Posted by: Mark | 7 August, 2014

VSSM Epic Summer Event 2014

The Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum‘s Epic Summer Event was hosted at Craftsbury Outdoor Center this year instead of in Stowe as it was in previous years.  It was also the last event of the EFTA New England Championship Series for 2014.  Since Craftsbury is only about 45 minutes from my home, I really couldn’t come up with a good excuse not going.

The Expert start.

The Expert start.

The last time I did a full mountain bike race at Craftsbury was sometime around 1991.  That was back in the days when NORBA ran the world of mountain bike racing and USA Cycling was just for the leg shaving, pavement-pounder crowd.  I don’t really remember much of that race other than it being really cold (it snowed) and pedaling through very soggy, grass covered nordic ski trails.  My experience this year was much better than the one I had 20+ years ago.

Racer's meeting

Brian running the racer’s meeting

The course was a combination of traditional, technical single-track, grassy X-C ski trails and some newly cut machine made trails.   The technical single-track made up the majority of the five mile loop  that we rode with some bermed corners on the descents thrown in for extra fun.  The climbing was definitely noticeable, but never steep enough that my 1×10 setup couldn’t handle it with ease.  Normally, I hate grassy trails, but the grassy sections were fairly firm and generally made for some fast riding.  The very few places where things were a little softer, my 3″ tires made the riding pretty easy.  The thing that did stand out was the rooty sections.  Since I was riding a fully rigid bike, this took its toll on me.

First climb from the start

First climb from the start

We started the race in the lower fields at the nordic center.  This led to an immediate climb up a short grade covered with chipped wood – slow going.  From there, we crossed another field before entering the woods and funneling into the first section of single-track.  The first lap was pretty congested with the racers from the large expert field trying to establish position.  By the end of the first lap, we seemed to have settled down into a more reasonably spaced out field.

For me, the race itself was relatively uneventful.  I was really getting into the single-track sections by the second lap and was able to spin up the climbs without burning myself out – gears are great for that.  I spent much of the second and third laps riding solo with only the occasional need to pass.  I was really enjoying the twisty stuff in the woods.  By the time the fourth lap rolled around, the technical terrain had really beaten up my arms and I was more than ready to be done.  Usually my legs are the first to complain but that wasn’t the case with this race.  Between my arm muscles and having to pass riders from the tail of the Sport field, I was drained.  Thankfully, the final mile of the lap is a smooth downhill and an open climb.  I kept my pace through to the end and was glad to get off the bike and rest.

Me!

Me!

While I didn’t manage to get a podium spot, I stuck around to watch the awards.  My nephew did his first mountain bike race and managed to pull off a win in the junior novice category – and he did it wearing jeans.  I did manage to come home with some loot by winning a t-shirt in the raffle.  Overall, it was a great race and I had a good time.  Brian and the folks at Craftsbury did an outstanding job organizing things for an excellent event.  Hopefully, VSSM will return to Craftsbury for their Epic Event next year.

 

My nephew finishing up.

My nephew finishing up.

Random:

Sometimes you have to race with a rubber chicken on your back.

Sometimes you have to race with a rubber chicken on your back.

Posted by: Mark | 30 July, 2014

Burrington Bench

"Caution Uphill Riding Only"  Now that's my kind of trail!

“Caution Uphill Riding Only” Now that’s my kind of trail!

I heard the idea of a climbing trail by Toady’s Tour discussed by various Kingdom Trails staff for over a year now.    After a long wait, it is finally here.  The new trail, Burrington Bench, climbs from the base of Cat Box Hill to Bemis.  The trail is just over a mile long and climbs a little more than 400 ft., at least according to my GPS/Strava data.

The stats....

The stats….

The ride itself is pretty good.  The entrance to the trail doesn’t look like much, but it quickly improves.  The only steep sections are found early on and are very short.  From there, the trail gradually gains elevation.  Switchbacks?  If you wanted switchbacks, you’ve come to the right place.  There are at least a dozen switchbacks helping to stretch out the climb into a more gentle grade.  Once you get rolling, the trail allows you to keep a pretty good pace – even to the point where some of the switchbacks might need a little more berm.  The entire trail is a comfortable middle-ring affair.  It reminds me a lot of the West Branch climb from the bottom of Sidewinder.

Switchback?

Switchback?

A ton of work had to go into making this trail.  Most of the trail is benched, which means that the trail crews had to spend a lot of time digging things out.

A lot of earth was moved to make this trail.

A lot of earth was moved to make this trail.

If I could make any changes, it would be the brief section following the doubletrack at the top.  I’d much rather stay under the tree canopy and wind through some more single-track right to the end.  Still, it’s only a few hundred feet and hardly enough to justify complaining about.  Once the logging is done in the area, the little bit of log road should firm up and be fine.

A short section of double track.

A short section of double track.

This new trail makes a great addition to the trail network on the west side of Darling Hill.  Prior to this, if you wanted to ride Troll Stroll, Tap n Die or Toady’s more than once you either had to climb back up River Walk or River Run or ride all the way down to the south end of West Branch.  River Walk and River Run have some pretty steep sections and are pretty much in the “not fun” category, as far as climbs go.  With Burrington Bench, we can more easily do repeat loops on these downhills.   Hopefully, we won’t be wearing out Troll Stroll as a result.

Intersection with Bemis at the top of the climb.

Intersection with Bemis at the top of the climb.

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

 

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