My Rides

Monday, January 19, 2015

Demo'ing Long Travel 29ers (and some 650B)

A few things have motivated wanting to retire (probably) my short travel (80mm) 29er hard-tail for long(er) travel full suspension bike:

  1. In California, compared to the Michigan and Illinois, there's a lot more elevation change for most of my rides.  More sustained downhill time leads to more potential downhill speed.  Although the trails aren't that much more bumpy, rocky or root-ey there are longer stretches going down...
  2. So far, I haven't found the same sort of cross-country and/or gravel road races that I found in the midwest.  Most of my riding is adventure or training (for road bike leg of a triathlon).  
  3. It's just more comfy and forgiving.  A little too much speed over a drop - no problem.  Miss the perfect line and hit a rut - no problem.
  4. I love going downhill.  I'm pretty good at it - picking out a good line, keeping off the brakes, keeping my weight back, and just flowing with the trail.

How much travel? 

 I've been thinking about this for a couple of years.  At first I was thinking 100mm front and back would probably be nice.  I'd still have a lighter, cross country bike.  In engineering terms, though that's only 2dB (25%) more travel - an incremental improvement, but not significant for a "full product refresh".  120mm would be solidly over 3dB (more than 40% increase), but can I really carry significantly more speed, or notice a huge difference...

6dB is significant - 2X the travel.  

A few years ago (2011) I rode an Ellsworth Epiphany with 5.5" travel.  The ride included a 3 mile desert rocky downhill.  It just seemed to float down the trail.  I thought about this the other day, as I bombed down a rocky downhill with my wrists taking a pounding - if I had 2X the travel, my front suspension could be set 1/2 as stiff, and I'd barely be feeling anything.  So, I'm starting at 140-160mm (~5.5-6").  

What wheels?  

I've had no issues with 29" wheels.  When the trail is bumpy they're like having an extra inch of travel, and when the trial opens up they're faster cross country.  The first bike I demo'ed was a 650B (27.5er), with 2.3" tires.  

They look nearly as big as big at the perimeter as my 29" wheels with 2.1" tires, and I can't say I could feel a difference (too many other differences), so I'm open to 27.5, but will target a 29er.

First Demo:  Specialized Enduro Expert Carbon 650B 

(noted features are not meant to be complete, but are differentiators that I'm focused on)
  • 165mm rear travel (155mm for 29er version)
    • Cane Creek DB Inline Shock
  • 160mm front travel 
    • Rock Shox Pike
  • SRAM XO 1x11drivetrain with 34T front ring and 42T biggest rear ring
(The first ride is tough to review - not a lot experience so far)

The Front:

I didn't feel quiet the "floating" that I remember from the Ellsworth from a few years ago.  The front shock felt like it had a little "stiction", and didn't feel as plush as I'd like.  I've read a few reviews where the reviewer mentions how great a Cannonade Lefty feels compared to what they typically ride - mentioning a lack of stiction...  When I finished the ride, I noted that the shop had set up the shock at about 10% sag.  I reset the sag to 30%, and did a few A-B comparison spins around the house (comparing the Specialized to my Cannondale).  The Rock Shox felt much better, but the Lefty does seem to be a little more responsive to the small stuff.  What I take away, is that if I buy a non-Cannondale, I will budget for a higher-end shock (assuming the larger diameter, more expensive shocks float a bit more over the small fast stuff).

The Rear:

The rear felt great - maybe a little over-damped.  The bike shop warned me that the rear shock setup was complex, so I left it as it was.  You read marketing stuff, and technical comparisons of rear suspension types, and worry about climbing efficiency (bob), and behavior under braking.  I didn't notice anything I'd object to.  Just seemed to do it's job, with no ill effects - I assume that's the case for all of today's rear suspensions (though I do feel like Ellsworth has a suspension story that resonates most with me).

The rest:

1x11 drivetrain is not something that I would have planned for my bike.  I'm a heavy rider, and I routinely use my 22T - 34T (front - rear) combination (0.65 ratio).  First, I had no idea that they have rear gears with 42T.  Today's ride was mostly short duration, and not very steep climbs.  I could tell that the 34T - 42T combo wouldn't get me up some hills.  I understand that you can get 28T front rings (which would get me roughly the granny ratio I have now).  Given that, the simplicity and low clutter make a 1x drivetrain appealing.  

This bike had hydraulic brakes (180mm front & rear).  I love these.  I've convinced myself that my current bike's Avid BB5 and BB7 cable brakes are "just fine."  They are, but these hydraulic brakes are great.  I had to adjust the reach to be less "touchy" where my fingers just grabbed them (I adjusted the reach closer).  

The 29er was not available for demo, so I took the 650B (27.5).  As mentioned above, they don't look much smaller than my, admittedly narrower, 29" tires.  If you google 29 vs 650B then you see a more significant difference.  So, if I can keep all else equal, I'll stick with a 29er.

Since my last bike purchase, quick release axles have gone out of fashion, and rear hubs have gotten wider.  I'm all in favor.  I can't say I notice the lack of stiffness while riding, if I plop my bike down it goes "twang" and I can see a lot of side to side shimmy as it "rings down" (picture a tuning fork).  I assume this accounts for some energy loss.  This had the 15mm thru axle in the front, and something similar in the back.  When I plop it down, it feels solid, and riding it felt as "stiff" as my hard-tail.

Summary:  Specialized Enduro Expert Carbon 650B

Love the travel, probably perfect as a 29er, with the front shock dialed in, and a 26T front derailleur.

Trek Remedy 9.8 27.5 (again, no 29er available)

  • 140mm rear travel (same for 29er version)
    • Fox .. Float, DRCV, RE:aktiv, CTD
  • 140mm front travel 
    • Fox .. Float 34, CTD, FIT damper (80 lb, final pressure)
  • Shimano XT 2x10 drivetrain with 24:38T front ring and 36T biggest rear ring
This bike felt more "normal" and upright, like my hard-tail.  The Trek has 67.5 deg. head tube and seat tube angles (in "Low" geometry position").  The Specialized had a 65.5 deg. head tube and a 74.5 deg. (effective) seat tube angle.  The Specialized felt tall in the front and I think I know what the term "slack" means.  The 160mm travel Trek Slash would have been far more comparable bike to the Specialized (if the target were 27.5).

The Front:

At the shop I paid attention to the sag - it was set to around 20-30%.  I ended up forgetting to stuff my shock pump in my pocket, but I did pay attention of the first few minutes of the ride.  It felt "sticky" so I dialed the rebound to the minimum rebound damping ("full soft" to use the lingo) - MUCH BETTER.  As I rode, I kept pushing the o-ring (peak travel indicator) down the stanchion.  On fast rutted trail, with the occasional 3-4" step or drop I was using most of the travel.  Over slow descent drops, all of the travel.  I would have liked a little softer, so I think I'm saying I'd like a little more travel (or those 29" wheels).

The Rear:

I think the pressure was set right, but it had that same over-damped feel as the Specialized.  This shock was easy to adjust (not that I prefer that, it just made it easy to play with), so I dialed the rebound damping to the minimum (full soft).  As I climbed, as I'd hit a bump, I'd "boing" up on the rebound, so I kept clicking in a bit more rebound until there was only a tiny bit of overshoot ("boing") - that felt right to me.  In fast descents, where I lift out of the saddle, the damping felt right (I think if it's critically damped for seated, it's over damped for standing).

The shock has CTD (climb, trail, descend) settings, and the shop encouraged I keep it in  trail.  I tried trail for climbing, and on flat ground, but I just kept switching it back to descend.  I can't say I noticed, or had any complaints with only 140mm rear travel.  That may be because of the DRCV (secondary volume that opens at high travel), or RE:aktiv (Penske regressive damping that makes it stiff on slow stuff, but soft on fast stuff).  Regressive damping makes a lot of sense to me.  I've been looking at Koni FSD (Frequency Selective Damping) shocks for my car - the track tests of those indicate faster lap times.

The rest:

This bike had XT drivetrain, with an familiar front derailleur.  With a 24:36 (0.67) low gear, it climbed nicely.  I did use the big front ring, bit not the highest gears (so maybe a 1x11 with a 26-28 tooth front gear would be fine).


The bike used Shimano XT components.  The shifters felt a little cheap and plastic-ey compared to the SRAM X0 stuff (or the old SRAM X7 on my old bike).

Summary Trek Remedy 9.8 27.5:

I think this bike would be nearly perfect, with 29" wheels and more travel in the front.  

Upon return, I told the manager at Epicenter Cycling this.  He proceeded to show me his personal ride, which used a Fox Float 36 with 150mm travel.  The axle to crown height made for identical geometry to the stock bike.  A couple of light pushes on the handlebars seemed to indicate the small bump compliance would be better.  They explained 160mm of travel would void the warranty, as it would change the geometry - possibly enough to amplify frame stresses...  

Santa Cruz Tallboy LTc (c for carbon.  Finally a 29er!)

  • 135mm rear travel
    • Fox Float CTD (240 lb final pressure)
  • 140mm front travel 
    • Fox Float 34 CTD (80 lb final pressure)
  • Shimano XT 2x10 drivetrain with 22:34T front ring and 34T biggest rear ring
This bike also felt more "normal" and upright.  They explained it was last year's demo, and there seemed to be a few creaks and slips of the chain.

The Front:

They set me up at about 30% sag, and the rebound damping was pretty high.  Also, as they exercised the suspension to check sag, it felt sticky and "grungy" (not really smooth).  This was likely due to a year of demo.  What it tells me is that if I want good life out of a shock, the stronger Rock Shox Pike or Fox Float 36 would be a better choice.

Again, on the trail, I immediately backed off the rebound damping completely.  On the same climb (as yesterday, with the Trek), square edge rocks felt round.  The fork had about 30 more pounds of air (110b), and it felt more old and worn, so I attribute this completely to the 29" wheels.

For this ride, I took the "Enchanted Loop" trail, which drops into the redwoods, with rocks and roots, and over a few 8-10" drops.  On the first drop, the front end rebounded a lot.  I dialed in about 1/3 of the available rebound damping - much better.

The Rear:

The rear felt simple.  It didn't really disappear.  It was fine for climbing, and for descending, but I was always aware that it needed a little something.  I ended up dropping the pressure to 240 lb (from 270).  I did find that setting it to climb for climbing, and descend he rest of the time was nice, although I would have preferred to be able to add a little rebound damping and leave it in descend.  A better rear shock would have made this bike better.

After riding the Trek with ABP (Active Braking Pivot) I experimented with braking on fast bumpy descents.  I think I could feel different, but it didn't seem huge.

The rest:

Another XT drivetrain.  With a 22:34 (0.65) low gear.  Not much else to mention.

Summary Santa Cruz Tallboy LTc (carbon):

Nothing special.  Felt a bit outdated.  

Overall Notes:
Jan. 24
After riding the Trek with the regressive damping, I searched for "Rock Shox Pike Upgrade" and read on pinbike that Push Industries offers and upgrade/rebuild that adds frequency dependent damping, and optimizes the valving for the rider's weight.  This sounds ideal.  There seem to be several companies that rebuild/upgrade forks and shocks.

Jan. 25
I've ridden 2 ~140mm travel bikes.  That amount of travel seems fine for the loops I've discovered so far, and would consider the caliber of ride I usually enjoy.  I don't see myself ever falling in love with "downhill" riding - big drops, plowing through rock gardens.  I don't mind a bit of that, but I also like climbing, and fast descending.  So, after a few demos of 5-6" travel bikes, I'm not feeling like I need 8".  However, I do feel like 130-140mm doesn't leave much room to grow - I would like the bike to support me in trying out a few gnarly trails, or saving my butt in unfamiliar terrain without the feeling that the bike is what's holding me back.

I think I'm realizing that the Specialized Enduro 29er is the bike for me.  I chalk up any negative first impressions to inexperience, the front fork being set stiff (and never fooling with damping), and lack of 29" wheels.  On that demo ride, the sag was set to 10%, or less than 1".  Had it been set to 30%, the front would have been over an inch lower, and softer.  The rear suspension felt great, the Cane Creek DB Air Inline shock is extremely adjustable, and the Rock Shox Pike is the fork to have for enduro riding.

The 1x11 drivetrain is cool (simple), and it just seems Specialized has put together the particular combination of features I'm looking for.

Jan. 26
Shock/fork upgrades:

Friday, September 5, 2014

Long Time, No Post

You'll notice that last year my events moved from Michigan to Illinois.  This followed a career move from Detroit area to Chicago area.  I never really clicked with Chicago, and the company I joined was going through a "right sizing" like my former company.

I ended up following the interesting & challenging audio/acoustic jobs to Silicon Valley.  Between temporary housing (including on the beach in Santa Cruz), and travel to China, my event calendar has been extremely sparse.

I have to say that training out here is amazing.  We live in the redwoods, about 10 miles from the ocean.  I can drive 20 minutes to Skyline drive (near Alice's restaurant), or to Los Gatos and have more arid setting.  It's hard to do a ride without climbing at least 1000'.  It's been harder to find "modest" events though.  When you see a flyer for a triathlon, it's usually at least a half-ironman (yeah, yeah, that was supposed to be the goal this year - I just haven't maintained the training workload).

August 2:  Santa Cruz Rough Water Swim

  • 1 mile open water (ocean) swim around Santa Cruz Wharf (29 min)
  • Done in preparation for the triathlon that swims in the same place
September 14:  Big Kahuna Triathlon (Swim, Bike - no run)
  • 1.2 mile open water (ocean) swim around Santa Cruz Wharf
  • 56 mile ride up to Pigeon Point Lighthouse & back
This one felt good.  There were only about 50 people in the start corral for my wave (which included people doing the swim/bike, swim/run, and swim only).  A smaller start group was nice - no crawling over, and being crawled over for the first 1/4 mile of the swim.  I felt my form was good, and passed a few people.  I was surprised to see the turn buoys about 100 yards past the end of the wharf - in the previous swim we turned close to the wharf (so I think that 29 minute time was not for 1.2 mile).  In the 2nd half of the swim I caught some people from the earlier 2 start groups (5min and 10min ahead).  

It was a lonely jog to the bike, and unfortunately I had to stop for a nature break.  That cost me a couple of minutes.  I was pretty casual in the transition, and not as organized as I could have been.  I spent almost 11 minutes in transition - almost 4 minutes behind the median (it was a 1/4 mile from the beach to the transition area).  I should have:
  • got my wetsuit more off on the way to transition,
  • had the gels and tools (for my jersey pocket) strapped to the bike somewhere, so I could step right into my shoes,

The bike felt great.  The forecast called for a slight headwind going North, and a slight tailwind going South...  I flew going North - about 18 mph (flying for me).  I spent 90% of the time on the aero-bars, focusing on efficiency.  Ate 3 gels, and drank a bottle and 1/2.  I started to worry about the headwind going back South - it's tough facing a headwind on a return leg of a ride.  For the first 10 miles, after the turn around, the headwind was frustrating.  It felt like 10-15 mph.  I tried to keep myself on the aero-bars, but at that point I needed 30 seconds sitting up every 10 minutes or so.  My speed dropped to 15 mph or so (middle ring).  

Thankfully, after climbing up from Big Basin the headwind seems to turn into a tailwind again.  Except for the couple of bigger climbs, I kept it in the big (44t) ring, and churned on.   My legs were burning by Davenport with a hint of cramping.  My bike time was more than 15 minutes faster than anticipated - 7% slower than median.  I thing about the best I could have done (until I lose more weight).  

My total time was over 19 minutes behind the median.  There's another race, exact same course, in November.  I think I can easily shave 2-3 minutes off of transition, and 2-3 minutes off the swim - just through training and practice.  That leaves about 15 minutes to close in on a median time.  With a practical limit to training volume (to increase the numerator in power to weight ratio), it comes down to the denominator.  30 lbs should be worth 1.5 mph on the bike, or more than enough to close in on the median.  

Thursday, October 31, 2013

2014 Goals - 1/2 Ironman

There will be more on my calendar than a 1/2 Ironman, but that will be by far the toughest.  I think I've picked my target event - the Henderson, NV Ironman in Oct. 2014.  I sat down on the couch for 5 minutes to think out loud with my wife.  Here's how it went:
  • 1.2 mile swim - piece of cake
  • 50k on the bike - 35 miles - less than 2 hours
  • 1/2 triathlon, that's like 4 5ks - I'll be cramping by the end of the first 5k
So, this fat man needs to become an iron man.  It's clear, I will be spending a lot of time with my old nemesis - the run.  I focused on running this spring - it's the hardest for me, it's the form of exercise that makes the most rapid impact on my weight, and where I lose the most time in a triathlon (different rubber or aero accessories don't help at all).

The only thing my experience tells me postpones the cramping is more miles and more seasons.  With a fall event, I have 3 training "seasons" to run through.  I'll set out to set up 8 week blocks, starting in December, building up my running fitness through base miles, intervals, and jump rope.  I really like jumping rope - all the foot/calf/tendon stress of a 3 mile run in 20 minutes while the kids play.

I have found that I need a break from my minimalist shoes after tough workouts.  While I still don't feel as comfortable in something with a lot of stack height, my feet need something that spreads out the forces to aid in recovery after a high stress workout.  2000+ rope jumps in FiveFingers, or 5k in thin shoes demands the next 2 workouts in something thicker, or my feet start to feel "bruised".

What's most comfortable to wear for a run or hike are either my Vibran FiveFingers or my New Balance MT10s.  Both of those are very thin and flexible shoes.  The New Balance are 10mm thick in the forefoot.  My Altra Superiors are not cushy enough for the next day - they're 12mm in the forefoot, and significantly less flexible.  I tried a pair of Newton Gravity's but they're way too thick (23mm) and/or inflexible.

I've got both the Altra Torin (20mm), and Altra Provision (15mm) on order.  I'm hoping, as road shoes, that they'll be a bit more cushy than a trail shoe (meant for a softer surface beneath).  I think I'm learning, that flexibility may be more key than thickness (or thin-ness).  Maybe I should try Reebok or Nike, but I love the wide toe boxes on Altra and New Balance (wide width) shoes...

More on this as I flush out a training plan, and set up events-on-the-way...

Friday, September 27, 2013

I Love Open Water Swimming!

When I got back into swimming, I started in a pool, of course.  Leading up to triathlons, I made myself move my training to open water a few weeks before.  Last year it was a chore - a little scary, harder to find a rhythm.  

This year, I really focused on smooth breathing, and a good rhythm, and after one tough swim really fell in love with open water swimming.  Going a mile is like going for a long walk - a little tired at the end, but I feel like I could keep going if I stop for a drink.  

I decided to meet up with the Open Water Chicago group that meets most weekends, early in the morning.  I definitely like swimming with a group over plodding along alone.  

Monday, April 15, 2013

...and then there was mud (Muddy Monk Double Down 10k)

Here I come...

Aaagghhh - water!

...muddy water 

(illustrated by random dude)

...and then there was mud 

(scattered throughout, and a solid 1/2 mile a mile from the finish)





Tuesday, March 26, 2013

My first (1/2) Triathlon

I finished strong, and felt good.  Biking was definitely my strength - I kept a good pace, and passed folks on the short steep hills (where I was in the right gear, and they weren't).  Running was definitely my weakness, but I ran at the pace I targeted, and felt good during the run.  I surprised myself that I ran in my Vibran Five Fingers (TrekSport).  I also surprised myself that I swam a few minutes faster than I expected - even though my strategy was to swim as slow and smooth as I could.  Following is the story in more detail:

The day before the race, we went to Bishop Lake State Park to pick up packets, and attend the "newbie" session.  We walked down to the lake and saw the orange buoys marking out the 1/4 mile swim course, and the yellow buoys marking out the 1/2 mile swim course.  Wow!  The 1/2 mile swim looked like a long way to swim.

I decided to do a practice swim to the 1st buoy and back - most of 1/4 mile.  As I made the turn at the buoy, swimming out there all alone, thoughts like "gee:  it wouldn't be good if I gulped some water all alone out here", and struggled through a hundred yards or so of strokes.  I had a brief thought that maybe I should have signed up for a pool event for my first race...

Seeing the setup of the transition area, listening to the "newbie session" (even though they explain what is explained lots of places), really helped.  When the swim started I set out to swim as slow as I could.  Just taking 3-5 slow strokes, taking a breath (or up to 3 while gliding on my back).  As I rounded the first buoy, I started catching people.  Just a few, but it felt good.

When I rounded the second buoy, I thought "I bet it's weedy on this side", and sure enough it was.  I swam sloppy through the weeds - a few strokes with my face out of the water.  A few strokes breathing every other stroke, and then my feet touched.  Out I ran - I noted a few people behind me...

In the transition area, I saw a lot of people that I know got out of the water minutes before me.  I didn't practice transitions a lot - of course I've practiced putting on a shirt and shoes, and I gave some thought to making things efficient, like skipping socks - but otherwise, I just quickly threw on jersey, helmet and shoes, and hit the bike trail.

On the bike trail, I did well.  I rode at a good pace.  Passed a few people on hills, mainly by being in the right gear and being a reasonable bike handler.  The biking felt good.

The weather was supposed to be warmer, so my strategy was to dump a bottle of ice water on myself as I set out for the run.  It was cooler, but I did it anyway...  As I trudged along at my meager pace, several runners offered me salt tabs, or their bottles.  I finally realized, it was because I was soaked - they mistook my evaporative cooling strategy for obscene amounts of sweat, and assumed anyone this sweaty and slow must be just about to keel over...  I kept trudging along, and even had the energy to pick up the pace at the end.  Felt really good.