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509 Ambassador Blake Graham Rides the Inaugural Coast to Coast Gravel Event

25 May, 2018

The Route

This point to point gravel race across Michigan clocked in at 212.7 miles featuring over 7500 ft of vertical gain. The race is approximately 90% dirt and forest service roads with the remainder being pavement. There are three checkpoints spaced out so there is one about every 55 miles. The race is crew-supported, but you are only to meet with your crew at the checkpoints or if there is an emergency. The first two sections of the race cover the farm land of eastern Michigan. The second and third sections are predominately forest roads with the exception being the last 12 miles on the way to Stearns park in Ludington, MI. 

 

The Bike

I chose the 509 Jabit III rolling on Velocity Blunt SS skinned with Maxxis Rekon 29x2.6. I used a Revelate Designs ranger frame bag. I kept a hydration bladder in the frame bag and routed an extension house. I then packed what ever food I needed into the remaining space in the bag. I used a top tube bag for quick access items. I also used a Revelate Designs feedbag to house a water bottle, a few rice cakes and a couple packages of shot bloks. My strategy here was to keep as much weight as I could on my bike versus on my back.

 

The Race 

It started with a dip of my rear wheel in Lake Huron at a small marina in Au Gres, MI. Next thing we were all led out for 1.5 miles by Matt Acker. The race began with a large fast group after the lead out. This group stayed together until a crash left a few people on the ground. After the crash, everyone spread out, and I was able to find my own pace. The rolling farmland was rather uneventful and passed quickly. I rolled into checkpoint 1 at about 9:30 am (time on course 3:10, 56 miles).

From checkpoint 1 to checkpoint 2 the course continued through mostly farmland. The climbing began in this section. It was one main climb to arrive at a plateau. This section had some two tracks that took you through remote areas. I found my bike set up to shine in sections that were softer or rough because of the extra cushion of the 2.6” tire. I rolled into checkpoint 2 after 7 hours on course and 104.8 miles. 

After checkpoint 2 my legs felt quite refreshed with the few minutes I stepped off to mix some more bottles with Osmo and refill the bladder in my frame bag. This section led out through some more remote farmland and began to incorporate more two track riding, offering me a slight advantage over those running 36C tire. This part of the course introduced the Manistee national forest(MNF), displaying the best views of northern Michigan. The two tracks became more and more rustic as the race went on. 

Rain leading up to the race left the course very firm and fast in these parts. I encountered almost no other riders once entering the MNF, but if you made it this far you are in good enough shape to make it to the end. Mental fortitude became essential once you found yourself in the middle of the woods without any one to talk to. Riders were funneled out of the forest to the third checkpoint at mile 165, 11:20 on course. 

After grabbing supplies, the last leg began with some more dirt, then forest roads. The last two sections would make good frame work for a bike packing adventure. There are plenty of forest roads that could be followed to no end. The speed seemed to increase a few notches as the two tracks faded. With 30 miles to go I was greeted by Salsa’s Chase the Chaise. I would encourage you to look at the photos (on Salsa’s website) as some are quite comical. One chaise, a professional photography set, a patch, and some charisma made for a cool experience that racers will never forget.

The forest roads continued until the 20 to go marker, where I found myself on pavement. The paved roads allowed me to lay on the bars to give the palms a rest while ditching some of the head wind off Lake MichiganIn what seemed like the blink of an eye, I was cruising up to Stearns park following the final signs of the course. Matt Acker was there to greet racers with a congratulation and some goodies. 

Overall impressions:

The race was a great experience, and I would 100% recommend it to anyone considering. A few take away points would be to practice all nutrition techniques and timing before race day. I don’t think you need to do particularly long-distance rides before the race. I would recommend consistent and structured training along with a few longer rides on your race rig. 

I would say bike selection isn’t too important if it isn’t to completely to one side of the mountain-road continuum. When I do it again, I will use a gravel specific bike on a 40C tire, with aero barshowever, I believe the frame bag set up is the way to go for these longer endurance races.

First Look: Archer DX1 Wireless MTB Shifting

04 April, 2018

By: Pete Karinen

Today I wanted to show an exciting new product I will be testing over the next couple weeks. The Archer DX1 wireless shifter system.

Electronic shifting has been available for a couple years now from Shimano and Microshift. Even Sram has now been working on a wireless mountain bike system. So what makes the Archer shift system special? It can be used on any existing cable pull derailleur!

Unlike other systems, the DX1 uses a chainstay mounted motor that pulls a short cable. This gives a clean wireless look up front and the quick easy shift action you would expect from an electric system. Pair that with the ability to run any derailleur and the DX1 could be one of the best options out there.

Stay tuned for a full report after some testing!

2018 MTB Season Opener-True Grit Epic 100 NUE

19 March, 2018

By: Pete Karinen

The mountain bike race season officially began for me last weekend at the True Grit 100! True Grit is one of my favorite events of the season. Two years ago, this was my first 100 mile mountain bike race. I typically stick to XC style racing but since this one is so early in the season, it works really nicely with my training and it's a fun way to test the early season fitness.

A little about the course:

The course is a two lap format with a little bit of everything, from gravel roads, to black diamond singletrack. Long gradual climbs paired with a couple short punchy climbs brings the total elevation gain to 10,000ft. Winning times for the 100 have been right around 6:45 for the last couple years.

The race:

A police vehicle provides a controlled start from the Santa Clara City Hall to a dirt road about a mile outside of town where the racing starts. The race this year seemed to string out fairly quickly with eventual race winner Taylor Lideen setting the pace.

About six miles into the race we were cruising down a gravel road at 25 mph. Almost zoned out on the smooth gravel I misjudged a corner that was slightly washed out and off camber. Next thing i knew I was on the ground wondering if I could even continue. Besides scrapes and bruises everything was intact so I started rolling again.

After working through a few riders that had passed me while I was down, I made it back onto Taylors wheel. On the very first technical downhill we opened up a sizable gap on 3rd place and rode away from there. We have similar riding styles and worked together for the next 4 hours opening the gap to almost 10 minutes.

Then the problems started... Roughly 4.5 hours in to the race I flatted, then again, then again. Once you start running a tube on the Utah rocks, the amount you can push your riding really decreases.

At the end of the day it's hard not wonder what could have been. I had been feeling great all day and I would have loved to try and give Taylor a run for his money. While I managed to still get across the line for 4th position. Taylor went on to win and set a new course record of 6:39!

I'll definitely be planning to make the trip again next year. If you're into marathon or ultra endurance races, I'd definitely recommend trying this one. They also have a 50 mile option in addition to the 100 which is the same course but one lap.

Interview with Taylor Lideen: 100 mile race winner

Ergon Saddles: Finally a saddle that works for you?

01 March, 2018

By: Pete Karinen 

Saddles are one of the most important factors to all day comfort on the bike, yet almost everyone I know has struggled to find find the right fit and instead deals with discomfort. Maybe this is because it can be an awkward subject to talk about or maybe it's because there are just so many options out there.

The hardest part about finding a saddle that works for you, is that everyone is different. One of your friends may recommend a certain saddle that seems to work for them but ends up being extremely uncomfortable for you!

Ergon has developed a saddle system that can choose a saddle for you based on your body type and needs. They do this with a series of questions you answer. Simple questions like, type of riding, age, frequency of riding, areas you normally experience pressure, and sit bone width are essential to finding the right fit.

If your not sure of your sit bone width, they have a list of measurements you can take to get a good estimate. The best way to measure your sit bone width however is with a sit bone measuring device. There are a couple brands that make these measuring devices, such as Ergon and Bontrager and can be found in select shops.

Of course this all sounds good...if it leads you to the right saddle. So I put it to the test. After using the saddle selector, my ideal saddle chosen was the SMC-3 saddle in a size large (yes large!). Size or width is determined by sit bone width and this is one of the most essential parts in saddle selection.

I've put several hundred miles on this saddle over the last couple weeks, even doing a 7 hour race and back to back long days without ever experiencing any discomfort. This may not be the case for everyone, but I'd definitely recommend giving the Ergon system a try if your'e struggling to find the perfect fit!

If you're right on the edge of sizes, I would recommend sizing up if you sit in a more upright position, and sizing down if you ride in a more aggressive position. This is because effective sit-bone width narrows as you rotate forward.

Cole Win's Back To Back Fat Bike Nationals!

25 February, 2018

This year’s Fat Bike Nationals was a totally different from last year. The biggest difference is that there was snow on the course! The only down fall is most of it was fresh new snow from the night before so it was soft un-groomed snow. This made for a tough but interesting race course.

Cole said at the of the race that his arms hurt more than his legs from all the fresh new snow. Cole ending up pulling of a back to back win on the Ti Jabit III!

A big thanks to Fat-Bike.com for providing race coverage and photos! For a full race report check out the link above!

Tested: Maxxis Rekon 29+ tires

20 February, 2018

By: Pete Karinen

With the introduction of many 2.6 tire options, some may argue what qualifies as "Plus size". To me plus sizes start at 2.6 because at this width you can no longer safely run them on traditional XC rims.

While the Maxxis Rekon is only labeled a 2.6 to start with, at first glance it looks even smaller. On our wide 45mm test rim it measured 2.5 but true to Maxxis tires stretching, they measured a full 2.6 after a few rides.

The reason they look smaller is because the sidewalls are slightly shorter than many plus tires. Less sidewall height means less sidewall flex, and less sidewall flex means Maxxis can get away with a lightweight casing and not have a squirrelly feeling tire.

On a side note if you're interested in running 2.6 tires, I would recommend a rim between 30mm and 40mm. They can be run on wider rims (like the 45mm carbon rims we've been testing on) but this will expose more rim material to rocks. A slightly narrower rim will also give your tire a more round profile for better use of the tires side nobs.

Conclusion: The Rekon was easily one of my favorite plus size tires out of the several I've tested. It reminded me a lot of the Maxxis Icon XC tire. Good rolling paired with great corning and a lightweight but durable casing made it a great all around tire option. An especially good option for anyone that might be racing on plus size wheels and is concerned with weight.

Long term review: Sram GX Eagle Groupset

01 February, 2018

By: Pete Karinen

Back in July Sram released their latest 1X12 drivechain option, GX Eagle. Sram is always pushing to be the first company rolling out new technology. So while their new products may look great I'm always hesitant before spending at least a few months of quality testing. We've had the chance to set up several bikes in the shop with the new groupset and I've personally put several hundred miles on the new GX groupset.

First impressions: Just like XX1 and X01 Eagle, set up can be a little more finicky than most 11spd groupsets. The reason for this is because there is less margin for error with cable tension on the tightly spaced cassette and super narrow chain. This however will only last through the cable stretching period, where you'll constantly be turning the barrel adjuster 1/4 and 1/2 turns to dial in the shifting (usually about 100 miles).

Riding: After a few rides getting it dialed in, the shift quality is actually pretty impressive for a mid-range groupset. The derailleur I've been testing has also taken quite a few hits and is still shifting flawlessly. If you've not ridden the 12 speed Eagle before, you may be thinking the shifts would be choppy with a gear range this big but this is definitely not the case. With the addition of a 12th cog to get you up to the 50t, the shifting was surprisingly smooth with no huge transitional gaps. And the shifter itself in my opinion is actually much more crisp and solid feeling than previous GX 11 speed groups.

Bottom line: After months of testing I have been super impressed with the overall quality and durability for the price! At only $495 for the entire groupset including cranks, it's definitely one of the better options to consider!

      

New! Flex Togs and ESI Cr Fit grips

29 January, 2018

By: Pete Karinen

You've probably heard me say it before, and you'll probably hear me say it again. Comfort is everything. Simply put, being comfortable on the bike allows you to have more fun and ride longer. I've ridden hundreds of different grips and handlebar set ups but these are two products that really hit the mark for comfort and control.

The ESI CR Fit grips are a fairly new product. They use the same material as the popular Racers Edge and Chunky grip but have an ergonomic shape to fit your hand. When they were first released I was riding the standard Chunky grips which I thought were perfectly comfortable and didn't understand the need for a shaped grip until I tried them! The extra shaping of the grip really makes your hands feel right at home as soon as you grab the handlebars.

Another new product in the last couple years are Togs. Togs have become very popular for the added hand positions they offer. Last month they released a new revised version called Flex Togs. Just like the name implies, the tips of the new Togs are rubber which allow them to flex. This gives them more grip and makes them even more comfortable than before.

Tested: Teravail Kennebec 29+ tires

23 January, 2018

  By: Pete Karinen

With the ever growing popularity of plus size bikes we set out to test some of the tire options available. Teravail is a new company that launched in 2017. They don't have a huge line up, but there are a few promising looking options. One of which is the Teravail Kennebec tire. 

I've been riding Teravail's super aggressive Kennebec tire. The Kennebec comes in both 27.5+ and 29+. There is also a durable or light and supple casing option. I tested the durable option and was not disappointed! While it's on the heavy side, it may just be the most durable tire out there. (And let's be honest, if you were overly concerned about weight you wouldn't be riding a plus bike.) Over the last couple weeks I've put several hundred miles on them in Tucson, AZ. (Tucson is known for flat tires)  and had zero flats.

The first thing I noticed with this tire is how well it set up tubeless. The bead was super easy to mount on my 509 Cycles carbon rims and could actually be set up with just a floor pump. This will be rim dependent of course but it's always nice to see.

Ride impressions: In just the first couple miles of trail I was pleased how well the tires cornered and not just because of the super aggressive tread. One benefit to plus tires with a thicker sidewall is better tracking through corners. You may be thinking, doesn't a more supple tire corner better? This is true for most tires (road, cx, mtb) but with the plus size tires, you run such low pressures with such high volume that using ultra light casings can give a very squirrelly feeling. The Kennebecs felt very predictable and offered huge amounts of grip.

Bottom line: If you're looking for an aggressive plus tire and you value durability more than weight, this would be a great option!

                                         

Terrene Studded Cake Eater vs. Wazia Tires

19 January, 2018

By: Joel Augustine

To find a great all around winter set of tires we are testing both sets of Terrene's 26x4.6"120 tpi fully studded tires.          

Terrene has been getting a lot of positive attention this year with the release of the new Cake Eater Tires. Since Salsa released the Beargrease with 27.5 x 4" tires, there aren't too many choices for tires in that sizing, especially when talking about studded tires. The Cake Eater launched a couple months ago with a 26x4, 26x4.6 and a 27.5x4, both in 33 tpi tough or the lightweight 120 tpi. This gives new Salsa owners, Trek owners, or anyone converting over to 27.5" another tire option. It's also another great option for the traditional 26" wheel riders. But how does the Cake Eater compare to Terrene's OG studded tire the Wazia? Let's dig in and see. 

                         Wazia weight coming in at 1669g for the 4.6 Studded.

There are very few commonalities between the Wazia and the Cake Eater. They both share the same 62a durometer tire compound and mould size so both 4" and 4.6" tires are the same width, and both are stud able. But that's where the commonalities end.

The Wazia has taller center lugs that are a bit beefier and more spaced apart to keep snow from packing in and to get the most traction possible. The outside lugs on the tire do have a larger siping for more grip in the corners. The pre studded Wazia tires have a taller stud than the Cake Eaters. Both studs are triple pointed with a carbide tip. We put them to the test in some freezing rain that turned into a freeze thaw and the studs came in handy! The Wazia studs do dig in better on climbs and cornering. I've been going back and forth on each tire doing loops at our local trails and swapping bikes each lap. While going up one steeper section of ice, I was slipping a bit on the Cake Eater Studs but the Wazia's dug right in and kept chugging! 

                   Cake Eater weight coming in at 1565g (minus 50g for packaging).

The Cake Eaters have lower center knobs that are closer together for less rolling resistance. The studs are still triple pointed with a carbide tip, but they sit more flush with the tire. For most icy conditions the tires hooked up great. When riding on a frozen pond I had no problem with traction. However, I did notice a little slipping on certain corners and up hills on some single track trails. I never felt out of control with these tires, but just noticed a slight slip here and there. Being 100g lighter per tire there has to be some give and take. I think the perfect tire combination would be to put the Wazia taller studs into the Cake Eater's.

 

Both of the tires from Terrene went on the rim pretty easily. We had them on the HED B.A.D rims and the Sun Ringle Mulefut rims. There was that really great balance of ease of putting on and ease of setting up tubeless right out of the packaging. Some tires I really struggle with setting up tubeless right out of the box so it was great to have no issues with either set of these. Since then I installed 3 more sets of Terrene fat bike tires and they all had the consistency of ease on to ease of tubeless. Both tires also do have a real nice tire compound. Even running around 2-3 psi the tire doesn't auto steer and they roll supple without the plastic feel or feeling they are so thin that they'll pop off the rim at that low of tire pressure. 

Both The Cake Eater's and the Wazia do hold up to being great all around tires. I found the Wazia is the more winter-core tire while the Cake Eater is a great year-round tire. The bottom line for these tires is it depends on how your local trails conditions are and how well they are groomed. Another consideration to keep in mind when deciding which tire to use is whether you put your fat bike away when the snow melts or if you use it all year long.

Look forward to another review on the 33 tpi tough version of the Cake Eater, which is also tubeless ready with a flat stud in the tire to make them more affordable.

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About the author : My name is Joel. I pretty much ride anything on two wheels and have a pretty bad bike addition. I've been riding mountain bikes for the past 6 years and been racing Cat 1/Cat 2 for the last 2. Future Plans : Race less and ride more. Tour Divide. Get more butts on bikes!