Mountain Bike Clothing; Or, Why I Ride with a Fanny Pack or Backpack

Road riders have pretty minimal clothing needs. Lightweight and warm, your average roadie has all the storage space he needs in his jersey pockets. He/she doesn’t carry a significant complement of tools (usually a spare tube and CO2 cartridge is sufficient) as your typical road is well maintained and also not too far from some form of civilization. They also can get by on a gels or tiny snacks alone, or make a quick stop at a store if in dire need of refueling.

However a dirt rider has a different set of requirements. First off, we ride on rocky, muddy trails, and we also like to flog ourselves over stuff like logs, rocks, wooden ladders, hit jumps and huck off ledges, bunny hop over cones, roots and so forth. All this pointy and jumpy stuff means we have a far greater chance of getting a flat tire, and not just a typical flat, but one where the sidewall gets torn to hell. We also break components like chainrings, crankarms, pedals and derailleurs; while I’m not carrying a spare drivetrain and wheelset in my fanny pack, it does mean some people will carry spare parts and tools beyond an inner tube, tire levers and a boot.

We also aren’t near stores and are frequently outside of cellphone service, thus in order to fuel, refuel and find suitable beverages like beer, we have to carry them with us and/or stash them in the woods. It’s not uncommon for a nightrider to have a sixpack on board and there ain’t no place to keep them other than in a backpack or under a log. One way or the other, we have to transport them.

Since we crash we also use fabrics that are thicker and more durable than wool or lycra, sometimes like a second skin. The more sensible among us wear kneepads and armored gloves, but the average rider stops there. What we give up in aerodynamics we make up for in safety…or at least a semblance of safety, though I definitely can’t call what I do safe, not because I’m radical but more because I often do dumb things. Since we also ride around in forests we need a bit more coverage from things like poison oak and sharp branches, the former being the bane of all who are sensitive to its poison, the latter with their obvious drawbacks. We also need a small medical kit in case things get particularly nasty, though it’s pretty hard to apply gauze to your forearm when you also have a broken clavicle.

There’s a particularly strange segment of the mtb population that eschews jerseys altogether, opting for your standard t-shirt or even a tank top. While I admire their budget-conscious mindsets I can’t have a piece of wet cotton clinging to my back and I don’t wear tank-tops…ever; not that I spend money on cycling specific jerseys either; I only buy cheap running shirts at target for like $15.

The obvious exception to all of this is XC racing, where most people ride in full lycra and have basically no need for a repair kit. If you flat…you might as well just call it a day, pack it in and cheer for your friends from outside the tape.

In summation: we basically need room for beer, medical cannabis and kneepads.

 

 

An Ode to Fat Tire Heaven

Why wait for the afterlife to get to heaven? Join our club of fat tire enthusiasts and live the dream. It’s never too early or late for a visit to shangri la…all you need is a love for the outdoors, legs that can turn in circles (fast or slow doesn’t matter) and fat tires with knobs.

People spend their lives searching for that “thing” that will turn their mundane world into something extraordinary. Some try to buy their way out of purgatory, lurking the malls, Macy’s or even Walmart. Some drink their way to oblivion, blotting out all that came before and all that will come after. Some hope love or sex will save them. Some go up in smoke (puff, puff, pass) while others still work away their blues, further compounding their woes. Then there are fitness freaks, fashionistas, Facebook flunkies, Instagram idiots, sun bunnies, yoga gurus, home chefs….the lists go on and on of people who have things they love but miss a unifying theme.

Mountain bikers still have to make a living, we still have needs (usually mtb related) and must shop, we love to drink beer and marijuana is a way of life. We have families and bills and all that, but like surfers and Mormons we have found something that ties our little otherwise disparate worlds together. I’m not writing about people who have a knobby bike hanging in the rafters that they dust off and ride around once or twice a year. I’m writing about people who wake up and go to sleep thinking about riding around in the dirt and hanging out with friends. People who tinker in their garages to modify their rides to fit their needs; people who despite all their other responsibilities have little mountain bikes riding all over the synapses of their brains, dropping down into canyons, drifting and skidding the crevices of their gray matter.

We fat-tire lovers have found heaven on earth; make the trails illegal if you want to, Mr. and Mrs. Hiker, Mr. and Mrs. Equestrian, Mr. Senator; outlaw the social outlaws. We’re all going down in flames on this here goddamned space rock, but we will be looking for that ribbon of singletrack on the way.

Yet we will exist forever and you shall know our existence by the faintest of tire treads. Our love will remain both your earth and your ether.

Commencal Meta HT AM–Longish-Term Review

Since there aren’t any solid, non-commercial online reviews of the Commencal Meta HT AM, I thought I’d go ahead and write one. Now, I don’t usually review stuff, I don’t make any money on this here website, and I have no interest in writing this review other than to help out a few other mountain bikers in need. This won’t be a typical bike review where everything is all good.

Billed as an all-mountain or enduro hardtail and made to be bashed, and I’ve found these sentiments to be largely true. I’ve had two frames–both the size L and the XL, and I’ve tar-assed ’em all over and every single day, whether in rain, mud, rock gardens, steep and gnarly tracks, or sun-baked fire roads. And since I’ve had the two for probably about 5 months now as my commuter, XC bike, dh sled and dirt jumper, I feel like I’ve gotten to know the strengths (many) and weaknesses (not very many) pretty well.

First of all, these bikes run small. I originally bought the large thinking it would be fun to thrash around (it was), but frustratingly enough Commencal doesn’t list reach figures for this particular frame. I ended up putting a 100 mil stem on the large in order to get comfy but that never actually happened, so I ultimately got an XL frame on discount and thought this would solve my problems. It didn’t. Now despite the XL top tube being like 35 mil longer than the large, I STILL run a long stem, probably due to the head angle being half a degree slacker on the 2016 edition, chiming in at 65.5 degrees. So if you’re like me and usually come in between sizes, go larger; these are the pitfalls of buying online without a test ride, yes?

Second, this frameset lives to be abused and get wild. Straight through the chunk. Hit that lip to flat. The HT AM takes it all in stride and is happiest when the trail gets rough. It’s stiff and overbuilt, but this of course also means it ain’t light. Fine by me because I’m not really interested in being the first to the top of the mountain, even though I often am, even on flats. It has no trouble keeping up with full-blown trail bikes on the downhill, and climbs exceptionally well despite it’s very slack head angle–the front end doesn’t wander or have a tendency to rise. It wheelies and manuals very easily, as one would expect.

Third, I really, really like the stock Marzocchi 350R despite having limited adjustment and being heavy. I’ve owned the Pike, the Fox 36, the 34 and the 32 and I’d take this fork over almost any of them, mainly because it’s coil sprung, built to last and cheap. Only two knobs to turn–rebound and air-spring preload for the coil. The latter essentially adjusts the coil preload for setting sag, but it also has a profound effect on compression as well. The rebound knob is very effective, and I basically have it all the way open to get the most smooth travel out of this beast. It’s got a solid feel, is ready to rumble and probably won’t need to be serviced for an eternity despite constant mayhem. This fork was a special OE build and the stanchions have what they call an espresso color, meaning it’s black, something typically found only on their more expensive models. So…despite retailing for like $300 it looks expensive, if that sort of thing matters to ya.

Now for the bad. The house brand wheelset absolutely sucked ass. Sucked. Ass. A constant headache. Despite re-tensioning the wheels I broke like 10 rear spokes in the first three months, basically averaging one per week. Before anyone starts saying I was hard on the wheelset, I have to agree! But that’s how this bike was marketed and the damn things just didn’t even come close to holding up. To add insult to injury, the shit hubs were constantly coming out of adjustment and needed attention every other ride or so. So I just now replaced them with some WTB i23 Team rims and am going to throw the others in a dumpster somewhere so I don’t have to look at them anymore.

The brakeset is the Avid DB-3 and they have excellent modulation and stopping power when paired with 180 mil rotors. It should be noted though that they will fade sort of quickly if you’re heavy on ’em, so lay off if possible. They’re cheap and cheerful and haven’t needed a bleed and I don’t plan on replacing them.

As for the quality of the build, well, that left something to be desired. The cables and housings were as long as day, and even after switching over to the XL I still had to cut down the housings. It was pretty ridiculous actually. Surprised I wasn’t picking up tree branches when I dropped into tight switchbacks. The stock crankset LITERALLY FELL OFF during an early ride, meaning that the factory did a crappy job of installation. This would have really been a drag if I hadn’t already intended to swap it out for a 1x system. Still though, it was pretty shabby and disheartening, especially when attempting to reinstall the drive side crank with an appropriately sized stick whilst out on a ride with my girlfriend. The baseplate on the fork was loose and the headset was a piece of junk, so when I swapped out frames I replaced it with a Cane Creek 40.

The stock bars are perfectly serviceable if a bit narrow, though nothing to write home about; the tires were maxxis ardents which are dependable and trail worthy in most conditions; and the rest of the drive train was sram x-9, which is also fine because I quickly destroy chains, cassettes and derailleurs, and I don’t care about things like wide-range and/or precise shifting so long as it works. The paint is nice on the hydro-formed aluminum frame, as are the graphics and overall look, especially with the pretty cool cable routing which keeps everything tidy. It came with a KS eTen dropper post which has recently begun to have problems as well, problems which are well-known with this model, so I have a sinking (pun intended) feeling I’m gonna have to replace that soon as well otherwise it’ll be another headache I don’t need.

Overall…this bike was cheap at $1000 for the bargain build which fit the bill perfectly, but I’ve ended up putting another $500-$600 into it for new wheels, cranks, and headset,  (not to mention the impending dropper probs) making it something less than the original bargain I’d initially hoped for. Still pretty cheap but not sure I’d do it again. If interested in the frame, I’d say go ahead and get one because it’s awesome; and the fork is a bargain at twice the price; but the rest of the build isn’t  worth the dough, especially since it’s all gonna need replacing if you ride with regularity. Just my input, hope it helps.

Why Read Mainstream Mountain Bike Media?

They’re slick and well-designed. They’re flashy and often showcase the latest mtb paraphernalia. They’re also full of shit. As with any publication that makes money, they’re beholden to advertisers–and thus most of the articles and reviews read like press releases (they are). This happens so much and so often that it seems people have forgotten what it’s like to read a legit column or story. The consumers are so wrapped up in a sense of false identity that all they want is their goddamn ego stroked to a soothing beat of consumption and take sides in the comments section accordingly. Take a look at PB at explore the various categories of bikes–you’ll find yourself realizing that if you want to be serious you’re gonna need a  bike with an additional inch of travel, otherwise you’re a joey and you’ll never win your enduro race.

It’s sickening. Judging from the way I see most people ride around these here parts, they’d do just as well on a 4-inch-travel hardtail from, say, 2008 as they do on the latest Santa Cruz 6-inch travel trail bike. People are just so damned wrapped up in an image that they can’t see how badly they actually ride, but I guess it’s hard to progress when you hit the trails but once a week.  Which begs the question: is the 4-6k ride actually warranted?  Highly unlikely.

People claim that “it makes things more fun,” regardless of your skill level. I call b.s.; they’re justifying a purchase. It’s true that every once in a while you ride with someone that just shreds the hell out of their bike, but these are rare folk indeed. So I promise to never turn this site into anything that resembles mainstream media. Of course, I only have like 4 readers so it’s easy to be all high-minded. But still…I promise.

 

Let There Be Light

In the midst of all this horror about my work there are some bright spots. The first is that they are pulling the worst kids from my class so that I have some hope of finishing this school year without dying.

The second bright spot is that I’ve decided to change my commute-both ways through the dirt and man it’s a welcome change. More grueling, more muddy, but well worth it. I figure it only makes good sense to enjoy my life wherever and whenever I can, even if I feel miserable for the bulk of it.

I’ve been riding a new slack and relatively long-travel hardtail, but looking for an even longer fork. This thing rules and rips hard, plus I can ride it on the pavement without burning through my precious service intervals. Moreover it was less than a thousand bucks, which in this insane world of marketing, expensive bikes and shit riding, makes perfect sense to me.

I’m Still Alive, Somehow

Hi friends. Somehow I’m still alive though I’m not sure how. Something has got to give in relation to my work and it’s looking more and more like that something is going to be me. I’m awake early, dreading going in, just as I dreaded it all last night. Every time I think I’ve gotten out of my mindset of failure…I report to work at it all comes crashing back to reality. I’m bad at my job and nobody can help me. I have to quit.

I did manage to commute both ways on dirt and seeing as these were the only bright spots of my day, I’ll have to do it again. The first part was pretty dang fun indeed but my dirty commute home was ruined by my mindset–all I could focus on was my misery and thus a perfectly good trail ride was lost to the ether of time. Nothing will make you feel like a crappy mountain biker more quickly than being distracted while attempting a technical climb, and there I was, flopping around, wheel wandering, dabbing, walking my bike. I was a lost cause.

Wish there was a positive ending to this story, though I guess the bike ride home was it. Yeah. Bike rides.

Poison Oak Struck Down My Whole Crew

Went on an awesome ride in Santa Cruz with some good friends. Most everyone demo’d and we went a ridin’ on some of the best they have on offer. My buddy put together an awesome loop, with some demanding climbs, pretty sweet downhill sections and lots of fun overall. Nice and loamy, a bit dry for my tastes but overall very nice. Afterwards we went out for beers and food, and I two beers right away–a move that made everyone envious. This wasn’t because of $ but because I’d gotten stoned early on in the ride and had been stuffing my face with food at every opportunity. I think I’d already had two tuna sandwiches, a whole package of graham crackers, chips, nuts and a pbr.

Cue a couple of days later…and that peculiar itchiness began, followed by only a couple of raised bumps here and there. Then the raised patches appear on one forearm, then the other, followed by similar sensations near my left eye, on my lips and forehead. And so now I’m sitting here with a full blown case of the oak, all courtesy of an awesome and rarely used but overgrown trail. I normally like these sorts of trails and it was one of my favorite parts of the ride, but goddammnit if it didn’t tear the whole crew to shreds with overhanging branches…branches that turned out to be the oak.

I’ve been battlin’ this poison ever since I was a wee lad roaming the animal trails surrounding our ranch, and on a scale of 1-10 this case is probably a 5.5–a significant number because let me tell you…I’ve had some really awful bouts.

One of my buddies has oak on his ass crack and I’m sure the rest of ’em have it lots of other places too. In summation, thanks Doug. We owe you one. And if you weren’t one of the nicest gents I know, I’d wish a pox upon you!