Wednesday, May 21, 2014


2013 Salsa Horsethief 2, size XL (22").
Yes, this is the tale of another bike acquisition, but it requires a bit of a back story for explanation. As some of you may recall, last year I embarked on a project to reduce the size of my fleet a bit. That project was largely successful, in that I reduced my number of bikes by eight; mostly bikes that didn't see much riding, or I hadn't mustered my interest in building them out to loftier visions. It's been a productive project, but it is by no means complete.

That said, one of the bikes with which I parted ways, I quickly came to regret selling. It was a 2006 Specialized Stumpjumper FSR, that I picked up for cheap and on a whim in 2012. As my most recent investigation into the world of full suspension wonderbikes (the only in the past decade or so), I was amazed at its capabilities compared to my previous experiences on suspended bikes. With 120 mm of very well managed travel front and rear, it was an exceedingly fun bike to ride anywhere uneven surfaces abounded. The only real problem was that as a size large frame (with a 19" seat tube and ~23" effective top tube) it was at the bottom end of the gradient of comfortable sizing for me. I might have been able to bring the fit closer in line with a longer seatpost and stem, but in an overzealous fit of possession reduction, I sold it on Craigslist for less that what I should have allowed it to go.
My dear departed 2006 Stumpy FSR. :-(
Shortly thereafter, in my bereavement I picked up a used Redline Monocog 29er frame in size XL (21"); a 29er being something I hadn't previously owned, but the concept of which was highly appealing. This experience has turned out to be astoundingly good. With a frame of ordinary straight gauge 4130 steel, the Monocog 29er has become among my favorite bikes ever. It fits me as if it were custom made, and has a terrific, lively yet stolid ride quality. Yes, I know the Monocog's heft approaches that of a bull rhinoceros and to label its refinement as lowbrow is being more than generous. However, it is truly an example of the whole being inexplicably more than the sum of its parts.
My prized 2008 Redline Monocog 29er, shortly after I built it.
Last fall, Nicholas and Lael passed through town on their way to parts West. They had just finished a long off road tour of Europe and were buzzing about the all the singletrack and great trails they had ridden, and postulating the fun to be had on a full suspension, long travel 29er. The Salsa Horsethief was mentioned, along with a few other examples of the emerging 29-inch enduro lineage. This encounter got me to thinking about the fun of my departed Stumpy FSR, and how it could be improved upon. An idea was implanted, not to actively seek out such a bike, but if one were to come along, I would try not to miss it.
Spring flowers along the trail.
Fast forward to a couple of months ago, when I discovered that a local bike shop had a few 2013 Salsa Horsethieves on a huge discount in anticipation of the arrival of the new 2014 frame design. Flush with cash from my bike depletion project, I pounced. I test rode both the Horsethief 3 in size large and the Horsethief 2 in size XL. Though I am in between sizes and could have reasonably ridden either size, I went with the one that fit most like my Monocog.

In general, the Horsethief is an amazing bike, and every bit the wonderbike that was the Stumpy, with a few well appreciated improvements. It fits me better and is at least as fun to ride. It has 120 mm of travel front and rear, but with the 29 inch wheels, it somehow seems even more plush. I have a few rides under my belt, and I need a few more to fully develop a thoughtful critique of the Horsethief, but the overall impression is definitely positive. Several annotated detail photos follow.
The Horsethief moniker is taken from the famed Horsethief Bench trail in Western Colorado.
Beautifully executed headbadge on a tapered headtube. Conceptually, I like the 44 mm idea better. If you're going to go big, go big.
The flexy part of the Horsethief seatstays. The absence of this built-in flex is the most substantial change incorporated into the 2014 design. 
White Brothers Loop fork, set to 120 mm. It is adjustable between 80 and 140 mm with some minor parts swaps. The ride and quality seem on par with the best of Fox or Rock Shox, and it is made right here in Colorado.
Adventure by bike.
This is my first experience with a complete SRAM drivetrain, in this case X9 2x10. So far, it has been flawless. My first time with a 142x12 rear axle, which makes a lot of sense on a suspended bike. 
The MRP dual ring chain guide keeps chain slap to a minimum. 
Fox Float CTD rear shock has much the same feel as the Fox Triad did on my old Stumpy, and by that I mean that it provides a great ride on any setting. 
I find that the "Trail" setting works just about perfectly for anything short of a fast and rocky downhill that I've encountered thus far, climbing included.
With Conti 2.4" tires, there is plenty of fork clearance. Enough for 3 inch tires? I'm not likely to find out any time soon.
Clearance in the rear seems to be a bit less, but still more than adequate. 
Here's a visual of the clearance at the chainstay bridge. Clearance all around is more than on the Stumpy. 
Ten cogs on the cassette. Avid hydraulic brakes have been powerful and dependable so far.
This is my first brand new mountain bike since 1997. While I'm sure that the 2014 model is an amazing feat of engineering, the 2013 is no slouch, and at about a 50% discount it's a great deal. It is way more bike than I'll ever need, but there is a comfort in knowing that it's going to be able to handle anything I encounter. It also doesn't hurt that it's quite a looker, with a rich glossy blue that isn't fully able to be captured in a photo.

As sister companies under the QBP mother hen, Salsa and Surly have related, yet differing philosophies on bike design, frame materials, and the meaning of a bicycling life. Perhaps their sibling rivalry is part of why they are two of the most innovative companies in the bicycle industry at present. Bike companies are producers of consumer goods, and bikes are inanimate objects. However, I count myself among a segment of the population who invest meaning, perhaps not always able to be rationally defined, into the riding experience. For a long time, I've had an appreciation for Surly in this regard, in the position of bikes as a central element of my life rather than mere tools for competition or athleticism. I think I'm developing a similar appreciation for Salsa, and their "Adventure by Bike" ethos. The Horsethief will undoubtedly lead me to adventure.
The backdrop for the above photos was a ride I took at the Hildebrand Ranch Park, an easily accessed open space next to the foothills.

Swoopy trail curving along the hills like a bobsled run.

I also rode in the neighboring South Valley Park, home of some pretty impressive rock formations.

That building near the foothills is part of the Lockheed Martin complex where aerospace materials are developed. That would be a great location for work to get out for lunchtime rides. 
Lots of great trailside geology and some archeological tidbits.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Sprucing up the Big Dummy

The before photo; rear rack, deck and bags removed.
After 5 1/2 years of mostly trouble free riding, a few things on the Dummy have been hanging out on the pending maintenance list, perhaps a bit too long. Last weekend, I finally got to some of them, but not before taking a ride with the girls to enjoy the great weather with a picnic.
Current primary Big Dummy co-pilot and little sister.
Former primary Big Dummy co-pilot, occasional Big Dummy caboose rider, and big sister. Lael's old glasses undoubtedly make her faster.

After the ride, first up was to swap out some cable housing. The housing has suffered more than any other part from the weather and inattention to which the bike has been exposed as a kid hauler/utility beast over the years. Because it still shifted fine, I had been comfortable in my neglect, but the time for action had arrived. A Big Dummy is a big bike with what seems like miles of cables and housing. With a swept back handlebar that makes the housing jut forward before eventually arching rearward, not to mention the fact that it is a lanky 22" frame, the noodle-y effect seems even more exaggerated.
A crack in the housing near the junction with the head tube had been there long enough for the exposed compression cables to rust.
Another crack just past where the housing exits from the front shifter. 
Refurbishing the housing sucked up much of a roll of the derailleur housing I had on hand, which happened to be blue.

Just prior to my decision to tackle some much needed maintenance, I decided to see how a Surly Open Bar felt on the Dummy, in comparison to the Nitto Albatross bar that had lived on the bike since I first put it together in 2008. As I happened to have one around, I quickly swapped the bars just before taking the earlier ride with the girls. By the time we arrived back at home, I knew the Surly Open Bar was on the bike to stay.
A Surly Open Bar, this one with the 40 mm rise, is wider than a Nitto Albatross.
The Nitto Albatross has perhaps a bit more rise than the +40 mm Surly Open Bar.
The Nitto Albatross and Surly Open Bar are both great handlebars for enabling a comfortable upright riding position, which is especially useful for seeing and being seen in traffic around town. Both are made of high quality chromoly steel, have minimal but pleasant flex, and a nice swept back profile.

As much as I've enjoyed the position and shape of the Nitto Albatross on the Dummy, at a mere 560 mm wide, it feels far too narrow as compared to the much wider bars that I now have on some of my other bikes. The Surly Open Bar is 666 mm wide, which is a bit better, but what I'd really like is a bar of similar shape in the range of 750 mm or so wide. I've become a huge fan of the Salsa Rustler 2 bar on my Monocog, but would prefer something with much more sweep and a bit more rise if installed on the Dummy. To my knowledge, a truly wide, highly swept, good quality, modern riser bar does not exist.
Both Maxxis Larsen TT tires had developed goathead induced slow leaks that I'd been nursing for a few weeks. 
Next up were the tires. The Dummy has been shod in a pair of Maxxis Larsen TT 2.0" tires for about the past three years. The Larsens have been terrific tires, with low rolling resistance and just the right amount of traction whether on or off pavement. They don't excel in mud, but that's not a common surface around here. They have held up exceedingly well, and I couldn't say enough positive about them, though I'd probably prefer the 2.35" to the 2.0" version. However, time and miles had taken their toll, with the tread wearing thin and the sidewalls beginning to separate near the bead.

As I have perhaps too much tire stock on hand, instead of buying another pair of Larsens, I chose a pair of mildly used Specialized Roll-X 2.0" tires that have been in my bike barn for some time. They have more aggressive knobs than the Larsens, but are no-frills and have a less fancy casing with standard steel beads. The rims on the Dummy are Mavic X 823 UST-compatible tubeless, which I've had for several years but always run with tubes. Until now, that is.

I installed a couple of Mavic tubeless valve stems, mounted the tires, squirted in 2 ounces of Stan's and pumped 'em up with a compressor. One bead on each tire needed a little encouragement to pop into place, but after that, they were good to go. I didn't have to do any Gorilla Tape chicanery with the tubeless specific rims. Three bikes in my fleet are now tubeless, each by a slightly different method, but I can't see going back to using tubes unless absolutely necessary.
The after photo. There are still a few tasks left to do, but the Big Dummy is revitalized.
I ran out of available time before completing a few other maintenance tasks, but the Dummy already feels a lot happier. It's about due for some somewhat more intensive bearing work, and the Freeloader saddle bags need some repair work, but I have no doubt that the bike is up for just about anything. This is easily the most useful bike I've ever owned, and I look forward to many more years of harnessing its utility.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Bike to School Day

Flowers as cargo for the overlapping Teacher Appreciation Day.
Today is bike to school day. It was a perfect morning with cool but pleasant weather, and we had a good ride. We saw much more biking activity than usual, and were happily surprised to find the racks full at school. It seems as though Bike to School Day has gotten bigger around here in the past couple of years.

New green pedals.