Cannondale dropped a new line of aluminum-framed bikes for the gravel/adventure crowd today. While the bikes, named Topstone, look great as one would expect from the storied Connecticut firm, the biggest selling point of the new lineup is perhaps its budget-friendly price.
With three models to choose from starting at $1,000 with Shimano Sora to the top of the line, $2,000 iteration with Sram Apex 1 hydraulic disc brakes and a dropper post, expect these to fly off the shelves… Oh and they’re available now.
We’re big fans of FiftyOne. They make custom frames and have a reputation for creating bespoke carbon beauties in Dublin, Ireland. In the past, we’ve drooled over their Conor McGregor bike, complete with 24-carat gold leaf. And we’ve chatted with the company’s founder Aidan Duff. So when news of this limited-edition gravel grinder came from Eurobike, we had to share.
Their latest project takes its name from Alphonse Steinès, the Luxembourgish journalist who served as assistant director to Henri Desgrange, the founder of the Tour de France. Steinès’ was mad about mountains, and felt that to really test the riders, the Tour had to ditch its mainly flat parcours in favour of something a lot more hilly.
“Very good road”
After some early success in the foothills of the Alps, Desgrange allowed his deputy to get creative, and so in 1910 he set off to the French Pyrenees. While trying to cross the Tourmalet in heavy snow, his car ended up in a ditch and he only narrowly avoided a frosty death thanks to a late-night rescue party. Undeterred, he sent an enthusiastic, and somewhat dishonest, telegram from the hospital: “Crossed Tourmalet. Very good road. Perfectly feasible.” The rest is history.
The bike has that quote emblazoned on the top tube, with some poetry on the down tube for good measure. And unlike their thoroughbred race bikes, this steed is ready to get rough on even the grizzliest of back roads. It’s a disc-brake frame with clearance for 43mm tires.
The wider clearances on a lot of gravel bikes means that you can’t always fit a standard road crank, but the Steinès will take a 52-tooth chainring. 1x might be a great option for a lot of riders, but it’s nice to have the 2x versatility on offer because it makes this a capable road machine too.
It’s a collaboration with Enve, to celebrate the company’s hot new G23 wheelset. They also make the tubing. If all that isn’t desirable enough, only 10 will be made – to the owner’s spec, obviously. We’ve started saving.
It seems there’s a new gravel bike launch every week this year, but the Canyon Grail launched today made me do a double take to make sure it’s not some early April’s fools joke.
While the frame is unmistakably Canyon with numerous design cues found on other Canyons, it’s the integrated handlebar, named the Hover Bar that’s getting all the buzz. At first glance, the bar looks like a drop bar frankensteined to a double car spoiler. But according to Canyon, as radical and bold as it looks, the Hover Bar provides for better comfort and control.
The addition of a lower bar which connects to the stem reminds me a whole lot of the engine bay strut bar in my car. Canyon engineers were able to selectively stiffen up the front end near the 7.5° flared ergonomic D-shaped drops while tuning the top bar (where your hands will go) for comfort as it goes uninterrupted from end to end with a bit of a wing shape in the middle. Despite its magically floating in midair look, the top bar is situated at about the same spot where an ordinary handlebar would be located. The lower bar will most likely open up more hand positions too.
But enough about the Hover Bar. The rest of the carbon frame is totally new too. Compared to their road counterparts, the Grail employs a longer wheelbase to go along with a 72.5° headtube plus room to run up to 42c tires. With the medium SLX frame tipping the scale at a claimed 830 grams and 1,040 grams for the lower-priced SL, it’s no slouch either.
Seven complete models in seven sizes, including two women’s specific models will be offered ranging from $2,299 to $4,899. The flagship Grail CF SLX will also available as a frameset for $2,499. The higher-end models will come with Canyon’s own proven VCLS 2.0 split carbon seatpost that uses a leaf spring design to soak up vibrations and bumps.
Interestingly enough, Canyon has decided to spec all models with 2x drivetrains to avoid large gear jumps and is partnering with fellow German firm Topeak to make custom bags for those who like to go bike camping. We can’t wait to try one out.
“It’s very much like a mountain biker’s road bike.” – David Studner, Trek product manager
After getting into gravel last fall with a half-baked Domane Gravel that’s more of a re-spec’d road bike with wider tubeless tires, Trek is finally going all in (a redemption perhaps?) with a new dedicated gravel line dubbed the Checkpoint. It’s a doozy one that incorporates some of the Wisconsin-based giant’s technical know how. It’s got fun and practical written all over it for the vast majority of us that don’t race, don’t want to race, and would like to have just one bike for everything because the whole N+1 rule is seriously getting out of control.
The new disc-only frame in either carbon or aluminum features a geometry with lower bottom bracket and higher stack than the cyclocross-specific Boone, 12×142 thru-axle rear, an adjustable Stranglehold dropout to allow 15mm of adjustment to further dial in the ride. The carbon framed model also comes with a non-adjustable IsoSpeed decoupler to absorb the bumps and rough edges.
There are also three women-specific models, hydraulic disc brakes for the entire line up, plenty of mounting points to haul gear, AND clearance for 45c tires. See that black piece of plastic on the downtube in the photo above? It’s integrated armor to protect your precious frame. It’s a SUV that doesn’t suck.
If that’s not enough to convince you, then the competitive price starting at $1,789 for the entry level aluminum Checkpoint ALR 4 and the flagship carbon Checkpoint SL6 at $3,799 might just win you over.
The Checkpoint is also available as a frame only with the aluminum Checkpoint ALR at $959 and carbon Checkpoint SL at $1,999.
You heard the fun. You’ve seen the gnar, the fun, the party.
The hype is real and Grinduro, a combination of gravel road race and mountain bike enduro, is coming back for 2018!
Two venues will be available: July 14 at the Isle of Arran in Scotland and on September 29 at Grinduro’s birthplace Quincy, California.
Both venues will follow similar formats featuring live music, a handmade bicycle and art show, camping, plus of course, a mixed terrain course with a bit of pavement, gravel, and dirt combined in one giant loop featuring four timed segments (five to seven minutes each) for the race.
It’s much more than a race, though. It’s the Super Bowl of bike parties or perhaps even the bike-specific version of Burningman.
Registration will open at www.grinduro.com at 9am PST on January 2, 2018 for Grinduro Scotland and at 8pm PST on April 22, 2018 for Grinduro Quincy. Be warned, Grinduro Scotland sold out in 12 hours last year so mark your calendars!
I met Chris Zigmont a few years ago when he was running, the now defunct, Bicycle PressCamp (R.I.P.). I think it can be said that Zigmont is a bicycle geeks bicycle geek, so when I saw he was racing Grinduro I was curious to see what sort of rig he had brought to conquer the mountain. And I was not disappointed, but I’ll let him tell you all about it. If you don’t know Chris, you are in for a treat. Enjoy.
Can you tell me where you grew up: I’m a Connecticut Yankee. Born in Newtown CT, actually went to Sandy Hook Elementary (yes, that Sandy Hook) with my Brother and cousin Gerald. My Aunt taught there too. We moved to Avon in the Hartford area when I was a boy and finished growing up there.
Tell me your first recollection of riding a bicycle: My earliest memory was riding my older brother’s black Savoy at our house on Lyrical Lane in Newtown. Riding my brother’s bikes would become a theme and the spark for my cycling life.
How did you end up in the bicycle business: Strange path. We were always making Franken-bikes, rebuilding, swapping stuff. We were, we thought, getting pretty competent on bike repair. We weren’t well off, so shade-tree wrenching was a requirement After borrowing and wrecking my brother’s 1973 Fleetwing (with Campagnolo Valentino!), I needed to fix it. But it was this bike that drove my passion for riding. A few years later, I opened a neighborhood repair shop in a friend’s basement. Eventually, I rented a small business space down the road. I was 18. I failed and closed, but I learned a lot. From there I went to work at the region’s largest retailer, and I began managing one of his stores by 20. My leap to the manufacturer’s side came in 1985 when, chasing a girlfriend to California, I called Specialized Bicycle Components nearly every day for more than a month until they gave me a job in sales! The Stumpjumper was a new thing, Shimano Index shifting hadn’t launched yet. It was early days in MTB and a lot of fun.
Where are you living now and what does your current job entail: I am now in Chicago with my family, and I serve as the Global Road Brand Director for SRAM. In that role I manage the global marketing communication strategy for our road brand’s SRAM, Zipp, and Quarq. So that means everything from overseeing sports marketing, advertising, PR, social media and content, product launches, etc.
Do you believe there is such a thing as a one-quiver bicycle: There are amazing things happening right now with drop bar bikes. I’ve got three unique bikes in my garage that I feel I could successfully contest either a road race, a gravel race, or a CX race on; a 3T Exploro “aero Gravel” bike, a Canyon Ultimate road bike, and a Santa Cruz CX bike. They each offer a unique ride and approach to each of those ride/race opportunities and a little bit of compromise as well. Yet, paradoxically, bikes are also becoming more to the discipline. But I do believe rider’s can put one rig in the garage that would deliver smiles on a very broad spectrum of terrain and ride types.
I know you race cyclocross, what do you think of the new gravel bike racing trend: Love it. I’ve been doing more and more gravel and less and less road. But I do hope it stays focused on the rider’s experience. I believe its something to “do” not something to “see.” I’m generally not looking to sponsor gravel racers. But I do want to work with event promoters who are really focussed on the day’s experience.
Can you tell us about your Grinduro build and what you think you might do differently, if anything: Ha! You bet. The first thing I would do differently is ride it before arriving! But, seriously, not much different. We built out a 3T Exploro in a 650b configuration with Zipp’s new 303 tubeless ready 650b wheels. I ran SRAM Force 1, with a 42t ring and a 10-42 cassette in the back. Zipp SL Speed stem and their new carbon SL-70 Ergo bar. It was quite perfect and good enough for 8th place in the old man’s category. I ran WTB Byway tubeless tires, 650×47. Not much tread, so I was nervous. But it was actually quite good. I only ran about 27-28 psi, so the float and grip was ideal.
If you had to guess, what trends do you think we will see in the future: From where I sit, we see lots of interesting advances in cycling. Other than l’Eroica, I don’t know if we will be seeing rim brakes for too much longer. We are seeing broad acceptance of disc brakes from Triathlon to the Tour de France. So look for more discs on more types of bikes at more price levels. Certainly the trend in “any road” bikes will continue its blossom. I think the root of this is the desire to get off the paved road with cars.
Is gravel going to kill the road bike and mountain bike industry: Good question. We will see. I don’t think so though. Road is going though its own maturity as is MTB. Its changing and refining. Road participation at gran fondos is better than ever. Grassroots MTB, NICA and Regional Enduro are strong. I just see continued diversity. Ebikes will drive much of that as well. E-road bikes are coming in a big way and we’ll see couples and friends riding together that could before for example.
You’ve had a chance to ride in some pretty amazing places, can you recommend a couple for us: I’ve been very lucky to ride in some cool places, usually shoehorned in around work. The Lost Sierra from Griduro should be explored by all. But additionally, I feel I keep finding “amazing” hidden among the pedestrian. Places that folks take for granted or don’t recognize the beauty in front of them. Some of the one that come quickly to mind are the Franconia region of Germany, near Würzburg. Endless ribbons of pavement and forested gravel, vineyards and farms. Really amazing. Another fun one is on big island of Hawaii, riding down to Captain Cook/ Kealakekua Bay, where said Captain made his final miscalculation of the locals. The ride is stunning, with a wicked descent on the south side, and if you plan right with a pair of trunks and swim goggles, you can swim among the most beautiful fish and some dolphins. Finally, for me, I guess I’m missing New Hampshire and the pastoral rides I’ve had there working your way Northwest from the Seacoast, there are so many hidden gravel and asphalt gems. There are many great places yet to ride but those three are top of mind.
Tell us one thing most people probably don’t know about you: Hmmm, Id say most people don’t know that I am a cancer survivor. I’ve twice battled Lymphoma. So far I am winning. Cancer changed my life. I absolutely work to drink in life every single day. I work to live it as much as, and as hard as, I can. I’m only now working to learn on the savoring. Making the moments more valuable and felt.
Top: The morning’s opening climb at Griduro. Photo/Colin Meagher Middle: Sitting 3rd wheel in the high-powered Ted King Train on Stage 3. Photo/Colin Meagher. Bottom: Chris Zigmont at Bicycle PressCamp. Photo: Billy Michels.
If you could only have one bike, be sure to take a hard look at the new Ibis Hakka MX.
For the past few years, the spotlight on Ibis has largely been focused on iterations of the Mojo and the Ripley mountain bikes. And that’s for a good reason as they’re incredibly fun to ride plus they have some of the best customer service one can count on.
Scroll through all the mountain bike offerings on Ibis’ website and you’ll find the Hakkalügi sitting near the bottom of the site. First launched in 2009 with cantilever brakes, then in 2012 with updated geometry and ditching the cantilevers in favor of disc brakes. The Hakkalügi arguably didn’t get as much buzz as its mountain bike brethren but it has garnered a solid reputation as a competitive cross steed that also excels just about everywhere you’d like to take it to.
As good as it is, though, the Hakkalügi is getting a bit long in the tooth in the presence of the ever-growing market of gravel, aka the latest buzz type riding where all the cool kids are taking over and wanting to find a bike that can do it all.
So Ibis set out for a redesign. And the Hakka MX is it.
The Hakka MX has a carbon monocoque frame that is said to be some 150 grams lighter than the already respectable Hakkalügi. All cable routings are internal, be it Di2 or mechanical.
Further, the Hakka is compatible with both 700c and 27.5 wheels with plenty of clearance to spare (up to 40c in 700c and 2.1″ in 27.5), a 142 rear thru-axle spacing to stiffen up the rear end, and an ENVE disc cross fork up front to handle the steering.
There are even fender mounts too if you decide to throw some fenders on. From the race course to daily gravel riding, commuting, and the occasional bike packing trip, Ibis really means it when they say they design the Hakka does it all.
In addition, the Hakka features a T47 bottom bracket, a 1.5″ taper head tube, compatibility with dropper post, and the ability to decide whether to run a 2X or a 1x drivetrain without being forced to ride a particular set up. The choice is yours.
“You can seriously haul ass in the dirt: think road bike speeds on singletrack. So. Much. Fun.” Says Ibis engineer Andy Jacques-Maynes.
The Hakka MX will be available in five sizes in either fireball or coal finish on the last week of November. The Hakka MX is $1,999 as frame+fork while complete bikes will start at $3,299 with SRAM RIVAL 1 and $6,499 with Shimano Ultegra Di2. Since the bike is compatible with both 700c and 27.5 wheels, a selection of wheels will also be offered as upgrades. It’s nice to have choices and the holidays just can’t come any sooner.
I keep mulling over the perfect Grinduro bike build. There are so many options, and that’s awesome, but choice can be a burden, too. For help, I thought I’d reach out to some experts to see what their thought are about bikes, gravel, riding and where they see the genre going.
To my mind, for a discussion about all of this, there was no better person to start with then with super bicycle-nerd and all-around-nice-guy Stephen Fitzgerald of Rodeo Labs. Anyone who knows him will not be surprised to hear that he had some really interesting things to say. Normally I would edit quite liberally for content, but I’ve pretty much left his responses intact because he has given me a lot of food for thought, not only about what kind of bicycle I want to build, but who I want to be as a person and as a person who rides a bicycle.
What’s the future of gravel?
Gravel and adventure riding is maturing pretty quickly. And that maturation is driven in a large part by the prospect of large brands finding new ways to sell bikes. We’re all going to get hammered by cliché, dumb products, and tired storylines as the voices shout over each other for attention.
This could be bad for the sport, but in spite of that I’m not really worried. Adventure riding is really based around riding your bike in new places. Seeing new things. Testing yourself in new ways. As soon as we all put our phones down, close our web browsers and get on our bikes for ourselves we can experience the appeal of it all first hand. That’ll always be fresh.
Tell us about your first memory of riding a bike.
Does a bigwheel count? If so it would be doing burnouts in a cul-de-sac in Cincinnati, Ohio when I was very very young. If bigwheels don’t count it would be riding bikes with my brothers in Vancouver, WA. We had a big hill at the end of our street and we built a jump at the bottom of it. We had to push our bikes up the hill, then we’d flip around and nail the jump full send. Injuries resulted.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up mostly in a small city outside Portland, Oregon called Vancouver, Washington. Vancouver was a sleepy little town but that sleepiness meant that we could pretty much go as far as our legs could take us on bikes and we rode EVERYWHERE from grade school through high school.
Our parents trusted us, curfews were minimal, and bikes were freedom to go and do as we pleased. I had a paper route, which I did by bike. I made $125 per month on the route and spent 100% of it on my mountain bike. I’m sure I was the only kid doing a paper route on a mid ’90s dual suspension downhill race mountain bike.
How did you end up in the bike business?
I arrived in the bike business completely by accident. The bike ambushed me. In 2014 I started Rodeo as a bit of an un-structured anti-team. We were just some friends from Denver who were sick of the rules that governed roadie culture so we made matching kits and threw up a WordPress website to shout our exploits to the world.
The team took off a like a rocket and took over my life. I realized that Rodeo was as much a creative outlet as it was anything else. Any ideas that we had we could try. One of the first ideas was the Traildonkey, one which caused the team to become a business and has since become my full time job nearly four years later.
You seemed to have a been an early innovator for the idea of an all-around bike or a gravel bike. What was the initial response to this idea and how have you seen that evolve?
If we were an early innovator in the gravel bike space it was completely by accident. We certainly don’t claim to have invented the genre but we did start working on our bike before we knew that gravel was going to be a thing. We pursued this style of riding because in Denver’s Front Range you have some great road rides and some great dirt rides and we saw an opportunity to blend the two and to create fresh riding loops.
I’m a product of 1990s MTB culture and I fundamentally believe in attacking a trail with technical skill more than technology. In Denver in 2012-2013 we just happened to be challenging ourselves to ride bigger and bigger trails on our cyclocross bikes and we eventually found the limits to the current offerings at the time. Canti brakes just couldn’t handle Colorado trail descents. 11-28 gearing couldn’t really get you up the trail. 32mm CX tires weren’t very forgiving in rock gardens. Etcetera. Etcetera. This is why I started working on Traildonkey 1.0.
I wanted a bike that blended MTB, CX, and road genres. When I made one for myself my friends saw it and wanted one too. Then the internet saw it and after 9 months of inquiries I decided to pause my career and start from scratch with Traildonkey 2.0. The timing of it all was serendipitous.
There were plenty of other people all over the world re-discovering the freedom that can be found by ignoring traditional bike categories so interest in our Traildonkey project was high. I say re-discovering because modern day gravel and adventure riding is not dissimilar from 80s and 90s era mountain biking and “hybrid” bikes. It’s just all come back into vogue and the industry is now hyping it as the next big thing.
Is there such a thing as a one-quiver bike?
Broadly speaking, one-quiver bike is a bit of a sensationalist idea to me. Sure, you can road ride, tour, cross ride, gravel ride, and even trail ride on a modern day adventure bike, but for a large part of the cycling population that isn’t the best way to have fun.
Are you really into touring? You should get a touring bike with durability, comfort, and stability engineered into the frame.
Are you really into mountain biking? You should get a front or full suspension rig with a bunch of gears and big tires and go enjoy the mountains at maximum comfort, maximum speed, and maximum air time. Road riding or racing? You should get a bike tuned for road handling, light weight, light weight, aero considerations. CX racing? You should get a light bike with good mud clearance and cantilever brakes! (for crying out loud!)
BUT… if you are like me and you don’t care about going fastest off road, being aero on the road, you tour a week or two out of the year, and you only do a half dozen CX races per year… then yes you can do it all on one bike and you can have a lot of fun doing it. The important distinction here is that while I claim N-1 is true for myself, I do not suggest that N-1 is best for everyone.
Can you give me the spec sheet for your dream Rodeo?
Traildonkey 2.0 frameset
Easton EC70 AX bars and EC90 stem
Easton EC90 Cinch crankset for quick 1x chainring swaps. 40t. (and Cinch power meter because I’m a nerd)
TRP Hylex RS hydro levers and calipers (which have the best ergonomics and brake feel across all brands)
Shimano Di2 / TRP climbers switch shifting mod on left and right levers so I can shift up or down with either hand and take photos with the other
Shimano XTR Di2 rear derailleur
eThirteen 9-44 rear cassette
Brooks C13 cutout saddle
Cane Creek 110 integrated headset
KS LEV dropper post for getting all the way rad on the trails and also for straddling the bike flat footed at stop lights. Both uses are important
Rodeo 2.0 carbon wheels. 700c x 24 spoke set for road and light gravel use. 650b x 28h spoke set for bigger off road days
Current favorite tire changes hourly!
Crank Bros Candy Ti pedals. I have a love hate with Crank Bros but I love 4 sided entry even more.
Supacaz bar tape.
What is your definition of the perfect bike?
The definition of a dream bike is that it is the best bike that you can get. There isn’t any harm in dreaming for the best. But I will say that you can build a $3,500 Traildonkey and you can build a $9,000 Traildonkey and both bikes can pretty much do the exact same stuff at the end of the day. The amount of performance gained for the extra $5,500 is not nearly more than double what you get for $3,500. More so, if you really want to save some money and just go have fun on a bike I’ll bet you can find a really capable adventure bike down in the $1000-$2000 range.
What differentiates what you are trying to do, from what everyone else is trying to do?
Rodeo’s differentiation is our story. Our products are a genuine and validated as a result of the rides that we do and the places that we go. We share our story openly, both the successes and the failures. Even though we have a pretty small audience in the world of bikes, the people who are aware of us and do follow our story know that our brand is driven by an authentic quest for adventure.
Pound for pound, we do bigger and more adventurous riding than pretty much any other brand out there. I know that is a bold claim, but I think our Journal backs that up. We are relentless with sharing the fun and the beauty of the places we go by bike.
Our stories aren’t “content”, they are personal experiences from people like me who are out of their mind excited to be allowed to see what we see and go where we go. The bikes aren’t created by product planners, they are honed and iterated based on first hand experience and feedback from our community at large. And our brand is also based first on a team and a culture of inclusion. We welcome all riders on all brands of bikes to ride with us and be a part of what we are doing. We are not trying to overwhelm the other teams and brands in the industry, we’re simply trying to achieve sustainability and be a part of the family. If we could take our pick we’d prefer to be the red-headed stepchild.
Where do you see this whole idea of adventure riding going and is it going to kill the mountain bike or road bike market? And with so many “pros” coming over to the Gravel Grinders, is the adventure being replaced with competitive testosterone?
This is a multi layered question. It needs a few answers. I don’t have a crystal ball but here’s my guess: Adventure riding is going to keep evolving and keep maturing but I think it will have a couple of narratives. One narrative will be marketing driven. Product planners will seek to differentiate their bikes in an increasingly crowded playing field. Brands will attempt to validate their feature distinctions through sponsored content and sponsored riders.
“You need this shock, you need this drivetrain, you need these brakes, you need this geometry, you need these features. Etc Etc. Why do you need this? Because we invented it, and then we put our pro rider on it, and then they won a big race on it. You want to win big races, you want to beat your friends, you want to cause envy in your local posse. Buy our stuff.”
Marketing driven adventure riding will go where the money takes it. To the victor go the spoils. There will eventually be an adventure bike backlash. People will get tired of hearing this message. Perhaps a lot of people will move on to whatever the next big marketing thing is.
There will be other narratives though. Other narratives will be driven by the quest to see what is possible on an adventure bike, or where the bikes can take us. Those stories won’t be driven as much by gear but by the terrain, the images, and the adversity overcome. That sort of adventure riding will show a whole spectrum of creativity. It’ll be genuine. That sort of adventure riding won’t get old. We’ll all be inspired by it no matter what bike people ride. That sort of adventure riding will birth new features to overcome new challenges.
For our part Rodeo at its kernel is going to be driven by bigger and more absurd rides. We’ve all gone to the marquee gravel events and I’m sure some of us will go back but gravel is only one subset of adventure riding. We will look for new places to go, new peaks to bag, and new stories to tell.
Adventure biking won’t kill road bikes or mountain bikes. I won’t be surprised if road biking continues to contract in the USA but that is probably as much due to crowded roads and angry drivers as it is anything else. If I tell my MTB friends that my adventure bike is going to kill mountain biking they’ll laugh me in the face. If you look at the level of progression going in in mountain biking these days you know that they’ve not nearly mined the vein. As long as MTB stays inspiring and amazing it will be immune from encroachment by any other genre of bike or any other sport.
Are pros going to change the gravel or adventure riding landscape?
Yes, but that isn’t all bad. Gravel racing will get faster and faster and average joes will get further from the podium. If you need a case study look at Leadville. The pros blow the amateurs out of the water. But does that keep people away? No. Leadville keeps selling out, everyone wants to take a swing at it. The big gravel races will be like that and the small gravel races will continue to be pretty friendly and grass roots. On the adventure riding side of the spectrum I think pros will start doing more and more next level rides and we will all be inspired and entertained by their exploits.
The greatest of all bicycle debates rages on in the Gold Country of California.
If you love an endless back-and-forth over tire size, gear ratios or everything tire-pressure, then next year you have to make the pilgrimage to the western edge of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, and to the event known as Grinduro.
For it’s there where the most faithful followers of all things gravel, mountain, adventure, and dirt come to debate the pros and cons of everything from tubeless tires to shaved legs and beard care products. This is deep in the weeds nerdiness. Peak bike-geek. And I love it, for these are my people.
Perhaps part of the reason that everyone here is so enthusiastic is because this is not an easy event to get to. First of all, there’s the fact that it sells out quicker than local legend Carl Decker descends single-track (and that is truly fast). Secondly, you have to make the trek to Plumas County to the town of Quincy, which is at least five hours from everywhere. And finally, you have to come prepared to be prepared. There are some facilities – a few food trucks and some delicious Verve Coffee, but all things bicycle, sleep and living comforts are pretty much left up to you.
So it was with much glee, and a tiny bit of apprehension, that we loaded every piece of camping gear, bike stuff and personal hygiene paraphernalia into the team car and headed north-ish/east-ish into the Sierra Nevadas, on a steep learning curve towards an unforgettable experience.
We played it pretty mellow Friday night, rolling into town, unpacking the sled, swapping out some pedals, airing up some tires and setting up our abodes for the weekend ahead.
For my own comfort, I’d gotten hold of a Mountain Hardwear Shifter 4 tent. And, like a true outdoorsman, I declined to read the instructions or erect it during daylight hours. With the darkness fast approaching, I grew a little concerned … until I realise that the Shifter 4 only uses two poles and clips, practically building itself. Yet again, I was saved from my own stupidity by someone else’s hard work and ingenuity, and my buddy didn’t have to freeze to death on account of me. Although it might have been better to have four in the tent for the crisp nights ahead, we found the tent to be smartly designed and the vestibule to be plenty vast for what one could only call over-packed packing.
On that point, I have to give a big, warm round of applause to the Osprey Transporter. This thing is amazing, part duffel bag, part backpack, it’s designed so well that it kept me at least partially organized throughout the whole affair.
Chilly doesn’t really begin to describe how cold it was the two nights we spent sleeping in our frost-covered tent. And to make it worse, I unselfishly loaned my North Face Blue Kazoo sleeping bag to my tent-mate – having thought that it was so lovely during the day it was going to be a balmy fall evening. So giving the extra long bag to my tall, fast friend seemed like a no brainer. If only his effusive thanks for getting him toasty were enough to warm my bitterly cold toes.
After the first questionable night’s sleep, we rose at the ass-crack of dawn to join almost 900 other riders at the start line. Staring down the barrel of a course covering a little under 8000 feet of vertical in just over 60 miles, this is the point that normally leaves me like a nervous wreck, the jockeying-for-position and the testosterone-fueled, sick-to-your-stomach electricity.
But as the countdown began, it was obvious that Grinduro is a little different. What would normally be a living hell for me was actually a surprisingly relaxed and enjoyable moment. This is because the format is completely different from any other bicycle event on the planet. Instead of timing you from the gun, the Grinduro geniuses have set up four timed sections, leaving the rest of the course to be ridden at whatever pace you desire. They claim this stops the event from being a sufferfest, but I can attest for just about everyone on the course, suffering ensues even if you are not interested in “winning.”
The first timed section is an uphill dirt climb, followed by a downhill fire-road ripper, a paved time trial and finally a glorious stretch of ripping fast single track. And that’s where all the discussion, debate and nail biting about bicycle selection, tire pressure and gear inches come into play.
The perfect bike for this event is what, exactly? A road bike would have come in handy for the pavement. I could only dream how fun the single track section would have been on a dialed, big hit dual suspension mountain bike. And with all the dirt climbing in-between, you realize pretty quickly how horrible both of these ideas are for a day in the woods.
So what bike did the Grinduro masses choose for this adventure? They apparently didn’t call each other, because I don’t believe I saw two bikes with the exact same setup. There were cyclocross bikes and single speeds and hardtail mountain bikes and all manner of custom made goodness. I spotted Rock Lobsters and Sycips and Breadwinners and Calfees and a VYNL. Tire choice was almost as varied as the whip selection, with gum walls and fatties and slicks and semi-slicks were spread out across the mountain.
Which brings us to our next lesson. Never, and I repeat never, borrow a bicycle from a “friend” the night before attempting to “ride” an event like Grinduro. Or any event for that matter. As it turns out, that said friend is both fitter and less mechanically inclined than I (which is astonishing, btw).
I realized about 10 minutes into the first climb I was geared for a ride across Kansas and not the hills of California. As if this were not enough, I came to learn part way up the (epic) second climb of the day not only was my front disc rubbing like a teenage boy at the Homecoming Dance, but my drive-side crank arm was trying to exit stage right.
The thing is, if I ever do the Grinder again, I would be happy to do it on the exact same bike. The Cannondale Slate is part road bike, part hardtail mountain bike and part gravel gobbler. Only next time I would probably make sure it is looked over by a “proper” mechanic before throwing a leg over it myself.
The only thing which kept me moving forward was the realization everyone else was suffering on the hike, yes hike, up the second climb and no one, and I mean no one was complaining. As a matter of fact everyone I met was shockingly pleasant. Even on the timed sections everyone was cordial, communicative and encouraging. As it was pointed out to me by one of my riding companions, this is what it was like in the early days of mountain biking. Everyone enjoying themselves, encouraging those around them and generally making a grueling experience as pleasant as possible. It turns out racing bicycles is fun.
After rolling back into town we showered, drank Untapped maple cocktails, ate tri-tip chili, watched the awards ceremony, hung out with some locals looking for free booze and crashed hard in our tent where we still froze, but cared a little less. In the morning, we crammed all our crap into the back of the car and bolted for home, in the hopes we would soon forget the pain in our knees, backs and quads and remember, with fondness, our time grinding out the duro.
More of that slick finish on the all-carbon disc fork.
Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
Toptube logo. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
The SuperX utilizes Shimano's flatmount for both front and rear disc brakes. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
Schwalbe's excellent X-One knobbies were fast and predictable. I just wish they were tubeless ready. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
The Shimano 105/RS505 levers worked brilliantly but the slight bulge inside the hood was a bit awkward. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
Grippy Cannondale gel bar tape. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
Fabric's excellent Scoop Shallow Elite was comfortable and easy to clean. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
Just can't get enough of that paint job. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
Instead of the heavy stock wheels, we spent half of our test period using a pair Stan's ZTR Avion Team and the difference was night and day. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
You’re probably asking why I’m reviewing a ‘cross bike now that cross season is all but over.
But hear me out for a few minutes here.
After InterBike (I know, so long ago), I was told that a SuperX was on its way directly from the show floor and I was stoked! I’ve been hearing a lot of great positive things about the SuperX and simply couldn’t wait to give it a run. But before I got the package, I got called out to cover the Loma Fire in the Santa Cruz Mountains. So the wife had fun lugging the giant box into the garage. Thank goodness the bike was light.
When I got back from the fire, the box was sitting there taking up all the space in the garage, but wait, there’s a crack in the box. Let’s see which SuperX we have here:
It was the SuperX 105 with arguably the best paint job in the entire line up. I mean, just look at the fork.
But I am not here to review paint jobs and how much it weighs. I want to ride it and maybe abuse it a little to see how much it can or can’t do.
Fast forward to February 2017, the bike is now on its way back to Cannondale and I am sad to say that I am smitten with the SuperX.
Compared to a lot of cross offerings on the market, the SuperX has a rather different geometry than most in such that the headtube notably has more slack (71 degrees) with the fork using a bit more offset. This results in the bike handling nicely on low speed technical stuff yet staying rock steady as speeds head north. I took the SuperX to the Super Moon ride (in the dark) and the more time I spent riding it, the more I realized how much confidence-inspiring the SuperX is even when I was essentially riding blindly with merely the moonlight. Its carbon fiber frame will take all your lines and soak up all your mistakes comfortably.
On the race course, the SuperX takes loose off-camber turns like a champ and the 42.2 cm short chain stay feels agile with plenty of traction at the wheel. The thru-axles (10×100 front, 12×142 rear) also make a difference on long twisty descents when I use it as a gravel bike. Speaking of riding gravel, while the SuperX is a pure-breed cyclocross race bike at heart, it will do gravel very nicely.
Now, I know Cannondale offers a bona fide gravel bike, the Slate, but I don’t care. The SuperX is arguably lighter (our test bike was weighed at a respectable 19.5lbs) and better as a gravel bike than using the Slate as a cross bike, plus I can still use my old wheels as long as 1: they’re disc and thru-axle compatible, and 2: able to re-dish the rear wheel 6mm toward the non-drive side to play nicely with the SuperX’s asymmetrical chain stay (they call it Asymmetric Integration (Ai)).
The stock Maddux 2.0 wheels, though, were a bit of a disappointment. They are tubeless ready alright, but they felt sluggish as if the bike got bogged down by a pair of boat anchors. For comparison sake, I swapped the stock hoops with a pair of Stans’ ZTR Avion Pro (of course I re-dished the rear), a $2,300 upgrade that costs as much as the SuperX 105 itself but the difference was night and day as if the red bull got its wings.
So my suspicion was confirmed: With a good set of race wheels, the SuperX will fly.
And Cannondale, the Schwalbe X-One tires had just about everything I had hoped for in an all-around cross rubber: Plenty of traction and rolls fast, but why not throw in the tubeless version instead? And while I am going to nitpick here, I am just going to say that I am not a fan of the shape of the 105/RS505 hydraulic STI shift brake lever. Functionally, it worked beautifully but the bulbous bulge located inside the lever just never felt right.
So if you’re still wondering why I am writing about a cross bike in February, it’s because…
She stole my heart and I’m ready for cross season to be all season long.