Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Big Wheeled Ballyhoo: Trail Report/Big Mama Update

September 1, 2009

I was happy to get out and check over the site for the Big Wheeled Ballyhoo for a short period recently. This place is amazing. Okay, let’s imagine for a minute that Nebraska is something other than what most folks think. (In other words, not flat!) Yeah, yeah, I know. You don’t believe it. Nebraska is boring. Well, if you think so after this post, you’re just being stubborn! Check this out……….

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Western Nebraska is “Big Country” in a good way!

One thing that most folks don’t realize is that the “interstate”, (I-80), is built to use the path of least resistance through Nebraska, just like the railways used, and the wagon trains before that: Right along the Platte River valley. (“Platte” means “flat” in French) Get away from the Platte valley, and you’ll find a much different Nebraska than you ever thought of.

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Down hills are tough, steep, and fast at Potter’s Pasture.

That’s what we have found at Potter’s Pasture, an amazing landscape that is at once beautiful and surprising in its unique makeup. Potter’s Pasture is just what the name implies: a grazing land for cattle which roam freely about the approximately 1600 acres of ground here. The cattle do a unique and cool thing to the land. they make “cow paths”, yes, but because of the nature of the soil, these paths evolve into ruts in many places. These can swallow a rider whole in spots. Kind of like riding in narrow trenches, only at really steep angles!

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The cows create challenging trails that make riding a ton of fun out here.

The nature of the cow’s trails are such that you have barely enough room to keep your pedals, handle bars, and at times, your shoulders from contacting the trail. It is like a 3D single track: At once narrow in a lateral plane and a vertical one. But that isn’t the whole story here. Not by a long shot. Climbs are long, gradual, steep, and you are definitely going to need a granny ring here. Many times there are step ups created by roots, and technical moves are called for quite often. The down hills range from fast, wide open, rippin’ types to switch backed, slow speed, tree lined, and exposed. The way a trail you are on changes is fun in this way, because one downhill can have all the aforementioned traits in one run!

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Negotiating some rooty step downs.

The soil is a “loess” type. Very silty, fine, and tires get a great bite in it. Knobby tires with good traction are recommended here. I also found that a dual suspension rig was really the ticket to ride, but we had fellows on hard tails on our ride that were having a blast, and even single speed rigs have a place at Potter’s. I chose a Big Mama, which I have reviewed for this site. There were also two other Big Mama bikes on this ride as well. All were set up differently, but this bike was a perfect platform to base a ride of Potter’s Pasture on.

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Chad and MG piloting there Big Mama rigs through some Potter’s pasture goodness.

The full suspension 29″er rig is tailor made for Potter’s Pasture with its rooty, step down, and technical descents. The way the Big Mama handles this is awesome and climbing is where I thought the Big Mama was really tops here. The traction necessary to step up over roots, and dig in on the steepest sections was quite evident. I think lots of rigs are capable at down hill runs, but the nimble handling and climbing abilities of the Big Mama were really the thing that impressed me. All three of us cleaned really tough climbs and we were told afterward that we were “walking away” from the other bikes being ridden in the group on the ups. Pretty impressive.

In my opinion, I have always thought Salsa Cycles philosophy on the Big Mama was a perfect fit for a remote, back country type ride. Potter’s Pasture bore that out for me in spades. It is a reliable, fun, capable handling rig that I never thought was holding me back. Even set up with the 120mm travel Reba Team fork, which jacks the bottom bracket height far beyond what Salsa designers intended, this bicycle was really sharp. Maybe a tad bit tippy in a couple of really tight switchbacks, but doable all the same. In the 100mm setting, the bike would definitely be even better, and my riding companions bore that out for me. (Both having 100mm travel forks on their Big Mamas).

So, that’s the report on the site of the 2009 Big Wheeled Ballyhoo and a bit of a Big Mama update. Check out the event if you can, or if you are ever in the area, it is worth a side trip to Potter’s Pasture to taste the “big country” of western Nebraska.

All Photos- Credit: Kyle Vincent

Origin 8 2X9 Cranks: Final Review

August 27, 2009

I have been putting the Origin 8 2 X 9 cranks through their paces all summer and here are my thoughts now on this drive train option “geared” (sorry for the pun!) towards the 29″er riders out there.

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The cranks have performed flawlessly over the course of the test. Shifts have been good. Not super snappy, but not bad either. I used a SRAM X-9 shifter with the derailluer limited out to travel just far enough to allow the use of the 29T and 44T rings. I would characterize shifting performance as on par with what I had on the bike previously, which was a TruVativ Stylo crank. Pretty much standard for most trail riders.

The rings themselves have held up well, and they look great still, even after some pretty muddy sessions, what with the wet year we have had. A plus in the execution of the system for sure here. The arms with the ISIS interface is solid, and also came through looking great, but I will say that I am not one to rub crank arms with my shoes, so some folks results may vary accordingly.

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Now, as for the whole 2X9 thing, these are my thoughts and not all necessarily related to this particular product. The way you use the front rings with the rear cassette is different. I thought a bit of a closer ratio between the two front gears would be optimal. I probably would go with a 42T versus the 44T that the cranks were supplied with. This would have lent me the opportunity to shift from the outer to inner chain wheel without shifting in the rear so much to find a close cadence to where I had been before the shift. At any rate, a choice in chain wheels to match from Origin 8 is in order. Obviously, a rider in a mountainous area doesn’t need a 44T so much and a 29T definitely isn’t going to cut it for some. Maybe a 36T X 24T combo? Well, I have written this before, but it bears repeating.

Also, it should be remembered that Shimano’s 12-36T cassette is on its way. This would be a perfect compliment to this crank, allowing a rider to stay in either the big ring longer, or in the saddle longer in the smaller ring, instead of walking.

Conclusions: The Origin 8 2 X 9 crank is a winner in terms of functionality, looks, and gearing for XC/light trail work. The system needs to have options, and it needs to have a lighter weight version. The two piece crank style perhaps could be that version. At any rate, this idea is well executed and when you consider the asking price of $100.00 or so, it becomes apparent that the value of this gearing option for 29″er freaks is great. Not everyone will love it from a gear ratio/weight perspective, but hopefully Origin 8 will address this in the near future. I can recommend these to anyone curious about 2X9 and that doesn’t want to spend a fortune on the experiment, or to anyone that just likes high value/low cost with good looks, good performance, and a devil may care attitude about the weight.

FRM´s New 29er Rims – XMD 388: Out Of The Box

August 25, 2009

FRM´s new 29er rims – XMD 388

Editor’s Note: This report comes from our European Contributor- “c_g” and we thank him for his efforts in getting this information and conducting this review/test.

I have just taken delivery of the new 29er FRM tubeless ready rims called “XMD 388 29er“ right from the very first production run (plus tubeless accessories).

These rims are yet another product by highly innovative “think tank” company FRM bicycles, based in Italy and Germany.

For years FRM has been successful at ultra light bikes and bike components for road and off-road racing. Their portfolio ranges from their own cranksets (double and triple, with FR & DH cranks just released), suspension and rigid forks, stems, bars, hubs, disc brakes, seatposts, seats, ultralight clincher and also new the lightest tubular MTB rims / wheels … basically they offer most everything to make your bike lighter (and hopefully faster).

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For a full view of their products see: www.frmbike.de (it helps if you know German, Italian French, or Dutch for the English site is currently under construction)

If in the US you have never heard about FRM bicycles – it is because they are small “insider” company well recognized by European racing professionals. Basically they are so involved in new product development projects, trend scouting and improving their products that they put little effort into advertisement or marketing. FRM Germany´s head Boris Latsch is a multi tasking workaholic, always handling various projects simultaneously, seeking perfected perfection – and their products show it. So it is also with Franco Ricci Mingani, the head and mind of FRM Italy. Expect to see some more really cool products from them in the near future (I will keep you updated).

FRM has always had a keen eye on the tubeless movement and they were the first to bring tubeless ready rims to the European market where only Mavic´s UST was known until then. They introduced and distributed NOTUBES back in the 1990s. For about 2 years now FRM has been selling their first own design of tubeless ready rims, the XMD 333 for 26er, with very good success – true 318 to 335 gm including eyelets!

Now, to serve the more budget conscious racers and heavier riders the XMD 388 was introduced. It shares the same design traits as the XMD 333 but with sleeved joints and slightly increased wall thickness (resulting in a remarkable ~380 gm including eyelets at 26´ or 410-420 gm for 29er). The added material should also create a stiffer rim and push the rims´ capacity more into a light All Mountain range.

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For me the eyelets are a nice addition and it makes me believe that stress from spokes gets dissipated more evenly over a larger area, minimizing long term fatigue, but the benefits might be argued as arbitrary. Looking over the multitude of rim designs you see eyelets as often as not without being limited to the weight weenie fraction.

With this rim XMD388 FRM is giving 29ers another chance. Some Euro riders among you might remember this rims predecessor derived from the ultralight XMD 333, but like it can happen to innovative products – they simply might be too early. So it was with FRM´s first 29er rims- for most European riders considered the 29ers trekking bikes with larger tires … shame on us!!

My set of rims weighed 418 and 422 g. They measured exactly 24.6 mm (outside) and 19 mm inside width. ERD, or for the less technical ones – the inside diameter of the rims for determining spoke length, is at 602 mm with 32 hole spoke drillings available. These numbers are fairly standard for lightweight cross country oriented rims so I am expecting no big surprises there. Recommended tire width is 1,75 to 2,3 – again nothing unusual. Like all FRM rims, apart from the tubulars of course, they feature a tubeless specific cross section and bead construction.

From my past experiences with FRM rims I am expecting a positively strong bead/rim interface. The high and almost level “inside shoulders” are to provide a tight and burp free seal down to the lowest pressures. (but keep in mind these features vary strongly from tire to tire – my suggestion: always use tubeless ready tires for best results!)

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In contrast to its tubeless ready competitors with comparable dimensions the XMD 388 is designed with an asymmetrical cross section allowing both for equal length spokes on drive and non-drive side and higher spoke tension. This asymmetry is especially apparent with the spoke drillings on the inside cavity. Smoothing the very sharp edges on these drill holes are the only indication on the rims that even perfectionists can´t control everything. Once the tape is installed all is concealed and therefore remains a minor complaint.

There still is a weight limit on the XMD 388 of 90 kg for the 29er rims (100 kg for 26´´) but it can safely be considered conservative. (I have ridden the XMD 333 prototypes at 315 g for a long time and they held up well to my 85 kg and more rigid riding.)

Having learned from some riders who were using the first line of 29er rims as training rims with road tires and roadie like pressures – there is a 4 bar maximum pressure laser etched to the rim to avoid failure due to abuse.

Like other tubeless ready rims they accept a tubed setup or can be converted tubeless with a rim strip / sealing tape.

Apart from the rims themselves – one thing worth noting are the tubeless kits recommended with this rim. There is a 5m role of 21 mm width sealing tape (also available in 25 mm for wider rims) which has proven to be very strong and reliable. There are no Kevlar reinforcement worked into but the tape seems very resistant to any type of mistreatment and has no apparent stretch when mounted. Only when working overly hard with my steel mounting levers did I get to break the sealing tape but with a bit of caution this can easily be avoided. This FRM proprietary tape rim strips is called “White tape”, adds approximately 5 g per wheel and can be purchased separately.

The valve stems specified by FRM are the best there are – period. They are extremely reliable, seal very well with their wide base and resist rotation when tightened down by the screw. Of course they feature exchangeable valve cores and a easy to grip lock nut. Having used them for several tubeless wheelsets over the last years I have come to appreciate these little guys tremendously. (For those of you familiar with the Caffelatex valves stems – they are exactly the same.)

They have come to me as a huge improvement over the older round based versions by Notubes, which failed on me several times when tightening too hard.

The XMD 388 is offered in a fairly conservative matte black eloxal finish with cool looking laser etched logos and later on in a en-vogue powder coated white, which was not available in the first production run. By first inspection the finish looks like it would scratch easily but I will keep an eye out for this as the test progresses.

For those of you in favour of a colourful life – take a look at the XMD 333 line up and realize: There is hope for gold, red and blue also.

As a strong tubeless believer, this is the setup I will be running them

More to come when the build is finished and riding commences….”c_g”

Salsa Cycles Big Mama: Final Review

August 17, 2009

The Salsa Cycles Big Mama is the companies first stab at a big wheeled full suspension rig, (if you don’t count the soft tailed Dos Niner), and is squarely aimed at the trail category with its four inches of suspension travel in the rear. Here is my final thoughts on the bike after riding Big Mamas off and on for over a year now.

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I have had the unique opportunity to ride the Big Mama set up in entirely different ways on two different frames. The production version frame shown here is set up with a Reba Team at 120mm travel and I have also spent significant time on one of Salsa’s pre-production samples set up with Fox forks at 100 and 120mm travel. I have ridden Big Mama’s in varied terrain ranging from quite rocky and slippery, to tight and technical. Buff single track to rooty trails with steep, punchy climbs. The Big Mama has been satisfying in most every way, but as with any bicycle, there are a few nits.

First of all, the issue with intermittent chain suck. I will tell you that I took every precaution against it happening,(lubed chain, good parts in decent condition), but I found that a certain quirk of the frame design makes an occasional chain jam a problem. The Big Mama has a massive forged bottom bracket/main pivot piece that leaves little room between it and a 32 tooth middle chain ring. If the suspension is cycled just right, and the rear derailluer kicks the chain up just so, it will jam between the forging and the chain wheel. This happened twice to me during my testing. Fortunately, in my years of experience, if I feel any resistance to pedal pressure that is odd, I don’t pedal through it, but if you do, it may make your day come to a screeching halt. Obviously a few different drive train choices will eliminate that issue, but if you run a standard crank set up, (mine is an LX 42/32/22) then you may want to be aware of this potential problem.

The only other minor nit was that the powder coat gets marred kind of easily by the cable housings, and there are several places that this happens at on a Big Mama. I used some clear tape to ward off the onset of unsightly marks. Too bad there isn’t some way to avoid this, but it is only a minor complaint. Otherwise the powder coat has been pretty durable on this sample.

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Handling And Performance: As I have stated in previous updates, I have run the Big Mama most of the time as seen above, with the Rock Shox Reba Team 120mm travel fork with the Maxle Lite 20mm through axle. This set up yielded a higher bottom bracket, and slightly slacker angles. I didn’t feel it hurt the performance of the Big Mama at all. A more “XC” approach does give the Big Mama more of a hard tail feel when you mash the pedals, but the snappiness still is there with the slightly slacker set up. An XC set up also makes the Big Mama turn a bit quicker, but I could pilot the Big Mama around the tight twisties just fine, and the stiff chassis was a big reason why. With all the forged bits and the Maxle, the Big Mama is going where you point it. Slow speed technical maneuvers are not shaky, or vague feeling. I only detected the slightest bit of flex at very intermittent times from this bike. Overall, I would rate the chassis quite highly against many other bikes.

Suspension Performance: The Big Mama is unique in that it does not have a rear pivot near the rear wheel axle. Instead, it relies on some amount of seat stay flex, much like a Dos Niner’s chain stays flex, to allow for the suspension to operate. I never noticed anything odd about this set up. My only nits with the suspension is that it seemed a bit overwhelmed in terms of rebound in situations where several medium sized trail obstacles were hit while seated in quick succession. Things such as smaller branches/roots in the 3-5 inch diameter range, or when several depressions in the trail surface were hit in a row. The suspension seemed bouncy at times in these situations, but this was a rare occurrence. Probably something a good suspension mod could take care of for a particular rider. Otherwise I would say that the Big Mama has a good range of adjustability, damps the trail chatter really well, yet retains a “connectedness” that some designs wipe out with the trail you are riding on. This is more a personal preference thing, perhaps, so take it with a grain of salt. I happen to like the feedback I get from the trail, so I am okay with the Big Mama’s ride in that sense.

I found that in big hits the Big Mama has a bit of a ramp up in compression at the very end of the stroke, but it isn’t a bad thing. It isn’t a “bottomless” feeling stroke though either. Again, not bad, just different. Depending on your personal likes, the Big Mama can absorb small trail chatter very well. I found the stock setting for my weight worked well in this sense. The suspension seems to be really active even on climbs, which I found to be a great asset in getting me up and over some steeps I haven’t been able to conquer on any of my other rigs. Granny ring climbing is fine, slow speed mashing is a bit of a bob inducer, but not bad if you are seated. Quite acceptable actually. Standing and climbing taxes the design the most, but switch the ProPedal over and it takes much of the bob out and it feels very hard tail like, especially when locking out the fork in combination with the ProPedal.

I had no issues with getting all the travel on the biggest hits. Overall, a very good performing suspension design, with a tilt towards the stiffer, more trail feedback sort of feel than some other designs. Downhills were a piece of cake, and the Big Mama cornered through fast turns and rolled over obstacles in its path with aplomb.

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Conclusions: The Salsa Cycles Big Mama is a bike that bridges the gap from XC to All Mountain. As I was exploring its intended purpose as an “all day trail bike”, I couldn’t really find any holes in the design. My nits are all minor and could be easily addressed. The suspension performs in a well mannered way with the rider being able to feel the trail, yet not get bitten by it. It isn’t the “magic carpet”, “buttery feeling”, or “bottomless” suspension feel other bikes may possess. But it does have a snappy feel when it is time to motor, it climbs steeps like it has tank tracks, and can bomb a downhill just fine, thank you very much.

The chassis is solid, very rigid laterally, and as Salsa intended, it seems to be very durable and trustworthy. It is light where it can be without sacrificing this, and I appreciate that from a design intended to be ridden all day, most anywhere. As I found out, it can be successfully set up in a few rather different ways, so riders can build up the frame option into a more personalized tool to satisfy more closely their intentions. It isn’t an All Mountain chunk rig, and it isn’t an all out full suspension XC rig. However; if the Big Mama is used as your “go to”, every day trail bike, I don’t think you can do a whole lot better in the four inch travel 29″er full suspension category.

Thanks to Salsa Cycles for supplying the frame for review.

Tri-Flow Products On Test

August 16, 2009

Twenty Nine Inches usually sticks to…..well, 29 inch stuff. To that end, we do not usually do much with other products related to cycling here. That isn’t to say we’re not doing maintenance, or wrenching on stuff, because we do. So, I thought it might be interesting for anyone else out there that does there own maintenance to flip over to our other site and keep tabs on the ongoing test of these Tri-Flow products. The Cyclistsite is going to be doing some product testing on the followingTri-Flow products over the coming months. (from the website)

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Tri-Flow® Red Grease

Tri-Flow® Red Grease is a multipurpose aluminum complex grease. Many users love this product for it’s unique application that comes out in a clean even and consistent bead. It features outstanding performance in high temperature applications and it is waterproof. This product provides an excellent seal on bearings, has a high-load carrying capacity, resists oxidation and is corrosion resistant.

Tri-Flow® Synthetic Grease

Tri-Flow® Clear Synthetic Grease is a premium quality, extreme pressure, non-melting, waterproof formula that seals out water contaminants. It is available in handy squeeze tube for easy application and fits nicely in a grease gun. Our grease is compatible with most rubbers and plastic and stands up to extreme temperatures (-10° – +400° F). Guaranteed to optimize the performance of your equipment’s moving parts, such as bearings and tracks, and will allow them to last longer and run quieter and smoother. Prevents rusting even when exposed to salt water! Formulated with P.T.F.E.

Tri-Flow® Foaming™ Citrus Cleaner Degreaser

Tri-Flow® Foaming™ Citrus Cleaner Degreaser provides a powerful foaming action that cuts through and cleans the toughest grease, dirt and oil. Easy to use trigger allows you to lay down a layer of foam that will cling and penetrate into the part to provide superior cleaning performance. The quick evaporation technology leaves no residue and needs no rinsing to get the job done quickly. The biodegradable formula is an added plus!

Tri-Flow® Rapid Clean™ Dry Degreaser/Cleaner

Tri-Flow® Rapid Clean™ Dry Degreaser/Cleaner is a premium formula with an attached high velocity trigger valve that blasts away dirt, wax, mud, grease and oil. Cleans surface and degreases quickly, no residue or rinsing needed.

Tri-Flow® Foaming™ Superior Foam Lubricant

Powerful foaming action helps penetrate and protect bearings, chains and cables. Our unique formula, combined with foaming action, allows the high performance lubricant to cling to all vertical or horizontal surfaces and to really penetrate into all of the parts. High-grade petroleum oils provide optimum lubrication under extreme temperatures (-60 to 475°F) and humidity.

Stay tuned for updates on each particular product and Grannygear and my takes on each.

Thanks to Tri-Flow for providing these test samples.

Velocity Blunt Rims: Update

August 12, 2009

Back when 2006 turned to 2007 I got a set of wheels built on the original Velocity Blunt rims. At the time, they were some of the widest, (at 28mm) and competitively light weight rims for 29″ers available. Like many rims for 700c mountain bike tires, the fit was not very good. That was par for the course then. Now things are radically different, and seeing that, Velocity set out to update the Blunt slightly . Early this year rims started showing up that reflected the change to get tires to fit a bit better than they did on the original Blunts. The rest of the design, with exception to the more subdued graphics, remains largely unchanged. I again obtained a set of pre-built Blunts on XT hubs and have been riding them for the past couple of months now. Here is my update on the Blunt rims.

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As you can see, I went for a subtle color. (ha!) Velocity Blunts now come in a myriad of anodized and powder coated colors. The graphics are much better, (my opinion) and I don’t have to feel like a rolling billboard while using these. Okay, so much for the looks. That is fine, but how do these stack up against the advancements since early 2007?

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My feeling is that in 2009 going forward, if you have a rim design, it had better have some sort of rim strip design that can be employed to make it tubeless, or be a tubeless rim, and have the manufacturer’s blessing upon said system. Now, Velocity designed this rim in 2006, so I can understand the Blunt not being tubeless, but a tubeless design/system of some sort needs to be developed by Velocity, or their rim designs will become antiquated in a hurry. That said, I discovered a way to make the Blunt tubeless for me that worked and seems reliable for me. I am not recommending this as a solution, nor does Velocity recommend this. So, if you do this, it is at your own risk.

I used a plastic Rhythm rim strip from Bontrager which fit rather well in the Blunts. The tires here are Bontrager TLR XR models. No issues at all with the set up, for me. I wish rim companies would take the initiative to develop or recommend certain solutions for tubeless use, but in the meantime, we are left to our own devices. Again, this worked for me, your mileage may vary. Hopefully the new Velocity rim design that is currently in development will be part of a tubeless ready system.

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The set up has been problem free so far with the Blackbuck having been switched over to a rigid fork since this image was taken of it back in July. The rims are still true and round. The width gives the XR tires a great footprint on the earth and I really think the XR’s have come to life because of it and the tubeless set up. I have bottomed out a couple of times but no damage to the rims so far. Rigidity is harder to gauge due to the fact that I did not personally build the wheels, but knowing Velocity rims as I do, I would say that they are on par for the course in this regard. Did the tires fit better? While I never tried the tires with a traditional tube set up, I would say that the fit still isn’t all that tight when compared to say, the Salsa Semi/Gordo rims, which I would hold as a benchmark for tubed tire fit.

Conclusions: My take on the Blunt rims is that they are a great training/XC type of product that will work for average trail riders looking for something different in looks and color options. If you are abusive, aggressive, or a really big fella, these may not be for you. Unfortunately the Blunt came out at a time when factory tubeless ready tires were still a bit of a pipe dream for 29″ers, and because of this, there is no real recommended way to make them tubeless. Enterprising tubeless devotees have done it, but keep in mind that you assume responsibility for your actions regarding the conversion of a Blunt to tubelessness.

Velocity Blunt rims are available through several sources and on-line as pre-built wheels from several sources in a wide array of color combinations.

Continental Race King 2.2" 29"er Tires: Final Review

August 5, 2009

Editor’s Note: This time you all get two reviews for the price of one. Grannygear and Guitar Ted tag team on the final review of the Continental Race King tires.

The race tire reviews keep coming and this one is going to be my final look at the Continental Race King 2.2″er tire that debuted this year. Take a look at my previous posts on the Race King here, here, and a comparison with two other racing oriented tires here.

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In my Midterm Report on the Race King tires I had the following to say:

First, the lack of anything substantial for side knobs means that lateral traction is not good. If these tires let go, you won’t save it in a corner. Ruts, off camber, or loose rocks and wet roots reveal this weakness as well. Secondly, any “extreme” situation will quickly overwhelm the Race King. Loose rocks, steep pitches, mud, or loose over hardpack will make you wish for more aggressive tread.

I wanted to expand a bit on this and say that I still feel this way but in particular I want to call out the front tire. It was here that the Race King could have really used some cornering edge knobs. I realize that this would come at the expense of weight, but I think it might be a great set of tires if the current tread pattern was a rear specific and the front could be modified with some good, prominent cornering knobs on the outside edges. (Maybe that is another model though, and may be a good addition to the Race Kings?)

At any rate, the tires were good up until the point that you were stuffing them into corners and if there was any sort of wetness, looseness, or rubble, the front tire would be overwhelmed and the bike would wash out. Also, the technical, rocky, and off camber terrain was another place that seemed to be tough on the Race Kings. Not much grip there and similar problems would crop up with the front tire especially.

That said, the Race King is great if the trails are tacky, dry, and buff. You can really rail these on twisty single track that is suited to them. I found climbing traction to be consistently good unless the trails got wet. Wear was good and I didn’t see any degradation of the tread blocks even though some of my multi-terrain rides consisted of lots of pavement riding while these tires were on my Salsa Cycles Fargo. Hard pack was fast with little rolling resistance felt.

The issues I had initially with the width were rectified with time and a switch to tubeless. The claimed width was exceeded, and much like the Mountain Kings, Continental seems to have “stretch” built into their tires these days. That said, the fact that these Race Kings made it over 2.2 inches in width is astonishing based on their paltry, out of the box width at the beginning of the test period.

Conclusions: The Race King, (and the Mountain King, for that matter), should not be judged on width out of the box, and those smallish knobs sure do more than you think they will. If the surface you run on gets wet consistently, is very technical, or suffers from loose rocks or “kitty litter”, you might want to use a different front tire with better cornering capabilities than the Race King has. It has a decent weight, sets up tubeless very well, and has a longer lasting tread compound than other race tires I have tested so far with maybe the exception of WTB’s Vulpine. Overall it is an excellent racing tread that can be ridden as an everyday tire, a “to the trail” tire, and holds its own on anything dry and tacky. It has a great use of its volume, and is recommended for rigid riders. It isn’t perfect, but Continental has another great tire now for 29″er freaks that will “go fast” with the best of them.

And now, our contributor Grannygear, has his take on Conti’s newest 29″er tread.

West Coast Wrap-up – I have been riding the whoopee out of these Conti Race King 2.2s for a couple of months now and I think I have enough time on them to make some final statements.

I have had them mounted on the Leviathan FS on Stan’s Flow rims set up tubeless and on the SS on DT Swiss 7.1TK rims running tubes.

I received these tires at the beginning of summer so dry and loose has been the word. I will not see mud for months and months so although I did get these tires into some wet conditions, I have no real data on the Race Kings in sloppy conditions.

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They mounted up fairly easily on the Flows and inflated with a floor pump and a bit more sweat and frantic motion then the Specialized 2-Bliss tires required. Filled with Stan’s goop, they have shown very little leakage and have held air nicely. I have run them at 25 lbs on both sets of wheels but I did run them as low as 18 lbs on the Flows (briefly…by mistake) and I had no issues.

They are a very tall tire and actually, when mounted on the Flows sans tubes, they are quite plump with a casing that is wider than the tread. On the narrower DT Swiss rims with tubes they cut a much narrower profile. In fact, the difference in performance between the two sets of wheels when using the Race Kings was fairly dramatic when it came to loose and/or sandy conditions.

So what do I think? The good:

-They are a fast rolling tire. You would expect that by looking at them and they do not disappoint. There is very little noise on pavement.

-I found the rounder, even knobbied profile to be the cat’s pajamas as far as providing a smooth and predictable transition from straight up to banked over in a turn. They seem to have no mind of their own like some more aggressive tires, especially ones that have a very pronounced outer row of knobs. However, if your style is more tuned to the ‘run right into the corner and then toss it over hard’ kind of cornering, then these may be a bit less than you would like.

-On any hard surface they are fabulous. From pine needled loam over clay to kitty litter over hardpack, they have been excellent performers. If they do break loose, I never felt like they were trying to escape and it was very controllable.

-I really appreciated the lively feel and tall profile over rocky sections.

-I found them to climb well and on the SS, I had some issues with breaking loose with out of the saddle efforts on sand over hardpack, but here they did outperform the Specialized FastTraks which are a comparable tire in size and intent.

-They seem to be wearing well. The front tire still has the mold ‘feathers’ in the center of the tire.

-I found the braking performance to be quite acceptable.

The less than good:

-If you are in very loose or sandy terrain, these may not be the deal. That bigger casing and the tiny knobs do better than you might think in sand, especially when on the wider Flows, but they do cut in to the surface pretty quickly, leaving you searching for the right line. As well, the lack of side knobs can be pretty sketchy when you need to climb out of a rut. It is no freeride tire and I think that Florida may not be the best place for these tires either. I found them to be acceptable for the Lev with the fuller profile the rims allowed for, but on the SS, I actually was annoyed enough to swap the front to a slightly used Mtn King 2.4 and kept the Race King as a rear. That is actually a fabulous combo IMO as the Mtn King is much more adept in loose soil.

-If you do brake past the limits of traction for the rear tire, it will get up on top of the dirt and slide rather quickly, but also quite controllably. In fact, although I try not to ride that way due to trail damage, they are a blast to brakeslide around corners as they don’t seem to do anything sudden and drastic when playing Johnny Tomac in the corners.

-Ahhhh…..actually, I cannot think of anything else I did not like about the tires. I never got them into enough mud to know, but I doubt they would be all that great.
The wrap-up this past weekend was a 45 mile, 8 hour endurance ride in the Utah backcountry. I took the Lev with the tubeless Race Kings and expected to be riding in sandy and challenging conditions that should point to another tire. But the rest of the ride was over hard packed and buff roads and trails and I wanted the faster and sure-footed tire for that. What to do? I took a gamble and ran ’em as they were and I have to say that they outperformed my expectations. Where I could not continue to ride due to sinking into the sand, no one else was riding either. They actually will carve in sand like a ski, so as they cut into the sand and begin to sink, if you can keep the gas applied, I found them to hold a line and not stop forward motion. It was spooky sometimes if I was moving fast, but it was pretty fun too. On the hard pack and buff trails of Thunder Mountain they simply ruled.

I like ’em as a hard conditions tire with a broader range than you might expect. They do not hit the high mark as an all arounder like the Specialized Captain Controls do, but they are pretty close. Continental now has two of my favorite tires; the Mtn King 2.4 and the new Race King 2.2.

Effetto Mariposa CaffeLatex: Final Review

August 4, 2009

Now with plenty of time under testing I am ready to give my verdict on the Caffelatex sealant. Let’s cover a few of the basics of the product before we go on, just as a refresher.

CaffeLatex is a synthetic latex sealant. This differs from other popular sealants that are latex in that Caffelatex does not have any ammonia in it. Ammonia has been shown to be detrimental to bare aluminum by corroding it, and thus weakening the rim structure. So you won’t be taking a risk with using CaffeLatex. It also is nicer to your tire casings because of this.

CaffeLatex also foams up inside your tires when they are rotated. Other sealants pool against the outer part of the casing due to centrifugal force, but Caffelatex claims its sealant will also protect sidewalls better due to the foaming action. The foaming action is quite easy to verify and usually manifests itself by puffing out some foam if you release some air to adjust pressure mid-ride. (You can also see it in a clear container, if you care to check it out, by shaking some CaffeLatex up.) The sealant will pool up once again after it has set dormant for a bit.

CaffeLatex boasts life span of up to 12 months, but this can vary depending upon several climatological and user parameters. They suggest checking the level of sealant in your tires every two months. The temperature range for use is listed as -20 to +50C.

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It should be noted that Effetto Mariposa also sent along an Injector Kit, valve stems, along with the 1000ml size of sealant. I will mention the valves and injector kit as we go along.

How I Used The Product: I used the product in tubeless ready 29″er tires, non-tubeless 29″er tires, and in standard tubes. I used the product in Bontrager’s TLR System, Mavic’s Cr29ssmax wheels with Geax TNT tires, and in “ghetto” set ups on non-tubeless rims. I usually used the recommended amount in each tire (100ml for 2 inch and up 29″er tires), but would sometimes use slightly less down to a minimum of 70ml. In all cases but one, I had success sealing the tires up and in the one failure I only needed to add about 50ml to get it to seal up. (A non-tubeless tire, by the way)

In all cases but one I added the sealant in by means of the CaffeLatex injector which worked flawlessly. It will screw onto the valve stem and push the sealant right past the valve core if you want. This also works on tubes that you want to make thorn proof. With a bit of practice, you can add sealant to tires without spilling a drop. Nice! The one set of tires I did not use the injector on I added sealant by means of my old, cobbled injector system. I won’t be using that method any longer!

Long Term Performance: I started using this sealant late in March and in every tubeless set up since then. All set ups have required minimal pressure maintenance and still have sealant inside that is foaming up and doing its job. This isn’t necessarily outstanding for where I live, but I will continue to monitor its performance over the rest of the year. Typically, a Stan’s set up will last about 8-10 months for me here, so CaffeLatex is on track to go at least that long. At any rate, there is no need to worry after 4 months in the tires I first set up.

Sealing is an issue that is harder to gauge. I did get a puncture and had it seal up on a ride that I noticed, but typically if you do not notice anything wrong here, the sealant is doing its job. We have many Honeylocust trees here and the thorns from these trees raise havoc with tires. If your sealant is working though, you’ll never know about the thorns until you change your tires out. So, I believe the sealant is doing a great job of sealing punctures I should be suffering from, but I am not due to the sealing properties of this product. I will also be checking through my tires to verify this as I pull them off later on. I did have a puncture in a tubed tire seal up with CaffeLatex though and that was from a thorn.

CaffeLatex seems to play well with all my tubeless systems and valve stems. Caffelatex injects right past the valve core on all of the types I have used including the excellent CaffeLatex valves that I received. These do have removable cores though, in case you need that feature. I have not had any clogging of valve stems even though it is not uncommon for a bit of sealant to spit out while inflating or releasing pressure from a tire.

Conclusions: Given the stellar performance of CaffeLatex and its Injector and Valve Stem products, I have no negative things to say about them. I highly recommend that you try them out for yourself. The injector works, and the valve stems are solid as well. The sealant seems to be working as advertised in regards to the foaming action, and even seals punctures in tubes in my testing, so you don’t even have to be a tubeless devotee to gain benefit from this product. The fact that the solution has no ammonia in it to corrode your rims is another bonus. Effetto Mariposa has hit the ball out of the park with this sealant. It is good stuff Really good!

Geax Barro Race 29"er Tires: Final Review

August 2, 2009

The Geax Barro Race 29″er tires come in three versions. What we have here is the final word on the “TNT” version, which essentially is a tubeless ready tire with a UST bead interface. For previous posts on the Barro Race, check out these posts: #1, #2 , #3, and this comparison post.

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The Barro Race tires were mounted up tubeless to Mavic Cr29ssmax wheels and were run on a fully rigid bike and the Fisher HiFi pictured above. Trail conditions for the latter part of the test period dried out nicely and were ideal to check out this race oriented shoe. The pressures were kept on the lower side of the 20’s since the Geax TNT casing tends to be a stiffer casing than most tires out there.

Rolling Resistance- Knobby Vibrations: The one constant with the Geax Barro Race is the feeling on smoother sections you get from the knobs. They vibrate the bike in such a way that you feel it in the seat of the pants and on the grips. It is subtle to be sure, but odd as well, since the Barro Race has such low knobs. Again, I attribute this to the stiffer TNT casing. Once in the rough stuff, the sensation is gone, of course. Is it higher rolling resistance? I couldn’t tell by my times, but that sensation is there. I suppose I should mention here that the Barro Race showed significant wear to the point that the first millimeter of tread height in the middle of the tire had worn off during the test period. Of all the tires we are testing here this year, the Barro Race appears to be the fastest wearing one. It is a race tire after all!

Climbing: Climbing traction is very good with the Barro Race tires, but it is also very pressure sensitive. Lower pressures will reveal better climbing performance. Probably significantly lower than you would run with other tires in the class of this one. The Barro Race was very good in this way on the full suspension rig.

Braking Performance: Given the narrowness of this tire and the lack of volume, I would rate it as excellent in braking performance for this class of tire. I could break it loose if I wanted to, but it was very predictable in how it would react to braking.

Cornering Performance: The Barro Race tires do well at cornering with the excellent edge knobs it has. For a race tire, it may well be one of the best in that regard. Of course, as I have stated, it is narrow and doesn’t have a ton of volume, and with its stiffer TNT casing, you can get your pressure too high and the tire will be miserable. Play with the pressures to find the sweet spot and you will be rewarded with much better results. I found it also worked best if you use a more aggressive lean angle, as it doesn’t have much for transitional cornering knobs.

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The Geax TNT construction gives the Barro Race a great platform for tubeless use, although it may be a tough fit on some Stan’s rims and will be nigh unto impossible to mount on a Bontrager rim with a TLR plastic rim strip installed. This tire will work swimmingly with the UST type rims on Mavic, Fulcrum, and Shimano offerings though.

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Conclusions: The Geax Barro Race tires are excellent cornering and climbing tires with the caveat that you have to use the correct pressures, (read “lower”) and really lean the bike over in the corner. The TNT casing promises lower probability of getting torn up by rocks or thorns and rolls pretty well even though it may feel like it is robbing you of momentum in smoother, hard packed sections. Choose your tubeless system wisely, and the Barro Race will perform excellently in that state. This tire should be on your radar if you are looking for a sturdy, fast, trail worthy racing tire. Just keep in mind that it is indeed a racing tire, and the softer rubber compound will wear accordingly. For the right rider, this tire is an excellent choice.

Bontrager 29-3 Front/Rear Tires: Final Review

July 29, 2009

I have had the pleasure of rolling these Bontrager treads now for several months. Here are my final thoughts on the combination. If you want to get into more detail on some of the aspects of the tires, you can check out my previous posts here, here, and a comparison post here.

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Taking my initial impressions into account, let’s see if the observations I had at first held true. The trails were mostly dry during this period and moisture wasn’t an issue. Some dry over hard pack and sand was present along with rocks and roots.

Rolling Resistance: The rolling factor was good. I never felt that the 29-3 was a hindrance in this area. In fact, I am betting the production tires are even better in this regard, since my casings were pre-production, and were stiffer and heavier. Even the front, with its deeper, bigger knobs rolled quite nicely.

Climbing: This is still an amazing feature of the rear tire. It hooks up really well and the drier the better. It doesn’t like loose, or rocky stuff real well though. Technical climbs may break the rear loose, but over all, the 29-3 rear scores highly on climbing.

Cornering: The 29-3 front tire really is a great cornering tire. Lateral support is excellent, and you really have to overcook the corner to make it break loose. The front fairs better in loose over hard than the rear, and doesn’t need to be leaned way over to work. The squarish profile has a lot to do with this. Cornering for the rear tire isn’t as solid, with the rear wanting to break free and slide far before the front will. The smaller volume casing also trends the tire in that direction as well.

Braking: The front is great in braking traction, but you will break the rear free very easily. This could be a problem on very technical courses for some folks.

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The 29-3 front is a great all round tire and would probably mimic the WTB Prowler on the rear, which is a solid all round tire. Running a bit taller and squarer casing, the 29-3 front specific tire should lend plenty of mud clearance and be great on a rigid bike. As a front tire it is a very good choice, especially if you want a fast, grippy tire that rails corners.

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The 29-3 rear tire is surprisingly good as a climbing tire and overachieves in most situations as a rear. Racers are using this as a front to match it on the rear with great success. That said, this is a finesse tire that will reward a skilled, patient rider. Those that are more aggressive and care free in style will over tax this tire quickly. It rolls very well, and the size may make this a great choice for a “monster cross” application.

Overall Wear: These tires are pre-production, but I have noticed some significant wear, especially on the rear tire, during the course of the test. This is a racing tire, so expectations for pavement wear should be less.

Conclusions: Hands down, this is one of- if not the most- odd combinations of tires for front and rear ever made for a mountain bike. Still, as a team the tires work well. Tubeless they had the same bomber reliability that the TLR system is known for. I would like to see Bontrager up the width on the rear to “true” 2 inch width to better balance with the excellent front tire. As it is, the combination is not quite what it could be. I would highly recommend the front tire, and the rear is an excellent racing tread for skilled riders that can finesse the performance out of this tire without overwhelming it. Make that rear tire a bit wider,add volume, and we would really have a great set up for all around race conditions here.