Bigger is Better

Because this is America and because we’re talking about riding dirt (and gravel) we hold the following to be unquestionably true: Bigger is better. With that truth in mind, I recently acquired a pair of WTB Nano 40c tires.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, I plan on riding the Oregon Outback in May.  My current theory is that the Nano 40s with their rounded tread profile will be the optimal tire choice for the Outback.  Not a full on mud tire-, not a file tread, but somewhere in the middle.  And big. A 40c monster that I plan on running in the neighborhood of 35-50 psi (depending on conditions, naturally).  A tire that will do as told if you happen to get rained on in the middle of your back-country and the going gets muddy. A tire that will roll obediently along on certain obligatory stretches of pavement en route to your next fire or gravel road.  Or so these are my expectations, given the specifications of the tire. I will be testing the tire on a comprehensive pavement, trail and gravel route to see how it performs through the terrain spectrum.  Until then, I wait eagerly.

PS – To those curious about the test route:

I’ll start in Seattle’s Central District and ride out East to Issaquah, where I will pick up the Grand Ridge trail from the Duthie side, ride the gravel path to its end, then turn around, returning via Grand Ridge, then through Issaquah, meandering back West till I get back to the CD.

The Best Rig for the 2015 Oregon Outback

For a ride such as the Oregon Outback you’re gonna want a bike that can take a beating (and not pass the beating back to you), brakes that will give you control through the rough stuff, and fat tires.  Like really fat tires.  But you don’t want a mountain bike, ’cause you wanna go fast (they don’t call it a race, but let’s face it, it’s a race).  So this means something with drop bars.  And as any alpine climber worth his salt will tell you ‘speed is safety,’ so forget the fully loaded bike with front and rear racks and panniers.  For portage, a handlebar bag, seat pack (something like this or this) and maybe a frame bag. Maybe. Enough room for a jacket, an extra layer, chain lube, food, etc.

The bike which I am describing is of course, the Lynskey Cooper with disc brakes and 650b tires (the Compass Babyshoe Pass 42c’s, to be exact).  The ti frame and Whiskey carbon fork lightens things up a bit, while also providing a balance of comfort and stiffness ideal for covering a lot of ground in a little time while not doling out extra wear and tear on your body.  The chainstay clearance on the Cooper allows for fat tires, or slightly less-fat tires with fenders. Which brings me to my next gear choice: no fenders.  I’m sure there are those who would lament my decision to forgo the ol’ mudflaps on such a ride, to whom I would reply simply, “Ira Ryan“.

Disc brakes for a gravel/dirt road ride (read: race) seem like a no-brainer and the Lynskey Cooper is specced just so.  Jerry (the bike’s owner) built his up with the TRP HyRd’s.  There were issues in the past with the HyRd which TRP has since resolved in a later model of the brake.  The pull is a little long with Campagnolo levers but when it bites, it really bites.  If you can get used to the feel of the brake, it’s a great option for drop bar levers.  Their reliability and increased strength as compared to a linear-pull or cantilever brake make disc brakes a definite go-to for the Outback.

This is hands down my ideal setup for tackling the 360 miles of Oregon backcountry come next spring. To sum it up: Lynskey Cooper, 650b, disc, Compass Babyshoe Pass 42s.  The backbone of the perfect gravel-grinder-monster-cross-drop-bar-mountain-bike, whatever you choose to call it. My perfect tool for the job.  And after all that to-do I’ll be detailing what I’ll actually be riding as we get closer to the ride!

(Planning) on Going Down Under in the 2015 Oregon Outback!

I may be a little late on this one but info on the 2015 Oregon Outback is up! I first heard about the ride from Jan Heine’s account of the ride in Bicycle Quarterly earlier this year.  I was immediately determined to do the ride this coming year.  Why do a 360 mile rando-style ride on the road when you could do it (mostly, 75% to be exact) on gravel and fire roads!?  I’m all for getting on dirt whenever possible and the route sounds like too much of an adventure to pass up.

For those who haven’t heard of the ride before, the Oregon Outback is a 360 mile ride in the backcountry of the Beaver state, starting in Klamath Falls in the south and ending up north above the Deschutes River.  The route links up dirt and gravel roads, with the recommended tire width being about 2″ knobbies.  Upon first hearing about the ride I thought to myself, “But damn, I bet registration’s pricey.”  This is one of my favorite parts about the event; because there is absolutely no support whatsoever – no sag wagon, no assistance with injury or mechanicals, nothing – it’s totally free.  There isn’t even registration.  Just a start time and an awesome route.  All you’ve gotta do is show up with a bike and turn the cranks over (and then ride 360 miles). Which brings me to the next issue: what kinda rig do I whip for a ride like this?? And how to tackle the distance? One big push? Take it easy and camp? Everyone’s got their ideal tool and strategy for a job like this; post your ideal ride and approach in the comments!

There’s a bicycle I believe would be perfect for the application that occasionally lives in the shop that is begging to be ridden in the Oregon Outback.  Expect a profile of the bike and why I think it’d be the best for the task later!  To be followed by a reality check and what I will actually be riding (to be clear, a bike I’m equally in love with).

Stay tuned!

For My Fellow ‘Cross Junkies…

…there’s a new CX Hairs video out! This time it’s not Sven but Marianne Vos we get to watch put on a clinic on ‘How You Should be Riding Your ‘Cross Bike’. And for those that don’t know, CX Hairs has been keeping us here in the ‘States up to date on the ‘cross scene across the pond and providing excellent commentary and race breakdowns since 2008.  So for those of you who plan on racin’ into January (I’ll see you out there!), enjoy the video and get stoked for the weekend! PS — For those planning on puttin’ the CX machine away ’til next season stay tuned for a walkthrough of some simple things you can do to make sure you don’t pull your ‘cross bike back out only to find the headset is crunchy, your bottom bracket is seized and hub bearings shot.

Race Report: Cross Revolution #6 – Gateway Park, Gig Harbor

This Sunday’s race was the last in the Cross Revolution series (the series formerly known as Seattle CX).  The course this weekend was simple; relatively flat with a short, punchy uphill on the back side followed by a fast descent, a run-up with a couple barriers, another fast descent on which you were sorry if you didn’t commit to the rut, and a tricky downhill, off-camber left-hand turn (which you could really rail if you unclipped your left foot). Nothing out of the ordinary there.  It was the frozen, uneven ground that made this course the sufferfest that it was.  The below freezing temperatures ensured that no matter how many riders plowed through, there was no smooth line that developed on the day.  The pain we had the good fortune to experience this weekend was one you experienced throughout your whole body – there was no resting or carrying speed after a downhill through the flat sections.  It took constant adjustment and using your core and arms to keep from getting bucked out of the saddle by a rogue pothole (I found that trying to ride it like a rhythm section, pumping through the depressions, helped to keep speed up).  The next morning my arms, back and abs were screaming at me just as much as my legs.  it was a good day out at the races.

Race Testing FMB’s Gripo XL

There is no shortage of ‘Tubular vs Tubeless vs Clincher’ articles out on the internet right now, especially since we’re in the thick of the ‘cross season, but I’d like to toss my hat into the ring.  I’m not too particular to the marketing-speak of the bike industry and I’ll try to keep the tech jargon to a minimum and focus on the real world feel and performance of the tire. So with that long-winded introduction I’ll keep my review brief: Hot damn. Having raced clinchers for all of this year’s ‘cross season until this weekend I say with confidence that the difference is real.  I felt considerably more confident being aggressive in the muddy, off-camber corners.  The suppleness and compliance offered by the latex tube inside the Gripo equals pure, unadulterated shred through the technical sections. They give visceral feedback, assuring you, “We’ve got you.”  They produce an audible ‘hum’ that lets you know exactly when you’re on it and when you need to “Harden the Fuck Up” (Rule V).  If you’re looking to start upgrading your race setup, skip the carbon and get on a set of tubulars.

(And if you’re still on the fence just ask this guy. Or this guy.)