Sunday, July 17, 2016

Mixed Company

Yesterday I went for a ride out at Granite Bay with a few family members. We didn't go far, we didn't go fast, but I really enjoyed myself. Sometimes I forget that it's nice to actually ride with other humans.

Here I am bringing up the rear:

Phillip finishing a downhill:

Joel rocking the fat bike:

Roger (a little out of focus):

Joel in the obligatory distance shot:

Roger finishing up the last climb. Downhill time!

Towards the end of the ride, Roger commented that we were all on different wheel sizes. It wasn't too many years ago that there was only one wheel size. I bought my first 29er in 2004, and I thought it would be the last real technology jump for mountain bikes.

The bicycle industry has come a long way since then, and quickly. You can buy a bike tailored to pretty much any terrain you can think of, and the tire choices are mind boggling. Just when I thought I had seen everything, plus bikes came along and completely changed the way I ride. And surely more great ideas are on the way.

But in the end, I don't think it matters that much. We all rode vastly different bikes on this ride, and everyone finished with smiles on their faces, just like we did back in 1984.


Saturday, July 16, 2016

Medium Rare

Jennifer and I made it out for a somewhat rare ride together on the bike trail yesterday. I'm not sure Jenn has been on a bike at all since our Monterey trip in March. Our schedules make it difficult to ride together, and her preferred exercise is yoga, which she loves as much as I love riding. She always worries about not being in shape when she does get to ride, but she knocked out 25 miles no problem. There might just be something to this yoga thing.

We got a bit of a late morning start, so it was already very hot. Even though the trail is along the river, it always seems so much hotter out there.

OK, on to the pictures. Here Jenn demonstrates the uniquely female response to a camera coming out:

At the halfway point we took a timeout under the Watt Avenue bridge. I thought we might be able to score some dope, but no dealers showed up.

The river is flowing nice and high right now. It won't last.

Preparations for Eppie's Great Race tomorrow:

That's more like it:

We finished up with barely enough time to drive home and get Jenn to her early dinner date with friends. I had pizza and beer at Pete's. Later we had ice cream with our family down in Citrus Heights. Pretty good day in my book.


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Tooth Removal

When I first built my Canfield a couple years ago, I went with a Shimano Zee crank and a 32-tooth Race Face chainring. I had to use an extra spacer on the right side of the bottom bracket so the chainring would clear the chainstay. Consequently, the left crank arm wasn't on the spindle all the way, and the chainline was less than optimal. However, what bugged me the most was the fact that one crank arm was closer to the frame than the other. Asymmetry completely freaks me out! I figured it was only a matter of time before that 2.5 mm of offset caused my hip to explode.

In a completely unrelated move, I bought this M782 crankset about 18 months ago for $99. It features yet another bolt circle standard (96 BCD) introduced by Shimano which allows for a 30-tooth middle chainring. I didn't really have a burning need for it, but the price was right. What could I do? Not buy it?

I figured eventually aftermarket chainrings might be available. The cranks were filed away in the archives and forgotten.

Fast forward to now, and there are a few companies making narrow-wide chainrings in 96 BCD. I chose the Wolf Tooth 30-tooth because it has integrated threads. Unfortunately, it also has integrated spacers that positioned the chainring too far inward. It hit my chainstay.

To the Internet!

I then bought a Blackspire 30-tooth, which fit perfectly.

Now I have a little bit lower gearing, a better chainline, and my hip is no longer in danger of exploding. I can sleep comfortably knowing the Universe is back on its axis; my cranks are now symmetrical.


Monday, July 11, 2016


Hmm, I am running out of "mason" references.

Yesterday I took the Diamondback out to Salmon Falls. The last time I rode there I found the terrain to be a bit rough, so I figured it would be a good proving ground for the 27-plus bike.

The bike is still stock except for new grips, which were too thin and hard for my liking. I also converted the tires to tubeless. The rims were already taped, so it was simply a matter of removing the tubes, inserting the valve and adding some sealant. The tires aired right up. By far my easiest conversion to date. The stock tubes were very thick and heavy, and removing them saved 1.5 pounds. Nice.

Since I bottomed out once on the last ride on a much mellower trail, I ran a bit more air pressure due to the rocky nature of Salmon Falls. Right off the bat I noticed a huge improvement in the way the bike felt even with more air pressure. Tubeless tires simply perform better. Losing 1.5 pounds of rotating weight certainly doesn't hurt, either.

I am having a hard time finding any negatives with the 27-plus platform. It might be a little slower than a 29er in some situations, but I can't even say that for sure. To truly compare I would need to have two bikes of equal quality, and the Mason Trail doesn't stack up to my other bikes from that standpoint. Still, it holds its own.

The first part of the ride is mostly flat trail cut into a steep hillside, with plenty of rocks. It's my least favorite part of the ride, but the fat tires made it much better. Almost fun. On the very first downhill I opened it up and let it fly. I can honestly say I have never gone faster on that section. The slack angles and big tires changed my normal hardtail approach from "picking good lines" to simply plowing over everything. It's a different way to ride, and not without merit.

After some fun up-and-down singletrack comes the grind up Flagstaff, which climbs 675 feet in 1.6 miles. Years ago it was a fast fire road downhill, but today it better resembles a rocky, rutted, overgrown creek bed. I spent much of the first half in the 30x36 gear, but had to drop into my lowest gear (30x40) a couple times. I think for the most part I can get up any climb with the single ring setup, especially with the crazy traction of the plus tires.

The second half isn't as steep or rocky. The view from near the top:

The last steep stretch:

After a paved downhill is the back section, which is a fairly smooth stretch except for all the gopher/squirrel holes. If you've ever ridden a squirrel-holed trail, you know it can be a speed sapping experience. It's here where I noticed the flotation of the tires the most.

As I was motoring along, I caught up to a guy on a carbon fiber Stumpjumper FSR. He looked down at my bike, and the look on his face said, "Did this dude just catch me on that Walmart bike?" Yes. Yes, he most certainly did.

I passed him and he jumped on my wheel for a quarter mile or so. On a slight rise I hit the gas and I heard him gurgle something to the effect of "ughndwuh" and drop anchor. Bye now!

After that you enter a section with twisty, flowing trail. It's slightly downhill and fast. I had a blast testing the limits of traction in the corners.

With two rides now on vastly different terrain, I will say this: I think the 27-plus platform is the future. It's that good. You retain the rollover of the 29er diameter, have similar flotation to the 29-plus tire, yet eliminate some of the 29-plus heft I experience with the Krampus.

The ability to have one bike that can run a fast wheelset (29er) and a bomber wheelset (27-plus) is pretty cool, too. And for the most part you don't lose a lot when running the 27-plus wheels anyway. I haven't tried a 27-plus full suspension yet, but the three-inch tires definitely negate many of the drawbacks of a hardtail bike. It's just enough float to take the sting out of the trail.

More to come. Later.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016


I rode to work yesterday for the first time in two years. I learned some things. First, 38 miles on a mountain bike is a long way. Second, four in the morning is way too early to get up. Lastly, the effects of aging increase at a cruel rate. It just didn't seem that hard a couple years ago.

I rolled down the driveway at about 4:15, lights blazing. I am running 750 lumens on my helmet and 700 on the bars, which is plenty as long as you keep it under 60 miles per hour or so.

I hit the first stretch of dirt in about 30 minutes, dodging the bunnies and hares zig-zagging away from the light-emitting monster crunching though the night. I am not exaggerating when I say I saw at least 50 of them. They were everywhere. It was like a video game.

On the next trail section I got into a groove and only made one small mistake. I was going fast, making great time and having fun.

I hit the Brown's Ravine trail at about the hour mark and it was still dark in the woods. When I emerged only a few miles later the sky was just starting to brighten:

Most of the rest was on the bike trail, and I was OK until about mile 30. At that point I wanted off the bike, and my speed slowed a bit.

I rolled into work with a time of 2:45, about 15 minutes slower than I used to do it. Getting old.


Saturday, July 02, 2016


This morning I swapped out the flat pedals for clipless, taped up the chainstay and installed the GPS mount in preparation for a ride. I have never used a stem as short as 60mm, so the GPS had to go on the bar. It looks weird after always seeing it centered on the stem for so long.

I went out to do a loop in Granite Bay, which is my typical testing ground for new bikes. I parked in El Dorado Hills and rode the Brown's Ravine trail as a connector.

The terrain is mostly rolling with a handful of steep climbs. Soil conditions are sand and silt over hardpack for the most part.

My expectations for this bike were somewhat low considering my experience with the Krampus, a 29 plus bike that is a pondering beast. I figured the Mason would be a blast on downhills and below average everywhere else. Still, I bought it hoping for more.

Goofing around the driveway last night with flat pedals, I thought maybe my assumptions were wrong. It sure felt quicker and more agile than the Krampus, even with the seemingly ridiculous head tube angle.

This morning, once my familiar Time pedals were installed and the seat height dialed in, I immediately felt comfortable. Again, after looking at the geometry chart and seeing the straight post and short stem, I assumed a cramped, upright position. Nope. I was quite comfortable in a familiar seated position. Weird.

On the trail it felt like a bike. I say this as a compliment. Once I hit the dirt I really forgot I was on a brand new bike. There was no learning curve or adjustment period. Hills came and I climbed them. Turns came and I carved them. Descents came and I bombed them. After about 30 minutes, I thought to myself, This is what we should have been riding years ago.

As the ride progressed, and I pushed the bike harder in the turns, I noticed quite a bit of tire squirm. The rims are only 30mm wide, and I really think 40mm should be the bare minimum for a plus sized tire. At the pressure I was running, which provided incredible traction and flotation, the sidewalls were not getting enough support in turns. This would really be my only major complaint with the component choices. In my own experiments with rim and tire width, you simply must use a wide rim to get them most performance out of wide tires.

Everything else worked OK considering the price point. Shifting was perfect. The brakes leave a little to be desired, but hopefully they will improve after more break-in time. The fork is adequate.

It's only been one ride, and I just wanted to get some quick thoughts down, but so far so good. I like it.


Friday, July 01, 2016


The new bike showed up this afternoon and I had it together in about 90 minutes. There are a few cheap components I wouldn't be thrilled with on a $1400 bike, but for $750 I can't complain.

There are a number of technologies I am using for the first time. The wheels are 27 Plus with 110x15 Boost spacing:

In the rear a 148x12 Boost thru-axle:

Boost 148 spacing on the cranks, too, of course:

And, believe it or not, my first hydraulic brakes:

This bike also has a 66 degree head angle, by far the slackest bike I have ever owned. Paired with fairly short chainstays and a long top tube, it will be interesting to see how it rides. The plan is to put it through its paces tomorrow.