Plus: iteration 2.

14 01 2015

I have been messing around on the Jones with a Surly Nate front/WTB Trailblazer rear for a little while now. Having got hold of a third Maxxis Chronicle (non-TR falvour, thanks Sideways Cycles!), the time was ripe to see what the mix of 29+ front and 27.5+ rear has to offer.

To be fair, this was the first ride, so conclusions should not be drawn just yet. It felt good though. The weight loss was noticeable. The Paul wHub to old-school Uma snow 29er rim (50 ish mm wide) is far from light, but the 27tpi steel bead Nate/Uma combo weighs a staggering 3.25kg! The Chronicle weighs 1050g and the 29+ front wheel dropped 550g from the front. Riding, you can feel that easily, particularly as the Chronicle rolls well.

The handling was pretty good, though the conditions meant I could not truly try and bend the bike out of shape on any tricky terrain. With the smaller-than-29er rear wheel and bigger front, the angles relaxed a bit. Not bad, but again, noticeable.

Overall, the bike was nimble and playful, even in the slop and snow – with which the 3″ tyres dealt admirably.

I have a hunch that 29+ front/27.5+ rear might be a pretty special set up. Lots of advantages and few disadvantages. Time will tell. For it to work at the very best it can, I believe a true 3″+ rear tyre is necessary – 75mm wide. The Trailblazer *is* superb, but it was clearly designed to fit into a 29er rear end – for my goals, I would be looking at 100 or so press fit BB shell, with a 150/157 rear.

Anyway, that is for the future. For now, I am going to try and keep my fingers away from 40-50mm carbon rims. Dropping more wheel weight (tubeless as well) would be ideal to really try this thing out. More miles and I will report back.

In other news: the Shimano TL-CN41 is superb. On measuring a chain that the TL-CN42 suggested was to be replaced (but my gut and a vernier gauge suggested was not) it shows there is life yet. I am optimistic this tool is the one chain checker to rule them all.


WTB Trailblazer 2.8: 27.5+ revolution?

20 10 2014

Despite some folk bemoaning the introduction of yet another tyre size, the 27.5+ makes all sorts of sense.

For starters, a 27.5×2.8 tyre such as this one, the WTB Trailblazer, fits in the rear of a 29″er that has reasonable clearance. “So what?” I hear you cry. Width on my 35mm Velocity rim (tubeless) is 68mm and the diameter is 726mm – in other words, a wee bit less than a full blown 29″er, in order to keep the widest point of the tyre further back in the chainstays.

[NB: I had previously noted the diameter as ‘right around 735mm’ – after a prompt from Michael, see comments, I measured this accurately and the diameter at 14psi on the 35mm velocity rim, tubeless is 726mm…it just goes to show, always measure yourself if you want to be sure! – thanks Michael].

The benefit is you get some of the advantages of a semi-fat tyre (improved traction, lower pressure, better ‘float’) without having to get all weird building a custom bike with a yoke or fat-bike wide bottom bracket and rear hub: it should slot into many 29″er frames with minimal fuss. The only thing to consider is a slight drop in BB and slackening of angles if only the rear is retrofitted.

My suspicion is that there will be several 27.5+ tyres along forthwith and my guess is they will in some cases be larger than the Trailblazer from WTB, in some cases the same. Rumour is that the Vee 27.5+ tyre (the Trax Fatty) is a full 75mm+ wide and will not fit most 29″er frames. There are whispers of Bontrager and Panaracer 27.5+ tyres and another WTB in the pipeline too.

How does it ride?

Really well. Much better edge than a Knard and it gives up little in terms of the float/low pressure (I was running it at 14 psi and will probably drop it one or two). I was riding in slop today and I hardly ever lost traction despite the centre ridge being almost complete and the other knobs being not that burly. You don’t get the insane roll-over-ability of the huge 29+ wheels (which are near 770mm in diameter), but the low pressure helps maintain progress in rocky, chunky terrain. The compound seems good – minimal slip on wet, mossy rock and roots. and the tubless set up was a treat – TCS is good. It is not über light at 950 and some grams, but the sidewall is solid which is a good thing.

More time is required to see where this is going, but I like it so far. Most folk are going to comapare these to fat bikes and 29+ knards, I suppose, and I think that comparison leaves the Trailblazer in a favourable light.

As WTB say: Big Kid Shreddin’ / Plus Sized Grinnin’

As an aside. I set up the Velocity 35mm rim with a bead seat shelf augmented with a Gorilla tape lip after a discussion with davechopoptions. It worked surprisingly well…and we will see if prevents burps.

…and after a final layer of tape…you can just make out the extra ridge…

Wester Ross.

28 09 2013

I have not spent much time riding in Wester Ross. Mainly due to a lack of proximity. To my mind, the dramatically juxtaposed lochs and sheer, jagged mountains of the region showcase the very best scenery in Scotland. Of course, just because a place looks cool, doesn’t mean it has cool trails. However, in this regard, Wester Ross delivers in spades.

A couple of days off allowed enough time to get there, with a three or four route smörgåsbord of possibilities. Weather and energy levels would define the riding to be done.

The first route was the Torridon classic: Achnashellach/Annat via Coire Lair. Despite leaden legs, it was very enjoyable and the descents delivered a stiff test for the new B.A set up – wide 710mm Jones bars and the X-fusion Trace up front. All good.

The plan was to bivi at the base of Liathach, but the midge and mosquitos were ferocious to say the least, so the moby was deployed and Trina managed to square me away with a last minute room at the Old Inn, round in Gairloch. Not quite as rugged as I’d intended, but my histamine levels were redlining from spending 30 minutes at the proposed base camp. When planning mtb trips in Scotland, it is best to keep things fluid.

Staying in Gairloch meant that the second ride I had planned was a goer: the ride out from Poolewe to Fisherfield Forest. Riding in this pristine wilderness is a little contentious. My feeling is that if I stick to man made trails, it is no more of an issue than hiking. The scenery, including a view of An Teallach, was otherworldly. The mostly singletrack trail through the Letterewe estate was superb: it was a shame I was riding sub-par and had to turn back when I did. Next time a through-ride via Dundonnell is the plan.


30 07 2013

There’s been a load of stuff happening but not much riding. Things should turn around soon enough, hopefully as the good weather gets reinstated. In the meantime, I have been using the sewing machine a bit more. The first project was a saddle bag. Why? aren’t saddle bags easily available? Yep. Indeed, I admit to owning several Jandd ones that are all pretty good. Define pretty good? well, they are all made of durable cordura, have good quality, strong zips that throw off mud, are a reasonable size and don’t flap around too much.

So why would I want to reinvent the wheel (so to speak)?. Well, they are not quite big enough, they are not light, (I know this is a relative thing, but lots of heavy webbing and cordura might be overkill), the openings are relatively small, meaning you often have to completely unpack to get at the contents and they are not water resistant. Probably most importantly, they are not made by me and I am becoming quite interested in bike bags. I mentioned previously my general ideas for making bags. The summary would be I want to have the option of lots of well placed, small-ish bags (so they can be made light, and due to not stowing much, are durable enough whilst being less likely to flap around), securely fastened on the bike in non-awkward places, allowing me to carry enough stuff (kit, fuel and water) for longer rides and allowing me to leave the back packs at home.

Under the saddle is a great place to stow some kit. The trick is to use the space in such a way that I am unimpeded when I need to get behind the saddle on steep stuff, but allow reasonable volume for stuff and have said stuff easily accessible.

The bag was mocked up in cardboard, I tried to think through the placement of straps to keep it solid and I used materials in such a way to minimise weight, keep shape, resist rubbing and make it light. I did forget to sew in the seat post loop of velcro when I had planned to and that forced me into some X-Pac yoga, trying to get it attached. I used 500d cordura for the top panel of the front wedge, VX07 elsewhere with strong polyamid webbing and velcro to attach it to the saddle and post. The closure is a roll top with side release buckle and a small run of plastic under grosgrain on the non-buckle side to aid rolling.

I think overall, I succeeded in concept. Of course, the proof will be in the pudding – it needs to get some use! This bag will also act as a first step in making a 3-5 ish litre under saddle bag, that will require much more thought and effort to make it stable and maintain it’s shape in such a way that it does not rub my legs. This one fits my post to saddle angle very well and is a great fit with no leg rub or interference getting off the back of the bike.

So, more as it happens.

Next was another feedbag effort, putting into practice what I learned from the first one, but improved construction, less materials, better mounting and a ‘right hand’ shape to complement the first, ‘left’, one.

In this case, I used 160d cordura for the ‘bellows’ closure, with heat sealed and folded seams, instead of grosgrain on the edges to combat fraying and the VX07 for the main bag. I used a mixture of 50mm and 25mm velcro for attachment, but will update the placement of this next time. My stitching was much improved on the oval bottom seam, but I still have a lot to learn!

I have continued to learn a lot with each step, although I am sure the rate of acquisition will slow down! I have also gained from some new bits and bobs to make my tasks easier, including this wee pair of snips Trina got me…they are ace! even for fat fingers like mine.

I built a wheel for the upcoming cross bike project. Basically, I hardly ever use my singlespeed cross bike. So, it is going to get some gears, courtesy of a messed-around-with Saint M800 rear derailleur mounted to a 10mm thru axle, with a Zee hub which I just built into a No Tubes Ironcross rim. It built nicely, as do all the No Tubes rims I have used, though they do persist in under estimating the ERD. The idea here is a 48 tooth front ring, with an 11-34 rear and a Dura Ace bar end shifter. We’ll see. If it doesn’t work out, it will also fit on to the pink IF.

Ok for now.


12 05 2013

I am a relative new comer to hydraulic brakes. I used to rely on Avid BB7’s or even rim brakes. It would be fair to say the reason I did not embrace hydraulic power earlier was my deep appreciation for Pual Components Love Levers. I first saw set of these beautiful, svelte brake levers in Kenwood Cyclery, Minneapolis, more years ago than I care to remember. They were mounted to a very simple Tom Teesdale singlespeed. It was a beautiful machine.

Anyway, when we were spec’ing BA, my ‘all mountain’ 29er hardtail (does that term even exist now? or has it been swallowed whole by ‘enduro’?) a set of Saint hydraulics were put in place. I figured going to a long travel (for the time) fork, with gears, on a burly frame, with geometry set for the steeper, nastier end of the spectrum would have my speeds reaching near-supersonic levels. Of course, my balls proved to be of a slightly lesser dimension, but suffice to say I used every iota of braking power.

I don’t think I will ever forget getting on my Jones (equipped with BB7’s and steel ‘hard-lines’ for ultimate cable operated power) for the first time after acquainting myself with BA and trying to stop for an oncoming car at the end of my street. I was flabbergasted to keep on rolling for about 3 meters beyond where I expected to stop. With that, cable brakes were over.

Move on a few years and I am getting better at maintaining Hydro’s, but I have been frustrated by using push on tubing on the bleed nipples. It just isn’t a solid enough system. It was time to change things…

Impossible trail.

1 05 2013

Recently, the trails we have been riding have moved up a notch. They tend to be low velocity, but the ‘moves’ come thick and fast. You have to pay attention 100% of the time: lots of upper body action. I have even got to the stage of practising trials-type moves (track stand to log hop is a classic) in order to clean the more difficult ones.

The latest trail is called ‘Impossible Trail’. It ain’t easy. I rode it for the first time a few days ago – it is very fresh indeed, requiring some bedding-in in parts, but it is *beautiful*. From the initial climb off the main access, the insinuation of your bike and body between trees, over rocks and then an immensely satisfying 3/4 meter drop onto a sweet transition, with a hard right and a rock hop before you get to the business end of the trail leaves you aching for more.

The next section needs inch-perfect tyre placement. I had 2 or 3 attempts on the Krampus, making it without dismounting, but with a dab each time. The trail is scratched across a steep slope between rocks and trees, with slippery, moss covered soil and as we exited and moved on, I knew I was smitten.

A few days later, when I realised I couldn’t get it out of my head, the Jones came out and I pedaled up to the start. The wind was strong, pushing heavy grey clouds across the claustrophobic sky. There were no passers by and no birds or forrest machinery to break the expectant silence.

The drop onto the transition filled me with joy, there is nothing like being airborne for a split second and having no impact as the tyres kiss a well angled down slope. From there, I simply kept my pace up. I knew I was probably thinking about it too much. I *really* wanted to clean it and my heart beat was palpable as I made my way to the crux point.

Over the sharp, slimy rocks, avoiding the slick, root-knot. Then hard effort, up over slippery roots, only to duck down and then hard again to the right onto a 3″ wide section of dirt packed into the crevice left by a long, thick fallen branch that holds back the slope. A super slippery climb over clay soil, moss and sharp, mobile rocks, all off camber next. The only section to have foiled me on the trail the few days previously was a pinch point between a tree and some roots escaping up hill, all whilst climbing and balancing and holding one’s breath. The move seemed to involve pedaling into it, stopping, letting the tyre slide down the roots and at the same time turning it slightly down hill then a sudden thrust up and around to make it into the first of 3 bowls (all off camber) on the final grunt out of the trail.

It went so smoothly I immediately pedaled back to the start and did it again, no dabs.

Of course, then I was on a roll, so the next 6 or 10 failed attempts were hard to swallow. But these really are the best trails. Next time, me and ‘Impossible’ are going to have a few words….


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… ;-)~