Paul Andrews

Posts Tagged ‘Santa Cruz Bicycles’

Mud: A regional roundup of Northern California biking trails

In Mountain Bike Trail Reviews, Mountain Biking on February 5, 2010 at 1:28 am

The Northern California rains of recent weeks have taken a grim toll on mountain biking trails. Erosion is severe in many places. Blowdowns, while not as widespread as might be expected, have kept trail crews busy. And some trails are just plain under water — a rarity for the region, but fact nonetheless.

The practice of riding in the goo has some folks, including Santa Cruz Bicycles marketing maniac Mike Ferrentino, a bit on the dispeptic side.

Riders gear up for Skeggs

Why anyone would want to defile Nature, their pivot bearings, and common sense to ride in this stuff is beyond me. What, they don’t allow bikes in the Calistoga mud baths?

The good news is that in recent days there was a marked shift in trail integrity. We’ve been riding the mid-Peninsula and Santa Cruz areas and can report that most trails were drying out nicely — before last night’s deluge, at least. In contrast to the Pacific Northwest, where we hail from, Cali trails drain pretty quickly. Sun and warmer temps help. But the soil is far more porous in California, at least in most places. Plus trails in NorCal are well built.

Upper Alpine Road trails are hurtin'

Before we get ahead of ourselves, it should be noted that California is not out of the woods yet weather-wise. Rain continues to plague the forecast like a bad case of shingles, coming and going without much notice. El Nino or Nina or Nano, whatever it is, has things all bolloxed up and down the coast. The jet stream continues to play havoc, keeping storm patterns intermittent over the next 10 days and perhaps beyond. Everyone talks about how much the region needs the wet because of recent years’ drought. I have to explain that where I come from we have 121 synonyms for rain and no synonyms for drought. Drought itself isn’t really a word. Saying it sounds strange on our lips, like that clicking sound Aboriginals make.

Bridge no longer over troubled water

It’s a shame to interrupt the trails’ recovery. We rode in Wilder Ranch State Park at Santa Cruz Wednesday and found things in great shape, especially for a rider with Seattle roots. Although the locals (a surprising number were out) complained about splatter, I explained that these trail conditions would be heaven in the Northwest as late as mid-July. Most of the trails were perfectly dry, not even leaving tracks. Only in some drop-ins, post holes and gullies was there surface water. We weren’t complaining.

Eucalyptus, Baldwin and Wilder Ridge loops were in fine shape. A bridge had been removed at one water crossing and there was evidence of erosion on the steeps, but nothing like the blocking blowdowns, fallen limbs and what have you we would find in the Northwest. Zane Grey Cutoff had some issues in a couple of the wetter switchbacks, as did the main lower trail that cuts off from the fire road climb. At one point I wheelied over a wet spot, only to land in the biggest sucking sound since Ross Perot’s flip chart. The bike just door-stopped, dumping me over the side into a grassy bank, laughing like a maniac.

Plastic flap on Baldwin Loop

Baldwin Loop was closed, kind of, with flexi-posts, but the trail was pretty well all dry. The main road loops were dry except in upper flat areas, and even there was just oozing drainage, not puddles.

As long ago as last Sunday, Forest of Nisene Marks above Aptos was equally recovering, although the tall trees and lack of light were retarding its comeback more than Wilder. I mentioned in my Titus Rockstar 29er review that a couple of places were actively running water. But most of the lower trails (riding on the uppers was discouraged by rangers) are bouncing back.

On the mid-Peninsula, Arastradero was in fair shape on Monday, although a couple of shaded trails were closed. (Check the kiosk at the main parking lot before heading out.) Arastradero has great exposure and good drainage and recovers more quickly than most.

A ride up Alpine Road to the Stevens Creek network on Tuesday was less successful. The singletrack off Alpine was really mucky and will take some time to recover. I didn’t make it across Page Mill, but from experience know that the Stevens Creek trail itself gets closed in this kind of weather. Monte Bello has much better elevation and exposure and usually fares well.

I haven’t made it to Skeggs or points north for exploration yet but will try to get to Mt. Tam and Tamarancho this weekend, weather permitting. Bryan at Fairfax Cyclery (a great shop just to drop in and schmooze) indicated that China Camp, Pine Mountain and Mt. Tam trails were serviceable, the exception being Camp Tamarancho, which got a check mark in the unrecommended column. The shame is that the Marin County Bicycle Coalition’s Dirt Bowl fundraiser is scheduled for Sunday. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that Fairfax and environs don’t get slammed too bad beforehand.

As for Wilder, Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz president Mark Davidson was not optimistic and “will probably” cancel the club’s weekly Wilder ride for tomorrow (Saturday). “We don’t recommend people ride wet trails,” he said. Having formerly lived in Vancouver, B.C., where NorthShore sprouts raging rivers this time of year and mountain bikers have to fight off kayakers for trail access, Davidson qualifies as a trusted name in soil integrity. When he says “wet,” we hear “aquatic.”

There hasn’t been a really good stretch of weather in the Bay Area since the turn of the decade. That may sound worse than it really is, but for NorCal it pretty well puts things in perspective. Let’s hope for a turn for the better asap.

Interbike 2009: 29er anyone?

In Bicycle Racing, Equipment reviews, Interbike 2009, Mountain Biking on September 25, 2009 at 12:17 pm

It’s hard to know what to make of the 29er explosion on display at Interbike this week. Most boutique manufacturers are coming out with 29-inch models, and Lenz even was showing a 29er downhill bike — 7 inches of long travel (really long when you consider the bigger wheels) with a 26-inch mod kit for the rear if the big wheel is just too much. Why you’d get a 29er for downhilling and then switch out to a 26-inch rear is one of those great Unsolved Mysteries that will never make the TV show, but it is what it is.

First, a reality check. When manufacturers and PR types talk about the 29er revolution, they’re mixing marginal data with speculation and hope. I have yet to see an industry figure for 29er adoption. There’s another revolution in mountain biking going on, too, having to do with tubeless tires. For loose yardstick purposes, keep the tubeless “revolution” in mind in evaluating the 29er revolution.

I can’t see most downhillers, who are compact guys and gals between 5-9 and 6-0, getting much advantage from a 29er. But someone who did come to mind is the all-time greatest, Steve Peat, a big guy with shoulders broad as Texas who tosses a conventional 26-inch downhill bike around like it was a BMX.

It’d be interesting to have a guy of Peaty’s dimensions (6-2, 200 lbs) try out the 29er DH. Or even the new Santa Cruz Tallboy 4-inch 29er for that matter (Peat rides for SC). If Peat smokes the field riding a 29er then I’d say yeah, we have a winnah!

There’s no question that a 29er is going to roll faster and cover more ground than a 26-inch bike. If downhilling were just a matter of point and rip, then yes, by all means, a 29er would belong in your quiver. But downhill courses are among the most technically demanding racing a rider can do. There’s lots of twisting and turning and braking and railing. It’s a big question-mark whether the gyroscopic advantages of going 29 translate into an arena modeled for 26-inch competition.

Here at Bike Intelligencer, we’re keeping an open mind. We’ve ridden 29ers and like them. We don’t own any. But we have friends who love the things (for awhile; after the honeymoon, most relegate their 29ers to specific trails and types of riding), and who are all over six feet tall. We may yet see the light. After all, we are just a tad over 6-0. And out of the seven bikes we own, one does actually really truly sport tubeless wheels.

Interbike 2009: Carbon rising

In Bicycling, Equipment reviews, Interbike 2009, Mountain Biking on September 23, 2009 at 9:15 am

When it comes to cycling, carbon, which used to be called carbon fiber, which was actually a technical implementation of plastic, is becoming the new metal.

From the early 1990s days of carbon road frames that pioneering manufacturers like Watsonville, CA-based Kestrel and big-name companies such as Look and Trek built, carbon has made inroads into mountain biking as well (Kestrel’s seminal frames included). But frames are almost incidental to carbon innovation today.

At Interbike 2009, carbon bikes still are turning heads (the latest being Santa Cruz’s full-suspension 29-incher, the Tallboy). But carbon accessories and parts are showing up all over as well. And like frames, they’re being touted as stronger than aluminum, while also just as light and durable.

So you’ve got carbon handlebars, carbon seatposts, carbon rockers, carbon cranksets and even forks (lowers in mtb suspension forks). The least expected stunner: A carbon “chain,” actually a belt drive, that supposedly will outlast and outperform its veteran steel counterpart.

Although widely reviewed by test riders on a spot-ride basis, the Gates belt drive jury is still out, simply because so few real-life installations yet exist. The drive cannot be used with conventional derailleurs and is best suited to single-speed setups or an internal hub like the Rohloff. That said, it offers immense maintenance and performance advantages — as long as it lives up to its billing.

Similar claims are being made for other carbon parts, particularly handlebars. Once prone to chipping and breakage, bars today come with strength specs that surpass metal while soaking up hits better and transferring less shock for a smoother ride.

Carbon posts, which early on were flexy and unreliable, have made strides as well, although slippage remains a problem. And hollow carbon cranksets are turning in gram counts that put the shame to aluminum.

But is all the carbon chatter for real, or just industry hype aimed at suckering bleeding-edge types and weight weenies? We went through all this before with the first wave of carbon, which relied on pattern weaves and epoxy, and saw frames shatter, components fail and performance diminish quickly over time.

I’ve had three carbon bikes. The first, a Trek Y-33 bike, was light and stiff and compliant (it soaked up hits well). Its single-pivot design was not the greatest and it sure was noisy (the slightest sound reverberated through the hollow body) but the bike stayed in good shape as long as I had it (about a year before it was stolen). I got a Giant carbon hardtail in 2002 and loved it. It was by far the least harsh hardtail ride I’ve ever had. But the bottom bracket shell separated from the frame after about 9 months, and Giant, which had given up making the frame, replaced it with an aluminum model.

Today I have an Ibis Mojo for high-country XC epics, tipping the scales at 25.2 lbs. It seems tougher and sturdier than previous carbon, and I’ve had no issues in two years of riding. I’ve also ridden the new carbon Blur, which feels downright bulletproof. One thing about the Blur is how the one-piece molding transfers load so evenly, you don’t feel like you’re hammering the bottom bracket. The whole bike seems to soak up hard pedal action.

All that said, carbon is in many ways still too evolutionary to draw hard-and-fast conclusions. Carbon still can shatter, as evinced by Jeremy Honorez’s encounter with a traffic bollard. One doubts aluminum or steel would have survived such an impact either, but let’s remember we’re not talking infallibility here.

A lot of the carbon hype has to do as well with looks. Carbon molding, combined with its innate strength, can add some sexy curves and design innovations to a fork and frame. The press release usually banners the performance advantage, but let’s face it, a cherry design sells. And carbon is offering more design variability than aluminum or steel.

Manufacturers also seem confident about boosting carbon’s warranty claims, as Gary Fisher recently tweeted:

“I get asked ” is there a weight limit on your carbon MTBs?” No and they all have a lifetime Garantiee”

Fisher isn’t alone. Santa Cruz has replaced its aluminum Blur XC line with carbon Blurs (not everyone is pleased), and says its longer-travel Blurs will take any fork without risk of frame breakage. Other manufacturers, including Ibis, are making similar claims. Weight claims are getting downright feathery, with 22-pound builds not uncommon.

Carbon still does not seem ready for burly duty. No one yet is offering cranks for freeride or downhill action. Carbon frames are rare in those arenas as well, although they may be coming. Carbon forks, pedals and wheels also do not yet seem ready for the Big Hit crowd. Innovative Pivot went with a carbon rocker for its long-travel trail bike, the Firebird, but has since begun replacing the rockers with aluminum. The issue supposedly is to permit a coil shock, but you have to wonder whether carbon was holding up under the jumps and drops.

(Aside: I asked a recent mountain-biking acquaintance who works on parts specification for Boeing whether carbon was making any inroads into commercial airline production. He kinda laughed.)

Still, carbon’s future seems bright. While aluminum and steel are pretty much set in their ways and maxed out on specifications, carbon technology seems to improve almost annually. And let’s face it, the stuff is basically still plastic, which means costs should keep coming down with widespread adoption.

For now, carbon is cycling’s miracle drug. It’ll be fascinating to watch it evolve in the marketplace.

Links Links Links

Gates belt drive

Blur LT at Interbike: Carbon, carbon, carbon!