Ridden and Reviewed: Fuji SLM 29er 1.1 Carbon Hardtail Mountain Bike

Race-ready with the Fuji SLM

Our coworker Eddie getting ready to race with the Fuji SLM

We first had an opportunity to throw a leg over the Fuji SLM 29er 1.1 at the Outdoor Dirt Demo. It was hot off the presses at the time and was something like the 48th bike claiming to be “The Ultimate Bike Ever Made” that we’d seen that day. By this point in the afternoon though, we needed to see some proof in the pudding. You can’t imagine our surprise when after a couple of laps the Fuji SLM 29er 1.1 turned out to be our favorite bike of the day.

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About The Bike:

The Fuji SLM 29er 1.1 is a 29″ carbon fiber hardtail bike that’s tailor made for the XC and racing markets. Reading over the Fuji SLM 29er 1.1 parts spec, there’s a lot to be impressed by. This is a carbon fiber hardtail that’s dripping with XTR. XTR shifters and derailleurs, sure. But brakes? Cassette? Chain? This bike is decked out in Shimano’s highest level of racing components with only the carbon Oval M600 Crankset breaking the pattern. Why would Fuji decide to pass on Shimano’s crankset? As anyone who has recently spec’d a mountain bike will tell you, Shimano doesn’t make their XTR crankset with a true PF30 spindle. You can get an adapter for the Hollowtech II spindle, but if you truly want to take advantage of the increased stiffness afforded to you by the SLM’s PF30 bottom bracket, a crankset like the Oval M600 is going to deliver.

The Oval M600 crankset gives you the benefits of a 30mm axle spindle

The Oval M600 crankset gives you the benefits of a 30mm axle spindle

The next area that the Fuji SLM 29er 1.1 excels in is the frame. Rather than trying to pass off some lesser carbon fiber as the next big thing, Fuji actually uses the next big thing. C15 super-light high-modulus carbon outfitted with internal shift cable routing, the aforementioned PF30 bottom bracket, a tapered headtube and wide 142x12mm dropouts. This makes for one of the lightest hardtail frames available while also providing stiffness to spare. The bike darts uphill so fast you will leave your friends in the dust.

Fuji also offers Fuji SLM 29er 1.3, 2.1, and 2.3 to make it easy for riders to find the 29″ hardtail to fit their needs and skill levels

The (almost) full Shimano XTR group delivers pro-level performance

The (almost) full Shimano XTR group delivers pro-level performance

The Ride:

Enough about the components, let’s get to the riding! The very first experience we had on board the Fuji SLM 29er 1.1 was one that would be repeated with nearly every ride: the tester riding the SLM 1.1 had to wait at the top of the climb for everyone else to catch up. The 29” wheels and knobby tires gave confidence to spare on the descents and it even held its own through moderate rock sections. Where this bike truly excels, however, is the climbing. You’ll float uphill as though the tires are filled with helium.

Another thing that became clear in the ride quality is that this bike was spec’d by someone who really rides and understands mountain bikes. A perfect example is the handlebar. Sure, it was probably picked out of Oval’s lineup for being the lightest bar they make at an amazing 185g. But that’s not all a bar is about. This bar is 710mm wide and has a 9 degree sweep giving the rider confident handling and a comfortable hand position.

Well spec'd parts, like the bars, give the bike an amazing ride feel

Well spec’d parts, like the bars, give the bike an amazing ride feel

The Verdict:

Thoughtful component choices and a finely tuned ride quality make this one of the finest hardtails we’ve ever ridden. This bike is for the rider who wants to squeeze every ounce of performance from his machine, who wants to win races, and who will settle for nothing but the best.  The XC racing bike snob will be as happy as the everyday trail warrior. They are all sweet perfection in mountain biking, balancing weight, comfort, and performance. If you’re thinking about buying a hardtail that you’ll never want to part with, look no further than the Fuji SLM 29er 1.1. The bike was so fast, that we all started arguing about who would get to use our demo model for the upcoming race season. Sitting atop the Fuji, our coworker Eddie rocketed straight to the top of the podium.

Most races on the SLM end only one way: the top of the podium

Most races on the SLM 1.1 end only one way: the top of the podium (#3 left early, it wasn’t just a two person race)

Ridden and Reviewed: Charge Cooker Maxi Fat Bike

I’m not much of a mountain biker. Mostly, I get my kicks—such as they are—on the road. I dabble every now and again, but nothing serious. That is until the dreaded Polar Vortex (I, II, or III– I can’t remember which now) pummeled our North Carolina office with a couple of inches (gasp!) of snow, taking road cycling off the table. I was getting all ready to not ride a bike at all and go lift, when instead I was given a chance to test ride the Charge Cooker Maxi fat bike on a snowy trail ride. I scrounged around for some ill-fitting clothing, geared up and headed out. I admit I looked at the bike dubiously, but within minutes of getting on, I was sold.

Snow biking puts a new spin on old trails, and is a great way to spice up your riding routine.

Big fat bike, big fat fun.

About The Bike: The Charge Cooker Maxi is a fat bike with a steel frame and fork. The bike is designed to accommodate massive, 26X4” tires that mount on 26” x 80mm wide Wienmann rims. This gives you the feel of riding a full suspension bike without all the mechanical moving parts. The bike is a beast that can pretty much roll over anything, and is great for snow, sand, loose dirt, or just generally finding your inner-gnar on the trail. It’s equipped with a SRAM X5 2×10 drivetrain (with an FSA Comet crank).

Rear brake arch has plenty of clearance

Rear brake arch has plenty of clearance, and rack braze-ons make it ideal for bike camping or other off-road touring

Unboxing and Set Up: My Charge Cooker Maxi was already set up as a demo bike, but it should be generally straight forward, since it’s basically a conventional full-rigid mountain bike (with massive tires), so you don’t have to worry about setting suspension sag or fork rebound. The only thing to be aware of is pumping up the tires— they’re so big that even getting to the ultra-low volume of 8-10 PSI can take you several minutes.

I added a set of Forte Platform pedals, bringing the weight to about: 36.6 lbs.

The Ride:  Taking the bike out on the trails in the snow was just pure fun. At first I was a little nervous riding the bike over the snow and compacted ice, but all my worry turned out to be for naught. The bike handled the snow, ice, and buried trail hazards with ease. The feel of the bike is less like riding a mountain bike and more like driving an Abrams tank, sans cannon. It didn’t so much roll over the snow as churn through it, and I rarely felt like I lost traction (actually, the only time I did was when I tried to take an icy corner too tight). I truly felt like I could roll over just about anything—which proved to be the case. Because the tires are so huge, and have such a low volume, the bike can handle rough trail like a full suspension bike—making tackling rocks, logs and trail bumps feel easy and comfortable, but the full rigid frame and fork gave a feel of pedaling efficiency you sometimes don’t get from a full-squish bike.

The bike just kind of rolls over anything

The bike just kind of rolls over anything

The bike isn’t the lightest thing in the world, particularly if you’re used to a featherweight XC rig, but to lament it’s weight is to kind of miss the point. The fat bike isn’t about winning races, it’s about going anywhere you’ve ever wanted to go on a bike. Even with all that heft, it’s still maneuverable and light enough that I was able to chase down some of that ever-elusive Fat Bike Air at one point. Handling was pretty easy, and didn’t feel nearly as sluggish as I had expected. The bike easily got up to speed, and carried momentum nicely into turns. The mechanical disc brakes provide great all-weather stopping power that easily scrubbed speed and provided well-modulated stopping power when I needed it.

The gearing on the bike is also nice and low, so you can spin at a high cadence, but still generate plenty of torque and power to tackle almost anything in your path. One small niggle I did have was fit. Because of the geometry modifications that had to be made to the chainstays to accommodate the massive rear tire, I found the q-factor on the cranks to be a little too wide for me, however that was fixed by simply switching from clipless pedals to a pair of platforms. This actually turned out to be preferable anyway, since I was able to wear hiking boots instead which were A) warmer, and B) easier to get off the bike and go check out stuff off the trail.

Tackling the snow and ice was easy-- and a blast

Tackling the snow and ice was easy– and a blast

The bike also incorporates rack mounts, which make it almost ideal for bikepacking or really getting out and exploring the back country. With no suspension to worry about, the Cooker Maxi would be a nice and dependable rig for some serious trail trips. I love touring and s24o (sub-24 hour overnight) bike camping, so I’m pretty excited about the possibilities of taking the fat bike out and exploring the mountains of western North Carolina this summer.

The Verdict

If you’re looking for a fun, versatile, go-anywhere bike, the Charge Cooker Maxi is definitely for you. No matter what conditions or terrain, I have no doubts that this bike could handle them with ease. The Cooker Maxi takes the best aspects of a full-suspension and a hardtail and mixes them together—but with more utility. If you’re not worried about racing, but just want a pure adventure machine then this is the bike for you.

The adventures on this bike have just begun

The adventures on this bike have just begun

Quick Guide To Winter Jackets

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Just because it’s dark and cold out doesn’t mean you can’t get out and ride. After all, as Eddy Merckx, every single magazine, and everyone on Facebook says: “there’s no bad weather, just bad clothing”. With the right outerwear on (and the right equipment and preparations), you can ride comfortably in just about any conditions.

We’ve done some rough guides to dressing for the weather before, but folks keep asking us for specific jacket recommendations. So we pulled out some of our favorites to highlight here for you today. These are all jackets we regularly ride at lunch, after work, and on the weekends.

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MEN’S

Castelli Mortirolo Due Jacket:

This is a heavier-weight, Wind Stopper soft shell jacket from Castelli. It has a smaller cut and a race fit, so we’d definitely recommend buying a size up… especially if you plan on layer up with it. Paired with a long sleeve base layer (or two if it’s really cold), this jacket can help you tackle even the worst weather.

For the WOMEN’S version, click here.

Craft Elite Bike Pace Jacket:

The Craft Elite Bike Pace is another soft shell jacket that does an amazing job of holding in heat without over heating the rider. With a soft, breathable exterior, wind-resistant panels, and an innovative brushed fleece interior featuring ThermoCool technology to help regulate body temperature, this is a great jacket for all day rides in cold conditions. Paired with a base layer and long sleeve jersey, this jacket will keep you comfy down to at least 8 degrees Fahrenheit. Trust us, we had the dubious pleasure of getting to test that out during the Coldest Day of the Year Ride (for North Carolina).

Sugoi Icon Rain Jacket:

The Sugoi Icon is more of a rain jacket than an insulating jacket, but if you live in New England or the Pacific Northwest, you’ll probably need one of these. The Icon is made from Polartec’s incredible new NeoShell material, which is the most breathable waterproof material on the market right now. That being said, you still might want to save this one for when you really need it, because it’ll still hold heat during climbing or hard efforts. But when the rain is coming down, it’s packed with innovative and useful features that’ll keep you dry and cozy while riding. We found this jacket to run a little bit on the larger side…but that should be fine if you’ll be layering under it.

For the WOMEN’S version, click here.

Here’s a cool video about Sugoi’s jacket technology:

Performance Transformer 2.0 Jacket:

This Performance Transformer 2.0 jacket is a great choice for milder days when you might only need a wind jacket. The Transformer 2.0 jacket is built with a wind-resistant material that helps keep you warm on blowy days, and removable sleeves to turn the jacket into a vest if the day really warms up. It’s not insulated, so if you’ll be wearing it when it’s really cold out, you’ll need to layer up underneath, but it’s definitely a great choice for most occasions. It has plenty of features that make it ideal for all-day riding.

Pearl Izumi Elite Barrier Convertible Jacket:

Like the Performance Transformer 2.0 jacket, this Pearl Izumi jacket is a wind layer, aimed at more mild days. Again, it’s not insulated, so in the winter its best used as part of a layering system, but it does a stellar job of cutting the wind. Thanks to removable sleeves, you basically get two garments in one that allows it to be worn most of the year. And, with its great use of color and graphics, this jacket stands apart from the crowd.

For the WOMEN’S version, click here.

WOMEN’S

Louis Garneau Enerblock Cycling Jacket

Being a Canadian brand, Louis Garneau understands the importance of staying warm on the bike better than most. That’s why the Louis Garneau Enerblock Cycling jacket is made form Garneau’s amazing Heatmaxx and Enerblock fabrics. Enerblock helps cut the wind chill, while Heatmaxx provides a brushed fleece interior that maximizes heat retention. Pair with a base layer on milder days, or add in a long sleeve jersey to take on even the coldest days. It’s also got some cool features you won’t find on most other cycling jackets, like hand warmer pockets and a zippered sleeve pocket for snacks or valuables.

Ridden and Reviewed: Diamondback Century Sport Disc Road Bike

Reviewing a bike is always a tricky business, especially when it incorporates new technology. But when we saw the new Diamondback Century Sport Disc, we knew we had to try it out.

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Diamondback Century Sport Disc

About The Bike: The Century Sport Disc is an aluminum bike with a full carbon fork. This bike is designed with the high-mileage enthusiast in mind, and it shows it with a nice and relaxed geometry that feels easy on the back and neck without feeling like you’re riding an upright beach cruiser. It’s outfitted with a mix of Shimano parts—sporting 105 shifters and front derailleur and an Ultegra 10-speed rear derailleur, and TRP’s Hy/Rd mechanically actuated hydraulic disc brakes.

Unboxing and Set Up: Unboxing and set up are fairly straight forward: the bike comes 90% assembled, so you only have to mount the wheels, handlebars, and seatpost. The only tools you’ll need are a set of hex wrenches and some bike grease. As with most bikes, the rear derailleur will need a bit of tuning—but compared to some other bikes we’ve assembled, it was minor– just two quarter turns of the barrel adjuster. The only major obstacle came with the brakes. We’ve set up disc brakes before, but these took some figuring out to get set up. Turns out it was maddeningly simple. So to save you a headache, here’s the key: look for the knob with a picture of a lock on it. Unthread it counter clockwise until it pops up out of the socket. This will unlock the actuating arm. Once that is done, proceed much like you would with any other mechanical disc brake set up (pinch the actuating arm to activate the brake, pull the cable tight, and tighten down the cable clamp bolt, then use the barrel adjuster to back off the cable tension until the rotor spins freely).

We added our own Time iClic Racer pedals,  bottle cage, and Garmin mount. Weight after assembly: 21.3 lbs.

The Ride: Our first ride on the Century Sport Disc started out with a group ride that turned into a two-man exploration of some local gravel roads. Over this varied terrain, the bike proved surprisingly fast, and it climbed fairly well.  The feel of the bike also impressed. Being an aluminum frame with an alloy seatpost, we expected a harsh, jarring ride, but that turned out not to be the case at all. The bike nicely soaked up road vibration and delivered a smooth road feel. Even on some rutted out gravel the bike felt stable, thanks to its long wheel base and the unexpectedly excellent tires (some nice, sticky Michelin Dynamic Sport 700×25’s).

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Handling was excellent, even on rough roads

Shockingly, we also found the saddle among the most comfortable stock saddles we’ve ever tried. Usually, the saddle is the first thing we discard when setting up a new bike, however for us the Diamondback Equation saddle (135mm wide) hits that nice sweet spot of just enough padding, just enough flex, and not being too wide or too narrow. The shape is also pretty middle of the road, with a nice graceful curve from the rear to the nose that didn’t rub on our legs or cause any hotspots. The center channel cutout also helps with numbness. (Our reviewer normally rides a 134mm Prologo Nago Evo saddle).

The carbon fork and BB386 bottom bracket definitely helped stiffen the bike up, which helps with performance by improving power transmission and minimizing frame flex. It’s not quite on par with a carbon bike, but for what this bike was designed for, it’s more than adequate.  The geometry is a little more upright than we’re used to, but it actually felt pretty good on the back and neck. Sitting more upright did make us work a little harder when riding into the wind, but we were more than able to keep up with a fast group ride without any problems. It’s important to remember though that this isn’t a race bike—this bike is built for those putting in long hours in the saddle.

The tapered headtube and carbon fork helped stiffen up the bike

The tapered headtube and carbon fork helped stiffen up the bike

The handling was nice and stable, with no hints of the twitchiness we’ve come to expect from more racy-steeds which sometimes have pushed us to the edge of our comfort zones. On gravel roads, the bike was responsive enough to help us ditch some pot holes at the last minute, and even bunny hop others that we saw a little too late. The bike is spec’ed with slightly wider bars than normal (44cm on a 54cm bike, versus the usual 42cm) to give the bike a more stable feel akin to a flatbar road bike, but with the ability to ride in the drops. Handlebars are fairly inexpensive (a set of Forte Team alloy bars are about $39), so if you want to switch to a narrower bar for more nimble handling, it won’t break the bank.

Now for the disc brakes: our bike arrived the day that SRAM announced their hydraulic road recall. Even though the TRP Hy/Rd is a fundamentally different system, we still eyed the fluid reservoir with not a little apprehension. Fortunately, our fears were unfounded. The bike stopped on a dime without a single hiccough, even on gravel roads and steep descents. In fact, sometimes it almost worked a little too well. If you’re used to traditional road calipers, then you’ll need to remember that “less is more” with disc brakes. Because the system is mechanically activated (the cable actuates the hydraulic piston, which actuates the braking arm), you don’t really have to worry about boiling the fluid on long descents, and the sealed hydraulic chamber has almost no chance of developing the air bubbles that brought down SRAM’s systems. They are definitely powerful, and performed well even in wet, muddy conditions we encountered on gravel roads.

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TRP Hy/Rd brakes provided excellent stopping power

The Verdict: The Diamondback Century Sport Disc is an excellent bike for riders looking to put in long miles, ride in bad weather, or looking for a first road bike. Even our less experienced testers felt right at home on the bike, thanks to its stable handling and the confident braking feel they got from the Hy/Rd system. The spec is decent for this price range, with the high-end Ultegra rear derailleur, BB386 bottom bracket system, and TRP hydraulic system all normally found at a much higher price point. However, if you’re looking for a bike that’ll climb like a champ or that will help you take the town line sprint, then you may instead want to look at the Diamondback Podium series to get that extra performance edge. A racing bike, this ain’t. But for Gran Fondo’s, charity rides, and club outings, this is a bike that definitely has the chops to help you stay with the group without pushing you to the limit.

Recommended Upgrades: As it is the Century Sport Disc, is a great bike. However, if you want to get a little more out of it, here are the upgrades we would recommend.

  • Carbon Seatpost: A carbon seatpost will help the bike feel a little smoother on rough roads or gravel
  • Wheels: A good wheel upgrade, like the Stans Alpha 340, will help shed weight and improve ride feel, performance, and handling
  • Crank: The FSA Gossamer that is spec’d on the Century Sport Disc is perfectly fine, but a carbon crank like the FSA SL-K compact will help take the bike’s performance up a notch or two with stiffer rings, lighter arms, and improved power transmission

2013 Year in Review – From Cyclocross Worlds to How to Climb

While we’re already looking ahead at 2014, but as we close out 2013 we wanted to take a moment to look back at some of the best stories and posts that we’ve shared throughout the year – we’ve got even more planned for the coming year, so stay tuned!

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Real Advice: Commuting by Bike

Our coworker Aaron’s story of his 20 mile commute struck a chord with many of you out there – check out the comments for tales from fellow commuters.

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Fuji Pro Bikes at the 2013 Amgen Tour of California

In May we were lucky enough to catch a few stages of the Tour of California, where we got an up-close look at 2 very different professional rider’s Fuji bikes.

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Event Recap: 2013 UCI Cyclo-Cross Worlds

Of course we weren’t going to miss seeing the very first Cyclocross World Championship held on US soil – we summed up the craziness in this post from a very chilly and wet Louisville, Kentucky.

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Cycling First Aid Essentials – What to Pack

We don’t like to think about, but riding bikes means that sometimes we’re going to crash. Our first aid essentials for cyclists post covers the basics of what to carry to be prepared.

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Our Take: 10-Speed vs. 11-Speed

If there’s one post that generated much heated discussion, it was definitely our take on the 10 vs. 11-speed debate – you might be surprised by what we have to say!

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Real Advice: How to Lock Your Bike

There aren’t many worse feelings than having a bike stolen – our Real Advice column breaks down a robust locking strategy to make sure that it won’t happen to you next time.

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Real Advice: An Intro to Climbing

If there’s one thing that most of us would like to do better, it’s learning how to improve our climbing skill – it turns out that it’s not as hard as you think.

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Real Advice: Weight Loss

One of the great side effects of a love for cycling is being able to maintain a healthy weight – but another one of our Real Advice posts covered some straightforward tactics to help you keep the pounds off.

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Real Advice: Wheels

Another great conundrum of cycling – what upgrade provides the best bang for the buck? It’s no secret – we think that it’s all about the wheels.

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Product Profiles: The Scattante CFR LE and Scattante CFR Race

Finally, we profiled some great gear this year as well – including the latest iteration of our always popular Scattante line of road bikes.

Top 10 Things For 2014

This year saw a lot of innovation, but coming out of all the trade shows, blogs, and our own meetings, there are a few things that really stand out and have us all kinds of excited for 2014. But these are just our thoughts – post a comment below with what cycling gear or rides you’re most pumped to try out in the new year!

1. Disc brakes on road bikes: we’ve had a chance to play around with these a little bit lately, and we’re excited about the performance advantages we’ve seen so far. Hopefully, we’ll see more manufacturers offer a bigger range of bikes with disc brakes.

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We love the performance of disc brakes on the Diamondback Century Sport Disc

2. 1×11 drivetrains for MTB: Who knew that losing a front derailleur could be an improvement? OK, so many folks have already gone down this path of simplicity, but the improved gearing range of 1×11 makes it a possibility for almost any mountain biker. They’ve proven to be a reliable, durable and quiet – we can’t wait to see it come stock on even more bikes. SRAM’s XX1 and (more affordable) X01 systems are the only one’s available right now, but you can go part way towards this system with a ‘narrow-wide’ single front chainring to ditch the front derailleur on your current bike.

We love the new crop of 1×11 MTB drivetrains

3. Hydraulic brakes for the road: The unfortunate SRAM recall aside, we’re excited about the potential for improved braking power. The idea is there, and the applications and benefits are obvious, it just looks like it needs more refining. We’ve been using the TRP HY/RD mechanically actuated hydraulic system the last few weeks, and are pretty impressed, so we’re looking forward to more innovation in 2014.

TRP Hy/Rd mechanically actuated hydraulic brake calipers drastically improve braking performance

TRP Hy/Rd mechanically actuated hydraulic brake calipers drastically improve braking performance

4. SRAM electronic drivetrains: Hey, we’re suckers for new technology! Spotted at the Illinois State CX Championships, it looks like SRAM is finally set to introduce an electronic shifting system to compete with the tried and true systems from Shimano and Campagnolo. Since SRAM seems to like names like “New Red” and “New Red 22″, anyone want to venture a guess about the product name? Click here to learn more from Bike Radar.

5. 27.5” wheels: 27.5″ (aka 650B) wheels on mountain bikes were huge this year, and we bet that next year they’ll gain even more prominence as more folks upgrade their rides. As a mountain biker you owe it to yourself to test out one of these ‘in-between’ bikes if you’re in the market for a new off-road steed – they really do combine some of the best traits of a nimble 26″ bike and a roll-over-anything 29er.

27.5″ wheeled mountain bikes, like this GT Force Carbon, were all the rage this year

6. Giro Air Attack Shield helmets (black, size medium): Literally the only thing on my Christmas list and I didn’t get one. Hopefully one will find it’s way to me in 2014. They make a great Valentine’s Day gift (and that’s a science fact, you guys). But seriously – aero bikes, components and gear will continue to make inroads into more every day rides. It’s free speed with very little trade-off when it comes to weight or comfort.

Maybe next year…

7. New power meter designs: The Garmin Vector and our new completely awesome, formerly super secret wheel project are making power readouts more accessible to cyclists, improving the way we ride and train. Hopefully, the designs will continue to get more affordable and easier to install.

Innovative new power meter designs are bringing power to the masses

8. Fat bikes: Fat bikes are the new fixies, but more fun. Want to experience a trail in a new way? Power through snow? Roll over boulders like it ain’t no thang? Then you need a fat bike – if you have never tried one, then you’ll be blown away by how much fun they are!

Go anywhere on a fat bike. Seriously…you can pretty much go anywhere.

9. Some exciting new stuff added to our bike and clothing lineups: We’ve got some awesome new stuff getting ready to fill up our bike inventory, including some exciting new brands. We can’t say what yet, but we’re really excited. And our clothing team is hard at work improving our already amazing high-value Performance brand apparel – we think you’re going to like what you see!

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More great Performance gear is on the way.

10. More great rides with friends: Whether it’s a lunch time hammerfest with coworkers at the office, an epic Gran Fondo, a ride with the family, or a leisurely weekend excursion with your best riding buddy – we’re here for the ride, and we hope that 2014 brings all of us even more great adventures on 2 wheels!

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Here’s to great rides in 2014!

The Fat Bikes Are Coming! Meet The Charge Cooker Maxi.

Well…technically they’re already here. British-brand Charge just dropped their new 2014 Charge Cooker Maxi Fat Bike on us, and it’s pretty awesome. According to Charge: “The Cooker Maxi is designed to take you anywhere. It takes the ‘fat bike’ feel to the trails for a new off road experience. Matching our unique ‘trail tuned’ geometry and premium Tange tubing with huge 4” wide tyres and powerful hydraulic disc brakes.” Be ready for some attention when you take this monster bike out for a ride! Your fellow riders will laugh, smile, and then realize that they want one too!

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The 2014 Charge Cooker Maxi Fat Bike in all its glory!

Lucky for you, friends, it’s up on our website right now, waiting for you to join the fat bike revolution! So, why a fat bike? A fat bike is just that; it’s fat. With the added width and girth you’ll immediately feel more stable. That stability translates into trail confidence, even on singletrack. Add in some remarkably low tire pressures and you’ll be cornering and riding berms with unheard of traction.

This thing is pretty dialed in with excellent components, a great paint job, and — of course — some big ol’ fat 4-inch wide Vee Rubber tires. Drivetrain-wise, a forgiving 36/22-tooth FSA crankset is mated to a 10-speed SRAM cassette and SRAM X5 derailleurs to handle the shifting duties. Pro Max Decipher hydraulic disc brakes, with 160mm rotors front and rear, tame this monster bike’s speed.

The fat bike really made a name for itself where other bikes perform poorly: the snow and sand. That stability and wide footprint will make anything from sand dunes to billowy snow easy to navigate. Here’s a video of the Cooker Maxi having a day out at the beach…which is probably where you wish you were right now, but it’ll work just as well in the snow, or pretty much anywhere that you want to ride!

Do Wheels Really Make A Difference? We Put A Pair To The Test

Getting ready to climb, here are the new Assault Limited on a Fuji Altamira test bike

Getting ready to climb, here are the new Assault Limited’s on a Fuji Altamira test bike

For a minute I almost forget I’m on a video shoot. It’s a beautiful, cold morning, with the fog lying heavy in the hollows of the foothills around our office. To either side of the road, a dark forest of pine and hardwood echoes with early morning bird call and the scent of conifers fills the air. The sound of the tires on the pavement and my own breathing form a rhythm for my pedal strokes. The clothing I’m modeling has me far underdressed for the temperatures, but as I climb higher and higher up the hills, I kind of begin to enjoy the feel of the cold air on my skin, cooling me down from the effort.

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Felt a little chilly, but I was excited about trying out the new Assault Limited’s.

I’m starting to find my climbing rhythm, and I shift my hands to the top of the bars and sit up a bit to breathe a little easier. My legs feel like they are turning in perfect circles, and I let my hands relax on the bars. Normally deeper dish wheels like the Assault Limited carbon clinchers don’t make the best wheels for climbing, but these seem to be an exception. They feel as fast going uphill as downhill, the stiffer build making up for the additional weight. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt this good on a 10.5% grade. A hawk swoops down from a powerline to my left and I turn my head to watch its flight. I begin to feel like I’ve reached that special place where the ride becomes easy and feels natural.

We’re out here to film some B-roll footage for product and brand videos, which means that nothing is mine. My heels keep coming out of these shoes, I’m still adjusting to the fit of the Fuji Altamira, I continually misshift the unfamiliar Shimano controls, and the fresh-from-the-box helmet doesn’t feel quite right after so short a time. Among a million different sensations vying for my attention, it’s the feel of effortless climbing and nearly free speed from the new Reynolds Assault Limited wheels I’ve been given for this shoot that really grabs hold.

Climbing with the Assault Limited's felt remarkably easy

Climbing with the Assault Limited’s felt remarkably easy

The Fuji Altamira is a great bike. It’s among the stiffest, most efficient, and comfortable bikes I’ve ever ridden. But as you’ve doubtlessly read countless times before, a great set of wheels can drastically improve how any bike rides. I’ve been riding an older set of Reynolds Assault wheels on my personal Van Dessel Rivet for a few years now, but I can say without a doubt that the new Reynolds Assault Limited’s are stiffer, faster and lighter. The new carbon lay up on the rim, the stiffer bladed spokes, and the re-engineered hubs with new, upgraded bearings make this new set an amazing improvement over what was already an incredible wheelset.

The hill ticks up a grade again, and I can hear the engine in the camera car rev up. My legs burn, and I debate whether to downshift or stand. I’m still forgetting which Di2 levers to hit, so I decide to stand. The bike feels stiff and light underneath me, pure power transmission. The wheels feel incredible. Not once do I hear a brake pad hit the rim, there is no quiet ticking of spokes or the eerie silence and sudden BANG! of a stuck pawl suddenly reengaging. The wheels are silent and powerful, stiff enough to respond without question to every watt of power I put into them. I pedal and the bike obeys.

Later suckers. The Assault wheels enabled me to drop the camera car on the downhill.

Later suckers. The Assault wheels enabled me to eventually drop the camera car on the downhill.

Finally we hit the summit. I take a drink of water cold enough that it seems to drill straight into my forehead and reminds me I have a cavity that needs filling. We begin to descend. I shift into the big ring, the Shimano Di2 controls effortlessly shuttling the chain onto the big ring. I depress the right upshift lever and hold it, feeling the chain slide across cogs. The resistance feels huge at first, my cadence low. My quads rebel for a moment after the long slog up. But as the hill disappears below me, the resistance evaporates, and my cadence climbs. I reach the bottom of the cassette, and have no place left to go. I am flying down the hill. The deep carbon rim of the Assaults knife through the air. I go into a tuck over the handlebars and begin to drop the camera car. The camera man yells at me to slow as I slide past, but I ignore him. This is too much fun. With my chin near the handlebars, I can hear the wind sliding past the wheel rim, and I chance a look at my Garmin. This is the fastest I’ve ever descended this hill, and I know it’s the wheels. The bike isn’t an aero design, and I’ve ridden in a tuck here dozens of times before. These wheels are giving me free speed on the descent, and I wish I could have a chance to try them out on a flat. Or during the Thursday evening group ride. Or even just take them out for a day and see what else they can do.

I later found myself preferring the new Assault Limited's to my older edition Assaults

I later found myself preferring the new Assault Limited’s to my older edition Assaults

But the video shoot is over, and I have to turn them back in. The next day I take my personal bike out. I love the familiar controls, the professionally-tailored fit, the stiff and responsive frame, but something is missing. My bike just doesn’t seem to have that pop to it, the liveliness from the test bike yesterday. It’s a small thing, almost imperceptible, but after the joys of yesterday’s ride with those new Assault Limited’s, nothing really quite feels the same.

And lest you should think that these wheels are only for carbon fiber super bikes, remember that a wheel upgrade can have massive effects on pretty much any road bike. Wheels can confer a huge advantage when you want to make your bike more aerodynamic, lighter, or just perform better. We’ve tested the Reynolds Assault Limited wheels out on many different road bikes, and found that they were faster, stiffer, and looked 247% cooler than most other wheels. We were especially impressed with the aesthetic and riding performance advantages they conferred on our new special project with GT bikes.

gt_strike_reynolds

Before & After: The Assault Limited’s made this GT Strike faster, stiffer and more nimble. Plus, it looks fantastic.

5 Must-Have Emergency Items

Before you roll out on your next ride, you need to make sure you’re prepared for an emergency. Now, we don’t mean you necessarily need to bring an entire first aid kit with you (although for you mountain bikers out there, it’s probably not a bad idea). What we mean is making sure you can get yourself home safe and sound without bonking, flatting, or getting lost– or at least being able to make The Call if you do.

emergency items

  1. Phone: No matter how short your ride, always bring your phone with you and make sure it’s charged up. There are a million situations that might lead to you need to make The Call for a ride: you might crash, bonk, get one too many flats, break a chain, etc… You just never know. Plus, it’s great for taking Instagram photos along the way.
  2. ID, Emergency Contact and Medical Info: Always bring a photo ID with you on your ride. In addition, write down your name, home town, and emergency contact number, plus any important medical info (previous injuries, medical conditions, allergies) on a sheet of paper and keep it in the plastic baggie with your phone.  That way if you crash or are involved in a car accident, the EMT’s and police will know who you are, who to contact, and what treatments you may need. There are also products like Road ID that make bracelets you can wear with your emergency info. It might also be a good idea to put an ICE (in case of emergency) number in your mobile phone.
  3. Cash: Cards are awesome, but cash is still king. Many country stores don’t take cards or have minimum limits on how much you can put on a card, so if you need food you may be out of luck. Plus, you can always use a folded up bill to boot a tire in case of a sidewall cut to keep the tube from pushing out of the hole.
  4. Map or GPS: Even if you think you know the route really well, always bring a map or GPS with you. Whether it’s a map printout, your phone, your Garmin 510, 800 or 810, or something else, always make sure you know how to get home.
  5. Flat Repair Kit: Nothing will end a ride faster than flatting without a repair kit. Always bring your repair kit with you, and make sure you include: spare tube, patch kit, tire levers, Co2 cartridge and chuck or mini-pump. Do not ever try to ride on a flat tire; you’ll just ruin your wheel. Don’t know how to fix a flat? Check out our handy how to.

Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments section below.

1, 2, or 3: How Many MTB Chainrings Do You Need?

We’ve gotten a lot of questions from our customers lately about all the different drivetrain options available for mountain bikes. To help answer your questions, we turned to our in-house expert: Mark (some of you might recognize Mark and his mustache from our videos).

Boone_Rky_Knob_MTB-2

Mark knows a thing or two about mountain bikes

If you are in the market for a new mountain bike or a new drivetrain for an existing mountain bike, then the crankset and gearing options can seem overwhelming and a little confusing. Triple crankset, a double, or just rolling with a single ring…which is the right one for you? Why would you choose one chainring over three or two? Can more actually be less? Let’s take a look at the options and when it comes time to upgrade, you will have a better sense of what will work best for you and why.

For years the traditional mountain bike drivetrain consisted of a triple (3 chainrings) crankset paired with a cassette (or freewheel) that has grown from 6 to as many as 11 cogs. Fast forward to now and you still have the triple (3x) crankset option, but you also have double cranksets with 2 chainrings (2x) as well as single cranksets with just one chainring (1x). 

This FSA triple crankset offers plenty of gearing options

The TripleEarly mountain bikes used whatever components were available at the time, and at that time it was primarily touring components. The wide range of a triple crankset was also necessary because the bikes were quite heavy when compared to today’s standards and the low range was needed to get those klunkers up the hills. Over time cassette ratios were refined and the gearing on triple cranksets became more compact, with smaller jumps between the 3 chainrings. Most current triple mountain bike cranksets have gearing in the 22/32/42t, 24/32/42t, or 22/32/44t range. A triple crankset typically offers the broadest range of gears, and depending on your specific needs it may be the best option for you. Good examples for using a triple would be large changes in elevation on your trails, riding to the trailhead via the road, or the desire to have a low gear that you can “spin” up the hills with.

This double crankset from Shimano offers a wide spread of gearing and reduced weight

The DoubleBefore double cranksets were embraced by component manufacturers, many riders would ditch one of the chainrings from their triple cranksets. Some people removed the large chainring to gain some ground clearance and because they didn’t need the tall gear that it offered, while others would get rid of the small ring because their terrain wasn’t hilly enough to dictate a gear that low – or they were just strong enough to do without it. Either way it was a compromise and the rider was losing some of the wide range that a triple crankset offered. When 10-speed cassettes were introduced to mountain bike drivetrains, double crankset gearing was optimized and the gear range was expanded to rival that of a triple drivetrain. The 2×10 speed drivetrain offers reduced weight, optimized front shifting, and a minimal compromise on overall gear range. Now that there are options at most price levels, a 2x drivetrain would be a great choice for anyone looking to shed some weight from their bike without giving up much in terms of versatility.

SRAM’s XX1 and X01 systems feature only one chainring and an 11-speed cassette with a huge gearing range

The SingleJust as riders were removing a chainring from their triple cranks, some were going a step further and removing the inner and outer ring and just keeping the middle ring. The reasons were numerous – further weight reduction by getting rid of the front shifter and derailleur, simplifying the drivetrain, and reducing some of the redundancy that comes with multiple chainrings. But like the early 2x adopters, they were compromising the versatility of their mountain bikes. Folks without much elevation change could get by with it, but the reduction at the high and low end of the gear range was significant. Another challenge of a 1x drivetrain is chain retention. Without the front derailleur to help keep the chain in place you need some sort of chain device to manage chain drop. It can be as simple as a road or cross style “chain watcher” if your trails are fairly smooth, but faster, rougher trails require a full-on chainguide to keep the chain on the chainring. The Race Face Narrow Wide chainring design eliminates the need for a chainguide with 1x setup, but you are still left with what could be a less than desirable gear range.

Then came the 1×11 mountain bike drivetrain. Pioneered by SRAM, the 1×11 drivetrain offered the widest gear range for a cassette (10-42t), a narrow/wide chainring tooth profile to manage chain retention, and a rear derailleur with a clutch mechanism that also assisted with chain management by keeping more tension on the chain. This ushered in a 1x option for people actually riding in the mountains and significantly reduced the weight, friction, and noise of the drivetrain. The one caveat at present with the 1×11 drivetrain is cost – the technology is new and hasn’t trickled down to the lower price levels. If you aren’t overly concerned with the cost, there is a viable option for riders seeking a 1x drivetrain who don’t want to limit where they can ride.

Hopefully you now have a better understanding of how the mountain bike drivetrain has evolved over time, the available options, and why you might choose one over another.  If you ride in extremely hilly terrain a 3x drivetrain may serve you well without breaking the bank. If you are a stronger rider who wants better front shifting performance and less weight, you may opt for a 2x drivetrain. Or if you want the ultimate in light weight, less clutter, and smooth shifting check out a 1×11 drivetrain. Thanks for reading and enjoy the ride!

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