First Impressions: Swobo Otis

By Stephen Haynes

In my first month or so on the Swobo Otis, I’ve come to enjoy this bike’s understated aesthetics and ride. This aluminum bike has a lot of functionality and a compliment of modern conveniences at a price ($800) that makes it easy to love.

Smaller, 26-inch wheels make for quick acceleration and nimble handling in traffic or on crowded mix-use trails. A Shimano Nexus 3-Speed hub provides enough range to get up and go from a standstill and stay at a respectable cadence before spinning out.

Rear rack mounts have come in handy and have made the Otis an easy choice for mid-week grocery getting. While I haven’t yet had two fully loaded panniers on the back, the bike hasn’t lost any zeal or handling ability with small loads.

The Otis gets up and over most hills in my neighborhood really easily. I could say something about wider bars, or more gears, but I think that would be silly. This bike provides enough of a low gear to be more than capable in most uphill situations, even with a case of beer tied to the back.

A simple, silver paint job and lack of flashy graphics will appeal to those who wish to remain incognito while out and about, yet will inspire the sticker whores of the world to go berserk. Look closely at the Otis though, and the Swobo branded items become clear, tastefully gracing a few select parts.

 

I’m enjoying my time on the Swobo Otis and I look forward to the rest of my review period. Check out the full review in an upcoming issue of Bicycle Times.
 

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First Impression: Lynskey Viale

By Adam Newman

Titanium occupies a rarified field in the world of cycling: it’s at once both old-fashioned and high-tech. Bikes built from the lightweight metal strike a classic silhouette and earn allocates for their unique ride quality. But it’s cutting edge as well, with modern methods of forming bringing about ever lighter and stiffer frames.

Lynskey has been on the forefront of titanium for more than three decades. The family-run contract business didn’t even make bicycles until one was built as a side project. Fast-forward a few decades and Lynskey‘s Chattanooga, Tennessee, factory is the largest builder of titanium bicycle frames in the US, both under their own label and for several other brands.

Titanium is, of course, an expensive material to work with, not only for the cost of raw tubing but for the additional time and tooling it takes to turn those tubes into bicycles. Bending, butting and shaping the tubing is all exponentially more difficult with titanium than steel, thus adding to the cost. (See how advanced it can get in our sister magazine, Dirt Rag.)

Lynskey’s latest bikes attempt to level that playing field. The Silver Series uses straight-gauge tubing, without any fancy bends or shaping, to keep costs down, but they are still "Made in Tennessee, Built To Go Fast.". The three road and two mountain bike models are just $1,299 for a frame. That’s less than many American-made steel frames.

The Viale is the commuter or light tour model that can handle a little of everything. The frame is built with a little extra room for larger tires (700x30c) and fenders, and even has rack mounts. The brakes are mid-reach calipers, and mount to a Bontrager Switchblade carbon fork out front. For $2,600 you get a Shimano 105 build kit with Shimano wheels, a compact crankset and an FSA cockpit.

Pictured here are a set of one-off, prototype titanium fenders and a rack that are not included, but Lynskey wanted us to give them a good thrashing to see if they work in the real world (so far so good). Want a set? Sorry, no word yet on if they’ll make it to production.

Anyway, the Viale has all the attributes I look for in a good workhorse bike. The geometry is relaxed enough for all-day rides or randonneuring and the larger tires and geometry make it far more versatile. If you want to jump into your weekly paceline ride, ditch the rack and don your lycra, it’s ready to go.

The ride quality reminds me of classic steel: not too stiff, not too soft. The frame feels a bit more lively than I expected as well—none of the muted vibe you get from chromoly but instead with a zing more like an aluminum frame. 

Look for my long-term review after some long-range rides in an upcoming issue of Bicycle Times. Subscribe now if you want to read it.
 

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Salsa unveils carbon fat bike and updates Fargo

By Karen Brooks

Between their excursions to “adventure by bike,” the folks at Salsa have been busy making improvements to their stable. We recently covered the 2014 Horsethief and Spearfish, which both got the Split Pivot treatment. At SaddleDrive in Snowbasin, Utah, they also unveiled a host of other changes to the 2014 model lineup.

Beargrease

First up is a bike that is truly fat, yet weighs less than its brethren: the Beargrease Carbon.

The geometry has been tweaked to essentially “feel more like a mountain bike” and also shift the rider’s weight rearward, via shorter chainstays and a new Whiteout carbon fat fork with 51mm offset. Salsa says this also serves to get a better steering response in snow, keeping the front wheel from pushing sideways and allowing it to be guided around a turn.

It will come in an XX1 or X9 versions. The XX1 is pictured here, with sweet graphics in bright green on matte black. It will also sport the Alternator dropouts (pictured below with the Fargo). The Beargrease’s path is diverging further from that of the Mukluk — becoming even more of a dedicated snow racer, while the Mukluk is for exploring at your own pace.

Mike Riemer, Salsa’s marketing manager, let it be known that the bike is suspension-corrected for a 100mm travel, 51mm offset suspension fork for fat wheels, something that doesn’t exist — yet. A full-suspension version could also possibly appear someday…

The complete bike weighs around 26lbs., pretty darn light for something that looks so… substantial. I got a chance to ride it a bit on singletrack, and really appreciated its weight savings over other fat bikes — between that and its improved handling, it felt kind of like it was filled with helium. If I had one, I’d love to set it up tubeless for ultimate float.

Fargo

Next is a bike that started with a cool concept and just keeps getting better: the Fargo. The new version looks and feels like a cohesive package.

The Alternator dropouts are a rocking type that give 17mm fore-aft adjustment. Different plates will be available to accept a standard quick-release, 142x12mm thru-axles, or Rohloff hubs, and also for dedicated singlespeeding. Note that the non-drive side has just two bolts—the top one is also one of the brake caliper bolts.

 

The fork is a new carbon one, called the Firestarter, and the frame is corrected for a 100mm suspension fork.

 

The Woodchipper handlebars felt natural and right on this bike, as did the Cane Creek Thudbuster seatpost. I didn’t get to ride it nearly as much as I wanted to (right on across the state and beyond), but the little bit of dirt and gravel I did experience left me impressed.


 

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James Olsen recounts his Tour Divide adventure

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Editor’s note: We were tipped off to this story by Jeff Jones, creator and namesake of the Jones mountain bikes. Olsen rode his Jones 2,858.75 miles to finish fifth in the 2013 Tour Divide from Banff, Alberta, to Antelope Wells, N.M.

I didn’t ride quite as far, but you can read my first impressions of the Jones bike here, and a long-term review from our sister magazine Dirt Rag here. – Adam, online editor.

Words and photos by James Olsen.

Just over a week ago I arrived at Antelope Wells after 17 days and about 5 hours of the most intense riding experience of my life. I’m back at home now, I’ve been meaning to get something written down for a few days and it’s only now I’m starting to accept that it’s in the past, no longer waking in the night feeling that it’s time to get up and roll along the trail for a while, warming up before settling in for another long day in the saddle. The Tour Divide was everything I went out there for, it was beautiful, intense and at times almost crushingly hard and it got the best out of me.

Firstly, my bike and kit. I bought a Jones Titanium Spaceframe a couple of years ago and it changed my riding. Really, this wasn’t just new-bike love. Longer rides went by in comfort, the handling was addictive and motivated me to ride almost every day and the comfort meant my rides got longer and my fitness improved noticeably.

I bought a steel diamond frame with truss fork for holidays and bikepacking trips and found it was the perfect tool for the job. Comfy and efficient but also a huge amount of fun downhill—a bike-packer ride that wasn’t ever dull or a compromise when we found unexpected gems of trails. Not once did I think “If only I had my susser here…” on those trips. For the Divide there really isn’t a bike I’d have felt so confident in.

I used my steel diamond frame for the frame-bag space and the Ti truss fork for less weight–it all counted. The Velocity P35 rims let me use my tires at maybe 17-18 psi at times when the washboard roads were beating me up, or simply when I wanted to roll more easily along the rougher trails. Others were sticking to 40+ psi and thinner, lighter rims and I think I had an advantage there. I’m certain I was getting less beat up than other riders.

I used Geax Saguaro 2.2 tires that do roll very well and work well on both loose or hard ground but I think a bigger tyre would have been a wiser choice. Fast-rolling 2.4 tires aren’t so widely available but perhaps the tread is less important at lower pressures. On the roads an Ardent 2.4 at 40psi would’ve been slower than the Saguaro, but on balance it may have been faster or comfier over the rougher sections. I saw a couple of Surly 29×3.0 Knard-equipped bikes on the route and eyed up their tires enviously.

A Ti Loop H-bar was the perfect bar for this kind of ride, plenty of space for lights, computer, route maps etc as well as the grip options. A good number of racers were using them this year.

I used a single 34t oval chainring and a 12-28 six-speed modified cassette on a Hope singlespeed hub, using three single-speed cogs and three Shimano cassette cogs stacked up. This was a really hard-wearing combo in the gears I used 80 percent of the time (16, 19 and 22 rear) and I was confident 2,800 miles wouldn’t put too much wear on them. The shifting wasn’t as slick as a normal cassette but it was ok, like a singlespeed with a few options either side of my usual 34-19 ratio.

The straight chain line and front single ring would have been a benefit in the infamous Divide mud, but it was my downfall on a fast road section at the end. A triple may have been a wiser move, certainly if I’d known it was going to be generally so fast and dry I would have fitted one. Shifting was done by a bar-end shifter with a Paul Component mount and I used XTR v-brake levers on BB7 brakes with 160mm and 180mm rotors. Pre-greased cables were a little sticky at first but ran smooth the whole way and I only used one set of pads. My wheel set uses the same spokes throughout so I only carried 2 spare spokes. All my kit came to around 11 lbs., just under 2 lbs. for my sleeping kit on the bars, 3 to 4 lbs. of clothes and waterproofs in the seat pack, the rest was a camelback for food and water and in my frame bag that had extra space for a full 2-liter water bladder if needed.

As for the ride, the Tour Divide isn’t that well known outside mountain bike circles but the number of entrants has increased sharply the last few years and blue-dot watching (trackleaders.com) has added a new spectator dimension to races like this. This year there were 140 or more of us, mostly gathered at the YMCA Lodge in Banff on the morning of June 14, heading south.

I guess most of us had discovered bikepacking in recent years, seen “Ride the Divide” or read Jill Homer or Paul Howard’s books and been hooked on the idea. Some had been planning the race for a couple of years, others for less time. I fell into the “less time” group. At New Year’s I decided I wanted to do something committing on the bike and the Tour Divide was big and exciting enough to really motivate me (fear is a good motivator I found).

Multiple-race-winner Matthew Lee’s posts on Divide racing attitudes and ethics on a forum clinched it for me, it was a race that seemed to appeal when racing rarely does so. For five months my spare time was focussed on little else. There was no race experience in my past to base any confidence on but I had done plenty of reasonably long rides and bivi trips in the past. I feel at home when alone and outdoors and I love sleeping under the stars. I felt confident in my self-sufficiency and felt that I could answer a reasonably confident “yes” to the “Are you up to this?” check-list on the Tour Divide site. Or at least, ‘yes, after some preparation’.

I also had found the perfect bike for my long rides and overseas trips in my Jones bike. What I needed to do was get myself in shape for the demands of the race, finalize my kit and decide on some kind of strategy.

I wanted to race in a certain style, influenced by what I’d read about the original Great Divide race and Matthew Lee’s approach to Divide racing. I really wanted the Divide to be a tunnel that I entered into with the only way back to home comforts being the finish line, or retirement from the race. That meant (to me) racing without a phone or GPS, being 100 percent reliant on myself for bike servicing or repairs and I wanted to sleep out trail-side every night and find a rhythm that worked with daylight hours and my body clock to maximize rest or minimize physical and mental disruption.

The Divide route was to be an open-air experience and roofs were off-limits between start and finish. I think a few more storms would have tested that aim towards the end, but I’m happy that the stormy nights were times when I pushed on out of town in the evenings, set up camp in the dark downpour and lay safe under my small tarp as the lightning lit up the fabric every few moments. Other nights, the storm threatened, tested my resolve then backed down and let me rest with only a light drizzle that couldn’t disturb my coma-like sleep.

Before the race I said that these ideals or ethics may cost me a few places but racing style was important to me, I had some kind of “clean, onsight” kind of climbing ethics in mind that could only really be done once as a rookie on the route. Ask me about ethics after I mis-read my cues again or rode miles past a turn and spent a stressful time uncertain whether it was the right one and you’d have got a different angle on Divide racing! GPS is a good thing if you want to go fast and phones are a faster way to find out about fire diversions, but adventure and uncertainty is also part of the experience.

I think I had a couple of advantages in the race that made up for a lack of race experience and helped keep me in the top five most of the race. One was being happy to sleep trail-side anywhere and in almost any weather which saved me time, the other was having reliable equipment. I was confident in my bike and gear as I’d used it in roughly a Divide’s worth of distance of bikepacking and touring trips before without a single issue. Some of my kit was fairly new but simply a lighter or simpler version of what I’d used before. Some other things I’d do differently next time having completed the race, but that’s always the case with an experience of that magnitude.

The training went well and I enjoyed the long overnight and weekend rides I did in preparation. By the time the race came around I was nervous, scared almost, but raring to go. If you love long rides and existing with the minimum of possessions the Great Divide is a wonderful place to be. Remote in places but rarely dauntingly so, it’s a route where you’ll often feel very small under dramatic skies and expansive views. The feeling of open space is simply huge. If it wasn’t a race there would have been times when I would have got off my bike and just sat or stood in the middle of these great spaces, trying to take it all in. But it was a race and that added a pressure I never predicted.

I’d ended up in the top 10 on day two; when Billy Rice (a northbound rider nearing Banff, who would then turn around to ride south, completing the first TDR double last week) stopped to say hi and tell me there weren’t many ahead of me I realized I was making my way towards the front of the field. After that there was no letting up, I wanted to do well. If I was going to be happier at a slower speed I could tour the route another time.

Naturally I found myself close to other riders on different strategies and with different strengths but the Divide evens things out soon enough. Racing so closely with Alex Harris for over 2,000 miles taught me a lot as well as stretched my ability and my mental strength, I found I could pedal longer and harder than I expected but the lack of sleep and need to compete with a very experienced racer/adventurer was tough, it wore my nerves down at times but it also stopped me slipping into default tourer mode when I felt tired or close to being beaten by the scale of the route.

I don’t think we were ever more than a few hours apart and all I could go on were tire tracks. If there weren’t any signs of Alex’s tire tracks ahead of me, every time I stopped for any reason I was looking behind me and the pressure built. I learned soon after riding with Alex for the first time that he had experience and a source of strength that I would find it hard to compete with when things got difficult, and it was simply a case of when that happened, not if it would.

Things got difficult after La Manga pass, going into New Mexico. Alex and I were low on food but had eaten well in Platoro, 30 miles or so earlier. We were headed into the first of New Mexico’s wilderness stretches, the Cruces Basin, a very beautiful area that we first saw through rain and a fog of hypoglycaemia as we separately tried to make 800 or so calories each last well over a hundred miles of mixed ground. At times it was among the hardest terrain of the route and all of it was at high altitude.

We both knew it’d be hard as we went in, we’d briefly debated the wisdom of going off-route for 30 miles for food or the ethics of hitching off-route. I didn’t want to hitch or delay but I also wanted food. I remembered Aidan Harding’s comments about considering how a racer-to-be would feel when much-needed resupply points were closed, leaving another half-day’s ride to the next point. I thought it was something I could cope with.

Bravado was called out as Alex decided to head into the wilderness. I think the racer in him knew it could be a pivotal moment in our two-man race. Maybe he was just calling my bluff, I don’t know. But I had to follow. As I pushed uphill in the rain to save what little energy I had only ten miles in, he slowly rode away and I felt alone for the first time in the race. I’d enjoyed riding alone for so many miles before that and at times I wanted to break away from Alex simply to ride alone again, but after the first week’s fatigue I wasn’t up to putting more than relatively brief, almost futile gaps between us and I also enjoyed his company.

The Divide racers’ dilemma perhaps, you need a strong head to race the entire route solo, refusing any company. Further up the trail I found half of the small bag of trail mix that a couple on quad bikes had given us earlier. Alex had split it and left it clearly on the trail… “This really was half, honest! : ) ” it said on the bag. Riding alone was losing its appeal, tough times are better faced as a team but this was a solo race and more so now than before it really felt like a serious, solo race for me.

Dark, irrational thoughts closed in and I thought I may end up losing a few places as I walked, then stumbled, for miles and miles to the next potential food supply but my decision had been made and only I could affect the outcome or take the blame.

It turns out that years of long rides and often-poor pace management had taught me a lot about managing “the bonk” and by eating a tiny amount every twenty minutes I eventually stabilized and perhaps much of my lethargy was due to altitude, or caution-induced. I then had a reckless moment when I ate more than half of my only cliff bar in one go and as the sun went down my energy returned. I caught Alex shortly after turning my lights on and we rode together until we emerged onto a five-mile road climb between the wilderness/forest park areas at around 11 p.m.

It felt like a fairly lucky escape but there were still 50 or more miles to go before any hope of resupply. I was pretty sure that the first possible source of food would be shut anyway, as often had been the way. “Don’t get your hopes up”. I chose to bivi there and rest despite saying earlier that pushing on through the night was a good plan, since by then it was a clear night and getting colder and shivering costs calories. My thin but cosy down bag and cushy Neo-air mat was calling again. Alex had only a bivi bag and down jacket so he pushed on to the next shelter which turned out to be only six miles away. We remained within an hour or less of each other but all I knew the next morning was that I was following his tracks again.

The next day in the town of Abiqui I bought the Divider’s breakfast of two double cheeseburgers each with fries, a large milkshake and large Coke but only after being unable to get any cash at a post office and riding past two cash-only shops over the previous 30 miles. I was also caught at the post office by Liam Crowley who may not have got the friendly hello he deserved from this tired, run-down rider. Sorry Liam… He then gave me a spare bar in a generous offer that I won’t forget.

From that point on, I saw a lot more of Liam. He’d been behind us for almost a week but something had lit his fire and he was riding well, he’d closed a half-day or more gap with what must have been a tough all-nighter across the Cruces Basin from Platoro, a big effort that didn’t seem to cost him in the long term.

In the final miles of our Tour Divide we passed each other as we napped separately for an hour or so or paused at food or water points within 125 miles of the finish. I wanted to ride right through to the finish but sleep deprivation was building and mild, continual hallucinations affected me and falling asleep on the bike for brief moments happened too regularly. Waking and swerving across the road without crashing showed how in tune you can get with your bike after 17 days of almost continual riding but there was a real risk that I’d crash out of the race within sight of the finish.

I had an hour and a half’s sleep under a tree as light rain continued to fall and was back on the bike soon after 4:30 a.m. As dawn broke across the beautiful final desert stretch I was riding strongly but following in Alex and Liam’s tire tracks. Passed Separ, I saw no tracks and got my head down for the last 65 miles of road to Antelope Wells. Tears welled in my eyes as I realized I really was going to finish the Tour Divide, relief that it was almost over was mixed with sadness of a journey’s end, something magical grasped.

I thought I may be about to finish third, unthinkable to me really despite having spent a number of days between third and fourth position and as good as that thought felt, I tried not to dwell on it. It just didn’t seem possible. When I saw two dots behind me on the horizon I upped my pace to my limit, I felt good that morning and thought I could hold the pace for another 35 miles to the finish but whether I actually could, I’m not sure.

My 34×12 top gear was good for a speed that was about as high as a rider with 2,800 miles in their legs could maintain, but Alex slowly reeled me in. I sat up and we regrouped as Liam joined us. For a few miles the pace dwindled and we joked about all of us being caught again as we slowed up – half seriously, as we knew Brian Pal (top US rider that year) had been riding strongly and gaining ground in the last few days.

A truck drove past and pulled into the road side. A big guy in a checked shirt, Texan hat and suspenders got out and stood in the center of the road. His pose was pure wild-west, ready to draw. As we rolled up to him he smiled and held out cans of cold condensation-dripping Coke. Lloyd and Roger Payne, thank you for the best welcome committee possible. Racing was off the cards as we drank two cold Cokes each, then it went back on the agenda as a final sprint was mentioned.

From the one mile out roadside marker.

Potentially painful.

We were at mile three and I was itching to go. I did feel good, but I was tired enough not to realize that my 34×12 top gear wasn’t going to get me past either Liam or Alex on a flat road. But finishing as racers was the only fitting way to finish, there wasn’t to be any joint-placings among us.

By the time we wound up the sprint, I was back in 5th spot watching the others ride away over the last few hundred yards. It wasn’t a welcome sight yet somehow places mattered less to me then. In the early days I was elated to be top 10, as I moved up the field the only place that mattered was the one I held then and the racing had motivated the best riding I’d done. Ranking mattered less to me than how we’d ridden and coped with the challenges, racing all the way yet happy to ride together when our timing and pace matched.

I’d stuck to my no outside-influence bike service and sleep-out-every-night plans and had nothing but pride and satisfaction for how the race had gone. I’d finished, after all. As much as I’d have turned myself inside out to have got third place, Alex truly deserved his podium spot and at the time I’d have traded that cliff bar with Liam for a place any day. The 17 days had gone by in a blur of huge vistas and wide-eyed discovery, tiredness and endorphins and massive appetites. I’d ridden in sublime places with great people and seen how welcoming small-town American people could be toward tired, smelly bike racers with accents they rarely could place. I’d met Kirsten at Brush Mountain Lodge and Megan and Clay at the Toaster house for not much more than an hour or two and it had felt like I’d known them for years. All the fatigue and pain that was to follow as my body went into a minor breakdown a few hours after finishing were worth it.

And I’m looking forward to tomorrow – unboxing my Jones, simply lubing the chain and riding my local trails again.

More photos

See more of James’ photos from his trip in his Flickr gallery.

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First Impression: Jones diamond frame touring bike

By Adam Newman

Jeff Jones isn’t afraid to think outside the box. In fact, it’s safe to say he probably isn’t concerned about the box at all. He has been designing and building his own unique brand of non-suspended mountain bikes that have made the pages (and pixels) of our sister magazine, Dirt Rag, for years.

In recent years, Jones has brought a production version of his bike to market and after we reviewed it as a mountain bike, he pointed out that it is just as versatile on the road as on the trail. Since a couple of the staff use 29er mountain bikes with slick tires as all-purpose commuters and touring bikes, the idea struck a chord.

The $850 Jones diamond frame and fork feature everything a touring cyclist could need: rack and fender mounts; room for fat, comfy tires; three water bottle cage mounts; a shorter effective top tube and high, comfortable handlebars. Those handlebars are another of Jones’ original creations, a loop shape that puts your hands at a relaxed 45 degrees and creates a platform for carrying gear.

One of the key elements of what makes the bike unique in mountain bike mode is the ability to use a 29er front wheel or a 26×4.8 fat bike front wheel. As such, the fork is a specially designed unit that uses a 135mm fat bike front hub. When laced to a 29er/700c rim, it creates an especially strong front wheel that tracks straight, even when loaded. The rims are Velocity’s Blunt 35 that measure a huge 35mm wide and give the 29×2.35 Schwalbe Big Apple balloon tires even more cushion. Propulsion is provided by a Shimano 2×10 XT group that is geared low enough for even the steepest hills.

I packed up the panniers and the specially-designed frame bag that Jones sent us to try and had a great weekend riding and camping along the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail. While I wasn’t setting any speed records, the big tires and relaxed fit kept me cruising in comfort.

We’ll be putting the Jones through its paces all summer as we explore the countryside. One thing we’ll be paying close attention to is how the Jones fits a variety of riders, as it is only available in one size. The setup you see here is for my 6-foot-2 self.

Watch for it to make more appearances on bicycletimesmag.com and for a long-term review in an upcoming issue of Bicycle Times. Subscribe now and you’ll never miss an issue! 

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First Impression: Specialized TriCross Elite Steel Disc Triple

By Karen Brooks

Quite a long name, eh? But it tells you what you’re getting, pretty much.

This was to be the bike for my second annual trip to and/or from the National Bike Summit, along the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal trails, back in March. Alas, it was not to be. We got extremely lucky with the weather last year, but this year we got cold temps and snow before the Bike Summit, and yet more snow—heavy, wet snow, and lots of it—afterward. Bummer. Still, I’ve been having a good time on this bike just doing my normal commute plus some extra-curricular riding around.

It’s nice to see that a big company like Specialized has not totally abandoned steel as a frame material, especially for an all-rounder bike like this. Some of the other current TriCross models, as well as past versions, rely on Zertz vibration-damping inserts at key points to soften the ride of their aluminum frames. But to me, and a lot of other classic aficionados (or retro-grouches, if you prefer), steel makes sense for smoothing out the ride, in a refined and comprehensive way.

Indeed, this bike is smooth and unflappable. As you can tell from the dust and splashes in the photos, I’ve been riding it in some dirt and gravel. The Body Geometry bar tape with gel padding helps keep that smooth feeling without being too fat. I dig the integrated bell on the top brake lever. I also dig the no-nonsense graphics — the bike looks sleek and serious.

It’s been a while since I rode a bike with a triple crank, mountain or road. I had to really concentrate not to end up in the big/big gear combo. Funny how quickly we forget… But the granny ring has come in handy for traversing my local park via singletrack trails as well as the wider gravel paths.

The bike’s Avid BB5 brakes were doing a weird pulsing thing for a while. It almost felt as though the rotors were of uneven thickness, or as though I’d gotten a wad of gum stuck to one. But the pads looked fine, and so did the rotors — I went so far as to measure them with calipers. (Any excuse to get out the more esoteric tools!) After consulting with Specialized and with Avid, I’m gonna chalk it up to contamination of some sort. I swapped pads and rotors and have had no trouble since.

It looks like I’m going to go on a long ride with this bike after all, at least for a day—from our HQ in Pittsburgh to Raystown Lake for the Dirt Rag Dirt Fest, 130 miles. This is the kind of bike that encourages such impromptu adventures.

Check out the full review coming up in issue #23.

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First Impression: Trek Domane 4.5

By Adam Newman

Trek’s pedigree of high quality road bikes was firmly established years ago under the effort of a certain now-disgraced cyclist with the Madone platform. But as with most of aspects of cycling technology, the one-road-bike-to-suit-all model has been tossed aside in favor of machines that specialize in their respective disciplines. Some bikes put a priority on feathery weight, or all-out stiffness. Others borrow designs from time trial bikes to cheat the wind. Some, like the Domane, put rider comfort out front. After all, a comfortable rider is a fast rider.

When creating the Domane, Trek sought out the expertise of one of the most powerful riders of this generation, Fabian Cancellara. The winner of Tour de France stages, World Time Trial Championships, and handfuls of single-day Classics races. Cancellara is something of a freight train in the pro peloton—a big rider with an even bigger motor—and he excels when the conditions are difficult. The Domane is designed to give the rider a distinct advantage under those difficult conditions.

 

The most crucial piece of this carbon-fiber puzzle is the IsoSpeed “de-coupler” between the top tube and the seat tube. The two tubes are joined by a small bearing that allows the seat post to flex fore and aft to smooth out the ride. Make no mistake—this is no suspension system but it does do a marvelous job of isolating large hits and high-frequency vibrations. This video demonstrates how it works:

The rest of the carbon fiber frame abounds with high-tech features like the integrated DuoTrap computer sensor attachment point, the integrated chain keeper, a massive BB90 bottom bracket shell, and a tapered head and steerer tube that is wider than it is deep, front to back, for a more compliant ride. My favorite feature though is the amount of tire clearance and the hidden, removable fender mounts. Three cheers for a dry behind.

The $2,730 Domane 4.5 model I’m riding differs from the more expensive models with a standard, round, 27.2mm seatpost rather than Trek’s integrated seatmast, external cable routing rather than internal. I actually prefer both these features as they keep things simple and don’t seem to hinder performance very little.

 

So how does the IsoSpeed system work? In my first few rides I’d say seamlessly and flawlessly. I can’t feel it actively working, but when I hit a pothole or railroad crossing my behind stays planted in the saddle rather than being bounced off. That contact is what allows the rider to stay on the gas over irregularities, and I can say this comfortable rider certainly feels faster.

Want to read the full review? You’ll have to watch for it in an upcoming issue of Bicycle Times. Subscribe today and never miss an issue.

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First impressions: Cannondale Quick CX3

By Matt Kasprzyk

My commute by bike isn’t too difficult. There aren’t many hills (unless I want there to be), but the route takes me over several surfaces–asphalt, cement, crushed limestone, and a gravel access road. The different surfaces makes finding an appropriate bike challenging. Half of the route is on the road. The rest of my commute is on varying types of rougher surfaces, so I need something that’s as effective on the road as it is on the trail.

Bikes like this Quick CX line from Cannondale might be the right tool for the job. “On-road efficiency meets off-road ruggedness,” says Cannondale. Well it certainly has a suspension fork, disc brakes, and knobbier tires.

I guess that means it’s more rugged than your average commuter.

Efficient, though? The fork has a useful lock out, but the stock tires don’t feel very efficient on the street. It has a tall and short geometry. The toptube is relatively short with a fairly high standover. There is a more upright riding position because of the short toptube, but after adjusting the height of the stem and bars I’ve found a very comfortable riding position.

 

The frame has all the mounts and eyelets that you’d find useful if you’re considering the Quick CX as your all-season commuter. I’m going to eventually replace Kenda Happy Medium tires with a puncture resistant touring tire. I hope that might quicken the ride on pavement. Aside from that, I don’t see much to change about the bike and plan to put several miles of rough commuting on it before my final judgement.

Keep an eye out in a future issue of Bicycle Times for the complete review, and order a subscription today to make sure you don’t miss it. 

 

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First Impression: Norco Indie Drop 1

By Shannon Mominee

A lot of people immediately associate Norco with gravity and mountain bikes, I know I did until the Indie Drop 1 showed up at the Bicycle Times headquarters. Truth is, Norco has many bicycles designed specifically for commuting and street use.

Double-butted, 4130 chromoly is used for the frame and straight bladed chromoly fork. There are braze-ons for front and rear racks, full coverage fenders, and two bottle cages. Pretty much all you need to accessorize the bike for commuting and errand running.

 

Reflecting its intended urban use, the parts package consists of Shimano 105 derailleurs and shifters , with less expensive Shimano components filling in the remainder of the 2×10 drivetrain. The wheels are Shimano hubs laced to deep-V WTB Freedom Cruz rims. A set of Hayes CX-5 mechanical disc brakes with 160mm rotors scrub speed, and though they are a little squeaky up front they have a great amount of stopping power that’s easy to modulate without skidding.

With full coverage fenders a 28c or maybe a 32c tire will fit into the frame, depending on the tire’s height. Without fenders a 35c tire can be used.

The Indie Drop 1 is one of the most comfortable bikes I’ve thrown a leg over. A quick stem swap and everything else lined up perfectly. My size 57cm tester has a 72.5-degree head tube angle that keeps steering at a predictable pace, yet quick enough to maneuver around road debris without being race bike twitchy.

Look for a full review in an upcoming issue of Bicycle Times.


 

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First Impression: Specialized Crosstrail Sport Disc

By Justin Steiner

Specialized classifies the Crosstrail series of bikes within the “fitness adventure” category, which is an apt description given their aptitude on mixed surfaces. My Crosstrail Sport Disc retails for $830, making it the second least expense disc brake equipped model in the lineup. Only the base Crosstrail Disc is cheaper at $630.

Because I’ve been spoiled by testing dozens of fancy, high-dollar bikes over the years, I have to admit to not being terribly excited about testing this bike. Sure it seemed practical and economical, but there wasn’t much on the spec sheet to excite me. But, that was just me being jaded and spoiled. In reality, the Crosstrail has proven itself a fun and reliable partner over the last two months. More than making up for its lack of sex appeal through an oversized helping of practicality.

I greatly appreciate the Crosstrail’s ability to cruise back and forth to work on pavement while also tackling dirt trails, even light-duty singletrack, without breaking a sweat. The SR Suntour NEXi fork utilizes 60mm of travel to take the edge off of curb hopping and the Specialized Trigger 700x38mm semi-slick tires provide surprising grip offroad, even in snow, while rolling respectably quick on the road. With geometry and that’s on par with many 29-inch-wheeled mountain bikes these days, the Crosstrail’s off-pavement prowess is no surprise. That said, folks looking for a true mountain bike would be better off with Specialized’s Rockhopper 29.

The Crosstrail is versatile too, with rear rack and fender mounts as well as fender mounts on the fork. As you can see, I slapped fenders and rear rack on the Crosstrail and haven’t looked back.

To remain visible this time of year, I’ve been using a Lezyne Mega Drive headlight (look for a review in a future issue of the magazine) and a NiteRider Solas taillight. Both are USB rechargeable, which make be feel OK about utilizing them as daytime running lights

Overall, the parts spec on this Sport disc model is quite good considering the price point, with nice touches like a quality, house-brand two-bolt seatpost that makes saddle adjustments a breeze. The front and rear Tektro Draco hydraulic disc brakes have performed flawlessly despite temps dipping into the middle-teens and are a welcome addition in sloppy winter weather.

For the ladies in the crowd, Specialized also offers the female-specific version of the Crosstrail called the Ariel. This lineup offers frame, fork, and components designed specifically for women. I give Specialized kudos for not skimping on the women’s-specific products; they offer seven models each for men and women at a range of price points from just shy of $2,000 to $580. Though there’s one potential downside for female customers looking for a blingy parts spec; the high-end Ariel tops out at $1,200.

Thus far, I’m highly satisfied with my Crosstail experience. You’ll have to check out the full review in Issue #22 for the final word. Subscribe by the end of February to have issue #22 delivered straight to your door.

 

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