• Singletrail Chat

    Singletrail Chat

Looking for that perfect ride to make the 2018 season the best ever has lead me on a wild goose chase through a maze of jack of all trades master of none frames. Most of the XC bikes such as the Niner RKT, Cannondale Scalpel, and Scott Spark RC are a lean towards purpose built race machines with steep headtube angles, low bottom brackets, and almost fragile construction built to shave off every last gram. A curious niche has evolved in the 100mm -120mm range which encompasses the Yeti Sb4.5, Niner Jet 9 RDO, Pivot Mach 429, and many others. Tipping the scales between 5.5 lbs – 6lbs, this new shortish travel niche is neither enduro nor xc / endurance race ready and seems to be more a less a curiosity for some of us who favor terrain specific builds.

There have been reports highlighting the competitive nature of industry’s attempt to try and market to repeat customers with 29ers, 27.5ers, fat bikes, plus bikes, or “upgrades” such as boost in order to maintain sales since millennials have not embraced mountain biking nearly as much as expected or predicted in sales forecasts. One logical conclusion is buying a mountain bike is an expensive proposition especially for new graduates who have been socked with college debt. Dropping $7000.00 on a new mountain bike presents a mighty challenge and dropping $7000.00 for several bikes quickly passes the cost of many passenger cars. The technology that has launched this sport forward might also be responsible for holding back further advancement as consumers look for just one bike to do it all.

With Yeti discontinuing the ASR, I had hoped the SB4.5 might be a serious replacement for heading out the door and logging miles on rougher terrain. Unfortunately the listed weight of 5.28lbs fell short of the actual 5.87 lbs on my alpine scale for the medium Turq frame. My 2018 build will be the first to feature 1×12 Sram Eagle, so not having the front derailer aka derailleur is far from a deal breaker, however the single water bottle cage on the bottom side of the downtube presents hydration issues on those packless rides. PF92 bottom brackets also solve a non-existent problem and leave many of us looking for solutions to solve the solution to the non-existent problem. Sending the deer running and driving your riding buddies insane, Press Fit invites creaking, poor fitting, and in extreme cases, damage to the shell. From an engineering perspective, Press Fit does not consider standardization such a torque requirements. Anyone with a headset press can in theory introduce compressive failure since headset presses do not have compression gauges. Not that anyone has actually cracked their shell with a headset press, but a proper standard such as 5 n-m torque has not been assigned by most manufactures. My other gripe with press fit revolves around thermal contraction or expansion. Here in Arizona, my Niner Air 9 carbon with a press fit BB seems to become extra creaky on hot days. Though minor issues, the sum of compromises presents me with a frame that would actually dictate how I ride instead of serving as a tool to improve my current riding style or make that riding style more fun. This same philosophy seems to be echoed in lower bottom bracket trends, where riders are held responsible for pedal strikes and no blame shall ever be passed onto the geometry. Swapping 175mm to 170mm cranks is yet another solution to a non-existent problem. Of course, most riders would agree some of those old school 14 in + bottom brackets produced terribly misbehaved trail bikes.

After much anticipation and excitement, I’m spending a Saturday boxing the frame and initiating a return instead of building in the shade with my Park Tool Apron and a cold beer. When you are spending $3400.00 for a frame, the compromises should be few if any. On order for next week is an ASR Turq that will require parting out and rebuilding as a 1×12 Eagle XX. I’m sure Yeti has thoroughly conducted their market research before releasing the SB4.5, however in my opinion keeping the ASR and jumping to the SB5 without a step in between would seem more logical. Still the Switch Infinity is the only suspension design I have ever ridden without pedal bob, so having an xc-ish bike with SI might be quite appealing to certain riders.

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Completing that summer in New Jersey was my final ride, an exploration day at Jonathan Woods Preserve in Booton. While far from an all day epic or trail system worthy of driving to NJ from out of state, Jonathan Woods embodied a bit of that raw old school unimproved trail riding, where horse paths have been reclaimed by the forests and converted to singletrack through time rather than intentional construction. Riding several hours in NJ without seeing another hiker or rider is next to impossible in the most densely populated state, however at Jonathan Woods, you can really forget yourself and enjoy getting lost in a peaceful woodland just 30 miles west of New York.

Rolling through the thicket is hardly a place to claim a KOM on Strava. Instead anyone willing to roll these trails will be reminded of the days where an Avocet Speedometer was considered advanced technology on a steel Fat Chance. For those looking to really be aggressive, a Rockshox Judy would turn the trail chatter into slightly less trail chatter when perfectly lubed and tuned. Long before races, KOMs, bike parks, and shuttles, riding was very much about the simple adventures and joys of getting lost in nature.

Jonathan Woods offered unlikely surprises like this area of tall pines where New Jersey Oaks and Maples meet Vermont pines or these granite rocks were stacked tall by the Ogre of Ogden on his way to a local dinner for morning corn beef hash and buttermilk pancakes.

To clock some decent weekend miles, I parked at the Tourne County Park and looped the Tourne, followed the river, and climbed up Glen Beach to the entrance of Jonathan Woods off Kitchell Rd.

My understanding is these trails were really hammered by Sandy back in 2012 and took quite a while for local maintainers to clear all the downed trees. With the Morris Country Park service now overseeing resource management, a master plan for future development should be on the table for public discussion in October. Toning down the raw elements, constructing some new singletrack in accordance with modern standards for sustainability, and preserving the natural woodland feel could easily launch this area on to the top of my riding list. Linking Jonathan Woods to Split Rock would open up endless opportunities for exploration and longer rides without riding riding in circles on a postage stamp. Lewis Morris and the Tourne have some great trails, however the limited size of these parks, usually means repeating the same trails or finding yourself back at the start after 15-20 minutes. In the meantime, this little diamond in the rough offers a little local adventure with some fun technical moments following the ridgeline along the red trail shortly before the Hog Pen Rocks.

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Beyond the inherent difficulties of spending an extended time with the folks when you hit the big 40, finally unpacking boxes dating back to my college years, high school, and from our first apartment in Germany was a bit of a trip down memory lane. Selling my two old jeeps also weighed heavy on the heart, however cleaning out the garage as a step towards helping them along the road to retirement was long overdue. At this point, time really is a limited resource and wrenching on old jeeps is no longer a hobby with any sort of high priorities on my list.

The 1962 CJ5 required a new thermostat, cooling system bleed, a thorough cleaning, and a new starter after the seized flywheel resulted in starter shaft cracking on the first attempt to get her running. Really the work was a long day in the high humidity and the mosquitoes presented more frustration than undoing rusted bolts. A real nice gentlemen moving from NY to FL took the Jeep along with him and became hooked on wrenching within the first week of ownership. Such a great classic deserves a loving home instead of 150 year old damp Jersey garage.

Saying goodbye to my 1982 CJ7 was much harder as I had invested so much time and effort into the restoration and enjoyed so many trips with the lady and dog in the desert around Las Cruces, NM. At the same time, memories of breaking u-joints, sheared drive shafts, hours of tinkering with the old carb, and popped head gaskets serve as a reminder that beyond nostalgia old jeeps are nothing more than old machines. With dreams of taking to the road in an RV or finally buying a small place in Durango, CO, I can safely say my classic car days are most likely over for good.

 

 

 

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Originally dismissing Park City, UT as just another alpine ski area with pine forests and Colorado Front Range style riding, I am so glad that we decided to spend 2 nights in town and check out the local scene. Pinecone, Armstrong, and Mid-Mountain were straight up masters of flow right out of Bike Magazine with hardpack serpentining through Aspen forests and across grassy ski trails. Leaving the dropper post behind, Park City was a rare opportunity to just pedal, steer, lean big, and take in the scenery. Positive vibes from other riders, runners, and hikers created a perfect balance between bonding with nature and meeting like minded trail users.

Heading up Armstrong

 

Many first timers seemed to especially appreciate the lift served XC trails to avoid the 3+ mile grunt up Armstrong, while those with lungs turn the climb into a short warm-up before venturing off to the Canyons, Pinecone, or cruising Mid-Mountain as a daily workout. Unleashed trail dogs seemed right at home accompanying both seasoned power riders and families with younger riders.

Missing from the Park City scene was the colorful culture of bearded single-speeders, professional stoners, and odd ball artists, otherwise finding fault with Park City requires a some serious reaching. If I had to choose between Colorado and Utah, my heart would go with Colorado, but weekend trips to Park City would certainly dot my calendar. Besides the lack of colorful culture, the absence of technical riding, fast desert trails, and varied terrain might eventually grow old, but its hard to say for sure, as part of me could definitely get use to maximizing fitness training on Park’s smooth trails and finishing the day with some strength training at one of the perfectly maintained local gyms. I am looking forward to returning next year to check out Flying Dog and the Canyons.

Endless Hardpack Flow with a side of dust

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A magical kingdom on the edge of a great blue lake, Tahoe riding was the culmination of dreamy views swirled together in a cocktail of almost unreal flow that surpassed my wildest expectations of the perfect ride. The initial climb up the Tunnel Creek Road to reach the Flume Trail made a horrible first impression with shuttled riders flying down the 3 mile fire road climb often flirting with an almost Killington Ski Area on Presidents’ Day feeling where the hoards blend together in a steady stream of out of control overworked New Yorkers letting loose on a party weekend. With the strong sun sending my Garmin to read 118 F in the direct rays, struggling to keep spinning in the deep sand, and pedaling against the tide, those first 45 minutes were so discouraging, I almost gave up the ride. Once at the junction of the Flume Trail, the crowds disappeared and the awe inspiring view took hold with a burst of energy.

 

View from the Flume Trail

 

Feeling exhausted from driving 8 hours and the trip in general, I pedaled Flume out and back instead of looping around to the meadows. At mile 12, the fun factor of rolling the perfect flow without the rocks and roots of trails back east left me with legs to spare for another 10 miles, so I crossed Tunnel Creek and headed north on Incline Flume. A bit more woodsy, cooler, and winding through the pines, Incline Flume crossed the Diamond Peak Ski area before meeting up with one of the most fun downhills of the ride, the Tyrolean DH Trail.

Diamond Peak Ski Area

Being on a hardtail, the idea of a “DH Trail” might have raised enough skepticism or pucker factor to discourage me from even giving the trail a go, but the magic of Tahoe erased those trepidations that come with age and instead sent me flying down like a fearless teen. The black diamond rating and DH labeling on Trailforks were misnomers in the sense of technical requirements for what turn out to be a trail without surprises as continuous fast flow and berms guided outlined  the route right down to the lake without any pucker factor. Elsewhere in the country, the Tyrolean Trail would be a solid intermediate trail with the difficulty arising only from maintaining control at speed. Between the views on Flume, the alpine feel of Incline Flume, and the smile inducing flow of Tyrolean, my little Tahoe adventure satisfied a longing for picture perfect cross country.

While I was on an adventure in paradise, Nici explored Incline Village looking for scenic views and of course a beach opportunity. To her dismay, the Incline Village waterfront was a hodge podge of private beaches for residents, private beaches for resort guests, and private beeches for those who require an even more private beach. Driving around the lake to South Tahoe City unfortunately offered little improvement of finding a nice quiet secluded spot on the water as beach after beach was either private or closed due to capacity restrictions. Traffic jams of expensive sports cars and outrageously priced homes define the waterfront landscape with South Tahoe epitomizing honky tonk through an offering of burger joints, fast food culture, and casinos.

Driving over the Rose Mountain Pass and looking down at Lake Tahoe is as impressive as entering most national parks including the Grand Canyon or Crater Lake. Protecting the natural wonders of the lake and developing a waterfront befitting in grandeur was sadly a lost opportunity buried under greed and entitlement. For future adventures in Tahoe, I will simply plan my ride and when finished head back to the lodge, hotel, or campsite. Tahoe is truly Paradise Lost and a tragic lesson in the importance of preserving our natural wonders for future generations.

Ancient Pines

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After 24 hours of driving with a few hours sleep at a random casino in Black Hawk, the nearly 9000 ft of elevation, and the absolute worst hotel coffee imaginable, the first ride of the trip was more of a warm up than an epic. Clocking just under 12 miles, this was my first foray into the Nederland, CO trails, known as the West Magnolia Trail System. Through the years, I have managed to hit many of the front range riding spots such as Apex, Horsetooth, Betasso, Deer Park, and White Ranch, so the last areas left on my list were Magnolia, Centennial Cone, and Golden Gate.

Reachable directly from downtown Nederland, the Magnolia Trail System is just a short pedal up the Eldora Ski Mountain Access Rd and starts directly before the school. A nice short punchy climb up Clear Cut introduces the system with a rocky start that promises more technical to come, however once up top on the ridge, the trails turn incredibly fast with berms and the logical planning of a mountain bike specific system. Getting lost is nearly impossible as the system is rather small, well mapped on Trailforks, and features relatively clear signs posted at parking areas. My only complaint is the forest service trails are marked with numbers such as 9304 instead of names which correspond to trail names given on Trailforks or MTBProject. More than once, I picked a trail without looking at Trailforks thereby ending up on short grunty climbs with loose gravel. Unfortunately, the most well known trail, School Bus was left unexplored to ensure a timely return back at the truck before the towering thunderclouds let loose their afternoon deluge.

 

 

The plan to hit Fruita for an evening ride was also washed away by relentless showers and thunderstorms, but we did manage to check out Powderhorn Ski Area outside of Grand Junction along with the Colorado National Monument. Fortunately, Reno and Lake Tahoe promise perfect weather for the weekend.

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After a fantastic start to 2017 pounding out record mileage on my home trails in Cave Creek, AZ, I was sidelined by our business and the most annoying injury of my cycling days, IT-Band Friction Syndrome. Owning a business and working from home does have its perks such as midday rides, but for the most part, the business owns you and not the other way around. Father’s Day at NiciArt was a test of endurance as open orders eclipsed 3000 in just a matter of a few weeks. While there is little I can do to help Nici engrave, pressing guitar picks and clipping tabs became my assigned task for several long weeks.

Beautiful Spring in Arizona

The IT-Band friction syndrome began in the beginning of May just as the weather turned hot and my off season was just a few weeks away. To someone who hasn’t experienced the frustration of a snapping knee, an injury without pain might sound like just a minor nuisance, however the reality is that vicious pop with every pedal stroke or struggling with staircases grows old after a week. Thanks to a Kenalog Injection under the IT-Band at the epicondyle of the lateral femur head, the popping is now on summer vacation. An unfortunately reality of modern medicine is the patient having to take the lead in pursing treatment options for injuries. Doctors are often technicians with steady hands and experience in outcomes, but deciding on the actual path of treatment, requires the patient to study the options. A good physician such as my local sports and pain management doctor in New Jersey offers explanations, explores options, and discusses ideas with the patient. In medicine there is rarely one answer to solving problems as the human body can adapt to stress or compensate for mechanical imperfections. Besides crashes or traumatic injuries, overuse injuries and syndromes are the result of multiple deep rooted fundamental issues such as training errors, genetics, positioning on the bike, and strength training. In my case, lack of strength training at the gym and excessive saddle height to compensate for right knee chondromalacia probably caused the left IT-Band to be over tensioned with weak hip abductors and adductors to control the stabilizing forces. Of course, there’s also the inexplicable which often leads to over-thinking, over-analyzing, or adoption of pseudo-science such as Adrenal Fatigue or Gluten Intolerance. I wouldn’t be surprised if the internet turned out to be the leading cause of unnecessary doctor visits. Either way, this post is not intended to be a discussion of pseudo-science rather an announcement that a road trip to Colorado is a serious consideration.

On the Road between Ouray and Durango in 2012

On the Road with Old Silver 2012 packed to the ceiling and an A/C failure just outside of Louisville, KY in July. My lovely lady, Nici, was not exactly happy

Compared to 2012, the road trip has evolved from adventure to a managed production as we traded in the Acura TL S for Ram 3500 with a camper top and endless cargo capacity. That little Acura logged 200,000 miles in just a few short years carrying our dog, 1000 lbs of cargo, and bikes all over the country. Now relegated to the garage, I crack a smile when jumping from that beast of a truck to the 6 cylinder turbo with a manual 6 speed. Grabbing groceries in Old Silver feels like a day at the go-cart track. Sadly, our 16 yr old black lab is a bit less enthusiastic about long road trips and prefers to stay home to guard the trash and couch whenever possible although she did happily come along on our last road trip in June from Arizona to New Jersey to escape the scorching heat. Also amazing is how she is essentially deaf to the word “come’ yet can hear even the smallest crumb hit the ground at 9.81 m/s^2.

Our little girl all grown up in the Whole Foods Parking Lot, March 2017

As creativity is at an all time low under the drizzle and foggy humidity of Northern New Jersey, it’s hard to find any justification not to take a little road trip out to Colorado. A mixed combination of sleeping in the back and VBRO should keep the budget well in check. Surprisingly our beast manages 20 mpg diesel in most situations with responsible use of the gas pedal, so planning and packing is essentially a split second decision inspired by caffeine and the dream of escaping the wet humid Northeast for a little fresh mountain air. If we do manage this trip, it will mark the first real vacation since starting our business in 2011. To date, we have only managed extended weekend getaways or working on the road. Like I said at the beginning of this post, owning a business really means being owned by your business.

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Initially skeptical of embracing any shape besides round having suffered through knee pain in the age of Shimano Biopace, I have found myself ordering additional Absolute Black or should I say, Absolute Green and Absolute Red chainrings for multiple bikes. Spending considerable time in the saddle mashing up epic climbs such as Dr. Park in Crested Butte, Chimney Gulch to Apex, or the Arizona Trail in Flagstaff, my riding style finds little love with single front chainring configurations and their inherent lack of smaller incremental ratios, so my test bike was rocking out 2×10 (26t,36t).

After my initial 30 day test period, I’ve been impressed with the acceleration and increased torque in comparison with their circular cousins at slower RPMs where the ovular shape seems to minimize output force in my 3 o’clock dead spot to get my wagon wheels rolling. Pedaling on the road in the 36t or staying in the smaller 26t ring on faster segments induces choppy pedaling, albeit having an imbalance between my two legs following multiple knee scopes might be accentuating this perceived chop. My right knee with patellar cartilage defects is noticeably happier and less strained accelerating 29” wagon wheels through undulating technical terrain at lower RPMs using the Absolute Blacks. For riders entering the 75 RPM range and over on a consistent basis, any benefits from minimizing the forces required to muscle through the dead spots, may be insignificant. In my opinion, these rings deliver a unique performance touch for mashers and grinders that is far from subtle and might even offer an edge on technical climbs, rock gardens, or clearing a tricky log pile.

Mechanically minded riders might express immediate concerns regarding shifting, chain suck, chain tension, crank compatibility, and smooth meshing between the links and teeth. In my case, the 64/104 Absolute Rings mounted directly to my Lightning Cranks 64/104 BCD Spider without issue besides shortening the bolts for the large ring. My assumption is Absolute chose to drill deeper insets to ensure the bolts are tucked away thereby avoiding chain snag. The only important installation side note is to make extra certain the small imprinted circle on the small ring and triangle tab on the larger ring align with the crank arm otherwise the oval will not align to your dead spot.

Shifting was actually smoother and more precise than my previous ramped and pinned KCNC Chainrings and chain tension proved to be an unnecessary concern. Since Loctite and similar cyanoacrylate products tend to breakdown in the blazing heat of the desert Southwest, I am in the habit of using a bit of pipe joining compound to seal and lock threads. Whether these chainrings distribute force unevenly is a debate better left to mechanical engineers with the time to complete a Finite Element Analysis, but during the first week of testing, the outer bolts continually loosened regardless of initial torque. Eventually, I placed fine lock-washers under the bolt heads and added a drop of blue Loctite. 400 miles later, shifting is still spot on and the loosening bolt issue has been resolved without further tightening. The teeth are still free of burrs and perfectly intact even after clawing over logs.

 

While certainly not an innovation on par with tubeless tires, disc brakes, wider bars, shorter stems, thru-axles, or current suspension forks, oval chainrings complement mashing and muscling larger wheels through the ugliest terrains. Unfortunately to date, there appears to be few biomechanical studies establishing the degree of ovularization required to provide the best mechanical advantage, so keywords such as “optimized” should be dismissed in favor of “possibly improved” or “could offer an advantage.” Without evidence or double blind studies to back up adopting ovular rings, opinions and reviews are purely subjective and are sure to fall in-line with the endless marketing hype surrounding 29ers, 27.5+, fat bikes, boost, and other innovations touted as being the holy grail for launching weekend warriors to the podium, therefore I would not expect any concrete or final conclusions to hit the bike magazines anytime soon.

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