When it comes to the topic of which type of cycling is best, most of us can readily agree that as long as we’re outside and having fun, it shouldn’t matter. Where this agreement ends, however, is with the outliers—the people who defy the norm and do things with their bikes that most people wouldn’t do. Like a rogue cop who just can’t leave a case alone, I feel the need to drive everyone else away with my weird cycling ways. “You’re on the edge, man! You’re gonna burn yourself out and end up hurting those who love you the most!” …Is what my captain would say before he asks for my gun and badge.
Alas, I am not a cop. I don’t have a captain to listen to, and my life is not an action movie. Will I continue to alienate other riders with my flippant refusal to wear lycra (not a good look on me) and ride road bikes on any surface? Yes. Yes, I will.
I like to ride my bike where most people would ride a more appropriate bike. For example, the route I chose in the Santa Barbara front country is a typical one that many on a mountain bike would ride. Up Romero Canyon Trail and down Gibraltar Road. However, I wanted to see what that route would be like in reverse on a drop-bar bike. It did not disappoint. It was also not painless.
There is a very long ascent up Gibraltar Road to East Camino Cielo which includes some pretty tough sections for climbing. The bike I punished myself with on this ride is my All-City Super Professional. It is a steel, all-road bike with a single 38-tooth chainring that drives an 11-40-tooth cassette. It climbed slowly.
There are a few Cat 4 sections before the Gibraltar Road meets East Camino Cielo. ECC, as the cool kids call it, slowly ascends and rolls up and down. It is an enjoyable ride with vistas on both sides. It goes like that for a few miles until it reaches a dirt parking area. On one side is an OHV (off-highway vehicle) trail. On the other is the top of Old Romero Canyon “Road.” There is a cistern in front of which one can prepare for the bike and body punishment to ensue. Also, I deflated my tires a little. I have 700 x 42 Teravail Cannonball tires (tubeless) inflated to 50 psi for the road, 25 psi for the dirt.
The trail starts off with some flowy sections and hard-packed dirt with the occasional rock cobble just chilling in the middle of the path. Eventually, the course becomes more unpredictable with slippery areas of sandstone, loose rocks, and occasional loose dirt. It is only towards the split towards the singletrack that the ride becomes too much to stay in the saddle full time. There are areas where getting off the bike and walking are safer. Sometimes, giant boulders are blocking the path.
The best plan for a bike like mine is to avoid the singletrack and head towards the fire road. Once there, it is just a matter of avoiding the rocks and ruts. My bike handles speed in this terrain well. My body, however, does not. I begin to see why I had to turn in my badge and gun. I guess I might be getting too old for this.
Since I was on a road bike, I forded the creek on foot—the bridge was washed out in 2018 by the 1/9 Debris Flow—I then dodged some families on my way towards the trailhead.
The bonus descent down Romero Canyon Road towards the 192 was next after I re-inflated my tires. I carry a Lezyne Floor Drive for this. It comes in handy from time to time. After a bone-shaking experience, a quick road descent is always a great reward.
To sum up, no matter what, bikes can be ridden anywhere. Is it a good idea? Not really. But that is my jam. It is how I roll. The lesson is, you don’t have to wear lycra and put down watts to be a cyclist. It is simply a matter of being on two wheels, enjoying the fresh air.
In another article, I covered the 1981 Stumpjumper and how, in the most hipster of fashions, I acquired one of the first 500 units ever made and restored it to a near-original riding condition. I decided not to revel in its irony, as hipsters are wont to do. I wanted to actually ride it: to take it out on the trails and see how it performed. I was willing to sacrifice my knees, wrists, and any unwanted hipster cred, to find out. Even though I have access to myriad modern human-powered trail-riding vehicles, I didn’t want my Stumpy, as important as it is to mountain biking history, to just hang on the wall (really, though, it looks awesome on the wall of the bike shop, but I cannot help thinking that it is lonely up there).
<rant> I am in no way a suspension hater. I do not, in any way, consider myself a cycling purist. I would never think that the awesome, modern, technology placed on mountain bikes today is not pure cycling. I just happen to be weird enough to be considered somewhat of a bike technology Luddite. If you want to ride a full-squish bike and get rad, then, by all means, don’t let me stop you. Maybe I like making things hard on myself, I don’t know. I can only compare my slight aversion to cycling technology to liquid soap: there’s no reason for it…yet it exists.
I love rigid bikes for their simplicity. There are no lower leg services, no air cans, recharges, dampers, seals, and fewer bearings to wear out. I have endured the discomfort that seems to be purposely built into these bikes just for the sake of being outside on the simpler machines. I believe that this bike represents mountain biking at its purest: kind of like hiking with wheels. Sure, I have to fistfight rocks and inhale trail dirt whilst pushing the bike through creeks and up steep sections of fire roads filled with angry hikers and dogs. It is all worth it. </rant>
Romero Canyon Trail in the Santa Barbara front country is a great trail to test a mountain bike. It begins with a steep fire road that is transected by a few rocky creek crossings, leading to a loop that includes single track, and some flatter, flowier parts. The trail features sand and loose rocks, patches of flat, slippery sandstone, and harder dirt with water ruts. The conditions were mostly dry with the exception of the creek crossings and occasional shady mud patch.
The Stumpy, at least with my legs, had a hard time climbing the steep fire road portion. The 26-inch wheels and the slack head tube angle were no help at all. It took a lot of concentration, oscillating my body back and forth over the rear wheel for traction and the handlebars to keep the front wheel on the ground. I never got the hang of popping wheelies in my life, and starting a bicycle circus act on a steep incline was not my idea of a good time.
The gearing, being a traditional triple-chainring setup, was not quite enough to make it over some of the steeper parts of the incline. The ratio of the lowest gear (0.91 in this case) just isn’t low enough when compared to bikes equipped with super-large sprockets. I found myself having to stop periodically to push the bike uphill. This didn’t bother me as I was intent on photographing the bike anyway.
ON THE FLAT AND FLOWY
After getting to the top of the fire road, I took the left fork towards East Camino Cielo. In the sections that weren’t covered by giant boulders from the 2017 Debris Flow, the bike handled well. It was a little twitchy due to the head tube angle. That was quickly overcome by the fact that it cornered like a boss. I found that I could maneuver the squiggly parts with ease. However, the more technical sections, when attacked at slower speeds also tested my handling skills, with moderate success.
I believe that there is a reason rigid mountain bikes also double as commuters. Those of us who compete in the revered and exclusive Cat 6 racing every morning would agree that this geometry is very comfortable for riding in the saddle for longer distances on flat surfaces. On the flat parts of the trails, I only needed getting out of the saddle once I needed to avoid an obstacle like a rut or a heap of rocks.
After reaching East Camino Cielo and resting for a while, I headed back down. I was hesitant, at first, to do this. This bike is almost 40 years old, has no suspension, and uses a threaded headset (the original, in this case). I was afraid the bike would rattle apart. Since I was running tubes deflated to 25 psi, I was also afraid that I would flatten the tires and destroy the original wheels right away.
Because the frame geometry was so slack, I didn’t really need to lower the saddle at all. When it seemed like the wheels and headset would hold up, I braved faster speeds. I was able to make it down the single-track portion of Romero, stopping a few times to navigate the rockier sections on foot. In retrospect, with my ass still sore while I write this, not lowering the saddle for the descent was a bad idea.
The original Mafac cantilever tandem brakes are no match for today’s hydraulic disc brakes. Many canti-haters would tell agree. However, in combination with the massive leverage offered by the Tomiselli motorcycle brake levers, they weren’t all that bad. They were enough to make me confident that I could slow my descent safely.
CONCLUSION AND PICTURES
I will probably ride this bike on the trails again, but not anytime soon. There are just too many modern rigid mountain bikes options that are built better, use stronger materials and parts, and have more comfortable geometry. Bikes like the Surly Karate Monkey, Salsa Fargo, Velo Orange Piolet, and the Kona Unit X come to mind. So if I were to shun suspension altogether, as I am wont to do, I would definitely keep the old Stumpy on the wall for the time being. It would be much more satisfying to beat up a bike that isn’t considered an icon. But for the sake of the Stumpy itself, I am compelled to ride it in the dirt every now and then.
I work with a bunch of people that ride mountain bikes and take every opportunity to do so. Because we live in Santa Barbara, we have the benefit of year-round riding conditions. Mountain bikers of all stripes are on the trails every day. This also means that there are hikers of all kinds out there as well. All too often, in my dealings with customers and co-workers, I hear about confrontations between hikers and mountain bikers that leave me stunned. There is certainly an us-versus-them dynamic happening on our beloved trails.
Mountain biking is a permanent part of the cycling world, enjoying a $6 billion market share of the US Economy. In 2016, that was 24 percent of total bicycle sales in the US that year. Mountain bike usage is on the rise. Now that e-MTBs (pedal-assist mountain bikes) are a thing, trails once thought too remote or too steep for traditional mountain bikes are suddenly accessible.
According to the pro-hiking set, mountain bikes and eMTBs are responsible for causing terror on the trails. Shock and awe. To them, there are legions of mountain-bikers flying down the trails at top speed, terrorizing innocent hikers and their families. Threatening their way of life. Curtailing their civil rights. Frightening them, the innocent locals, who are only out on the trail to find peace and enjoy nature. “Make the trails great again!” they scream (not really, just paraphrasing).
However, if you were to hear some of the conversations that mountain bikers have about hikers, you would think that they, too, are being denied the freedom to ride where they want. According to the pro-biking set, the trails are full of elite, crabby traditionalists that have nothing better to do than to complain about the frivolities of cycling with hatred and vitriol. They stand in the mountain biker’s paths and brandish their walking sticks. “Rid the trails of the walking dead!” the bikers exclaim (also not really, but you get the idea).
Conflicts and the development of trail management to accommodate bikers are well documented. When viewed through an anecdotal lens, it sounds like a fucking war zone up there.
There is also the question of conservation. A nature conservationist who is against mountain biking may cite the 1977 ban of bicycles by the US Forest Service in response to the growing number of people riding bikes on trails in federal wilderness areas as a good reason for bikers to stay off the trails. This was an addition and a re-interpretation of the Federal Wilderness Act passed in 1964, the core thesis of which was to leave the wilderness as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”
Fortunately for mountain bikers, this does not cover our local front country trails. To be sure, a lot of our trails are in the Los Padres National Forest, which does contain ten federal wilderness areas. However, our front country is not designated as such, and the federal wilderness laws do not apply. At the time of this writing, mountain biking is permitted on all trails in the Santa Barbara front country.
Even armed with that information, trying to reason with an upset hiker is near impossible. Some people take the perceived ruination of their personal serenity and communion with nature with an almost religious fervor. This type of emotional response to others having fun is, of course, not the fault of every mountain biker. But this potential of conflict is enough to make some bikers believe that every hiker is a pretentious douchebag who thinks he owns the whole trail just because he lives close by.
I am reminded of an interaction with a customer who came in looking to learn more about pedal-assist bikes. I showed him the road-specific models first since they were closest. However, this gentleman was more interested in e-MTBs because he was used to riding and commuting on a mountain bike. While I went over the features of the bikes, their motors, batteries, speed and such, I began talking about their performance on the trails. It was then that the conversation turned weirdly conflicting. The following is a reenactment of how the conversation went:
<highclassaccents> Customer: “So, my good man, how fast do these contraptions go? What’s the top speed?”
Me: “Good sir, I am glad you asked. The top speed is 20 mph. It is at that point the motor ceases to assist. However, the rider can still coast downhill faster than that without any hindrance from the motor.”
Customer: “Twenty! My word, that is certainly too fast for a mountain bike.”
Me: “Do remember, sir, that is the top speed the motor will go if pressed to do so—”
Customer: “Blazes! Why, would anyone want to go tearing around that fast through creation? Why it boggles the mind!”
Me: “For one to take full advantage of the power assist, the motor must have that much power for getting up hills and such. Most people will probably not by flying up hills at 20 mph—”
Customer: “Exactly my point! These beasts have the potential to be extremely perilous to hikers. Imagine being struck by one whilst out enjoying all that God gave us? Their use must be prohibited from the trails at once!”
Me: “That would certainly be terrible. However, good sir, there are currently no restrictions on the use of pedal-assist bikes on the trails. E-mountain bikes are certainly here to stay.”
Customer: “Please do not take this as an attack upon your station, for you are a mere bicycle salesman. But there goes the decline of civilization, good sir, right into the sewer! Good day!”
Customer: “I say good day to you!” </highclassaccents>
I came away from that conversation wondering if I was going to have nightmares. I sell mountain bikes for a living. I am in that sphere. I personally have never had a conflict with a hiker on the trails as I usually ride slowly, with a bell as a responsible rider is wont to do. The objects of my outings are not to see how fast I can go, it’s to be outside, stay fit and enjoy myself. But that is only my experience. Others to be sure, like some of the mountain bikers that I work with, prefer to go fast. That is their leisure. It just so happens that the only place they can recreate is on the same trails that everyone else uses. The result being, hikers and mountain bikers are going to end up in the same place at the same time, like it or not.
In a perfect world, mountain bikers should always yield to hikers. There is a responsibility that comes with wheels and speed when there are pedestrians about. However, when a bike is descending, it is much easier for the hiker to yield. It takes a lot of energy for a person and their bike to decelerate quickly enough to avoid a collision. Even when a biker is struggling up an incline, a hiker could, if they felt like being a decent human being, take a second to step aside to let the biker pass. If a biker is not able to stop or is being reckless and shredding too close for comfort, shouting at them, or even worse, intentionally blocking their path to make a point, is just irresponsible. That’s how crashes happen. That’s how fights start. What does that accomplish? Did you wake up one morning with the mantle of trail king thrust upon you?
Negative. That just makes you an asshole.
The same goes for the bikers. Use a trail bell. Control your speed. The trails are not exclusively yours and we do live in a community with thousands of other people. Going fast is fun but realize that you may not be alone. Just because there is no one to enforce any speed limits doesn’t mean you can use the trail to your abandon. If you choose not to care about the well-being of others around you, that makes you an equally devil-may-care idiot. Also, you and your bike are likely to be broken if a collision with a hiker is imminent.
Our trails and access roads are certainly something to take advantage of. We should never take them for granted. However, this enjoyment of our natural resources comes at a price. With more people out in nature, we must all keep in mind that we live in a society. No one person or group can claim the exclusive enjoyment of our trails. All of us need to go out into nature with the expectation that we will cross paths with another person eventually. Etiquette must be learned and practiced. Bikers, remember that hikers are not out there to yell at you and get in your way. Hikers, keep in mind that mountain bikers are not out there to deliberately ruin your audience with nature. Getting angry will only lessen your harmony and bum you out.
A lot of people have this vision of bike shop employees swimming in a sea of free bikes and parts. Bike swag for days: trucker hats, t-shirts, stickers, mugs…the occasional branded spork. While we are certainly in closer proximity than most to get all that nifty bike graft, free bikes are still pretty rare. Even when we do get a bike gratis, it’s usually some clapped out, broken down, bicycle-like thing that is not worth fixing. I’d rather get loads of sporks from some lube company, rather than deal with some old, crummy bike.
This past spring, however, some dude came into the shop and donated his old bike after learning how much it would cost to repair. Not knowing what to do with it, the employees spirited it to me during my lunch hour. I reluctantly took it off their hands, thinking that I was going to have to make the trip to Bici Centro to donate it. Nevertheless, it was a free bike and it looked really cool. I decided to take a closer look at it. It was made from Japanese Tange Chromoly steel, and had, what looked like motorcycle brake levers and friction shifters on the handlebars. It was, to my delight, a very old and beat up Specialized Stumpjumper.
I didn’t really know it was special until I started researching it. I always thought the first Stumpys had lugged frames. Most of the people who claimed to have the first-year bikes usually showed up with a lugged frame. This one did not — it was TIG welded. But it had the ridiculously huge Tomaselli brake levers, a TA Specialties crankset from France, Suntour drivetrain and Wheelsmith Wheels. I figured it must have been a frankenbike that was pieced together over the years. It wasn’t until I started reading more articles about the first Stumpjumpers that I realized I had one of the first 500 ever built. Somebody slap me.
<namedropping> A free Specialized Stumpjumper from the first batch of 500 ever ordered by Mike Sinyard and Tim Neenan and designed by the latter. Mr. Neenan’s signature is on the chainstay, and the design had come from his own Lighthouse Chapparal from 1979. I was feeling the weight of having this mountain-biking icon, this symbol, this…closest thing I have ever come to possessing a holy relic. The first production mountain bike. I stopped short of slapping myself. </namedropping>
Realistically, though, it is a bicycle. A special one, to be sure. But it was in rough condition and it needed work.
Though it sported most of the original parts, the previous owner rode the crap out of this bike for the past 38 years. It was a survivor of the dirt, not the enthusiast’s collection. The last thing I wanted out of this was a collector’s item. I decided that I would make it rideable, replacing the broken and worn parts here and there in the spirit of keeping it a living bike. Potential pretension aside, I wouldn’t mind showing to as many people as possible. In deference to Indiana Jones, I say that this beautiful relic does not belong in a museum. It belongs back in the hands of somebody who would enjoy riding it. Namely, yours truly.
Problems: one of the open-bearing bottom bracket cups was rusted into place, the chainrings were worn into shark tooth-like pointiness, the large moto housing for the moto brake cables (a defining feature of the early Stumpys) was cracked and splitting, the rear derailleur was totally shot, and the rear wheel bearing cartridges were also producing a nice grainy noise when spun. Many of the parts on this bike, though original, needed a lot of work, or replacing.
My first task was to get all the working parts shiny again. I spent quite a bit of time getting to know steel wool and metal polish. The Mafac brakes were particularly bad, as was the headset and seat post quick release. Overall it took me a month, becoming very familiar with steel wool and metal polish, to get all the parts derusted.
That was the easy part. The biggest problem was the bottom bracket. Before we got to that, we had to remove the cranks. TA Specialties uses very weird (read French) threading on the outside of the cranks: 23 mm, a bit larger than the more common square-taper crank threads common today. However, getting the correct crank puller was not as hard as pulling the crank itself. The top lip of the threads had been bashed in over the years making it difficult to get purchase on them. Retapping the threads was the only option if I wanted to make them serviceable in the future. While I searched for the correct tap, I used a blow torch and a rubber mallet to remove the cranks.
The drive side bottom bracket cup, being completely seized, required the use of some serious heavy metal. We tried everything: a pin spanner, a lead pipe attached to the pin spanner for leverage, various solvents and stinky fluids, but to no avail. Alas, we had to cease in fear of breaking the wrench and damaging the bottom bracket shell. We then used a drill and cutting fluid to enlarge the spindle hole wide enough to insert a special removal tool. It was a frustrating and sweaty experience, colored by many expletives and crying in the corner of the service area. Once it was out, we chased the threads and refaced the shell. I ordered a replacement cup, and after I lubed the crap out of it, we had a serviceable bottom bracket once again.
After sourcing the proper tap from China, I was able to get the cranks into shape and installed with replacement TA Specialties chainrings. A new-old-stock Suntour aRX rear derailleur and a new chain got the drivetrain going. It was only a small matter of replacing the original Mafac tandem brake pads with Kool Stop clones and routing the housing and cables. Good times.
The bike is finished! It looks great and is super close to the original spec. I certainly hope that anyone who owned one of these or was involved in the original project to create them would agree with me: I must take it up Romero Canyon (and back down) so I can get the full feeling of nostalgia. Besides, my joints haven’t taken enough of a beating lately anyways. I can’t wait.
I did manage to gather some deeper wisdom after all was said and done. Bikes are made to be ridden. If they hang on the wall too long or rust out in the garage, you are doing yourself, and the bike, a disservice. Not only will you become weak and out of shape, having a beautifully restored museum piece in your collection only increases your pretension. Besides, who cares that it is not a hundred percent restored? I really don’t need to hear about how I haven’t sourced the proper headset bearings that were only made for three months in 1980 and can only be found by engaging in a Romancing-the-Stone-type adventure. Hang on, let me go find a cartel boss to take me into the Colombian wilderness in a souped-up Jeep to locate the last cache of bearings, whilst being chased by Danny DeVito and a bunch of pretentious hipsters, only to shell out a whole bike’s worth of money for a measly part I won’t see. Get out of here.
Facts are facts. There are already bikes in museums. I don’t need to go that far with a restoration. I just want to ride every bike ever. It’s a goal I have. I will follow up with another article reviewing how the bike rides on dirt. While you wait for that, check out these cool pictures of the Stumpjumper in question and tell me you wouldn’t ride it.
I have often asked myself life’s deepest, most meaningful questions in the search for more knowledge: How far can I ride a touring bike on a singletrack trail? Will road plus tires even work on singletrack? When do I get to use the stuff I learned in Algebra 2? Who invented liquid soap, and why? I grew ever more pensive. As I carried my bike over some of the more difficult parts of Romero Canyon Trail, I tried to keep my mind off of my bad decisions…and the flies from the inside of my nose.
The Kona Sutra pictured above is certainly a capable bike. It is even able, with some difficulty, to make it on a trail, provided there aren’t that many loose rocks and dirt. Having converted the bike to 650b last year, the bottom bracket is nice and low, offering the stability of a gravel bike, with the load-carrying capacity of a touring bike. However, the bike, as pictured, is about 35 pounds (15.8 kg)…it’s really heavy. Too heavy to have a good time going up the trail. There were several washouts and debris flows over which I had to shoulder this beast. Once at the top, though, it looked great. So why do it? Research.
Research, Dear Reader, sounds like an excuse. But it is actually a reason. Not a great reason, but there it is.
Being without a purpose-built mountain bike, I thought it might be a good idea to test out the Sutra on a surface other than asphalt or gravel. The handling and the tire choice were my main focus here. Touring and adventure bikes are usually seen as the best option for an all-in-one bike. However, like a fancy SUV, just because it looks capable, doesn’t mean that it is. I have done quite a bit of touring in my life, and I can tell you that the Kona Sutra is perfect for that. Asphalt and gravel…no problem. Beyond that, I wanted to know what the limitations were for this particular build. Thus, like a Patagonia-Lululemon-wearing-Montecito mom about to drive her G-wagon in the dirt, so did I set out to get some scratches on my exterior.
The wheels of my Sutra are shod with WTB Byway 650b road plus tires. I often get some questions about the capability of these tires from other gravel or adventure cyclists. Some of them want a tire with a little more bite than the WTB Horizons, but not as knobby as the Sendero. I usually recommend running the Teravail Cannonball if they want a little more tread. These seem to be a good go-between. But since I get the Byway question most often, I decided to take my life in my hands and push them to their limits. I had them on there anyway, so there’s that.
What I found after riding the Romero Canyon fire road and singletrack, is that that the WTB Byway is barely capable of handling loose, rocky trail conditions. Loose dirt about half an inch deep was also a problem. There just isn’t enough bite, especially going uphill. Even with decent bike-handling skills, and tire pressure at 20 psi, the tires slid out from under me way too often. Turns out, there is a reason why knobby tires exist: to make trail riding way less scary.
The Kona Sutra itself, despite the tires and the overall weight, handled well. There were some slight mishaps involving the too-low-for-this-use bottom bracket and the toeverlap. These problems became more manageable once I slowed down a little and found the right lines. Once on level ground, or even going downhill, the bike seemed to roll over almost everything. There were sections that were rutted and filled with cobble-sized rocks that seemed to pose little problems. Did I get some air on the way down? Why yes…yes I did.
I’m sure that without the Swift Zeitgeist saddlebag and the brass Honjo fenders to weigh me down, I would have had a lot easier time getting to the top of the trail. Again, I was trying to see if I could make it to the top, not how fast or how easily. Imagine those guys who go out with their 4×4 Jeeps, attempting to traverse huge gaps and rocks, just to see if they can. They stop often, look at where they are stuck, etc. That’s what this was like, except I didn’t have a spotter with me. I just went for it and made it from the trailhead all the way to East Camino Cielo. Slowly. It took me about four hours (with rest stops and photos). There were a lot of other bikers who passed me on the way up and asked me how it was going when they were on the way back down.
I would have been happier on a bike with suspension and a dropper post. But I don’t have one of those. I’m not that type of guy. This fact became obvious as my back and knees began to hurt from all the rigid-bike-on-a-trail-Spanish-Inquisition torture. It was even more apparent when one group of bikers passed me by, and one of them said to the rest of his buddies, “those are the tires that are leaving those smooth-ass tracks! Crazy!”
My nonconformist cycling style leaves little room for caring. Here is a summary of my research. Drink it in:
Road plus tires like the WTB Byway are not recommended for riding singletrack, loose-rock, and loose dirt trails…on purpose. They can be forced to work if you find yourself there by accident. I highly recommend the WTB Sendero, or Teravail Rutland tires, set up tubeless, inflated to around 20 psi for this kind of trail work.
The Kona Sutra is a seriously rugged bike. Geometry and handling on trails are exceptional. Just go slower than you would on a mountain bike and you will do fine.
Having the right gear ratio is tantamount. The base model Sutra comes with a touring-traditional triple chainring, that would work well. The LTD model comes with a single chainring…having at least a 42-tooth cog in the rear is a must. Anything less would be difficult.
Honjo fenders from Simworks are well-built and can handle this type of riding without rattling. This is only if they are properly installed with more robust M4 bolts and nylon locknuts. The OEM fasteners are not strong enough. Drill bigger holes.
With the lower bottom bracket, using platform pedals, for me, was a must. I had to get off the bike too often to make clipless pedals work.
To sum up: for all the Kona Sutra owners out there, you have an awesome bike. Push it to its limits. Just be sure to use the right tires for the terrain and be safe.
I spent a considerable amount of time building my Surly Travelers Check. I completed the initial build last April. Since then I have ridden it on the roads in two countries. I amassed quite the trove of feedback on the original build. This mostly came in the form of teeth-clenching gripes I kept muttering to myself while climbing the steep hills in Okinawa. I realized that I would like to not only make some improvements to the drivetrain, but I also wanted to expand the bike’s overall use…meaning dirt and gravel.
I wanted to keep the bike as simple as possible when I bought the frame. Being a travel bike, I needed to make sure that I could get it repaired in foreign countries. The original build featured a simple 2×9 drivetrain featuring a Shimano XT RD-M772 rear derailleur and a Shimano Sora FD-3300 front derailleur over an FSA Vero 2x square-taper crankset. Using a pair of Dura Ace barcon shifters, the friction front actuation worked out well. It was simple to adjust, and I had endless trim. However, I found the need for a little more finesse on the rear. Nine speeds is fine on flatter roads, however, when faced with super steep hills, it makes for less efficient climbing. Plus, the Sunrace 9-speed 11-40t cassette never really got along with the indexed rear shifter. They spoke different languages, I guess.
Overall, the bike did its job and got me where I needed to go on that trip. Okinawa is mostly asphalt and has beautiful flats along the coast and some very challenging climbs inland. When I returned, I decided to upgrade to an 11-speed drivetrain. This required replacing the rear derailleur with a Shimano XT RD786 11-speed rear derailleur (with a Shimano XT 11-40t cassette), new FSA N10/11-speed chainrings (46/34t), Microshift SL-M11 shifters, and chain. Expanding the bike’s use on gravel and dirt necessitated the need for larger tires. I also wanted a bit more effective diameter and a softer ride. I ended up choosing the Panaracer Graveling 700×38 over the Panaracer 700x32s that I used in Okinawa.
Always expecting the unexpected, I also added a Kinekt 2.1 Body Float seat post. It is a light, parallelogram-actuated, coil-spring saddle solution that a colleague of mine uses on his hardtail mountain bike. Rather than suspending the bike, it suspends the rider, offering equivalent ride comfort in a smaller travel range.
To test the newly-christened Surly Gravelers Check, I thought I might try to ride it on some fire roads behind Santa Barbara. So I chose the Mission Canyon Catway (see map below).
Not the best idea…
It was a gnarly ride that, based on more feedback acquired from more teeth-clenching gripes, required a much different bike. I made the mistake of starting via the Tunnel Connector Trail, which was very steep and full of loose rock and fine dirt. However, when I got to the catway, the ride was much easier. I had fun, took some pictures, survived the descent, and learned a lot. Here are my takeaways from this adventure:
The trails behind Santa Barbara are very steep in some places and have a lot of loose rock. The 700×38 Gravelkings, even at 25 psi were not aggressive enough for the loose, rocky conditions. More aggressive tubeless tires would have been better.
The geometry of the Traveler’s check is not suited for the the steepness of the descents. It was difficult to get my weight over the back tire enough to keep myself from pitching forward. A slacker head tube angle would have been safer.
My gear ratio was definitely not suited for all the climbing. My lowest being 34-40. It was a struggle, and I had to dismount a few times, but I made it. I think if I had a wider low-end range on a 1x setup, I would have been fine. I also had trouble getting out of the saddle, if I did, the rear wheel lost traction.
On the flatter parts, the bike performed well. If I found the right line, I could clip along at a decent speed. The bike was a bit wobbly, and a lower bottom bracket would have helped stabilize the bike. The Gravelers Check has a 62mm bottom bracket drop. For this type of riding, a drop of 85mm like that of the Specialized Diverge would be better.
I have a good feeling that the Gravelers Check will eventually live up to its name. It’s a good, solid bike that looks pretty dank and goes just about anywhere. I just have to remind myself that it has its limitations. For travel, it will continue to be amazing. For gravel, dirt, and small climbs, I think it will do fine. For heavier trail work, I will build another bike. The upgrade to 11 speeds was a good decision. I have yet to find the true do-everything bicycle. This one comes close. I can travel with it. I can ride dirt trails with it, provided they are no too gnarly.
More pictures and parts list at the end of the article!
It has been said that “steel is real.” Indeed, one can walk up to a steel bike, touch it, and feel the real steel. Many companies in the 1980s and 1990s made some pretty impressive steel frames. Those that were made in the US or Japan at that time are considered the best by some and works of art by others. There may even be one located in a garage or barn nearby just waiting to be resurrected and ridden.
For a daily rider, a bike should have a comfortable geometry and be made from a metal that is responsive, with just the right amount of stiffness. For me, nothing is better than a well-crafted, lugtastic steel bicycle frame with excellent design provenance and amazing tubing. The 1994 Bridgestone MB-1 certainly fits the bill.
Not all of the Bridgestone models from this time period were made like the MB-1 (or MB-2s and some of the 3s, for that matter). That doesn’t mean that they aren’t good bikes. Many of the lower-end models of the MB-, RB-, and XO- lines are still awesome bikes. Any frame-up build of one of those would result in a great daily rider. However the MB-1 (and for some reason, the MB-Zip) holds a special place in the hearts of riders and collectors.
1994 Bridgestone MB-1 Brooks head badge detail with lugtastic lugs!
The US division of Bridgestone Bicycle Company was run by Grant Petersen. As Sheldon Brown (rest in peace) recounts:
Bridgestone is an enormous multinational company, one of the largest tire companies in the world…and a fairly small bicycle company, with its own factory in Japan. In the late 1980s and early ’90s, its U.S. bicycle division was run by Grant Petersen, a brilliant, talented and idiosyncratic designer.
Petersen, a hard-core cyclist, marched to a “different drummer” than most of the industry. He introduced many innovations to the market, and also strongly resisted other trends and innovations that he didn’t approve of.
As a result, the Japanese-made frames of this time were beautifully constructed (lower-end models were made in Taiwan and did not use lugs and were TIG welded). Made from the highest end of Tange Prestige tubing, these frames are not only desirable, but ride extremely well. Many of the features on the -1s and -2s are evident in the construction of Petersen’s current venture, Rivendell Cycle Works. His Bridgestone legacy also continues in other bikes as well: Handsome Cycles uses the same lugged construction and geometry of the Bridgestone RB-T in their Devil model.
How one acquires such a frame through trade or favor is another story (especially the favor part). This particular build uses some of my favorite components from various bikes that I have ridden and build up a really nice-but-not-too-nice bike for my daily rider-slash-errand-slash-bar bike.
The drivetrain is a Shimano XT 3×9 with a Deore triple that came stock on my 2017 Kona Sutra. I realize that a lot of folks are leaving triple chain rings to history these days, but I am using Shimano Dura Ace bar-end shifters mounted on Paul Components Thumbies to give me that slightly-updated classic feel to my shifting. It works great and a friction-front shifter is not only nostalgic for me, it allows for more accurate trim adjustment.
For the connection points, I chose SimWorks Fun 3 bar with Paul Components Canti Levers (connected to their Neo-Retro cantilever brakes), held by the SimWorks Gettin’ Hungry quill stem. I managed to salvage an older Shimano XT headset to use as well. The saddle is a Brooks B-17 that is older than the frame itself, connected to a classic Race Face XY seat post. Pedals are the awesome VP-001 in a fitting, and no longer available Rivendell gray.
Now that I am done patting myself on the back for building one of the dankest rides ever, I just want to say that I am humbled by the history of these older bike frames. It has been a while since we have seen a company put a lot of money and materials into such care and precision on a mass-market scale. Remember though, there are many frame builders out there who are running amazing businesses and creating phenomenal bikes. They have learned from these old frames and their designers and are building on their legacy. I would love it if I could ride them all. Alas, with my curious lack of thousands of dollars for a new frame, riding a classic will do just fine.
Parts List (prices are at the time of this writing):
Shimano XT-M772 rear derailleur – $64.99 (from various dealers)
Shimano XT-M781 front derailluer – approx. $25.00 (if in stock anywhere)
Shimano SL-BS77 9-speed bar-end shifters – $90.00 (from various dealers) Paul Components Thumbies – $95.00 Paul Components Canti Levers – $146.00
Paul Components Neo-retro cantilever brakes (x2) – $121.00 SimWorks Fun 3 bar – $55.00 SimWorks Gettin’ Hungry Stem – $88.00 Brooks B-17 Standard Saddle – $145.00
Raceface XY seat post – between $12.00-$77.00 (!) on eBay VP Pedals 001 – $65.00 (from various dealers)
Shimano Parallax 100 front hub – approx. $30.00 on eBay
Shimano XT FH-RM70 rear hub – Approx $20.00 on eBay
Rhyno Lite 32-hole, 26-inch rims (x2) – $45.00 f(rom various dealers) Kenda K-Rad tires – $34.99 (from various dealers)
1994 Bridgestone MB-1 Brooks chainring detail
1994 Bridgestone MB-1 Brooks head badge detail
1994 Bridgestone MB-1 drive side view
1994 Bridgestone MB-1 rear derailleur detail
1994 Bridgestone MB-1 pedal detail
1994 Bridgestone MB-1 rear oblique view
1994 Bridgestone MB-1 Brooks brake and tire detail
Or, why you should never, ever, attempt to assemble a bicycle yourself, if you are not a pro mechanic.
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus, who, over 2,500 years ago, said that “change is the only constant.” Everything changes, right? Seasons change. Technology changes. Governments change. Liquid soaps have come a long way, too. Bicycles? They change as well. Which leads me to disagree somewhat with my dead Greek friend: Danger, my dear Sir, never changes. With the advent of disc brakes, suspension, 11- and Eagle-speed cassettes and super bendy aluminum derailleur hangers, the danger of assembling a bicycle without the help of a pro mechanic is ever present.
People are always looking to save money (that never changes either). The internet has become the best place to score a deal on pretty much anything. One thing I always tell people before buying a bicycle on the internet is, well wait, two things:
Why on earth are you forsaking your local bike shop? Do you not care for your local economy?
If you must insist on buying a bike from a faceless company, take it to your local bike shop and pay to have them assemble it for you. For the love. Of. Dog. Do it.
Story time: A gentleman (not Greek) came in today with a Diamondback that he recently purchased direct from Diamondback’s website. He did the right thing by it. He didn’t even try and fail. He brought it to us untouched. There is a very good reason to do this. Safety. Had he tried to assemble the bicycle himself, he would have missed some not-to-uncommon things that often plague a bicycle during its time in a box. For example:
The derailleur hanger was bent. It wasn’t bent that bad, but your average person might wonder why their bike’s chain was always being pitched off the large cog into the spokes of the rear wheel. He may have come to the erroneous conclusion that Diamondbacks are all terrible (they’re not if properly built).
The hydraulic disc brake calipers were both rubbing causing inconsistent braking and lots of noise. The rotors were also out of true and needed to be corrected.
The headset was loose which could cause a failure in steering or steer tube damage.
The front wheels had three spokes that were extremely loose which could cause the wheel to fall apart at speed.
Don’t even get me started on pedal installation. Many people miss the fact that the non-drive side crank has reverse threading and manage to strip the threads. This often results in purchasing a new crank or rethreading the old one. Both remedies require remuneration of some sort.
All these things are not uncommon in a bicycle that’s fresh out of the box. Sometimes it’s worse: the brake lines could be dry, brake pads not installed, chain not properly tensioned. All sorts of things. Which is why, in to my utter amazement, Diamondback, who should also be familiar with these things, included tools and an assembly guide with their bike. They are selling their bikes partially assembled, direct, including tools (and a bunch of disclaimers), fully expecting their customers to attempt to ride a bicycle that will never be checked over by a pro mechanic and therefore be unsafe to ride.
The tools from the Diamondback from the Internet
Now to Diamondback’s credit, they do try to mitigate this by stating that all bikes not built at a bike shop by a pro mechanic will have their warranties voided. There are many consumers out there who don’t really care, either. They just want a cheap bike.
Which brings me to my final point: in order to get a safe bicycle to ride, buying one on the internet many not necessarily save you any money at all. What with shipping and the price of assembly 9both of which do not apply to a bicycle in a shop), you may end up spending more money. That is, if you don’t want to take your life in your hands. This also goes for buying a used bike. Don’t forget that.
If there was a conversation going on near your cubicle where you overheard one person say, “just bring your bike to Tyson, he knows everything about bikes. He can totally fix it.” The person with said broken bike would be in for a surprise: I don’t know everything there is to know about bikes. I just like them a lot. Besides, being a bike nerd doesn’t require knowing how to repair everything on a bicycle.
The sad fact is, achieving bicycle perfection is a lot like achieving nirvana: even though you know that you’ll never get there, you must keep trying. Therein lies the motivation. There are still many things that escape my knowledge of bicycle repair: hydraulic disk brake bleeding is one, rebuilding suspension is another. Those have always felt a little too car-like for me, and thus I have tended to shy away from them. I will eventually get around to them one day as I did with wheel building.
Over the years, I have managed to accumulate quite a few extra bike parts. Among the detritus in my closet (I live in a studio apartment) were two old hubs. I acquired the old Shimano Parallax 110 (XT) front and DT Swiss Onyx 8/9/10 rear in a trade that I vaguely remember. They sat there, buried under the strata of my “collection” for years. That is, until another trade netted me a pair of NOS Araya CV-7 26-inch rims (single wall, but still nice). I was sure that I did not have a project that needed 26-inch wheels. I had just finished the pre-build of an old Bridgestone which had its own wheels already. So why would I even consider accepting some more rims?
The answer came to me, when, out of curiosity, I dug out the two hubs from under years of brake levers, cassettes, and spare tubes. I was actually wondering how many spoke holes these hubs had as I knew the Arayas were sporting 32 each.
I was in luck. Both the Parallax (new in box) and the Onyx (take-off) were 32-hole refugees from some distant past. I’ll bet you’re expecting me to describe how I would hold the take-off part in my hand, and in closed-eyed wonder, imagine all the miles traveled on the bike it used to be a part of. No. Hell no. Save that noise for art-gallery hipsters who’ve plenty of time between tattoos and artisnal wooden handlebar purchases. I need to learn how to build a damn bicycle wheel.
<goodoldays> When I was young, if there was something I wanted to learn about bicycle repair, I had to bother some grumpy old bicycle mechanic or buy a book. The interwebs and Google machines hadn’t been invented yet. So I have to say, this is a wonderful time to be alive. </goodoldays>.
I ordered some spokes and nipples, borrowed a friends truing stand and fired up a YouTube video on how to lace wheels. So how did I know which spokes and nipples to order, you ask? Well, since my hubs and rims were on the older side, I needed to find a good caliper and measure some stuff. The best site I found that explains this is Edd. They have easy-to-follow diagrams and a video about how to measure everything (spokes, nipples and rims) to get you the right spoke length. They also have a database of hubs and rims already in there in case you have a more modern set of wheel parts. DT Swiss is another great site to find a good spoke calculator as well (registration required).
As you may have seen in the picture above, I did make it all the way to lacing the wheel. It’s actually quite relaxing. I just kicked back on the couch, watched a little Parks and Recreation whilst lacing, consuming a beer in the process. The lacing is quite easy to understand. Given the pattern and where you start on the rim. It all just sort of falls into place. For me, the most difficult part is the tensioning and truing. By the great Beard of Zeus, I could not find a decent video tutorial on how to tackle this part. It’s probably the Google machine knowing I am a not-young fart and I don’t deserve to get my tutorials easily.
I have what some would say would be an unhealthy obsession with steel-framed bikes. The fact that pedaling a heavier bike makes you exercise harder leaves that point moot. Recently, nostalgia got the best of me. I decided that I wanted to convert my Surly Long Haul Trucker to an all-around short-distance commuter and trail bike. The Surly Long Haul Trucker is one of those steel-framed bikes known for its strength and versatility. Indeed, anyone who buys one can take advantage of a good all-around geometry and the ability to customize the bike for almost any need. The Long Haul, or LHT, comes in two wheel sizes 26″ and 700c (in 56cm frames and above). I decided to take a look at the bike and see what I could create.
Being a rather untall fellow with shortish legs, I my Surly is 52cm frame (only available in 26″ wheels). I figured, for versatility’s sake, that this bike in 26″ would allow me the best range of customization. I could make a world tourer, a single speed commuter or a rigid trail bike. Having grown up in the 80s in Southern California, a rigid trail bike was what everyone had if they didn’t have a road bike or a beach cruiser. I can’t stand riding a beach cruiser, and since I have a Surly road-ish bike already, I opted to build myself a retro-inspired mountain bike á la 1982 Specialized.
A fiend of mine was sporting the above-mentioned Specialized with these nifty bullmoose handle bars by Nitto. I knew that Rivendell sold them but only in a threaded headset version. Since the Stormtrooper (as opposed to Stumpjumper…that’s what I am calling the LHT these days) had a threadless headset, I was at a loss. Thanks to the all-powerful Google Machine, I happened upon Fairweather which had a Surly LHT pictured with some threadless Nitto bullmoose bars! Being only around $80.00 US, I ordered the bars immediately. The next step was to re-route the shifting and braking.
Anyone who wants to get a lot of really nice aluminum components milled right here in the good ol’ USA, look no further than Paul Components. These guys make some of the nicest parts out there. Their braking components are second to none. I have their cantis on two other bikes and plan to put them on this bike as well. What I was really after was the thumbies. I took the Dura Ace bar end shifters and adapted them for use on the straight bullmoose bar and violá! Old Skool Stormtrooper in effect!
One of Surly’s most famous decals says “Fatties Fit Fine” and you will find it on the chainstays of most of their bikes. Indeed, the specs for the max tire width on the LHT according to Surly is 2.1″, although I think that a 2.25″ could be wedged in there as long as it has smaller knobs. I opted for the classic gumwalled Duro tires in 26 x 2.1. They hearken back to a time when there were only a few types of MTB tire available, and it was not uncommon to see a dude flying down the street with giant-knobbed tires buzzing like a 4×4. So these fit the bill. It already comes with a Shimano LX triple drivetrain which I left stock because retroness.
So I’m all set. I will keep you updated on the progress. I plan to install some Paul brakes and cable hangers and new pedals (undecided). Rundown of parts and costs after the gallery.
Surly Long Haul Trucker Front End Detail
Surly Long Haul Trucker Bullmoose Handlebar Detail
Surly Long Haul Trucker Front Shifter and Bell Detail
Surly Long Haul Trucker Rear Shifter Detail
Surly Long Haul Trucker Front Wheel Detail
Surly Long Haul Trucker Front Hub Detail
Surly Long Haul Trucker Crankset Detail
Surly Long Haul Trucker Rear Brake Straddle Detail
Surly Long Haul Trucker Cassette and Rear Derailleur Detiail