Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Fargo is back- A little leaner and alot meaner

Another update on the Fargo's configuration.  I swapped out the bars and the tires and removed the fenders to make the bike more versatile and better on the local trails.
The biggest difference is the new handlebar.  As I mentioned in a previous post, the Soma Clarence alt bar was not as versatile as I thought it would be.  So I went the classic route, with a used basic aluminum flat bar.  It happens to be a Giant Connect bar 690mm wide, if you're interested.  This exercise reminded me once again of how versatile this bike is.  This is now the 3rd very different handle bar setup, and the bike rode great in all cases.  I all comes down to your preference for hand position and steering style.  With the flat bar on board, this is the best handling Fargo setup so far.  I can see why some people love the flat bars.  They provide a solid and direct connection between the rider and the front wheel.  The steering was very quick for a big slack 29er.  My only issue is the bars feel a little short for me.  I'm 6'4" and can't find sleeves long enough, so this might just be my issue.  But I would like to have my hands further apart for stability, especially for riding singletrack.  I ride a Transition T-bar 30" (excellent bar by the way) on my full suspension and it's really comfortable.  So I think I will try something like that next.

The other big change to the bike is the tires.  I liked the fast ride of the stock WTB Vulpines, but I rode them through some goatheads.  Both tires picked up thorns and flatted.  So I took the opportunity to try something more trail worthy.  But I still wanted a tire that rolled fast down the center since I ride this bike on road and gravel alot.  My LBS suggested the Maxxis Crossmark 29ers.  I have always been happy with Maxxis tires' grip and durability.  Maxxis build a beefier sidewall into most of their mountain tires, a feature I think is really useful since most trails out here have rocks that stick out sideways.  I run the High Roller 2.3 tubeless on my full suspension and I had the ReFuse's on my road bike.  So I got a couple of Crossmarks for the Fargo.
The tread says it all I think.  The knobs on the center line roll really fast and quiet on road and hardpack. The corner knobs grip really well through the turns.  I have ridden them through a few chunky rock gardens without issues.  Excellent choice for an all purpose SUV of a bike like the Fargo.

Lastly, the fenders came off.  I would have left them on if this was strictly a commuter or gravel grinder. But on trails the fender banged around and rub against the tires non stop, so they're hanging in the garage for future use on a tour or something.

I leave you for now with this picture of the Fargo overlooking Boulder CO.  This was taken part way up Flagstaff Mountain, at the first observation point.  The road up Flagstaff is one of the steepest climbs in Boulder, which is to say it's one of the steepest climbs in a lot of places.  It's a regular test piece for for bikers.  I recently decided I would pedal the Fargo to the top, even though it's "too heavy" and has "too much stuff on it" to climb well.  I say set up your bike the way you want, ride it up or down whatever you want, and have fun with the whole process. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Monkey Feet

No need for a detailed scientific analysis on the Vibram toed shoes or barefoot / minimalist running.  You can find that by googling Vibram Five Fingers or barefoot running or minimalist running.  Or better yet read Born To Run by Chris McDougall.  All I want to do is run down my brief experience with the shoes and maybe a new insight on the construction.

After a lot of research, I decided to try to VFF KSO Trek in the rich luxurious brown leatherway.  I figured it was Fall, and I would be using these on the local hiking trails.  So this model was a good fit.  I tried on a pair at my local REI and was impressed with how warm they felt indoors.  I figured I could use to hike through the sunny days of winter.
 Note how stylish they look with khakis.  I wanted to rock them on my next consulting business trip.
 A few things I need to explain about the construction of this model compared to the other VFFs, so you can make an informed decision.  This model is the least running oriented of the line up.  So they have the smoothest interior of all the models I tried, which included the Sprint, the standard KSO, and the KSO TrekSport.  I don't mean smooth in the R&B sense of the word.  I mean the Trek (not TrekSports mind you) interior has a minimum of stitching and support built into the heal.  it seamed like the other models had a lot of seems on the inside that were really noticeable and kind of irritating just walking around the store.  The TrekSport and basic KSO models also felt like they had some extra material sewn into the arch area, possibly to provide support.  Even if this arch 'support' didn't hit my foot's arch all wrong, I would have dismissed these models on principle because any extra arch material goes against the basic philosophy of these shoes.  I thought the Treks just felt the best, and most minimalist, on my feet, and the leather interior was real nice.  I read no mention of interior stitching on other reviews so I feel compelled to share this knowledge with other VFF shoppers.
Out on the trail, the hiking sole was excellent.  Traction was great on rocks, loose dirt, and gravel surfaces.  And it does a great job of taking the edge off sharp rocks without loosing the feel of the trail.  Vibram really sorted out the design of tread.  I will say that the leathers are really warm on the trail.  This model has small mesh cutouts on the forefoot and between the toes.  And Vibram claims the leather is naturally cool and breathable.  But I think feet will be hot on the trail if it's any warmer than about 55 degrees.

The one item about the construction that was ultimately the reason for returning the shoes is the padding inside the sole.  Shortly into the hike I felt a sharp pain under the base of my toes.  It thought it was just my toes getting used to the feeling of barefoot hiking.  But it never went away.  It just got worse.  When I got home I felt inside the shoes to see if I could figure it out.  Turns out there was a ridge in the sole right at the base of the toes.  After some investigation on the Vibram site I figured out that the models with the hiking soles have an extra 2 mm of EVA foam under the foot but not under the toes, so the footbed drops off into the toe pouches creating the ridge I felt on the trail.  Maybe I just have weak sensitive toes but I didn't think this was worth trying to get used to.

When I returned the Treks to REI I felt inside the other models and confirmed that this ridge is only in the Treks and TRekSports.  It might be inside the Bikila model as well since it's designed for road running.  Word to Vibram: get rid of this potential pressure point and make the entire insole flat and level from heel toenail.  The extra foam is more trouble than it's worth.  The hiking sole protects the feet just fine and the extra foam only reduces the feel of the surfaces, which is why someone would would buy these in the first place.

Bottom Line: This design flaw and resulting discomfort aside, I thought hiking and running through the woods in almost bare feet was a wonderful and enjoyable experience.  It feels great on the feet to let them bend around rocks and flex like they were designed to.  After just a couple of walks I could feel everything from my feet to my lower back getting stronger.  If you can deal with, or just don't care about, the construction details I mentioned, I recommend trying some VFFs or similar barefooted product.  I will definitely look for an alternative to the VFFs, and drop a post about it.

As always, big props to REI for their customer service.

Fuel for the machine.

Maybe this post belongs on a blog called Gershfeld Garden, but that blog doesn't exist (as far as I know).
Until some friends started talking about actually eating them, and I read Born To Run by Chris McDougall, I thought chia seeds were only useful for growing hairy pottery. Turns out they might be the best kept secret in sports nutrition.
I have now been eating them regularly for a few weeks and I think they are a great source of energy and nutrition.  Makes me want to bolt out the door and do outdoor things!

There are lots of articles on the internets about the Chia.  But this site has a good rundown and food suggestions for mixing with chias.  Here are some of my other favorites:
- fruit juice
- granola
- and my personal fave, Alo Drink!

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Fargo - Ride Report

After describing the my Fargo setup in great details, here's a few words about the ride.  The first thing I noticed about the bike is that it's really smooth.  The steel frame is excellent in the way a good steel frame should be.  It's not too stiff but it is very stable.  It rolls with the trail and it eats what is dished out.  What really surprised me about this bike is that it pedals and climbs really well for how heavy it is.  As you can see I made no effort to make the bike super light.  But the bike still feels fast.  Like any 29er, the key is to keep the wheels' rolling momentum going so they can keep rolling over stuff.  And the Fargo is a 29er mountain bike at heart.

My frame is the size XXL.  It's probably not the tightest handling bike ever made, but I have no complaints.  It turns well in tight spots and feels smaller than it is.  I think the change from drop bars to something more mountain-like allows for better trail handling.

One of my favorite rides at the moment is a lap around the Boulder Reservoir.  It's mostly fast hardpack covered with a bit of gravel.  There's a short section of descent that steep enough so you can't really slam on the brakes and come to a stop, but the Fargo feels really stable and comfortable.  The head angle is slack compare to  some other 29er hardtails, at 71 degrees.  I think this is to provide stability for full loaded touring.  But it also makes for a nice ride on a variety of terrain, including beachfront property and rocky steeps.

Here's one for the brochure.  This is just above one of the trailheads at Marshall Mesa.  There's miles of singletrack and gravel roads there and The Fargo is right at home.  The trip around Marshall from Boulder is a really nice long ride.  One of these days I'll get some trail photos to go with the landscape photography. The Fargo actually rolls over rocks, I promise.

Fargo - The Story Continues

It's been a while since the Fargo found it's way into the garage and it's been through a few different setups and more than a few rides.  Let's get caught up with the story...

The first changes to the stock setup was the addition of the rack, fenders, and brooks saddle.  The saddle was no decision at all.  I had it on my old single speed cross bike townie and just like the feel of it.  It's a great fit for the Fargo and really takes the edge off the trails.  It is spring loaded and sometimes I get my bounce on while riding on a rough trail but it just adds to the fun.  The fenders and rack was the plan from the beginning.  I wanted to this bike to be and SUV that I could ride on the local trails and haul panniers full of beer and food home.  The pedals are Crank Brothers Mallet 1s.  They are designed for downhill racing but they work really well on this bike.  The nice big platform lets me pedal well with street shoes.  The eggbeater in the middle clips me in when the ride is road and/or trail.  I also read that Crank Brothers put more durable bearings in the Mallets, which also sounded good to me.  In a quick  test, I seemed to me that the Mallet bearings also spin better at the axle than other CB pedals.

The rack is the Portland Design Works Payload.  The good: I think the bamboo deck and curved lines look awesome!  The styling won me over straight away.  It's also rated to carry 77 lbs, which I think I tested on some errand runs that included groceries and beer.  The bad:  The slots in the deck and the curved supports just don't work with some pannier systems.  I brought it into stores to make sure panniers would sit right. I ended up going with Ortlieb Back Rollers (in bright yellow).  They work great, are waterproof, easy on/off, and seem to be durable so far.  More on them in another post.

You may recall this odd bike came stock with drop bars, road brakes, and bar end shifters.  I gave that setup a few weeks trial run and decided I didn't like it.  The drop bars and brakes were actually really comfortable, and it was kinda fun flying down hill in the drops.  But I just didn't dig the bar end shifters.  I didn't like the motion of moving my hand from the hoods or drops to the bar end and work a lever to shift.  It's just much easier to work the gears and brakes when it's all within fingers reach.  The bike doesn't tour enough at the moment to justify having them.  I use it as a trail bike and a commuter bike so a mountain bar setup made more sense.

I did a bunch of research into what the bike community is calling Alt bars and settled on the Soma Clarence Bar.  It's similar in design and dimensions to the more popular On One Mary bar, but a little wider.  It was also cheaper and easier to order.  The brakes and shifters are Shimano XT.  The bike (in XT build) is all XT from the hubs out so I had to finish that off on the bars.  Yes the grips are leather!  Another well made product from PDW, the Dapper Dan grips are lock-ons and really comfortable without gloves.  This was key since I ride this bike about town without my trail gloves on.

As for the ride report on the Alt bar setup, I didn't really dig them either.  They were kinda comfortable and felt good for out of saddle climbing.  But they put my elbows in towards me at a weird angle.  Off road, the downward slant of the grips caused my hands to literally bounce down the ends of the bars, which is super interesting!  And the combination of the 25.4 clamp and 2-bolt road stem had way too much flex for trail use.  So the Alt bars were replaced.  More on that later.

The stock tires are WTB Vulpine 2.1 29er tires.  They are billed as XC race tires but they worked really well on this bike.  The center knobs are almost flat and roll fast on roads and hardpack.  The outside knobs dig in pretty well but on the loose harpack out here the bike got a little shifty.  The tires always caught but it made for an interesting ride on fast corners.  Kind of like skiing in soft snow.

The brakes are Avid BB7 Mountain (not road) discs and they work really well on this bike.  Haven't even thought about swapping for hydraulics.  One of the many really nice design features of this frame is the placement of the brake mounts inside the rear triangle.  This leaves easy clearance for the rack and fender eyelets.

 The paint color, a sparkled olive green that Salsa calls Fun Guy Green, seems to be a real 'love it or hate it' color among riders and reviewers.  I happen to love it.  I also really dig the decal work.  The one above says "Designed In Minnesota, Made In Taiwan"

The one above says "If it ain't Moto, it's worthless".  This  a long time Salsa slogan.  If any one knows what it means let me know.  I think it's rad.

And last but not least, I really like that the folks at Salsa print instructions right on the frame.

By the way, this 3-word instruction manual is also etched into the drop-outs.  And that's what I try to do.  Just ride and smile...

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Fargo by Salsa - How it got to Gershfeld Garage.

Welcome readers!  This is my first post and I have to dedicate it to the finest piece of gear I have acquired in a really long time: my new bike, the Salsa Fargo.  I was lucky enough to procure this bike at a screaming deal that I just could not pass up (I will refrain from admitting the details to protect the innocent, but they know who they are, and they get props!).  And no, I do not work for Salsa.  But I will entertain a job offer if they are reading.

I was looking for a steel hard tail 29er and I didn't want to spend a ton of money on a custom build.  I have to admit I didn't think this would be the one.  But the deal was offered to me and I found out that a local shop actually had one in stock, built up in my size (XXL).  I had to check it out.

At first sight it's a strange looking bike, I know.  Salsa bills this bike as a specifically designed off road touring 29er.  It comes with every conceivable braze-on for racks and fenders and bottle mounts on the frame and fork.  You can read the details on the Salsa site.  It is supposed to be able tour any surface anywhere.  I didn't really have ambitions of exploring every dirt road in the US and beyond, but I really liked the idea of a bike that could ride well on pavement, gravel, fire roads, some local light trails, and be able to carry a rack and panniers for town commuting.  It just gave the impression that it could get things done and have a good time at it.

I got a good feeling about the bike right from the first ride.  I used to have an un-suspended steel 29er single speed, so I was familiar with the big wheel concept.  But I was surprised at how quick this bike took off, considering it's probably at least 30 lbs in the biggest size.   I was not immediately sold on drop bars or the bar end shifters but I thought it was worth a try.  Who knows, I might get used to them and grow to like them.  In case you're wondering, bar end shifters are preferred by most tourers, which is why they are spec'ed on the Fargo.  It was explained to me that they are the simplest, most durable, easily repairable in the third world, shifting mechanisms available.  And even when they break they still sort of work.

From the shop I climbed a short hill up to the edge of a park where bike are not allowed.  But I ducked in just enough to check out the Fargo on a bit of dirt and rocks.  I remembered how well the big wheels rolled over stuff.  I turned a quick corner, rolled over some roots, and went off a short rock shelf.  I ducked out of the park and back on the road, which was now a fast downhill back to shop.  I made sure to pop on and off some curbs to do a proper test ride.  By the time I got back to the shop I was sold on the geometry and the quality of the ride.  It really did handle all the conditions I threw at it with ease.

Over the next few days I read alot of reviews and blogs about the Fargo. People from all over the world seemed to be setting them up all different ways and riding them in all different sorts of terrain.  All the stories were really positive.  Many of the photos of riders generally included a smile.  Even after a short demo ride I could see why.  There was something very interesting and satisfying about a bike that could offer so much versatility.  Especially if I could get it for the price of an average Boulder wheelset.  I put my order in and the bike was on it's way.

Stay tuned for more stories of my Fargo, how I set up, and where it's been riding...