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Tobin Ortenblad is a Cyclocross Privateer – Garrett Kautz

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Tobin Ortenblad is a Cyclocross Privateer – Garrett Kautz

Tobin Ortenblad is a Cyclocross Privateer
Words by Garrett Kautz and photos by Brett Rothmeyer

Tobin Ortenblad isn’t your typical 22-year-old, nor does he fit the mold of most professional bicycle racers. Sure, he has a coach and a training plan, but that’s where the path begins to blur. Tobin was born and raised in Santa Cruz, California and spent most of his formative years riding BMX bikes, building jumps and eating burritos. Fast forward a decade and he’s fresh off winning the Under 23 Cyclocross National Championship in Asheville. This year, racing in the Elite category, his results have proven that the off-season wasn’t squandered at the beach. He’s finished consistently in the top ten (or top five) at UCI C1 races and a top thirty at both World Cups. Most impressive is that he’s currently doing all this, without a pro contract. We wanted to catch up with the privateer and see what he’s been up to since his big win in January.

Inside / Out at Black Cat Bicycles

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Inside / Out at Black Cat Bicycles

Todd Ingermansen has been working in the cycling industry for a long time. Too long if you ask him. Since the age of 13 he’s had a presence in bike shops. What began as sweeping the shop floors eventually culminated into being a mechanic, riding bikes and living bikes. Yet, Todd wanted something more. Running parallel to his bike shop jobs was his art school education, where he realized his 2D and 3-dimension eye for details. In his early 20’s he chased his love of singlespeed MTB riding and racing to Oakland, California where cycling completely enveloped his life.

Back then, there weren’t any US manufacturers of singlespeed MTB frames. Or at least none that piqued Todd’s interest, so he began building his own. A few friends helped him out, some frames worked, some didn’t, yet every frame taught Todd something. Eventually he moved back down the California coast, to San Luis Obispo and began fillet brazing. He had built a dozen or so frames before landing a job with Rick Hunter of Hunter Cycles. Under Rick’s torch, Todd began to realize the importance of actually making a bicycle frame, something that stands true even today.

For the past 14 years, Todd’s been building a brand, and a modus operandi to how he believes bicycles should be made. Black Cat Bicycles are unique, arguably unlike anything else I’ve witnessed in my years of documenting framebuilders. Much like his mentor, Rick Hunter, Todd doesn’t just weld a mail order kit of parts together and paint it. He engineers his own dropouts, builds stems, machines metal into whatever he pleases, carves his own lugs and bends his tubing in very unique shapes. For instance, how do you make chainstays that are bent, yet have an ever-so-slight arc to them?

Hitting the Road with the Blackburn Rangers

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Hitting the Road with the Blackburn Rangers

Bikepacking. It’s one of my favorite ways to travel and for Blackburn, it’s not only a passion for them, it’s a challenge. How can design be intelligent, intuitive, reliable and most important, resilient to constant wear and tear? You can spend all day designing products in an office, but the real test is out on the open road.

One of the ways Blackburn vets their products is through the Ranger Program. Each year, they send out a call for entries before selecting six or seven Rangers to get kitted out with a bike from Niner and full Blackburn product. Their journey begins, oddly enough, at the San Jose Airport… Well, parking lot B at the San Jose Airport.

Riding the Rally Aysén Patagonia with Santa Cruz Bicycles: Day 01 and 02

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Riding the Rally Aysén Patagonia with Santa Cruz Bicycles: Day 01 and 02

You can’t throw a press launch in Patagonia without a solid plan and you can’t throw a race in Patagonia without experienced organization. The Rally of Aysén began as an idea, born in the offices of Santa Cruz Bicycles, some 10,446km away from Coyhaique, where the event would take place.

The idea was simple: in a time where enduro is hyped up, bring a rally format, multi-day event to the Aysén region of Chile, where mountain biking is in its infancy. The event would include timed climbs, timed cross-country, timed descents and downhill segments. It’d be a true battle of the most well-rounded riders and was not for anyone afraid of a bit of navigation or pushwacking…

Bikepacking with BMXers on Cross Bikes in the Santa Cruz Mountains – Brian Barnhart

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Bikepacking with BMXers on Cross Bikes in the Santa Cruz Mountains – Brian Barnhart

Bikepacking with BMXers on Cross Bikes in the Santa Cruz Mountains
Photos by Brian Barnhart, words by Brian Barnhart, Bill Arlew, and Sam Pederson

Introduction by Brian Barnhart

As much as I love bikepacking, I just don’t do it enough. Living in Santa Cruz, it is so easy to surf, BMX, hike or mountain bike, and then spend the night at home. I can’t complain about the accessibility. But when I got a group text about scheduling a long weekend of bikepacking, I was in! The group got narrowed down to two guys I had never met, but I knew we would bond over the experience.

After some planning and a few bike mods, the morning came to pedal into the mountains. The three of us got acquainted sharing singletrack and fire roads, and discussing our packing setups along the way. Billy and Sam had an exciting route planned, now it was time to put it to the test. Three days of riding and two nights of camping in Castle Rock State Park and Butano State Park respectively.

Our bikes and packs created a bond within our group, and also with folks that we talked to along the way. We shared an enthusiasm for being in the middle of nowhere, pedaling our way in and finding our way out. The recently drenched forest was alive with newts, banana slugs, and vegetation, and at night a campfire gave it warmth. We challenged our bodies and were rewarded with endless views and mysterious fog topped mountains. The descents flew by at exhilarating rates, full attention given to every bump, rock, tree, angle and edge. And the flat terrain provided a time to relax and appreciate it all.

We rode hard, and sometimes walked hard when the grade got too steep. We came out better riders and more prepared for next trip. We found that feeling we all crave when we are off our bikes. It happens when the conditions are just right, and our brains narrow our thoughts down to what is happening right now. For us it was climbing steep hills then bombing down the other side through redwoods, chalky bluffs, open meadows, and coastal roadways. Being cold and wet, then warming up as the time and miles passed. Stimulated by scenic overload, quiet of deep forest, and the scent of untouched wilderness we smiled all the way home.

Fireball and Pixie Dust at SSCXWC15VIC – Amanda Schaper

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Fireball and Pixie Dust at SSCXWC15VIC – Amanda Schaper

Fireball and Pixie Dust at SSCXWC15VIC
Word by Amanda Schaper and photos by David “Dusty Bermshot” Smith

SSCXWC has become a staple in my annual race calendar. Actually, it’s become my favorite event of the year. It’s a great excuse to travel somewhere cool and get rowdy with a bunch of crazy folks. When this debacle headed out of the fine USA for the first time, I had to be there. The Canadians are known for throwing a fun party, and I had high expectations for Victoria.

And let me just say: Victoria delivered a damn good time.

A crew of us from the Santa Cruz area headed north with a bevy of Santa Cruz Stigmatas and Rock Lobsters. I was riding my trusty Stigmata, and while the bike doesn’t come stock as a single speed, just throw on an EBB and you’re ready to rally. Of course, we also had our costumes. We went with a Peter Pan and the Lost Boys theme, with Tinkerbell, Captain Hook, and Peter Pan all making appearances.

But before we even got to the big race, we had to survive what basically felt like a solid 36 hours of partying. There was the Warm Up Party Friday night, the Feats of Strength ride all day Saturday, and the Pre Race Party Saturday night. Whew! Going into the weekend my good buddy asked if I had any tips for SSCXWC, and all I said was “Be ready for anything, prepare your liver, and your costume better be dialed.” I stand by that advice, it’s really all that matters.

Inside / Out at Hunter Cycles

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Inside / Out at Hunter Cycles

Kit builds aren’t Rick Hunter’s thing. You won’t find derailleur hangers ordered from a catalog in drawers, or your every day, run of the mill 44mm head tube waiting en queue for assemblage. Not at Hunter Cycles.

Rick Hunter is one of those builders that makes what I like to call utilitarian art. Utilitarian because each of his bikes are made to tackle one or many jobs efficiently and with a dash of fun. Or the other way around. Art because each bike is unique. Or rather, each run of production frames are unique. Be it a WoodRat, a Cyclo-Cross disc bike or a road frame. Rick will design, fabricate and finish his own cable stops, derailleur hangers and head tubes. There are a lotta hours put into each bike. More recently he’s been working on some feats of engineering and reverse practicality however with his completely insane Bushmaster bikes…

Santa Cruz Has Been Fun!

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Santa Cruz Has Been Fun!

There’s no debating that Santa Cruz, California is home to some exceptional mountain, cross and road cycling. The best part: it’s all within a few miles of where ever you’re staying. These past few days I’ve enjoyed hitting the dirt with the ladies of Juliana Bicycles on their home turf. I haven’t gotten to spend a lot of time riding trails with women and I gotta say, I’ve had a blast shredding with these total bad asses! Riding their wheels, watching their lines and eating their dust (literally – send rain!)

Thanks to the locals for showing this recent California transplant a good time in the dirt.

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Santa Cruz Syndicate: Episode 5

For the 5th episode of Santa Cruz’s Syndicate video series, we head to the coincidental 5th World Cup in Mont-Sainte-Anne to witness Ratboy taking the win and the culture that surrounds the downhill circuit.

The Rock Lobster Cup

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The Rock Lobster Cup

Bay Area people, dwellers of Santa Cruz and San Jose listen up: the crustacean king at Rock Lobster is throwing a pre-season cyclocross cup on August 29th at the Bonny Doon Airport. There’s something for everyone, so if you can make it out, do so!

Navigating the Old Ghost Road: New Zealand’s Longest Singletrack – Day 02

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Navigating the Old Ghost Road: New Zealand’s Longest Singletrack – Day 02

Waking up to unfamiliar sounds, namely from animals, is highly underrated. Like an alarm clock going off full tilt, your brain processes new audio notes with a different intensity. Maybe that’s why I sprung from my bunk in our hut at 6am that morning. Scratching my head, semisomna, asking myself “what the hell was that?”

We’re too far south for it to be a Bunyip – the Australian Yeti – and too high in elevation for it to be a chicken. There it is again, now multiple times, surrounding the cabin. I grabbed my coffee kit and headed out to the porch to see what the commotion was all about. Immediately, I began to witness these wingless birds chasing each other around, making this unique call.

The Weka had welcomed us to the Old Ghost Road. A flightless bird, a bit bigger than a kiwi, diurnal, and very vocal. At a certain point, the need for coffee and a few sunrise photos overtook the interestingness of a damn bird.

Pardon the brief nature geek moment, we’re here to talk about bikes.

Santa Cruz Redesigns their Highball Hardtail MTB to the 27.5 Platform and It’s Rowdy!

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Santa Cruz Redesigns their Highball Hardtail MTB to the 27.5 Platform and It’s Rowdy!

Sometimes, it’s the unexpected that delivers the most fun. Wheel size, when it comes to mountain biking, is a polarizing topic. People will swear allegiance to the 29r platform, without a blink of an eye and admittedly, I’m one that errs on that side. Being tall with long legs, I’ve kind of sworn off 27.5 hardtails.

They’ve either felt too squirrely for me to coerce or not big enough to roll out of hairbrained situations I often find myself in. If my riding ability were to be described in a word, it certainly wouldn’t be “finesse.” I need something that offers a larger diameter to correct little nuances in my riding habits. 29rs seem to deliver that.

Like a bucking bronco, those small wheels ain’t for this limestone cowboy. Or so I thought.

As previously stated in the Highball 29r post, Santa Cruz put a lot of work into developing their new 27.5 wheelsize option. While the general look and feel of the 27.5 version is almost identical to the 29r, all it takes is a few moments on this bike, particularly while descending, to tell that it is indeed, a different beast from its larger-wheeled sibling.

Ok, maybe it’s not all that different, but there are a noticeable points.

For one, the headset. While it’s a small detail, the bottom cup is a standard, press-in on the 29r and integrated on the 27.5. Because of the smaller wheel size, the chainstays could be shortened, thus the wheelbase loses some length, as well as steepening the seat tube angle to a 72.5º. But what I noticed, almost immediately, was the slacker head tube angle.

It seems like 69º is the magic number for hardtails (I should add that the Chameleon is also a very fun bike with a 67.3º head tube). It takes them from the category of XC race-specificity and dangles them over the all-rounder, “stunt” zone.

A 69º head tube angle is just right: not too slack to drop it into the AM range, or to make climbing a battle fought with a wandering wheel, nope. It’s just slack enough to make descents a complete blast. Even with the lower stack height (604mm versus 633mm on the 29r) frame, I never felt like I was going to fly off the bike descending. For reference, I rode the XL model.

Whereas I felt a lot of apprehension to fall in love with the Highball 29r, the 27.5 was love at first flight… It just whipped around so well.

The Highball 27.5 has all the technical advancements as the 29r, it’s just in a different realm in terms of handling on descents but we’ve already discussed that. Let’s look at the frame.

With the new layup, the lines are cleaner than ever and without the external routing, you can really focus in on the body language this bike is throwing around. Even sitting still, posing for a photo, it appears to have a meaner stance than its sibling.

Granted, having ridden the rather stealth-like black and red bike with XX1, this blue frame with XTR looks a bit flashy. Although, with a price. Take note: with the ENVE wheel upgrade, suddenly you’re in the $8,799 water… Thankfully, the XT package without ENVE is only $4,299 with the CC-grade carbon.

Another great detail on the Santa Cruz Highball is the new disc caliper design and placement. This new position eliminates the need for a chainstay / seatstay bridge. Although it does make it a slight pain in the ass to adjust on the trail with a compact tool.

Now onto what seems to be the deal breaker for a lot of people, just based on internet chatter and commentary over the 29r. The 27.2 seat post. Since there are so few options for a 27.2 dropper and no cable guides or internal routing for a stealth post, you’re pretty much stuck with a Thomson dropper post and some zip ties, which is what almost everyone did on the media launch.

Personally, I can ride a 100mm hardtail just fine without a dropper, although it does add a certain amount of versatility to the bike, especially if you throw a 120mm fork on the front end.

Before to write off Santa Cruz’s decision to go with a 27.2, attempt to understand their rationale. Ever ride a standard 30.9 post for hours on end during a marathon on a hard tail? Yea, it ain’t comfy. The 27.2 diameter does allow the seat tube to be elegantly reduced, resulting in a lot more compliance, which is a good thing for your butt.

That’s really the only initial concern I felt the need to address.

With a rowdy, confident stance like that, the new and improved Santa Cruz Highball CC 27.5 drew me right in. After an afternoon descending singletrack, I was sold. Maybe XC-oriented 27.5 hardtails aren’t that bad afterall? Or maybe the Highball is just that good.


Photo by Sven Martin

If I were to chose between the two, based on ride quality alone, I’d lean more towards the 27.5, without discrediting the 29r’s confidence-aspiring ride characteristics. The stability and shredability of the 27.5 platform translates so well to the Highball and all I needed was one, 10-mile descent to change my opinion.

The Santa Cruz Highball CC XX1 starts at $6,299 ($500 cheaper than the previous model)
The Santa Cruz Highball CC XTR starts at $6,799
The Santa Cruz Highball CC XT starts at $4,299
The Santa Cruz Highball C S starts at $3,199
The Santa Cruz Highball C R starts at $2,799

The Santa Cruz Highball CC frameset is available in black or blue for $1,899.

One thing to note is the 27.5 Highball has a size small, while the 29r does not. In return, the 29r has an XXL, while the 27.5 does not.

…and for or those seeking a weight comparison…

Highball 27.5
CC carbon size M matte black w/XX1 kit: 19.61lbs / 8.89 kg
CC carbon size M matte black frame only: 2.58 lbs / 1172 g

Specs and other information can be found at Santa Cruz. You can also compare my notes to the 29r version at Shredding the All New Santa Cruz Highball CC 29r MTB.

Navigating the Old Ghost Road: New Zealand’s Longest Singletrack – Day 01

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Navigating the Old Ghost Road: New Zealand’s Longest Singletrack – Day 01

Europe is blessed with ripping trails, from the seas to the tops of the alps. Many of these trails began as footpaths, or cattle trails, or even military roads, traversing mountains, connecting towns or other trade routes. New Zealand, however, had very little need for such intricate trail networking. Being an island, it was easier to go around the mountains, than over them, even in colonial times.

However, if anything can motivate man, it’s gold.

Which is why and how some of the first mountain trails were made in this country. The path we rode on the Stigmata the day before, the Charming Creek Trail, was the beginning of a network of mining rail lines, which stopped just before our home base for the remainder of the trip, the Rough and Tumble Bush Lodge.