Alex CXD7 Quick Review

I am working through a bit of backlog of product reviews I want to do.  Still in the queue are a final review for the Kona Jake the Snake; Lizard Skins DSP grips and tape and Maxxis Mud Wrestler TR tires.  However, as ‘cross season starts heating up, I wanted to throw a real quick review of the Alex CXD7 wheelset out there.

It is incredibly difficult to find information on this wheelset, as it seems to be some OEM model that Alex doesn’t list on their website.  Kona uses them a lot on mid-level ‘cross and road-disc bikes, but debadge them so that they have no distinguishing marks on the rims at all.  (The hubs are still marked with Alex logos.)  Kona is also very inconsistent on whether these are tubeless-ready or not.  On the 2014 Rove, they are listed as being tubeless-ready; on the JtS, they are not.  I ran with the assumption they were ready to go and ordered some Maxxis Mud Wrestler TR tires.  How did it go?

Well, the shop seemed to go crazy building up the rim bed to make the tires seat better.  Then, they pointed out that these rims are not welded together, but rather pinned.  The mechanic was laughing as he told me how he just watch sealant spewing out of the pinhole until it finally sealed.  I’ve done a couple of hard ‘cross rides on them and they haven’t burped once.

Before I had them set up for ‘cross, I rode a lot of gravel and tarmac with some Clement Strada LGG tires.  The wheels seem to roll fairly smooth and despite some big impacts, I haven’t had to true them.

There doesn’t seem to be anything remarkable about these wheels, but they are a perfectly serviceable set that isn’t out of place on a mid-level aluminum ‘cross rig.

2014 Chequamegon 40

Sometime in late 2008, I was seized by a desire to be involved in one of the largest point-to-point mountain bike races in the country: The Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival. I didn’t get in during 2009, but was finally able to race it in 2010.  I “Cheq’d” it off my list (I’m sure no one has ever made that joke before in the history of forever) and didn’t see a reason to go back.

It’s not that it’s a bad race or somehow unworthy of its reputation.  The problem is the timing.  After the Cheq40 in 2010, I had my best cyclocross season ever.  I was having fun and getting great results.  September turned into a cyclocross month and I had no interest in traveling down to Wisconsin for fat tire racing, as I stared packing up the mountain bike  for the season after Labor Day.

This year, for no apparent reason, I entered the lottery again.  Honestly, I remember the day I submitted my entry, thinking that I wouldn’t get it anyways but why not?  I may have been somewhat influenced by the Fat Tire Birkie, but I certainly didn’t wake up one morning thinking, “Dang, I need to go race Chequamegon again!”

Imagine my surprise when the email came in early April — I was in.  Suddenly my season had new focus and I started wondering if my wonderful 2010 ‘cross season hadn’t been positively impacted by the fitness  needed to finish a 40-mile MTB race.

I counted back from September 13 and started my training.  Apparently, counting like that is some sort of weakness for me, because I actually started my training a week early.  “Never mind,” said I.  “I shall use the whole month of September for racing at top fitness.”  I made a few tweaks to the bike: I put on some Lizard Skins DSP grips to give a little more cushion on a 3-hour ride.  I swapped over to some Maxxis Aspen tires for fast-rolling, non-technical course.  Training rides in late August and September were feeling just awesome.  Then I started hearing about flooding and major storm damage around Hayward the week before the race.  Then I saw the forecast for race day: high of 54, low of 31.  Yikes.  If it wasn’t so expensive to register for this race, I would have just stayed home.

Instead, I packed all kinds of warm clothes and worked up a positive attitude.  The forecast said by race start, it would be around 48 degrees and mid-50’s by the end.  I have apparel for that kind of weather, so I felt confident I could be properly attired.  An Under Armour base layer and my 2013 METAL thermal skin suit were the order of the day and really turned out to be perfect.

One of the enduring traditions for the Cheq40 is getting up insanely early to drop your bike off at the start hours and hours before the gun goes off.  I refused to participate in this tradition in 2010 and one of the improvements Lifetime Fitness made when they acquired the race was to assign starting corrals based on past performances.  Since I technically had no history with the race (they only counted results back to 2011), I got stuck in Gate 7.  I was pretty jazzed about this up until I walked to the very back of the back to my assigned gate.  It felt like the ENTIRE race was ahead of me.  In some ways, this took some pressure off.  I wouldn’t embarrass myself being farther up than I belonged.  In retrospect, it just meant that I was passing people for the next 3 hours.  My rough estimate is that I passed 1100 riders before I crossed the finish line.

The race rolls out quickly on Hayward’s Main St. (or at least it does when you are near the front).  At the tail end, it felt more like a parade or  leisurely group ride.  I wasn’t content to stay back there, so I poured on the gas, trying to make up places where the road was wide and it was easy to pass.  As I breezed past other racers, I found myself wondering if I was going too hard, too soon.  It wouldn’t be the last time.

(Incidentally, the answer, every time, was “No.”)

Bottlenecks abounded in the first 5 off-road miles.  There is a bottleneck into Rosie’s Field.  There was a bottleneck at a particularly muddy portion of the Birkie Trail.  There was a terrible bottleneck where the Birkie Trail had flooded and the organizers cut a small bypass.  People were surprisingly calm through all these, except the morons who rode through the muddy Birkie sections, hollering out, “It’s a mountain bike race!  This is what they were made for!”  These comments were particularly grating to me as I had passed those riders like they were standing still on nicer parts of the trail.  I can ride mud and technical stuff, you dopes.  I choose to save the trail and my drivetrain.

The only hard part about those bottlenecks was getting back to race pace.  Each time we stopped, that part of you that urges you on, that pushes you through the pain, would just quietly settle down.  I found myself treating the race as a leisurely trail ride as I tried to reawaken the competitive spirit.

With apologies to Camelbak and other hydration pack manufacturers, I hate wearing a pack when I ride, so I convinced my wife to give me a bottle handoff where the course crossed OO.  We had agreed to meet on the lefthand side of the course, but as I approached the modified crossing, I just barely heard my kids hollering out, “Mom’s on the RIGHT SIDE!”  I saw her and had to be a bit of a jerk to get over and stop in front of her.  I ditched the empty bottle, grabbed a full one (and some more food) and rolled away.  It was so quick that I can’t even find the stop on the GPS trace.

It seems like a good time to talk about what kind of food and drink I had with me.  About 30 minutes before the race, I chugged some Skratch Labs Hyper Hydration.  Otherwise, I had two bottles of the Lemons+Matcha Exercise Hydration and a small bottle of the raspberry flavor.  Despite Gu’s aggressive marketing at the race, my primary food was two small PB&J sandwiches.  I had made a very accidental discovery several weeks before that Bimbo white bread is so soft that it doesn’t really even need to be chewed.  Slather some creamy peanut butter and jelly on a single slice, fold it in half, and you have real food that goes down almost as quickly as a gel.  It’s a great mix of protein, complex carbs and simple carbs as well.  No stomach upset and no bonking.

At various times, we were on gravel roads that really demanded a paceline, but I never found a good opportunity.  Every time I found a group, I would want to blaze past them.  I started getting a little aggressive about it, driving up right into someone’s slipstream and then launching out of it over and over.  I would love to see what can be done for this race when people get a good train going.

At some point, I started getting nervous about the Firetower Hill.

Cheq40Elevation

See that nearly vertical line at mile 27?  Yeah.  That’s the Firetower climb.  I remembered it being brutal and nearly unridable.  My memory seems to have played nasty tricks on me, because it didn’t really seem all that bad.  However, I am really disappointed in way I rode this.  I had to dismount and push multiple times, not so much because I didn’t have the legs to climb it, but simply because I chose stupid lines and got stuck.  Each time I had to dismount I felt like I got in somebody’s way and felt awful about it.  I will be back, Firetower!

We were warned repeatedly about the condition of the descent from Firetower.  I’m not sure why.  It was rockier than other parts of the course, but I still rode it (as well as the vast majority of the race) with my fork locked out.

As I prepared for this attempt at the Fat Forty, I read through my old post and remembered how my legs were seizing up and my stomach was roiling and I felt awful on the last few miles to Telemark.  As I blew through all of those locations, still feeling strong, I wondered what had happened to me that year.  Into the big bowl at Telemark and across the line in 2:52.  I was hoping for a 3-hour finish, but course alterations make it so I can’t rely too heavily on that result as an indicator of how fit and fast I was.  I can’t complain too much though.

I found myself thinking about how much I love my Big Kahuna at various points during the race.  That is such a good bike.  So.  Good.

Everything was perfect this year, except my starting position.  I’m pretty sure I’ll be back at the Cheq40 next year so that I can start in something other than Gate Very Back.  Ore to Shore organizers, you could learn a thing or two from this.

So I left Hayward satisfied with my effort, looking forward to a few more ‘cross races and next year’s 40.

Eating Crow (or Not): A Review of the WTB Volt Saddle

I am a person of deep passion, whether my friends and family would know it or not.  I would simply point out that there is a difference between having deep passions and expressing those passions.  But one of the things that happens with such passions is that they are eventually challenged by new circumstances, new situations… in short, change.  So then the question is, do the passions change too?

This has come to the front of my mind recently as I come to terms with the fact I am now a big Under Armour fan.  Even as recently as the Winter Olympics, I was somewhat gleeful to hear U.S. speed skaters blasting the new speedsuits they were wearing — as designed by Under Armour.  When my son needed new baseball cleats, he really wanted a pair made by UA.  I turned those down in favor of some Eastons, based on the extreme length of the actual cleats on UA’s offering.  What I didn’t tell him is that I didn’t really want to get UA cleats anyways.

But then he needed new baseball pants too.  After trying on every pair in the store (or so it would seem), we ended up taking some UA pants home.  They are white, which every baseball parent would agree is a nightmare.  But somehow these magic pants have stayed white and make him look really, really classy (for a 9-year old).  

It turned out that at the same time, I got a UA bottle from my sister as a birthday gift.  Despite having Nalgene, Kor and Camelbak bottles on the shelf, the UA bottle has become my favorite.  Various Under Armour items have subsequently invaded our house.

More topically, I had a lot of resentment towards Kona bicycles as well, before I had real opportunities to ride one.  After just killing it on a Kona Hei Hei as one member of a 2-man team in a 12-hour race where every other team had 4 riders (we quit after about 6 hours while in 4th place and still finished better than last place), I ended up buying a Kona Big Kahuna, which is my absolute favorite mountain bike ever.  Then a Kona Jake the Snake came into the house this spring and I nearly bought a used Kona Unit last fall.

In both of these cases, I have been forced to eat crow.  My biases were wrong and I freely admit this.

However.

There are two companies that have so repeatedly disappointed me that I have fervently resolved never to knowingly purchase anything they have had a hand in.  One is Kenda tires.  I don’t care who else they manufacture tires for — I’ve never been disappointed in another tire brand the way I have been disappointed by Kenda.  Repeatedly and consistently disappointed.  The other brand is WTB.

Part of me wants to like WTB for being one of those companies that has been in mountain biking just about forever.  However, I have tried most of their saddles and some of their wheels and have been so disappointed I had sworn them off.  Additionally, at some point they wrote an article about some revised tire design that addressing concerns people had about uncertain cornering with the previous design.  Their response was, essentially, “The old version is actually better than the new one, but we changed it because you aren’t Mark Weir and are not capable of riding aggressively enough to really take advantage of the old design.”  The new Jake the Snake came with a WTB Volt on it and I gave it a try anyways.

It is awful.

Tremendously, uncomfortably, even painfully awful.

I found myself on rides wondering if WTB has ever examined the shape and size of actual human beings when designing their saddles.

WTB says, “A slight whale tail and gentle drop to the nose provide something to push against while not limiting riders to one seating position.”  This sentence contains several outright lies.

The whale tail is not “slight” by any stretch of the imagination.  The nose does not drop enough to not get caught on proper road cycling bib shorts.  And trust me, there is only one seating position on this thing.  If it is pointed too far nose-down, you will constantly slide off the whale tail and be holding yourself up with your arms.  Once you get the saddle pointed up enough to not be sliding forward, you are forced into a “cradle” in the middle of the saddle and the front bit pushes up very uncomfortably on soft tissues.  Getting a low, aggressive position (as in the drops) is almost impossible.  There are no fore-aft changes in position.  I put several hundred tarmac and gravel miles on this saddle before I couldn’t stand it anymore.  The Kona labeling and lime green highlights that match the bike are nice, but not nice enough to ride in such discomfort.

Look, I know saddles are an individual thing.  About that…

For one, I am not usually especially picky about saddles.  I rode in comfort on some stock saddle that came on my entry-level 2003 Gary Fisher Wahoo until it ripped in a crash.  I replaced it with some arbitrary Specialized Body Geometry saddle that worked until I replaced the bike.  My full-suspension Fishers came with Bontrager Race Lux saddles which I logged thousands of miles on.  The Specialized Tricross came with some other Body Geometry saddle that I replaced only because I was developing a preference for a more firmly padded saddle.  The ‘cross bike then alternated between a Bontrager inForm RL road saddle (during the summer) and a cheapo Scott saddle for ‘cross season.  It was just an OEM thing off some entry-level road bike that I picked up at the shop for $20 and carried me through 3 ‘cross seasons.  I recently demoed a Syncros XR saddle that disappeared instantly underneath me.  I even have been able to tolerate a WTB Valcon that came on the Big Kahuna.  But never have I ridden something so uncomfortable as the Volt.

The other thing is that three people in my area (including me) have fairly recently taken delivery of almost identical Jake the Snakes recently.  We are three very different builds with three very different opinions about the overall quality of WTB stuff and have three very different riding styles.  One guy is shorter and slimmer than me, rides downhill MTB and enduros.  The other guy is a little taller but not quite as broad as me and has an XC race and enduro background.  I’m all XC race, gravel and ‘cross.  All of us absolutely HATE the Volt and all for the same reason: the shape is horrendous.

I can’t recommend the Volt at all.  To anybody.  For anything (except throwing at late-night intruders).  And I’m done with WTB.  Sometimes things change.  This time they haven’t.

Shakedown Ride Thoughts

I’ve been away from the blog for quite a while now.  The last post was in November? Wow.  I haven’t had a lot to write about though.  With the season getting started up and a new bike in the stable, there should be more material for discussion…

After musing about it for a while, I ended up buying a Kona Jake the Snake.  Based on finances, I had rather resigned myself to just buying a Trek Crockett frame and swapping parts.  It turned out that a friend from church wanted a bike for his son.  I sold him the Tricross (along with all the sweet parts on it) and used that money to make up the difference between the prices of a new frameset and a whole new bike.

Why the Kona?  It mainly came down to availability.  The Jamis Nova Race wasn’t available.  The Norco Threshold A1 wasn’t available.  Everything else was going to cost a whole lot more.  The Kona was getting all kinds of praise from both owners of the shop, so I ordered one.  With 65°F temperatures yesterday, I headed out for a ride.  It’s too early to do a proper review, but here are some first impressions:

  • The bike is light and stiff.  Not uncomfortably stiff, but it definitely lacks the compliance of the Tricross.  I think I’m ready to make that tradeoff on the ‘cross course — give me some snappy acceleration and let my body absorb a bit more abuse.  It worked last year with the Dark Horse.
  • The WTB Volt Comp saddle looks nice, with Kona graphics and lime green highlights that match the frame.  A reviewer remarked, “WTB has been in the saddle game for as long as I’ve been riding mountain bikes, and they have a pretty good (and deserved) reputation for making something in a saddle that will work for you.”  I have found this to be patently untrue, as I have never found a WTB saddle that I liked.  The most positive thing I can say is that the Valcon that came on my Kona Big Kahuna is not so bad that I didn’t feel compelled to immediately replace it.  The Volt is tremendously uncomfortable, pushing you forward with the stupid “whale tail” shape onto a very narrow portion of the saddle.  My inaugural ride was only 20 miles, largely due to that saddle.  I would rather sit on a 2×4.  I’m going to try some adjustments before I throw it out, but don’t hold much hope.
  • Rolling 100% pavement on Clement MXP ‘cross tires isn’t a ton of fun.  I need to swap something more tarmac friendly on that will still allow me to crush some gravel.
  • Road discs are awesome.  This is the future, right here.
  • The stem was set at -5° and I was pleasantly surprised with how comfortable such an aggressive position felt.
  • The Alex wheels are nice.  I appreciate the quieter hub than my old NoTubes Alpha wheels.  I’m looking forward to trying them tubeless.
  • The verdict is also still out on the bars.  They’re standard Kona OEM stuff, but I wasn’t easily able to find a super-comfortable position in the drops.
  • The new Shimano 105 shifters felt a little stiff, but had crisp shifting.

Looking forward to many more test miles…

An Ignominious End

Last year I had my Thanksgiving Cross-a-palooza that went really, really well.  I was really excited to come back to the Detroit area for the last race of my 2013 cyclocross campaign.  Some kind of circumstance forced the race from Lake Orion High School back to Bloomer Park (a place I’ve raced before), but I have to say I wasn’t excited about that change.  The course at Bloomer Park last time didn’t really match my strengths — lots of turns and not a lot of places to really pedal.  I was anxious to go back and nail that course.

Yeah.  Not so much.

The day started out poorly, since I had not packed for the weather.  When I looked on Thursday, they were predicting high 30’s; the thermometer read high 20’s.  I dragged out all the heavy stuff I had with me: my Twin Six thermal skinsuit and thermal jacket, the heavy Nike thermal base layer  and Giro Hightower merino socks.  On went the Rapha Winter Embrocation on the little bit of exposed knee.  I was still pretty chilly as I started warming up and went out to preview the course.  Especially with my heavy Pearl Izumi gloves on, I was already  getting worried.  The course was immensely twisty.  There were hardly any straight sections.  We were taken up onto the outside bank of the velodrome at the park, which was a terrible mess.  Rains the day before and snow that morning had made the ground soft and muddy.  Consequently, my slightly worn-down Kenda Slant Sixes were spinning under me and I had to jump off and run it every lap.  This transitioned immediately into a nasty, muddy, off-camber section terminating in a 180-degree turn back along that off-camber hill.  After that: turn after turn after turn.

I recall hearing some of the pros complaining that the Trek CXC Cup was so twisty and turny that there weren’t places to pass or use your motor to put some time into the competition.  That course was arrow-straight compared to this.

Eventually we were dumped onto some fairly wide singletrack with more heavy-duty 90+ degree turns.  They even sent us down a sledding hill and right back up it.  I could ride it during my preview, but as the tires packed up with mud during the race, I ended up running more.  That packed mud into my cleats and I struggled to get clipped back in over and over.

So, in a nutshell, the race went terribly.  As soon as I started, my chain was grinding and skipping.  I slid around in the mud and crept my way around the corners.  The mud splashed up onto my bike and froze there.  And I came in dead last.

It was incredibly frustrating.  When I finished, I was glad to be done and just about ready to throw my bike into the woods.  I was very happy to change, load the bike up and head to Famous Dave’s for lunch.

What is confusing to me is that I’ve gone out for runs twice in the days since that race and have pounded out some of my fastest miles.  I’m clearly in shape, I’m clearly fit. But I was a wreck on that course on Saturday.  My belief is that there can only be two points of failure here: me or my bike.  If I’m fit, then it must be the bike.  I’ve already blathered on at length on what kind of bike I might like and I’m definitely set on replacing my Tricross.

So it wasn’t the greatest end to my season.  It just puts me in a frame of mind to come out crushing it next year.

5 Reasons You Want to Be a Skratch Labs Ambassador

So, the great folks over at Skratch Labs posted their Individual Ambassador application again for 2014.  Having been an Ambassador during 2013, I’d like to think I have a little insight on the awesomeness required of Ambassadors.  To help some of you rise up to that level of awesomosity (it’s so far beyond simply “awesome” that we have to make up new words to describe it), here are the top 5 reasons you should submit your own application:

1. The People at Skratch Labs are even more awesome than their Ambassadors.
When I asked if they could supply the drink mix to a 400-cyclist event that was two months out, they said they couldn’t give it away, but they gave the organizers a great price because of my involvement.  They arranged it so we got signed copies of the new Feed Zone Portables book.  The Box of Wonderfulness that showed up on my doorstep when I first took up my ambassadorship was beyond generous.  When my wife wanted to surprise me with some Skratch kit for Father’s Day, they were all kinds of helpful.  The best part is that the Ambassadors are only a little more special than the average Skratch customer, because they treat their customers so well.

2. The Ambassadors are truly inspirational.
Seriously.  The amateurs who pre-rode every stage of the Tour of California.  Ironwomen who practically live on the podium.  Triathletes who represent the nation in world championships. Firefighters as real heroes.  Age-group World Champs in Xterra Trail Running.  Moms and Dads who are raising families and still living active and healthy lives.  Being counted among the Ambassadors, even for one year, is an honor I won’t forget.

3. Discounts on Skratch Labs products.
If you haven’t tried Skratch Labs stuff already what is wrong with you I mean really?  And if you have tried the stuff, you know that it’s absolutely worth the price you pay for it.  Hydration that doesn’t upset your stomach that tastes great and is made of ingredients you can actually pronounce?  Priceless.  (Actually, it’s $19.50 a pound, which isn’t priceless, but, umm… HEY LOOK OVER THERE!)

4. You will look incredible.
You will be able to rock the pixels on the bike, at the gym, on your run, driving your big rig, or anywhere else.  Clothes with the “S” logo and/or pixels are scientifically proven to make you more attractive and a better athlete.

5. Bacon.
‘Nuff said.

So what are you waiting for?  Fill out the application now! (It’s still here: http://bit.ly/TasteAgent)

 

Random Thoughts on Potential CX Bikes

While I have constantly made of point of espousing the many virtues of my Tricross, it’s getting long in the tooth and is definitely showing many signs of wear and tear.  I got it in 2008 and have ridden it tens of thousands of miles.  I’ve put on a half-dozen new cassettes and chains, replaced a front derailleur,  replaced the chainrings at least twice, rewrapped the bar tape a half-dozen times, warrantied a shifter, gone through three wheelsets and more tires than I can count.  In fairness, there are still a lot of original parts too: the bottom bracket, crank arms, rear shifter, rear derailleur and miscellaneous parts like the stem, bars and seatpost.

But given the riding that I do these days, having a good ‘cross bike is more important to me than any other kind of bike.  I only did 3 mountain bike races — and did that many ‘cross races in one weekend this fall.  I did almost that many roadie-type races — the Flèche du Nord and the Sturgeon 100.  I did a lot more 40-50 mile road rides too.  Clearly, my interest and passion is dirt and gravel and terrible roads on a drop-bar bike.

So I’ve been looking into bikes and have really narrowed it down to three.  I also have a thing for the Trek Crockett Disc, the Raleigh RX 2.0 and the Kona Rove, but the ones pictured below are the ones I’m looking at most seriously:

The Jamis Nova Pro:

14_novapro_bk

The Kona Jake the Snake:

jake_the_snake

And the Spot Rallye:

Spot_Bikes_RALLYE_600x400

So this post isn’t so much about, “Hey, look at me buying a new bike!”, but rather an opportunity for me to think “out loud” (as it were) about these three bikes and their relative merits.

The Jamis Nova Pro

The Nova Pro is Jamis’ top of the line aluminum ‘cross bike.  It comes with a bunch of SRAM shifty bits, Ritchey cockpit and seatpost, TRP HYRD hydraulic disc brakes and Alex tubeless wheels.  It’s a black bike with some bright blue highlights.  The frame is the “Kinesium” alloy that Jamis loves to use.  What’s to like?

  • I have gotten to a point where I much prefer the shape of the SRAM brake hoods on my Dark Horse to the old Shimano 105 hoods on the Tricross. As mentioned, the Nova Pro comes with SRAM drivetrain components.
  • The black and blue color scheme is pretty timeless.
  • The TRP brakes are my preferred option for ‘cross.
  • White hoods and saddle look great, even if they’ll get filthy during ‘cross season.
  • Tubeless wheels out of the box?  Yes, please.
  • Stupid Reason #1: My son has a Jamis too, which is fun.
  • Stupid Reason #2: Jamis is a very underrepresented brand in this neck of the woods and I like having something unique.
  • Stupid Reason #3: The wheels are even co-branded with Jamis, which seems cool even though it’s really just a sticker.

What’s not to like?

  • While I have really liked SRAM components, the guys at the shop vastly prefer Shimano for reliability.
  • Jamis is, to me, a big unknown in terms of the quality of frames.  It seems as though they manage to put the same (or better) components on their bikes and sell them cheaper.  How can they do that unless the frame isn’t as good?
  • Maybe there’s a reason very few people ride Jamis ‘cross bikes.  Maybe they’re not all that great.
  • The rear brake cable routing looks like it could be really goofy, swooping way under the BB shell, which is just asking for problems.

The Kona Jake the Snake

The JtS is also the top of Kona’s aluminum lineup.  It has the same frame as the cheaper Jake, but the nicer carbon fork of the Major Jake.  The spec is mostly Shimano 105 stuff, with an Ultegra rear derailleur.  Braking is handled by Hayes CX5 brakes and it’s finished off with a bunch of in-house components.  The wheels are Alex CXD7, which Kona calls tubeless for the Rove, but for some reason, not on the JtS.  Plusses:

  • The lime green color is one I’ve been hooked on for about a year now.
  • The Kona MTB I have at home has been very robust and a blast to ride, also being made of the same aluminum.
  • The Shimano drivetrain is exactly the same combination I had on my Tricross, which performed wonderfully for many years.  I’m familiar with the Shimano style of shifting (as opposed to SRAM DoubleTap shifting).  The guys at the shop like Shimano reliability and performance.
  • Internal cable routing for some of the cables is a great idea for ‘cross.
  • It’s a new frame design that is supposed to be stiff without beating you up and the reliable geometry of years of high-level Kona ‘cross racing.
  • Lots of local Cat A racers are on Konas these days, which suggests they’re decent bikes.
  • Stupid Reason #1: I have a really cool Kona bag.
  • Stupid Reason #2: Helen Wyman rides a Kona and she wins a lot.  She is also funny on Twitter.  I also learned a ton about ‘cross racing strategy from one video I watched her in.
  • Stupid Reason #3: I love being internally consistent.  Having a Kona MTB and a Kona CX bike makes me feel consistent.  Then I could get a Kona Wo when I eventually succumb to the fat bike thing.  And when I need a proper road bike, I get a Zone.

Concerns:

  • I like the lime green color now, but will I like it in another 4-5 years?
  • The Hayes CX brakes are an unknown to me.  I’ve had nothing but Avid and TRP brakes… well, ever.  I can’t say they’re good brakes or bad brakes  or anything.
  • Stupid WTB saddle.  (As an aside, the other day my son asked me what brand in cycling I liked the least.  This question required no thought: WTB.  I simply despise the idea of paying money for anything with the WTB logo on it.)
  • Rear brake cable routing looks pretty half-baked.  (To be fair, I can’t find a good picture of the routing Jamis uses.)
  • Internal cable routing can be a pain sometimes.
  • Are the CXD7 wheels tubeless or not?  If they are, are they worth it?  Would I want to immediately replace them? Does anybody in the world besides Kona use these wheels?
  • Stupid Reason #1: There’s a lot more Konas on the start line than I would like to see.

 

Spot Rallye

Even if you’ve heard of Jamis and Kona, you probably haven’t ever heard of Spot Brand bikes.  They’re a small company from Colorado that’s got a partnership with Gates, the company behind the Carbon Drive belt-based drivetrain.  The Rallye is the only ‘cross bike Spot makes and slots in nicely with the Jake and Nova as being an aluminum frame with an in-house carbon fork.  There’s a lot more forming of the tubes apparent on the Rallye and it comes in an amazingly bright yellow color.  It’s hard to talk about the parts on the basic Rallye because it comes as a frameset or a much more expensive complete bike — $1000 more than either of the other two.   What’s to love about the Rallye?

  • First and foremost: Gates Carbon Drive.  I have had such an incredible blast racing my Dark Horse with the belt drive.  Cyclocross is the perfect application of singlespeed, between the muck that you ride through and the fact that you simply run up the stuff that’s really steep.  The preconfigured Rallye comes set up with a belt drive.
  • The color.  Oh my, that’s a beautiful yellow.  As much as I’ve liked a lime green color for the last year, I’ve liked yellow for much longer.
  • I love the tube shapes, right down to the cutout on the seat tube.
  • If I bought the frameset, I could pick and choose the parts that I like — the TRP brakes, the SRAM levers and so on.
  • It can be setup geared if you want.
  • The internal cable routing, especially to the rear brake, is so elegant.

BUT…

  • My ‘cross bike is also my road/gravel/winter trainer bike.  I can’t ride a belt-drive singlespeed on the road and do my normal intervals.  There are hills around here I can climb easily on my geared bike that I have to walk up with the singlespeed.
  • The price.  I was able to outfit my Dark Horse pretty cheap because of a wheelset and other parts I had hanging around the house.  I don’t have a set of 700c disc wheels just hanging around or the $400 to get the Gates Carbon Drive parts.  Then there’s brakes and … and … and…
  • I can’t get the Spot from my local shop, which makes it comparatively even more expensive and violates a desire I have to buy local as much as possible.
  • I already have a singlespeed cross bike.  Do I really need another?

 

Conclusions?

I really need to stop loading up Spot’s website and ogling the Rallye, because it doesn’t make any kind of rational sense.  That being said, it’s the bike I lust after the most.  The Jamis and the Kona are both decent options that cost almost the same amount of money.  Looking at the lists, I have a lot more passion on both sides about the Kona.  But the purpose of this long post wasn’t to come to a conclusion.  Rather, it was about organizing my thoughts and putting them all down in one place.  I guess we’ll see what happens!

Cycling, Christianity and Fatherhood Meet.