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

 

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.

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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

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