Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Racing Ralphs Rock

One thing I have been meaning to get around to is a review of the new tires that I purchased before my trip. My LBS brought in some Schwalbe Racing Ralphs last winter as an additional 29'er winter trail option. I have been rolling some WTB WeirWolf LTs for most of two winters now and have been very happy with them. They are a great winter trail tire, lots of volume, and even do fairly well on ice due to their small knob design. During the summer I have been running WTB ExiWolfs, which are a bit narrower, but also a bit heavier. They have seemed fine, but I really didn't have anything to compare them to except my winter tires, which run on a wholly different wheelset that makes comparison pretty much impossible.

I picked up a set of the Ralphs and ran them on a couple of short rides before I left for my trip and started being really impressed. The weight difference was noticeable and they seemed to roll better than the ExiWolfs while on pavement. My trip afforded me a chance to test them on some real trails and in commuting style situations (riding to and from trailheads). While the Ralphs are what some people would consider ludicrously expensive ($80 a tire at my LBS), I have to say I think they are well worth it. You couldn't ask for a better high volume, lightweight tire. These things have ridiculous traction and still manage to roll well, which is no small task. The fact that they are lighter than almost anything out there and still 2.4" wide completely finishes the package. I recommend them to anyone out there wanting a lightweight trail tire than rolls well off-trail.

Several of the reviews I read complained that the Ralphs had delicate sidewalls and were prone to shredding. The singletrack I rode during my trip was littered with roots, but also had several sections with exposed rock heads, or the occasional short section with a forced roll through baby heads. I could hear sidewall dragging on stone during several of these and I cringed and waited for the explosion each time; of course, it never came. After the first two rides like that I stopped worrying, and continued to not have problems (at least with my tires). I went back and read the reviews that were complaining and came to the conclusion that some people are trying to use these as downhill or all mountain tires because they are wide. They are not a downhill race tire and Schwalbe doesn't advertise them as such, they are a cross country race tire, and a damn good one.

Friday, June 19, 2009


I haven't been everyplace in the state, but I'll unofficially declare Marquette as the cycling capital of Michigan. Despite having a population roughly half the size of Fairbanks, Marquette supports twice as many bike shops. Signage for local races hangs prominently everywhere. In addition to the standard cross country races Marquette has a downhill series and even a cyclocross series. I was impressed to say the least. Being that we were only in town for a day, I didn't get a chance to ride any of their substantial trails. Or, what I really drooled over, use the lift service they have at their local mountain. I stopped in at the one of the LBS (Quick Stop Bike Shop) to satisfy my deep seated need to be near bicycles. I picked them simply because they were a Kona dealer, and I wasn't disappointed. They had very few of the entry level bikes I am used to seeing in shops and instead sported an aggressive lineup of trail bikes. I even caught a glimpse of a freshly built Stab that one of the shop guys was getting ready for the summer shuttle season.

I spent the rest of the day moping and thinking about what I would need to do to move to Marquette. Then I got to thinking seriously and wondering: What is it creating such a kick ass scene here? There are probably a lot of complex factors here, but I think I need to start figuring out what they are.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The tour continues, explosions abound.

Another ride today and I decided to take the lower single track at Fumee. It is shorter than it's northern cousin, but shares many of the same characteristics. A little bit rooty, some decent climbing, and occasional rocks that all flow together well because of good construction. I have to back up here and talk a little bit about the ride I took when I first got here with my wife. She had mentioned a slow leak when we were putting her bike together, but I didn't really pay attention and it bit me in the ass in the middle of the trail. Although I had a spare tube and tools, the CO2 inflator I had either never worked or got broke at some point, because the ping that should engage the valve on a schrader style tube was totally gone. I don't have any bikes with schrader valves, so it's possible it never worked. At any rate we were stuck in the middle of a great trail with only one working bike and no way to reair a tire. I ended up time trialing back to the Mortl's (the LBS) and purchasing another pump and a presta tube for good measure. By the time I got back she was just walking out of Fumee. We fixed her flat and spun home.
Two days later on a ride to the same area, I could see what looked like a lump in my front wheel. It preyed upon my OCD all the way home where I finally checked and found that, sure enough, a section of my wheel was in serious need of truing. Today was extra special. Partway up a switchback climb, my chain exploded. Anyone that has ridden a bit knows that occasionally it happens. What wasn't normal was that when I stepped back to pick up my chain, there was still a section of it on the ground. My chain snapped in two places, which isn't at all normal and required undue diligence with a chain tool to fix.
Normally that would be the end of mechanical mishaps for the day, but I continued to get my Trogdor on. Once back to town, I was rolling up a steep curb when my seatpost clamp exploded. Although it didn't actually break, it did send the nose of my saddle searching skyward and forced me to stand the rest of the way home, because although I had a multitool, I didn't have the will left to straighten it out before getting back to the house.
The day's saving graces were the fact that the singletrack was just as good as the rest I have been riding and that when I stopped at the LBS to get a new chain on the way back through town, I got much better service than the last two times I had been in there. It was an actual mechanic that helped me and it gives me hope for the place yet. Tomorrow I am heading up to Marquette, which although smaller than Fairbanks, sports something like twice as many bike shops, including one that purportedly specializes in downhill rigs. There must be serious trailage up there to support that kind of gear. Maybe someone rents?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Banger on tour. Holy singletrack Batman!

So I am on vacation in the UP. I brought a bike, of course, because if it is worth going, it is worth bringing a bike. A big thank you goes out to Alaska Air, who through extreme kindness or lack of attention flew my bike for free. I arrived to a stable of bikes that were in generally good condition, but needed a little love. I had a bit of fun turning wrenches and getting my bike assembled. My wife shipped her bike here from Portland. She's been commuting on it for three years and it was in severe need of some love. I later found out I didn't give it quite enough. Our ride was ended three quarters of the way through the trail by a slow leak. While this would normally be an easily remedied problem, the fact that my pump decided to be a presta only affair meant I had to ride back to town and the shop for a new pump.

Of note is the fact that I am not totally impressed with the local shop. They are adequate, for sure, but they haven't gone above and beyond to make me feel warm and fuzzy. Or maybe I am just pissed because when I went in to purchase tubes, CO2 (you can't get it here on a plane), and other odds and ends, they saw fit to charge me a buck for a quick release spring (my wife lost one of hers somewhere during her bike's horrific life in Oregon). Generally I'd throw that kind of thing in at my shop, but hey, maybe he saw through my smile and figured me out for the jackhole I am.

When I was here several winters ago, I rode out at the Fumee Lake natural area. They had some ski / snowmachine / four-wheeler trails that were fairly close to the house and through some nice wooded areas. The park has advertised singletrack, so I decided to check it out. Holy Crap. It is excellent. Beautiful carved singletrack through untouched woods. The trail was totally unoccupied save for a few deer that hustled off when the saw us coming. The trail was an excellent mix of fast swoopy sections and technical climbs and switchbacks. There are also constructed tepees over the trail in several sections, which add a bit of character. I'll be eagerly exploring the area now since if there is one trail like this, it is likely there are many more. We don't have anything of the sort in Fairbanks, so I might as well take advantage while I can.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

I admit it; I was wrong.

I have not ever been on the Boreal Forest trail in the summer. Whilest we appropriated it this winter for trail use, it is touted as a nature foot path in the summer, which just doesn't do anything for me. I assumed that it would be a horrible bog anyways, and posted as such during the winter. *Please see title here*

The boardwalk construction is superb. Whoever planned it out made sure that there wouldn't be any boggy parts to walk through. You are surrounded by a mosquito infested swamp the entire time, for sure, but at no point will there be occasion to mucker your footwear (or tires in this case). While the the trail is only twelve inches wide or so in the winter, mother nature provides a three foot layer of snow as a buffer for those with limited handling skills. In the summer the drops are the same three to five feet, but of course there are wild roses, logs and bogs instead, making the idea of crashing entirely unpleasant. The boardwalk is a beautiful three feet wide at the narrowest, making the whole loop a fast, safe, flowy bit of riding. Carrying speed through the ride is important, because the difference between five miles per hour and ten is the option of mosquitoes landing on you or harmlessly bouncing off. Whenever possible I prefer to use my chest as a windshield.