Trail Report: Kachess Ridge Trail, Easton, WA

KachessTRWhether you’re shuttling or grinding up the gravel road, the singletrack is a pleasant surprise – mixing incredible views of Mt. Rainier, Mt. Stuart and Lake Kachess with alpine meadows, creek crossings and old growth forests. If you’re looking for machine built flow, this is not the trail for you; but, if you’re looking to challenge yourself on steep rooty and rocky terrain that’s flowy in its own right – you’ll enjoy what this trail has to offer.

The more popular route is to ride a clockwise loop that ascends the gravel roads to the singletrack trailhead.  The climb is no joke – a true grinder – ~3000’ of elevation gain, largely accomplished over 4-miles, on compact and loose gravel with varying grades (roughly 10-15% in places), balanced by brief plateaus of relief.

If climbing is not your bag, the gravel roads are accessible by car/truck for shuttling during the summer/early fall.  You’ll want to be cautious of water bars that may create issues with vehicles lacking sufficient ground clearance – you may find yourself high centered if you’re not careful.  And, if you’re any bit concerned with the finish on your car/truck, keep in mind that you will likely find brush and branches that will want to leave a friendly reminder of your adventures on the gravel road.

Once at the top, you’ll be rewarded with scenic views, including the saddle of the ridge that you’ll eventually hike-a-bike to after merging with the central Kachess Ridge Trail.  At the saddle, you’ll descend ~6-7 miles on beautiful singletrack that will test your riding over sections of rock and root mixed with periodic exposure and creek crossings.  It truly is a gem hidden within the cascades.

Thanks to the volunteers and trail crews that keep it accessible…

What’d we ride: Kona Hei Hei Trail, Yeti SB6, Yeti SB5 and a Trek Rumblefish

 

Kachess on Trailforks.com

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Giant Defy Advanced 2 – 1000 km later

A couple of months ago, I wrote a review (more of an impression) of the Giant Defy Advanced 2 (DA2) having put just a handful of rides on it. Since then, I’ve racked up some miles and wanted to give a longer-term review of Giant’s endurance bike.

When the weather has been nice this spring, I’ve had a hard time deciding whether to hit the road or take the mountain bike out.  I love mountain biking, and also have a new mountain bike, but the Defy is such a joy to ride that there are days that opted to go climb hills just so I could fly down them again.  I’d leave the house, tell my wife I’d be home in a few hours, and give the bike its nose, exploring roads and paths I’d never been up before.

I took the Defy on chip sealed roads, bike paths, fresh pavement, into headwinds, out of tailwinds, and up a ridiculous number of hills.  I’ve done 50+ mile rides, and I’ve commuted to work, all 6 miles of it.  I stand by my original review that said it’s all about control.  At no point do I feel out of control on the Defy.  It handles predictably, it lends confidence when getting up out of the saddle to climb or sprint, and the disc brakes make stopping stress-free.  The carbon frame damps all but the roughest road, and I never got home with a sore butt from harsh miles over poorly-maintained county roads.

However, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows (just mostly).  The disc brakes seem to be the cheapest component on the bike, and have already developed a chatter.  The chatter is especially bad in the front brake.  It’s something I’ve experienced in low end mechanical disc brakes before, so it’s not surprising.  I think the bike needs a good set of BB7 Road brakes to elevate the braking experience to the rest of the bike.

I’m also not wild about the wheels.  I understand that for the price point, Giant had to make some compromises on components.  But, they are heavy!  I haven’t geeked out to put them on the scale yet, but I am certain that the rear is heavier than my race MTB wheel.

Of course the racer in me wants to buy new elite wheels, get the BB7 mechanical disc brakes (or even splurge for hydro!!), and go all carbon all the things.  But… then I think about what this bike is designed to do.  It’s designed to be a comfortable bike for long rides over all sorts of roads.  It’s not a race bike.  It’s not a time trial bike.  It’s not even a cyclocross bike.  It’s an endurance bike.

As an endurance bike, I couldn’t ask for anything more.  A 30 mile ride is just a warm up on the Defy.  It is wonderful to ride over any road surface.  It handles predictably.  It is stiff enough that when I get out of the saddle to power over the rise, I can feel the bike leaping forward with each pedal stroke.  In short, it’s the perfect bike for long, meandering spring rides through the hills, summer centuries, fall Gran Fondos, and winter shake-out-the-cobwebs rides.

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Sponsor spotlight: Dumonde Tech

One of our new sponsors for the 2015 racing season is Dumonde Tech.  Dumonde tech makes a wide range of lubricants for bicycles and motorsports.  They were founded in Kirkland, WA in 1985 and started with go-kart lube and expanded from there.

Dumonde Tech logo

 

Dumonde Tech provided the Bike Masters racing team with small sample bottles of their regular chain lube as well as their lite chain lube.  I’ve had a chance to try their lite weight version over the last couple of months on both my road and mountain bikes.  It’s worth noting that Dumonde Tech recommends their regular chain lube for mountain biking: muddy, wet, sloppy conditions.  They recommend their lite lube for road biking, or for dry conditions mountain biking.

The instructions that came with both lubricants is the same: clean and dry chain thoroughly, being sure to remove other lubricants and dirt.  Apply the lube to the chain, then wipe off excess until the chain looks dry.  Dumonde Tech’s literature says that their lube will create a plastic coat on the chain, which will both lubricate and protect the chain.

I disregarded the instructions and used the lite lube on both my road bike and my mountain bike.  Then, I started racking up the miles.  Dumonde Tech says to go by the sound of your chain, rather than the look, to know when to reapply the lube.  My road bike went close to 500 miles before I heard a squeak start.  That’s far better than most lubes that I’ve used in the past.

I was surprised how long the lube lasted on my mountain bike chain, as well.  It lasted through two long rides (25+ miles) in the wet, including a full post-ride wash down.  Most other lubes I’ve used would need to be reapplied after one such ride, especially with a wash.  As a matter of fact, I’ve used chain lubricants that wouldn’t even last through one winter ride in the Pacific Northwest.

Dumonde Tech chain lube holds up very well through the miles.  It applies just as easily as any other chain lube, but lasts longer.  I will definitely continue to use their chain lubricants on all of my bikes throughout the remainder of the race season(s) and update my review as needed.

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REVIEW: YETI SB5

YETI SB5Right off the bat let me say this will be a long-term review of the SB5 over the next three months of riding, or so. The initial assessment is about what you’d think for a bike of this caliber and cost: pretty dang impressive. The focal point is of course is the rear suspension linkage, Switch Infinity, which takes a little to wrap your head around. The way it makes sense to me is to think of it as a car on rails which changes direction about three-quarters of the way through the travel, going from up to down. All of that allows the engineers to design the position of the lower linkage pivot point, in turn dialing in small bump compliance in the early part of the stroke, and big hit plushness towards the end. Blah, blah, blah. But what’s it ride like?

At 26 lbs., it’s no slouch at all in the weight department, although I wouldn’t consider it a flyweight either, but the uphill pedaling platform was faultlessly firm with no noticeable bob while pedaling seated. As for the flats and rollers, the SB5 was playful, rewarding efforts with a point-and-shoot ability. It ate up choppy stuff, and was a blast to slalom through repeated turns. And downhills were repeated rushes: the bike delightfully gripped, and predictably launched.

The Devil is in the Details

I set the sag at the usual 25%, but the rear suspension seems to ride high in its travel. Yeti has suggested that the eccentric pivot of the previous Switch platform used to load up on small, repeated hits. I’m happy to report there’s no such load up on the SB5. In fact, this bike has an almost unnoticeable rebound to it, giving it the feel of ample travel almost always at your disposal. Up front the Fox Factory 34 fork is plush, and there is now an upgrade option for a 36 with 150mm of travel.

One of the more noticeable features of the bike is the grip. The Maxxis Ardent (front) and Ikon (rear) tires encouraged me to go lower and lower in the corners, although they did feel a little heavy. I was curious how much of that grip was due to the tires, and how much was due to the suspension, so I swapped out the Maxxis (what’s the plural of Maxxis?) for some more familiar Schwalbes, and I’m here to tell you the SB5 just stays glued no matter what it’s shod with.

I’ve done a few other nice upgrades that I’ll cover in another article, because, frankly, all this writing about the Yeti SB5 makes me want to gear up and go for a ride in search of some bar-dragging nirvana. See you out on the trails.

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Initial Impressions Review – Kona Big Kahuna and Race Report – Beezley Burn

Sunday was my first race on my new hardtail, the 2015 Kona Big Kahuna, affectionately referred to as “The Big K” here forward . The Big K is a full carbon hardtail sporting a Fox CTD Evolution series fork with 100mm travel and big 29er wheels. I’ll leave it up to the reader to find the full spec sheet on Kona’s website and won’t regurgitate them all here.

All that matters is that it’s light, stiff, and fast!

Right off the bat I refit the Big K with a 1×10 drivetrain. I’m running a XT Shadow+ rear mech, and a RaceFace 32T narrow-wide front ring. No chain guide at the moment, but I’ve been running 1×10 for a couple years now and haven’t had any problems during cross country races. BigKahuna_RedMonkeyI also pulled the tubes out and converted to tubeless (it came tubeless ready). I’m testing out a pair of Red Monkey grips, too.

My race on Sunday was only my third ride on the Big K, so there is still a bit of fit tuning that I need to do on the bike. However, despite my position being slightly sub-optimal, I can tell that this bike is something special. I set the fork to climb mode to start the race since we had a good stretch down the fire road at the beginning.

BeezleyBurnStartAs soon as the firing gun went off, the bike leapt forward, and I immediately grabbed the wheel of the first place racer. We paced together down the fire road for quite some time, until he looked back and grew weary of me in his slipstream and pulled away. I let him go to conserve some energy for the tougher sections of the course. It wasn’t long before we caught up with the riders who had set off a minute before us. I’ve never caught up with the first group so quickly or easily before.

The race course in Ephrata was a rolling, steep, rocky, dry course. It is completely different type or riding that I’m used to on the West Side of the state. I loved the hardtail for all the climbing sections (there were many), and really loved the 29” wheels for the rocks (there were infinite). I had no complaints with my bike choice through the entire race.

During the second lap, my legs and lungs were screaming as I climbed the forever long middle hill. I kept trying the lever for another gear, but there wasn’t one there. I just had to HTFU and get up the hill. I made it up on the bike (no walking here!) but found that I had some issues keeping traction in the loose rocky soil during the climbs. I think I had too much air in my tires; considering that they are tubeless I think I could run them lower for some grip improvement.

I finished a respectable 4th in my class at the race, and very near if not in the top 10 overall Cat 2 racers. The new bike played a big part in that, efficiently converting legs to speed. I need to tweak the fit just a bit…Once the bike is totally dialed, though, I look forward to racing again and being even more competitive.S_Snider_BeezleyBurn_Ephrata

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Review: Crank Brothers 5050 Pedals

I have used Crank Brothers pedals for several years, after giving up on my Shimano SPDs after they clogged with mud one too many times.  I started using the basic Candy 1’s for my mountain bike, then moved on to the eggbeaters for the muddier cyclocross courses.

It was only natural that when I wanted to use flat pedals that I would try out Crank Brothers’ offering: the 50/50.  (Full disclosure: I received these pedals at a discount.)  The 50/50s come in two quality levels, the 2 and the 3.  The 3 is slightly lighter and uses higher performance bearings.  However, the savings of 19g didn’t mean much to me, so I opted for the 50/50 2 since both carry the same 5 year warranty.

I’ve been using these pedals for about 6 months now on my Rumblefish for all of my riding.  I initially had a lot of trouble keeping my feet on the flat pedals, even though the spikes were extended out a good distance.  There were two problems, one of equipment and one of technique.  The first was easy to fix with buying the right kind of riding shoes.  I traded in my running shoes for a pair of flat cycling-specific shoes.5050

The second fix took longer, as I had to reteach myself where to place my feet and how to distribute my weight.  I had the best success when my feet were further forward on my pedals, putting the spindles close to midfoot.  I also learned to drop my heels so as I was going over bumps the pedals would push up into my feet instead of trying to slide backwards beneath them.

After a couple of weeks adjustment period, I felt comfortable on the pedals and was ripping around all my regular trails just as quickly as when I was on the Candy pedals.  In fact, I was taking some of the sections faster, especially bermy stuff and drops.  I had more confidence since I could bail off whenever I wanted to.

However, I have some complaints, more to do with flat pedals in general than with the 50/50s specifically.  It’s harder to start going up hills because I can’t pull up or pedal a full circle.  It’s harder for me to get through slow techy sections for the same reason.

One complaint about the 50/50s is that they seem very thick.  I have way more pedal strikes using the 50/50s than with my Candy pedals.  I also seem to hit my feet more on trail obstacles.  I think I hit my feet more because I’m wearing bigger shoes.

Aside from the pedal strikes, I have really enjoyed the 50/50s.  The adjustable pins are great and provide a very secure grip on my shoes.  The platforms are large enough for even my wide clown feet to feel secure, and they have held up great over the months.  I’ll be swapping them back out for my Candy pedals for race season in a couple of weeks, but I look forward to putting them back on this fall.

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Giant Defy Advanced 2 Review

Defy-Advanced-2-Silver-RTIf I had to sum up the Giant Defy Advanced 2 (hereafter referred to as the DA2) in a single word it would be control.  Control over my speed.  Control over my climbs, my descents, and my turns. Control in the dry, in the wet, and in the wind.  The DA2 is just like the Matrix: all about control.

This is the first carbon fiber bike I’ve owned, but it’s also the first endurance-focused road bike I’ve owned. I have no idea whether what I feel on the bike is due to the material or the geometry, and I don’t care.  All I know is that from the first 15 mile ride home from the shop, this bike has fit me better than any road bike before, responds to my inputs with very predictable outputs, and is an absolute joy to ride.

I can only assume the carbon fiber has something to do with the fact that when I want to lay down the power, I instantly see the response in my speedometer. The bike doesn’t give at all when I crank down, even when I stand up to pedal. It just goes.  Likewise, I assume the geometry has something to do with how stable it is and how confident I feel getting out of the saddle to crest the numerous rolling hills around Maple Valley.

It’s obvious that the disc brakes are a huge boon in the Pacific Northwest.  They offer the best stopping power of any road bike I’ve ridden.  Sure, they aren’t the best disc brakes I’ve used, but they are far better than any rim brake I’ve had, and they are more than up to the challenge of stopping me on the bike in the wet.

Giant wisely chose to put 25mm shoes on this bike.  The tires feel great, very predictable around corners and on some of the sketchier, sandy or graveled turns on the back roads ‘round these parts. The downside is that they are “flat resistant” which is just code for heavy as all get out.  And I’ve already had a flat, so they aren’t so resistant.

Likewise, the wheels are basic.  Sure they have a nice aero profile, but they are super heavy, too.  I feel like the rear wheel weighs as much as the rest of the bike.  But, for the price point, I can’t complain too much.  They will be easy to upgrade down the line.

I originally planned to take the di2 groupset off my cyclocross bike and swap it over to the DA2.  The first few rides using the 105 level 2×11 drivetrain abolished that idea.  The shifting is incredibly crisp and clean.  The rear derailleur seems to find the gear before I even complete the shift.  Shimano has obviously learned some efficiency from their electronic grouppo because the front derailleur effortlessly shuttles the chain back and forth.

The DA2 is so much fun to ride that I’ve been choosing it over my mountain bike for the last few weeks.  That sounds like heresy to some, I know.  But, nothing compares to flying down a twisty road at max speed and carving the corners, knowing my tires will hold and the bike will track true.  Or being able to pop up hills without getting into the granny gear.  Just thinking about it now, I can’t help but smile and lust for the next sunny day to hit the pavement again.

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Cascadia Dirt Cup Announces Marathon XC Race

CDCLovers of lycra get excited as the Cascadia Dirt Cup in partnership with the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance’s Central Chapter has announced a marathon cross-country race in Eastern Washington.  The course is projected to be approximately 60 miles, taking off from the Mission Ridge Ski Resort.  Racers’ endurance will be tested by Devils Gulch and Mission Ridge, some of the best singletrack the Mission/Tronsen Ridge Trail System has to offer.

The race is scheduled for July 11, 2015.

Additional details will be posted to Cascadia’s website.

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Welcome 2015 – 100 Miles in 14 Days

This time of year folks are throwing around all sorts of resolutions…

I’m going to pump some serious iron this year.

I’m going to eat kale-wrapped wheat grass for breakfast everyday.

I’ll be a super-friend to everyone.

The unfortunate reality is that roughly 60-70% of those same well intended folks will fail for a variety of reasons.  But, there are some ways to increase the likelihood of success, such as:

  • publicly declaring your personal challenge
  • making it a SMART (Specific-Measurable-Actionable-Realistic-Timely) goal

By doing so, success rates increase exponentially.

So, to start the year, our team invites you to join us in a cycling challenge, specifically mountain biking 100 dirt miles in 14 days (between January 7 and January 20).  What’s more daunting, the mileage in the timeframe, the short days or the beautiful weather this time of year?

Join us by publicly declaring your acceptance of the challenge and adding comments/updates on your progress.100_14

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