Monday, November 16, 2015

Vajosuo Beer Ride Episode VII

It was time for the traditional annual November beer ride to Vajosuo, the seventh year in a row. This time the concept was changed a bit. Instead of taking the cars to the Kurjenrahka area and then riding for 2-3 hours before stopping at a shelter, we decided to make it (a lot) harder. There is a marked route going from Raisio (and from Turku before that) to Yläne and we were to follow it to the Töykkälä shelter, where we would spend the night and then ride back in the morning. We estimated it would take 6-8 hours to ride from Raisio to Töykkälä, including some short breaks, since the trails mostly range from technical to very technical. This was definitely not a trip for someone with lacking riding skills or fitness.

This was also perfect shakedown cruise for my new fatbike, which I had equipped with some bikepacking bags. The frame bag and jerry can bag were home made by me.

I started riding at 11:15 and rode 15 km on asphalt to the gathering place in Raisio. We waited a while before JJ arrived, after which the real ride began.

JJ taking photos.

Me and Toni. Photo by Tommi Jansson.

The route continued with a mix of trail and smaller roads. Timewise only a small part was spent on road, though.

A little rain doesn't matter much.

The route was mostly well marked.

Five of the bikes were fatbikes and the remaining two singlespeed 29ers.

The Rehtsuo mire.

One of the more colorful peat moss (Sphagnum) species and a cloudberry leaf.

A break near Rehtsuo. Toni's high-end bike in the picture.

My new bike, a White 3Fat Pro, worked very well. I was also pleasantly surprised that my bike handling skills still were great, despite having done mostly kayaking this year.

The singlespeeders are happy and the reason is the chainline. Any negative thoughts can be countered by thinking about the beauty of a perfectly straight chainline.

On the move again. The sunset was at 16:00 and it was getting darker.

At Myllysuo we decided not to take my shortcut, but instead opted to check out the trail destroyed some four years ago. We soon found ourselves in the wrong place, but nothing a bit of bike pushing couldn't help.

And on we went. We had some discussions about different options, since the difference in speed between riders was quite large in the more technical parts, but eventually all rode together to Töykkälä.

After Vajosuo the trail had been plowed into a field, which was less nice to push through.

At 20:00 we arrived at Töykkälä after a very hard day and around 60 km for me, many of those on difficult trails. I was now starving, but also very surprised that my bike riding fitness was still on an acceptable level, despite having trained very little this year. I guess the bike commuting, even if the distance is short, has had some effect.

The first thing, even before changing into dry clothes, was to get something to eat and drink.

And so the evening went on. Drinking beer, grilling lots of meat and talking.

Me in my sleeping spot. Photo by Tommi Jansson.

I woke around 7:30 and got up shortly after that. Jarkko already had a fire going.

I took a long time with my breakfast and several cups of coffee. It took time before everybody was awake and were ready to pack their stuff.

The Töykkälä shelter is at the edge of the Kurjenrahka mire.

The time was almost 10:30 before we got going, and this meant that I at some time would have to cut the trip short and ride directly home on roads.

Bang. At Vajosuo Tommi hit a stone at a bad angle and cut open the rear tire and also got a hole in the front tire. The tubeless sealant did a fair job of sealing the front tire, but the rear tire was worse with a 4 cm long cut.

Pasi tried to sew it together.

Tommi and his unfortunate tires.

The sewing wasn't enough. The hole was still too big for the sealant and an inner tube was installed.

All this took a long time and three of us decided to take the road back home after Vajosuo. I was home in the afternoon after 43 km, of which only 6 km were on trails.

A nice and hard trip. Thanks to everyone for the company.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

A new fatbike!

Finally some fatbike content again! Perceptive readers might have noticed that I've mostly blogged about kayaking this year. The main reason for this is that I've pretty much dedicated this year to learning the skills needed for more advanced sea kayaking. This will continue next year, when I'm taking a thorough sea kayaking module as part of the wilderness guide education. I will however do more cycling next year, though this depends on the weather. If we get a real winter I foresee a lot of fatbiking next year, but if the winter is like last winter's continuing misember, I'll do something else instead. At least during the winter...

Why a new fatbike? I do have a 2014 Salsa Mukluk, which I've mainly had in 29+ mode with the 29" and 50 mm wide Surly Rabbit Hole rims and 29x3" tires. With the Bluto suspension fork this is a great setup for most situations. I also got a set of winter wheels for the Mukluk, with the 100 mm wide Surly Clownshoe rims, but the clearance with Surly Big Fat Larry on these rims was less than what I had hoped for. The tire clearance really only sufficed for true snow riding and I wanted more.

At the same time, I've followed a discussion about even wider tires on MTBR with interest. This is the development I've been waiting for, and I made the decision to get a new fatbike when this new standard would become available. Unfortunately, it seems that the development currently is driven only by Espen Wethe from Nakamura Norway. Salsa and especielly Surly, which earlier have been the innovating force in the fatbike world have not indicated that they are doing anything at all currently. The current result of this development is the Vee Snowshoe 2XL 5.05 tire, which is noticeably wider than the current tires and fits a few frames of today, like the Salsa Blackborow and with some tweaks also the Surly Ice Cream Truck. I'm waiting for something bigger, though, before I start paying premium price for it.

Enter XXL. I had checked out the fatbike of the house brand of the XXL sports retailer, White, and had found it to be a very interesting bike for a very good price. When XXL had a "super weekend" with 20 percent off everything, the offer was too good to resist. For 1059 € I got a full fatbike with reasonable components. As a comparison, the Salsa Blackborow frameset including hubs currently costs 1190 €.

The White 3Fat Pro is the middle model in the White fatbike series. It has an aluminium alloy frame with a carbon front fork. The top tube is hydroformed, which I personally could live without. I've never fallen for the aesthetics of the bent tubes and it also slightly intrudes on the potential frame bag space. Still, the bike doesn't look bad, it is actually quite good looking. The component series is a reasonable mix of components, with the drive train for the most part being from the 1x11 SRAM GX series, which should be considered very good at this price level. The disc brakes are the Shimano entry level BR-M395, but I don't foresee a problem with that. The disc rotors are the correct size from the start, 180 mm at the front and 160 mm at the rear, something seen far too seldom. The crank set is the only real question mark: I've never heard of the Samox TAF 29. The rims and hubs are branded White, so it's hard to say what they are. The rest of the components are mainly branded White, and probably don't differ much from the entry level stuff of any other brand. (In the pictures the saddle post and saddle have been replaced with my preference, the Cane Creek Thudbuster suspension seat post and the Rido R2 saddle).

SRAM GX trigger and Shimano break levers. The grips will be replace with Ergon grips soon.

SRAM GX 11-speed derailleur and an SRAM 10-42T cassette.

The Samox crank set came with a 32T chain ring.

The chain clearance won't be a problem.

The tire clearance remains to be seen. I tried it (not pictured) with the Clownshoe wheelset, and the Big Fat Larry tire on a 100 mm rim seemed to fit well, though I won't guarantee that the wider Surly Lou tire on a 100 wide rim will fit. (I wouldn't want to use it anyway. From my point of view the tires with really coarse patterns is the wrong development, since they cause even more damage to the trails than ordinary MTB tires. On the other hand, tires like Big Fat Larry treat the trails more gently that ordinary MTB tires. In my opinion, fatbikes should have as wide as possible tires, with a gentle tread pattern and a rubber composition giving good grip on wet surfaces).

I did a one hour test ride in a slight drizzle. The tires were somewhat slippery on wet rock, but otherwise everything was great. The bike rode like any good fatbike and was lot of fun. The gearing ratios sufficed, but I do think that I will replace the 32T chainring with a 30T one, if or when we get a real winter.

Some fine tuning naturally remains. The bike came with a 60 mm stem, which definitely is too short. I also found the handle bar to be too wide with its 740 mm, but maybe one can get used to it. My Mukluk winter wheelset will be rebuilt with the wider hubs needed by the White 3Fat Pro and I will also make a frame bag for it, but I do think that the bike is basically very rideable from the start, without having to replace components.

To sum it up, this is really very much bike for the money. Compared to my Salsa Mukluk, which retailed almost twice the price two years ago, this is a better bike right out of the box. I don't see how Salsa and Surly can compete against bikes of this kind, unless they start innovating again.