Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Trail tools for dual sport riding

Here's the standard kit I carry when riding in the bush. Although I've never flatted or broken down on the road, these are the same tools I use in the shop, so I know what I need and how to use them. Everything fits into the little tail bag with a some room left over for lunch.

From top left to bottom right:
1. Tail bag and protective rain cover on my ghetto frame which mounts over a 1-gallon RotoPax
2. Spare socks
3. Front and rear tubes
4. Bungies
5. Carabiner (can help when rigging a hoist for bike)
6. Emergency reflective mylar blanket (protects against cold, heat, rain)
7. TP, hand-sanitizer and lighter
8. 8mm and 10mm sockets
9. 4/5/6mm hex Y-tool
10. Folding 1/4 socket drive with extension
11. 10' of 9mm static line (e.g. for towing or rigging a bike hoist)
12. Silicone nylon tarp. Weighs nothing, compresses down, creates a big shelter.
13. Mesh bag for tools
14. Big adjustable wrench
15. Mountain bike pump
16. Two tire spoons
17. Folding saw
18. CO2 compressed air cartridges and filler valve
19. Microfibre cloth (for visor, first aid)
20. Details map on Teslin
21. Tube patch kit
22. Gerber multitool
23. Windproof lighter
24. Spare AA batteries for GPS (although it's also powered by my bike)
25. Two protein bars and a Clif bar (easier to think straight when I'm not hungry)
26. LED headlamp
27. JB Weld (not shown)
28. Pen, mechanical pencil, paper (not shown)

What would I add or change? The large adjustable wrench is unnecessarily heavy and should be replaced by a dedicated axle wrench for my front/rear wheel nuts. It's on the shopping list. Also, a roll of duct tape can come in handy. For longer rides I'll also add a long-sleeve wool shirt as a dry, warm backup. With this kit I can spend a night out or work on the bike in the rain. 

Edit: I've since improved the tool selection.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Long-term review: 2014 Santa Cruz Tallboy 2 Carbon 29er

Last year the stork was kind enough to drop off a fine new ride in XT build, although some bribery in the form of selling the Trance X0, time-trial bike, Zipp 808 wheel set, and Compu-Trainer, and then throwing in a can of sardines was needed to seal the deal.

Riding the Tallboy has been hugely rewarding in terms of flow and speed compared to my 26" Trance. While the Trance was a custom, high-end build from the frame up, it was no match for the five more years of technological advancement distilled into the Tallboy. It all adds up to a lighter, stiffer, more responsive bike that rolls over lumpy trails where a 26er bogs down. The Tallboy has made me a better rider.

However, not all is golden in the land of new bikes. Since I first started mountain biking back in the dark ages of Biopace chain rings in the 80's, there's no question that modern bikes represent an entirely different sport. Today's components from pretty much all the manufacturers perform so well, that the only real choice becomes a matter of taste. Unfortunately, the tradeoff has been reliability. Years ago, an XT set-up would provide at least a good season or two of hard use before parts needed replacement. By comparison, the XT components on my Tallboy barely eked out one season of only moderate use (oh, where did all my free time go?). This suggests that manufacturers should start trading back ultra light weight for more durability and serviceability. Fact is, few race at the elite level where shaving grams can make a difference. The rest of us who've dropped six grand on a dream ride that was not meant to be a helium balloon should reasonably expect to get a full year of riding before having to spend hundreds of dollars replacing prematurely worn components.  

Here's a summary of observations about the Tallboy. Some of these are things that Santa Cruz should consider fixing; others require manufacturers to step up.

1. Better swing arm protection. The right chain stay sits awfully close to the rings on a 2x10 setup. On several occasions I've had chain suck (on a freshly cleaned and lubed chain, no less) that resulted in jamming the chain into the tiny gap between the teeth. Once I even had to remove the crank arm to free the chain. Another concern is that at full rear compression, the front derailleur hits the top of the chain stay. I don't see how the setup can be changed to avoid this problem. Chunks are missing from the precious carbon fibre. The existing co-moulded metal protection needs to be reshaped to protect this exposed area.

If you look carefully, you can see the distinct dent from the derailleur on top, and the gouging from chain suck on the side. The moulded protector just misses the fun. 

2. Pivot designs that facilitate bearing service and replacement. The Santa Cruz pivots are a decent improvement over many other designs because they incorporate grease nipples to allow the bottom bearings to be be greased without disassembly. Inspection of the lower pivot bearings shows the concept works. However, the upper bearings are a pain to pull, as an earlier blog post details. I'd like to see a completely new approach to pivot bearing design that gives up just a bit of weight to allow the use of larger bearings. These babies take a lot of abuse, so make 'em bigger. 

3. Stiffer wheels. Overall these wheels have proven quite reliable. The hubs (DT350) are still silky smooth, the freehub is dead-simple to service, and the rims resist dents. But there's just a little too much flexibility. Spokes that are one gauge heavier would be preferable, especially on large frames like mine where the rider and gear is likely to be in the 200lb range.

4. Better tires. The stock CrossMark tires are, in the words of one rider I met in Kingdom Trails, "the worst 29er tire ever". While I didn't find them that bad, something without the almost continuous centre ridge line would be preferable. The Mavic Roams that I'm riding now are not hugely better, just different. Not sure what to suggest, because I ride a lot of clay and any small-block tire (for lower weight and rolling resistance) is going to suck in mud of any kind--especially clay mud.

5.  180mm rotor on the front. This is a major oversight on the stock build, which specs 160mm front and rear (XT in my case). 160mm simply does not provide enough stopping power--especially for larger riders. After trying metal pads, heat-sink pads, resin pads, and an Avid rotor, I finally gave up on finding any stopping power in a 160mm front or eliminating a horrible squeal, and changed to 180mm. It's a massive improvement. Incidentally, Fox rates the Float 32 CTD 29er shock good for up to a 200mm rotor.

6. Poor XT cassette durability. For the first time ever, I've worn out the rivets holding the middle cogs together before the cogs themselves. As a result the middle cogs jangle around and I'm just waiting to shear the rivets altogether. WTF, Shimano?! This should never be an issue. Try using a better rivet. This is clearly a design or manufacturing defect and Shimano should warranty it. And I'm not alone: my local bike shop has seen this problem many times and warranty coverage is not forthcoming.

Edit: Days after posting I actually sheared three of the five rivets on a moderate (flat) trail ride and couldn't hold the chain on the middle cogs. The broken bits fell out of the cassette when I disassembled it. Fortunately my new cassette arrived shortly after from Chain Reaction Cycles ($61 delivered to Canada from the UK, vs. about $115 from my LBS). Same part, identical construction. In the second pic you can see two of the tiny rivet heads that sheared off. The neck of the rivets is barely 1-1.5mm in diameter. Clearly not enough material to withstand normal riding torque. Shameful engineering.

7. Ridiculous failure of an obscure part inside the XT clutched rear derailleur. This optional feature turns a little cam mechanism that applies tension to a one-way clutch on the derailleur arm and thereby reduces chain slap. Great idea, but the internal cam mechanism incorporates a crappy stamped metal part that breaks. Inexcusable: this part doesn't move while riding, and isn't exposed to the environment. Again, WTF, Shimano?! This is absolutely a warranty issue and I'm not alone in seeing the problem. Fortunately a neighbor was able to MIG-weld a repair. Otherwise it would've been a two month wait for a replacement from Shimano.

Here you can see the one-way clutch and the cam (with square hole):

Below at top left is the offending part. It snapped at a bend. It holds the cam seen in the photo above, so when you move the external lever, the cam apply pressure to the brake mechanism wrapped around the one-way clutch, thereby preventing the chain from pulling and slapping up into the stay. Nifty idea. After the metal retainer broke, the derailleur still works but you can no longer tension the arm and so you get normal chain slap action. In the picture, you can see the tiny repair weld on the retainer. 

Despite what these gripes may suggest, I love this bike and have a blast riding it. The main shortcoming is my own technical riding ability. So far I haven't reached the limits of what the bike can do.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Dual sport ride route - Lanark County Loop 1

This 206 km route starts just west of Ottawa, in Almonte, and makes a big clockwise loop into Lanark Highlands, passing through Blakeney, Clayton, Hopetown, Lavant, Lavant Station, Calabogie, and White Lake. It encircles 1026 square kilometers of rugged terrain on roads that vary from twisty pavement and gravel, to roller-coaster fire roads and rocky bush trails. The rough dirt sections are near the start and middle of the route. At the end of the route, when you're more likely to be tired, you're mostly on good paved or gravel roads. Options abound to add more technical challenge along the way. Count on about 4-5 hours to do the basic route; way-finding will slow you down. Robertson Lake on South Lavant Road is a good place to stop for a picnic, swim or washroom break.

This is a great route for novice and intermediate DS riders who want to experience a wide range of terrain and spectacular scenery without ranging too far from civilization. In fact, it's one of my go-to routes when introducing riders to the area.

What bike?

You can ride this on pretty much any DS bike and 50/50 tire. My current setup is a WR250R with Heidenau Scouts front and rear. Although knobbies would be preferable in the dirt and mud, you'll appreciate not having them for the longer stretches of gravel and pavement. I've tried to mix up the riding to keep things interesting! Bigger bikes (>650cc) and bikes with cast wheels may struggle a bit in the short muddy and rocky sections, but if you take it easy and don't mind getting a little dirty, you should get through everything without a hitch.

Gas is available along the route in Almonte, Clayton, Hopetown, Calabogie, and White Lake. My WR has the stock tank (7.2L) and although I carry an extra gallon in a Rotopax, there's usually enough fuel in the tank to get through the long back section between Hopetown and Calabogie without topping up. If you're on a small bike with no way to carry extra fuel, just top up in Hopetown, the last chance for gas along the route.

Two caveats

1. You need to be self-sufficient for repairs. While it's rare that I don't see people along the route (even in the bush sections), if you break down and can't fix it yourself, it could be a while before someone picks you up. You may face a long walk or the need to camp out. I bring essentials like a light tarp, food, headlamp, spare tubes, tire repair tools, saw, fire starter, rope, and an extra wool shirt.  Cell phone coverage seems to be pretty good along the route, but don't count on it.

2. The back (western-most) section runs through Crown land which appears to require a road permit for access. Finding trail passes at local retailers is a total crap shoot. Every year I ask around at ATV dealers, hook-and-bullet stores, etc.--and all I get is baffled looks or stories of disorganization at the trail associations. Your best bet is to order a permit from An annual pass costs $150 and is the best deal among the options. While fees are no fun, as a trail builder myself I know the volunteer effort and cost that goes into obtaining and maintaining trail access, so I don't grumble about paying to enjoy this remarkable bounty of riding goodness. Nevertheless, in several years of trail riding I've never once been asked to show my pass.

Finding your way

Download the GPX here and follow it closely. There are many confusing intersections and side trails. One tricky area in particular is the first bush track section (about 4.5 km long) off the 6th concession from Middleville to Bow Lake Road. Don't be fooled by taking a side trail that seems better traveled. The correct route looks sketchy in a few places but is actually fine to ride. The details below should help.

Middleville to Bow Lake Road

From the Middleville Museum (well worth a visit if you have time), continue down the 6th concession until it turns into a dirt track.

At the first big intersection (note the yellow sign), keep left:

After following a good track for a while, you come to the second main intersection.
Again, keep left (the less-travelled trail):

At the third main intersection (note the yellow sign), take the rough-looking trail leading straight ahead:  

This next section of trail presents exposed rock sections and sand. It's also quite pretty, passing through pine stands and some roller-coaster sections. Eventually you reach the fourth main intersection, a sandy turn. Go right:

From here stay on the main, obvious trail which is well travelled but rough in several places. Watch for fallen branches and other debris. There's one main mud hole which, depending on recent rain, could be full of water. It's not very deep (less than hub depth) and if you keep some speed and paddle with your feet you'll get through just fine. Shortly after the mud hole you'll pass through some steep loose sections and a few more puddles, then pop out onto Bow Lake Road (gravel). This bush section is the muddiest of the entire route.

Most of the side trails along here end at lakes or the Clyde River, so if you take a wrong turn, it becomes obvious pretty soon. 


There are many options to cut the route short and head back to civilization. In particular, Wolf Grove Rd through Middleville, Highway 511, Burnstown Rd, and White Lake Road are main exits. All of these are great rides by themselves. One of the hidden riding gems is County Rd. 16 (Lavant Rd) from Hopetown out through Lavant Station.


While I've made a reasonable effort to ensure the accuracy of this ride information, it's only a suggested route and I cannot be held liable for any errors, omissions, changes in route conditions that may affect your ride, or consequences of using this information. Plan accordingly, ride with a buddy, and use common sense.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Lost school house on McKenna Road near Marlborough Forest

About 40km southwest of Ottawa, on Dwyer Hill Road near Richmond, lies the rugged Marlborough Forest. Like much of the area between Ottawa and Carleton Place, the Marlborough terrain consists of barren patches of limestone pavement punctuated by broad swamps and scrubby thickets of spruce and cedar. Not exactly farm country, but full of all kinds of wildlife including bears, deer, and some rare species of plants, snails, and other small creatures. Great terrain to explore on a dual sport bike: the motor allows you to evade the bugs (mostly) and make somewhat of a cool breeze on an otherwise hot, shadeless day. 

Unfortunately for dual sport riders, the intriguing forest trails that continue off O’Neil Road, Roger Stevens Drive, and Flood Road in Marlborough Forest are now closed from March to September—prime riding season. Since I wasn’t about to make a special trip back to mountain bike the area, exploration will have to wait until there’s a safe window around hunting season. It’s disappointing but the need to restrict access is entirely understandable. Too bad some people ruin access for everyone by not following with the rules. If you do choose to ride here, please stay on the roads and be gentle on the landscape. We're lucky to have this rare natural environment so close to an urban centre--let's keep it in good condition!

Fortunately, the closing of one riding opportunity often enables other interesting finds. 

One find in particular is an unmarked pioneer burial ground that lies near the rail crossing at Dwyer Hill Road. It's a rare bit of history and testimony to the hardscrabble existence the early Europeans faced when homesteading in this area. The pervasive limestone prevented digging graves, so burials consisted of piling stones on the remains. Coincidentally, CBC Radio featured a story on this very site shortly after my visit. Apparently it's not listed in the registry of Ontario burial grounds and may need an archaeological assessment. 

While returning from Marlborough Forest west along Roger Stevens Drive, I took a random turn down McKenna Road and soon encountered this intriguing old one-room school house.

All by its lonesome down an uninhabited road (it’s funny to think of the Google street view car coming down here), the building appears to date from the early 1900s and was probably still used as a school house up to the 1960s or even 1970s. A hand pump stood in the overgrown yard, and behind the building were remnants of a two-seater outhouse.

It looks like the outhouse used cans located under the seat and behind an access door at the back (I grew up with a similar arrangement in Australia). The rock would not have allowed excavation of a pit. It was probably a punishment for some poor student to have to dump the cans at the back of the lot somewhere. 

Surprisingly, the school house is open and maintained on the inside. 

None of the information posted inside indicated the history of the building. A web search revealed it’s owned by the Ministry of Natural Resources and serves as a base for hiking trails on adjacent lands. Later, I tried to find out about the history of the building but couldn’t find a record of it in my usual sources. didn't have a listing either. Since then I've managed to find out more - see the end of this posting for an update.  

Traveling past the school house, the road deteriorates into a rough track that passes a lonely abandoned homestead and then crosses a swamp. Don't be deterred by the swamp. You can ride through it quite easily on a large bike with 50/50 tires because the bottom is solid gravel and the muddy parts are not very slippery. In any case, the track joins a main gravel road just a few dozen metres past the water crossing. 

This was a great little find of pioneer history right on the doorstep of our nation's capital.


Owen Cooke, a volunteer at the Rideau Township Archives, was kind enough to show me a binder of historical records they have on this school house. These consist mainly of handwritten bylaws dating back to 1887 that cover the formation of the school sections. I took pictures of all the contents - contact me if you want copies. Below are some highlights I've pieced together.

Note: The wording of the bylaws is a bit confusing because it refers to both the formation of school sections, and schools. I'm not sure what relates specifically to the school house in question. Some of the details would need to be compared with contemporary maps of the area.
  • Known as S. S. No. 17 Marlborough Township. Location indicated as Part Lot 28, Conc 6, one half acre in Ontario Archives. Also indicated as Lot 27, Con 7 (perhaps incorrectly?) on 1975 photo.

  • Also known as the "McKenna School" because many McKennas went there. 
  • Bylaw 146 dated September 24, 1887 in Marlborough Township describes the formation of Protestant Separate School number 1 under the Separate Schools Act of 1886. At that time the area was largely settled by Irish Catholics. It seems that Protestants had to form a certain minimum number and petition for their own school section. The bylaw defines the parcels of land within the section area. 

  • Bylaw 206 dated 1899 repeals Bylaw 146 and describes the formation of Public School Section number 16 to replace Protestant Separate School number 1 (a.k.a. "section" number 1). This appears to have been done at the request of the Protestants who requested the formation of the original separate school section. The area of the school section is also enlarged substantially to at least 2700 acres. It is likely the larger catchment area contains additional school houses built or repurposed to serve the larger population. Contemporary maps show additional school houses in the general area, but I haven't compared their locations to the specific catchment area. 
  • Bylaw 232 dated December 24, 1902 describes the formation of the school as a Protestant Separate School (S. S. #1); they seemed to have formed a quorum and made their case around June 7, 1902. 
  • Bylaw 251 dated May 21, 1904 describes Protestant S. S. #1 being dissolved and thereafter being known as S. S. #17 (a public school).
  • Bylaw 322 dated June 1, 1912, describes the formation of school section 18, which includes portions of school sections 1 & 3. Amalgamation!
  • Teachers included Lula Hulladay of North Montague (1905), and Viola Argue (1930-31).
My interpretation is that the school sections were being formed and reformed throughout the period from 1887 and on, to support the shifting and growing needs of the population. This particular school house was probably built in the late 1800s or early 1900s (but before 1905). It's possible the present building is the original school house built to serve the larger population associated with the newly formed and larger Public School Section (Bylaws 206 and 251), and in particular the growing family of McKennas nearby.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Lanark County DS tour

Looking for a mixed-road adventure west of Ottawa? I'm mapping out a dualsport day ride that starts in Almonte and loops through Lanark County via a smorgasbord of twisty trails, fire roads, pavement, and a little bit of mud to keep it honest. The route is suitable for larger DS bikes with 50/50 tires (I'm riding Heidenau Scouts with no problems) and small bikes with at least 200km of range.

Although I've ridden all sections separately on different occasions, this particular combo still needs to be mapped but I hope to have that done in the next few weeks. Then I'll post the GPS file here. Let me know in the comments if you are interested in a guided tour and we can set up a date.

Update: Here it is!