- Fun? Yes.
- Accessible? Yes.
- Expensive? No.
- Cold? Sometimes.
- Fun? Still fun.
Right around Thanksgiving we brought in a new fat bike from KHS, largely because it looked like Kona might have underestimated demand for the 2015 Wo. Things we like about the KHS 3000 include:
- The price: $2200.
- The spec: 2×10 SRAM drivetrain with hydraulic brakes
- The bigness: 100mm wide rims and 4.8″ tires
People come into the shop, see a fat bike and ask, “What are these things for?” They’re for anything. Snow. Sand. A quick trip to the bank. I like the way KHS calls their fat bikes Four Season Bikes. You can do everything you’ve always done on a bike (perhaps more slowly, perhaps with more panache) plus ride in deep snow in the winter and sand in the summer.
Watching fat bikes evolve over the last few years has been interesting. Gone (one can only hope) are the days of trying to make a cobbled-together frame/drivetrain/fat tire combo work acceptably. Now we have symmetrical frames, lots of cogs in the back and really wide bottom brackets and rear hub spacing, all of which combine to make the whole bike more refined and functionally better.
A rather recent development is the tubeless fat bike rim. Removing the big tube from a fat bike wheel/tire combo saves you about a pound of rotating mass — per wheel. That’s a big deal. We tried to make the KHS tubeless, but the stock rim just isn’t designed for such a thing; it would burp a little sealant every time we rode it with vigor. We could probably make it work, but doing so represents a return of the kludgy fat bike and would likely negate the weight savings we sought. All of this brings out the double-edged sword of fat bike tubeless: the tubeless ready rim that allows you to save weight also makes it very difficult (sometimes hugely difficult) to remove the tire from the rim.
On a lark I decided to race the KHS 3000 last Saturday at Ft. Custer for the first race of the 2015 Michigan Fat Bike Series. I quickly discovered that the bike will, in fact, fit in the back of a modern hatchback/dogmobile. Barely. Race day morning I installed pedals, guessed at the saddle height and put some air in the tires, enough to get the front tire to steer and to keep the rear tire from being too bouncy.
And then I’m racing a completely unfamiliar bike. What fun!
It’s like mountain biking, but different. The traction is incredible. I was constantly yelling (internally and externally) at myself to stay off the brakes. To the surprise of no one, there is a lot of inertia in those big wheels and tires. Keep ‘em spinning and things go pretty well. Let ‘em slow down (going up a hill, for instance) and you’ll pay for it later. Such is the way of things with wheels, but fat bikes exaggerate the extremes quite a lot.
I tried to talk a buddy of mine into doing the race with me. He said, “Racing fat bikes is dumb!” Though it may be kinda silly to ride a bike made for snow on frozen dirt, it sure as heck beats riding the trainer for an hour. I’m pretty anxious to try another one once the snow arrives.
Few would argue that Zipp is regarded as the premier brand of aerodynamic wheel. They’re *everywhere*: on many pro cyclocross bikes, many pro tour road bikes and of course the #1 brand of wheel at the Ironman Championship in Kona, year in and year out.
I was recently invited to tour Zipp’s Indianapolis manufacturing facility, which is located alongside parent company SRAM’s worldwide distribution center. Also residing in this building are engineers, marketing personnel, support persons and SRAM’s dealer support people. The latter answer the phone when dealers like Pedal need assistance figuring out what might be wrong with a fork/brake/component. It’s a rather new building and looks hip and efficient inside and out.
More than one person told the story of Zipp’s inception. In 1988 Leigh Sargent saw a Mavic disc wheel, an aluminum beast that weighed about six pounds. Sargent was a race car composites fabricator and immediately built a 1400 gram wheel of carbon fiber with a Nomex honeycomb core. He took his creation to Interbike, the North American bicycle trade show, where he was told that they looked too fragile. The story I heard was that he laid one wheel flat across two chairs, stood on it for the duration of the show and talked about his wheel. Since then, Zipp has done a lot of neat things: the disk, a tri spoke front wheel, a carbon beam bike, carbon cranks and of course deep section spoked wheels.
Zipp carbon wheels are still produced in the USA. Layup occurs in Indianapolis and hubs are made in nearby Marysville. Carbon is from Hitachi, travels to California where it in impregnated with resin and then makes its way to Indy. The resin cures — sometimes quickly, sometimes over the course of days — at room temperature, so the carbon sheets are kept in a huge freezer in the factory. Many, many dollars worth of carbon are in the fridge, prepaid in cash well in advance of delivery. Can you say capital intensive?
Sheets of carbon are cut on a huge table by a computer-guided Xacto knife. At this point, the process forks: disks are made one way, and deep-section spoked wheels another. Zipp and SRAM would no doubt spank my bottom if I divulged too much information, but suffice to say that there is a LOT of human interaction with a carbon Zipp wheel. Layup is manual. Cleaning up the rim at various stages of the process is manual. Cleaning the molds is manual. Lacing the wheels is 100% manual. All of the quality control is manual. Hours — tens of hours — of human interaction are imbedded in each wheel. Why do they cost so much? Because the material is expensive, the human expense is high, the R&D is expensive, etc.
Every carbon Zipp wheel has interaction with “the drill bit,” which is the culmination of years and years worth of research and constant improvement. Drilling carbon is a tricky business: there’s the nasty dust, the possibility of heating the carbon matrix and ruining it, the possibility of weak, broken carbon fibers. Zipp’s fancy bit has what they call a world patent; it is Zipp’s and Zipp’s alone, and is a tool that they credit in part for their superior product. Cool stuff, and indicative of Zipp’s dedication to (I almost wrote excellence, but what a bullshit corporate-speak term “excellence” has become. Instead, I’ll say that Zipp is dedicated to) awesomeness — to really solving the heck out of a problem.
I saw the test lab and can confirm that the quality is also very high. How long must the hubs last on the fatigue machine? 60,000 miles. How high are test tires inflated? 300 psi for 30 seconds. Many are the pretty incredible tests that random wheels plucked from the line must endure. Competitors’ wheels are also tested. My hosts tactfully avoided smearing anyone, but I did learn that Zipps wheels endure quite a bit more than some others.
During the tour I saw a few wheels marked as blems and asked what happened to them (thinking, perhaps, I might have stumbled onto an inexpensive source for hightest-quality carbon wheels). Alas (for a sometime tightwad such as myself), those make up many of the wheels you see on pro tour bikes. However this blem conversation did bring up a good point. When you examine a carbon Zipp wheel, you’re looking at the carbon — not the carbon and a clear coat and certainly not carbon with a little black bondo to cover any pinholes — the real deal.
Value is such a personal assessment, the weighing of cost versus benefit. The high price of Zipp’s offerings can be off-putting, but the high price of a Mercedes-Benz or a Stihl chainsaw can also seem crazy to those not interested in high-end German cars or lumberjacking, respectively. I came away from my factory tour with a much greater appreciation for the hand-built nature of the product, the hight cost of materials and the technical superiority of Zipp’s wheels. In the past I always thought of Zipp’s wheels as high quality, but not a particularly good value. Now…well, now I think I could possibly see a pair of these things on one of my bikes.
Winter is here, and I already feel a bit wistful for 2014. So let’s pull a chair by the fireplace, grab a good book and hunker down for a few months of cycle-unfriendly weather. This is a great time to recharge the batteries, to perhaps catch up on some projects around the house that were put off during the warm months, to maybe get a little more sleep during these long nights, to certainly reminisce about the wonderful year we had. What a bittersweet time of year.
A sage FOTS (friend of the shop) said that a seventy year old man who lived his whole life in southern California has a very different mindset than a seventy year old man who lived his whole life in Michigan. I’m sure this is true, and while I’m sure there is a lot to say for CA, give me this. Give me change. Give me the joy of summer.
In my humble opinion, fall went out with a bang. Iceman was nothing if not an experience. Oh! the stories told around the shop. Fantastic. In the event you haven’t seen it, I present a beautiful photo-montage of Iceman. My fingers and toes get cold just looking at it.
The local cyclocross scene just ended, and our Markin Glen race was very close to perfect. Cold. Snow. Mud. Sand. Friends. I’ll probably beat this drum to my dying day, but cyclocross is for everyone. Many, many thanks to our friends who help make Kalamazoo cyclocross possible. In particular Parchment, Kalamazoo County Parks, RunUp Cylcocross and KissCross have been wonderful partners in our endeavors.
Yes! Yes, yes, yes. We have all kinds of doodads for your cycling friend/lover/spouse/boss/penpal. Things like a bottle opener for your work stand (increases productivity -20%), actual work stands (from which you can also hang helmets and laundry), a really neat long-sleeve flannel emblazoned with your favorite shop’s name (increases productivity by +/- 5%), clothing (increases warmth and/or hip factor), bikes (woah!), sunglasses that are actually (not) too cool for (grad) school. All ilk of things to support the tree or stuff the stocking.
Yeah. We’re working on the fat bike ride. At night. In the cold, cold air. Our trail day at Blanche Hull was quite successful, despite the fact that the city guys were understandably redirected to work on snow removal. We have but a few logs to cut and we’re all set. A don’t think anyone would be mad if I mentioned that a good number of people ride their fat bikes on Tuesday evenings at Al Sabo. Also: trail grooming at Yankee. Good, good stuff.
Holiday fiesta! Let’s get together at the shop from 5-7 on Friday, December 12th. We’ll have a cooler of beer and soft drinks, some foodstuffs and conversation out the wazoo. I know it’s short notice, but we’d love to see your smiling face and wish you a wonderful time of year.
- All Hail the Black Market. What a strange name. What does it mean? Am I too old for this? Does that guy have a job? Who cares? It’s pretty darn fun and the author is a groovy guy with an interesting take on life.
- Red Kite Prayer. Road bikey at its heart but with a pretty awesome MTB article on occasion, I’ve found this site to have good writing and good purpose, if perhaps a bit advertorial at times. Regardless, I kinda keep an eye on this one.
- Some people love Fat Cyclist. I am not one of those people. I keep trying, but it doesn’t take. Maybe it’s for you.
- The Radavist is pretty cool. I’m actually not sure if I like this site or not, but there is absolutely no denying this piece of apres-garde filmmaking, which I found on The Radavist.
- Bike Snob NYC is indeed a cultural touchpoint. Pretty funny much of the time, too.
- Lovely Bicycle! is focused on light touring (classic!) and handmade bikes. I kinda like it, though it can sound like an echo chamber at times. Not unlike this very newsletter.
- Bicycle Graphic Design is right up my alley. So is Eleanor.
It does seem crazy to start talking about spring races, but why not? Things kick off in 2015 with Melting Mannon March 8th. It was a cold, icy, crazy mess last year. I’m curious to see what happens this time around. Registration is open.
Registration is also open for Barry Roubaix. Cross bike, mountain bike or fat bike, there’s a category and distance for you. Great, great experiences are available at the BR.
For those wishing to spend a good deal of quality time on a mountain bike saddle, the Lumberjack 100 is just what the doctor ordered. Registration for that beast opens on January 3.
As I was bumbling around looking up links for some of the above, I happened across this wry cartoon. The cartoon resonated (woah! corporate marketing word alert!) with me because I often tell people in the shop that the bikes we sell aren’t the end-game. The thing we hope you achieve on your bike is a wonderful experience, be it with your friends, alone in the woods, during a race or as the result of an unexpected incident on an otherwise normal ride.
As we look toward 2015 with memories of a fantastic year and high hopes for the future, I wish you a holiday season of wonderful, memorable experiences with family and friends.
A really long time ago a customer suggested that we round up some bike lights and do some sort of laboratory-controlled comparison thing worthy of a car magazine. Today we had a nice confluence of events: a reasonable number of lights in stock, a short day and a fairly wide open (inside) place where we could shine lights and take pictures.
There’s a nice basket of lights. From Cateye we have a Volt 300 and a Volt 1200. From Light & Motion we have an Urban 650, an Urban 800, a Stella 500, a Taz 1500 and a Seca 2000. All of these lights feature USB rechargeable batteries.
Here’s our test rig, Ryan. He pulls a light out of the basket and shines it on a garage door approximately 40 feet away. Once that happens, I turn out the lights and take a picture. Teamwork? Yeah, we’re eat up with teamwork around here.
At $200, the volt 1200 is pretty tough to beat. It’s a nice little all-in-one handlebar unit that pumps out a good amount of light. What I notice looking at this is that the light is a spot, very concentrated on the door a few feet off the ground.
The Volt 300 is a nice package — less than $100 with two batteries. This is a great setup for a commuter who mostly rides in the city with the aid of street lights. Like the Volt 1200, the 300 has a tight spot, good for looking down the road but maybe not as awesome for seeing something right in front of you.
This is the Light & Motion Urban 800, which will set you back a smooth $150. Notice how this guy puts more light on the ground than either Cateye while still providing a nice tight spot on the door.
The Urban 650 costs $130 has a very similar beam to the 800, with perhaps just a bit less punch.
The Light & Motion Taz 1500 is a brute, lots of light on the ground while the spot tries to burn a hole in the door. Cheap? No. The Taz is a $300 light. Still, the all-in-one design (as opposed to separate battery pack as seen on the Stella and Seca models) and light weight make this one tops on my wish list.
We love the Stella, long a favorite of night-time mountain bikers. Note the nice broad beam pattern. This is a very sweet $200 light.
For those times when excessive is almost enough, I present the Light & Motion Seca 2000, which throws out just an incredible amount of light. Were I asked to repeatedly ride my bike through the woods at night, the Seca 2000 would perhaps make sense. However, most of us would not exploit the good things one receives from a $500 light.
In closing, it’s hard to believe how good modern bike lights have become, largely due to LED technology and its associated lower power requirements. Any of these lights is a nice chunk of technology that’ll last a good long time. All of the pictures in this post were taken of each light at its highest setting. Yeah, that’s the brightest, but it’s the setting that drains the battery most quickly. If you’re going to be out in the dark for hours, it may make sense to buy a more expensive light, but run it at a lower setting. We can help sort through this stuff.
You know, it’s pretty easy when it’s 60 degrees and sunny. People want to set up the course. People what to get outside on a beautiful day and have a few UV rays hit their bodies. People are understandably less worried about frostbite.
For the first time in four years, Markin Glen today was not 60 degrees and sunny. It was, at best, 32 and barely snowing. It was muddy. It was not exactly a day that begged you to come outside and play. Yet 75 people did, and we had a very interesting time. As a result of the snow and mud, the course was maybe a little bit harder than we intended, but it was harder for everyone.
On this site and in our shop we talk often of the shared experience. The race may be great. The race may stink. But if you do the race with friends, reliving it is always fantastic. The race as community builder — that’s what we think. This race was a good, hard race on a pretty sketchy day. We had a good time. We cheered for the other racers and many of us met at a local brewery to eat and drink and talk afterward.
This post is Pedal’s invitation to you to come and race with us. Cyclocross is great for people of any ability. I encourage you to stretch your envelope just a little bit and give it a try. It’s very hard, but very rewarding and very supportive. I’d say the same of dirt road races like Melting Mann and Barry Roubaix — accessible, welcoming, hard, fun.
I’ll close by thanking Kalamazoo County, KissCross and the wonderful folks who help us design, set up and tear down the course. Big, big fun.
En route to the garbage can this morning, I took a quick picture of my brake pads:
From the top we have a pad from my rear caliper, removed immediately after Iceman (aka IceMudMan). In the middle is a pad from my front caliper, removed immediately after IceMudMan. The bottom bad is brand spanking new, ready to install. It might not be easy to tell from this angle, but the top pad is worn down to the backing plate. The middle pad has a good amount of wear, and the material that’s left is probably gunk-infused. I replaced both sets.
This photo is a good representation of just about every customer bike we’ve seen this week: completely dead rear pads and if-not-completely-then-mostly dead front pads. Conservatively I’d say we’ve ordered more pads in the last three days than we have the previous two years. What did this? Mud. Grit is thrown up between the rotor and pad and eats away the pad material in record time. Globs of mud settle between the pad backing plates and the caliper body when brakes are applied and prohibit the pads from retracting when the brake lever is released. Pads that would last years were devoured in less than three hours.
The other component that got really munched: chains. Yuck.
Next year maybe it’ll just be cold.
Check it out! Cyclocross returns to Kalamazoo at our two favorite locations, Kindleberger (home of The Hill) and Markin Glen. Races are $25 each (what a bargain!) and work as follows:
- C race is at 11:00 and will last approximately 30 minutes. This is a terrific way to test the waters. Kids: welcome. Adults: welcome. Sandbaggers: not as welcome.
- B race is at noon and will last approximately 45 minutes. Fun on a bun.
- A race is at 1:00 and will last about an hour. Masochists only.
Cyclocross is a sport everyone can enjoy. Please come out and shake that cowbell.
The white saddle, pedals and bar tape of this bike made me think of “style” in the leisure-suited seventies. If you’re too young to recall the period, this link might help decode the post’s title.
Every now and then someone comes into the shop and says, “Argh! You guys are terrible. You’re always showing me sweet new stuff and it’s just too much for my defenses!” Let me assure you: the exact same thing happens to us all the time. In fact, it might even be more cruel: we must (test) ride and be around cool bikes every day. (I know. Sucks to be us.)
I’ve been grinding along on a single-speed cross bike for about a year now, and recently started thinking that I should have something with gears. My thought process was that a geared bike might allow me to consider gravel rides and races that would be just too much on the uni-gear.
Thus I began looking at available cross frames. Frames? Frames. During the bizarre period in which I was without a road bike, I kinda (completely) freaked out and purchased a complete bike and a drivetrain at the same time. Not the most logical process to which I have been part, but sometimes you have to roll with it.
For pure cross bikes, it’s tough to beat the Kona Jake series. There are several schools of thought regarding “proper” cyclocross geometry, but Kona seems to have gone its own wonderful way. They aren’t set up in the traditional style (short top tube, tall head tube, high bottom bracket), nor are they road bikes with fat tires. As far as carbon cross bikes go, I like the fact that the Jakes are a bit more compliant than some. There are those who believe cross bikes should be mega-stiff in the rear triangle. I’ve owned and enjoyed such bikes, yet I remember the fist time I rode a carbon Jake and thought, “Hmmmmm. Delicious.”
So I built this bike. It’s a Kona Super Jake frame, a Rival 22 drivetrain and a set of Stan’s Iron Cross wheels. Other semi-interesting bits are the TRP Spyre brakes, Fizik saddle, Ritchey bar, Time pedals. Slightly less than 18 lbs. as you see it. Pretty awesome.
The frame is deluxe. It’s very light, has a smooth ride and looks very sharp. The included fork is also full carbon and very light. Kona is very funny with the frame thing. If you buy a frame, you get a frame, not a frame and headset. Not a frame and a few doo-dads. You get a frame. A frame and fork yields two parts: frame, fork. They figure that if you’re going to build up a bike of your very own, you’ll likely be picky about the headset and seat post clamp. Are they right? I don’t know, but after building up bikes from Kona frames, at least I’m used to it. For the record, I’ve been using a Cane Creek 40 on a few bikes, and it seems like a very good blend of price and function.
Oh how I once resisted disk brakes. As a guy who owns/owned a pile of rim brake wheels, disk brakes looked like another monetary black hole. And so they are, but by now I’m used to it. Rim brake users know that the best braking happens about the first time you squeeze the lever. With disk brakes, particularly mechanical disks, braking performance actually improves over a period of time. Why do I bring this up? I dunno. PSA I guess.
Traditional mechanical disk brakes are of single piston design. This means that you pull the lever and one piston (typically on the outboard size of the bike) pushes against the brake rotor, which bends until it hits the (fixed) pad on the other side of the caliper, at which point braking starts to occur. It works, but it’s not 100% great.
For this bike I thought I’d try a dual piston brake, the TRP Spyre. In this design, pistons push from both sides of the caliper to squeeze the rotor in the middle. It’s a nice design because bending the rotor is not part of the equation, and expectations are pretty high. I went this route despite the fact that I’ve had terrific luck with Avid BB7s on other bikes. As of this writing, I don’t have enough miles on the bike to properly rate the braking quality. I hope to remedy this situation soon. Sorry for the letdown.
Twenty-two speed drivetrain! Who can’t get fired up about that? Luddites, that’s who. For the rest of us, the future looks bright. I put Rival 22 on this bike for the following reasons:
- I had it handy
- I was running out of money, fast
- I can be something of a crasher in CX and am not made out of dollar bills
- I had it handy
I have no beef with Shimano drivetrains, but I kinda like SRAM on my CX bikes. I treat my cross bikes rather unpleasantly and tend to think that SRAM stuff holds a tune a little longer. Is this bunk? Maybe, but such is my experience.
I’m not sure that I’m 100% on board with yaw front derailleurs. Sometimes they work great with minimal setup hassles. Sometimes there are significant setup hassles. On this bike it worked pretty great from the start. Rear shifting is typical SRAM: bang, bang, bang through the gears. Very nice.
If I have a weakness, it is for wheels. Drivetrains stir my tactile feelings. Frames are beautiful or not. However wheels make my little heart go pitter pat. You can make whatever wheels you want. You can go for super-light; you can go for super-durable. You can spend a fortune. You can spend considerably less. You can try to hit some idyllic middle ground, which is the place I typically seek.
I already own two sets of disk cross wheels: HED Ardennes +, which are almost unreal in their awesomeness, and Velocity A23s, which represent a very nice value. For this bike I thought I’d get something pretty cross oriented, but not as spendy as the HEDs. Thus I have the Stan’s Iron Cross which was developed to provide superior tubeless burp resistance, maximum strength and light weight. No, you can’t run ‘em at high pressure for road tubeless, but who cares? That’s not the point of this bike.
Kona loves cyclocross and so do I. I first rode this bike on the Barry Roubaix course with a good friend. As we rolled out I began kvetching about the fiscal questionability of building a carbon cross bike when I have a nice steel bike in the garage. “What are you talking about?” asked my friend. “This is your favorite thing.”
Yes. It is. And this promises to be an excellent companion.