Bontrager Chupacabra 29+ tires

More to come with further riding and testing but I just received a pair of the newest 29+ tire and they look like the best option out there, in my honest opinion.  I reviewed a few other Bontrager tires earlier this year. The Chupacabra’s are in the same vein as their other TLR (tubeless ready) tires, meaning they are awesome. They mounted up without sealant, even though I added some later. They held air overnight (and for the last few days) with no seepage…at all. That is so rare.

On my first ride with the tires I hit my local 1.5hr loop that consists of some paved road, dirt road, steep and switchbacky and sometimes loose singletrack, and some more fast dirt road. The tires immediately felt glued to the ground.  On pavement they are like the Knards in that they have no counter-steer or self-steer or whatever you want to call it.  The Trax Fatty’s do.  The round tire profile on the Chupa rolls effortlessly side to side making cornering predictable and smooth. The braking and steep climbing traction is much increased over the Knard, probably due to the siped wider-spaced knobs. I was able to grip to the loose switchbacks better than ever before and corner stuff at higher speeds with more confidence. If it sounds like I’m excited, i am! These made the 29+ experience funner, more rail-able, more confidence inspiring.

To add to it all, they’re pretty light at 879g each, in between the weight of the Trax and Knards, in that order. On the Ibis 941 they measured right at 3″ tread to tread. On a 50mm rim they’re wider than the Knards. This may be good or bad depending on your frame and chainline.  On my XX1 crankset with a Wolftooth 26t ring my chain was rubbing the tire while cranking in the 42t cog on the steep climb out of Volcano Creek on the Western States trail. I’ll need to increase the chainline with the Wolf Tooth BB30 ring or use the Trax Fatty on back for now. (To be fair, if the rear end on my prototype-yoke-rear-end was stiffer laterally…i wouldn’t have this problem.) Other than that, they fit fine in the Fox Talas 32 fork with about 5mm of clearance.  The wide knobs don’t pick up any pebbles (like the Trax did) and fling them under the fork’s arch. Again, the fork pressure has to be 125psi or more so the tire doesn’t bottom out and hit the underside of the crown on big hits, but that’s how 29+ with suspension is these days.  I’d love to try the Rock Shox RS-1 though…anyone got 2K i can borrow?

More time on the tire will tell but for me the Chupa’s are by far the best of the 3 options right now.  Maxxis’ Chronicle will probably be the next best competition, but with the Bontrager’s TLR sidewall I’m putting my money on the Chupacabras.

Ibis 941wheels

This is my first carbon wheelset. I’ve been pretty much scared of carbon components because I remember when they used to catastrophically break (i guess they still do but less often).  I had one of the first LP Components carbon riser bars around 1994. But since then I’ve avoided carbon like the plague. But last year I bought an Answer Pro Taper 20/20 bar and loved it.  I bought XX1 cranks and the’ve held up well.  When possible I’ll go with Titanium but I’m becoming more open to carbon after seeing it succeed in places I never thought it would or could.  So when I saw Ibis was going to release a fat-rim wheelset I kinda got excited.  The current list of rims available for 29+ bikes are all relatively heavy because they’re…fat! The rotational mass of the bigger rim, tire, tube all makes for a more sluggish ride.  With a steel frame the bike was weighing in at around 29lbs with a Fox Talas 32.  So…hell, why not.

Rear wheel weight is almost a full pound lighter than my Rabbit Hole with a DT-Swiss 250 hub.

The rims appear very nicely made and have a hookless bead design which supposedly is stronger when you inevitably get a rim shot when running low pressure.  Time will tell.  I have the SRAM version of the wheel, one driver is included in the cost of the wheelset.  BTW, I offer these with complete bike-builds if you are purchasing a frame from me.

The one hangup i had was when I swapped the Maxle rear axle caps for the quick-release caps they supply (at an additional cost).  When I tightened down the cassette the axle stopped turning. It turned out (pun intended) that the QR cap flange was too wide by over 1mm, and the inside of the threaded cassette nut (that is integrated on the SRAM 11-spd cassettes) was pushing against it enough to stop the driveside bearing from turning.  Aron from Victory Velo in Auburn figured it out by backing out the cassette a little and then the axle would turn just fine.  So I went back to my shop and turned down the cap in the lathe so it’d pass through the hole in the cassette. Reinstalled it all worked just fine and I have several hours on it with no issues.

The Trax Fatty’s sealed up well with Stan’s.  One held air right away, the other needed some more Stans and a few days to hold air (2.5 cups of sealant).  I’ve been running 10-15 PSI depending on terrain and here are some initial thoughts:

– i notice the lateral stiffness of the rims. More rigid of a ride but running tubeless it can feel cush at the same time. But…

– I like the feel of wider rims better and the 41’s are on the short end of the spectrum. It’s the quality of the ride, not really sure how else to put it, is better on the wider Rabbit Hole rims. The tire tracks better with lower pressure with wider rims and feels more cush. Lower pressure feels better on a wider rim, simple as that.  To be fair, these wheels were designed to be use with 2.5″ tires max, they probably didn’t think about 29+ or 27.5+ riders when designing these.

– Even with the bike being 1.7lbs lighter I can’t say i noticed the lower rotational weight while pedaling. Mostly I noticed it when I picked up the bike over stuff and while steering – turning the front wheel to place it or pop it up/manual.  The lower rotational mass was definitely apparent while turning the wheel side to side, less of that “29er effect” where there’s more resistance from the added wheel’s diameter. But as far as breaking any of my previous personal bests…not so sure it’s going to matter all that much.

Vee Rubber Trax Fatty first impressions – UPDATED

I got a chance to ride the new Vee Rubber Trax Fatty 29 x 3.0″ tire this weekend.  I didn’t run them tubeless as I just got them the day before the ride but I plan to put run them tubeless right away. The front is a Velocity Dually 45mm and the rear is a Surly Rabbit Hole 50mm rim. The tire specs seen in the photos below are on the Dually.  After 12 hours on them Saturday here are my impressions of the tire and how they ride.

  • They are higher quality compound than the only other option available right now – the Knard. The Trax Fatty is a tubeless ready tire and the sidewall feels like it, yet it’s lighter in weight than the Knard (just barely). It *feels* like it should be heavier, but it ain’t.
  • The tread pattern seems nothing really special but it’s actually pretty good especially at low pressure. It rolls fast because of the closely spaced center knobs. The center knobs are also taller than the Knard.  This tread pattern is identical to Vee Rubber’s 36er tire and pretty close in design to several of their other tires with the double ramped block knobs along the centerline with a “V” siped on top.
  • The tire’s profile is very square compared to the very round-profiled Knard. The side knobs on the Knard are the widest point of the tire whereas the casing is considerably wider than the knobs on the Trax Fatty. Seems to me the square profile is becoming the new norm with people using wider rims with 2.4’s. But what I’ve found in my own riding is this leaves the tire more prone to sidewall slices and premature-chucking-in-the-trash. Especially when you’re running the tires at low pressure like 29+.  Instead of the knob’s catching the sharp rock and making that obnoxious popping sound, the sidewall gets scraped and maybe ripped.  We’ll see how these hold up. The Trax sidewalls seem burlier than the Knards so I have high hopes. And the one (long) ride I’ve done on them they did great in very rocky terrain.
  • The Trax grip better on steep climbs than the Knard, seated and standing. The Knard tended to slide out on roots, rocks, dirt, even at 12psi.  The knobs are just so slight and unsiped. The Trax has burlier knobs and i felt more connected to the ground.
  • The Trax’s look small compared to the Knard. They appear like a regular if bigger MTB tire. Maybe I’m just used to the Knard now.  But comparing their size they are at most 2.8″ width at their widest point. This to me is a good thing. The Trax fits with more room inside my Fox 32 Talas 120 fork without ‘pinging’ as many rocks against the fork bridge, and it’s easier to build a rear triangle around than the Knard. I now have room to spare at the chainstays with a 73mm BB shell and a few mm’s room in the lowest cog.  But the tire is taller than the Knard so the volume must be similar. This is also good – similar cush at low pressure.
  • I found with 15psi the tires felt way too hard. I’ll be starting all over again experimenting with different tire pressures to see what works best. I’m thinking tubeless with 12 is going to be the call for my style of riding and trails.
  • I’m still not feeling them corner as well as I would like, but that should be helped with running them tubeless and at lower pressures.

Ok…all for now.

UPDATE-
6 weeks or riding and I have some butyl rubbing off the sidewalls (see last picture). This is really early since I don’t even live in a really rocky area. The threads are showing in spots, giving me less confidence in their sidewall and their long term durability. Could’ve received a bad tire, I don’t know. Compared to the Chupacabras I’m not impressed at all with their handling on dirt or pavement. There is counter steer and they aren’t intuitive while railing into corners. I may use one on the rear wheel just because the Chupa is rubbing the chain in the 42t cog. These are good if your frame or fork won’t fit any other tire but I’d wait for the Bontrager Chupacabra to come out or the Maxxis Chronicle.

 

Fat Sherpa tour

I’ve always loved how bikes can take you to places you may not go otherwise.  Backcountry skiing is much the same and it’s a close second in my genetic makeup.  Combining the two is something I’ve dabbled in before (spring peak skiing around Brainard Lake, Colorado) but never in winter.  Fatbiking has exploded the possibilities of where you can go self-powered in winter; it’s changed how I look a the landscape and what routes and areas I want to explore. It will help having a fatbike to cruise up those flat approaches that are horrible to skin up and back on skis.

Fat sherpa  -bridge

The Fat Sherpa on Barker Pass road, crossing Blackwood Creek. Notice anything missing…? (I left my poles at the car.)

The idea for this ‘ski-pannier’ rack came into my mind when we were about to move from Colorado and there were still many peaks I’d never skied or even seen in winter.  The one stuck in my head was Elk Tooth near Buchanan Pass in the northern reaches of the Indian Peaks Wilderness.  The approach starts as a common snowmobile route taking off from Camp Dick (yes, that’s its real name).  It’s relatively flat for around 8 miles before getting to the base of the St. Vrain glaciers and Elk Tooth Mountain. Much of that approach is not in Wilderness so you can legally ride it with a fatbike.  Very few skiers go up there in winter since it’s such a long flat ski in AND out.  I made it 5 miles up on a tour one time but it’s just as slow coming back as going in, it’s a tour best done as an overnight.  Anyways, this is a “fat sherpa tour” that I’d like to come back to someday.  That’s why the custom ski-rack for the fatbike.  I love riding the fatbike for riding’s sake, but it gives it more meaning if it’s also for something else whether that’s bike commuting, courier, or just transporting your crap to do something fun.

Barkerpass-rd-snowing

Barker Pass road, heading into the cloud where snow started to fall.

This weekend’s tour started with a simple Google search, “long flat backcountry ski approach Tahoe.”  It’s that easy these days to find stuff.  Luckily for the newly transported (like me), people share on blogs and forums where they like to ski and where frankly it sucks to ski.  I typically like those places that suck to ski because (1) there’s usually nobody there, (2) they’re usually more of an adventure, and (3) it’s rare that backcountry skiing ever really sucks and if it does you didn’t look hard enough.

The weather has been very odd this winter.  If it’s any indication of climate change, skiers will be an endangered species.  We’re entering our 2nd year of drought in California and one of the worst snowpacks in history.  Only in February did we get some significant snow (up to 9 feet a few weeks ago, and 3 feet this weekend).  But it’s been so warm that there’s been a lot of rain mixed in with the snow.  After that first February storm Lake Tahoe was noted to have risen 6″…that’s a lot of moisture!

Fat-Sherpa-BarkerPassRd_Trees

Getting up towards Barker Pass, about 4 miles in.

When I started out riding up Blackwood Canyon at lake level in the rain and slushy snow I had low expectations and didn’t expect it to get much better.  But the road climbs 7.5 miles to Barker Pass (the internet said only 5 mi. BTW…) and it had to be better 1,500ft in elevation higher.

Once at the top i was fully drenched from the inside and out.  My friends know I carry a big pack with “too much stuff.”  Today is one of the days when it panned out.  The Sherpa carried a second set of baselayers, a puff jacket, and two extra pairs of gloves. Before the ski I swapped into dry and warm clothes.  I didn’t have any plans but to find some powder turns.  Visibility was poor so I skied by braille using the topo to find some northwest glades that had good snow.  A nice 800ft vertical later I skinned back up to the bike and headed down the pass before dark. (I had started late or else i’d have wanted to do a few more laps!)

Turns-backsideBarker

One of the goals of the day..

cavernous-pack-boots

To lessen the width and weight on the rack for the downhill I stuffed the boots in my cavernous Ortovox Haute Route 45 to replace the clothing i was now wearing.

Notes on the bike’s geometry: Having that much weight (and those are pretty light skis and boots!) on the rear tire really accentuated the short chainstay, long front center geometry.  I had trouble keeping the front wheel weighted on the downhill and washed out a bit more than expected.  I didn’t notice it much on the uphill except for when i’d have to dismount and the bike wanted to do a wheelie and slam me to the ground as i stepped off. For future Fat Sherpa bikes i’ll make them with longer chainstays to better distribute the rider’s weight between the two wheels and also for the stuff i carry.  For now i’ll just stuff a couple of bricks in my handlbar bag when riding with skis 😉

Castle_Tour-icyrocks

Off course while poking around the south face.

My other weekend day I didn’t bring the bike and just toured around Castle Peak off Donner Pass.  The approach was under 2 miles so the Fat Sherpa really wasn’t needed.  The main trail led into the clouds where visibility was pretty poor, but i could see it’s a very cool area with lots to come back and explore. There is a bike-able snowmobile trail here too that would be worth checking out.

Castle-glades

Some of the lower glades near Castle Peak.

Castle-tour-turns1

Not the best snow conditions, just too warm and wet, but it’s so good to get up and out there.

Bontrager mtb tires

I’ve been trying out some new Bontrager tires this summer and although I’m still developing opinions on the 3 tires I wanted to share are some impressions.  I got a few of the 29-0, 29-1, and 29-2 Bontrager tires, 2012 version since this year the tires name starts with an “XR” instead of a “29.”  The numbers generally indicating the size of the tires, with the XR-0 starting at 1.9 and on up to 2.3 for the XR-4.  I also had bought a 29-2 (2.3″) earlier this year that I added to the mix as well.

I’ve still yet to mount the fast and lightest XC tires — the XR-0. I’m going to mount them on my Mountain Cross (“monstercross”) bike that I ride mostly on dirt roads and smoother trail.  They aren’t meant to be run tubeless but because I have only Stans rims i run all my tires tubeless.  You can see the tread is super low profile and for dry-conditions. These are crazy light at 418g and I’m not sure how they’ll last but I’m going to have to update on that later.  I heard from a friend that they hook up better than you’d think and are indeed super fast tires that you can rail.

tires-29-0

I’ve been mostly riding the XR-1 tires and have found that they’re best for my style of riding, especially as a rear tire.  Lots of road ‘approaches’ to dirt in this area and it’s nice to have a fast rolling tire that also hooks up well on the mostly hardpack trails, hardpack with duff on top, and moderately rocky trails.  I don’t like the XR-1 as much in the front but it does do really well and makes for some low rolling resistance. But instead of using it on the front, I have been using the 29-2.
Bonty_29-2
I really like the 29-2. It’s got a great round profile, rolls fast, the knobs are a bit wider and longer than the XR-1. It hooks up really well on the front, predictably.  The XR-1 on the rear I replaced just before the tour and after 350 or so miles it looks worn being on the rear but not too bad. We rode a bit of road on the tour so with that much weight on the bike I’m not surprised. Using digital calipers, they measure what they claim to be = 2.2″ at the widest part of the tire (knob to knob).
tires-29-1Bonty_tires_1and2
For the last few months I ran a XR-4 on front with Stans even though it easily mounted up without sealant.  I put some in just for thorn and sidewall protection.  Both tires were mounted on Stans Flow rims.  On the tour I got no flats and had no problems at all, they worked great and I’d run that same setup again.  The XR-4 is a true tubeless ready tire and because of that has a thicker sidewall.  It’s noticeably stiffer and in my experience a bit harder to hook up on corners since the knobs are stiffer and casing is thicker.  I ran it at lower a lower pressure than the lighter XR-1 or 2’s.  The main reason I took that tire for the front on this bike tour was its beefiness. You’d be hard pressed to slice that sidewall and i wanted that security.  After a couple of months of riding it looks nearly new.  It’s not the fastest rolling tire but what do you expect, always a trade-off.  They l measured up at 2.3″ at the outer knobs.
tires-29-4
I know many if not most XC riders ride non-tubeless ready tires tubeless because of weight and the ability to run low pressure and not flat, but I also think non-“tubeless-ready” tires ride better because they tend to have a less rigid sidewall.  I did slice a sidewall on the XR-1 but that was when i had it mounted on a Blunt 35 rim so the tire’s sidwalls stuck out more than the tread when run on such a wide rim.
If i was going to ride the Tour Divide I’d likely choose the XR-1’s. They make a great all-arounder tire – fast rolling, hook up really well, they’re light, and pretty bomber even though they’re not officially tubeless-ready.  If they came in a tubeless ready version they’d by my anywhere tire since the sidewall would be stronger.  The XR-4 would be my tire for a slack-geometry AM riding.  But those tires are beyond what I need, I just don’t ride that aggressively downhill.

In my opinion these Bontrager tires deserve a solid try and to be in the same “box” as the Ardent and other all around MTB tires.

A tire that is worth comparing the XR-1 and XR-2 to is the Surly Knard.  The Knard tire is one of my new favorites with its block tread pattern and even rounder profile than the XR-1. I like how the tread goes very low on the sidewall.  At low pressures these tires hook up just fine and still roll fast. I love that they have them in each platform (right term?) — 29+, monstercross/touring (700 x 41mm), as well as a 26 x 3.8 Fatbike size.
Knard measurement

The tread wraps around the side of the tire a lot more than normal tires.

MTB shoes worth hiking in

The last time I’ve written about shoes was, well, never. I have had a history with going on bike rides that involve a lot of hiking. I hate, and i mean HATE with a passion the new carbon soled mtb shoes that have taken over the marketplace. The glued-on tread is hardly better than trying to walk in road shoes. It’s mind boggling that MTB shoe designers have thought this is ok. Everybody walks their bikes at times, everyone. The inverted front to rear height, zero flex of the sole, and ice-like nature of the compound of most shoe soles astonishes me. This is the classic case of ‘lighter is better’ even if it means a crappier product overall and potentially injuring the rider. Slipping, shin splints, bruised feet, oh so many ways!

I’m here to pronounce a couple of positive notes in a sea of shite. But some history first.

The first good clipless mtb shoe I had almost 20 years ago now was a neoprene cuffed shoe from Shimano. I can’t for the life of me remember the name/model but it rocked. How ingenious to have a cuff that didn’t allow dirt, pebbles, and twigs to get inside your shoe while riding and hiking? I remember when they stopped making these shoes, I was crushed. The sole wasn’t perfect but it held up under severe abuse in the Rockies bushwhacking and rock scrambling for new trail and places.

Next came the Lake MX-165 with a Vibram sole. I used a couple of versions of this shoe to race the 2002 and 2003 Montezuma’s Revenge 24-hr race where you do a LOT of hiking – up Gray’s Peak (14er) as well as many of the steep mining roads and ‘trails’ surrounding the little town of Montezuma, CO. If the shoes that exist today were used back then, the entire field of Montezuma’s would be on crutches having lost the use of their feet. Even with good shoes, I had shin splints and strained Achillies for a couple of weeks post-race.

Lake was an early adopter of Vibram soles for MTB shoes but they were pretty heavy. The thick soles were nicely lugged and somewhat bomber, although they did break off eventually and shoe-goo had to be used to continue use. The Lake winter shoes have Vibram soles too which I love even though nothing grips well in snow.

The next good shoe I tried (after some years with Northwaves) in 2004 was from Pearl Izumi. The X-Alp line was made to fill this gap in MTB shoes and in my opinion the first round of Pearl’s shoes were just ok — modified running shoes. I used one of the running shoe versions for a 4-day tour on the singlespeed where i hiked a bunch. They held up well but the lack of sole stiffness was blatant and annoying. Good for a more recreational rider or commuter but not for serious mountain biking.

Just a couple of years ago I ordered a set of the Pearl Izumi X-Alp Enduros. These are instantly comfortable shoes that hike VERY well. The tread pattern and sole is very nice, like a trail-running shoe but with cleats and stiffer soles.

Fast forward to now. I have been riding a pair of Specialized Rime’s for about a couple of months now. These use a very sleek (slim) Vibram sole i’m guessing to keep down the weight and to reduce the likelihood of the tread from tearing off. The shoe incorporates a BOA dial instead of a buckle and a unique wrap-over tongue that really cradles your foot and doesn’t let your heel rise up while walking. For my skinny feet, these fit right out of the box, true to size, perfect. That is rare for me.

The sole feels nearly as stiff as my carbon Pearl Izumi shoes but better – too stiff gives me sore feet over the course of a long ride no matter what insole i use.

The Rime’s walk better than any other MTB shoe I’ve ever tried. They feel rounded in profile but only slightly so – like an early rise ski tip not a rockered tip. This enables them to walk with a feel almost like a regular shoe with no heel slip but have a very stiff sole to maintain power transfer to the pedal. The wrap-over tongue and the wide BOA belt keeps your feet in place while riding and hiking up the steepest hills. They’re light enough although a tad heavier than the X-Alps.

The con’s of this shoe are what you’d expect. The BOA dial introduces more issues than I think it helps. It works really well though – righty tighty, lefty loosey – not the pop up and loosen type of the Lake winter shoes. But the BOA dial appears to me to loosen over the course of the ride. Not a bunch but at the end of each ride there is slack in the line. It could be that my feet are getting skinnier over the ride (compression? water loss?) or that I’m not tightening up the dial enough before I leave.

EDIT- I’m a dumbass (Heyride informed me that you can unhook the BOA loop to make it easier to get in…)
The biggest issue I have with the shoes is putting them on. It’s similar to getting into rear-entry ski boots. If you don’t know what I’m talking about…sorry…but you’re lucky. To put these shoes on you have to loosen the BOA dial as far as it’ll go (loosen, pull up, loosen, pull up or use two hands and do that simultaneously) and then lift open the tongue from underneath the BOA belt and twist and slide your foot in. Tri-geeks would hate these shoes for quick bike transitions. I have to sit down to put them on because it takes two hands and my balance is questionable.
Other than that, once they’re on they’re on and they’re pretty easy to get off.

The Vibram sole is just ok verging on good. But I feel it’s lacking in tread above the cleat where you really need it the most for steep hike-a-bikes. The tread grips fine on hardpack and rocks, but if it’s at all loose or muddy…good luck. There’s also no spots for toe-spikes. These would make great cyclocross shoes if they had that option and a luggier toebox.

Overall, I really like them. They’re good true mountain bike shoes – where if you hike at all you’ll appreciate the grippy Vibram soles, rounded outer footbed, and snug fit. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the BOA dial was replaced with a buckle in next year’s model.