Friday, July 26, 2013

Santa Cruz Tallboy Carbon: Mind = blown

Today I got to ride the best bike I've ever ridden: Santa Cruz Tallboy 2 Carbon. Amazingly, it's mine. Just picked it up from the awesome and patient guys at Rebec & Kroes this afternoon, and after a few minor adjustments, went for a ride on the Almonte Riverside Trail.

Not surprisingly, there are many glowing reviews of this bike: it's one helluva dialed machine. So I'm not going to repeat all that. This is just my initial impression.

First, I hadn't even tried this bike when I plopped down the deposit. Yes, I made a large purchase purely on the reputation of the goods and a hunch. Last fall I tried a friend's Specialized Epic 29er for about 3 minutes. That was an epiphany for me (like the fatbike) and I just knew that my next bike would be a 29er. But which one? The Spec was indeed nice, and it was on my shortlist of three. All the reviews were glowing. I also considered a new Giant Trance. However, it was time to try something just a little more out there, and Santa Cruz had the goods for me. In particular, I like the rugged simplicity of the bearing pivot design. Grease nipples! Yes! But aluminum or carbon? What finally sold me was the video comparison of the aluminum vs. carbon frame being destructively tested at the factory. Until I saw that I though carbon was a dumb idea for a trail bike. I was wrong. Yes, it's slick marketing (I know all about that), but it worked. This is one solid carbon frame. If there's one fly in the ointment though, one of the guys at the shop said to watch for cable rub on the frame in muddy conditions - it can sand through the carbon surprisingly fast. Gotta stay on top of those anti-rub pads.

Sticker shock is unavoidable with any Santa Cruz. Rebec and Kroes thought they could save me a few bucks by getting  a clearout Tallboy 2013 frame. Unfortunately, those were no longer available--so I ended up with a 2014 (which is the "Tallboy 2") for the same price. Strictly speaking, I should be all geeky and remember the design refinements of the 2014 vs. the 2013, but who really cares? It's all about the ride. Nevertheless, I had to sell my time trial bike, Zipp race wheels, CompuTrainer, and Trance--and still throw in some cash!--to come up with enough scratch to fund the Tallboy. No regrets whatsover. (Most guys my age have relegated themselves to watching golf on TV, or polishing their Buick for fun. Aw yeah.)

And what a ride. If you've never tried a 29er, you owe it to yourself to do so. The first sensation is you notice wheels in your peripheral vision and it looks like you're going slow. But your actual speed is FASTER because of how easily you roll over the trail. All those little stutter bumps, sticks, grass clumps, etc. that would normally slow you down just sweep under your wheel. You speed through lines like you're in some kind of Zen state--it just rolls.

A common fear of 29ers is that they are less manoverable. Not so with the Tallboy. It's just different. I found it to be almost as quick to turn as my Trance, and way quicker than a friend's Specialized Enduro 26 which I rode on the same trail last night. (To be fair, the Enduro is more of an all-mountain, DH-oriented ride with slack geometry and a beefy build.) The Tallboy geometry is perfect for my kind of fast XC riding with the occasional technical bits. I'd say the feel is more attributable to the whole system, and not just an artifact of the 29" hoops alone.

The travel is also perfect. The stiffness of the carbon combined with the Fox suspension adds up to one buttery ride, with the 29" wheels feeling like they add another 20-40mm of travel to the suspension. Hardly any chain noise at all, even hammering on rocky descents and rock gardens at speed. That's pretty amazing.

The real test will come in August, when I hit Kingdom Trails in Vermont. I'll report back after that.

Bike spec

  • Tallboy 2 Carbon, regular travel (the LT was felt to be unnecessary by the guys at Rebec & Kroes) - basically as shown in the pic (and in white--looks awesome!)
  • Full XT build, 2x10 with Thomson seat post and a few other goodies.
  • UST tubeless hoops. Stock tires were bogus; recommendation is to stick with proper UST-designated rubber because it seats better on the rims. Have to say, the ride feel is amazing and the lost weight from no tubes makes the wheels feel almost the same as 26ers.
  • All else stock as indicated on the Santa Cruz build package. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Wilbur Mine update

I've been asked to give a presentation on my Wilbur mine research at the Almonte Lecture Series in early 2014. Nothing like a deadline to motivate work!

I'm actually really excited about this, because I've started back on my research and have reconnected with the families who own the property on which the mine sites are located. In an incredible set of coincidences, I rode out on the Canada Day long weekend to see who would be there, and met two people I know in Ottawa--a client of mine, and someone I've worked with online on advising a friend's business venture. I had no idea that either person was connected to the mine site! this is fantastic news because it means much easier access to information, the site, and artifacts to assist with my research.

Also, I've just learned through a friend that a professor of archeology he knows has offered to help me map the site.

On a related note, I've shared some of my material with Sali Tagliamonte, the U of T professor who's researching dialects of Lanark County. Her work is fascinating and you can hear an interview with her on CBC radio if you search their archives.

So lots of work yet to do, but important work because it will consolidate various bits and pieces of our local history for everyone to learn from and enjoy.

WR250R - Custom rear rack

The lack of a rear rack on my WR has proven to be an annoying limitation on longer rides and when running errands. Bungie-cording a 5L gas can to the fender section is not only inconvenient, it's unergonomic and has scratched the hell out of the plastic. (Yeah, wah-wah -- I know!)

So I played around with several iterations of a paper template drawn in Illustrator until I had something reasonably close to what I thought would work: a smallish rack to fit a RotoPax 1 Gal tank, although a lightly larger RotoPax should fit as well with some minor overhang. The design incorporates slots on the perimeter to facilitate attaching bungie cords or straps securely.

Finding the correct location for the mounting bolts was a bit of a challenge. Most designs I saw online used four bolts in a rectangular pattern. These are the obvious (and easiest) mounting points given the subframe design, but I didn't like how close together this put the bolts. I figured it would allow the rack to deflect more than desirable given the subframe is already pretty wiggly. So I opted to mount the bolts on the seat side closer to the sides of the subframe where it would improve stiffness. Unfortunately, the the cross bar in this location isn't flat, which means the bottoms of the mounting standoffs I'd have to make would need to be curved to match the crossbar profile.

Edit (Mar 21, 2017): As I discovered later, the fender itself has the location of four holes used for most aftermarket racks moulded into the plastic on the underside. I used the two locations at the rear, but for the front two I opted to drill a wider stance for the bolts to get more lateral stability. Happy to say that after 5 years of use, this rack has held up extremely well. Plans incorporating a minor mod to widen the side slots are posted in a link in the comments.

A local fabrication shop was able to waterjet cut my Illustrator file for the rack into 6mm T6061 aluminum plate without problem. The resulting part had lots of sharp edges and jaggies to clean up, but I'm not too concerned with appearance at this stage and will likely bead-blast and spray paint the assembly anyway.

Making the standoffs on my lathe was pretty easy. I had some 1" aluminum rod lying around, so I just cleaned it up, bored a centre hole about 8mm dia, and parted them to length. I wasn't sure how high each standoff needed to be. 35mm for the rear and 25mm for the front seemed about right, but this required slightly longer M6 bolts than I could obtain easily and I ended up trimming off about 5mm from the 35mm standoffs. This produced a thick aluminum washer which I ended up using on the front standoffs to obtain a little more clearance. Next time I take the rack apart, I'll measure the final dimensions. It was hard to judge correct spacing with the subframe getting in the way.

Locating the holes in the fender so the standoffs could pass through was straightforward. With the fender mounted, I drilled a small hole from below through one of the forward mounting holes in the subframe. Then I aligned the rack on this point and used its mounting holes to locate drill points on the fender.  As long as things were close, I could fine-tune where I needed to centre the standoffs on the fender and trace the larger hole that needed to be cut.

Cutting the fenders with a Dremel zip saw worked well, although you have to be careful the bit doesn't bite in and make a ridiculous gouge where you don't want it. Some fiddling with a half-round file and a knife gave me an almost perfect fit for the four standoffs.

The rear wiring harness interferes with the standoffs and has to be moved. It's pretty tight, so next time I'd probably use 1/2" aluminum rod to give more space for the wiring and to eliminate some of the extra filing I needed to do to each standoff to ensure they sat flat at each mounting point. However, the fender holes are drill now so I'm not going to change this version.

After a few tweaks it all assembled pretty easily with stainless M6 hardware. No drilling into the bike was required, other than through the fender. Not sure how much a new fender costs, but it's worth it to have a rack that seems pretty sturdy.

Edit (Mar 21, 2017): I got this powder coated with a hard black polyester that has proven highly durable through 5 years of abuse and with a RotoPax fuel can mounted on top.