A few years ago, I rode the Kokopelli trail with some friends. I decided to take a single pair of shoes to lighten my load on my Knolly Endorphin (which is decidedly not a “bikepacking” bike). That pair of shoes was the 5.10 Kestrel Boa. I spent a few years riding in those shoes. They were stiff, durable, stylish, and sleek. More recently, I’ve given up the power of clipless shoes for the comfort and nuanced control of flat pedals. After a long term review of a carbon hardtail with very large, very sharp flat pedals (the Kona Wah Wah 2), I took a long, hard look at my shins. They are covered in scars and the tops of my socks stained with blood. It was time to see how the skills that flat pedals have shown me translated to clipless riding. I dug around my parts bin and found my old pedals, and then began to look for my old Kestrels. They were gone. I racked my brain and realized I had left them in Mammoth last summer. A week later, I got an email asking me to review the new version of the shoe. I was stoked, to say the least.
Kona Big Honzo CR/DL Carbon: Good Hardtails will Never Die
Words and bike photos by Locke Hassett, action photos by Spencer Harding
Blurred lines seem to be all the rage in the bike industry these days, and with every season, a new category seems to evolve. Gravel, Adventure, Downcountry, trail…yadda yadda. While this constant categorization is overwhelming, it also means that bikes are simply getting better. Then over here in the corner, sipping scotch while the kids play beer pong and try to “find themselves”, is the humble hardtail MTB. This has been elaborated on to a great extent on this site, so I’ll spare you the poetic wax. Sure, a few folks out there are pushing the boundaries of what to expect with hardtail geometry, with huge forks and headtube angles more suited for plowing a field than climbing a fire road, but for the most part, we can look to the hardtail for consistency.
So, what happens when a company known for rowdiness and generally not caring too much about the status quo takes their tried and true hardtail model and releases a version with boxes checked for the modern consumer (read: big tires and carbon?) That’s what I wanted to find out by spending a few months with the Big Honzo CR/DL.
Two Years In… Packing for a Long-Term Bike Tour
Photos and words by Ryan Wilson
Packing for a trip that spans multiple years can be a bit daunting. Especially when you’ll be passing through just about every zone of climate you can possibly imagine, from the humidity and heat of the Peruvian jungle to the bitter cold of winter in the mountains of Patagonia… Dragging the bike up rugged 16,000ft hiking trails, across remote dirt roads, or even the occasional stretch of asphalt. Walking the fine line between having an excessive amount of stuff or too little is a tricky balance.
My setup has been gradually refined since I first started this trip two years ago, and while it’s far from a “minimal” or “ultralight” setup you might take on a trip that spans a few weeks or less, I think I’ve struck a reasonable balance between having everything I need to live and work on the bike in the long-term, while still being a rig that is fun to ride no matter how rough the terrain gets.
As time has gone on, I’ve found that the overall weight doesn’t really matter as much as how everything is packed. It’s when bags are bouncing around loosely or swaying back and forth where the size and weight really becomes a burden. When everything is tight and dialed, it’s just another bike. “How much does it weigh?” is a question I’ve been asked hundreds of times along the way and to be honest, I don’t have a clue. Ignorance is bliss, I guess.
There are some things on here that would be overkill for many people (large camera, computer, etc), and some things that would be a bit too minimal for others (clothes, sleeping bag, etc), but this is what works for me at the moment…
Chameleons don’t actually change color to “blend” into their surroundings. Contrarily, their colors are used to mark territory, attract mates and display moods, often resulting in these unique lizards “standing out” more than blending in. The Santa Cruz Bicycles Chameleon adheres to this logic, standing out from many of the other production hardtails on the market but before we get ahead of ourselves here, and lizard anecdotes aside, when I first saw the newly-designed Chameleon last year it checked a lot of boxes and left me with a few questions.
Sure, Santa Cruz is saying the chameleon is a master of adaptation, which metaphorically makes a lot of sense. This bike can really do a lot, but isn’t that the nature of hardtails in general? For me, my thoughts on the Chameleon stem from its legacy, its updated design and most importantly, to a lot of people, the cost.
Say what you will about hardtail mountain bikes. Die hard park rats think they’re antiquated, beginners often times think they’re hard to ride and the most common complaint I hear is that it’s hard getting bucked all over the place without rear suspension. Granted a lot of those common conceptions can have some truth to them, yet with the advent and availability of new rear spacing, dropper posts that work really well and bigger tire sizes, a hardtail can be pretty damn capable and even a lot of fun. For the past six months, I’ve been riding what I consider a new benchmark in hardtail mountain bike design: a 140mm travel, slack and low, 27.5+ hardtail, complete with a dropper post and a 1x drivetrain. This one in particular was built by hand in Napa by Curtis Inglis of Retrotec. So what does the creator of this beast call it? Well, what else? It’s a Funduro.
After slicing a 6-month old WTB Nano wide open on a sharp rock during a ride last week, I swapped my tires back over to the Bruce Gordon Rock N Roads. Once I got them set up tubeless, I was immediately reminded how much I love these damn beautiful tires but as we all know, looks aren’t everything.
A 43mm tire with a decent amount of tread can’t fit in most frames, but I had my Firefly designed to specifically accommodate the Rock N Roads. After a few inner-city dirt rides, with a few photos, I felt compelled to share some thoughts…
“If Ferrari made an off-road vehicle, that’s what it’d be like to ride the Santa Cruz Stigmata.”
That’s been the simile I’ve used countless times when describing how this bike rides. In fact, I still can’t think of a better way of describing the Stigmata’s handling and capabilities.
Seven months is a long time for a review and honestly, I wanted to get this up before ‘cross season began but with very little expectations to race this season, I quickly realized that I had been using the Stigmata in every other way than it’s market intention. That’s the beauty of ‘cross bikes though, right?
Let’s step back a bit and look at what this bicycle is.
Something Different with Twin Six’s Titanium Rando
Photos and words by Kevin Sparrow
My quest for finding the perfect all-around bike began last summer just before cross season. Cyclocross bikes have always been my choice for an every-day bike. But the problem was I didn’t want to buy another cross bike that was designed for 60-minute dirt crits when most of my miles are spent commuting on pavement. I was in pursuit of something different.
Last year at Interbike, Twin Six surprised the industry with a whole line of “T6 Standard” steel bikes including a 29er, a rando, and a cross bike. On paper, the Standard Rando was exactly what I was looking for in both geometry and aesthetics. By the time winter came around, T6 went all-in and started offering a titanium fat bike and by spring, titanium versions of the 29er and cross bikes. It was also around this time that I started seeing hints of a Ti Rando popping up on T6 employee social feeds, and I was getting antsy for a new bike. I decided to reach out to Brent, T6 co-owner, and he explained that what I was seeing were Ti Rando prototypes. They had the same geometry as the steel rando except for a 44mm HT and a four water bottle mount option. Brent offered me a pre-release one-off and I excitedly accepted. Decision made, deposit down, and 6 weeks later I was and owner of a Twin Six Ti Rando.
Two months in and over 1500 miles commuted on it, and now I am ready share my initial stoke with this bike.
No one ever said “a fork is a fork.” Well, maybe they did but I doubt they were talking about suspension and in the case of the Rock Shox RS-1, this is unlike any other fork on the market today. Before I get ahead of myself here, I’ve struggled with how to address this review. Without sounding like a copy and paste of marketing jargon, it really is the best fork I’ve ridden, for my specific type of use: XC riding with a bit of rowdiness.
When Taj from Fairdale reached out to us and asked if we were interested in testing their steel road bike, the Goodship, I had a hard time containing my excitement. Fairdale, who has an office in Austin is a staple of the cycling community here. You can’t go to a downtown restaurant, East Side bar, local swimming hole, or ride through campus without spotting a Fairdale between the legs of an excited Austin dweller. The company radiates positive vibes and makes quality bicycles.
For some reason, when Gevenalle first launched, I didn’t want to like their shifting mechanisms. They just seemed too contrived. A solution for a problem that didn’t exist. Perhaps it was their marketing, claiming to be designed for cyclocross racing. Sure, I read the product descriptions, the PR, looked at the photos but I still wasn’t convinced.
It wasn’t until I began to see the Gevenalle shifters on touring bikes that my interest was piqued. “Now that makes sense” I thought. Not running traditional road shifters on a touring bike is completely reasonable. The same can be said for barcons or downtube shifters. Why take your hand off the lever to shift? Sure. I get that.
The Gevenalle shifting system I recently spent time with is the GX shifters for mountain bike derailleurs. More specifically, a shifting system ideal for long-cage, dirt tourers like the Elephant NFE.
Before we begin let me give you a little background about who I am and how I found myself writing this review. I grew up in Bishop, CA. I raced mountain bikes there as a kid. Then I stopped, the reason is a tired story, and one that you have most likely heard before, it has to do with hormones, cars, beers, and girls. When I moved to Santa Barbara, CA to attend college and I started working at a shop called Velo Pro. This is where I started riding downhill bikes. Then I stopped, did some rock climbing, school, babe chasing, etc. A decade ago I moved to Portland, OR and once again I found myself at a shop, working at the Fat Tire Farm and riding downhill bikes. This is where it gets interesting. First came seat droppers and with it a yearn to explore more trails. I started riding trail bikes, then picked up riding road bikes and cross bikes. For the past three years I worked for Chris King, and my job gave me the chance to ride a wide variety of bikes. Through mutual friends and shared adventures John and I became friends and I have been lucky to post a couple rides and adventurers all the while sharing with him some of my favorite MTB videos and articles from around the web. It turned out that John needed a bike reviewed, so here I am. Lets get started.
Niner’s ROS 9+ One Hell of a Good Time
Words and photos by Kyle Kelley
The White Rim Trail in Utah’s Canyonlands NP has been on my radar for awhile. I imagined I would do it on a cross bike, carrying only the necessary food and water, one small camera and riding from the early morning to early evening. The reality ended up being quite a bit different. I rolled out on a Mid-Fat outfitted with custom bike bags, carrying 7 liters of water and enough food to feed a kindergarten class for two days! Shit… I even brought an abnormally large camera (at least for me) in addition to my standard point and shoot just because there was still room in the bags. I was rolling in luxury and the bike that made that possible was the Niner ROS 9+!
Cyclocross bikes may be designed to race for 45 minutes to an hour in various conditions, but their beauty lies in their versatility. I’ve put in a lot of time on my cross bike over the years, and only a fraction of those hours were spent racing. Instead, my bike’s been on road, trail, dirt, gravel and frontage road rides. With the right gear range, which is now as simple as a cassette or a chainring swap, a cyclocross bike could very well be the only drop bar bike you’ll need.
Companies like Niner are banking on that and while they offer a few ‘cross bikes, the RLT9 Steel is their flagship steel rig. Made from oversized Reynolds 853, with a pressfit 30 bottom bracket and a sweet carbon fork, the RLT9 Steel is being marketed to the “adventure” crowd.
What better way to test a bike’s capabilities than to pull one right from the box, strap three day’s worth of camping gear on it and chase 20 people around the mountains, roads and singletrack in central California?
That’s exactly where my relationship with the RLT9 Steel began… In the San Jose airport.
Entry Level Fun on the State Thunderbird ‘Cross
Words by Andre Chelliah, Photos by John Watson
I see it all the time at the bike shop I work at. A young, college-aged kid comes into the store and strolls the aisles. They take in the smells, sights, and sounds of cycling. They have just seen the newest Svenness video and are ready and stoked to dip their toes into the timeless obsession that is bike racing. Then, they flip over a price tag and that excitement quickly turns into a nearly impossible math problem- how can I afford to pay for school as well as buy a quality bike to race on? This sentiment resonates strongly with me.
Being a student at The University of Texas and racing bikes on the weekends, there are times when I have to pick between textbooks and race fees. In an area where collegiate teams are not extremely supported or competitive in disciplines other than road racing, the best thing to do is pay your own way through the cross or track season. When Mehdi from State Bicycle Co asked me to shred on The Thunderbird, their $1000 singlespeed ‘cross bike, I was ecstatic to have time with a bike that could be a buy for new racers looking for something with quality, style, and affordability.
Products that are designed to work within a system, but also operate just fine on their own are crucial to a brand. What if I don’t want to use your company’s rack? No problem. Blackburn’s Barrier Panniers are meant to be integrated into their Interlock racks – a system that allows you to lock your panniers for security while running errands around town – yet they work with any rack, even low-riders.
I recently gave these Barrier Universal panniers a go on a three day bicycle camping tour and loved them. Check out more below.
ESI has been making grips in the good ol’ US of A since 1999. Their silicone grips are my absolute favorite for a MTB bar – easy on, easy off with a four to six month lifespan. They’re tacky in the rain and offer plenty of grip through sweaty hands or gloves. While just about everyone will have nothing but positive things to say about the ESI grips, I’d never heard of their RCT Bar Tape before.
Dubbed RCT for “road, cross, triathlon”, this bar tape is re-usable since silicon is tacky enough without the use of adhesive. You can pull it hard and get it a bit thinner than it’s shown here, but I actually like the thickness, especially on a cross bike that gets ridden on trails. It’s easy to clean and doesn’t crawl around on the bars like other tapes do.
So far, I’ve had it for a few weeks and it’s taken its share of spills without showing any wear or tear. Time will tell how long it’ll last, or if it will replace my other favorite bar tapes – Fizik and Lizard Skin – but for now, I’m excited to have ESI products on my MTB and cross bikes.
You can see just how thick this stuff is by looking at the photos below. Head over to ESI for more information!
Confidence with the Wraith Fabrication Paycheck
Words by Andre Chelliah, photos by John Watson
This is a continuation of a series of reviews, beginning with the Initial Reaction to the Wraith Fabrication Paycheck…
Now, I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m not the best off-road rider, but the Wraith Fabrication Paycheck had me feeling steezy. John says “Confidence is everything” when it comes to riding off-road, and I can now attest to that. Riding a bike you’re comfortable on, brings confidence. That makes it easy to go fast and take chances.