Posted by: Mark | 4 June, 2014

Carver Gnarvester Review

[Also published at MTBVT.com]

When I first saw Carver‘s Gnarvester frame at NEMBAfest last year, it immediately piqued my interest.  I loved the way the bike looked and I really liked the large, high volume tires.  Since they had the bike available for demo, I was able to take it out for a spin.  My wife knew by the look on my face when I returned that I was going to want one of these frames myself.  My enthusiasm for this bike may have seemed a little out of proportion at the time, but, now that I’ve been able to really put the bike through its paces, I feel it was justified.

The Gnarvester

The Gnarvester. It even looks fun when standing still.

The Gnarvester is Carver’s “29+” frame.  Before delving too deeply into the specifics of the bike, the 29+ platform needs a little explanation.  First, this is not a fat bike – it rides pretty much like you’d expect any other 29er rig to ride.  It will not perform like a true fat bike would in snow, nor is it sluggish like a fat bike.  The bigger tires are no substitution for suspension, although they do absorb small chatter pretty well.  Really, 29+ is nothing more than a 29er frame with the clearance for 3″ tires on wide (50mm) rims.   The bike is otherwise composed of all “normal” parts.  That said, the bigger tires do make a big difference.  It has all the advantages that originally got people interested in 29er bikes – better traction due to the bigger contact patch, better cornering, smoother rolling over roots, etc. – only more so in every way.  Surly’s choice in naming the platform “29+” was more accurate than I had originally realized – it’s like putting a 29er on steroids.

"My, Grandma, what big tires you have..."

“My, Grandma, what big tires you have…”

Features

  • Ample clearance for 29×3″ tires with 50mm rims.
  • Well constructed titanium frame at a surprisingly affordable price.
  • Sliding dropouts allowing the use of almost any axle setup.
  • Chainstay that can be “broken” for use with a belt drive.
  • Tapered head tube accommodating most fork steerer tubes.

Verdict

The bike was built up with a SRAM X9 1×10 drivetrain, Velocity Dually rims and Surly Knards in the tread department.  I opted to use a Krampus fork due to my personal bias toward steel forks.  Carver’s carbon fork would be a great performance upgrade as well as improving aesthetics.  I even put in some ti water bottle bolts to keep things light and strong.

With these plus size wheels, it just wants to roll over everything.

With these plus size wheels, it just wants to roll over everything.

The overall impression that this bike gives would best be described as “playful.”  The geometry and light weight makes for a ride that just wants to be whipped around, bunny hopped and man-handled in tight single-track.  Shortly after getting acclimated to the new bike, I found myself actually jumping some of the small sets of doubles around Kingdom Trails.  This is not my typical behavior if you ask anyone that has ridden with me much.  Even with the dropouts positioned in the middle of the range of the sliders, the front end of this bike lofts easily over obstacles.

The bike made me do it.

The bike made me do it.

When climbing or descending, the bike handles very well.  Nothing of note other than a stable, reliable, neutral feel – which is a good thing.  The big traction in the back makes soft, steep terrain much more manageable.  With a derailleur setup, you could tune the back end of the bike using the sliders to change the handling characteristics a little.  So far, I haven’t found any need for this.

With these big, fat tires you might expect the handling to be on the sluggish end of the spectrum.  So far, that hasn’t been a noticeable trait.  It may technically require more effort to bring the bike up to speed due to the greater rotating mass, but I’ve never been able to feel it while out on the trail.  What I did notice was that this bike corners like a cat on a carpet.  The bigger contact patch paired with the bike’s geometry inspire confidence to lean the bike further than you’d expect.  I love taking this thing through tight, flowy single-track, like Riverwood at Kingdom Trails – it feels like I’m playing a video game.  The handling is also quick enough that it can maneuver through slow technical riding just as readily.

It corners great, with or without berms.

It corners great, with or without berms.

On previous titanium bikes I’ve owned, I was able to get some serious flex out of the bottom bracket under load.  Not with this frame.   It maintains most of the classic springy feel that titanium is known for without having the drivetrain turn into a wet noodle.  The bottom bracket area remains quite stiff.  The shaped tubing makes a big difference in this area, as well as looking really cool.  The other thing worth mentioning is that the quality of the welds and overall construction and finish of the frame is easily on par with what I’ve seen from more expensive frames.

There are a few down-sides to consider with the 29+ platform, and, therefore, with this frame.  At this moment, there is only one 29×3″ tire actually on the market as far as I have been able to determine: the Surly Knard.  Fortunately, it’s a decent all around tire.   According to on-line rumors, there are some others on the horizon, but they’re not here yet.  The other major concern is the lack of suspension options, if that’s your desire.  The Cannondale Lefty can work with a 3″ tire, but the clearance is rather tight from what I’ve read.  There is also the MRP Stage fork which seems to have just enough room for the wider tires.  Of course, there’s nothing stopping you from putting some normal 29er rims and 2″ tires on this bike, but you’d be missing out on the real benefits that the frame has to offer.

Plenty of room for muddy 3″ tires.

Plenty of room for muddy 3″ tires.

Overall, this is just a flat-out fun bike to ride.  The big rubber allows you to more smoothy roll over roots and rocks.  It is light and nimble enough that I wouldn’t shy away from racing on it, even with the big rims and 3 inch rubber.   I’ve loved riding over stream beds and any technical terrain as the bike just seems to handle anything I throw at it.   It is an awesome bike for trail exploring, bushwhacking and would be great for mountain bike packing if it had braze-ons for mounting a rack.

Carver will be at NEMBAfest again this summer.  Hopefully, they’ll have a Gnarvester available for demo, because this bike is worth the effort to get out and try one out for yourself. But be careful; you might end up hooked on it before you have to return it.

The sliding dropouts let you run with gears, as a single-speed or even a belt drive.

The sliding dropouts let you run with gears, as a single-speed or even a belt drive.

Rating:

  • Innovation: 2/2
  • Function: 2/2
  • Aestheitcs: 2/2
  • Features: 2/2
  • Quality/Price: 2/2
  • Overall Rating: 10/10

Pros:

  • Titanium’s magical ability to be both strong and light at the same time.
  • Awesome handling.
  • Big tires allow for great traction
  • Plenty of mud clearance
  • Sliding dropouts give many options for the drivetrain (derailleur, single speed, internally geared hub).
  • The chainstay has the ability to run a belt drive.

Cons:

  • At $1399, it’s still not a trivial expense
  • Limited tire choice if you want to take advantage of the bike’s full potential.
  • The tapered headtube looks slightly silly with a 1-1/8″ fork.
  • Lack of braze-ons if you do want to load it down for bike packing
  • No front derailleur option at this time
  • Very few options for front suspension.
Sliding dropout with disc mount.

Sliding dropout with disc mount.

Specs:

  • Clearance for 29+ wheel/tire setups
  • 3.8 pounds in medium size
  • ZS44/ZS56 tapered head tube
  • Brushed Finish with Bead Blasted Logo
  • Standard mtb hub spacing
  • 73mm BB shell
  • Sliding dropouts – any axle type can be accommodated
  • 31.6mm seatpost
  • No front derailleur capability

 

Posted by: Mark | 3 June, 2014

Riding Around Vermont: Stowe

The Stowe area is not a part of Vermont that I’ve spent a lot of time in, on the bike or otherwise.  It’s not like I’ve never ridden there, but my riding there has always been based around events like Singlespeed USA or the Epic Summer Event.  Those events gave me a little taste of what was available and I wanted more.  Fortunately,  while I camping at the Smuggler’s Notch State Park this weekend, I was able to fit in some quality time on the trails.

6K2A4706

Somewhere on Cady Hill. (photo by Ryan Thibault)

The trails in Stowe are not a centralized system like Kingdom Trails, Millstone or some others; they are spread out all over the valley.  The SMBC trail map has them broken down into different areas: Trapp Family Lodge Trails, Adams Camp, Cady Hill, Sterling Forest and a few others.  I’ve ridden a fair portion of each of these areas and they each have a little different character.  I still haven’t gotten to ride Perry Hill in Waterbury nor the Little River trails at all.  I’ll add them to my “bucket list” of Vermont riding.

The Adams Camp trailhead.

The Adams Camp trailhead.

Since I was staying at the state park, Adam’s Camp was the closest and easiest starting point for me.  A mile or two of paved downhill and then I was on dirt.  From there, it was all climbing.  Fortunately, the climbing is spread out over long gradual grades with frequent bermed switchbacks.  I used to think of banked corners as being only for downhill, but I’ve found that they’re surprisingly helpful when ascending as well.  The grades are such that my 1×10 setup never left me wanting a granny gear.

Excellent but challenging terrain makes the SMBC trails worth the trip.  (photo by Ryan Thibault)

Excellent but challenging terrain makes the SMBC trails worth the trip. (photo by Ryan Thibault)

Before too long, I realized that connecting to the various trails I wanted to ride wasn’t going to be as easy as I hoped.  I can be a little bit directionally challenged in the woods.  Fortunately, I ran across another biker who was out for an early morning ride like me.  I changed directions to follow his route.  He was able to help me find the connection to Pipeline and gave me directions to connect back to the Cady Hill trails.  Thanks, Eric.

Somewhere near Adams Camp

Somewhere near Adams Camp

From there, I met with Ryan (MTBVT Ryan, that is) and Matt in downtown Stowe.  After the prerequisite yakking and attempts at organization, we hit the trails.  Ryan and Matt seemed to know where they were going so I could just drop out of navigation mode and enjoy the ride.  Somehow, there seem to be more trails on Cady Hill than the map shows.  It could just be that I wasn’t paying attention so every intersection was a surprise.  Regardless, the riding there is great.  Cady Hill has the most dense concentration of trails in the valley.  It’s a great combination of technical riding and flow.  The trails have plenty of ledgy outcroppings and roots but it’s not the kind of terrain that beats you up; they’re just enough to keep things interesting.  Like much of the single-track elsewhere in town, the descents are made up of lots of berms.  Very fun riding.

The top of Kimmers.

The top of Kimmers.  It just goes on and on…

By the following day, I felt like I had enough of a mental handle on the layout that I ventured out on my own.  I did some loops in the Adams Camp area and beyond.  I love the town loops, but the bigger trails out beyond the village are more my speed – I like the feeling that I’m going out exploring, not just pedaling fun little circuits.  Many still have that great rhythm to them and there’s a little more natural technical challenges to be found.

More banked corners... (photo by Ryan Thibault)

More banked corners… (photo by Ryan Thibault)

Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to get out to Sterling Forest this weekend.  I love the “old school” single-track out there.  There you’ll find less groomed and shaped terrain and more “organic” single-track that follows the land.  I think of this kind of stuff as being classic Vermont trails.

The SMBC overview map.

The SMBC overview map.

Without a doubt, there is a ton of great riding in the town of Stowe, but it’s not always easy to put it all together into a ride.  There is a very good trail map which you can purchase at iRide and probably some of the other bike shops in town, but even with that it’s a little more challenging to put together a single continuous ride.  Riding on my own, I’d need to check the map pretty frequently just to keep track of where I was.  Thankfully, most trail junctions had some signs.  These trails cover a huge area and getting lost could put you much further out than you’d expect.  Really, the best way to explore the SMBC trails is with someone who knows the area to act as a guide.

Also, there are lots of “off-map” trails to be discovered.  This is great when you know where they go, but can add to your confusion when doing the mountain bike orienteering method of riding.  Again, this is where some local wisdom could be very helpful.

If you’re never ridden here before, here are my recommendations: Ride out at Adams Camp and get at least one run down Kimmers and Hardy’s Haul.  You’ll want to do them more than once, trust me.  I’d also recommend hitting Pipeline by the high school.  The other “must do” on my list would be to go to Cady Hill Forest and get turned around a couple of times.  Everything is fun to ride in that area and you won’t mind it at all when you find you’ve circled the same loop twice accidentally.  My final recommendation is to find someone to show you around so that you don’t miss some of the great riding in and around this town.  The hard work of Stowe Mountain Bike Club (SMBC) and others really has created an excellent network of trails.

Fun stuff on Kimmers

Fun stuff on Kimmers

Posted by: Mark | 27 May, 2014

Riding Around Vermont: Pine Hill Park

Also posted at MTBVT.com.

While visiting family down in central Vermont this weekend, I took some early morning hours to check out the trails in Pine Hill Park in Rutland.  I had heard that the riding there was pretty good; but, until this weekend, the timing had never worked out for me to actually get my bike out while in the area.  I had ridden there once before, about 20 years ago, with some friends from the area.  Back then, all the riding was on 4-wheeler trails and double-track beyond Rocky Pond.  It has changed a lot since then.

Banked corners abound!

Banked corners abound!

The park is about 300 acres right on the edge of downtown Rutland, Vermont’s second largest city. Unfortunately, in recent years, the city has gotten more notoriety for its drug problems than anything else.  This is too bad, because there’s more to Rutland than drugs and its “Vegas” strip along Route 7.   To the East you have Killington, Pico and the heart of the Green Mountains.  In my opinion, it is located in one of the most beautiful parts of the state.

The trailhead

The trailhead

The park is located adjacent to a decent looking neighborhood with parking shared with the Georgetti Athletic Complex.   I pulled in pretty early (for me) on a Saturday morning and had the place to myself for the first couple of hours.  At the trailhead, they have a really nice board with a trail map and other info about the park.  I studied the map and tried to memorize the layout, but I realized that was going to be pointless.  With somewhere around 16 miles of single-track criss-crossing the hill, there was no way I was going to remember which trail went where.  I grabbed a paper copy from the board and stuffed it in my pocket before hitting the trails.

Where am I?

Where am I?

Being in central Vermont, things had to start out with a climb.  Thankfully, you’d have to search hard to find a genuine steep pitch anywhere in the park trails.  I decided to work my way out to Rocky Pond at the far northern end of their trail network.  I had to check the map a couple of times along the way to make sure I was taking the correct turn at the many trail junctions.  Thankfully, nearly every junction was clearly identified with trail signs.  Once out to the pond overlook, I thought that I’d just try to cover as much of the terrain as possible with the time I had.  From there, I rode Stegasaurus, Strong Angel and many other trails that I can’t recall specifically without referencing the map.

Rocky Pond.

Rocky Pond.

It was very obvious that a LOT of work has gone into building and maintaining these trails.  Beyond the signage, nearly every trail was lined with rock borders.  The soil is the typical hard-pack I recall from my early years mountain biking in the Ludlow/Plymouth area – rocky and ledgy but not the kind of stuff that beats you up.  It seemed like every trail had been built with banked corners and little jumps littered along the way.  Anything taken as a descent was seriously fun.  All the trails had a great flow to them.

Fun stuff!

Fun stuff!

Sadly, I only had one morning to take everything in.  While the network isn’t huge, it is a LOT of fun to ride with an emphasis on flow more than tech.  A strong rider could cover pretty much every trail in 2-3 hours, but this is the kind of flowy stuff that will make you want to go back and do some repeat loops.  I definitely need to coordinate my trips down south to include some time there.  With a little better familiarity, I would love to let it rip a bit more than I could while being distracted by navigating.  I’m looking for a guide next time if anyone familiar with the trails wants to join me.

The final run down Escalator

The final run down Escalator

I’m hoping to make this the first in a series of posts covering various riding areas around Vermont which I’m titling “Riding Around Vermont.”  I plan on finding my way to many locations this summer and writing up a small review on each as I get some trail time.  Look for more in the near future.

The rocky overlook overlooking Rocky Pond.  Cool bike, eh?

The rocky overlook overlooking Rocky Pond. Cool bike, eh?

These guys were everywhere.  Thankfully, their hunter orange color made them easy to avoid.

These guys were everywhere. Thankfully, their hunter orange color made them easy to avoid.

Lots of bridges!

Lots of bridges!

Plenty of info at the trailhead.

Plenty of info at the trailhead.

 

 

Older Posts »

Categories

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 317 other followers