

The Salsa carbon bars initially made a good impression. They seemed to soak up some shock, and hey carbon bars are cool. Right? An unfortunate incident rubbing against another bike on my previous rack left them with a solid gouge. One that both Einstein head mechanic Dan and I decided we didn't want to take chances with. Fortunately, they had a Salsa Rustler 3 alloy bar in-stock. 

Finally, the SRAM Guide RS brakes aren't my favorite. Sticking issues had me with warranty replacement levers within a few months. And they still don't have the greatest feel. Are they awful? Heck no! Also, if I'd realized this big ride needs a bit more stopping power, I'd have considered moving up from the stock 160mm rotors to 180mm. This is a minor issue however and I have no intent to replace two sets of rotors.

SHOULD I BUY ONE?
At the end of the day, that's why your reading this, right? My answer is simple - "yes, but...". Do yourself a favor and build up a pair of 27.5+ wheels for trail riding. Now you have one bike that can competently be both trail bike and fat bike and be pretty darn solid at both.

Not that the Bucksaw is for everyone. If you're a flat-out XC speed demon, this isn't your bike. Stick to your 29er carbon hardtail. Likewise, if you're doing challenging bike part terrain, you're going to want something with more than 100mm of travel.

But, if you want to ride a wide range of singletrack and have a blast, throw a leg over a Salsa Bucksaw soon!

19 October, 2017

Salsa Bucksaw X01 Review - Part I

The lines of modern bikes continue to blur as we evolve from a few clearly defined categories toward bicycles that cross and expand functionality. Road bikes with wider tires now enable occasional rambles on gravel roads. While we're a long way from the "one bike quiver" (the holy grail of skis), some surprising new offerings truly expand functionality.

My Salsa Bucksaw X01 is just such a whip. Described by Salsa as "blurring the lines between a fatbike and a full suspension mountain bike" the Bucksaw was designed around 4" tires and nimble performance in a wide range of situations. This is not just marketing BS, it truly does.

But first, some context. This Summer I decided that after 51 trips around the sun, my body was feeling a bit beat up by hardtails. My Specialized Stumpjumper Expert Carbon World Cup is superlight, fast, and handles pretty well, but the hardtail really forces me to choose lines carefully, and often leaves me sore the next day. Plus, I'd been reading a lot about 27.5+ full suspension bikes and they looked mighty appealing.

On a visit to Traverse City, MI, I decided to go out and look around. TC has a collection of solid shops. Specifically, I was interested in the Specialized Stumpjumper FSR Comp 6 Fattie, and the Salsa Pony Rustler GX1.

I really wanted to like the Specialized - good price, dealer had some end-of-season deals, well equipped. But... I just didn't. I found the suspension to be typical of what I've experienced with Specialized. It's as though the front and rear just aren't working in-sync. It had some of the same 'pogo stick' as my buddy's five-year-old FSR. Nope. That's not going to work.

After this, I headed over to Einstein Cycles hoping to check out a Pony Rustler. I had the good fortune to get connected to owner Jason Lowetz (more about Jason and his shop later). I quickly learned he didn't have any Pony Rustler's in stock, and with the new model year coming, wouldn't have one for several months. But, he quickly moved into solution selling mode (I'm a sales and marketing guy, so I get it) and asked me what I planned to do with it and why I wanted to make a switch.

I shared that I wanted to ride places like Glacial Hills up North and Potowatami in SE Michigan, as well as my usual haunts of the DTE Energy Trail and the VASA Trail. What I was looking for was comfort, greater confidence in choosing lines and dealing with rocks, roots, and other obstacles. Here's how the conversation went from there:

Jason: "Dude, you want a Salsa Bucksaw with a second set of 27.5+ wheels!"

Me: "Ummm, but that's a fat bike. I already have a fat bike..."

Jason: "Better still. Get a Bucksaw, sell your fat bike and we'll get you on some SWEET carbon 27.5+ wheels!"

Damn. You got me, Jason. Bike consolidation has been a theme in my stable. Owning, riding, and maintaining multiple bicycles is a hassle. I already had things on my Salsa Beargrease X5 that I felt came up short -- the lack of front suspension, the 2x drivetrain, the mechanical discs. He had me.

But, it got better. Salsa had a few 2015/2016 Bucksaw X01's left that they were blowing out at a ridiculous price. For the same price as a current Bucksaw GX1, I got a bike with a Thomson Elite X4 stem, carbon bars, a RockShox Reverb dropper post, and other component upgrades. Literally $2,000 off.

Quick test ride on a current model to determine if I liked it (I did) and to check size (Large), and the trigger was pulled. Over the next few days, Jason and I arrived at a build for the wheelset. Bearclaw Bicycles Co. carbon rims (Bearclaw is Einstein's own brand of mighty sweet bikes), DT Swiss spokes, and Industry Nine Torch hubs. He cautioned me that I9 fat bike hubs get "mighty loud". Bring it. I love a screaming drivetrain. Saves me needing a bell on the trail!

To say I was excited is a polite understatement. "F_ _k yeah!" would be more like it. I knew I could sell my Beargrease for nearly what I'd paid (I did -- within a day of listing it). And now I'd have one bike that could be my plush, fast trail bike, AND with a quick wheel swap be a fat bike for Winter riding.

Do I like it? What's it ride like? Any shortcomings? Well, now you're going to need to wait for Part II of this review. Yeah, call me a tease. I'm good with that. Good writing is about building anticipation...

One final note on this whole process - Einstein Cycles is AWESOME! Finding a first-rate bike shop for sales and service is a true gem. I still haven't found a downstate shop that combines a great selection of products with a great repair shop. I've found one or the other, but not both in one place. In addition to Jason, shop guys Dan and Dustin are solid sales types, as well as ace mechanics (Dan builds the wheels). The shop has a friendly, mellow vibe, but they take customer service and satisfaction incredibly seriously. This initial impression has been reinforced on every interaction. I wouldn't hesitate to send anyone, at any level, to them. In fact, after hearing about and riding my bike, a buddy ended up buying nearly the same ride and wheels!~

10 August, 2017

New World Order in the Bike Quiver

Lots of changes in the bike stable this year. As we've covered in this blog, I'm a tweaker. Always fine tuning until I get things just right. I started the year with five bikes in the quiver, I'm now down to four. My goal was to have fewer bikes that could do more. Every bike adds maintenance, and if I don't ride it - guilt! So here's a quick run-down on the changes. I'll write more lengthy reviews in coming months.

Seven Evergreen S
I got this sweetheart early this year. After discovering gravel on my Specialized Crux Comp, I quickly lost my interest in doing much road riding. Gravel is just pure joy for me. And I began to lust for disc brakes, a little smoother ride - just a general upgrade. I found it in a demo Seven Evergreen that a friend and local dealer had. As it turns out, this demo was just my size and the dealer was looking to get a newer one (mine had 300 miles and about 4 demos on it!). Deal scored. It helps that this dealer is also my fitter and said, "Geez, that's probably exactly what I'd have ordered for you....". I love it. Smooth. Fast. Handles like a dream. It's everything I wanted and more. Shimano Ultegra gruppo and hydraulic disc brakes. Bombproof Mavic Kysrium Allroad wheels. And, that miraculous Seven titanium ride quality.

As we entered the Summer, I began to feel like I could no longer justify owning my Giant Defy Advanced carbon road bike. I've written a lot on my concerns with significant road riding. This is a lot of bike and not using is it a shame. Sold it quickly and for a fair price online. Then I scored a half-price deal on a second set of Mavic's with road tires. Now I have a gravel bike that does double duty as a road bike (or more likely path bike - I've found that I love riding bike trails around Michigan).

Nine ONE9
You've seen my SE BM Flyer single speed in previous posts. I've had great fun building up that bike, including Profile BMX cranks, and custom wheels with White Industries fantastic ENO rear hub. It's been a blast to ride, but it's really an overgrown BMX bike. Having tasted more high-performance mountain bikes, I've wanted to upgrade it for a while, but it was a low priority. This Spring, I stumbled upon a Niner ONE9 single speed in an online forum. After pondering for a while, I scooped it up at a great price. It's a size medium (I mostly ride larges, but really kind of fall between them). A longer 110mm Thomson X4 stem gave me a little more cockpit room. And, an SQ Labs 611 Race in 140mm got me comfy. Then I swapped the wheels from the SE over. The result is a sweet, simple, fun, nimble ride. I've set Strava PRs on rolling Northern Michigan terrain, and generally had a blast on this great new bike. Sold my SE to a good friend who wanted to try single speeds. One more need met!

Salsa Bucksaw NX01
This unexpected move has proven to be my upgrade of the year. In the early Summer I started to feel like I wanted a more trail-focused full suspension ride. And the idea of 27.5+ wheels really appealed to me. As I do rather like hanging out in bike shops, this gave me the excuse to look around. I test rode a Specialized Comp6 Fattie. Not bad. But not in love. My sister had test ridden a Salsa Pony Rustler and really liked it. I stopped in to visit to Einstein Cycles in Traverse City, MI. Owner Jason was super-helpful. Really listened to what I wanted and  suggested an alternative - the Salsa Bucksaw (technically a fat bike - more on that later) with a second set of 27.5+ wheels.

Yahtzee!!!!

I've also had some issues with my Salsa Beargrease X5 fat bike. I wanted a 1X drivetrain. Having discovered hydraulic disc brakes, I found myself wanting to upgrade the Avid mechanical discs. But this would have been several hundred dollars for a bike I don't ride a ton. So, she got sold to a newbie who was thrilled to have her.

Jason's solution was perfect! If you're not familiar, the Bucksaw is a trail bike in fat bike clothing. A more nimble geometry (it handles more like a Horsethief than a Beargrease) and full suspension make it a very unique fat bike. We settled on a set of carbon wheels build around Industry 9 Torch hubs for the 27.5+ configuration.

From the first ride, I was in love! This bike is fast, handles very smoothly, and the combination of full suspension and fatter tires engenders comfort and confidence. I can comfortably hold lines that I would have new tried before. Boulder problems are no sweat. And, it climbs like a goat due to the added traction. I'm eager to get it out in the snow on the fat wheels. You'll be reading plenty more on this cool bike in coming posts.

Ch-ch-changes...
So the only bike in my garage that was there last year is my XC race mountain bike - a Specialized Stumpjumper World Cup Carbon Expert. It's a great ride, with a carbon frame, crank, and wheelset. Fast, light, and responsive. This one will remain my race bike. It should be perfect for the Fall's Iceman Cometh race.

I couldn't be happier with the results of this little experiment. I now have fewer bikes that do more stuff well. Stay tuned!

28 April, 2017

Time Away...

The blog and I needed a little break - it's not that I've slowed down on enjoying the outdoors - but I'd kind of lost my inspiration. I find that my best blogging happens when I'm energized. Between the Holidays, the weird Michigan Winter, and the pesky day job, it was time to channel my energies elsewhere. But now I'm back and motivated. Plenty of cool outdoor antics that I'll be writing about, including:

  • The addition of a couple of new bikes, First a Seven Evergreen SL gravel bike to fuel my new location's access to exceptional dirt roads. Then just yesterday a big upgrade in the land of singlespeed mountain bikes - a Niner One 9 aluminum singlespeed which moves me to a more race-oriented singlespeed mountain bike. I'm looking forward to tweaking and tuning this one just for me. the Specialized Crux has already left the stable, and the SE BM Flyer will be next.
  • A decent Michigan ski season, despite some truly weird weather. 
  • My first impressions of my new Shaggy's Bootjack 115 powder skis.
  • Another outstanding ski trip to Colorado.
  • A new carry gun - Springfield XDS.
  • Getting my new (to me) house set-up as base camp for my outdoor antics.
  • Some fun hikes both near my home and in NW Michigan.
...and lots more. Stay tuned. Cool stuff coming.

-Sean-

11 November, 2016

The Iceman Cometh

Last weekend marked a milestone in cycling - my first mountain bike race! As I've been looking for new challenges since turning 50, this seemed a logical choice. Especially after learning that Northern Michigan's infamous Iceman ride also had a more beginner-friendly Slush Cup (8 miles, instead of the full 27). Sign me up!

I was completely unprepared for the scope of this event. Thousands of mountain bikers blasting through the woods. Races in waves to accommodate all the riders. A huge festival at the finish line. And so much more!

The shorter ride had two benefits - first my slacker training didn't kill me. And second, I've never ridden in a competitive environment on a mountain bike. As a kid, I raced bmx extensively, but the two have almost nothing in common. I had to learn to pace myself. When it was a good opportunity to pass. What it felt like to get passed. And how to spot and avoid other riders who offered the potential for danger (perhaps I was one of those riders to others).

My Specialized Stumpjumper Expert World Cup Carbon bike was awesome. Fast. Stable. Nimble. My only complaint as that the fairly narrow 1.9" rear tire was fairly scary in sandy terrain. Note to self -- time for some bigger tires.

Perhaps the most thrilling part was blasting through the finish area and then hearing my name on the PA as I crossed the finish line. Later I found out I'd scored 13th in my age category -- a nice start for my first race!

I learned a lot about myself. And I learned a lot about the sport. I will be back. Next year - full Iceman! More to follow about my awesome experience!

-Sean-

10 November, 2016

Gravel Therapy

It's been a stressful week of Presidential chaos. I hesitate to say that "my" candidate didn't win because I really didn't like either option. And social media has been blowing up with wailing about how crushed people are at the outcome.

Yesterday I was working from home and making good progress when a 55 degree, sunny November day spoke to me. It was time to finally go ride the gravel near my new house!

This was my first outing, but I'd already been thinking of places I wanted to explore. Since time was limited, I set off toward a known road, rather than meandering. I'll save that for this weekend.

I haven't been able to ride much with the shorter days and a busy schedule. It's been at least a couple of months since I've been on the Crux. But as soon as I was in the saddle, I knew I'd made the right call.

After only a mile or so, I could feel the stress of this week's events melting away. The sun. The sounds. The beautiful countryside in my area. They all combined in this perfect mix of gravel-induced euphoria. 

I'm so happy I discovered the joys of dirt roads. They really are gravel therapy. So much so that I'm considering selling my Giant Defy Advanced road bike and putting the money toward a custom built-for-me Seven Evergreen gravel bike. I'm already plotting the build I'd want, the options I'd add, and all that. Perhaps it's a nice fantasy. Perhaps it will become reality.

At the end of my ride, I'd logged a few miles, and shed a pile of stress. As simple reminder to get out there!

-Sean-