Archive for March, 2013

Vassago Bandersnatch – long term review

Posted in gear review, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 25, 2013 by 41flyersracing - o'kelley

Back in August I wrote a “first impressions” review of the Bandersnatch frame that I bought to replace my Stumpjumper HT 29er.  I now have around 6 months of ride time on it (though not as many miles as I typically would ride during that span) and can offer some more insight on how this frame compares to my previous frame, and how it rides in general.

First things first, this is a steel frame.  Therefore, it rides somewhat differently than most hardtail 29ers on the market since the vast majority of the mass-produced frames are aluminum (though steel is making a strong comeback with a lot of boutique frame builders).  The manufacturer estimates the frame weight at around 5.4 pounds, which is around 1.7 to 1.8 pounds more than my Stumpjumper.  This is a fairly significant difference on the scale, but proved to be not quite as noticeable when riding as I anticipated.  While I haven’t yet weighed it, I estimate my Bandersnatch to weigh around 25.5 pounds as a singlespeed with my Rock Shox Reba SL fork.  I have since switched to a used Bontrager Switchblade rigid fork and probably have the weight somewhere near 24 pounds.  Not bad for an XL steel frame with what I would consider a somewhat budget-friendly build kit (Stan’s Arch wheels, XT cranks with bash guard, DMR chain tensioner, and inexpensive Syncros cockpit).

In terms of ride quality, I really didn’t keep the Reba fork on long enough to get a true comparison of how it would feel on rocky or excessively bumpy terrain.  Having the rigid fork on it of course forces me to absorb most of the larger bumps with my arms, but the smaller bumps for the most part get washed away by the frame.  The steel has a relatively supple feel to it and therefore is compliant enough to soak up the smaller hits.

Climbing on this frame is not quite as snappy as climbing on an aluminum or carbon hardtail frame, but that is to be expected.  However, since it is still a hardtail it does a good job of transferring pedal energy to the wheels….just not quite as precise and instant as it was on my Stumpjumper.  But definitely not enough to complain about.

The geometry is where I noticed most of the difference between the Bandersnatch and my similarly-sized Stumpjumper.  Vassago’s “wet cat” geometry feels a little slacker and more comfortable (i.e. slightly less “racy”) and has a little bit longer chainstay.  When I transferred components from my Stumpjumper to the Bandersnatch, I had to add 1.5 chain links (I bought a half-link online, which was hard to find locally) to get a similar tension on the chain.  But once set up, the drivetrain performs rather well, especially when paired with the DMR Tension Seeker.  When I swapped out the front fork to the Bontrager Switchblade it dropped the front end more than an inch, which I was worried would adversely affect the geometry and head angle.  But instead what I got was more of a racy/aggressive geometry that still feels rather comfy.

Overall, I really like this bike.  Even with the added weight I have been able to climb arguably as well as I did on my previous bikes.  I’ve been running this frame as a singlespeed, though I will likely eventually set it up as a 1×9 or 3×9 using my old components from the Stumpjumper.  I ran 32×18 gearing for a few weeks, but the vast majority of the time it has been set up with 32×16 gearing.  This has worked well for my nearby riding spots, which generally include a mix of pavement, jeep roads, and singletrack, and it has also served me well on the trails at Oak Mtn State Park.  I have even set some personal best times on Cat 3 and Cat 4 climbs, in addition to personal bests on several trails.  I think the supple steel frame is at its best when descending somewhat-smooth terrain (I have hit 50+ mph several times on pavement descents that I normally would take at 45 mph) and when on flowy singletrack where it can flex and spring with the small dips and rises in terrain while at top speed.  This is not a short track sprint bike, nor is it a rugged all-mountain trail bike, but for the most part it works well for how I typically ride.  I can honestly say that I would recommend this frame for someone wanting to switch to steel while not breaking the bank (I got my frame for $250 on closeout, though those deals are hard to find).

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EBSCO trails ride report – March 9th 2013

Posted in ride reports with tags , , , on March 12, 2013 by 41flyersracing - o'kelley

On Saturday I was able to do what has lately become the unthinkable: get on my mountain bike for the second straight day.  I was not feeling too great, and definitely beginning to come down with the crud, plus I had to leave for a fundraiser by 5:30.  But the stars aligned and I was able to almost spontaneously get on my bike at 2:00 when Leslie and our good friend Sarah were talking in the front yard…just the distraction I needed for Leslie to not mind.

I’ve said it numerous times before, but having a system of trails (albeit mostly jeep roads/doubletrack) accessible within half a mile from my house is a true blessing.  I immediately took the hike-a-bike route straight to the top of Double Oak Mountain, then headed east-northeast along the ridge.  From there, I dropped down the backside of the mountain and exited at Highway 43.  I crossed 43 and re-entered EBSCO property at the nearest gate (#1 or #2 I believe).  After a short venture on that side of the property, I hopped on Highway 43 and then re-entered the EBSCO trail system at gate #5.

Gate #5 used to be a fairly regular part of my EBSCO training rides, and is essentially a nonstop uphill jeep road that takes you to the top of the ridgeline.  From this jeep road there are several different spurs you can take that lead in a variety of directions.  And somehow I managed to get myself all kinds of turned around and lost in the woods.  I was having fun, but time was starting to really get away from me.  I had hoped to be home by 3:30 in order to take a shower, get dressed, and have the kids eating by the time our babysitter arrived at 5:15.  But I was finding myself completely without my directional bearings at 3:15.  I had considered calling home to warn Leslie that I would be late, but figured I would give myself a little more time to figure out exactly where I was first.

I finally committed myself to one road in particular, with the thought that at least if I stayed on one road it should either drop me back to Highway 43 (which means I would have to call Leslie to come get me due to the time crunch) or take me up and over the mountain to familiar grounds.  Luckily by around 3:45 I was dumped down a crazy steep downhill and back within sight of the paved Double Oak Way not far from the cell tower.  A quick spin along the paved ridgeline and then back to Mt Laurel….all by 4:00 and with absolutely no complaints from the wife (who was really awesome all weekend by the way).

A few things stuck out about this ride.  1) The climb up from gate #5 really sucks on a singlespeed geared at 32:16.  I have cleared this entire climb before so I didn’t think it would be an issue…until I remembered that I used to always ride it with a 3×9 geared bike.  This day called for lots of walking.  2) While it jarred me pretty good on the rocky trail descents, my fully rigid steel hardtail feels super plush while descending on pavement.  I hit 47.8 miles per hour on the Double Oak Way descent; and felt super stable and confident while doing so.  3) My legs held up better than expected.  With hardly any nutritional fuel in my system (i.e. just a salad for lunch) and only one bottle of watered-down Gatorade mix, I was able to never come close to cramping and felt strong the entire time.  4) I love that I live where I do.  This sort of ride would not have been possible had I lived most anywhere else in town.

typical jeep road

typical jeep road

creek crossing

creek crossing

all smiles...at least before gate #5

all smiles…at least before gate #5

Lucky for me I am one of the few permit holders.

Lucky for me I am one of the few permit holders.

view across a small forest valley

view across a small forest valley

yep, it got steep

yep, it got steep

and then steeper

and then steeper

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my leg injury from early january has healed nicely

my leg injury from early january has healed nicely

Oak Mtn Ride Report – March 8, 2013

Posted in ride reports with tags , , on March 11, 2013 by 41flyersracing - o'kelley

After not much ride time, particularly on my mountain bike, since the beginning of the year, things at work set up nicely for me to get out of the office a little early and enjoy what would be unseasonably warm weather here in Birmingham.  I loaded my bike on the roof rack the night before, along with throwing my clothes in the car just in case, and by 3pm found myself driving out of my office parking lot and heading towards Oak Mtn State Park.

After beginning to get some quad cramps on my last road bike ride, I knew I had to perhaps sacrifice some of the “fun” factor of riding at OMSP in order to start building a non-cramping leg base…which meant some extended climbing or hill repeats.  Having parked at the North Trailhead, the two best options for this are the Red Road climb and the Boy Scout Road climb.  I wanted to get in some singletrack, so I opted to head over to the Boy Scout Camp Road.

Not much to report on the ride itself, since aside from the singletrack I pretty much just ascended and descended the road twice, stopping at the Flow Trail entrance the first time and going to some old cabins the second time.  I had never ventured down past these old cabins and was pleasantly surprised to see some old stone chimneys nearby – remnants of older cabins I would assume.  One chimney had been turned into a fireplace for a new wood platform.  Pics are below, along with a snapshot from Strava showing how LITTLE I have been riding this year.  I’ve been on my trainer a few times, but this is ridiculous.

I returned to my car to find that someone had pulled my windshield wipers up.  I can only assume that it was one my buddies, but so far nobody has fessed up.

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good thing presta valves don't leak when left open...didn't notice this until after my ride.

good thing presta valves don’t leak when left open…didn’t notice this until after my ride.

eyebrows at full attention.

eyebrows at full attention.

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steeper than it appears – road leading from Boy Scout cabins back up to Flow Trail (Lightning).

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The great thing about this time of year is being able to see through the forest at what lies beyond….the rest of the year it is simply way too dense.

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Another road that hurts on a 32×16 singlespeed setup.

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