Posted by: Mark | 30 June, 2015

Help Save Sidewinder

At Kingdom Trials, the land where Sidewinder, Webs, West Branch and a few other trails reside is now up for sale.  The 133 acres could possibly end up sold to someone who will develop the land (houses, big sand pit, who knows?) or simply close access to these trails.  Kingdom Trails is working with the Vermont Land Trust to purchase the land, preserving it for future recreational use.   You can find more details about the Save Our Sidewinder (S.O.S.) campaign on the Kingdom Trails website.   With several sources of funding secured there is still a $75,000 difference that needs to be met by the end of July.  You can donate HERE and help keep Webs from turning into a big sandpit, or worse.

Sidewinder

Go!  Do it!  Whether you live in the area or just ride here occasionally, you need to help out!

Posted by: Mark | 23 June, 2015

NEMBAfest 2015

We’re in the fourth year running with NEMBAfest being held at Kingdom Trails.  This was also the second year that it was hosted at the Wildflower Inn on Darling Hill putting the event right in the heart of the trail network.  NEMBA and Kingdom Trails had it all pretty well dialed in this year with everything coming together remarkably well.  The weather was a mix of perfection and the dismal but the end result was still a great weekend of biking.

The Expo

The expo Area and campground (please excuse the crude panorama stitching)

Early Friday morning started off with a good dose of rain.  That delayed our arrival a bit and had me a little concerned about conditions for riding this weekend.  As the day progressed, the skies cleared up turning it into a really nice day.  We arrived mid-day to set up our camper and get things rolling.  My family and I were volunteering by working as hosts for the family camping area again.  We enjoy being part of the event and it’s a nice way to get to meet other people.  The family camping was relocated to a new area just behind Stepping Stone Spa about half a mile from the main venue and campground.  It was a little tighter on space, but I think that might have been better as everyone seemed to interact more with each other.

Once we were settled in, I went up to the venue area to check things out.  I stopped by the SRAM tent and their mechanics pulled apart and cleaned up my freehub innards just because I asked.  The mechanic also adjusted a few other things that he discovered.  Very nice.  I visited with several people I hadn’t seen in a while, but there were many others that I missed.  Maybe next year or at another event.

Our Friday night group just before the sun went down.

Our Friday night group just before the sun went down and the lights went on.

Friday evening I was scheduled to lead the advanced night ride.  The advanced and intermediate groups were each a bit small so we combined them into one group with Chris Dussault leading.  We meandered all around the east side of Darling Hill taking in the new trails Mansion View and Worth It.  In hind sight, taking a group of predominately intermediate riders down Pines at night may not have been the best choice, but everyone seemed to genuinely enjoy themselves.  On the way back out of the woods, we had an amazing view of the moon, Venus and Jupiter as we pedaled back to the campground.

The moon, Venus and Jupiter just after sunset.

The moon, Venus and Jupiter just after sunset.  This was the view as we climbed our way out of the woods.

Steam lifting off the pond on a cool Saturday morning.

Steam lifting off the pond on a cool Saturday morning.

Following a cool night, Saturday was nearly a picture perfect day in just about every way.  We started the day helping out around the camping area.  Later in the morning, my wife took out a demo bike and went out for a ride with me.  The Giant Obsess Advanced was probably a bit overkill for her skill level but a gorgeous bike nonetheless.  Our ride was probably the only time out of the entire weekend where the trails felt a little congested.  The groups of riders moved along pretty well, so it wasn’t a major factor in our ride.

Yup!

Singletrack!

After a quick lunch, I headed back out to join the NEMBA Racing team on their afternoon ride.  I’m no longer an actual member of the team, but it was great to tag along with some of the guys I used to race with regularly in the past.  We covered a good chunk of the trails on Darling hill over the course of that ride.  At roughly the half-way point, we stopped at the pump track in East Burke.  The new section along the tree line was outstanding.  This was surprisingly fun, but it turned out to be a somewhat dangerous with a bunch of lycra-clad racers randomly circling around each other.  After a little while and a few near misses, we decided to give it a rest.  We finished out the ride by tearing around the west side of Darling hill.  The team ride has always been a good time.

Race course... pump track - same thing.  Right?

Race course… pump track – same thing. Right?

Throughout the day on Saturday there was a LOT going on at the NEMBA venue: trials show, pit bike races, music, raffles, wheelie contests and many other activities.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to get to be part of all that as I was busy either out on the trail or eating and recovering for my next ride.  I was hoping that I’d have time to try out a few demo bikes, particularly the Trek Stache and the aluminum version of the Carver Gnarvester.  Cliff Bar gave out tons of sample bars to pretty much anyone that pedaled by and Pedros gave away some bike cleaner and degreaser to everyone who registered.  I was able to check out several of the newly available 29+ tires in real life, now that there are more options on the market.  I can clearly see some Bontrager Chupacabras in my future.

The women's riding clinic was very well attended.

The women’s riding clinic was very well attended.

At the end of the day, I was scheduled to lead another advanced group night ride.  This may have been the most enjoyable group ride I’ve ever had the pleasure of leading.  All the people who showed up for my ride were strong riders (Libby, Andrew, Phil, and Adam) and we were able to just cruise the entire ride with barely a rest stop or regroup.  100% fun.  My legs were starting to feel the weekend’s mileage on them by the end of the ride but it was all good.  Ripping these trails by headlight is a whole different experience than riding them during the day.  It’s like riding new trails, which only adds to the enjoyment.

Sunset

Pre-fest Sunset

I know I’ve commented on this before, but the trail crew, along with the entire Kingdom Trails staff, did an outstanding job preparing things for the weekend.  Many little fixes were made to the trails and signage leading up this weekend.  Overall, the event seemed to run like a well oiled machine.  I’m sure there were some hiccups behind the scenes but it all seemed to go very well.

Loaded shuttle ride.

Loaded shuttle ride.

As I mentioned earlier, Kingdom Trails reopened Worth It and Mansion View.  These trails disappeared from the network several years back at the landowner’s request but now they’re back!  I always liked those trails but their reinvention was excellent.  Worth It was rerouted down to the sugar house at the bottom of Sugar Hill.   The connection below the original Worth It route now takes a fantastic line through the woods with quite a few berms thrown in for good measure.  It’s just plain fun to let the bike go on this one.  “Swoopy,” if that were a real word.

This was the view out the window of my camper early Sunday morning.

This was the view out the window of my camper early Sunday morning.

Then there was Sunday.  I was woken up at some point in the dark hours of the morning by the sound of a driving rain on the roof of our camper.  It rained.  The rain would let up for a little while, just long enough to give a faint, false hope that it might clear out.  It didn’t.  As the morning progressed, it kept coming in waves.  All but a handful of people in our campground packed up and left along with a steady exodus of bike laden cars heading down Darling Hill Rd.  I was scheduled to lead one final group ride later that morning, but it became pretty clear that I wasn’t going to have any takers.  I was actually looking forward to that ride along with checking out some stuff with the vendors before it all ended.  It was a rather anticlimactic ending to an otherwise great weekend.  Still, we had two great days of riding, hanging out and generally enjoying all things bike related.  I hope that NEMBA continues to bring the fun back to Kingdom Trails for a long time into the future.

Also posted at MTBVT.com

Everyone packed up and heading home.

Everyone packed up and heading home.

Posted by: Mark | 15 June, 2015

Giant Seek 1 Review

Squeaky clean and never ridden.  Photo was taken much earlier in the spring.

Squeaky clean and never ridden. Photo was taken much earlier in the spring.

A little while back I sold my previous commute bike, a Giant Seek 0.  Like many who get into biking, I’ve had many bikes come and go in the wake of my upgrades and new purchases.  Generally speaking, I don’t look back often.  The Giant Seek was one of the very few bikes that I felt real regret in removing from the stable.  When I ran across an opportunity to get a Giant Seek 1, I jumped at the chance.  Since then, this bike has become my daily commuter and general go-to bike for anything that doesn’t involve single-track or mud.  While this is not directly related to mountain biking, my daily commute is a big part of how I keep myself in shape for riding on the trail.  I’d love to hit the single-track every day, but that doesn’t always fit into my life.

Features:

  • ALUXX-grade aluminum frame with eccentric bottom-bracket and stainless steel toptube protector
  • Light and strong double-wall alloy rims with wide Schwalbe Big Apple tires
  • Shimano Alfine 8-speed internal hub with rapid fire shifting
  •  Shimano M395 hydraulic disc brakes
Giant Stock photo

Giant Stock photo.  It just looks good.

Verdict:
Since getting the bike this spring, I’ve put several hundred miles on it. Most of those miles have been trekking to and from work on a daily basis.  The bike has performed admirably in pretty much every situation and has even proven to be an upgrade over my original Seek 0 from 2010.

The Seek 1 frame is very much like the earlier iteration of the Seek 0 with only some minor refinements.  The braze-ons are now much better positioned which I’ve used to mount fenders and a rear rack.  I ride in all weather, so fenders are a must-have item.

The geometry of the bike makes for a “quick” feeling ride.  The bike steers easily and quickly without ever feeling twitchy.  In spite of the quick feel, it can be comfortably guided when riding hands free.  It really just wants to go where you point it and seems like it would be perfect for zipping around erratically in traffic.  The geometry puts the rider in what I think of as a semi-aggressive position: not hunched over like an old-school XC MTB racer and not upright like a comfort bike.  I find it comfortable and fast enough for my 10 to 12 mile commute.

The Seek 1 with fenders, rack and loaded for  my morning commute.

The Seek 1 with fenders, rack and loaded for my morning commute. (Note the  wonderful pavement on Vt Rt 122)

The frame does have a very stiff feel to it.  It would probably have a bit of a harsh ride if it weren’t paired with the awesome Shwalbe Big Apple tires.  There is plenty room in the rear stays to easily accommodate these smooth treaded road monsters.  They give an almost plush feel.  I’ve half joked that the state highway I commute on is actually mountain bike terrain.  These tires seem to absorb the chatter and rattling that Vermont roads like to dish out.  The tires also perform well on gravel roads but that’s not this bike’s forte.

To me, the heart of this bike is the Shimano Alfine 8 hub.  The internal 8 speed hub provides a decent gear range which is more than adequate for most needs.  I would consider swapping the 45t chainring out for a 42t if I were doing lots of unusually long, steep climbs.  The steps between gear ratios might be a little larger than you get with some cassette/derailleur configurations, but it has never felt awkward when actually riding.  The hub allows shifting through its full range while stationary which can be very convenient if you’re in stop and go traffic.  The only situation where I’ve found it not to shift smoothly was pedaling under very high load.  Shifting on hard climbs requires the rider to back off just a little on the power for the shift to complete.  It’s a minor issue that I’ve pretty quickly learned to adjust to when climbing.

Shimano disc brakes and the Alfine hub.

Shimano disc brakes and the Alfine hub.

The internal gearing keeps things quiet and clean with an incredibly low need for maintenance.  My previous experience with the Alfine 8 confirmed the fact that this setup is perfectly suited to a bike that is going to see regular, long-term use in a transportation or utility type role.  Probably the only down side to this is that removing the wheel for a flat is a bit more complicated due to the bolt-on hub and routing for the internal shifter.  Overall, that is a minor inconvenience in view of the long service life and low maintenance these hubs provide.

 

The eccentric bottom bracket.

The eccentric bottom bracket. It works.

Since the Alfine hub does not have a derailleur, the bike uses an eccentric bottom bracket to adjust chain tension.  Having ridden a single speed for a long time, this has never been my favorite setup.  That said, it does its job well and I only had to make some adjustments to accommodate the initial chain stretch and settling in of the bike.

The bike at the other end of my commute.

The bike at the other end of my commute.

There are a number of little items, attention to detail type things, that make the bike.  Stuff like the addition of reflective stripes on the frame and fork paired with reflective sidewalls on the tires show that the bike is intended to actually be used.  Some of this I can see as I compare the current collection of components with the earlier setup from a few years prior.  The Shimano M395 disc brakes work wonderfully well. Even the stock grips and platform pedals are quite nice.

This is a really awesome utility bike.  I was actually first taken in by the appearance of the Giant Seek several years back.  The bike is still a great looking bike – so much so, that I was reluctant to mess it up by putting on the fenders, rack and bags I use on a regular basis.  The bare aluminum has an industrial feel to it, but still ends up aesthetically pleasing.  It’s a great combination of appearance paired with a very practical setup.

Rating:

  • Innovation:1/2
  • Function: 2/2
  • Aestheitcs: 2/2
  • Features: 2/2
  • Quality/Price: 2/2
  • Overall Rating: 9/10

Pros:

  • internal gear hub
  • Schwalbe Big Apple tires
  • quick geometry
  • mounts for bottles, racks and fenders
  • awesome looking raw aluminum non-finish

Cons:

  • Eccentric Bottom Bracket
  • saddle (I know, saddles are a very personal preference)

Specs:

  • Color: bare aluminum and black
  • Size: S,M,L,XL (size Large tested)
  • Seatpost: 30.9mm
  • 700c rims
  • MSRP: $1075.00

 

Another stock photo

Another stock photo

Also posted to MTBVT.com

Older Posts »

Categories

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 190 other followers