Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Pivot Trail 429- a review of sorts.

    I feel like my entry into the world of bicycles has been tumultuous yet uninformed, a crash course of sorts with a hint of skepticism- did I live through the dark ages or did I miss it all together??....I cut my teeth on the hideous sight of 100mm stems, Y-frames, Panaracer tires and Blue Ano Kooka parts when I was arguably too young to even understand the novelty. Pacific Blue was on TV and was on heavy rotation in my Summers-off-elementary school Tv lexicon. I still get a case of gripping nostalgia when I see a Schwinn Homegrown logo- especially that little tomato they used. I can almost see the reflection of my 10 year old self in that sparkly bass boat paint... This feeling was revived when I met the new breed of Pivot's line up just years ago. Previously, I knew Pivot to be a cornerstone of practicality in design. These principles seemed to outlast their frames and were much better looking than the bikes themselves. Despite all the praise their Mach 5.7 was getting, I just couldnt get into them. It was when a customer ordered a Mach 6 Carbon that I came face to face with all the ways that pivot was doing it right. The details, the lines, the spec... all just beautiful. This wasn't the Pivot I remembered, there was evidence of a serious shift right there in my clamp. This trend viciously continued with heavy hitters like the 429sl and the LES and the last elephant left the room with the re-design of the Firebird. Their bikes are badass point blank, they ride extremely well. The company is awesome and I can't say enough about their QC process. Pivot seems to have served as a touch stone for yesteryear.  A true mark of how far bikes have come even since 5 years ago.

   The 429sl turned me on to riding short travel 29ers. Despite the steep headtube angle and racy accoutrement, this thing answered the questions I was trying to ask all along. The quickness, smoothness and precision of this bike made riding the undulating single track around here as fun as pointing a much bigger bike downhill outright. So I was hooked. The 429 trail came along shortly thereafter and further perfected this format. Due to availability and budget not coinciding, I bought several bikes that I felt emulated the 429trail. They sufficed as my go-to bikes to certain extents but certainly fell short of any of Pivots offerings at the time.

  With the release of the 5.5 we witnessed another notable shift in Pivots designs. The lines got straighter and the tubes assumed a more square shape. Pivots logo/name was only seen a few places on the bike rather than 10+. I remember looking at the 5.5 thinking "man I wish they would make a 29er that looked this good". Someone heard me. The Trail 429 was the answer to all my hopes. First glance was promising and all the on-paper details aligned beautifully. The spec very closely mirrored what we see across Pivots lineup and the price schedule showed no departure from their usual rudiment.

I got a relatively early chance to demo at Dirt Fest in WVA and was blown away by the bikes performance and in-person appearance. With the first impression checklist having gone so swimmingly, I was allowed to fully delve into what made this bike so awesome.

If you are at all sticking to namesake of the former 429 Trail to make any assumptions, I could only agree that this informs the awesomeness of Pivots overall lineup and bears only vague similarity in ride characteristic- lets have a look at stats. The Trail 429 as it compares to the 429 Trail has been treated with a steeper seat tube angle, slacker head tube angle, slightly taller BB, shorter chainstays and subsequently longer wheelbase as well as a bump to 120mm of travel in the rear. The Trail also features a rear axle spacing now seen on two of their other models- SuperBoostPlus (157x12) which Pivot outlines with great confidence the benefit and defense of this new spacing. As mentioned before, we see tube shape and over all bike look set itself further apart from its predecessor. Internal cable routing and sharper corners will be an obvious standout with the new Trail. As far as performance, we will see a lot of familiarity get tremendously expounded upon from the 429 of yore.

I recently took delivery of a Trail429 XT/XTR Pro build as my personal bike, I opted for the DPX2 upgrade as well as the Reynolds Carbon/ I9 wheel set. Out of the box, the DPX 2 and Fox 34 were setup per Pivots Suspension Setup Guide, along with their intuitive sag gauge- setup was fairly simple and provided a decent, familiar ride quality almost immediately. The short rear end provides the rider with a noticeable snappiness and the longer front end keeps things rounded and stable. The bike seems naturally "acquainted" with every type of terrain on which its ridden and its eagerness to bound up punchy climbs and negotiate tight maneuvers- up or down, makes it extremely rewarding to leave the hammer down at all times. Having previously tested the bike sans carbon wheels reinforced that while carbon is not requisite- it certainly sweetens, lightens and stiffens the deal.. This is a tough sell though- the DT Swiss alloy wheel setup that typically ships with the bike is hard to beat. As mentioned before, this bike rewards hammer-down style riding as it responds exquisitely to hard pedal inputs and affirmative line choices. I find myself riding much more aggressively as a result.

As ride time mounted, I began to delve into a more pinpointed setup. At 230lbs I found the fork to be a little dive-y and the rebound of the rear shock to be slightly incongruent with my riding style. After spending some time under the thinking cap, I decided that a larger air volume spacer in the rear shock would not only give me a plusher beginning-of-stroke and better progressivity but also effectively cause the linear tuned shim stack to speed up flow at the beginning of the return stroke while maintaining the slower rebound that Pivot likes under regular trail input- this gave me the "pop" I was looking for while preserving a planted, collected feel through the rough stuff- the compression setting suggestions that Pivot offers cannot be understated here, with sag gauge minded and setting suggestions heeded, my rear shock was dialed. As for the fork- I added 1 spacer, followed the chart on the actual fork leg and wound the compression in just a few clicks further than suggested. The bike now pedals and handles spectacularly all while being extremely plush and compliant in the chunder.

Overall, this bike is an extremely strong contender for best I've ever owned or ridden. Versatility, form and overall performance make a strong case for consideration for YOUR next bike as well.


Sunday, September 16, 2018

Just a few wheel builds.

Admittedly, I do a sub-par job at documenting my favorite task in the Bike Shop- Wheel Building. Building wheels in a finite way to be creative, precise, honest and thorough all while being graded on those metrics by the outcome itself. The finished wheel is either right or its wrong, there is no in-between. A properly skilled and tooled builder will be able to assess the "finished" wheels in a matter of a few short "tests". True laterally and vertically? Tensioned properly? Spoke length adequate? De-stressed properly? The right wheel for the rider? All these questions answered should give the builder peace of mind that they have done an excellent job. TL:DR?- Building a solid wheel is instantly gratifying!

The process is awesome, too, especially the relationship developed between the builder and the rider. Theres nothing better than taking a customer from start to finish on the process. From humbly being sought out to build the wheel to getting the customers feedback on what a huge difference the new wheels made to their ride.

Linda W. reached out to me seeking a solution to making her S+S steel Salsa Vaya a little more spry on the gravel. Knowing Linda's light weight and riding style as well as her budget allowed me to employ our go-to hub choice (BITEX MT's) with an awesome WTB KOM rim and svelte Sapim Race Spoke to bring together a wholesome build. The best part here was bringing everything together with a tubeless WTB Resolute tire setup.

Ive helped several customers with Mavic woes throughout my tenure at different shops. Its quite the conundrum to explain to the customer how the wheel set they paid $1200+ dollars for "not that long ago"- is in bad disrepair and made obsolete by the unavailability of parts. A plus here is knowing we can build a light wheelset, with superior ride quality, durability and serviceability. This set me down the path of consulting him on a new wheelset all together. With budget being a distant concern, I decided to get him a hub set with some curb appeal and functionality- I9 makes an awesome solution here. Beautiful ano, fit and finish. I sourced my favorite road rim to build with- the venerable HED Belgium C2 and Sapim Laser spokes. This build would be rounded out by a set of Continental GP4000 tires. These rims build up like a dream every time. The customer, being slightly old school, made the drive to the shop all the way from Shelby, Nc after a few rides just to share some accolades. 

A local rider, now departed to Colorado, hit me up before he left to build a bomb proof set of wheels that married bling with high performance and durability. I wanted to select the right parts and pieces that would allow Gerald to ride with confidence and speed. I9 came to mind again, with their orange ano complimenting the paint on his Pivot 429TR and the spry internals warning other trail users and animals of his presence. With budget being of no concern I opted for Sapims top tier CX Ray spoke. I chose CX Ray for their lightness and elasticity knowing the stiffness of the rim would compliment the durability of a ovalized drawn spoke. For the rim- I went with 32h Reynolds Carbon hoops. With their inner width being substantial enough to give the 2.5wt tires he runs a great profile. These wheels built up like a dream at 1540 grams, the finish and precision of all the parts used made this build a pleasure. At this point- these wheels have about 2 years of hard riding on them and they are still rock solid.

This wheel set is representative of the most common configuration that I prescribe to our wheel build clients. The durability and value of the components used allow me to focus on build technique and precision- alot of which is derived from consistency of parts. All while providing the customer with excellent value and performance. Just to summarize- Bitex hubs use an excellent manufacturing regimen, with fit and finish being akin to high end name brand producers. The important bits like the pawls have excellent tolerance and durability and the bearings used are high grade sealed Enduro bearings all at a fraction of peer prices. The ARC rims from Race Face, formerly Easton, have provided my personal bikes with highly dependable, inexpensive performance many times over. Raceface/Easton has their alloy and QC game dialed in, making these a go-to house build option. Ive been able to standardize this build in time and materials at a $575 price point. You even get to choose hub color!

Many many more builds to come providing I can find the 100s of past builds and remember to document future ones. 


Friday, August 17, 2018

DirtRag DirtFest

In the thick of the season where the summer heat and humidity seem to add ten pounds, I find it nearly impossible to imagine or remember a time when I actually enjoyed riding bikes. This attitude doesn’t lend itself very well to making any sort of ride plans… at least of any significance.
 I knew about Dirtfest, and despite the fabled rains of last seasons fest- it sounded like a great time and was touted as something I shouldn’t miss this year. Things weren’t looking good in the days leading up to this years DirtFest. I had long missed the window where any mature adult would properly plan to drive 7 hours to spend 3 days in the woods. On Tuesday of the week of the fest I received a call from Jimmy T: “Hey Jim!” ..“Yo, Mills, are you being a pussy or are you going to dirfest this year? I got a seat with your name on it, we are leaving Thursday”.. “I dunno man, got a lot going on”- despite me having nothing going on but an ongoing issue to committing to anything.. you know, because of the heat and the million other excuses I have been incubating for the last few weeks. 
I wont lie, things at the shop have been a little hectic. The season is full tilt with repairs and sales. This is also the dreaded time of year where tone-deaf reps march into my shop without an appointment and ask me to commit to buying more stuff to sit on our shelves.. you know.. the stuff that we still have too much of from the last time we did this dance. My fearless superior has been hard at work focusing on projects outside of business and the general climate in the shop has been anything to conducive to leaving it without my help unexpectedly for 3 days. But on the contrary, my resolve and sanity is rapidly diminishing at an unprecedented rate. I find myself grasping at every aspect and bit of reason possible to yield to irresponsibility in the name of fun and begin the arduous task of making a mental list of why Jim is right about me indeed being a pussy.
Tuesday evening, my wife and I took off for a social ride in our neighborhood and ran into my friend/arch nemesis Dicky, we pedaled along amongst the droves of weekend warriors and enthusiasts alike and covered conversational topics at our usual rate. As we sat mid-ride stop and cracked a beer, he spared no time in asking “are you coming to DirtFest with us?”.. I instinctively looked at my wife, whos expression unmistakably indicated her total unawareness of such an event or its timing, I mutter- “Meh, I want to.. but…” and in my wifes typical supportive nature, she pipes up and volunteers my attendance. I am more encouraged now than ever, but the obstacles still loom- missed work, obligations, adulthood. Luckily the obstacles were no match for another heavy beer. The buzz had hardly taken shape before I had crafted a firm but gentle text to my boss- “Hey dude, id like to head to West Va for Dirtfest Thursday afternoon, Pivot would be there, I will make sure to gather some intel and make this worth OUR while”.. in an uncharacteristic fashion, he texts back quickly- “sure, sounds cool”… Damn that was easy. The next morning I called Jim, he answers- “hey are you done being a bitch?”.. “yeah, what time are we leaving?”.. “2pm, Thursday”.. “Sweet, see you at your place”. 
          Well… I am officially going to DirtFest and Wednesday flies by, packing is a cinch. Thursday morning gives way to launch time and I head to Jim’s.. A tall sullen man is smoking a joint the size of my index finger outside near Jims truck, the f150 already looks like a parade float- coolers, grills, bikes, chairs, bags barely hanging on… the whole flea market. I am introduced to smoking man, he is going with us. We take off and the first stop is New River Bikes in Fayettville, Va, to pick up Jon Danger and a friendly fella named Carl. By the time them and their things are loaded, the truck looks like an acid flashback Shel Silverstein illustration. 5 men and 50 men worth of stuff presses onward into the evening on the back of a poor, poor pickup truck.

The fruitful but tasteless conversation and high levels of stoke assuaged the fact that we already smelled like Detroit and that we each had less than a commercial airlines space worth of leg-room. We jumped from topic to topic and the small LCD screen Jim had installed in his dash played questionable YouTube videos of people jumping appliances on homemade go-karts or the unfortunately popular 10 minute loop that someone created out of the scene in The Color Purple where Oprah pees in that field. Finally, At the tail end of what seemed like 4 hours later- we stopped at a Wal-Mart to grab some essentials. We waited in the parking lot for Jim to come back out. I had a 30 pack of Busch and a 2lb box of granola tucked under my arm. There were TWO (2) sedans in the parking lot outfitted with homemade concessions to haul deer- atleast that I could see. The local passers by appeared envious of our packing skills. Jim emerges with enough food and water for an entire defensive line. We load yet more shit into his truck and press on. 30 minutes later we reached the top of the gravel hill at the Big Bear airstrip. To our left a huge fire burns, a long stretch of banners and trailers glow down the airstrip. This looks awesome and like a much bigger production than I thought. 
“Who are you with, you are a little early” says the tall dude with braids. “We are with Andy”..braid guy smiles..“We are also with Dicky”, braid guy smirks and points up the hill to the VIP camp in the woods, we press on. I set up my camp in record time and break into my Busch and head down to the fire. Nick, Lee, Colin, Noelle and Courtney are surprised to see me. I am happy to see them. Its gonna be a good weekend. At some undefined, blurry point we migrated back up to the camp in search of beer and better times. Shortly thereafter we were shushed by a fellow camper and took it as a cue to bed down ourselves, not before Dicky would drunkenly try to enter a tent that didn’t belong to him by mistake, though.
I woke up to a gang of spirited older dudes in the adjacent camp telling stories about rides past and the coughing of Jon Danger trying out his “camping pipe”. I reluctantly rose from my cot so as to gently test whether a Busch-induced headache had set in. Thankfully I tested negative and I felt rather spry considering my hydration plan from the night before. Just as I downed a cup of coffee and got done getting ready for a day of riding, I looked up to see a rather happy Lee riding through our camp with Colin in tow. The lewd banter carried back on seamlessly and the others slowly materialized from their makeshift sleeping arrangements from the late night before. Within a surprising thirty or so minutes, the troop was ready to dip into some unexplored and unknown trails, atleast to me… hell, this was the first time I had ever been to West Virginia…well on purpose. We began a spirited ride into the lush and beautiful, rocky, rooty trails. Exclamation, short anectdotes and laughter from the crew seemed to echo off the endless tapestry of ferns and moss. The flat terrain gave way to mud pits and undulating knots of technical trail, my smile grew bigger, the hoots of fellow riders more plenty. I was riding well, and the mood was light. I started to get a really good idea of what the next few days of riding was gonna be like and the thought of the partying to be done over the next couple of night sustained me through the tough trails. We rode Canaan trail; a ribbon of loamy dirt and rocks punctuated by drops and sudden climbs and found ourselves at a junction where we would wait on the rest of the crew. Nick took this opportunity to zing a sharp rock into Dickys shin in an unprovoked act. After we all got done cry-laughing, Dicky punched Nick several times as I ate some gummy bears offered to me by Lee. Jon offered some excellent anecdotal verbiage and we pressed on after laughing some more. We headed to ride the fabled “Crack Trail” which featured a massive cave-like rock passage which we rode through several times, shooting pictures and videos, carrying on. We ran into a guy on a unicycle, it seemed like he was a long way from home to be on one wheel and I found myself a bit humbled by the guys journey on what is likely the most inefficient means of travel since the Pontiac Aztek.  The miles were easily doubled by the technicality of the terrain. Every inch moved was earned. After 15 miles, I was spent, this wasn’t Pisgah, it sure as hell wasn’t the Piedmont. The road back up to the airstrip seemed to materialize before my eyes and get steeper with every pedal stroke. 
We returned to camp and there was promise of a skills clinic by Harlan Price. I was rather interested in how one of such talent articulates his cycling skill to those less able. I quickly witnessed watched while Harland’s supposed intimate clinic get inundated by attendees, one after the other showed up. He had mentioned at some point that his teachings were most effective to groups of 6 or less… Roughly 40 people had showed up. I realized I might not be able to glean as much as I had hoped but I at least figured I could see how he handled adapting and scaling his knowledge to suit such a big crowd. He seemed unphased, a true pro. Right about that time, Colin, Lee and the ladies rolled past to embark on a “short” ride. Dicky and I both used this a segue out of the clinic. We decided to ride Chunder Mtn and the Race Loop after losing Colin to a Reverb Failure.. this turned out to be nearly as hard of a ride as the first. At the end I was more than cooked. It was time to party.
A band boomed at the airstrip, Pivot had distributed blue hats to the 100 or so waiting in line for their free BBQ. I ate nachos from the only food vendor because I hate lines and Pivots blue hats are too small for my giant head. There was talk of a sunset party up at the overlook near in the Pines so we slowly moseyed that way after over-indulging in various and assorted party favors. I was euphoric post lighthearted phone-call to the homefront, all was well and everyone there was happy and content from the excellent day of riding. We showed up early to the pines. Maurice and the DirtRag crew were setting up a disco ball in the trees. We proceeded to the overlook just beyond the crew and watched the sun set over the rolling hills. Next thing I knew we were surrounded by mountain bikers… apparently we were really close to the trail, possibly in it. Everyone riding stopped and beers appeared out of nowhere. The party enveloped us, next thing I knew a crew of much more rugged riders had showed up- most missing teeth or bearing scars reminiscent of seasoned hockey enforcers. They hucked off the cliff we were standing on, I found myself humbled by the enigmatic nature of this event, eager to see what was next. It was about this time when Nick realized the identity of one of the guys hurling themselves over the cliff drop. He dragged me aside and said “See that big dude?!, he fuckin’ farted in my face at Pisgah Enduro and told me to Go Big or Go home, I hate that guy”.. the next hours were spent entertained by Nicks anger and inebriated diatribes, punctuated by him pulling his shirt over the head of one of the higher-ups from Dirt Rag who was sitting on the hidden beer cooler. Luckily, the sheer happiness and good vibes of the event prevented any of Nicks well-meaning actions from being perceived as negative. He and big guy made up later on and exchanged some baked goods around the fire. The night blurred and the party was grand we eventually moseyed back to the camp to ready ourselves for day 2… but not before Dicky would try and enter the incorrect tent, again. 
Day 2 began with me slowly rising, eager to find out if the Busch had taken its toll. Surprisingly I felt spry and ready for another day of riding. The resolve of the crew seems to have shifted, some for the better, some for the worse. Maybe by now we’ve fully realized the true bargain between our ambitions and what we were truly there to do- party. We certainly weren’t moving as quickly, at least I wasn’t. The talk of the Maxxis Ride going off at 9? 10? Had a few stirring. Jim was making breakfast, well, sausage… a lot of sausage and the guys in the next camp were arguing about water heaters. As I put my bibs on, a rather large rattlesnake announced his presence from just feet away from me as he passed thru my camp... Ah, the great outdoors. 
I found myself headed out for another ride that was sure to hold some hardship, surprises and foul rants. The boys and I pedaled into the forest to ride some things we missed the day before. Before long I felt the inevitable bonk and disillusionment. I blame it on the Busch. I was pleased to hear Nicks musings in opposition to continuing the ride as well. This meant I might have a way out of the rest of the ride while avoiding looking like the only pussy in the group. Not to mention I kinda had work to do- I needed to demo bikes and talk to vendors. Nick and I pedaled back and split up. He headed for a nap while I proceeded to demo 3 or 4 bikes on a fun loop consisting of Upper Genes to Fern via the fireroad. This easily chalked up 10 more miles. I was extra done. There was a lake calling my name. Jim, Jon, Nick and I loaded up in the truck and headed for a swim with beers in tow. The lake was a spectacle. It was a partial dystopia…. a petri dish of specimens fit for a Harmony Korine film. The shore was laden with misshapen people and inflatable plastic animals and objects,  a man with an SS tattoo shouts “did travis just jump in the water? That motherfucker cant even swim” He looks at us and reaffirms “my son just jumped in and cant even fuckin swim”. A lady swats at her pitbull trying to grab the styrofoam cup she was holding in shin-deep water. I am amazed, touched and frightened at the same time. Am I one of them? Or am I an outsider? This was the gravity I needed to remember how lucky I am to call West Virginia my home for another night. 
Next thing I knew- it was dark, we had dinner, more beer, more fun. Time was getting away from me- the 7 hour drive back to the real world inched closer. I made it a point to take in everything around me, including more Busch. I stared at the copious stars, I watched the band, I watched the lady that just cooked us steak earlier feverously dance- seemingly without a care in the world. I watched hundreds on hundreds of people marinate in all out joy. We were lots of different people with one certain thing in common- bikes. The band shut down, we found ourselves moored at the Dirtrag staff tent. I spilled 3/8ths of a jug of Old Bay flavored cheeseballs on the ground and the only witness said “those things fuckin suck”. Still hungry and refusing to admit defeat, I talked myself and others into eating the cheeseballs that were on the ground, maybe the Busch had the upper hand by now, maybe that doesn’t matter.
At the end of the fest I woke up, I somehow felt accomplished, even though a better part of the previous 60 hours had been spent aimlessly swept along by the brackish current of DirtFest. I felt well rested despite sleeping in the woods for 3 nights. I felt healthy despite my diet consisting largely of Old Bay cheeseballs and swill beer. I felt at peace despite leaving lots of unfinished business on the home front… was Dirtfest magical? Or just a really good scrimmage for not giving a shit in the name of having fun?  I hope to go next year to find out.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Santa Cruz Hightower Review

The Santa Cruz Hightower tends to blend into the fray of low slung and long trail bikes that seem to be slowly making their way into the bike markets. My most recent test ride on the 29" variation of the Hightower revealed that this bike deserve a podium spot when it comes to considering your next purchase. I'll be the first to admit that it's hard to impress someone that is loyal to the greatness of the DW and Maestro linkages found on the other two brands we sell- as I am still convinced they are second to none. However I was blown away by the performance of the VPP (virtual pivot point) found on the Santa Cruz Hightower. 135mm of really smooth, trail eating, responsive goodness to be exact. 

I set up the RockShox Monarch rt3 at the yonder most suggested sag of 18mm- this choice lent itself to the smoothest rip of Rocky Branch I have had to date. This choice also, however, influenced a slightly "lazier" feel when really stepping on the gas. That being said, sitting down and sitting in on climbs revealed a pleasant, efficient mannerism. While grabbing KOMs might be tough at this setting, getting to the top of the hill with energy to spare is not. I am certain that with some more pressure or more specific setup with the shock, a compromise between smooth and quick could be achieved. 

Santa Cruz's clever geometry spec on this bike makes for a super nimble ride thanks to the tucked rear end- with the chainstays just over 17".. while the long top tube and longer front center values make this thing ultra stable when the speeds start to pick up. I found this bike loves to fly, too. The VPP's regressive trait in the beginning of its stroke is mighty nice to help get things off the ground when the opportunity presents itself. 

The build is excellent (S Build to be Exact)- Sram GX 1x11 drivetrain offers effortless actuation. The Guide brakes brought excellent modulation and great command. The 35mm cockpit and wide, flat bars felt well suited to the rest of the bike. The wheelset is also quite impressive- using Novatec's canti technology rear hub. Not only is it super trick sounding (think a quieter i9) but the engagement is super quick and affirmative. The fork is the beautiful and renowned Rockshox Pike- equipped with the RC damper. The rims are my go-to as well. As all of our MTB house built wheels feature the same ARC rims- previously labeled Easton, but now Raceface. All this kit equals an awesome value to performance/curb appeal ratio and will leave you some dollars to pick up a matching helmet or some gas money and post ride beers in the Pisgah. 

I might've lost you by now- but the moral of the story is that this bike needs to be ridden and ridden hard. Smiles and a new found love for haulin ass and taking names will surely ensue. Make sure to bring your checkbook and pre approval from the wife (or husband) because you'll want to take this thing home. 

EDIT- This bike is now a season old with many many rides on it. The wear life on the components is five star, this bike has been cared for professionally, but only to a degree to which would not be unreasonable for a consumer- Wipe downs, lubrication, torque spec monitoring and wheel tension etc.. At any rate I am thoroughly impressed with its aging, or lack thereof. 

Ill be honest, I have not put too many more rides in on this bike despite it being a true standout in terms of spec and design- especially for the area and my particular style of riding. The experience that I write about above prompted me to seek a more middle ground with pedaling efficiency and enlist the help of Santa Cruz's lesser denominator- the Tallboy. With a season or more on it, I am convinced that Santa Cruz simply delivers on making fun-to-ride bikes. The marrying of playful mechanics in the VPP design and inherent smoothness of 29" wheels make for an excellent experience out here on the rocks and roots of the Carolinas. I look forward to seeing Santa Cruz's next moves for this excellent platform. 

Monday, March 26, 2018

Troy Lee A2 MIPS ISOFIT Review

It’s been a while since a good piece of kit has come along to truly inspire and change the way I think about riding and outfitting- A helmet you literally can’t wait to put on. I’ve owned some excellently solid helmets featuring various technologies to lend to comfort or aesthetic values as well as claims of tech and offering to increase safety. But none of the said features tend to stand out in any significant way, they’re all about the same in terms of the aforementioned in one way or another and it leaves every helmet I’ve owned or tried feeling looking or behaving “good enough” and a lot like the other.

The venerable A series from Troy Lee has always seemed to have been an outlier in fit and finish in my book. A relative cut above in the style and fit department especially.

Recently my thoughts regarding Troy Lee helmets came full circle when I was given the privilege of trying the beautiful a2 with the modified IsoFit retention and mips implementation. This helmet feels like absolutely none other. Comfort at the touch of the Boa system, the helmet seemingly levitates. One would be extremely hard pressed to pin-point exactly where the helmet is contacting the head- it’s just there. The ride experience while wearing the helmet feels as if the helmet is with your head more so than on it- which is truly a standout quality from anything of previously donned. IsoFit seems to totally change the characteristic of wearing a helmet, think Sock and not Shoe.

I am eager for this system to go live because it will certainly sell itself on grounds of comfort and fit and finish- and provide more confidence and safety in the meantime.

I need one to call my own! Black/Xl please!

Check out IsoFit's website for updates on when you can land one to call your own. https://isofitsystem.com

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Banshee Paradox 27.5+ converted Review


Frame: 2014 Banshee Paradox (L)
Fork: MRP Stage 29 @130mm
Wheels: Dt Swiss 350 hubs- WTB i35 ASYM 32h 27.5 rims-WheelsmithDB14 spokes
Tires: F- WTB Bridger 3.0 R- WTB Trailblazer 2.8- (tubeless)
Seatpost: Thomson Elite
Brakes: Shimano BL-M615
Bars: Gravity 777
Stem: Race Face Respond 60mm

Weight as ridden: 27pounds

Trail type: Varied peidmont singletrack
Trail Condition: Dry Hardpack

I love the idea of the hard tail - the original, authentic mountain bike, the low-maintenance trusty steed. The Paradox looks to be built for a doomsday epic- thick square stays, butted tubes, raw finish and substantial head badge are a formidable presence, even amongst many other bikes. The frame minces no words in giving proper trail feedback as the internally ribbed stays deliver an exceptionally taught ride...but make no mistake, the ride isnt uncomfortable by any means, the stiffness lends itself to the bike being extremely accurate and controllable. The bike thrives on deliberate line choices, hard carves and hard acceleration. It responds to every input with staggering return.  Intended for 29" wheels the Paradox with its short chain stays and snug geometry offers a ride that belies the lore about big wheels. 26" fans will hardly notice the extra inches, as none of the negative wagon wheel traits are made evident by this well angled platform.

When I originally got the bike I decided that it would be set up single speed, however, with vertical dropouts- I would have to get creative. Luckily this iteration of the Paradox includes some very convenient ISCG05 tabs. The tabs allowed for installation of a Black Spire Stinger chain tensioner for an extremely neat SS setup. For gearing I am running a very reasonable 33x19.  In addition to going against the grain with the single speed setup, I wanted to diversify my collection of bikes. After adding another 29" trail bike by Banshee, I felt that having two regular 29ers would make things boring. So I did what anyone should do and converted it to 27.5+. I chose WTB across the board, with the exception of hubs. Immediately I was blown away by how much this improved the fun factor of this bike ..as if that were even possible. Acceleration was even more responsive and the extra meat on the tires made it even more forgiving of daring line choice. The stiff frame accompanied with the absurd traction of the fatter tires makes for rollercoaster-like turning and bobcat-like climbing. Most people would accuse the wide rim, fat tire combination of being slow rolling or clumsy in turning. While on paper, this notion holds true, the real experience proves the opposite. With somewhat educated tire pressure choice accompanied by tubeless setup, the rolling resistance or lack therof is astounding. I found myself setting records and PR's with minimal effort. Most importantly I found my grin pointed ear to ear with little to no effort as well.

So there it is. A match made in heaven. Banshee absolutely nails the hard tail and the plus size wheel and tire combo fully seals the deal.