Switching it Up: Clipless to Platform

Like many XC-oriented guys, I’ve been riding clipless pedals for a long time (about 12 years in my case) – switching over as soon as I could afford the pedals, and with the expectation that riding clipless would make me a better rider.

Lately I’ve been questioning that – and also feeling like I wanted to try some trickier stuff that I just wasn’t comfortable riding when clipped in.

So I just got a set of these:


And some of these to go with them:

The pedals are a basic Wellgo set – my local shop sells them in boxes with another brand name on them, but the pedals inside say Wellgo! The shoes are Five Ten Freeriders.

I’ve only got one ride in on them so far, but overall I think it’s a good switch. The only problem is I’m finding out just how much I’ve been relying on my clipless pedals to assist in jumping… not good!

Product Review: WTB Freedom Cruz 29er tires

A few months ago, I turned one of my mountain bikes into a commuter.

Yeah, I know. It’s kinda embarrassing. But I had a bike available, and WTB sent over their Freedom Cruz 29er tires for review, so I felt obligated.

For the full review, head on over to BikeCommuters.com – but in short, these did the job and more, and I actually got to appreciate an old bike in a different context (and fixed a couple of nagging issues along the way, since I had lots of time to appreciate the problems!). If you’ve got a bike gathering dust in your basement, garage, or storage area, the Freedom Cruz tires are worth the investment!

Back in the Saddle!

A confession: until this past weekend, I hadn’t ridden a mountain bike since sometime in July (even though I have a new bike!). Ouch!

For the most part, my riding is done on weekends… I work a chained-to-the-desk office job, and I have two young kids at home, so for the sake of household harmony I don’t often get out during the week (also, I don’t have a light good enough to do night rides – so it’s impossible a large part of the year!). I do bike commute to work and back… but that doesn’t really give me my bike fix… it just eases the pain of not being out riding in the woods!

So… the last few weekends I’ve had 2 specifically planned rides rained out (and trails closed several other times), 1 ride cancelled by a ride buddy (though for a good reason), been hacking-up-my-lungs sick, had my wife and kids sick all at once, and just plain fallen victim to life getting in the way.

But! Saturday morning, I met a coworker at the trail closest to my house and rode for a couple hours. It wasn’t epic, I didn’t have any major firsts or any major crashes. It was just solid riding on a reasonably nice day – and at the end of it, life was better than it had been before the ride. And that’s why I ride… and why I keep riding, and why I get back out there again even after not riding for a while and feeling a little extra-clumsy. Because if you start the day out riding singletrack, you can’t help but have a better day.

Vacation Ride Report: Fort Rock Trail System (Exeter NH)

A few weeks ago my family and I all jumped in our van and drove up to New England to visit family in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Since I’d only gotten my Niner EMD9 a couple weeks previously, I had to take it along. I got to ride some of the trails I grew up riding in Massachusetts, then went up to New Hampshire (where my parents now live). Since I haven’t done much riding there, I hit up Google to see what was in the area, and discovered Fort Rock.

Yes, there is a trail here

Fort Rock is actually two different town forests in Exeter, NH connected by a trail tunnel under route 101 – Henderson-Swasey and Oaklands (check the link for some good maps). They’ve been given some good attention by the New England Mountain Biking Association (NEMBA)– there are multiple areas with nicely-laid planks over swampy (and just plain pond-y) areas, which is great because otherwise the trails wouldn’t be rideable (or would just get torn up). There are also some less-noticed touches in certain areas to help with drainage and prevent erosion – but mostly the trails are left pretty natural – which is a very good thing!

Trail tunnel!

Overall the entire system is both a blast and a challenge – and like many New England trails rocks and roots are more common than, well… dirt. Some suspension is pretty much required here unless you’re just begging for a beating. These trails were a little rockier than most though… not many New England trails get a branch named “Kill-Zilla” (according to some forum research, it’s also known as the “Demoralizer”). The name is fitting… I’m sure with some practice I could clean it, but the two times I rode it (once from either direction, once on purpose and once by accident!) I definitely had several foot dabs and a couple walks up hills when I couldn’t get going again on the slope. The rocks aren’t just around the trail – in many places the best way to go is OVER a bunch of rocks (and I’m not talking small ones), and there are lots of ways to kill your momentum – especially going up the steep hills that make up pretty much the entire trail. I spent much more time in my granny gear than I think I ever have before (boy was I glad I wasn’t on my singlespeed!).

This is definitely singletrack!

My one gripe with the trail system is that I’d read it was signed, and that was true – but only barely. It has blazes – but one of the major trail sections runs in a circle, and actually branches a couple times – so even with the blazes it’s not always that easy to figure out where you are. I’m sure after a couple rides it becomes easier (I was starting to figure it out by the time I left), but for a first time rider bringing the maps along would be a good idea. I figured that out after my 1 1/2 hour ride turned into a 3 hour ride… I kept finding myself looping back around to where I didn’t want to be anymore! I was on my bike and having fun though, so it was all good (well, up until the point my water ran out!).

The trails loop through the powerlines several times… as I found out when I kept ending up there!

I didn’t get to ride anything like all the trails in this system despite the time I spent in it, so I’ll definitely be back there next time I’m in the area. I do want to thank the town of Exeter for letting mountain bikers use the trails in this way though – and NEMBA for helping make it into a more sustainable (and fun!) system. My introduction was exhausting and challenging, but incredibly satisfying.

The threat of falling in this water made me pay close attention to staying on the boards!

New Bike Review: Niner EMD9

For the past year or so, I’ve been saving my nickels, quarters, and the occasional folding currency for a new mountain bike – specifically, a geared 29er hardtail. After a lot of waffling and agonizing, I ended up ordering a custom Niner EMD9 build through Speedgoat Cycles. I initially wanted just a couple modifications off of a stock build they had, but ended up being able to work out several component changes for exactly the right price (thanks Michael C.!).

Begging to get dirty!

For everyone wanting to know the specs, here you go (the rest of you, skip down to the pretty pictures).

2012 Niner E.M.D.9 aluminum frame with tapered headtube
Fox 32 FLOAT 29 100 RLC FIT 15QR Tapered Fork
SRAM 2×10 X7 drivetrain (derailleurs, shifters, cranks)
Shimano XT Ice Tech brakes
Stan’s Notubes Arch EX 29er wheelset
Continental Race King 2.0 tires
Easton EA50 stem, bars, and seatpost
WTB Silverado Pro saddle
Weight: 25.22 lbs

2x10 SRAM drivetrain

I now have about 6 hours on the bike (3 rides in 3 states, thanks to a recent family trip!) and I have to say I’m having a blast. It’s a solid ride – could be lighter I suppose, but I have no complaints since it’s lighter than my Monocog! I’m also really enjoying the Fox fork (no surprise there), the 2×10 drivetrain, and the XT brakes.

The EMD9 at home

For the frame itself, I have to say it’s a really nice balance – very maneuverable, I can loft the front end easily, which is a nice change from the stable but ground-loving Monocog. I’ve also found it to be a capable climber – the last ride I went on (which I’ll be devoting a separate post to later!) involved some pretty crazy rocky and rooty climbs, and the bike handled them all – I made a few mistakes in picking my lines on unfamiliar trails, but it’s not fair to blame the bike for human error!

Rocks and roots, no problem!

I’m still making adjustments and shaking things down, but I’ve been really happy with my purchase so far. A couple changes may be in order – for one, I still have to get the tubes out of my tubeless-ready setup, and I also want to take some weight out of the seat post (it’s 400mm and I could probably do fine with 300mm). Overall though, I’ve got a sweet and fun ride that can handle a wide range of terrain with ease. If you’re in the market for a new hardtail 29er that doesn’t totally break the bank, I definitely recommend checking out the EMD9.

Product Review: BTB Sunglasses

A couple months ago, we got an offer from BTB Sunglasses to test out a pair of their sport-oriented glasses. BTB stands for “Be The Ball” – personally, I don’t WANT to be the ball since usually the goal is to HIT the ball, but I agreed to try the glasses anyway!

I chose the BTB 500 glasses, which have a 3/4 black frame with smoked lenses and according to BTB fit “medium to large” faces – a guess on my part, but one that turned out to be accurate.

When they arrived I wasn’t terribly impressed – the packaging was a bit rough and they just came in a soft liner, not even a box. However, they looked good and fit, so I started wearing them. As time went on, I found myself not only reaching for them when I went mountain biking (where I thought they functioned well), but also commuting, walking, running, and even driving (even though they’re not polarized!). They’ve quickly become my favorite sunglasses I’ve ever had, despite the modest $39.99 price tag – and actually, given my history with sunglasses (I’ve lost sunglasses in multiple states), that price tag is a big point in their favor, as I can actually afford to replace them. I liked them so much that I even returned the last pair of (more expensive) sunglasses I bought.

So what makes these so good? Well, the fit is good – but obviously that’s going to be different for every person, so I can’t count it as a plus for everyone. I will say though that they stay put really well – no movement on my face whatsoever, even over rough stuff. I like the light weight – yes they’re plastic, but it’s sturdy plastic. I also like the lenses – they’re dark enough in bright sun, but not so dark that going in and out of shade or biking early or late in the day throws me off. The lenses are also supposed to be ballistic grade – I haven’t tested that personally, but I haven’t damaged them yet! The frame design allows for a small amount of airflow across the back of the lens to ward off condensation – there was a small amount of fogging a couple of really warm, humid days when I wasn’t moving, but even walking-speed air movement is sufficient to clear them. I’ve also worn them for multiple hours at a time and still been pretty comfortable.

In sum: I can’t claim to speak for every pair of glasses BTB offers, but this model does everything it’s supposed to do. These were provided for test at no charge, but I would buy them again if anything happens to this pair (probability: moderate to high). For those of you unsure of buying glasses online, BTB offers a 10-day exchange/refund guarantee, so check out what they’ve got to offer next time you need sunglasses!

FTC Disclaimer

Demo Rides: Trek Superfly Al and Niner S.I.R. 9

A couple weeks ago, I got the opportunity to drop by the Paul’s Ride for Life event, which centers around a charity ride that raises money for life-saving organ transplants. While I found out about it too late to join in the ride (which seems like it might be a cool thing to do next year), there was also a Cyclefest event sponsored by a local shop, the Bike Lane. As part of that, there were not only tables and booths for cool local organizations like MORE and FABB (join one or both if you’re in the area!), but demo bikes on hand from Niner, Felt, and Trek. I got to try out the Trek Superfly Al (geared) and the Niner S.I.R. 9 (singlespeed) for a few minutes each.

I tried the Niner first, and man… it was a fun bike! You can probably trust the word of a man who owns one more than mine, but in the few minutes I got to tool around on it I was very impressed. The geometry felt really natural – the bike was responsive without being twitchy – and it didn’t feel too hefty despite the steel frame (853 Reynolds, for those who might be wondering!).

Niner S.I.R. 9

When I got on the Trek, I noticed immediately that it had a different approach than the playful Niner. The Superfly (in all editions) is billed as a race-oriented XC bike, and it shows in how it rides and handles. It was a nice bike, but I didn’t really get that grin on my face that I look for when testing a bike out. To be fair to Trek, part of this may have been because the brakes on my test bike were REALLY dirty and noisy, so I was distracted by that for much of my ride.

Trek Superfly Al

This was my first real experience testing out multiple bikes at a demo event (I was supposed to have a 2nd a couple days ago, but it got rained out), and it was a lot of fun! I’m sure many of you do this when you can, but I’d encourage everyone to attend demos when possible – it’s an easy way to check out one or several bikes fairly quickly, whether you’re looking for a new ride or not!

It’s All in Your Tires

Pressure.  No, not this pressure… air pressure! Air pressure can make a HUGE difference in how a bike rides, how a tire feels, and – recently for me – in how a bike test rides.

Where the rubber hits the trail

I used to run my tires more toward the max rating on the tires – around 60 PSI. Yeah, kinda crazy… especially on a full rigid bike!… but I didn’t know any better. Gradually I wised up and realized that a less-inflated tire grips better and provides a little more cushion on a hardtail or rigid bike. Now I tend to ride with my tires somewhere around 30-32 PSI – low enough to give me those advantages in spades but not so low I run a huge risk of pinch flatting or rolling the bead off the rim.

So now the story: I went out to a shop about 30 miles from me to test ride a Salsa El Mariachi 2 a couple weekends ago. Once I got out there it turned out they didn’t have the 2… but they did have the titanium-framed version! I said yes to a test ride (but “no” to buying it, the price jump was a little much for my wallet!).

On the ride, I felt the tires were over-inflated – so I let some air out. Then I let some more air out. I still felt like the bike wasn’t absorbing much of anything, so said something about it when I got back to the shop. They put a gauge on it – and it was still at 45 PSI! The guy who’d inflated the tires had apparently filled them up to 50 PSI or more.

Once we let air out down to around 32 PSI, I took it out again and got a ride a lot more like what I’d expected. But if I hadn’t realized that, I would’ve come away thinking the frame was very stiff and dead-feeling.

Lessons learned: experiment with air pressure, and make sure the pressure is the same on any test bikes you ride as it usually is on your personal bike. Oh… and don’t test ride bikes out of your price range, it just makes you sad…