25 04 2013

So, the Krampus.

Bike forums and blogs have been buzzing since the introduction by Surly of this mutant bike with it’s swollen 29+ wheels. I was lucky enough to get in on the first batch and I have some time on the bike now. My first impression has not really changed: it is surprisingly nimble but rolls over rough trail very easily indeed. The tyres offer exceptional traction in almost all circumstances given the very low, subtle block tread and have little in the way of noticeable rolling resistance.

The detail is interesting. The frame design probably focused on 2 factors: ‘normal’ components (100mm front hub, 135mm rear hub, 73mm bb) must fit and the frame shouldn’t end up too stretched out whilst wrapping around the, frankly massive, Rabbit Hole rim/Knard 29×3″ tyre combo. Keeping the rear end in check must have been an interesting challenge. It is a clear extension of a design parameter that has been causing some degree of effort in the standard 29er market for several years – a measurement close to my heart – chainstay length. When I first purchased a 29er, a Kelly RoShamBo, there was a clear advantage to the wheel size for my riding and things like the increased bb drop it allowed. But, the steeper head angles of the time, coupled with short offset forks, led to the steering folding underneath me in steep terrain and the longer stays (and often a longer front centre) reduced the playfullness I had become used to on 26″ wheels. As the years went by, particularly with my Jones and then really ‘arriving’ with my Vertigo frames, I got that playfullness back. Big wheels roll-ability in the rough stuff, mated to relaxed head angles with more offset, good, balanced bb drop for stability but maintaining maneuverability and short stays/good f-c are an intoxicating mix.

The challenge here is obvious: clearance! Clearance for the front derailleur if needed past the tyre, clearance to fit the stays in between tyre and chainring. and precious mud clearance too, particularly with the advent of high volume, knobbly 2.3″ tyres. With clever use of tubing manipulation and in some cases yokes, stays can be brought down to the 405mm/16″ area (see 44 Bikes and Walt Works for some discussion on their own versions). Incredible! there are some compromises: front derailleurs are a no no, and you may give up a squidge of mud/tyre volume room. Of course with usable 1×10 or 11 drive chains, chain-keeping rings or singlespeeds some of these issues are an irrelevance. (Note: the use of ti for this sort of frame is always going to be more problematic than steel; part of Sean at Vertigo’s genius is working these factors together *in ti* without using any dramatic and crack prone manipulation. This is a whole other area for discussion though!).

Back to the Krampus. It became clear to Surly, I am sure, that the only way to get the clearances necessary was to use a yoke. The Krampus yoke is a complex piece and probably accounts for most of the design time and most of the material cost of the frame. It seems to be made in 2 pieces, as top and bottom clam shells that are welded together. It is non-symmetrical, the drive side is considerably thinner than the non, as you would expect. The yoke and a bent seat tube allow the short(ish) 445mm/17.5″ (in shortest position) chainstays – this is an achievement given the 775mm diameter/75mm wide wheels (that is 30.5″ x 3″). You need to add about 5mm, or offset the chainrings if you want to use a front derailleur with 2 chainrings. More than that, and you need to ditch the 3″ tyres.

The rest of the frame is sensibly utilitarian: low top tube to help with standover, throat gusseted headtube, 44mm, to keep it strong with long forks and a short head tube (again, presumably, to keep standover in check and to allow suspension fork use in the future?). There are eyelets and 2 bottle cages (the one on the downtube could be lower) and the dropouts are horizontal with gear hanger drops so it can be run as a singlespeed or with traditional gears or a hub gear.

Moving forward the BB height is 323mm. Lofty compared to my usual bikes. The front centre is 681mm and the wheel base is 1121mm by my measurement.

To put that in perspective of my current bikes, the f-c is 20-40mm longer, the rear is 25mm longer and the wheelbase 45-65mm longer. The bb is 10-20mm higher.

Yet it feels pretty nimble.

This statemnt seems a little at odds. After all, this is a pretty long bike for a hardtail! 44″ is DH bike territory. It is also the first thing out of the lips of most folk who get on to give it a try. Perhaps it is the fact that the wheels are so massive, they give you an impression of how it will ride. I think it is down to good design on Surly’s part. I think the slack head angle/47mm offset fork/long top tube and short stem (hence long f-c) has been offset by the high bb and the ratio of the rear/front weight balance. This bike steers from the hips, gives it’s best at speed and can be threaded through tight trail considerably more easily than the numbers might suggest. It does feel burly until it is rolling at a fair clip, but with the big tyres offering awesome traction, shock absorption and insulation, speeds are bound to stay high. Yes it is a little sluggish to get moving, but not in the same league as true fat bikes.

That is probably the most important fact about the Krampus. It has a lot of the advantages of a fat bike, save for in really deep snow or sand, while riding like a mack-daddy 29er. It’s a bit porky and slow to wind up but after a couple of pedal strokes it is hard to wipe the grin off your face. It positively encourages mischief. The wide tyres offer enlightening flotation over wet or sandy ground. If you have the legs, it will climb almost anything. Yes the Knard’s lack an aggressive edge and may slip on wet roots, but that only adds to the fun as the air volume absorbs the knocks and the grip comes back soon enough – a small price to pay for the adrenalin a 2 wheel drift releases.

I have lost track of the number of people who have asked for comparisons between it and a Jones bike. The short answer is there is no more similarity between a Jones and a Krampus than between any other *capable and well designed* hardtail. In saying that, I truly believe that the Jones style geometry would suit the Knard’s very well indeed, a point I am certain Jeff is well aware of.

The last thing to say about the Krampus is that I believe you ought to consider it as a package with the wheels. The tyres and the Rabbit Hole rims form a ‘system’ (maybe there is some similarity with Jeff’s philosophy of bike design after all!) that really performs best by being used as such. I am no light weight and even with bike packing gear (a task to which the Krampus adapts in a chameleon-like fashion, see Cass for fuller exploration of this aspect of the bikes talents) I feel happiest at 11 psi. I am sure you would guess that 11 psi for a fast, and robust bike feels like a magic carpet, all the while retaining the trail feel and exhilaration of a rigid bike.

So is the Krampus for you? it might well be. If I can answer any specific questions let me know. I’ll be riding this a fair old bit, but don’t be surprised if a ti, slightly shorter stay, slightly lower BB, slightly shorter f-c bike shows up before long… ;-)~


24 04 2013

Mother Nature’s engine is beginning to rev up. The flowers are blooming, the trees are filling out and the earth is sucking up the water that has been lying after a prolonged and very wet winter. The blog always takes a hit when the first signs of spring allow me to trade the keyboard for the pedals and I woulnd’t have it any other way. So what has been happening?

First I was both surprised and happy to see one of my posts had been shortlisted in a competition on Hiking in Finland. This website is an oustanding resource and I would recommend it as a bookmark. It features gear reviews, beautiful photography and superb accounts of travels and adventures. All fuel for planning mischief!

There will be a final vote on the best piece and I’m proud that my post – S240 – was included because the other pieces are excellent! Read them all on Hiking in Finland, HERE and don’t forget to vote!

Oddly enough, this week, I received my eagerly anticipated Sweet Roll from Eric at Revelate Designs. It is beautifully made, as ever, and the improvements over the previous version are going to make this an essential piece of kit. I will be keeping my harness system, I *do* intend to purchase and learn to use a pack raft and the harness will be useful for carrying one. I will obviously report back once I have a few rides with the Sweet Roll.

It reminds me of the first bags I received from Eric. He christened these trunk turtles, iirc. They sit atop a dry bag and cinch down onto the OMM racks I used to employ. As confidence grew, I left the kitchen sink behind and travelled much lighter. They were very functional, though, and if I ever need to carry a *lot* of stuff again, they will be back in service. They can be seen here, on my under-utilised IF touring bike.

I have also been testing a Camelbak All Clear for Singletrack Magazine, recently. It has really made me consider my water carrying/use for longer rides, but also anything down to 4-6 hours where you need more than 1 bottle. In Scotland you can hardly throw a stone without hearing the ‘plonk’ of a water source, so recharging supplies along the way *as long as it is quick, convenient, tasty and safe* may well be the best way forward. More on this once I have my thoughts together and some trials done.

Last for now, I have enough time on the Krampus to present my thoughts. I will cover that in the next post…but meantime, the sun is out, so I ought to be!


1 04 2013

Two *very* different rides. I will be putting a proper write up, for what it is worth, on the VC Moulin blog shortly, but in the meantime, here is a summary of my experience at the Red Bull Hillchasers event this last saturday in Edinburgh.

At 4.37am, I rolled reluctantly out of bed, caffeine was mainlined and I jumped in the car for the hour long drive eastwards. I parked just west of the city centre for convenience and because a few of us had planned a brief pedal around Stoorie Brae (where I cut my teeth from an mtb perspective 25 years ago, now). My start time was 7am and I was to report at 6.45am to the start desk at the bottom of Cockburn street. Needless to say it was brass monkeys and the rather shambolic set up with a scruffy group of riders gathered around, jumping and running on the spot was a little off putting. All too soon, I lined my trusty IF cross bike (sporting metropolis bars and a 39:18 gear I had fitted the day before) on the start line and then with little more than a ‘go when ready’ I took off. Vrrrap! went my tyre as it struggled for purchase on the still frosty cobbles, but I lost almost zero time. The gear was perfect and it was only the deep cold in my leg muscles that led to me tying up as I approached the Royal Mile and the finish line. My time of 23.222 seconds put me 1 place outside the reserve list for the final event. To be honest I was not expecting too much! so I was quite happy to bail, head up Stoorie B with the crew and mess around in the woods.

Today, I headed out through Mugdock to Dumgoyne. I wanted to climb it from the west side, where there is a farm/access road of sorts. It was fine until I approached the snow line. At this stage, there was a fair bit of pushing, despite the Krampus’ fat tyres. The wind was high and I suspect this is why Dumgoyne was devoid of snow. Over the top, the full extent of the wind was felt, but the descent is rapid, if boggy in places. A good way to spend April the 1st, no fooling.