One of the most enjoyable parts of fatbiking for me is that I start to look for rides outside the norm of my typical single summer rides. I start to look at other possible rides that while not technical, have unique terrain or sights to see or aren’t possible in the summer. Elk Island National Park is only a 30 minute drive from Edmonton and offers terrain and wildlife that you’d never expect to see so close to town. There are tons of hiking trails within the park boundaries giving you a chance to experience wetlands and plains in terms of terrain and wildlife as small as field mice to the lumbering beasts that are woods and plains bison. The trails are double track with very little elevation gain which is why I haven’t ridden them in the summer, not to mention being busy with hikers. Winter, however, is a totally different story! Having ridden out here twice a couple of years ago I knew that the snow conditions would make or break the ride as one of my previous rides was breaking trail in nearly a foot of fresh snow ending up in some serious hike a bike. Given that we hadn’t received much snow in town I figured an early winter spin around the loop I had done previously would grant us perfect conditions.
Our route was a 20km loop around Tawayik and Oster lake starting at the Tawayik Lake staging area. Here you’ll find a large parking lot, two outhouses, picnic tables, fire pits, and a shelter which I believe you can reserve for events. Next time I do the ride there will definitely be a fire and some drinks after the ride!
Having been out here in the summer quite a few times on motorcycles and paddle boards and not having seen many Bison, if any at all, I was pleasantly surprised when we came into the first open plains area to be greeted by a large herd of them. Throughout the rest of the route we ended up seeing a few more herds scattered throughout the park.
As I had suspected, there had not been a ton of snow out at the park but what was there was untracked meaning we had 20km of breaking trail which was amazing as the snow was only 10-15cm deep. While not as challenging as some of my rides out there it was still similar to riding uphill the entire way. We were both on Trek Farley fat bikes running 650b wheels, my bike with 3.8″ Hodag tires and Wills with a 4.5″ combo of Barbegazi and Gnarwhal tires, all tubeless at ~5 psi. Neither of the tires were better or worse given the conditions and realistically, with the lack of hills, you could get away with even the worst fat bike tires on the market. My 29+ tires would have been a struggle (perfect out here in summer though!)
As you can see in the above image, there are trail maps and markers throughout the whole park for the hiking trail network. If you’re not running a gps unit these would be super handy as some of the trails have multiple ways to go, either to extend your loop or shorten it depending on how you’re feeling.
There is a back country campground midway through the loop that would make for a great first bike packing trip due to the short distance and proximity to the city. We had discussed winter bike packing out to here but it appears the campground part on this loop is closed during the winter.
The ride took us an hour and forty five minutes at a casual pace with a couple stops for sip of water and photos. Due to the lack of traffic on the trails in the winter and the winds out there I would count on breaking trail no matter when you go as our tracks were filling in quickly due to the wind. If it has snowed a ton before you head out there be prepared for some serious work or just bring your snow shoes. Another factor to consider is the temperature, each time I’ve ridden out here the air is about 5 degrees cooler than in town and the windchill factor is always present. Once you’re out of the parking lot there are no outhouses and no places for water so keep that in mind. If you need to use the washroom, do it respectfully and off of the trails.
You can see our route below and the strava file for the ride, if you have any questions, feel free to ask below!
The Ibis Hakka MX is hard to classify as anything other than a potential quiver killer for the drop bar enthusiasts. The previous two generations of the Hakkalugi have been purebred cyclocross race winning machines with no compromises so what is the deal with the Hakka MX?
When you hop over onto https://www.ibiscycles.com/ and look at the Hakka MX configurator the first thing you’ll notice is that you can get it with two different sized wheelsets. Not just carbon wheels vs alloy (although you get that option too!) but 700c or 650b. This is where the MX portion of the name comes into play, monster cross. Monster cross bikes have been around forever with most of them being older mountain bikes with some drop bars, longer stems, and some skinny tires thrown on and were used as do it all bikes. There is a new generation of monster cross bikes in town now although the names vary from all road bicycles, gravel bikes, adventure bikes, the list goes on. There are few out there that, like the Hakka, can run both 700c and 650b.
This bike was purchased with the 650b wheels paired to the Ibis alloy wheels/hubs as it’s primary duty would be gravel riding and bombing around the gravel multi use paths in our river valley. We’ve got cross bikes in our garage and with Nina being in school during the cross season we figured it would be best to grab her a bike better suited to what she really enjoys riding than a dedicated cross racing machine like the Norco Threshold that this bike replaces.
The First Ride
For the maiden voyage of the bike I really wanted to put it through everything our river valley had to offer from pavement, to gravel, to some technical single track as this is supposed to be a do it all bike.
For the first portion of the ride I wanted to try the bike out in the park area where the local midweek cross races are held to see how the bike felt in the primary environment it was designed for. The first thing that I noticed with the bike was how responsive it was to any input that I put into it. Due to the frame design and the rear thru axle the Hakka accelerated under power with an urgency not unlike my road bike. There was very little torsional flex, if any and it felt as if all of my power was being transmitted through the frame directly to the ground. Immediately I realized that this bike was not just a gravel bike that could play cross racer on the weekends, it was a bonafide cross racing machine that can play gravel bike. The next course of action was testing the handling with tight turn drills similar to what you’d find on a cross course. Other than more rolling resistance in the grass with the 2.1” tires, this was the only other time where I felt that 650bs were less than ideal. 700c wheels and tires would be the wheels of choice for any cross racing, not just due to the UCI regulations with tire width but also for their quicker handling and turn in.
Having ridden single track on my skinny tired cross bike before I was curious to see how the Hakka would perform with the larger, 650b tires in similar terrain. While not nearly as fast as a dedicated xc bike I was very surprised with how capable the bike really was on the trails. Our trails in town are notoriously rooty so I had the tires at 26psi front and rear to minimize the chance of tagging a rim on a rock or root. Immediately I realized that this was too much as I was bouncing around a fair bit more than I was expecting despite being on a rigid bike and believe that for a rider of my size at 170lbs, 24 psi would be perfect for bombing single track with this rig. Descents were fun and controlled although a dropper post wouldn’t feel out of place and could be set up with the left shift lever. Where the bike surprised me was on the loose dusty climbs that often have you working for traction on dedicated mountain bikes. I didn’t need to get out of the saddle to get move my weight around at all, the tires just hooked up and went wherever I pointed the bike. With the large 42 cog out back there wasn’t a time where I felt like I wanted easier gears although on a long, technical climb I might, but at that point I’d be on the wrong bike.
With the 650b wheelset mounted, this is what I was most excited to try the bike on. Around Edmonton we have hundreds of kilometers of beautiful gravel roads with virtually no traffic on them and people are starting to take advantage of that. Not only do we have gravel roads outside of the city but we have hundreds of kilometers of gravel multi use trails flanking the river running through the middle of town that are great for exploring on. With the 2.1” Thunder Burt tires I was expecting a smooth ride but perhaps a bit slower than something like a 35×700 file tread but what I experienced was a very smooth, very quick ride that felt as if it were rolling faster than skinny tires. I was shocked to look at my Garmin to see 38km/h on a loose gravel path with relatively little effort being put through the pedals. With these big tires you are also prepared for those roads where the county has decided that 3” of loose laid gravel was a good idea before the weekend and that packing it down can wait until Monday. Where a skinnier tire would cut through the loose stuff and get pulled around, the 2.1” rubber floats on top and tracks beautifully ensuring that your cyclist arms don’t have to work any harder than they absolutely have to to keep you on the straight and narrow. Having been on gravel for 45 minutes I’m already thinking how the Hakka MX would be the perfect bike packing rig, prepared for anything you might encounter. The only gripe that I have with this bike is that they didn’t give you the option to mount any cages to the fork! This is the one thing that I’d take issue with despite there being solutions for the problem out there.
The Final Word
The Hakka MX truly is a do it all bike, but unlike some do it all bikes that tend to suck equally at everything, it excels at styles of riding as diverse as the Tour Divide and a Belgian-style cross race. If you’re looking to ride the back roads during the summer and then shimmy into your skin suit for some hot laps around the CX race circuits in the fall this is a bike that can do both equally well.
I’d love to see an option for a build with Sram Force. This would be a sweet spot in pricing between their Rival and Di2 and a great option for bike packing as you wouldn’t need to worry about charging the di2. Perhaps we will see that in the coming years as the bike takes off in popularity!
Two years ago the Croken Classic was born. Due to city permit issues for cyclocross races being pulled due to weather we had a bunch of riders all amped up with nowhere to go. Earlier that year I had ridden a long out and back gravel route, Victoria Trail and figured it would be great in the fall. Great is not a word most would use to describe the 120km of suffering that occurred two years which is why there was no Croken Classic 2017. The suffering was still to fresh in everyone’s memories and there was still dirt and mud hiding in the bottom brackets and cable housing to even consider attempting another sufferfest like that again.
Cue 2018 and the memories had faded just enough to convince some folks that it would be a great idea to do another large fall gravel ride. In the last couple of years the gravel riding scene has blown up and there just happens to hundreds of kilometers of traffic free gravel roads south of our cabin at Pigeon Lake, Ab. Having done some gravel riding out this way, Greg and I figured that this area would be perfect for the Croken Classic as we would have a cabin as a base camp to stage and finish at as well as the option of a Croken Classic Lite route for folks wanting to dial down the suffering a bit (apparently not everyone wants to suffer all the time!)
The weeks leading up to the classic were filled with a mixed bag of weather with everything from full blown blizzards dumping over a foot of snow in the area to above seasonal temperatures, all the opposite of what was forecast. Given that this event was intended to be a go no matter the what the weather was, we were all a bit relieved that it hadn’t snowed the day before like the previous classic. The temperature ended up average 2 degrees throughout the ride which was great as there was little chance of overheating or running out of water.
We headed south from our cabin and past Pigeon Lake Provincial Campground (great place if you wanted to spend a weekend riding gravel.) This was the only planned paved section of the ride as it led us off the main stretch and onto the range roads very quickly.
Our pace started out pretty fast and furious as it always seems to when we get a certain group of folks together on bikes! The question is always, who will be able to sustain this pace for the day and if not, where do we blow up? The smart sensible thing would be to stick to a consistent pace and just enjoy the ride but as we are riding gravel in October in Alberta there is no point in attempting to be smart and sensible at this stage of the game.
This photo sums up the question that we get all the time, why bother riding gravel? The roads outside of the mountains in Alberta are notoriously boring. Straight roads through the prairies are not all that exciting for road riding and staring at canola fields gets pretty old pretty quickly. With the gravel roads you are guaranteed unique scenery as you wind through the country side, diving into and climbing out of areas with streams and lakes. Another huge perk of riding these roads are that there is virtually no traffic and when there is, the drivers always give you a huge berth. We saw three cars in the 100km of gravel that we rode, try doing that on paved roads around here! In fact, our car to bull moose ratio was a solid 3:1.
Check out those roads! There’s more elevation in 100km of those roads than any 160km paved loop around Edmonton!
Given that most of the fields are farmers fields in these areas there is usually a band of trees right up to the edge of the road which offers great protection from winds that pick up every afternoon.
When Greg and I were planning this route we were using a combination of Ride with GPS, Strava, and the back roads map books to figure out an ideal route with no pavement. This was labelled as a potential access route as it had been where the trains used to run through. We gambled on it as it had been labelled a road but when we got there there was a shiny, freshly installed fence blocking the access. At this stage there were no roads further east that wouldn’t require an additional 25km of riding in the wrong direction so we had to turn around and back track through the hamlet of Hoadley. From there we had to do a 15km stint on the main highway in the wind which was less than ideal as we all had gravel tires on with low pressure but what can you do!
As we had finished our stint on the highway we noticed, in the opposite direction, this large hill. Despite this being in the wrong direction, the weather deteriorating and our legs not doing so hot we decided we should go pound this hill out, just for fun. The hill had an average gradient of 10% and just under a km long. The best part of the hill was that the gravel was deep, deep enough that you couldn’t actually hold a straight line up it! After we climbed that hill we went back to the regular route and hopped back on the gravel.
Knob Hill road was the last main road we’d do before dropping into the Battle Lake area and it proved to be a good one. Rolling hill after roll hill punished the legs and emptying our matchbooks.
Along this road was where we had our first encounter with a vicious dog that wanted everything to do with biting us. We were rolling along at about 30kmh and out of nowhere comes a massive rottweiler with it’s owners screaming at it to stop. The dog chased us at an accelerated pace for about 600m before it ran out of steam. Had this been someone not as quick on the bike or caught by surprise this likely would have been a rough situation.
Nearing the end of our ride we drop into the Battle Lake area which is an amazing gravel road that skirts you alongside Battle Lake which is incredible scenic. You’d think you were in the mountains had you not just rode 80km of prairie gravel. Along this road we ran into a Road Grader that was smoothing the road out, unfortunately we saw him near where we exited the road and not at the start of it! Our second dog encounter happened here which, thanks to a heads up from my partner, Nina, we knew had the potential to go sideways. One of the ladies she was riding with was attacked one of two large pyrenean mastiffs. The dog didn’t manage to bite her but did mange to tear the backside of her assos tights clean open before they managed to get away from the dog. When we saw the two large dogs barreling towards us we mustered our last bit of energy to get up out of the saddle and sprint away from them. Dealing with dogs seems to be a large part of gravel riding and we’ve been discussing a method to protect ourselves against attacks like this in the future.
Once we got to the end of Battle Lake we headed back towards the lake to finish up our ride. A half dozen more gravel rollers ensured our legs were shot just in time for the glorious paved downhill run back to the cabin. It’s amazing how much energy you can find when you know there is a hot pizza and cold beer waiting for you!
The ride was a success across all fronts in that no bikes were harmed this year, no injuries and everyone got in an ample amount of suffering. The cooler temperatures were welcome although anything much below zero and you’d be reconsidering the ride, especially if there was any chance of a significant breeze.
Without a doubt there will be a 2019 edition of the Croken Classic at the same venue with a two new routes, a full classic, and a lite classic, to ensure that everyone can experience the gravel bliss located just an hour south of our city, Edmonton.
By the Numbers
26.4km/h average speed
65km/h maximum speed
4:15 moving time
4:50 elapsed time
1 Moose sighting
3 cars sighted
2 attempted dog attacks
1 dead end road requiring a detour
1 skunk on a pole
If you have any questions about the route, gravel riding in the area, or gravel riding in general, ask away in the comments!
Here is the route that we took, clicking on the photo will bring you to my strava file
None of us expect to have our bikes stolen similar to how we never anticipate being in a car accident. Despite all of the locks and deadbolts in the world, bike theft is an inevitable part of being a cyclist. The point of this article isn’t to point out that you need to spend $200 on a bike lock which is used behind your double dead bolted garage door with video surveillance. As great as those are as preventative measures, when a thief wants your bike, they’ll get your bike. The focus of this post is to help you gather proper information regarding your bike before it gets stolen.
After Initial Purchase
Copy your bill of sale from the bike shop and store it on a cloud based service such as dropbox. This prevents it from getting lost in that heap of paper work you’ve meant to deal with for the last three months.
Call your house insurance provider to see what their policy is on bikes. Some policies require you to add a rider for each bike, others do not and work off a deductible based system. Inquire about their maximum coverage is. A lot of companies cap bike payouts at a couple thousand dollars which hardly covers the most basic of bikes these days.
Locate the serial number on the bike and verify that is the same as it is on the bill of sale.
Put your contact information on a sheet of paper, roll it up, and then put it in your handle bars. You can do this by popping off one of the grips or bar end plugs. This could very useful to identify this bike as yours down the road.
Document your bike with quality photos as shown below.
If there you have any damage on your bike, photograph that as well as it will be used as a unique identifier if your bike is found.
After your Bike is Stolen
Once you get over the anger, sadness, and disappointment of a low life taking your prized steed it is time for some more action. The sooner you complete these steps the better.
File a police report. Now the police will have their eyes peeled for the bike, especially if multiple thefts in the same area were reported. Once you have the police report you can call your insurance company and start up the claim process. Be honest with your adjuster about exactly what happened, provide them with your receipts and photos as this makes their job easier. These guys aren’t out to screw you, they want a fair settlement. I’ve had multiple bikes stolen and after the dust settled I didn’t feel as if I was screwed by my insurance company.
Email your local bike shops and provide them with the serial number and photos of your bike. Many bikes have been recovered by someone bringing in the stolen bike for service. The shops tend to have a pretty good spidey sense about these situations and love nothing more than recovering bikes.
Keep your eyes peeled on the local for sale forums and websites. Thieves often try to flip the bikes right away and this is most likely where you’ll see the bike listed.
Patiently wait. There are times where the bike is not recovered and that is why you have insurance on your bikes. Often times the bike is recovered but it has been damaged or abused, if that is the case you are often given the option of buying it back from your insurance company if you’ve already been paid out.
As much as we never want to be on the bad end of a bike theft, taking these precautions will definitely make your life easier and significantly improve the odds of having your bike returned to you!
Consolation Cross, gravel grinder, Colossal Cross, Hell of the North, The Croken Classic. Earlier this week the City of Edmonton pulled the plug on our double header cyclocross weekend due to fear of potential grass damage in the parks. Now that everyone’s schedule was cleared what were we to do? This is where I hatched the idea of Consolation Cross ride, now lovingly or spitefully named the Croken Classic to make up for the lack of cross racing happening in town. Knowing that everyone who races crosses loves suffering as much as I do I figured we should tackle a long gravel ride. What would be better than the Victoria Trail that I rode earlier in the summer?
We all congregated on the side of the highway at 10:30am as we weren’t sure exactly how long the day was going to be or what we might encounter. More and more vehicles started showing up to my surprise as I only had 9 confirmed riders for the day! After countless conversations regarding the proper layering techniques for our clothing, booties or no booties, which gloves to wear, wind breaker or soft shell we all agreed on one thing, bring all the food and water we could carry. Later in the day we were all thankful that our piggish selves had brought a copious amount of food. A few of us were walking around getting excited about how frozen the ground and how fast this ride was going to be compared to our summer effort. Oh how wrong we would be.
The first 25 kms of the ride were absolute bliss. Everyone was spinning along, getting warmed up and we were averaging about 30kmh, the top end of my estimated average for the whole day. The sun was up, the temperature was a perfect 1 degree and there was no wind. At this point the ground was still frozen so we were having a great time.
Remember how I mentioned that we thought the frozen ground was going to be fast? Well we had no idea how bad it was going to be when it started to thaw out and the backside of this hill was our first taste of it. When the hint of a descent appeared a few of us charged off the front to be greeted with a lovely combination of mud and ice at 50kmh. At this stage I had a feel the day was going to take a turn from quick paced ride to an adventure ride with some curve balls thrown our way.
The next 15-20km were quite a bit more interesting than the first 25km but it was still manageable. At this stage we were getting wet from the mud and our bikes started to make sounds that nobody wants to hear from their drivetrains. It was here that a couple riders decided to turn around, we were down to 14.
Less than 2km after the two riders turned around we were now greeted with the most interesting conditions I’ve ridden to date. The temperature was now up to 3 degrees and the ice and snow was melting leaving us with pure mud. Everyone thought the cyclocross conditions were bad the last two weekends of racing and here we were staring down miles upon miles of cyclocross caliber mud. Things were going to get interesting and exhausting from here on out!
It was at this point that I realized I had dragged 14 friends out into a war zone of conditions and that I was on the verge of losing my riding/training/racing partners. Nina always says that I know how to take something fun and turn it into a sufferfest. I now understand what she means.
About 10 minutes after those photos were shot we were riding along commenting on how our poor drive trains have never seen such abuse for such an extended period of time. The orchestra of sad bikes was playing 14 different tunes today and not one will go down in history as pleasant. Our poor bikes. As if on cue Greg states “My bike is shifting like shit, I wonder what could be going on.” Imagine a crash in any movie, minus the horns and sirens that is exactly what Greg’s bike did next. He skidded out sideways and hopped off the bike. I’ve seen many a broken derailleurs but I’ve never seen one tear clean off the hanger and loop around the cassette ending up at the 1 o’clock position.
Great, we are now 50km from the car, the roads resemble the trenches of Passchendaele and one of our bikes is properly dickered. Luckily all of us are handy with the workings of a bike and someone had an 11 speed quick link. Normally I’d ridicule someone for bringing everything and the kitchen sink on a cross ride but today I was glad we had the kitchen sink. A few minutes later and Greg had himself a sorry looking single speed and one hell of a slow trek home. Better than walking right? Oh wait, he had to walk the hills because they were muddy? Quit whining, we normally pay to do that!
At this point we were all a bit nervous because we hadn’t reached the half way point and the conditions were deteriorating rapidly. We pressed onward with our speed down to about 24kmh at it’s best due to the dense mud we were now pushing through. Mud puddles were a welcome sight as we could splash through and simultaneously lube our drive trains. Dry lube, wet lube, or gritty mud water? We had no choice but to choose option three. Who needs cassettes and chains to last anyway?
The few kilometers of paved road leading into Victoria settlement was a very welcome reprieve from the mud and potholes we had been dealing with. We grouped up and pulled into the settlement at a normal pace unlike the slog we’d done for the last 55km. We were all downing our drinks and snacks here. Had there been a bus with a bike trailer offering us a ride home I don’t think anyone would have denied it. We were wet, tired, and our souls had been dampened by the unexpected conditions.
After warming up in the sun and convincing ourselves that the ride home is always faster than the ride out we took off again the same way we came. As if the mud and ice weren’t enough we were treated to a lovely headwind for most of the ride back to the cars. Group and a draft you’re surely saying. Drafts just don’t work the same when you’re going 23kmh as they do when you’re cooking along at 35-40kmh. Any bit of draft you might get wasn’t even worth it due to the spray off of the wheels in front of you. Some folks went for the mud in the face as they were running out of steam and took every bit of help they could get. Not an easy choice!
We thought things were going great until we have another bike failure! This time it was Caitlin’s BMC. Her rear brake had decided to give up the ghost and was not retracting the pads enough for the wheel to spin freely. After multiple attempts to flush the caliper out or align the caliper so that the wheel would spin freely we were left with one option, pull the pads. Luckily for Caitlin not having a brake wasn’t a big deal as if it any point you felt like you were going too quickly you could just aim for deeper mud and bring yourself back to a crawl.
After we sorted out the brake issue we had an uneventful ride back to the cars. Conditions continued to degrade as the day went on but we kept plugging away, slowly but surely. Remember that hill I mentioned earlier in the post where we broke 50kmh on the ice? It was now time to climb the three tiered hill. Not only was the hill steep but there was more mud here than we’d seen anywhere else on the entire ride. This hill punished us to a degree you rarely get on a bike. Granny gears didn’t cut it and you couldn’t get out of the saddle as you’d lose traction, this was now the definition of a grind. We regrouped at the barn after the hill and decided we’d hold a steady pace as a group to get back in timely fashion.
Seeing the cars on the horizon was without a doubt the highlight of everyone’s day. The now dubbed Croken Classic will be a ride we won’t forget for a long time. Sure, conditions were garbage, we went slower than we thought we would, it was a long day in the saddle, and all of us need new drive trains but the experience was like nothing else. Despite all of that we managed to keep smiles (grimaces) on our face the whole day and laugh through everything. Cyclists are a stubborn bunch and they love to suffer with their friends and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Everyone is already asking me what the Croken Classic will be next year and I’ve got some ideas brewing for that. The ride will without a doubt be more organized with significantly more than 4 days notice and it will hopefully involve more gravel than mud.
Kudos go out to everyone who came out on the ride, you’re tougher than most out there and I promise your legs will be stronger because of it. Nobody would willingly go out there and do the ride knowing that conditions couldn’t possibly be worth but we did. Call it stubbornness, stupidity, or what I prefer, the love of sport.
I can’t wait for next year!
If you’re curious about the ride check it out on Strava right here.
For the 2016 season I was riding a Norco Revolver 9.2 hardtail. As I was planning on getting into racing I wanted a bike that was more nimble, lighter, and more responsive to power input. The Revolver was the bike I ended up choosing and rode it for over 1000 km this summer. Due to an unfortunate issue with the front wheel that could not be solved despite valiant efforts by both Norco and Pedalhead the bike had to go back to the factory. This is how I ended up with one of the first 2017 Revolver 9.1 FS bikes to hit the dealers.
Why the switch to a full suspension bike? First and foremost was that I had bought a trail hardtail so this bike could be used exclusively for racing and go fast days. The hardail was light, it handled beautifully and climbed like a billy goat but there were some short comings. The biggest area where I felt I was losing time was on the descents that had lots of roots or rocks. With the back end of the bike bouncing around I wasn’t able to brake as late for corners or hold the optimal line as well as I’d like to. Due to my new bike being a higher end model than my hard tail was it actually weighs a bit less despite having a rear shock! Now that that is out of the way let’s get started!
Yes, that is Eagle. Yes, the cassette is gigantic and larger than the brake rotor. Well done SRAM for making the big ring a different colour because it has grabbed everyone’s attention on my first few rides. I know that the big ring is a different material than the rest of the X-dome cassette but I can’t help but feel the unmatched paint is to attract more attention to the drive train. So far the drivetrain has been significantly quieter than my previous bike’s Shimano XT 1×11 and despite the insane chain line, the bike shifts beautifully. Another huge perk of the 500% gear range of the Eagle is that I can run a 34t front ring and not have to worry about spinning out my 10t like I did with my shimano drive train. I question the long term durability of the chain but only time will tell if that’s justified or not.
Another big upgrade from last year’s Revolver line up is the introduction of the completely new Rock Shox Sid RLC fork. On my HT I found that the fork was a bit flimsy when charging hard into corners or descents with lots of rough terrain. Despite the 2017 fork being lighter it feels noticeably stiffer which is greatly appreciated. This year they have also changed the dampener from the Motion Control one found in last years fork to the Charger dampener which is similar to the one found in the Pike. The damping certainly feels much smoother, especially over the smaller bumps. With the motion control dampener the fork felt very very linear, which, while predictable, didn’t handle small trail bumps as well as it could have. Unlike my HT this bike also has remote lock out on the bars which is a great for those long climbs. Unlike other fork lockouts that are hydraulic this one is cable actuated which I really appreciate as it is easily serviced if you happen to snag the line and break it.
Out back we have a Rock Shox Monarch RL handling the dampening. So far I can say that despite this bike being a full suspension rocket ship it climbs just as well as my hard tail did. Even when I’m hammering as hard as I can I don’t feel like the rear end is wasting a noticeable amount of energy. On super rooty climbs I’ve noticed that this bike climbs better than a hard tail due to the huge increase in traction the suspension provides. Just like the Sid up front the Monarch does a great job with the small bumps on the trails. Descending is, as I expected, much faster with the rear suspension provided huge gains in traction and cornering performance. Well worth any penalty on the climbs.
Another area of improvement on this bike are the weels, they are the DT Swiss X1700s with the star ratchet in the rear hub. This ratchet system provides near instant engagement which is amazing when you need to kick your way over technical areas or push over the top of a challenging climb. The tires that are mounted are the Maxxis Ikons which are billed as a fast rolling XC race tire. Two of my rides so far were on either tacky dirt or bone dry dirt and they were very predictable with no loss of traction. A third ride however was when the trails were a bit wet and these tires were utterly useless, they didn’t clear mud at all and I found myself pushing my bike while my friends were riding theirs. If the forecast for a race weekend isn’t dry I’ll certainly have another pair of tires ready to go as these would be downright dangerous on a wet course.
One area where I was extremely impressed with my other new bike, the Trek Stache, was the cockpit and crankset, they were both carbon. On the Revolver Norco decided to save some money by kitting the bike out with Norco branded bars and seat post and an aluminum crankset. On a $7000 I feel like you shouldn’t need to go and spend another $400 to get a decent carbon bar and seat post. We all know that carbon posts make for a much more comfortable ride not to mention a nice weight savings in an area that makes a difference in handling. Luckily I had a carbon post from my hard tail and have a carbon bar on the way to replace the factory alloy kit. C’mon Norco, charge a tad bit more and have a bike that’s ready to go! Anyone buying this bike has high expectations and would be more than will to spend a couple hundred dollars more upfront rather than having to deal with it after the fact. While we are talking about seat posts I feel like it’s important to mention that there is stealth routing for a dropper post. More and more of the pros are starting to use droppers due to their huge benefits on nasty descents so it’s great that Norco has future proofed the bike in that regard as I’m sure many riders will be throwing droppers on their xc rigs this year.
Sram Level TLM brakes are on stopping duty and so far they have been flawless. They share a similar design to the Guide RS brakes other than having two fewer pistons per caliper. I haven’t noticed a brake build up in these brakes like I did with my Shimano XT brakes which is really nice as I was continually frustrated with the inconsistent lever feel while descending.
In the 200 kms I’ve ridden the bike so far I can say that this is a very responsive bike both in how it responds to power and how it handles the trail. Some bikes can be ridden casually and still be fun but I find the Revolver to be a bike that demands to be ridden fast and hard for everything to work properly. When I’m warming up on the trails the bike feels too light and a bit jittery but the second I turn up the power and charge the trails the bike settles right in and flies over everything in it’s way.
I have a few climbs in town that I like to test bikes and tires out on and this bike cruised up all them with ease. A benefit of eagle that isn’t commonly mentioned is that you can run a larger ring up front which greatly increases the anti squat characteristics of the suspension which is huge when climbing technical lines.
Despite the race geometry on this bike it handles the descents with a surprising amount of confidence. With that confidence I believe that the Revolver FS could be someone’s only mountain bike with a few changes such as a dropper post, a bit of a riser bar, and if you’re really keen a 120mm fork. With those changes you could ride pretty much everything east of the Rockies with ease.
Norco also makes this bike in a 650b version but I feel that if you’re getting a bike for cross country riding then 29″ wheels are the only way to go. There are four complete builds available of this bike ranging from $3999-$9799. All bikes share the same frame which is impressive when the frameset sells for $2999. If you’re interested in picking one of these rocket ships up give the guys over at Pedalhead Bicycle Works a shout and they’ll set you up.
As per usual, once I have 1000km on the bike I’ll be able to give a much more thorough review on the machine and any issues that might arise. If you have any questions, drop me a line in the comments and I’ll get back to you!
Recently I picked up a 2017 Trek Stache 9.8 with the idea that it would be my trail bike for next year. I’ve only put 150km on the bike so far so this won’t be a full blown review, it will be a first impressions post on the bike. Not one ride has gone by where I haven’t been stopped multiple times by curious onlookers with a variety of questions. The most common ones are:
Is it heavy? I wouldn’t say so, it’s about 27 lbs ready to go. Not as light as an xc race rocket, remember, this is a trail bike!
Does it ride like a fatbike? Not even close.
How big are those tires? 29×3″ on 40mm wheels.
Is it slow? It must be slow with those tires! I’ll touch on this one later.
How much does it cost? This model retails for $6249.99 but there are many models in the lineup to cater to every budget.
Now that the most common questions are out of the way let’s start with what makes the bike unique. The first and most obvious thing that sets this bike apart from virtually everything else on the market are the large 29+ tires. The idea behind this tire size is an increase in traction as well as a noticeable increase in the roll over ability when you hit roots and rocks on the trails. Trek has managed to get the chainstay length down to 420mm, that is 22mm shorter than my cross country race bike’s chainstay. They accomplished this by using boost hub spacing and and assymetric chainstay design that actually goes above the chain line on the drive side of the bike. The third thing that should be noted on the Stache is the longer top tube with a slacker head angle. Many companies are exploiting the modern geometry which results in bikes that climb like xc rigs and descend with the confidence of a full blown 140mm trail bike.
The tires that come with the Stache are the Bontrager Chupacabras and let me tell you, they are amazing. When you first look at the tires you wonder how they can possibly hook up but due to the large surface area and low tire pressure, (11 front, 12 rear) they are impossible to break loose. The only time I’ve skidded is when I grabbed way too much rear brake on a descent just to see what would happen. I’ve yet to run out of tire in the front. Due to the amazing traction the bike climbs like a billy goat! A couple of the hardest hills in town, Prime Rib and the east entrance to Cambodia are extremely challenging or impossible on most bikes but the Stache climbs them both with ease. No more excuses on the climbs.
The wheels that the Chupacabras are mounted to are Bontrager’s new Line Pro 40 carbon hoops with bontrager hubs that look and sound suspiciously like DT240s. With such a lightweight combination you would never know you’re on rubber as big as you are as the wheel spin up effortlessly. The boost hubs allow for the wheel to be super stiff laterally as well which is critical for a bike that can rail corners as fast as the Stache can. The wheels are tubeless ready as are the tires, you’d be a fool to run tubes on this bike.
The drivetrain that comes with the 9.8 Stache is the full Sram X0 kit complete with carbon cranks. The carbon cranks are a sweet addition considering many companies throw an alloy crank on to keep costs down. As per usual, the sram kit shifts smoothly every time without any hiccups. I thought I would get used to the lack of the double shift that Shimano offers but I still miss it. Maybe by mid summer when I post a full review I’ll be over that.
The cockpit is using the new 35mm Bontrager line pro riser bar, carbon of course. Mounted up to the bar are the Sram Guide RS brakes. Coming from Shimano XT brakes on both of my last bikes I can say that I am impressed with these new brakes. The four piston design allows for a huge range of modulation and ample power. You definitely need the power on this bike as the second you point it down hill you are going way faster than you ever expected you could on a hardtail.
The Bontrager Dropline dropper post comes equipped on this bike and has worked flawlessly so far. Unlike the Reverb that many bikes come with, the dropline is cable actuated. I must admit that so far I’ve preferred this style of dropper to the reverb on my last bike. Adjustments are easily made with a barrel adjuster at the lever and if you crash and wreck the cable you can easily swap in a brake cable available from every bike shop and you’re on your way. With the Reverb the first line of action was a bleed but first you needed to track down the Reverb fluid. The bleed was easy enough but it was just one more thing you needed to do. I could not imagine riding this bike without the dropper post. The second you drop in on your descent you’ll have an ear to ear grin because of how rowdy this bike wants to get on the descent and having a dropper allows you to open it up to it’s full potential.
Trek knew just how capable this bike was going to be and equipped it with one of the new Rockshox Pike 29+ forks. The 120mm version is on the bike and so far I haven’t been left wanting more. The charger dampener does a brilliant job of ramping up through the travel while still absorbing the small bumps on the trail. Brake dive is non existent once you’ve got it set up properly for your trails. Despite the 120mm being sufficient, I do wonder what this bike would be capable of in the mountains with a 130 or even a 140mm Pike up front.
After 150km of riding the bike on Edmonton’s finest singletrack I can say that without a doubt, this is the most fun bike without a motor that I’ve ever ridden. The playful nature due to the short chainstays and infinite traction from the big tires allows for lines that no other bike could hope to hold and for speed to be carried through the roughest trails with ease. I am really looking forward to getting this rig out into the mountains where I feel it will really shine. Despite being a hardtail I have to reiterate that it does not ride like a cross country race machine that beats your lower back into oblivion. During my first couple rides I thought out loud, I should let just a bit of air out of the shock to soften things up only to remember that there is no rear shock!
Hardcore Bikes has one in large available for demos, but really, you should just go order one. You won’t regret it one bit. Remember, the correct amount of bikes is N+1.
If you have any questions about the bike, feel free to ask away in the comments below!
For years everyone has sworn by paying the big bucks to get fit on your new road bike. You’ll be so much more comfortable, you won’t have the pain in your back anymore, you’ll be able to ride forever without feeling sore, but have you ever heard the same about your mountain bike? I hadn’t until very recently.
I recently purchased a new trail bike (more to come on that in another post) from Hardcore Bikes and included it with it, is a bike fit. Every bike purchased from the shop includes a bike fit whether it is a road, mountain, or hybrid style bike. Steve booked me in for a 1-2 hour fit session a few days later and it was time to see what this was all about. The days leading up to the fit had me thinking things like, how important can fit possibly be on a mountain bike? My seat height feels fine and my suspension feels ok, what more could be done? I had already ridden the bike once and it felt great, why do I need to spend this much time on something that already works. Little did I know, I was very wrong in my thoughts.
I showed up to the shop with the shiny new steed, some bib shorts, and my cycling shoes ready for session, still not knowing what to expect.
The first thing that Steve did was set up my bike on the turbo trainer, this would allow me to pedal the bike during the session so that Steve could analyze what my body was doing. Before I hopped on the bike Steve asked me to walk back and forth a couple of times in the shop. Wait, what? Now I know bib shorts can be most flattering but why was I walking around the shop when I’m here for a bike fit. Steve was analyzing how my feet were placed with each footstep. Everyone’s foot placement is a little bit different and this plays a huge role in the bike fit. After strutting my stuff I took off my shoes and handed them over to Steve. Immediately he loosened off both of my cleats and started adjusting them. The little tweaks being made were to reduce heel strike on the rear stays of the bike and more importantly, allow me to use the right muscles in my pedal strokes. Cleats a bit further back allow you to use your larger leg muscles which harness more power and take longer to fatigue than your calves. News to me but I like hearing the words more power and less fatigue.
Now that my cleats were sorted out I got to hop on the bike. I pedaled the bike for a couple of minutes while Steve walked around, checking out how everything was looking and then out came the tape measure and a few other tools that would look more at home in a doctors office than a bike shop. It turns out my saddle was a little too low which was robbing me of power and endurance. We didn’t just look at the height of the saddle, we looked at it’s fore/aft position as well to ensure that everything was lining up over the pedal axle to prevent possible knee pain or injuries from applying the force in the wrong ways on my knees. The saddle came forward a bit but I can’t say that I felt much of a difference at this point. The saddle that came with the bike was a high end one that happened to fit me perfectly so we didn’t need to swap that out. If you’re a guy you may be fine sitting on anything for a saddle but in my experience women always need to swap out their saddles for different ones as female sit bones are oriented quite a bit differently than male ones. Saddles can range from $50-300 depending on how fancy you want to get. Keep in mind that a softer saddle is rarely the more comfortable one.
On to the cockpit! On my new bike the cockpit was fairly simple with just one shifter, a dropper remote and of course the brakes. On the xc race bikes you have all of those plus remote options for suspension so getting them all dialed in is critical. First up we adjusted the brake levers not only for position but also for lever reach. This was the one area where my view differed from Steve’s. I have ridden motorcycles for many years so I am used to braking with my middle finger instead of my index as well as having the brakes grab very early in their stroke. I was given a pass on the lever feel but suggest that you probably should be braking with your index finger and have the brakes engaging later in their stroke to allow for easier modulation. We also swapped out the factory grips for something a bit larger in diameter with a soft compound. My hands are an absolute mess from years of rock climbing and the injuries often flare up on rough descents. Stock grips are notoriously less than ideal so I would factor in $30-40 for a nice pair when you pick up a new rig.
So, did it work? Did all of the minor tweaks and adjustments make for a better ride? I went for a 40km single track ride the next day taking on some of the rougher trails in town and can say without a doubt that the bike fit made a difference. I noticed that the bike felt much more natural to ride than the day before the fit. The bike just worked. Everything was behaving exactly how it should without any real thought on my end. Instead of trying to adjust to the bike I could focus on the trails and enjoying my ride. Knowing now that everything is set up perfectly will allow me to perform at a different level than I would be able to on the same bike without a fit. Along with the performance will come comfort which, for me, is critical on those 60km+ rides on technical single track.
Chances are that you the bike you are on is not set up properly for you and due to that you aren’t reaching your full potential on your bike. Some examples of issues I’ve heard many people complain of while riding their mountain bikes are :
Pain in the butt, this could be due to being on the wrong saddle, it’s tilted improperly, you’re reaching too far ahead etc
Wrists ache which is often caused by the cockpit being set up wrong or the suspension not being set properly.
Cramping calve. I have seen multiple friends rolling on the ground in pain due to this which is often caused by improper seat placement or fore/aft adjustment on the saddle.
Pain on the front or behind the knees. This all ties into cleat and seat placement.
A twitchy front end. Some shops simply put a longer stem on a smaller bike to get you out the door. On an mtb this will make descending really terrifying.
Lack of power. Nobodies legs are as strong as they want them to be but having your seat too high or too low is robbing you of the power you do have.
These are among the many things that a bike fit will solve along with a bike that is the right size for you. I have a few friends riding bikes that they were sold because the shop had the attitude of “the bike that’s in stock is the one that’s right for you.” Now they are trying to get the bike to fit properly through other means and due to that their bike will never perform as well as it could had it been the right size to begin with.
Most higher end bike shops will have bike fit services whether using the old school method with handheld tools and tape measures or the new school method such as the Guru Fit machine that Pedalhead Road Works utilizes. Hardcore Bikes is the only shop in town that I’ve seen or heard of doing a mountain bike fit as comprehensive as that of a road bike. If a bike fit is not included in your bike purchase than I would highly suggest calling your local shop and finding out if they offer the service. The fit could be the difference between a great day on the bike followed by many more or one day on the bike followed by discomfort.
Victoria Trail is a historic gravel road that is about 60km long starting just northeast of town. We headed north to explore this as we had a week of heavy rain and the trails were not fit to be ridden. Road miles are fun but we were looking for something a bit different, something none of us had ridden before. Here in Alberta we are surrounded by perfectly straight, flat, paved roads with nothing but farmer’s fields as the eyes can see. What most people don’t realize is that if you duck off the major roads there are absolute gems to be ridden if you’re cool with gravel. The Victoria Trail is one of those gems.
We parked just off Highway 28 and RR211B. There is no parking lot but there is a relatively mild shoulder you can park on, our VW Wagon had no issues. From there we headed north along a route that I had planned based off when I had ridden the trail before on my motorcycle. The gravel you’ll find on this ride is fairly loose for the most part as the road does not see a lot of traffic, picture a typical road leading to a farm house, that is what this is like. Luckily for us it had rained quite hard the day before so dust was kept to a minimum, if you’re heading out there when it’s been hot all week prepare for loose gravel and lots of dust!
There isn’t very much climbing to be done along the stretch but don’t let that deceive you, the gravel takes a significant toll on your legs and an even worse toll on your ass. Wear your favourite set of shorts and a healthy application of chamois cream as this is a rough ride! If you are a masochist who enjoys beating their bike to a pulp then you could ride this on a road bike with wider, 25-28 tires. A cyclocross bike is the ideal tool for this ride and what all of us chose to bring when we rode it. File tread tires at about 40 psi will work best as there is no really need for the traction that knobby tires would offer.
Along the path there are numerous memorials and plaques giving you more information on the history of this road and it’s importance to Alberta.
As you reach the 60km halfway mark you will each the old village. From Thursday through Sunday the village is open and there is a store with washrooms there. We went on a Wednesday and nothing was open, luckily we brought enough food and water for the full 120km out and back trip.
About 30km from the car a large storm cell showed up on the horizon. With the winds picking up and rain started to fall we dropped the hammer to get back to the cars. Getting caught out here in a storm would be less than ideal as there are very few bands of trees to protect you from the elements.
In total we rode 120km from the car to the village and back. I would strongly suggest that you be comfortable with rides of this length or better before tackling the full distance. 120km on these roads is significantly different than 120-150km on a road ride. How much different? I don’t have a power meter on my cross bike so I can’t give an exact number but I’d guess 15-20% more effort is required than a nice paved road.
I’d suggest bringing ample supplies for flat/tire repair, especially if you plan on riding your road bike on this trail (leave the carbon wheels at home.)
A year ago if you told me me that one of the best things I could buy for cycling was a bike pump, never mind one that costs $100, I would have just laughed in your face and proceeded to use my old $25 pump from MEC. Little did I know that a high quality pump would make my life easier but also improve my riding experience. Let me explain.
Tire pressure is one of the most critical parts of a ride, especially with everyone running tubeless tire setups on their mountain bikes, fat bikes, cyclocross bikes, and road bikes (no, not tubular.) When you’re inflating your tires there are so many variables to consider, such as which tires you’re running, the terrain you’re riding, and even the weather the day before. On your mountain bike, cyclocross, and fat bikes one psi of air makes a massive difference. Gone are the days where you’d pump up your tires, pull off the pump head, check with a tire gauge, and then either add/remove until you’ve got it right. That takes time, time that could be spent riding. The Lezyne digital pumps solve these issues by having an extremely accurate digital gauge built in. How accurate? I’ve tested it against multiple digital hand held gauges and there hasn’t been a discrepancy yet, even when I’m dealing with pressures <10 psi on the fat bikes. Unlike many other pumps, this one easily gets you over 100 psi to fill up your skinny tired steed without giving your arms any grief.
Next up is the way you hook the pump up to your valve using the threaded chuck. Most pumps have a clamp style head where you mash the head onto the valve, clamp it down and hope you’ve made an airtight seal. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t! The Lezyne uses a threaded head that is dead simple to use and works every time. All you need to do is unthread the release valve on the presta valve and thread the pump chuck on. The chuck can be flipped depending on if you’re using schrader or presta valves. Once you feel the chuck bottom out you start pumping. Once you’ve reached your desired pressure you press the black button on the side of the chuck which purges the system to ensure that no air is lost when you undo the chuck.
If you’re looking at the valve and thinking, how am I going to inflate the disc wheel on my TT bike then don’t worry, Lezyne includes a 90 degree speed chuck for just that application. The pumps also come with a needle to inflate and sports balls you might have around.
The alloy version of the pump is pictured in the review but you can save a bit of money and the get steel sport version which is just a bit heavier than the alloy version.
Looking to pick one of these beauties up? Swing on by Hardcore Bikes on whyte ave and they’ll set you up. $100 and it’ll be the last pump you buy.