Friday, February 26, 2010

Vacation/Demo Day - Just Don't Look Down

Vacation day today, so a ride to start off the festivities. Old mountain bike pal, Tom Fitzpatrick, 64 years young and still cranking it, joined the festivities. Tom also offered to swap bikes and let me ride his Niner EMD 29er for a bit. Hard to pass up that offer, since I've been considering joining the big wheel crowd. Riding a 29er on real trails would be a first for me. Well, that's not totally true - I did demo a Gary Fisher years ago and all the Trek 69er bikes. This still would be a real world ride on a newer 29er however, and a pretty damn nice one as well.

After some seat height adjusting on both bikes, we're off. Tom's EMD was a bit small for me, but certainly rideable. The big wheels still look weird, but to quote Tom, "Just don't look down." There's a 29er marketing catch phrase if I ever heard one - "Just don't look down."

Tom's bike is set up nice - Chris King hubs with Stan's tubeless rims, Fox fork, XT crank, carbon seat post, etc. It feels lighter then my current Cannondale - hoisting it off the ground and actually riding it. You can feel the larger diameter of the wheels for sure, though it's not sluggish at all. It steers and feels like a nice, light hardtail. Roots and rocks do seem to flow a bit easier under the giant hoops, though it's not some earth shattering experience some 29er converts will have you believe. Don't get me wrong, it's damn nice and does feel good - really good. I think the more you rode the 29" wheels, the more you'd appreciate 'em in various conditions. For the few miles of wet, muddy, semi-technical trails I rode on today, I dug it and could own a 29er. It fits my XC Geek, occasional racer riding style a well.

Tom's Niner EMD. Super nice 29er.

After swapping bikes back to their original owners, complete with a woods seat height readjusting party, I'm back on my 26" wheel Cannondale. Being able to swap bikes back to back on your own familiar trails is the perfect demo. After the Niner, my Cannondale feels like a BMX bike - well, sorta - at least like an old school XC race bike, which it is. Bars low, endo(ish) feeling in technical sections, and a little snappier - what I'm used to. Both bikes have their merits, which makes me think a Carver 69er may be the set up for me. I'd also like to ride another 29er that fits me a bit better, with a set up more like I'm used to - longer stem and lower bars. I dig the 29er concept, I'm just not 100% sold yet. Maybe 90%, which is saying a lot for old school me.

Cannondale, muddy yet once again. The way mountain bikes should look - dirty.

I'm happier then my mud splattered face would indicate. I'm just internally pondering the whole 26" verses 29" debate. Serious stuff for bike geek like me. Well, fun serious stuff any way.

No matter what bike I was on, it was fun to get out today and ride with a fellow mountain biker. Thanks to Tom for providing the Niner demo, very cool to do. It was great to check out a 29er on real trails - my real trails. Further testing may be in order. Testing means riding and that's always good.

Over and out for today......

Monday, February 22, 2010

Rockets Away !!

Assisted son Ian with a science project over the weekend, that the whole family got a kick out of. Who doesn't get a kick out of firing home made rockets? Empty plastic soda bottle, stopper made from a cut up bike tube, crude wooden launcher, bike pump - you're in business.

Fill bottle half way with water, attach pump, balance in crude stand and pump away. At around 50 psi it would blow out the stopper and head for the stars - well, almost. Still, some pretty impressive heights and good cheap fun.

Video taken from local school yard. First few test launches from our back yard resulted in a lost bottle that sailed over the neighbors house, so we had to move to a larger test facility. Even so, we eventually lost this bottle on the school roof.

NASA has nothing to worry about.....

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Personal Rides: Ibis Trials Comp

It's been awhile since the last installment, time to fire up a new episode of Personal Rides and examine yet another bike hanging in the garage. This fine specimen is a 1987 Ibis Trials Comp - a freaky little bike made for the freaky little sport of Observed Trials.

"Observed Trials?", what the hell is that you say. In case you don't know, Trials is a sport where you ride through marked sections - very technical terrain - without putting your feet down, or "dabbing" as it's known. The more dabs, the more points you incur, lowest score wins. It's not a race - you ride from section to section, take time to study each section before attempting it yourself, then give it a go. You carry a score card that's marked after each section, that's handed in at the end of the event to calculate who won. Golf fan I'm not, but in a way, a similar set up.

Scoring works something like this (at least it did years ago) - 1 point for each dab, up to 3 dabs. After 3 dabs, you can paddle your way through with section with a total of 3 points. Not completing a section - come to a stop with foot down, or running out of bounds is 5 points. Not attempting a section is 10 points, though if it's that scary - makes more sense to ride in a bit, then score the 5 point penalty. Don't know if that still holds true any more. Been a few decades since my last trials event. No matter what the era, the intent is to "clean" the section - as in no dabs and a score of zero.

Bicycle observed trials is taken from motorcycle observed trials - same concept. The motorcycle crowd has been doing this for decades and in the '70s, during the dirt bike boom, trials started to grow in popularity and was supposed to be "the next big thing" with Yamaha, Honda, Suzuki, and Kawasaki putting out trials specific motorcycles. The best trials bikes still came from Spain however, with bikes from Bultaco, Montesta and Ossa. The "big thing" didn't occur as hoped, and the sport faded back into the subculture scene it once was.

Consequently, bicycle observed trials parallels a similar story and started to become a bit popular during the mountain bike boom of the late '80s and early '90s. Trials events were part of the early mountain bike scene, with reports in magazines and trials riders featured - like Hans Rey, Andy Grayson, Ot Pi, Ryan Young, Kevin Norton - as well as others.

Fat Chance and other higher end companies made limited production trials bikes, then a few larger scale production trials bikes joined the fray - from Raleigh, Kuwahara, Mountain Goat, GT, Monty and Ibis. This brought the price down and allowed trials bikes to be purchased from the local bike shop. Similar to the motorcycle scene, mainstream interest died off for trials and its retreated back to full on subculture status. A few Google searches will get you more info on trials, motorcycle and bicycle versions. Monty and a few other companies continue to make trials bicycles to this day.

My interest in trials started during the '70s dirt motorcycle boom. I knew people with trials motorcycles and one of my pals, Richard Jones - and his family, were very into the sport. We'd lay out practice sections in the woods and attempt them - huge fun. I owned a motocross bike at the time, so they'd lend me some trials iron to fool around with. I tagged along to a few trials events to watch them compete as well - including a national event in 1978. At the time, I also wanted a trials motorcycle, but that never happened. As a teenager, keeping a one motocross bike running was enough.

Mixed in with this, we'd practice trials on our bicycles as well - clapped out Sting Ray/BMX copies. We'd lay out sections and even stage play events at times. Later, when mountain bikes arrived, I did the same on my mountain bike - including entering some actual trials events.

During the '80s, most mountain bike races (on the East Coast anyway) featured a trials event in the afternoon. You'd race in the morning, break for lunch, then do the trials event in the afternoon. A full day of fun. Most people entered both events on their stock mountain bike. Others, trials specialists, entered only the trials event on a "real" trials bike. It was a cool time. I wasn't very good at it, but enjoyed it - at least when the sections were "rolling" rideable - as in pedaling. Later, hopping your bike became the preferred method for tricker sections. Not easy to do - an advanced technique for which I'm ill equipped. Today's trials riders, on bicycles and motorcycles, can hop over and onto things that don't seem possible. Amazing stuff.....

With that long winded introduction, let's move on to the actual bike. When Ibis released the Trials Comp in 1987 I really wanted one, even though I never saw one for real - just in magazines. It was the production trials bike for Ibis and thinking I was a bit of a trials rider, thought it would be cool to have. Later, in 1990 or so, I spotted a used one for sale and picked it up. This was the first real trials bicycle I'd ever ridden. With the low seat and super low gearing, totally useless for anything but trials. I played around the yard with it, and cruised over to the local schoolyard and woods occasionally. I discovered I was lot better playing trials rider on my regular mountain bike, rather then specific trials equipment. Hopping from obstacle to obstacle is never going to be in my book of tricks.

Eventually I hung the Trials Comp in the garage, where it sat for many years. I dusted it off to feature on the blog and to sell - will try the Craigslist and eBay routine soon. I never ride the thing and could use the dough for another bike project, though after screwing around the yard with it today - gives me second thoughts....

Freshly washed and powdered for photo session. Sunlight highlights the 24" front wheel, while 20" rear wheel shivers in the shade. I always dug the turquoise paint - looks great. The 1" headtube and Specialized stem look incredibly spindly compared against modern bikes. Frame is steel and nothing like the higher end California made Ibis bikes of yore. This is production based stuff out of Japan, though totally fine for the intended purpose and price at that time. Seat post jacked up only to clamp into bike stand, since you never sit during trials - the hard plastic seat wouldn't be very comfy anyway. Modern trials bicycles and motorcycles don't even have seats.

The old Ibis logo still looks cool.

Sugino 165mm trials crank - which is covered in plastic for some reason. Trials specific tiny chainring and trials tires included in view for no extra charge. Old school bear trap pedals ready to inflict shin damage at any moment.

Dia-Comp U brake provides the stopping power. Strong brakes are super important in trials, especially for hopping, since the wheel needs to be locked up.

Here, Ibis holds up large tree - while showing off old school trials stance, complete with mismatched wheels and high rise bars.

Dia-Comp U brake provides front stopping power and face plants as required. No fancy Ibis headtube badge for the Trials Comp, just a sticker please - thank you. Old school threaded Shimano XT headset keeps things spinning.

Short in back and long in front - about a 23" top tube - this ain't no kid's bike.

The legend of Ibis casts a long shadow.

Later versions of the Trials Comp featured dual 20" wheels, more in line with the hopping style of trials riding. They also had a geared Mountain Trials model with 24" and 26" wheels - kind of a hybrid mountain bike/trials bike - man, I really wanted one of those. Scot Nicol, head honcho of the old school Ibis, and currently Mayor McCheese of the new Ibis - has always been a trials fan - from what I've read anyway. Must be true considering the past history.

Even if you never ride observed trials, practicing some of the skills involved will increase your general mountain biking skills - no doubt about that. Sometimes you have to go slow, to learn to go fast. My alleged trials skills have rusted over completely, though at times resurface in a small form when needed during XC riding. Not a bad thing to have buried in the memory banks.

I hope you enjoyed my little trip down observed trials lane. Click on the links buried in the post for more info, pictures and video. Then go out and try to clean some sections of your own.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Muddy Bike = Happy Boy

Nothing like sneaking a weekday mountain bike ride in to clear the head and recharge the soul - and today that was needed....

Escaped from work early to take an IT certification test - and much to my horror - I failed. Missed it by a few points, even though I crammed for hours over the weekend and had no problem passing the practice tests. Bummer. The only thing more fun will be announcing the news at work tomorrow. Yes, I am Moron Boy - thank you.

After cell phoning the wife to inform her of my great news - she informed me daughter Amy, fresh out of the dentist chair, needs a root canal. On a baby tooth (??). More joy and all around good times. I check my watch - go back to work or head home? Close call and home wins.

When I get home, discover the family has yet to arrive - time for a quick escape to nearby woods. Quick change into Boy Racer costume and I'm gone......

Sweet glorious Pacific Northwest mud - cleanses the soul, clears the brain, and clogs up the frame.

Muddy Bike = Happy Boy

About an hour's worth of thrashing around the local trails of St. Edward and Big Finn Hill park, my personal stomping grounds, and I'm feeling much better. The eBay special Cannondale frame, old XTR and Fox fork feeling perfect today, mud scraping v-brakes included. I've been toying with the idea of a new bike, maybe a 29er. Today the old bike felt so great, thinking why bother? This bike rocks and has some personality as well. Or maybe it was just trying to cheer me up.

Family pulls in the driveway as I'm hosing off the aluminum steed, the mud hopefully symbolizing my crappy mood as it washes off the frame. Yup, I think it's working. Seeing the family pile out of the car with smiles doesn't hurt either. Dentist shiny clean smiles to boot.

I'll be sure to ride to work tomorrow to keep the good vibe going.....

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Project Access - Performance Access XCL Comp

Let the festivities begin - bike building festivities that is. As mentioned in a previous post, Boy Racer Ian is ready for a 26" wheel mountain bike. After spending way too much time on Craigslist and eBay searching for something nice enough to race, yet cheap enough for a 10 year old to outgrow - I've formulated my plan. Well, a semi-plan open to change anyway. Even so, plan has been officially named Project Access. Set your decoder rings to stun and follow along...

I noticed this Access frame on the Performance site months ago. Yeah, being semi-bike snob - well, not really - but certainly liking higher end stuff, I thought the mail order "no name" frames were junk. Still, when I looked at the specs for this frame - seemed perfect for Ian. The right size, under 4 pounds, disk and v-brake mounts, and sells for $115 or so. I don't remember the exact price, 'cause it just went on sale for $99. How can you beat that? For a 10 year old kid, could build this up into a nice race hardtail. I took a chance and ordered one up.

Ordering this frame also falls inline with a mental health vacation/project I've messing with and researching for a few months now - starting my own bike company. Without capital, a pipe dream for sure, but interesting to research exactly where frames are made. Not to blow away the smoke and mirrors, but when you look into this - some interesting finds. In any case, that's another story to post about. Having said that, was curious to see what this frame would look like.

Well, the frame arrived yesterday in a slightly battered box. Looked like it had been opened, since only about 2 staples were left holding the box closed. Frame was also poorly packed and kind of bouncing around inside - as was the box of parts - seat clamp, derailleur hanger and headset. I pulled it from the alleged cardboard protection and unwrapped the frame to check it out.

First of all, pretty stinking light - no scale to officially weigh it, would guess 3.5 pounds or so. I've held a fair amount of bare frames in my hands (still illegal in certain states I'm told) and this qualifies as light. The small size is a factor in this for sure. There's something really cool checking out a bare frame, free of parts - bike geek I am. Sue me.

Enough describing already, let's just look at the damn thing...

In all it's flat black glory, still clean enough for quickie living room rug photo session. Seat tube measures 14.5" with a center to center of 12" or so. Should fit almost 5 foot Ian well, with some room to grow. Curved downtube should avoid any fork clearance hassles. Frame is designed for 80mm - 100mm forks.

Weld quality won't impress anyone at Moots, but not bad at all. The build quality, paint and graphics are shockingly good for a $99 frame. I have a very expensive older Ellsworth Truth hanging in the garage with welds not much better looking then this. Of course I have no idea if this frame is aligned as well, and it uses cheaper tubing. For the money though, I'm amazed how decent it looks.

Curved seat and chain stays, v-brake and disk brake mounts included. Where the seat stays join at the top looks a little bargain like, but still not bad for $99.

Bottom bracket area detail. Welds still look pretty well done, certainly on par with bikes costing a few hundred bucks sitting on the bike shop floor. Makes you ponder the actual frame cost of most production bikes - most now welded in China or Taiwan. This frame is from China. Hopefully not welded by small children with excess toxic waste dumped into nearby stream. I'm half joking here, but do wonder about such things.

Here's where the story takes a turn for the worse. Notice the out of round head tube - caused by a whack to the front of it - complete with dinged up aluminum. You can tell someone dropped it onto something hard, like a concrete floor. I don't know if it was shipped this way or occurred during shipping itself. In any case, I'm not attempting to press a headset into that. Game over.

I called Performance today and they're sending a new frame. Well, technically I had to buy another frame, and will be reimbursed when I send this one back. I'm cool with that - it's quicker then sending this one back first and waiting for a replacement. I could have just bagged this whole idea and returned the frame for a refund as well. I'm impressed with the frame enough to continue with this project - especially for $99.

When the replacement frame arrives, will build it up with parts from the garage - wheelset from my Fat Chance, spare seat post and trick seat I already have, and mostly everything else pulled off Ian's 24" Specialized - drivetrain, bars, etc. Need to buy a headset as well - one that comes with the new frame is total junk. Oh yeah - and a fork. I emailed my mountain bike club list and have some leads on a few used forks. Fox and Manitou. This Option 1 build would be the cheapest route to get this rolling.

Option 2 build is to find a good donor bike on Craiglist or eBay and transfer parts to Ian's new frame. I've seen some good deals float through there, but none with a small enough frame - now that doesn't matter. Modified Option 2 is for me to score a used bike, then transfer parts off my Cannondale frame to him - old XTR and Fox fork.

Option 3 is to score me a new bike, then transfer my Cannondale build to him as well. Daddy likes that option, but tough to swing at the moment - though I'm working on it. Being Family Guy, can't justify throwing down $4000 for a new bike (I want something nice. Sue me). Something in the $2000 range - maybe. I've also been hardtail 29er curious for awhile (also illegal in some states I'm told) and have been looking into that. That also happens to be much more affordable as well.

On that note, today I was going to bum a ride on a friends Niner EMD to check it out - but needed to reschedule. I did take a drive over to Veloce Velo in Issaquah to check out some Niner bikes, but all the hardtails (demos included) were sold. I did test ride a Specialized Stumpjumper 29 with a decent build kit and RockShox Reba SL fork. Pretty nice bike for $1850....

The Niner frame geometry would be fit me better however, will check that out ASAP. Speedgoat also has some killer deals on Niners at the moment - with free shipping and no sales tax. I'd rather support a local shop, but the savings difference may dictate if I can pull this off at all. I'd probably go for the Air 9 model....

I've also been looking at the Sette 29er available online. Yeah, an "off brand" but a killer deal with a 3.2 pound frame, SRAM X7/X9, decent wheels, and RockShox Reba SL fork for $1200. That I could swing and it's half the price of a similar Niner. I've also Googled a bunch of favorable reviews on it. Interesting. The geometry appears to work for me as well. Very similar build kit to the Specialized I rode today for $600+ less. Frame also appears to a copy of the Niner. Makes you wonder....

More pictures and various rambling to follow as this story unfolds. Feel free to comment, ridicule, or ignore as needed. Thanks for your patronage. Drive safely. Good night.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Birth of Dirt - Origins of Mountain Biking

I picked this book up a week or so ago, along with a few other bike related books from the local library. The Birth of Dirt, by Frank Berto - printed in 1999. This book came out of a research paper by the author, prepared for the 1997 International Cycle History Conference. The original inspiration came from an article by Joe Breeze in Bicycling magazine in 1996, "Who Invented the Mountain Bike?", with a rebuttal from Gary Fisher in the following issue.

At one point in mountain bike history, Gary Fisher claimed to be the inventor of the mountain bike. Having read about mountain bikes myself back in the early '80s, and finally getting my first one in '84 - I always doubted that statement and just chalked it up to marketing hype for Fisher bicycles. Nothing really wrong with that, and Gary certainly was there at the beginning and played a huge role in what we now call mountain biking.

The book captures the chronological development of the mountain bike and the characters involved. If your local college ever cranks up a Mountain Bike History 101 course, this should be the textbook - along with a required viewing of Klunkerz. Along the way, you get a closer view at some of the facts and dates of who developed what - as in adding deraileurs, modifying brakes, building actual mountain bike frames, etc. I've read about most of this story before, but never in this detail and order.

I did learn that Alan Bonds was buying up old Schwinn frames in bulk, converting them for Klunker use and selling them, before Charlie Kelly and Gary Fisher started their company. I thought that was interesting, since in a way, Alan had the first mountain bike company. Mixed in with the facts are comments from all the known names from that era - Joe Breeze, Gary Fisher, Charlie Kelly, Tom Ritchey, and others from that time. Lots of detail and history laid out in a simple format.

In the end, the author declares no one person invented the mountain bike - it was a collaboration of people and ideas. I would agree 100% with this conclusion. Other people were creating and riding bikes in the woods before the famous Northern California gang did it. However, that gang did invent and package mountain biking as we know it today - no doubt about that.

The Repack race is also covered in the book. The one chapter by Charlie Kelly describing Repack is worth the price of admission alone. If you have any interest at all about the beginnings of mountain biking, give it a read.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Up on Two Wheels - Success !!

After many on/off attempts at learning to ride, six year old daughter Amy is up on two wheels - unassisted. We dragged the very pink little Specialized out today, after she asked to try once again. Me running along side, holding her up, she was starting to get it. I could let go for a few seconds at a time, until she veered off into the bushes or started to fall.

She asked me to "pull the pedals off", like we did a few weeks ago - where I removed the pedals, crank and chain to create a coaster bike. Instead, I just removed the pedals, leaving everything in place. Quick and easy.

After a few coasting feet up runs on her own, the balance was there. Reinstalled the pedals and we gave it another go. Finally, she started pedaling on her own. Awesome to see. Watching and helping with this process is pretty amazing. As soon as they "get it", its there for life - you can't forget how to ride a bike. It becomes ingrained into your brain forever.

She can now ride up and down our street, but is still working on turning around to continue each lap. I bet she gets that down tomorrow. Just one fall during today's festivities. I'll break out the knee and elbow pads for the next event.

It's very cool to see your kids ride a bike on their own for the first time. In a way, it symbolizes what's coming down the road a few years from now, when they leave to live on their own. You teach them, run along side a bit, cover any wobbles - then watch 'em cruise off into the sunset.

Now that she's finally riding on her own, the very pink little Specialized is approaching the end of use for us - being a bit too small. I'll let her ride it for a few weeks to get more comfortable, then start Project Schwinn - a '70s Sting Ray bike my wife rode as a child - and has been sitting in a box for decades now. I'll remove it from it's cardboard cocoon and see what kind of shape it's in.

Pictures and posts to follow....

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Eastern Woods Research - Back to the Future

Eastern Woods Research, otherwise known as EWR, hit the mountain bike scene in the early '90s. Jay de Jesus being the frame designer and man behind the action. Their frames, the Original Woods Bike (OWB) and E-Motion were a little different and reeked of East Coast goodness. Short chainstays, high bottom brackets, low stand over heights. These were singletrack machines. I seriously considered ordering up the more race oriented E-Motion frame at that time. However I did not - too bad - I should have.

EWR closed it's doors in 1998. One of the many mountain bike boom companies that eventually went bust. The '90s, especially for cross-country riding and racing, was the heyday. There's a long list of companies that participated in this era - some good, some bad. EWR would be on the good list.

After a 10 year hiatus, and a bout serious illness, Jay resurrected EWR in 2008. The frames look better then ever, updated for disk brakes and a longer travel fork - yet retain some old school coolness, being a steel hardtail. Bilenky Cycle Works, based out of Philadelphia, is welding up the frames for EWR. A quality pedigree for sure.

The new OWB is available in 26" and 29" wheel versions. I'll take the 26" version myself, built up with XTR and a Fox fork. Hey, a boy can dream can't he? I just read on the website, they're also planning to release a 29er titanium version of the E-Motion race frame. Sweet. I'm curious to see what the modern version will look like.

Nothing wrong with today's modern production bikes - most welded in Asia. For the money/performance quotation, they can't be beat. However, there's still something very special about people like Jay and crew welding 'em up in small batches right here. You can't argue with old school, mountain bike soul.

Give the EWR site a cruise. Even if not your type of bike, take some time to admire what they're doing.