Adventure, explore, shred–that’s what the Grasshopper Adventure Series is all about. Less about the race and more about the experience to be had at any of the seven events in this series from January to May each year in Northern California’s Wine Country.
Each one features a different mix of terrain, some heavier on the road than dirt and vice-versa, but all featuring jaw-dropping descents in the mountains just north of San Francisco, hugging the rugged Sonoma and Mendocino County coastlines. Lung busting tests of endurance, with wicked fast singletrack, creek crossings and gear grinding steep pitches are notoriously around every bend in a Grasshopper. This past month’s Super Sweetwater was no different.
With two event options this year, one with mixed terrain and some serious adventure at 70 miles with 9,000 feet of climbing or option two with 100% pavé boasting 78 miles and 7,163 feet worth of ascent, riders were left hurting, but as always, wanting more. Quite simply, the Super Sweetwater was a ton of fun packed into a not-so-huge ride.
What is the Super Sweetwater? Take their Old Caz Grasshopper, then bookend it with the steep side of Sweetwater to the West and the dreaded Fort Ross climb to the East, with a wicked fast descent down Myers Grade onto Hwy 1 and a leg-searing finish atop the infamous Coleman Valley Road. If these names don’t ring a bell, then you need to make a visit to the land of bike plenty. What you end up with is 70-ish miles featuring some of the hardest and most beautiful terrain you can find anywhere in the world–the ultimate Sonoma County adventure loop.
What about the bike setup? Some superb bike handlers can sneak by on their road bikes with 28c tires (hopefully set-up tubeless), but the safe and more comfortable bet is to ride a gravel bike with 30-38c treads. Ultimately, that’s what makes these rides so fun: there is no right bike. Ride what you brung or something like that. There is no better two-wheeled adventure out there.
How about the main goals for the day? The easiest way to score points in this category is to have as much fun and get as muddy as possible.
With MTB legends Geoff Kabush, Katerina Nash, Carl Decker and Barry Wicks in attendance for the 2018 edition, the Super Sweetwater delivers on all fronts.
And what about those rest stops? Filled with Osmo, GU energy gels, an assortment of bars and other snacks for those of us in the back of the pack who like calorie positive adventures, our hearts were filled to their content.
Yeah, there’s still cash prizes for the top three female and male finishers, but the real winners are those stopping for jaw-dropping Pacific Ocean coastline pictures and rolling into the finish line feeling ready for more. More awesome food that is with the right kind of recovery hydration in the form of local Sebastopol-based Woodfour Brewing Company. Of course, all while sharing the memories made on the bike that day and keeping the dirty chamois on for at least a couple extra hours.
Didn’t get enough? The Grasshopper Adventure Series is just heating up, with Lake Sonoma planned for April 21st, Skaggs on May 5th and the grand finale, the King Ridge Dirt Supreme on May 19th. If you’re heading to the Bay Area in the next couple months, these are events you want to check out without a doubt!
Moots unveiled a new, drop-bar 29er adventure bike. Named after Moots’ resident banana-eating Chocolate Labrador, the Baxter frame is built in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, from Moots’ proprietary titanium tubing. It will accept a rigid fork or 100 mm of suspension.
- 44 mm head tube
- 73 mm English threaded bottom bracket
- 30.9 mm seatpost for greater dropper post compatibility
- 142 x 12 thru-axle rear end spacing
- Disc 160 rotor post mount brake
- 29×2.25 max tire clearance (2.0-inch tires suggested)
- 3 water bottle locations
- Replaceable derailleur hanger
- 38/28 maximum chain rings
- Open frame for maximum size frame pack
The Baxter is available in five stock sizes: XS, S, M, L, and XL, or you can go the custom route. Orders may be placed now for October 1, 2016 delivery. MSRP for complete bike as pictured: $8,700. The one complete build kit features an Enve rigid mountain fork, Chris King headset, Shimano XT Di2 groupset, 38/28 crankset, Shimano XT brakes, Salsa Woodchipper drop bars, Fizik Gobi saddle and Mavic Crossmax wheels.
Pivot Cycles is billing its new Vault as a do-all cyclocross racer, gravel grinder and road bike. Pivot lowered the bottom bracket, shortened the chainstays and increased tire clearance and still created a frame shape comfortable for shouldering the thing if you’re the type to hop over barriers.
The frameset comes with flat-mount disc brakes (140-160 mm rotors), thru axles, internal cable routing, electronic shifting capabilities, a BB386EVO bottom bracket (with oversized 30 mm diameter spindle) and two bottle cage mounts.
The Vault comes in sizes XS through L for riders between 5’3” and 6’3”. One build kit is offered at $4,000 and includes Shimano Ultegra 2×11, Shimano CX 505 hydraulic disc brakes, Stans Grail wheels and Maxxis Mud Wrestler 700×33 tires.
We just returned from a week at Press Camp in Park City, Utah, where several companies announced new stuff for model year 2017. Cannondale, GT, Blue, Ridley and component maker 3T all trotted out fresh bikes at the event for industry journalists to check out.
Full disclosure, Press Camp is not a standard bike industry event, which often involves camping or at least staying in a sub-par hotel with questionable sheets and discolored bath water. Press Camp is held at a swanky ski resort with very crisp white sheets and fabulous meals. But that won’t stop me from saying I think some of these bikes are more technical exercise and designer fantasy than anything else. Some are very practical while others are just plain neat-o.
Stay tuned for coverage of new soft goods, gear and gadgets that we also saw at Press Camp.
3T Exploro Aero Gravel
The 3T Exploro Aero Gravel bike was one of the most talked-about bikes at Press Camp, partly because it’s 3T’s first foray into frame design and partly because it looks wild with square carbon tubes and mountain tires. In a nutshell, it’s a bike with road-ish geometry and clearance for 27.5 knobbies. Or, as I kept thinking, a hardcore roadie’s gravel grinder. Or a serious gravel racer for contenders. Or an n+1 for people with equal (significant) amounts of money and curiosity.
3T emphasized that the geometry of this bike means it will ride almost the same with 700 x 28 mm tires as it will with 27.5 x 2.1-inch tires. It has a 415 mm chainstay, 50 mm rake, 70 mm bottom bracket drop, 72.5 mm seatube angle and, depending on size (small through extra-large) a headtube angle of 69.5 mm to 72.5 mm and a headtube length of 100.6 mm to 180 mm.
The company actually put this thing in a wind tunnel with two water bottles and a coating of fake, 3D-printed mud. The fan was set to 20 mph for more realistic conditions (rather than the standard 30 mph), and what resulted was a frame claimed to go faster with 40 mm knobby tires than will a round-tubed frame with 28 mm road slicks. And that’s why it’s called an “aero gravel bike.”
The Exploro will be sold at two levels as a frameset, only. The Limited (pictured) frame weighs 950 grams and retails for a whopping $4,200, while a white and red “Team” frame will sell for $3,000. Does this bike solve a non-existent problem, or is it the natural evolution of frame technology and the ever-expansion of bicycle versatility? That’s up to you, consumer.
On the other end of the spectrum we have the far-less-expensive Cannondale Quick, a line of practical commuter bikes that will be updated for 2017. With its Quick, the company is seeking to target a younger demographic of riders that is mostly focused on fitness and outings such as weekend bike path rides.
The new Quick bikes will each feature a 55 mm fork offset, more upright position and a slacker head angle than previous models for a more stable ride. Quicks will come with rack and fender mounts, reflective graphics, the same road vibration-absorbing rear triangle design as Cannondale’s high-end road bikes, puncture-resistant tires and the option for an integrated kickstand ($30).
Eight Quick models for women and eight for men will be available, including three in each line with disc brakes. Prices will range from $400-$1,300.
Cannondale is adding a new Slate to its lineup of quirky 650b gravel bikes: two models with rigid forks and Apex one-by build kits (one for men and one for women; women’s model is pictured). The Solo Rigid fork allows the price of this Slate to drop below $2,000 while keeping the same geometry and road-chatter-absorbing rear triangle design.
The rigid Lefty-like fork makes this much more of a traditional gravel bike, just one that is designed around 650b x 42 mm tires. This women’s version is no different other than a brown-and-pink paint job and different “touch points” more specific to some women—saddle, bar width and the like. It will come in two sizes (small and medium).
To answer the question some have asked: this bike does not have front fender/rack mounts.
Blue Prosecco PRO EX and AL
Blue Bicycles, formerly based in Georgia and now in California, struggled for a few years despite the success of its triathlon and cyclocross bikes. Now, the company is spooling up again and significantly expanding its line, adding mountain bikes and gravel bikes for 2017.
At the top of its new gravel line sits the Prosecco PRO EX, a $2,700 carbon bike with Shimano Ultegra Di2 and room for up to 700 x 42 mm tires. Yes, that sub-$3,000 MSRP is accurate.
The frame is Blue’s own design. The company was striving for comfort with an adventure/trekking perspective. The bike has seastays designed for damping, a tall headtube, bento box mounts, thru axles front and rear, house-built wheels and internal cable routing.
The Prosecco AL aluminum version (pictured above) with a slightly less fancy frame design, Shimano 105 components and mechanical disc brakes will retail for $1,090. A carbon model with non-electronic Ultegra will be available between the two price points.
Ridley Helium SLA
Ridley bikes is better known as a performance brand and, true to style, did not have a new gravel grinder or touring bike on display at Press Camp. I almost didn’t go check them out but was drawn in by its new road bike, the Helium SLA, the company’s first new aluminum frame in five years.
The Helium SLA comes with a carbon fork and Shimano Ultegra for $1,900. The bike pictured is an extra-extra small and weighs about 17 pounds. A Shimano 105 model will weigh one pound more and retail for $1,500. All frames feature smoother, double-pass welding and internal cable routing. Sizes will range from XXS to XL.
This bike has nothing to do with anything other than it’s rad. The GT Performer is a complete replica of a 1986 BMX bike, but with a long-enough seatpost and 26-inch wheels to facilitate cruising about town. It’s the bike you rode as a kid (or lusted after) now in an adult-friendly size. For $560, GT might just have your new bar bike.
Oskar Blues’ Old Man Winter Rally had a wildly successful first year in 2015, with nearly 700 riders from Tour de France participants to 10-year-olds on fat bikes, and is set to go even bigger in 2016. The event takes place in Boulder County, Colorado, on February 7, 2016, and you’re invited.
Choose either the 50km or 100km route of dirt, snow, sweat, and beer. The 50km option offers a scenic spin along the paved and gravel farm roads on the east side of the Foothills Highway. The 100km route promises leg-burning climbs, bone-chilling descents, and an exhilarating adventure in the dramatic canyons west of Boulder. Whether you tackle it on a road bike, cross bike, mountain bike or fat bike is entirely up to you.
Every participant (1,000 are expected) can look forward to luxury aid stations with heat and eats, a hot meal and a cold beer at the finish line, and a rousing post-ride party with live music, contests, and a massive raffle. Funds raised from the event will go toward local trail maintenance via the Oskar Blue Can’d Aid Foundation. Register now.
Photos courtesy of Eddie Clark/Adventure Fit/Oskar Blues.
From Bicycle Times Issue #36
Reviewer: Stephen Haynes
GT is billing the grade series “enduroad,” presumably building on the surging fascination with stout gravel bikes and the idea that any ride can be an exploratory adventure. Built on the company’s famed triple triangle frame design—where the seat stays overlap the seat tube—GT claims to reduce vibration from the rear wheel. Whether it actually does diminish chatter or not is up for debate, but I’ve always liked the triple triangle aesthetically.
The tapered head tube coupled to GT’s oversized carbon fork soaks up all but the most disastrous potholes. That shock absorption and dispersion kept my hands and wrists in the game longer on long rides as well, as I tend to suffer from numbness and fatigue with some setups.
The same can be said with regard to braking. I’m not a light dude and on some bikes, I can feel the strain on the front end when I’m trying to come to a stop on something steep. I never had an issue with the Tektro Spyre mechanical disc brakes, with the exception of locking up the wheels on a steep, gravel road and nearly laying the bike down, but that was me being overzealous.
My experience on drop bar bikes has centered mostly around home-brewed single speeds and super-stable touring bikes, and the Grade seemed to fall somewhere between those two. From the word go, the Grade felt solid over various terrain types. Stable enough to ride through most anything, from asphalt to gravel, yet maneuverable enough to bob and weave, or attempt the occasional act of stupidity.
As mentioned above, I’m a heavier dude. At over 200 pounds, hills aren’t exactly my favorite things while riding. Still, as a cyclist living in western Pennsylvania, they are a fact of life and it’s much easier to relegate yourself to that fact than to fight it. I commend GT’s decision to run flared drop bars throughout the grade line as it made climbing hills much more bearable, if not even slightly enjoyable.
These bars also give your wrists more clearance to tackle sketchy bits going downhill too. I’m not sure whether, over time, I would fall back to not enjoying climbing, but in my brief time aboard the Grade, I actually began to look forward to the odd hill.
As the name implies, my aluminum test rig came equipped with a Shimano Tiagra drivetrain, one of six different builds available in two frame material choices; aluminum and carbon. The really great thing about the Grade line is that the entry point is relatively low, just $870 for an aluminum frame with Shimano Claris components.
What I find most impressive about the Grade line is the quality of build for an entry-level price point. Every bike in the range is equipped with mechanical disc brakes, STI brake lever/shifters, tapered head tube, a carbon fork, eyelets for mounting fenders and lots of clearance to run beefy tires. That’s a heck of a deal for a lot of bike.
The Grade line from GT is a great buy for anyone looking for a stable, rough- and-ready road bike. While the Grade isn’t quite a surgical instrument, built only for speed, neither is it a Leatherman. You could certainly throw some large size tires on it and equip it with frame bags and take it bikepacking, but I think it’s most at home on long rides that take the rider over mixed terrain and ultimately deposits them at their favorite watering hole.
- Price: $1,190
- Weight: 22.5 pounds
- Sizes: 51, 53, 55, 56 (tested), 58 and 60 cm