Thursday, November 21, 2013

Borealis Yampa Carbon Fatbike: Short term review

So, a couple weeks ago i got my hands on a new winter toy: A carbon fiber fatbike! I've been anticipating the delivery of the new steed since earlier this summer when i first learned of the Borealis Yampa frames, and that Freewheeler Bike Shop would be carrying them (i think Curt ordered a dozen or more right off the bat). The frame showed up a while before iceman, and the components were slowly trickling in and teasing me with visions of ripping down the lakeshore and carving snowed in singletrack. After the excitement and post-iceman depression i was in desperate need of a cycling pick-me-up. In the nick of time, Curt got the components in stock and Logger did a fine job of assembling this glorious mode of transport.

As you can tell, i no sooner that got it outside of the shop than started photographing the glory!

Of course, the first thing i did when i got it home was to fine tune the fit to a more aggressive stance and prep it for it's inaugural voyage. It looks a little more like this now:

Stem slammed, seat jacked... that's more like it

Once i had the bike fitted to my specifications i burst out the door in full cold weather regalia and set about seeing just what this machine could handle! First i noted how responsive it was for such a large wheeled beast. Although the acceleration is slower due to the greater rotational weight, i didn't notice it feeling too sluggish. I would compare it to a turbo-diesel automobile; takes a minute to spool up that turbo, but once you hit the right RPM it's all systems go! I headed directly to the nearest park with anything resembling singletrack and set about tackling the steepest hills i could find. I had the bike built with SRAM 1x11 with a 34T ring upfront. For reference, i'm used to my Niner which is geared 1x10 (11-32 cassette and 38T ring upfront). This fatbike with the new drivetrain climbs hills like a tank, you just drop it into a creeper gear and scale grades up and above 30 percent. The drivetrain was expertly tuned by Freewheeler's very own Logger so naturally it snapped into gear immediately and produced literally no noise. I'm very happy with the 1x11 setup and am seriously thinking about making the leap on my Niner now...

That cassette is a marvel of engineering!

Solid Raceface Turbine cranks to put down some meager power at best...

Look at that bottom bracket girth!

When i left my house, i had measured the tires at around 18 psi, which i realize is firm for a fatbike. I could tell right away on the trails that i was giving up ride comfort and traction as a result. Curt was forward thinking when he built this rig, and set me up with the matching Borealis hubs laced expertly by the Wheel Department over at Velocity to their awesome new Dually rims. He also selected some fine rubber in the form of 45NRTHs Dillinger 4" model, and set them up tubeless. I have to say, comparing the tubeless Dually's to some of the wider tire/rim combos with tubes that the difference is staggering. I soon stopped and aired those bad boys down to 10 psi and instantly noticed a smoother ride. The traction also went up ten-fold as it made little effort to overtake roots and stones that would normally jar my teeth half loose. I tackled another hill at a nearby park which although only 25 feet in height, packs a near 35% grade of loose grass and leaves. I'm pleased to report that with the largest cog on the cassette i was able to climb without blowing out a hammy!

These tires also happen to accept metal studs for when winter really picks up. I haven't had any issue with burping the tires from the Dually rims. The whole package is stout!

The rigid fork and thru axle are robust pieces. Borealis did a nice job with the fitment of the hub/axle/fork.

The rear hub has a great sound and feel to it. It engages quickly and after over 100 miles of punishment i haven't noticed a change.

So, what conditions have i put the fatbike through exactly? Well i'm glad you asked... Here's a rundown of the flogging:
  1. First trip out was brief, i hit Manhattan park to check the confidence on leaf covered, steep trails. I rode through the sand pit several times, and hit some greasy trails to check mud-shedding. Tooled on over to Fuller park and tested out some really steep stuff and more tight trails.
  2. Second trip was a pro-longed urban MTB course. Threw in some mulch, railroad tracks, railroad bridge, long and steep descents and stair descents. Long story short, the bike is confident riding off and down stuff.
  3. Threw in a few more urban MTB rides with a lot of mud, sand and tall grass. Rode through a dried up swamp which was interesting. It's amazing how much grass you can wrap into the drivetrain and still be able to ride...
  4. Three loops at Luton. One loop with fast segments and waiting at the end of each mini-loop. One loop of recovery and one full loop without stops. This bike can really soak up the roots and rocks that otherwise pose a threat on normal MTB tires. Also, i was able to hammer corners without worry in the leaves. This thing has a ton of traction and good handling.
  5. Went out this past Sunday in the epic rainstorm. The bike does awesome with foot deep or less puddles and creeks...
I've got 110 miles in so far, and a pretty good cross-section of terrain to report on. The rest of the build is pretty standard:

Brakes: SRAM XO hydraulic w/Ashima Ai2 ultralight 160mm rotors
Cockpit: Carbon Niner flat bar, carbon Niner seat-post, alloy Niner stem
Seat: Fizik Ardena
Pedals: Shimano SPD
Grips: Lizard Skins rubber w/custom Freewheeler Lock-on clamps!


 I like the feel of these grips, and the latest version of SRAM XO hydraulic brakes.

I chose a smattering of tried and true durable goods. The pedals are M525 which weight half a metric ton, but are indestructible. The cockpit is not boutique by any means, but built to handle thrashing down Belknap hill at 40+ MPH. The seat is built for comfort and also is near one metric ton. Even with a non-uberlight build this bike tips the scale at 24lbs in full riding decor (pedals, two bottle cages, and tail-light). If one were so inclined to drop an extra couple hundred bucks you could easily slide into the 21-22 pound range.

I plan to partake in several fatbike races throughout the winter months as well as continue training sessions once or twice a week on this beast. Overall, i'm very pleased with this build. The bike can tackle the worst of it with ease, but still carve up some singletrack and post top 10s on serious segments. It's light enough that it feels nimble when pushed to the limit, but not so light that i'm afraid to bomb drop-offs and curbs. I'd like to give a big shoutout to Freewheeler Bike Shop for the sweet build and great timing! I'll report back after I've got to logs some serious training/racing miles on it with an update on how it's holding up!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Doing hood rat things with my friends, and other random events...

It's been quite a while since my last post, but there's been plenty going on. Lets go in chronological order from where i left off with my last post....

Early September - I was doing a lot of gravel road riding and some trail riding in preparation for the Chequamegon Fat Tire festival 40 mile race that i had registered for at the beginning of the year. They do a lottery for this race, and it's never a sure thing that you'll get in. I was feeling good and excited to get out there as it was also my birthday weekend. I had a whole weekend planned of MTB things and good times. Three days before the race i went out for one last singletrack ride to shake the legs out and test my equipment when disaster struck... I got a little too carried away on the third segment of the Cannonsburg SGA loop and washed out on a sharp turn into a tree. I went flying and was stopped cold by an unforgiving maple tree with a pig attitude. It took me a minute to get up and get my wits about me. I grabbed my bike and felt a nasty pain in my shoulder. It was definitely no longer in the socket and there was more movement than i care to describe. Fortunately for me i was only 3 miles of rough trail from my car so i rode the rest of the trail one handed and very slowly. The result of the tree altercation was a fully separated shoulder.

Needless to say, i was pretty bummed out to not be heading to Wisconsin for an awesome race and good times with cycling folks. I laid low for a few days to let the shoulder heal up, and got tired of doing that so i tried road riding a few days later. I figured how much worse can it get anyways? September was a slow month of recovery and testing and overstepping the bounds of what i could do with my arm. A few Wednesday night Korienek Killer gravel rides thrown in for good measure.

Stand around talking about bike things

October brought with it the promise of off-road glory and perfect riding weather (read: rain, wind, mud and cold!!). I know, i know, i have a problem, but i love this time of year when the dirt roads are desolate and you need a light to stave off the darkness. There's something about being out there pushing yourself when no one else wants to even go outside, let alone battle a furious west wind. The first weekend actually found me racing trails, but not on a bike. For whatever reason i though that a trail half marathon in the rugged Porcupine Mountains State park would be a grand idea. Mind you, i had run few enough times during the summer to recall with the 10 digits of my hands. IT was a wicked day as far as wind and wet, the trail was destroyed, and so were my legs by the end of it. The fruit of my labor was sweet (literally, i won a bottle of syrup for 3rd O'all).
Pre-race bro-down

Now i just need some pancakes

It was a grand idea to wear my new shoes...

Once my legs didn't feel the urge to fall off anymore, i picked the bike back up and hit the gravel again. With that horrific running race behind me, i could once again focus on getting back in good bike shape for the remainder of the seasons races. Next on the list was something new for me; cyclocross! I decided to give it a shot out at Cascade Park as part of the Kisscross series. I had heard nothing but good things about cyclocross (pain, suffering, glory and beer). My friends had urged that i do the A-race but i stubbornly insisted on doing the B-race because i had never done cross before... Bad idea, i looked like a sand-bagging mofo out there on the front the the B-race. I like to think that i always race in an appropriate category/field when it's my choice to make, but this was definitely not the road to valor. Oh well, it was an awesome race, and i found out that i really enjoy the added pain that cyclocross has to offer.

The weekend following Kisscross was reserved for Peak2Peak, but after last years debacle and the poor weather forecast for this years event, i decided to bail and go do a gravel group ride instead. I heard that it turned out ok for those fine folks that decided to race, but i have to say that it was nice to get together with my Freewheeler kin and hammer some headwinds out near Lowell. We managed a good ride and pace, and stayed together for the most part. 

We share our dope!

You may be asking yourself, why all the gravel?! Well, good question, because one of my favorite races (Lowell 50) was just around the corner. Plus, who doesn't like riding terrain like this:

Top-secret two-track

Cyclocross combines two of my favorite things: anything involving bikes and beer. I like talking about bikes, thinking about bikes, riding them, looking at them, weighing them, building them.... You get the idea. The great thing about late season training is that the most important thing is just getting a workout without getting burned out. After 6,7,8 thousand miles or so, it can get a little bit old, and i love bikes! So, in an effort to stave off the dreaded dead legs we often find that it pleases the mind to combine rides and beverage stops into one good time. In pursuit of that effort i submit exhibit A:

Those are thirsty eyes

It is ideal to travel a distance no further than 10 miles give or take between re-fueling stops. It is also ideal to not linger for a period of time as it can result in over-indulgence. The goal between stops is to hammerfest until you arrive at your next juncture. The stops provide sufficient motivation to induce pain and thus grow into a stronger more indignant cyclist. Anyways, i digress.... The Lowell 50... There's not much for me to say. I felt great at the start, was at the front of the lead group coming onto centerline road and snap! I looked down at my drivetrain expecting an exploded chain only to discover half of my pedal on my foot and the other half in my crank. Not... Good....

Not easy to pedal on a nubbin

Quick release pedal system, patent pending

With the Lowell 50 a failure on my part, i decided to vent some steam at Manhattan Park in the form of Kisscross. The course at Manhattan was much more trying than the Cascade setup, and i found the hills and singletrack suited me well. What didn't suit me was the three dismounts that i'm utterly terrible at. I frequently found myself stumbling and fumbling to get clipped back in to my pedals. Must have been a higher being telling me to relinquish the weight weenie Crankbrothers in favor of tried and true Shimano. The Lemans start was pretty awesome, and i had good position throughout the race. I came in 4th in the A-race (where my sand-bagging A$$ belongs!).

Next up was the illustrious Iceman Cometh mountain bike race. If you aren't familiar you should probably just stop reading right now and not bother reading anymore of my blog posts because i am infinitely disappointed in your lack of bike knowledge. Ok, now that we've cleared that up, Iceman!!! For me, a grown man with no kids, Iceman has become a figurative Christmas. There are many similarities between Christmas as a child and Iceman as a grown adult. For instance:
  1. The anticipation leads to sleepless nights and obsessing over what time/place i will get
  2. My friends and i have trouble working or doing little other than preparing for the race, being festive and making plans for who is leaving town and when
  3. We all get together in one location for the weekend to eat, be merry and suffer (oh, wait, i guess suffering was never part of christmas...)
  4. It's cold as hell outside
This was my first year racing Iceman in the afternoon, and i have to say that the weather couldn't have been better aside from the wind. The sun shone occasionally, the trails had dried out just enough, and the course was fast. My biggest mistake was lining up too late and getting relegated to the back of the field. Per usual, the pavement was a slugfest with yahoos riding through yards, puddles and contemplating bunny-hopping cars. Once we got onto the first two track there was a slow up, and then a stop. Two fine fellows tangled and tacoed their wheels about 3 miles into the race, classic! From then on out it was a task of working in a group long enough to recover and then setting out on my own for muddier pastures. I felt good, my bike was working awesome, and my pace was high. I managed to get into a group with Dan Korienek (of course the pace was high) and begin working together to get to the finish as fast as possible. Several miles from the finish we picked up Mike Simonson and he assumed some pace making duties as well. I knew coming into the final climb that the lead position was the place to be so i drilled it on the front to stay there. The climb went by quickly with a blur of fans cheering and teammates urging me on. As we came over the top i could tell i hadn't done enough damage to separate myself. On the descent to the flyover Dan came by in full beast mode. At that point, i knew he was gone so my main duty was to hold the other couple guys off until i crossed the line. In the end i crossed the line in 1:44:03 and 23rd place. I was thrilled with my time and happy to be in the presence of such elite riders. Afterwards i joined my team for a beverage and photo op. The Iceman was a nice success after a fall blighted with bad gear and busted shoulder.

"I wonder when Dan is gonna pass me?"

Battle of the beards!

Bikes are like family

Mustache night!