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Do I need to upgrade my MTB brakes for the Alps?

So I was rooting around in my “box-of-general-mtb-related-crap-that-has-no-natural-storage-space” looking for an unused set of pads. A TFIT related brake failure last week demanded a quick rear brake bleed.

And what do you know, as the comparative image above shows quite nicely, I came across my XT brake pads that were removed “after” the Mont Jovet descent Les Arcs in the summer.

So when I say removed, perhaps I should say “melted”. Can you spot the difference?

 

I’ve no idea exactly what temperature is required to “burn off” the black coating from the pad’s fins. Let’s just go with “very extremely quite hot”.

So, if the question is “do I need to update my MTB brakes for the Alps? Then yes. You do. No really, just get it done…

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Spaced Out: Nicolai Mojo G13

Ok, so grab your anoraks people!

Anyway, I felt like I should give a view of fettling with forks, specifically the forks on my Nicolai G13. I’ve been reading around various websites and it seems that changing the air spacers in a fork is a common thing to do (!) and manufactures cater for this, making it relatively simple to do so.

However, for me, being a bit “old school”, taking your forks apart fell squarely into the “difficult / if ain’t broke don’t fix it” category.

However, I’m still working on getting my new bike dialled in and having owned a number of forks, both Fox’s and Pike’s, I was a bit perplexed that my new Fox 36’s weren’t as comfortable for me as they felt they could be.

It has been a latent itch that really needed a good scratch. So that was it, I decided to MTFU, I was going to have to take the forks apart and experiment with this spacers thing. What could possibly go wrong?

The story is that if you’re getting a bit fat (Ed: Aren’t we all…) then you simply put some extra volume spacers into the forks, and hey presto, you don’t bottom out as easily and the forks hold up better.

I totally get this. Very logical.

My problem however was the other way round. My forks were feeling very much “firm” and “sluggish” and not as “compliant” as I wanted.  I also still have a dodgy shoulder following an Alpine stack of biblical proportions a couple of years ago and I know that this wasn’t helping but compared to my old Rockshox Pikes, it was definitely noticeable.

I also think I have lost a bit of weight (not always a good thing) and more to the point with slack angles the forces directly into the axis of the fork are diluted just a little bit.

So I concluded to open the fork up and take out a spacers….and, I’ve got to be honest, it is extremely easy. I did miss out on the slick honey, let out the air, undid the big bolt, slid off “o-ring”, slid off extra volume spacer, put “o-ring” back on, slid in the “spikey thing” (technical term) after coating with slick honey, tightened up big bolt (220 lbs/in), pumped back up the fork and hey presto, job done!

All I have to do then was go for a ride.

The result? Well it did just exactly what I wanted to achieve. A noticeably “softer squidgy” feel, with a bit more rebound in the fork. Or perhaps I was now getting the right amount of sag at the recommended forks pressure.

Also of note was that before I would have everything wound fully open,  low speed compression, high speed compression and rebound compression. Now I can put on a few clicks on/off to get further dialled.

If you are contemplating doing something similar I suggest you watch this 2 min video from Fox. And a massive thanks to Bob M for the loan of a torque wrench.

http://www.ridefox.com/help.php?m=bike&id=575

So I am one happy camper with this little fettle, and I’ve have a nice little introduction into the black art of forks tuning.

Spacers are a good thing. All you need to do is just get comfortable with idea of fiddling with your forks. Gulp

Mark T

Altitude Sickness

Every year this happens. You’ve been bombing around all year on your bike. Got winter out the way with minimal damage, hit spring hard, and fine tuned early summer. The bike is running spot on. Pressures are angled and travel is pumped, and you fondly pat your bike after a ride.

Then the Alps start looming, and suddenly you start looking at your bike in a completely different way. So now my bike is up in the stand, and I have altitude sickness: Lordy me, look at these tyres – basically slicks, and the pads are gone (they’re fine), when did I last change the bb? (Maybe I should change the whole chainset?) Is this dropper post feeling sticky? Wait – is that a KINK in my brakehose! How did I survive the last ride – let alone the season? Someone find me a computer and a credit card…

This phenomenon sneaks up on you, and I count myself lucky that I caught it in time. I did order a new tyre (ok – there may have been other things too) but after fitting, I suddenly noticed I had the wrong one – I wanted the thick-walled enduroallmountainradhardcore type, and what I had was the ordinary kind. (The same kind that had pulled me up and down the Surrey Hills for the last year – not to mention a clutch of top tens – even a KOM or two) But nope – now its just not good enough. Its not ALPS enough. Grabbed my phone and double checked the order – they must have messed up? Nope – I messed up. Can you return a tyre after it’s been loaded up? E-Bay? Check online – oh yeah, this version sucks. The other one is like 5 stars everywhere. What the hell was I thinking? What if I put the old one back on? Ok STOP. Deep breath – the tyre is fine. It’s just the front – the rear was still enduroallmountainradhardcore. It would be fine. This is altitude sickness, that all. And that was that. I cleaned up my tools, put the bike away, and slept well that night, knowing the bike was ready, and I did not overreact.

Sunday morning 7:30am. Ordered new tyre, paid extra for next day delivery. My name is David and I have Altitude Sickness.

 

 

Retail Therapy: Alps ready Transition Scout

I am a tool.

27 Days until we hit Les Arcs for the “Foam Tour 2017” and I managed to bugger my knee during last night’s TFIT. And the most annoying thing about doing that? I did it just dismounting from the bike onto some uneven ground – no failed “6 foot gap jump” for me – oh no, I just have to get of my bloody bike! The net result of this awesome skill? I’ve hyperextended my knee.

Not the end of the world I know, but deeply annoying (and highly painful to boot). Also annoying because I’m supposed to rest it for four weeks and I must…

… avoid the activity which caused the injury in the first place, particularly if that is a sport…

Right. Yeah, that’s gonna happen – not.

Anyway, knee related shenanigans aside (and not forgetting a massive thanks for all TFIT attendees who put up with my moaning last night!) I’ve consoled myself with a bit of retail therapy today and some minor pre-Alps preparation for my Transition Scout today and I have to say, she’s looking ready and raring to go.

The “enhancements” are fairly minor if I’m honest – I’ve fitted a Specialized Butcher Grid and Purgatory Grid front and back respectively and they are looking good. I do like Spesh tyres and the grids did sterling service last year in Morzine. So aside from new brake pads (which I’ll fit a week or so before we go) I’m basically done on the bike front – benefits of having a new bike I guess!

I also took the opportunity to replace a slightly faulty tubeless valve and replenish my tubeless goo (technical term). Although in a slight departure from my normal choice of Stans, I’ve gone for Seal “Endurance Tubeless Sealant” and I have to say I rather impressed.

Seal’s goo spreads around the tyre nicely and certainly helped with the “tubeless-frantic-pump-of-misery” that if you run tubeless you’ll know all about, by sealing any small gaps before the tyre was fully seated. Very, very impressed with it so far. Although top tip – it dries really quickly on a newly laid warm paving slab. Which makes your significant other really cross. And they shout at you. And you have to clean it up…

I’ve also invested in a very overdue new pair of riding shoes. I’ve gone for Specialized 2FO which despite their quite narrow looking design are extremely comfy for someone with freakishly wide feet like me. I’ve not taken them out for a ride yet but they are very stiff, supportive and have well placed toe protection. And they have red bits on them. Red bits are important.

The last bit of retail therapy was a new pair of riding shorts – Endura MT500s which are great, roomy and comfortable and not bazillions of pounds either. Certainly not when compared the £90 Fox shorts I “briefly” picked up earlier.

So there, I’m done (with the exception of some new knee/elbow pads maybe), the Scout is ready and I cannot get through the next 27 days quickly enough!

 

Quote of the Day: Maxxis Minion DHF 2.5

Tyres for the Alps? The question is currently burning like Madras with too many chillis in the minds of the TFITers at the moment.

What do you take? Speed or grip? Which manufacturer? Which type?

Then like a poet sitting on the throne of truth (…!) Matt W sent through a sage Whatsapp this morning of a quote he read on BikeRadar about the Maxxis Minion DHF 3c 29 extolling the virtues of 2.5 over the 2.3…

… but if gravity is the gravy on your riding roast, the 2.5in is unbeatable…

Quite what the tyres are like I have no idea (although they get 4/5 on BR and are outrageously chunky looking) AND Mark T is sporting a close cousin on the front of his G13 at the moment.

But I have to say, Guy Kesteven – just wow, that is definitely my quote of the day…

Les Arcs MTB 2017: So what MTB do you take to the Alps?

The Alps. They are beautiful, they are awesome, they are total-and-utter-shit-grin-inducing-fun.

They can also be bloody scary!

Particularly if like me (and I suspect most normal riders) you spend 99% of your time on local trails which, with the best will in the world, are mostly ‘hilly’ rather than ‘mountainous’.

I can still remember my first Alpine (Morzine) MTB adventure and the feeling of total joy when we all got to the end unscathed. Tim W and I exchanged a look at the bottom of the last run and exhaled in simultaneous relief. How in the name of holy bananas, we had thought, that had been managed was an utter mystery, because if I’m honest the kit we rode and the skills we had were frankly not up to the job!

I for example did Morzine 1 on my Giant XTC 26er – that would be Giant’s super light, short travel, narrow bar sporting XC bike with precious little suspension up front – dear God.

However to put that in perspective, Andy C did it (and another subsequent trip) on a RIGID On-One HARDTAIL! But he’s not human, so that’s to be expected.

Anyway, enough reminiscing – in 30 days (yep, that’s one calendar month chaps!) the TFITers are wheels down in Les Arcs for “The Foam Tour” 2017 and with this incontrovertible fact in mind I thought I’d take stock of the steeds we’ll be taking with us this year and also the kit they run. If you are Alps bound for the first time this year and are wondering what it is everyone else rides, hopefully this will help.

Bikes and Suspension

Our bikes, they are many and they are varied. We have MTBs from Transition, Specialized, Mojo/Nicolai, Whyte, BMC, YT Industries and Orange. They are all awesome in their own way and the kit they dangle does the deed week-in, week-out for our normal rides. But they are, in essence ‘trail’ or ‘Enduro’ focussed (whatever that actually means) bikes and not downhill monsters by any definition.

As per normal we are taking the usual “Cove” of Transitions. This year we have a 50/50 split of David D and Matt W on the Transition Smuggler with me and Bob M on the Transition Scout. The Smugglers have 140mm travel up front (up from the stock 130mm) via a Rockshox Lyric and a Rockshox Pike with 115mm at the back coming from Rockshox Monarchs. The Transition Scouts have 150mm Pikes at the pointy end and 125mm from a Monarchs at the back.

Mark T will be unleashing his Mojo/Nicolai Geometron on the mountains this year which is just a mostly terrifying concept. After having been “rudely unseated” from his Spesh Stumpy last year it should be an interesting ride for him. Mark’s Transformer Geometron (although this is subject to change – or rather it depends which button he presses or something) will be running 130mm at the back and 150mm at the front provided by Fox Float X Evolution and Fox Float 36.

Stephan F will be back on his Specialized Stumpy FSR with “enhanced tail end bounce” – after having riding a couple of donor 29ers during his ‘chainstay-gate’ episode, Steve has upgraded his rear to run a 130mm Rockshox Monarch RCS Plus in conjunction with his 140mm Rockshox Pike at the front.

James G will be back on his YT Capra with it’s “monster / more than capable” suspension, 170mm front and 165mm back provided by a Rockshox Lyric and a Rockshox Monarch plus. Arguably the most ‘Enduro’ of the bikes we ride, James’ steed is very much at home sprinting down the side of the most vertiginous Alpine mountain.

Malcolm W will be back for the second time on his Whyte T-129 with a crazy maniacal grin on his face no doubt. Malc rides the shortest travel of the TFIT 29ers with the Whyte equipped with 120mm from a Fox 34 Float at the front and Fox at the rear but that was no hindrance to his enjoyment in last year’s trip.

Andy T on the Carbon 27.5 Stumpjumper,  RockShox Pike 150mm, Fox CTD 140mm and complete with the SWAT opening to hold beer, pasties and painkillers (and some would say a small nuclear power plant to make him ride that fast…)

Both Tim, Tig and Craig will be on their trusted Orange 5 Pro 26ers. As Orange say, if aint broke, it don’t need fixing. Nimble and solid, trail absorption comes from 140mm Fox at the front and rear.

Lastly Andy C will be back on his now very familiar BMC Trailfox riding like a proper hooligan once again no doubt, enjoying the benefits of suspension like no other mortal man has deserved (having ridden the Alps three times on a rigid forked single speed On-One!). Bounce is provided from a Rockshox Pike RCT3 160mm up front and a 150mm Crane Creek DB Inline at the back.

Tyres

Best post-ride pub topic ever? Possibly true, but whereas Rockshox seem to be winning out in the suspension of choice at the moment for TFIT rides, tyres, well let’s just say the choices are many (and ever evolving – I suspect there may be edits here):

  • Specialized Butcher Grid front and back for both me and Bob M
  • Specialized Butcher Grid front and Slaughter back for Stephan F and Matt W
  • Maxxis High Roller front and Maxis Minion SS rear for James G
  • Maxxis Minion SS front and Forekaster rear for Mark T
  • Maxxis Ardent EXO up front and Ardent Race rear for David D
  • Malc, Bob, Tim, Tig, Craig, Andy T, Andy C I have no idea – but they will be tyres. Probably

Brakes

“There are many MTB brakes, but this one is mine…”

The variety in brake choice is less varied here but the requirement is the same – good stoppers with a reluctance to fade under descents of up to and indeed over an hour! It still amazes me how those pokey little brakes from Shimano, SRAM, et al actually manage it, but they do. That said I will never forget being behind David D in Morzine as the “stopper-pots” boiled on his Gary Fisher. Hysterical (with hindsight) and terrifying in equal measure!

The brake choices for the TFITers are pretty much uniformly Shimano XT, with one set of Zee’s, James G’s SRAM Guide RSC 4 pots, Matt W and Tim W running Hopes and rotor sizes ranging from 180 mm up to 200 mm.

Helmets

To full-face or not to full-face – that is indeed the question! Most of us (I suspect because we are all so devilishly handsome – *cough*) will be opting for full-face lids just because you’re in the Alps and it’s fundamentally a good idea. Bob has recently purchased the latest incarnation of the Bell’s Super helmet, the Bell Super 3R which looks cracking and feels lighter than the Super 2Rs.

Bell Super 3R/2R converts include David, me, Matt, Mark, Andy C, Steve F, Andy T, James, Bob and Malcolm with chinguards “very much” attached. Craig and Tig have their proper full-face lids and Tim is the last of us hard enough to brave the trails with his normal helmet. Cos he’s hard. And a bit mad…

 

So there you have it – a variety of kit on a variety of bikes with an extreme variety of riders. In summary it seems that Rockshox are the mostly favoured of forks and shocks, with 140mm or more travel the norm up front but a wider variety of shock travel to suit the individual bikes geometry.

It will be interesting, once again, to see how our very much “trail” focused bikes hold up in the Alps. We’ve come close but they’ve not yet been overfaced in Morzine/Les Gets/Chatel (yet) but what about on the back-country trails of Les Arcs? Only time will tell.

If only I’d fitted a tow bar

I’m lucky enough to live in a part of the world where I can ride out from my front door and get to a mass of excellent trails without ever having to look at my car. But, as with everyone else who likes to mix it up occasionally there comes a point where your MTB has to be attached to / inserted into your car to get to the trailhead.

And seeing as I live in the UK where a pickup truck is not really an option as a daily runabout that means using a bike rack of one kind or another. And that, if I’m honest, terrifies the living pants off me.

You know, that highly uncomfortable feeling when you catch sight of the “bike shadow” as you drive (clearly at no more than 65mph…) to the ride site and feel that slightly puckering feeling as you see it wobbling around in the wind or as you go round the corner.

So I’m always interested in any method of “securely” and “safely” transporting your beloved and highly precious bike that does not involve borrowing a van from your local friendly Bob. So it was with great interest I followed a link from James G this morning to check out Scorpion Racks.

This Surrey Hills based company offer a very sturdy and securely fixed mounting rack (with two fitting options – plate or towbar) which will take up to two bikes, is apparently Carbon Fibre friendly (they are from Surrey after all…), folds away and allows you to still access the boot if needed.

It’s not cheap at £349 but to be honest, securely fitting your bike to your car is not really something you want to skimp on. So all I’ve got to do is fit a towbar…

Consider the G13

So Mark T is 50. Let’s get that out of the way first. To celebrate he bought himself a new bike – a Mojo/Nicolai Geometron Ion 13 (G13 from now on – not typing that again).

Mark is not only 50, he is also a number or other things.

A bit left field? Certainly. A demon suspension fettler? Unquestionably. Perilously fast? Beyond question. So busy at work he could’t write a blog? Definitely.

But is he highly considered in his kit choices? Yes, 100%, unequivocally without a shadow of a doubt.

This bike has been a long time coming (I’ll let Mark describe the saga of the carbon wheels at a later date) and watching Mark going through the process of choosing each bit of kit has been a pleasure (if a confusing one at times).

So Mark, Bob M and I headed out on Tuesday this week for a brief Punchbowl leg stretch and the silver demon that is the G13 was in attendance so I thought I’d take the opportunity to badger Mr T for the reasons for his kit choices. Again, I’ll let Mark report on his first riding impressions at a future time as my brief spin on the G13 could not do it justice.

I will say however that it’s a “slightly strange” looking thing. Not in a bad way mind you, just in a “you can tell it’s a bit different” kind of way.

Various bits of the bike are just “a bit longer” or “a bit shorter” or indeed “a bit slacker”. But the overall impression is that of a much smaller bike (for a 29er) than for example the Specialized Mr T used to ride. But OMG it’s long. Longer than a very long thing with an extra bit of long added on.

Well unfeasibly long or not, let me tell you that holy bananas Mother of God it’s fast. I mean jaw droppingly, leave you eating dust pedaling furiously to keep up fast. On Tuesday we ran down Flat out Fun and Mark just simply dissapeared….

Wow.

However, I digress. Onto the kit.

The frame is obviously a Nicolai Ion-G13. Mark’s wanted this since they were first announced, simply because 29er’s have not been this slack since, well, ever. So you think that’ll make it hard to climb? Guess again. Mojo and Nicolai have taken care of that issue by having such a steep seat angle.

Bounce is handled at the rear by a 2017 Fox Float-X 2017 (there are other acronyms associated with this –  namely F-S, K, 3pos-Adj Evol LV, but I’ve frankly no idea what they mean) and up front by a beast of a thing – a 2017 36 K FLOAT 29 F-S 160 RC2 BLK 15QRx110 1.5T R-51. Yes, I also played spot the acronym on that one. And lost. All I can say is that it appears rumours of the “death of the long travel 29er” do not appear to have reached Mojo HQ. Front and back are complimented by a Fox Factory series Kashima 150mm dropper. Mark however says it:

…(the shock) looks good, is tuned by Mojo and the piggy back air can reduces heating up in the Alps… (the fork) is super sturdy and offers lots of fine tuning and (the seat post) matches the others…

Stopper pots are Hope Tech 3 Evo 4s dual-pots which are very tidy indeed. Mark noted that they are also pretty light, usual super Hope hight quality and have let him use smaller rotors for the same stopping power.

Go gear is sorted by Shimano XTR shifters (the only ones that can handle frost and mud and still maintain a rapid change says Mark), Shimano XT rear derailleur, a Hope 28 tooth crank (yes – that’s not a typo – 28), a Hope BB, and XTR 11 speed chain and a VERY nice Hope 10/44 cassette which is specific to the Hope Boost Evo 4 148×12 hubs. Of the cassette Mr T says:

… a light 11 speed cassette , together with Hope drive saves a lot of weight – and cost! But I still get a big range

Other kit is handled by Hope for the headset, Renthal for the carbon bar, grips by Ergon, pedals by Crank Brothers, rims are Race Face Arc 30s, seatpost clamp by Hope and tyre duty is performed by Maxxis Forekasters (which is a new one on me).

So all round some amazing kit on this beast of a bike but perhaps the most unusual is the seat – and this is one you won’t be finding on Wiggle. The seat is a custom carbon creation by British Aerospace. Yep, you read that right… oh yeah, and it weighs 125g. Don’t be thinking it’s uncomfortable either – it’s flipping not – it’s amazing!

So all in all some amazing kit on a genuinely impressive steed. Let’s see which PRs Mark manages to destroy on this evening’s TFIT….

Thing of beauty

So I’ve been working from home today – partially because I can but mostly because the A3 was totally foobar’d this morning and I could not face sitting in a traffic jam – life’s too short.

However, the good news is I got to get some stuff done AND I got to go out for a ride on Bob M’s Transition Scout which is all good.

So aside from making a mental note that I need to devote some time to removing the tubes from the wheels and running tubeless (sshhh – don’t tell Bob) and enjoying the ‘dry-ish’ Surrey Hills trails during the daylight in actual shorts, I’ve also spent a chunk of the day looking at MTB frames.

This has mostly considered of perusing the Transition Bikes site but also gorging myself on the multitude of bike goodness the internet has to offer.

Conclusions?

  1. Cube Bikes are ugly. Sorry if you have one and love it but OMG they are an eyesore
  2. I love the idea of Bird Bikes (local bike for local trails…)
  3. I would still prefer a Transition Scout to a Transition Smuggler
  4. I am not clever enough to ever buy a Nicolai. I have come to terms with this and it’s all good
  5. Clearly I have a thing for red bikes

The last conclusion is based on coming across one of the most beautiful looking bikes I’ve seen in a while – the Last Clay (featured image above). Last Bikes are a German direct sales outfit but are new to me but OMG that bike is just a thing of beauty. A 150mm Pike and Deluxe RT, DT Swiss, Kore and SRAM bedecked wonder.

However, at €4,000 euros for a direct sales bike I’ll enjoy looking at the pictures I think just for now.

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