Monday, August 5, 2013

Leopard 29R review

I’ve had a chance to ride some fine bikes.  Some of them I’ve loved and have kept my passion for cycling strong.  Others, not as much.  The Leopard Cycles 29R mountain bike definitely falls in the former category. 

Having just come off a rough relationship with my previous carbon fiber hardtail 29er, I was hesitant to jump onto another this season.  I was assured by my local Leopard representative that the 29R was designed with a high amount of compliance, the lack thereof being the major complaint I had about my previous carbon rig, so I decided to take the plunge.

I’ve been riding and racing the 29R for 3 months now and after making a few tweaks, I feel like I am comfortable enough on the bike to offer an opinion.  For reference, I am an upper level CAT 2 mountain bike racer/rider from the Midwest who’s longest race on the bike has been a 12 hour duo event.  My favorite trails are are technical singletrack with lots of tricky climbs and descents. 

First of all, there is a lot to like about this bike.  It’s efficient like my previous carbon 29er but much more compliant in the rough stuff.  The frame does more than you would expect from a hardtail to smooth out the trail.  I’ve done some really rough endurance races on rocky singletrack without feeling beat up.

At 5’ 9 1/2”, I’m on the edge of the size 17” frame, but with a 110mm stem, I’m able to make it work.  With the longer stem, the steering was just a hair slow for my taste, so I cut down my 660mm wide handlebar a little and it’s improved the issue.

It climbs well, it flies in the flats and it is completely competent on the downhills.

This frame is tough.  I’ve had a few bad incidents with this bike, including the worst I’ve ever had, and the bike is no worse for wear.

Not only tough, this bike is light, too.  I'm running a full SRAM 2x10 XX drivetrain except for the RaceFace Next SL crankset which is lighter than the xx crankset, Stan's Crest rims mated to Chris King wheels, 100mm Fox 32 Float 29 FIT CTD fork, Answer Protaper XC Carbon handlebar and the older generation Shimano XT brakes. Including the Crank Brothers Candy 2 pedals, two water bottle cages and Garmin cycling computer accessories, the bike comes in at 21.25lbs with room for improvement. 

Bikes don’t come much better looking than Leopards.  You can choose from a number of different colors, pre-designed paint schemes or even have your Leopard custom designed.  Add to that internal cable routing and you've got a bike with clean lines that looks as good as it performs.

The only quibble I have about this bike goes back to sizing.  I only wish the 29R was available in an 18” frame which would would allow me to run the bike with a stem shorter than 110mm.  I’m not sure if they would ever consider it, but that’s my 2 cents.

It’s a tough, competent bike that’s stiff where it needs to be and compliant where you want it to be.  The geometry is right where it should be to handle everything I’ve thrown at it.  It’s a bike I would highly recommend if you are looking for a new hardtail 29er for trail riding or XC racing.

Of course, all of this carbon fiber awesomeness is a lot less fun if it's never working properly.  I'd like thank Wilhelm Harm of Harm Cycles for doing a great job building up and and maintaining this bike.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Serenity on the trail now!!!

I've been on rides where I've been enjoying the ambient sounds of the forest as I fly through the trees and the sound of my tires digging into the dirt as I push through a corner.  I've often found the sound of my chain slapping against my chainstay to be somewhat intrusive to that experience.  Over the last few weeks I've been playing with a new drivetrain and wheel combination on one of my mountain bikes.  I want to share the good word about it because it's been such a blissful experience.

I'm running True Precision Stealth hubs which are a completely silent, instant engagement hub.  Besides being delightfully silent, they are also made in California, USA just as the revered Chris King hubs.

I was previously running these hubs with a Shimano XTR rear derailleur with XT shifters.  Shifting performance was great, but my main complaint was that any time I hit any bumps at all, it sounded like my drivetrain was breaking off.  Enter the SRAM Type-2 rear derailleur.

SRAM claims the Type-2 derailleurs deliver maximum drivetrain stability—even through the most punishing technical terrain.  Through the use of a Roller Bearing Clutch the rear derailleur maintains more consistent chain tension which not only helps with shifting performance and reducing chain drops, it also makes for noticeably less chain slap.  With less chain slap comes a much quieter and more enjoyable ride (for me anyway).

Don't get me wrong, if you get into some rough stuff you'll still get some chain slap, but much, much less.  The feel of the X.9 shifters and rear derailleur aren't quite as good as the Shimano XT/XTR setup, but other than that the shifting performance is good.

If you want an awesome setup for a much quieter mountain bike ride, I highly recommend the True Precision Stealth Hub, SRAM Type-2 derailleur combination. It has really transformed my riding experience.  Through my rides over the last few weeks, I've felt a stronger connection to the trail and to nature and I really think quieting down my bike has been a big part of that.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Weather behaving badly

My friend Ryan and I had been scheming to destroy some sweet southern singletrack for a majority of the winter.  Our time finally came and we piled all our stuff in my car and pointed it toward North Carolina’s Great Smokey Mountains.  About 16 hours later and a scoot up the legendary Dragon’s Tail, we arrived in the general location of our adventures.

Out of all the great trails in the Pishgah National Forest Area, we decided to ride Tsali as this was our first real mountain bike ride of the season.  The weather called for two straight days beautiful weather.  After spending the night at the trailhead, we geared up and headed out on the trail. 

We marveled at the grand sights offered up by the mountains and savored every second of riding the sweet singletrack.  We weren’t even bothered by the amount of climbing we had to endure.

And then the weather started.  We were setting up a shot with our cameras when out of nowhere, rain drops started falling from the sky.  It didn’t last long though.  This happened several more times before we were finished with our ride.  Then, in the last mile or so of the ride, a brief down pour hurried us off the trail.

Our evening ride was rained out so we spent the night hanging out at one of the coolest coffee shops/bars in the mountain town of Franklin, NC called the Rathskeller.  It’s amazing how things work out sometimes.  Instead of riding like we had planned, we spent the evening conversing with the owners and other patrons and taking advantage of the wifi and electricity to charge our gear and check out the media captured from our day on the trail.

In the morning we work up early to sunshine as the last of the night’s rain hung from the leaves and grass.  We took the opportunity to take some amazing photos and explore the campground a little bit.

The sun warmed and dried things up quickly and we headed out for another ride.  After our ride we tore down camp and headed up to Indiana to ride the trails at Brown County State Park.

It was in the 70’s when we left NC and in the 40’s when we arrived at Brown County where according to, it was supposed to be beautiful and sunny the next day. 

We were awoke in the middle of the night by thunder and lightning.  It rained all night and completely soaked the trails.  So we broke camp and headed home early. 

Moral of the story: never trust the weatherman and bring all the gear you will need for all conceivable weather conditions.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Wisconsin Bike Summit

A few days ago I had the opportunity to participate in the Wisconsin Bike Summit. It was a great chance to meet with state bicycling leaders as well as the legislators in our respective districts. We sat in on bicycling related seminars and learned how to effectively present information to our representatives.

The two issues to discuss with our legislators were the support of a vulnerable user law that would help give prosecutors options when pursuing charges against motorists at fault in incidents involving vulnerable users such as bikers, walkers, motorcyclist and anyone else traveling on the road legally that is not surrounded by a 3000 lbs steel cage.

As the situation currently stands in the state of Wisconsin if a motorist is at fault in an incident that injures a cyclist (or other vulnerable user), prosecutors only have two options on opposite ends of the spectrum. A normal, everyday traffic ticket like a speeding ticket or inattentive driving; or on the other extreme they can pursue vehicular homicide which can be very tricky to prosecute. This vulnerable user legislation gives prosecutors some middle ground where the punishment would more accurately fit the crime.

The other issue was a consistent, dedicated source of funding for bicycle transportation and other bicycle related projects. Something that is currently lacking from the state budget.

First up was a visit to my State Senator, Neal J. Kedzie. During our visit we were informed that both the Senate and Assembly were in session, so we met with staffers instead. It was a little disappointing not to be able to speak to the representatives themselves, but at the same time the staffers are the ones who do the research and get stuff done.

At Senator Kedzie's office we met with staffer Doug Wheaton. We had a very engaging conversation about the issues we came to discuss. Doug was very noncommittal, but he was willing to listen and engage in dialogue which I took as a positive sign. When it came to funding, of course there was no money in the budget. But like I said, he did listen to our concerns and at least managed to seem concerned with our situation. So I walked away feeling like we had a good first meeting.

Second up was a trip to our Assemblyman Stephen Nass where we me with his Policy Advisor Mike Mikalsen. When the issue of vulnerable users legislation came up, we were told that Rep. Nass does not support the bill. He was not willing to consider our point of view and throughout the whole meeting never asked a single question to show he was interested or fully understood what we were trying to ask him to consider. I asked him several different times to reconsider his position using several different approaches, but he was not willing to budge from his stance. So I urge you to email ( or better yet call him ((888) 529-0031) and encourage him to make your safety a priority, because based on my conversation with his office, I feel he currently does not. When the issue of money was brought up, we were given a speech about the current financial state of the state. In other other words, nope.

In retrospect we probably didn't do a good enough job of selling bicycle infrastructure as an investment rather than just another bill for taxpayers. Oh well, live and learn.

My follow up plan looks something like this: I will write a follow up email to Senator Kedzie thanking him for his time and encouraging him to continue considering the issues we discussed. I plan on writing weekly or monthly emails to Rep. Nass thanking him for his time and urging him to reconsider his support for a bill that will help to protect many of his constituents. Perhaps I will call or email his office every time I finish a road ride and share every time I almost get taken out by a motorist (which is more times than I am comfortable with already).

We wrapped up the summit with two mingling sessions where I met quite a few interesting and influential people, including Kevin Hardman (Execute Director of the Bike Federation of Wisconsin) and Bridget Brown (the Wisconsin DNR trails czar (exact title may differ)). The last session of the night was hosted at the Trek Bicycles Mansion where I got to meet the owner of Trek Bicycles and a few other leaders in the industry. It was a beautiful house and I'm glad I had the opportunity to visit and mingle was such great folks.

I want to thank IMBA and the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin and all the other sponsors of the summit for coming together to put on such a great event. Also I want to thank Trek bicycles for opening up their house so that we could continue to build relationships after the summit had officially ended. It think it was an excellent success and I look forward to attending in the years to come.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Upcoming Season

We just go back from the Bahamas and I've had a chance to think about the upcoming mountain biking season. Which direction do I want to go for this upcoming mountain bike season? Last year I had a tremendous amount of success in the Wisconsin Off Road Series which consists primarily of XC races while participating in only 2 DH and 1 one Super D race. So successful in fact that I am a mandatory move from the sport class to the comp class. I worked hard and had a great time, but I've been wondering if I want to pour all that energy (and then some) into XC racing again this season.
I've always defined myself as a rider who races and not a racers. And I'm a rider who all kinds of variety that mountain biking has to offer. So with that in mind and the recent surge in regional downhill races, I've been thinking about making the gravity events priority over the XC races (with a few exceptions, of course). I'm also considering traveling out of my region for a couple gravity events. Going down to Snowshoe in West Virgina to hit up a race there fellow flight crew member Dan Lucas and Airborne Bicycles Customer Service Czar Eric McKenna is an option.

I'd really like to do well and continue to progress as a XC racer, but I know I can't have everything. Since I'm never going to be a pro mountain bike racer, does it really matter if I don't do as well this year and just have fun enjoying the sport in it's many different forms?

What say you and what are your plans and goals for this upcoming season?

While we are waiting for warm weather riding check out this video and look for a new video review of the Bikeray USA Bikeray III light.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Final thoughts on the Airborne Goblin 29er

If you’ve been keeping up with my blog, you know that I’ve been riding and racing the Airborne Goblin 29er all season long. From endurance races including the 24 Hours of Wausau to the shorter Wisconsin Off Road Series (WORS) races across the state of Wisconsin, I’ve been riding the wheels off this bike. You’ve also heard me talk at the beginning of the season about being a little cynical about the whole 29er thing. But, one toasted bottom bracket and destroyed rear derailleur later and it’s still going strong.

I’m going to do this in a bit of reverse order. First, I’m going to list the issues I had with the bike instead of the normal method of listing pro and then cons (just for fun).

I’ve had issues with the rear shifter at times during the season. The issues usually occurred during foul weather riding so there it is a good bet that that had something to do with it. However, I’m not a big fan of the X.7 shifters. I find the feel to be lacking. I think the throw is too far and the feeling is not as solid and definite as higher level shifters. But with higher end shifter comes a higher pricepoint so I understand the choice of the SRAM X.7 here.

Later in the year I had some issues with the rear derailleur. Firstly, the lower jockey wheel cracked all the way through. Luckily, it happened at the very end of my ride (or race, I really can’t remember which at this point). The replacement derailleur ended up failing a couple months later when the b screw tab bent causing severe shifting issues during a race preride. The onsite race mechanic was able to rig something up to get me through the race the next day and through the following warranty claim. In the end though, the drivetrain never failed to the point that I could not finish a ride or race.

I'd point out that I am the only one on the Flight Crew reporting drivetrain issues on the Goblin so I don't expect the above issues to be the norm.

Now the good stuff. Let’s start with the obvious. The wheels. The 29er inch bad boys roll. I know I was skeptical at first of the big wheels. I thought they would be clumsy and slow through the singletrack. To be completely honest, I thought the big wheels were for unskilled mountain bikers and they loved them because the wheel just rolled over everything. The last part is true. The wheels will roll over just about anything, but they can also be very fast and surprisingly nimble in the hands of a skilled rider.

I’ve been out riding at local trails and received several comments about how nimble I made the big wheels seem. But trust me, my first month or so of riding the bike was a real feeling out process. It took me nearly a half a season to really tap into the potential of the big wheels. And now that I have, I can hardly imagine XC racing with a smaller wheel.

The stock Avid Elixir R brakes are a decent set of brakes. They have good power and feel. Since I have shorter fingers the tooless reach adjustment is really nice. In the end, I decided to go in a different direction with the brakes to save some weight.

The bike is a bit on the heavy side for racing, but in all fairness, the Goblin is not designed as a pure racing machine. It is designed and equipped with trail riding more in mind than racing. So to get the weight down and the handling where I wanted it, I made a few modifications.

The first modification and the one I would recommend for anyone planning on racing the bike is upgrading the wheels. I chose the Sun Ringle Black Flag Pro wheelset. Not only did I loose a fair amount of rotational weight in the switch and gain points of engagement in the rear hub, the gold hubs, nipples and decals look awesome with the green, black and white of the Goblin. That upgrade was a total win.

The next major upgrade was the Fork. I swapped out the Rock Shox Reba for a Fox F29 RLC with a 15mm thru axle. There was nothing wrong with the Reba, I just happen to like the feel of the Fox forks. I found the 15mm axle stiffened up the bike a bit and the weight savings was nice for racing. I also really liked the the slight increase in travel going from 80mm to 100mm. I’d really like to see the stock Reba come set to 100mm travel setting. I really didn’t notice any slowing down of the steering with the change either.

Other modifications that mostly had to do with weight were (in no particular order): Thomson Masterpiece seatpost and Elite stem, Avid XX brakes and Answer Protaper XC carbon handlebar and KMC X10SL chain. I ran a set of Shimano XT brakes for the first 3/4 of the season and actually liked the feel and power of them better than I do the Avids. The drop off in performance isn't that bad so I’ve stuck with the weight savings of the Avids for now. I’ve had the rear brake bled once already and it isn’t holding proper pressure. If the problem persists, I may end up going back to the XT’s.

I began the season by taking off the stock 2.1 Kenda Small Block 8’s and swapping them out with 1.9 Hutchinson Pythons. As much as I tried, I couldn’t bring myself to like the Pythons. They felt very squirrelly to me and I didn’t much care for the narrowness of the tire. So without any hesitation I went back to the Small Block 8’s and couldn’t be happier with that choice. I really like the tire choice here because of the predictable and solid feel of the Kenda’s.

Like I said before the Goblin is not designed and equipped as a pure racing bike. The geometry is more slanted toward trail riding with a 71 1/2 degree head tube angle 74 degree seat tube angle. However, the Goblin does have a decently low bottom bracket. This makes the bike feel great in the corners. I found this also takes a period of adjustment. Upon hopping on and riding the Goblin, I found I was having an unusual number of pedal strikes. After adjusting my riding to compensate for the pedal strikes, I now have no more than normal. I just have to accept the fact there are some places I couldn’t catch an extra pedal stroke like I do on some of my other bikes. I find that the bigger wheels generally roll over what I would normally want to pedal over with a 26 inch wheel, so I don’t feel I’m loosing anything, just not gaining as much as I want to. But there is always tradeoffs with geometry. You can’t have everything.

Despite this, I had more success racing on the Goblin 29er this season than any other bike at any other time. Much of it had to do with the amount of training and riding I put in, but I’m now convinced that the bigger wheels are the way to go for XC bike racing because they definitely hold momentum better so you roll faster once they get going. Once you learn how the bigger wheels handle you can still go plenty fast in singletrack. When you condition yourself to get the big wheels turning, they tend to do much of the work as far as rolling over terrain.

Other than the minor drivetrain issues I have had with the bike, I’m very happy with the overall performance of the bike. I’m now a big believer in big wheels for going fast on XC trails and I’m elated with the result of my racing season on the Goblin. At $1,150, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better value on a 29er at this component level.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Warning: Cyclocrossing Zone!!

What a mindblowing season of mountain biking! It was so awesome hanging out with great people and meeting new friends. Accomplishing what I thought was unreachable and having a great time along the way is something I won't soon forget.

With the Cross Country season starting to feel like a distant memory, I find myself looking for other avenues to fulfill my need to compete and maintain fitness. Enter Cyclocross. Here in this cycling discipline wedged firmly between road biking and mountain biking I find my fix. Composed of a very interesting cross section of the cycling community, you are just as likely to find yourself racing against a mountain biker, a road rider or even a triathlete or runner. But it seems more laid back than any other bicycle competition I have been a part of. For example, the beginning of the race is fairly casual and almost anticlimactic. The race official tells everyone they have one minute before the start of the race. Then he slowly backs out of the way after about a minute and nonchalantly saying something, "okay, you can start."

For those of you unfamiliar with Cyclocross, the best way I can describe it is racing through a grass field or park on a course that has been marked off with tape on a bike that looks a lot like a road bike but with knobbier tires. The courses usually incorporate obstacle and short steep climbs that are not rideable for most as well as lots of sharp 90 and 180 degree turns. In Cat 4 where I have been racing, the race is 30 minutes in duration which usually encompasses 4 laps. Such a short race amounts to revving up to red line from the get go and barely coming back down before pushing right back up to red line and doing that for a half hour. I can tell why people hate it so much that they love it. It hurts so much it almost feels good. Sound an awful lot like masochism to you?

I don't have a Cyclocross bike at the moment and have just been using my Goblin 29er mountain bike and it seems to be doing okay. I'm finishing in the top half of the field so it's not like my bike is killing me.

In fact, at my first race in Sheboygan, WI, I was awarded $5 every time I cleared a steep climb that no one else in my class could. The reason was I had gearing for that type of thing on my mountain bike while everyone else in my class did not have the gearing for it on their CX bikes. There was one other racer on a mountain bike there, but he was riding a single speed which did not afford him the opportunity to find the right gear for the climb. End result: $20 cash in my pocket on my way to a 7th place finish. Not too shabby for my first CX race; ever. The top 3 won medals and a pair of socks. I'll take my $20 thank you very much :)

In my 2nd race last weekend in Estabrook Park in Milwaukee, WI, I did okay. There was more than twice as many competitors than in Sheboygan and I finished 20th out of 52 or so. Like I said I'm really doing CX for the fix and the fun so I am more than happy just being out there competing.

I'll probably do 1 or 2 more races before the offseason really settles in (which I can tell you, I am NOT looking forward to). But it will give me some time to work on a bunch of the video I've shot at the end of the season and iron out my plans for the offseason and next season. I'll talk about that in other post. For now I am going to ride outside as much as possible until it just gets too cold to bare.

Other flight crew news:

For a great read, check out my buddy Dan's blog post on what pizza and an epic road trip have in common. Be sure to read carefully. There'll be a quiz later.

You can also check out Brent and Kevin's adventures at the Collegiate Mountain Biking Nationals at Angelfire Resort in CO in this awesome video put together by the Flight Crew's own Brent Davidson.

Lastly, I'd like to wish Wendy Davis a speedy recovery from her ankle injury sustained during a recent ride. Heal up quick!!!