Thursday, March 8, 2018

Bikepacking the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail - Trek 1120 Shakedown ride number 2

For my second ride on the new Trek my mission was to test out the rear rack and bag holder system. I made a few changes to the bike based on what I learned from the first ride. That ride was only 4 hours, but near the end my shoulder was getting irritated, so I swapped out the stock handlebars for my favorite Hussafelt ones. I’ve used these bars on several mountain bikes and they have always felt perfect. I was curious if they would be more comfortable for my shoulder. I also added a pair of Ergon GS2 Team Series Carbon grips. I figured that the extensions would be good for climbing and providing an alternative hand position. 

I also fabricated a temporary rear fender for the rack out of an old tire. I cut a section of the tire, punched some holes in it and then zip tied it to the rack. Ugly, but effective. My final modification was to add a little mountain bike fender on the front fork. At first, I couldn’t figure out how to mount it because it is meant to be used on a suspension fork, but after realizing that I could zip tie the front of it to the rack it lined up perfectly.

I wanted to load all the racks up but realized that I didn’t have the correct sized drybags yet. I need to get another one for the front, so I just strapped on my OR Bivy directly to the rack. Again, I used the frame bag to hold all the stuff that I usually carry in a backpack. For the rear racks, I loaded up two bags with all kinds of stuff. At first I couldn’t figure out why the bags didn’t mount in a very stable way, then I realized that I hadn’t used all the hooks. The holders attach to the racks with two simple pieces of Velcro, but there are two loops on top and two on bottom that are used for the hooks to grab. That allows the bags to be snugged up extremely well. Once I figured that out I was extremely impressed at how little they moved. It’s an awesome system.

I wanted to ride for at least 4 hours so I could see if the bars were better. Since moving to St. Johnsbury I have been itching to check out the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail section from St.J to Danville. I plotted out a 32 mile loop from my house that would incorporate the rail trail and some back roads I hadn’t ridden. To plot routes I have been using It allows you to plot a route and then easily export it in .gpx format and then easily export it.  On my phone I use the Gaia GPS app.  I’ve used it for many adventures, including navigating the Tahoe 200 running race. Unfortunately I DNF’d that race, but the app worked perfectly.
screenshot from the Gaia GPS app on my phone.

When I left the house it was 20 degrees and the ground was nice and frozen, but I knew that later in the day I would be riding in soupy mud as the temp rose above freezing. The first thing I noticed is that the bike handled really strangely. The grooves in the dirt roads were throwing the bike side to side. It kept throwing the bike off balance and I wondered if I had the weight distribution wrong. The tires felt really soft and squishy, unlike last ride. I hadn’t touched the tire pressure from the time, which I set it at 10. It must have bled some more pressure off as the tires were pretty soft. So I pumped them up to 12-15ish pounds, not sure exactly because the gauge on my little pump isn’t very accurate. Adding more pressure helped the handling a lot. The only downside was that I lost some of the suspension quality. 

The morning was sunny and it was a perfect day to spend a few hours on the bike. The rail trail was completely snow covered, frozen and full of frozen footsteps. But the surface was nice and firm and the Trek ate it up. The first 9 or 10 miles are completely uphill, but at a pretty gentle rate. There is something about rail trails that I just love. It’s like riding a hidden highway in the middle of the woods. It feels like stepping back in time and I can almost see and hear the ghosts of the badasses who broke their backs constructing them. The people that built these trails were hard mother fuckers. 

After leaving the rail trail I traveled back home through North Danville on some beautiful dirt roads.  Vermont never seems to disappoint, it really is a perfect place to do these types of rides.  And son of a bitch, do we have some hills!!  You will get in shape if you ride here.

The ride was amazing, and the bike performed perfectly again. I like the bars much better, so they will stay on for now. The rear rack and bag holding system is the bomb.  Nothing moved and I never had to re-tighten anything. The only thing I need to get used to is how much slower it is to ride than my slate. I need to check my ego and just enjoy that I’m on a bike that can go anywhere. The next test will be a longer day or an overnight fully loaded. 

This is the route.


Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Shakedown Ride Review - Trek 1120 Bikepacking Adventure Tourer

So I'm just scrolling through Instagram and I see the above pic.  Whoa, what is that?  A 29+ Bikepacking bike with the coolest rack system I've ever seen.  So I look it up on Trek's website and check it out.

Info on Treks website

Now I'm seriously intrigued.  In 2016 I got a Cannondale Slate and began to do solo Bikepacking trips. I absolutely love that bike and had already been planning more long trips this year.  But I've also been looking into some longer off-road rides.  Specifically, the Green Mountain Gravel Growler.  The Growler is a 248 Mile ride with 21k of elevation gain/loss.  As you might have guessed, it is based on a tour of some of the best breweries in the world, all located here in beautiful Vermont.  I've been ok doing all kinds of off road stuff on the Slate, but the allure of a bike that could take more gear and have it better attached to the bike was overwhelming.  I had to do it.  My friends at S&W took good care of me as they always do.  

I'm not going to get into all the geeky details of the bike.  You can find that anywhere on any review.  The specs are on Trek's site, but here it is in a nutshell.  The bike is a rigid 29+ using the old Trek Stache as a starting point.  Trek lengthened the dropouts (with the stranglehold dropouts so you can adjust wheelbase), added a carbon "suspension adjusted" rigid fork, a super cool back holding rack/system, and a dropper.  It has weird handlebars.

I picked it up yesterday and was so excited to ride the thing. I couldn't wait for this morning.  My plan was to ride a new route to my camp in Wheelock, have a cup of coffee and lunch, then ride home.  Round trip is about 30 miles.  Temps were in the low 30's but expected to rise to the mid 40's.  Before my ride I aired down the tires to 10lbs, figuring I was going to be riding mostly on dirt/mud/ice/water and that would give me a good baseline.  Turns out it was the perfect pressure.  I had amazing grip all day, but the bike still rolled well.  I never touched either tire all day. 

Nice and shiny!  Not for long.

I strapped my snowshoes to the top of the rack, figuring that I would need them to get up the final hill to the camp.  I also took a drybag and stuffed a bunch of shit in that I knew I wouldn't need, but I wanted to test how solid the front rack is.  I changed the seat out with one I know works.   I also managed to fit a Revelate frame bag from the Slate, although it doesn't fit perfect, it worked fine.  I put all my tools and stuff I usually carry in my backpack into it.  For today I wanted to test only having the water I need (I took 3 liters but didn't come close to drinking it all) in a small running backpack.  Last year I found using a backpack really sucked by the third day of a ride.  This year I'd like to either only carry water, or figure out a frame location and carry it on the bike. 

My driveway (or Luge run)

As I left the house I was super cautious.  The driveway is steep and it was icy!  It was only a few miles in when I began to realize how good the traction was with the 3" Bontrager Chupacabra tires.  My biggest worry with how this bike would ride was the lack of suspension.  I spent the last year recovering from shoulder surgery, partially caused by slamming a root when I was tearing ass down a trail on a rigid fatbike.  Todays ride eased those concerns.  There seems to be enough bounce from the tires to smooth a lot out.  I'm pretty psyched.

The roads were pretty firm/icy in the morning.

Is your Mama a Lama?

The ride to the camp was awesome.  The new route I planned was really pretty and the bike performed remarkably well in the snow and ice of the morning roads, then the softish snow on the snowmobile trails, then in the super wet and muddy conditions on the ride home.  All the components worked flawlessly, but I really don't like the cheap feel of the shift lever.  I will be replacing it with a XT one soon.   The jury is out for me on the handlebars.  For the first half of the ride I liked them a lot, but by the second half my shoulder started hurting.  I might try a more traditional MTB setup on another ride to see how it feels. 

Typical Vermont road.  It goes straight up! 

So, I ended up riding a slow 30 miles with 4200ft of gain.  It was actually pretty tough, but I love that!  I took a ton of pictures and I wasn't in a rush.  Although it is slower than my Slate, this bike is going to get a ton of use this year.  Next up is a test of the rear bags holders.  I'll report what I experience in the near future. 

Here are some more pics from the day.  Thanks for reading! 

Made it!

I could live here.

Two ways of dealing with VT terrain.

The driveway was a bitch to ride up after it got soft.

Thats more like it.