June 2010 Archives

2010 Kona Kahuna: A Review


So yeah, can't trust commercial media these days to do a proper review of a bike. They only seem to rate stuff on a scale of awesome to mind-boggling so. Internet reviews are almost as worthless, but in this case you get some context.  You've got a year's worth of ride stories here to see if I have the same kind of bike dork values you do. 

And this year, I decided I really wanted a geared 29er. Mostly for bikepacking duty, but maybe also something a little more XC race friendly than the trusty Hoss.  I've broken enough stuff over the years that I had a fair idea of what I wanted.  Aluminum frame. Eyeletted rims. Name brand spokes. Loose bearing hubs. Mechanical disc brakes. Usually, the traditional selling points don't do it for me. I don't care if it's LX or XTR or SLX or whatever. Shimano MTB components, no matter how cheap, just plain work. Wheels and other rotational stuff like headsets and bottom brackets are far more important to me. And more expensive doesn't necessarily mean better.

Because I get sponsorship from our local shop- a couple of brands got priority: Norco, Marin, Kona, Scott, and Jamis.  I also had a budget cap of "about a thousand bucks". Plus or minus however much it took to buy the bike I actually wanted.  ;) 

One thing became clear from the get-go, my budget cap instantly put me in Dart 3 fork territory. This was actually OK with me.  The Dart 3 is one of the last remaining coil sprung 29er forks on the market and I've never really clicked with any of the air forks I've ridden. I've also got a coil sprung Tora fork on my Hoss that just plain works well. 

One bike instantly rose to the top- the Kona Kahuna.  I have 3 other Kona bikes that I just love, the Kahuna met all my requirements, and the only real drawback was that it was 9 speed. I was very much hoping for 8 speed given how well that's worked out on the Jake.  So I did something I've never done before and ordered the bike sight-unseen.  It was a long, anxious wait- be warned Kona shipping is slow.  

When it finally arrived, I took it out on my local trails and was extremely happy to find it just plain worked. And it was fast too!  Now that I've got some miles in on it (not just trails- commuting, road racing (?!), endurance racing), I feel qualified to nitpick it.  

So let's start with the one thing that makes a Kona a Kona- the frame. I'm very happy with this. It's almost exactly what I wanted. Well built where it needs to be (I'm trying desperately to get through a bike review without using the word "beefy").  It has what I consider to be the most ideal cable routing- along the bottom of the top tube. Even has a nod to practicality with provisions for fender mounting with eyelets at the rear axle and mounts at the chain and seat stay bridges.  I really only have two gripes- one is minor, the lack of rack mounting holes on the seat stays.   The other is more significant- there's very limited tire clearance with a front derailer. I realize this is probably moreso a problem with 29er geometry than the Kahuna itself. It looks like switching to a 1×9 setup will fix this problem and let me run something bigger than 29×2.1s.


As expected, the Shimano drivetrain parts just work.  Even if it's not 8 speed, I'm pretty happy. I'm getting some creaking from the bottom bracket. I suspect a grease job will cure that for a bit, but I can make pretty much any bottom bracket cry for mercy so I'm not surprised by this. One thing that really surprised me were the hydraulic disc brakes.  I figured I'd end up ditching these for a set of my beloved BB7s, but hey- these things rule. Better modulation than the mechanicals and so far none of the stupid futzing with bleeding that I see way too many people doing.  Only complaint so far is the front brake's continual march out of alignment. It just never, ever stays put. I always have to adjust that thing.  

I'm pretty disappointed by the fork though.  I guess it works as well as can be expected but it's very, very flimsy.  The front axle can basically be anywhere within a couple of square inches while riding.  The final nail in it's coffin was when the right fork seal spontaneously migrated to the top of the stanchion while riding last week.  Surprisingly, no oil escaped and after pressing it back in with the proper tools (my car keys and a stick), it seems to functioning just as well as always.  I guess this is why I love cheap bike parts though. If a $700  Fox did this to me, I'd be freaking out.  I'm thinking this is going to get upgraded soon. The RST M-29 looks like a nice option, but I wish I could find the coil spring version in the US. I'm also considering going rigid as well- those Niner carbon forks just look damn cool even if they're way too nice for a bike like this.  

Wheels are always a problem with me, but I'm happy to note these are holding up well.  They were slightly out of whack after the Cheq 100, but a quick truing jobs got them back in line. As for the stock tires....  well, I really like them but damn, I've had more flats this year than I've ever had. All with these tires. In fact, after rolling through a briar patch, I've pretty much written them off as untrustworthy as I'm not sure I've managed to pick out all the thorns.  

One minor note, and something that really pissed me off.  What drunken monkey is putting the rim tape on these bikes? Seriously, they barely managed to cover the spoke nipples. Attention to details such as this kind of says a lot about the overall quality of a bike.  It worries me a bit.   

The thing that does it for me overall on this bike though is those freakin' giant 710mm handlebars.  Sitting up high over those big wheels with all the leverage at my disposal just feels right. And you can't beat just grabbing those suckers and cranking up hills. Big wheels need big bars.  Sure it's a little tight weaving through trees sometimes, but it's a tradeoff I'll gladly take.  Plus it's just cool to try and touch down a bar end in high speed bermed corners.

Overall, I got what I wanted- a good frame, a reasonable set of wheels, and a good collection of parts.  My gamble on going for the cheaper fork didn't pay off as I had hoped, but now I get to pick what I want. It's hardly a perfect bike, but it has no glaring faults and I can fix what I don't like over time as money allows.   

Gravel Grinder Equipment Choices

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I get a kick out of looking at the search terms people use to arrive at this site.  And just before every big gravel race I see a slew of queries regarding tire and gear selection along with more general "gravel road racing bike" type searches.   

Well, we here at Bad Decision Bicyclist are here for you.  And, well, if you're willing to take gear selection advice from a site that bills itself as the "Bad Decision Bicyclist", gravel road racing is certainly the sport for you.  Now keep in mind, I'm far from competing in the elite levels of this sport and have only been gravel road racing for a very short time.  But I do spend a lot of time cruising the gravel roads and two tracks of the UP, I never DNF, and I stay pretty comfortable and have a good time.   However, I'm a highly opinionated cheap bastard with sometimes esoteric tastes.  I'll try to at least explain why I do the things I do so you know the variables you'll have to contend with when you make your own choices.  

The first thing to start with is tires. It's a big choice that affects what type of bike you'll be riding so consider it carefully.  Cyclocross tires are a popular option, but all those cute little knobs just don't seem all that functional to me in the conditions I most often encounter. And they wear away pretty quickly.  My choice: 35C Panaracer Paselas. They're cheap (the wire bead versions can be had for $15), they hook up surprisingly well in dirt, they last a long time, and are versatile enough to tour and commute on as well. I spend the extra ten bucks on the folding bead TourGuard versions, but I've never had any kind of puncture problems off road with the cheaper models. They'll slog it out in the mud in a pinch, but if things are going to get that ugly- best just switch to a mountain bike.  

700c tires gives me lots of options on the bike front- everything from cyclocross to touring to monster cross to full on mountain bikes along with all the little niches in between.  I find a cyclocross style bike works best.  Mountain bikes work OK for when things get really ugly, but a cyclocross bike is generally faster for me and can deal with most conditions I'll likely encounter.  Monster cross style, drop bar mountain bikes just seem like a "worst of everything" style compromise to me.

My personal choice is my trusty Kona Jake. The aluminum frame and a steel fork provide ride characteristics that work well for my riding style. It's got all the eyelets necessary for racks and fenders and what not, and most importantly- it's cheap.  Spend a fair amount of time on gravel and it will tear up components.  Replacing 8 speed cogs and chains is much more economical than fancy Ultegra bits- and really, after a 75 miles of grit and grime- I think it shifts better than the expensive stuff anyway. For brakes, I stick with cantilevers. When set up properly, they provide more than enough stopping power for 700x35 tires, even using cheap pads. I see no reason to jump for discs or any need to buy special brake pads.   

One thing I did do this year is spring for a heavy duty set of wheels- with really wide Mavic A319 rims.  Wow, best upgrade ever.  The Paselas really like the wide rims and the whole bike feels much more stable. Very, very helpful when bombing those sketchy downhills.  

I generally run under 60psi in the front and over 60psi in the rear. Plus or minus however much it needs because I forgot to pump up the tires.  I don't really stress about this a lot.   I usually leave my rear fender and rack on the bike, mainly because it's easier to do so than to constantly remove and add them for commuting duty.  However, I do worry about wedging a rock up underneath the fender and shredding a tire. Never seen it actually happen, but on those occasional killer death climbs- I occasionally pray for just such an occurrence.  

For clothing, I stick with my team kit from Champion Systems. It's great for getting our brand out there in shorter races. For slogging it out all day in varying conditions, I'm less than enthusiastic about it.  I'm currently experimenting with lots of wool clothing and having excellent results. I'll be pushing hard for a wool version of the team kit next time around.  

I'm very careful about spare gear and tools that I pack. Give me a pannier and I'll fill it, old boyscout "be prepared" habits die hard. I usually try to keep my load down to a couple of water bottles in the cages, a small camelback, and a seat bag. Tools and spares include a bike multitool, leatherman, 2 spare tubes, patch kit, frame mounted pump, duct tape, and spare master link. Depending on weather, I might pack the arm warmers and a heavier set of gloves- but I've never had to go digging for warmer clothes as I'm usually shedding extra clothing at every opportunity. Depending on what time of year it is, I might have a little bug spray or sunscreen handy too.

I also have a small feedbag type thing I keep strapped to the top tube. I usually rely on fig newtons, salted almonds, and maybe an ice cold coke from a gas station or something to get me through the day.   

For navigation I rely on a Banjo Brothers Map holder. One thing I've found to be helpful is to put a paperclip or something on there to mark which instruction I'm working on. I usually also have a GPS in my camelback tracking the course, mainly so I can geek out over the numbers later.  I usually rely on a cheap $10 walmart bike odometer for course mileages.  

And well... that's basically it. I've managed to go out and enjoy every ride I've been on with no DNFs due to equipment. I've got things ironed out enough that I rarely even have annoying small problems to contend with. It's important to consider shakedown runs and finding out what works for you, especially when it comes to stuff like food and other deeply personal issues like bike shorts.  

I hope this was helpful, but don't come looking for me when you hoark up half a box of fig newtons after your budget cyclocross bike conks out on you midride.  ;)

CannonTrek VII

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I've been doing the motorcycle dork thing a lot longer than the bicycle dork thing.  One of the motorcycle dork things I look forward to most is CannonTrek- an 1100 dual sport ride around the UP with some of my imaginary internet motorcycle friends.  

Even if you know what "dual sporting" is, it's tough to describe the concept of the CannonTrek. At it's premise- the route is mostly dirt with some single track, sandy sections, and other technical challenges thrown in with a lot of really fun dirt roads, two tracks, and the rare paved section.  It takes us four full days of riding to complete the route and we travel as light as possible, hoteling it along the way. We're an entirely self supported crew relying only on what we can cobble together to keep everybody going. 

But it's difficult to describe just how tough this route is.  Last year, I had to bail on part of the ride as I couldn't deal with the constant rain and mid-forties temperatures on the third day. This year, it was an entire week before I recovered enough to get back on the bicycle. 

What really makes this ride cool however, is the teamwork involved. It's even harder to describe than the route itself.  20 guys, most of whom have never actually met before can come together and have a great four days of riding. And when things get difficult- we'll really come together to help each other through it.  This is why I do this ride every year.  The route is right in my backyard, but it isn't the same without a good group of folks to ride with.  

Anyway- I give you the official ride report. There's a lot of really cool pictures in there.  Individual stories are still pouring in at the end.   

Chequamegon 100

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"Dude, how'd it go?"  

I don't know.  

It was really hard, I guess.   

But I finished.   

Definitely the hardest thing I've ever done on a bicycle.   

And now that it's behind me I'm sort of lost and without a goal to shoot for.   

I started this bike racing thing almost exactly four years ago. I signed up for the 16 mile Chain Drive.  I honestly wasn't sure if I'd even finish, let alone beat anybody.  And sure enough, I did finish- even beat a few people too.   

Some people are sore losers, I'm a sore winner.  This was merely an indication I needed to try something much harder next time.  So I've been doing progressively harder and harder races ever since.  This past April and May were the culmination of that- 2 hundred mile plus gravel grinders, a 100 mile mountain bike race, and a 75+ mile road race with the local big dogs that I decided to do on a mountain bike.  After spending a lot of time and money preparing for these, I successfully completed them all.  

So now it's time to pick an even harder event- right?  There's no shortage of events to choose from. The Trans Wisconsin, Tour Divide, Arrowhead 135.  All big challenges.  However, all will take a significant amount of time and money to prepare for.  In some cases, life altering amounts of time and money.  And here's the problem- lately, I just haven't been getting out of cycling what I've been putting into it.  

Four years ago, my enthusiasm would positively nauseate you.  And why not? I dropped over 100 lbs with the help of cycling, got myself in the best shape of my life, met some cool new people, and had some fun new adventures.  It goes to reason then that if I cycle more, I'll get more of these things- right?  

Well, maybe not.  

I know what's going on here. I've seen this pattern in me enough. I've done it with all sorts of things. Motorcycles, rally, ham radio, the list goes on and on...   This is the phase where I go from being completely gonzo about something to quietly integrating it into my lifestyle.   Focusing on the things I enjoy most about the sport and committing to them.

I've got a pretty empty calendar for the rest of this season.  I'm teaming up with my dad for the 12 hours of Potluck. I'm looking forward to Miner's Revenge and the Copper Harbor Fat Tire Fest- albeit maybe more for the parties than the races themselves.  I certainly won't miss the Official Unofficial UP State Single Speed Championships at the Great Deer Chase. And of course there's my favorite form of bike racing ever- cyclocross in the fall again.  In between I'm hoping to get some touring in and of course the best kind of riding ever- just getting lost all day on a bike.   

Things might be kind of quiet around here for the rest of the summer, but rest assured- I'll be out pedaling.  Gotta justify that beer drinking somehow.  :)