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After my long road test of last Tuesday, I was itchin’ the hit some singletrack. I talked to my friend and co-worker Justin, and he had never been to the mountain bike trail at the Cleveland Metroparks‘ Ohio & Erie Canal Reservation. I had been there twice before, but it’s been almost two years, so even though it’s a pretty short 2.5-mile loop, it’s not a long drive away, so I figured it was worth the trip. We headed up there last Thursday morning.
I arrived a little earlier than planned, so I did the 1/2-mile beginner loop on my own a couple of times to warm up until Justin arrived. The two of us hit the beginner loop, then moved on to the intermediate loop. We weren’t disappointed. The trail was in fantastic shape–smooth and dry; not a single patch of mud. The folks from the Metroparks and the Cleveland Area Mountain Bike Association are doing a great job of maintaining this trail.
Near the beginning of the intermediate loop is a climb that’s a bit more of a kicker than I remembered. The rest of the trail has a series of short, undulating ups and downs, a few hairpin turns, and a couple of rough rock and root gardens. What this course lacks in size it makes up for with challenges good enough for any local off-road riders to get their singletrack fix without having to head too far out of the city.
After a second lap on the intermediate loop, Justin suggested we head down to his home turf, to the mountain bike trails at Reagan Park in Medina. Although it felt against my “car less” sensibilities to do even more driving in order to do more pedaling, I had the whole day with no other obligations to worry about, so I figured what the heck, variety is the spice of life.
We hit a few brief rain showers during the drive down to Medina, but the sun was back out by the time we reached the parking area at the Huffman Park soccer fields. The trail was none the worse for wear; smooth and dry. There were a couple of very isolated mud patches, but nothing to worry about.
The Reagan Park trail system is made up of four major sections, with a couple of connector trails. For some reason, I always get confused trying to follow the suggested route to connect all of the trails. I finally realized this time around that the key is, “Don’t over-think it.” Just follow the signs, and trust that they’ll lead you the right way to hit all the trails. You’ll double-back a couple of times on trail that you’ve already hit, but it’s only for brief periods to get to the next section.
My Mongoose Teocali Super mountain bike came with Kenda ExCavator 26×2.1 tires. Some of my riding buddies have suggested that these tires have too aggressive of a tread for my needs, and I could use something lighter. At 640 grams each, they’re no pigs, and I’ve found that they performed adequately for me. However, before riding the bike for the first time this season, I decided to try some different tires, just for the sake of trying something different.
I’ve had a pair of Continental Slash ProTection 26×2.3 tires around for the past couple of years. It’s a discontinued model, so when they started being offered at blowout prices, I decided to pick up a pair just to have as a backup set if needed. Now seemed like a good excuse to give them a try. They’re pretty comparable to the Kendas at 660 grams each, but with an even more aggressive tread–a fairly square profile with tall side knobs. Continental tires tend to run a bit narrower than labeled, so to the naked eye they appeared about the same width as the Kenda ExCavators when mounted on my wheels.
I’ve never been really picky about tires. I recall reading tire reviews in the past, and often the authors complain that when tires have tall knobs, they can feel the tire squirming too much underneath them. I always read that with a bit of skepticism, thinking, “They can’t possibly really feel that.” But, as it turns out, I could. The steering of the bike felt kinda squirrely, and I felt like I was about to wash out in sharp curves more often than usual.
To be fair, this tire is billed as a rough and wet conditions tire, and I’m sure it would perform great in those conditions. I’ll put them away until I head to Pennsylvania or West Virginia, but for typical Ohio trails (when they’re in permissible-to-ride condition), they are, indeed, TOO aggressive.
Having another free day yesteday, with a good weather forecast, it was the perfect chance to head down to my favorite trail, the mountain bike loop at Mohican State Park. The night before, I pulled another spare set of tires out of the archives.
The trail, as usual, was in excellent shape. Huge thanks, as always, go out to the Mohican/Malabar Bike Club for creating and maintaining such a fantastic trail. I finished the 25-mile loop in what I believe is a personal best time–2 hours and 38 minutes, which does not include a very brief stop at the 15-mile rest area to down a pack of Gu.
Part of the credit for the good ride goes to those other new tires I mentioned. The tires are Slime SRT XC 26×2.00. I picked these tires up a few years ago when one local branch of a national big-box sporting goods chain was having a store closing clearance sale. At $5 each, it was a deal I couldn’t pass up.
The SRT stands for Standard Rim Tubeless. The tire is like a tubular tire, but with a bead that works on any standard hooked rim. Of course, it’s also pre-filled with Slime’s neon green sealant. The idea was that you could get the benefits of tubeless tire technology, without the hassles of needing tubeless-compatible rims, special rim strips and valves, bead seating problems, etc. This XC version of the tire has a semi-aggressive tread that hits the sweet spot between too smooth and too knobby–perfect for dry, fast trail conditions. It’s a similar tread to something like the Geax Saguaro or WTB ExiWolf. I think they also made a version with a more aggressive freeride/downhill tread, and maybe a slick version, too.
I had these tires on an older mountain bike that I used for just kicking around the neighborhood a couple years back, but this was my first real ride using them on singletrack.
That “just right” tread performed perfectly on the buff singletrack of Mohican. It didn’t hold me back on the smooth stuff, and had enough grip to hold the line on curves and whenever the trail turned a little rough or uphill. I ran them at 35psi. By the end of the ride, I thought maybe I could drop them by 2-3psi; not for lack of traction, but just to soften the ride up a tad. The tires weigh 860 grams each. Compared to the Kenda ExCavators and Conti Slashes, there’s a pretty much negligible weight difference (20-40 grams) if you add in the 180-gram weight of a typical 26-inch presta valve tube.
Unfortunately, these tires are one of the best products that you can’t buy, unless you can find a shop or online dealer that has some way old stock still sitting around. I talked to the folks from Slime a few years ago at one of the bike trade shows. They said that they didn’t give up on the idea because it didn’t work well; the feedback they got from other users was as good as what I experienced yesterday.
The problem is that many mountain bikers are very particular about their tires. With the dozens of tire manufacturers providing literally hundreds of choices of sizes and tread patterns, there is plenty of supply out there to satisfied the varied tastes of all of those riders. Slime felt it would be impossible for them to come up with enough different variations of their tires to meet that demand.
I’m lucky and glad that I grabbed these tires when I had the chance. During whatever (hopefully long) life that I get out of them, they’ll be my go-to tires for riding my go-to trails.
This is the fourth part of my ongoing review of my Salsa Fargo bicycle. To recap, in Part 1, I talked about my initial impressions based on a couple of short-to-medium road rides and commuting. In Part 2, I compared the Fargo to a traditional full-suspension mountain bike on singletrack rides. In Part 3, I put the Fargo to the test for loaded touring on a Sub 24-Hour Overnight (S24O).
I’ve done a pretty fair amount of road and mixed-surface riding on the Fargo since then. In fact, I find that the Fargo has become my go-to bike for most long and short road rides, just because it’s so much fun to ride.
The longest ride was a century I did with the Akron Bike Club on Sept. 11 of last year, the Circle Cleveland Ride, or their version of the Emerald Necklace Tour that the circles through and around Cleveland using mostly the parkways of the Cleveland Metroparks system. Most of the other folks were on regular road bikes. The ride started out with a several-mile climb out of the Cuyahoga Valley from the Brecksville Reservation. I still had the Fargo set up in fully-loaded touring mode, with front and rear racks, and full-coverage fenders, so I was at a significant disadvantage whenever the road turned uphill due to so much extra weight. It wasn’t so hard, though, holding my own in a paceline on flat land.
All of this has had me thinking, with the question of whether the Fargo is “one bike to rule them all,” how would it hold up in a head-to-head showdown against a pure shave-my-legs-and-go-fast road bike? So, I planned a test ride similar to the way I did the Singletrack Showdown for Part 2, with alternating laps on a short, repeatable loop course.
My road bike is pretty typical of the style–traditional flat-top-tube frame geometry, carbon fork, mixed Shimano Ultegra/Dura-Ace drive train. Gearing is a standard road double (53/39 chainrings) up front, with an 11-27 cassette on the back. The tires are Continental Grand Prix 4-Season 700×23.
I normally use Speedplay road pedals on this bike, and Crank Brothers Egg Beaters or Candy pedals on all of my other bikes. For today, I swapped a pair of Egg Beaters onto my road bike so that I would not have to change shoes as I changed bikes for each lap.
The task the night before was to configure the Fargo in basic “just go for a ride” mode–removing all of the touring/bikepacking gear I’ve been trying out recently. Off came the frame pack and oversize seat bag, off came the fork-mounted bottle cages. On went the bottle cages in the usual positions in the main frame triangle.
I chose to use a pair of Serfas Drifter 700×32 tires on the Fargo, mainly because that’s what I happened to have around that would work. I wanted to use something comparable to a road bike tire, but a 32mm wide tire was about as narrow as I felt comfortable using safely on the wide-profile Salsa Semi 29er Disc rims. I probably could have gotten away with something like a 700×28 tire; I did have a spare Continental Ultra Gatorskin in that size, but only one. I’ve used the Serfas Drifters for long road rides on my cyclocross bike in the past, and they roll surprisingly well. Plus, I figured it was a good compromise between using something “roadie” and keeping the Fargo true to its fat-tire character.
Weight for the Fargo with this setup was 27 pounds, 8 ounces. The weight for the road bike was 20 pounds, 5 ounces. Note that these are not stripped-down “cheater” weights; these are the full real-world ready-to-ride weights, which includes pedals, bottle cages, mini-pump, and small seat bag with spare tube, patch kit, tire levers, and multi-tool. I did not include water bottles in the weight; for the test, I used the same brand and model of bottle on each bike (one each of a Camelback Podium and Podium Chill on each bike).
Choosing a test course was a no-brainer; those of us who live in or near the Cuyahoga Valley have been riding what we call the “Valley Loop” for years as a quick test-ride or pre-work/post-work spin whenever the time doesn’t allow for something longer. It’s an 18-mile loop with a few rolling hills, and one somewhat significant climb near the end:
If you’re interested in seeing a map and elevation profile, leave a comment and I’ll email you a .GPX file.
I did four laps, starting on the road bike for the first lap and switching to the Fargo on the second and fourth laps. I tracked myself using both my on-bike computer and my smartphone using the Strava Cycling app. The distance for each lap came up at 17.7 miles on both devices. Here are the results:
|1||Road||53:36 / 53:26||19.9 / 19.9||33.6 / 32.7|
|2||Fargo||58:02 / 58:15||18.2 / 18.3||30.4 / 31|
|3||Road||56:02 / 56:15||18.9 / 18.9||30.5 / 30.1|
|4||Fargo||59:44 / 1:00:19||17.7 / 17.6||30.4 / 30.8|
Times listed are for time in motion, not total elapsed time.
As you can see, I was slightly slower on the Fargo compared to the road bike. It would be hard to say for certain, but I think that most of the difference came from the overall weight difference, with the wider tires playing a much smaller factor. Of course, if I were to switch to a narrower road bike tire, that would reduce some of the weight difference as well. I could feel the weight effect at the beginning of any uphill stretch on the Fargo, when the additional weight made it a little more noticeable when gravity started to suck my momentum out a little bit sooner compared to on the road bike.
Theoretically, the more upright geometry of the Fargo made me less aerodynamic, but whenever I felt this came into play on descents or into the wind, I could hunker down in the drops and bend down lower over the stem to make up the difference.
Ideally, if I really had to use the Fargo as my full-time road bike, I could have chosen rims with a narrower profile that would be more amenable to swapping on a skinny road tire. I could always get a second set of disc-compatible 29er wheels and just swap wheel sets on and off the bike as needed.
My conclusion is that you wouldn’t want to use the Fargo for road racing, but the difference in on-road performance is negligible enough that you wouldn’t notice it on your average B-level club ride. The difference would be even less if you were to compare it to entry-level road bikes, where the weight difference would be even less.
This test confirms the characterization of the Fargo that I’ve been finding all along: that it’s as close as you’ll ever find to a true jack-of-all-trades bicycle. It would be perfect to take on a cycling vacation–use a pair of fat, comfy slick tires to ride fully-loaded to your destination. If you want to check out some local singletrack, swap on a pair of knobbies. Want to join the local hammerheads on a road circuit? Switch on a pair of narrow slick tires and never look back.
Today I did an adventurous ride from Bolivar to the town where I grew up, Adena. I’ve done this ride a few times in years past, by taking the most direct route, which involves taking the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail from the Akron area down to Bolivar, then a few back roads and State Route 800 to New Philadelphia, then US Route 250 to Cadiz, then local roads into Adena.
I’ve developed a love/hate relationship with this direct route. It’s very scenic, especially the section that runs along the shore of Tappan Lake, but that’s balanced by the need to dodge semi-truck traffic going to and from the Walmart distribution center in nearby Wintersville.
My goal for today’s ride was to find a less-traveled route along the many county and township roads off the beaten path. Many of these roads are just a gravel surface, so I thought that maybe this route would become the basis for an annual event like the many “gravel grinder” endurance races/rides that are becoming popular throughout the Midwest. Every ride needs a name, so I came up with the “Heart of Ohio Gravel Grinder,” a.k.a. the HOGG Ride.
I scouted out the route ahead of time using Google Maps, and made notes on what I thought would work. A month or so ago, I drove the route ahead of time as a sanity check. Online mapping data can be sketchy sometimes, especially on rural back roads, so I wanted to find this out when I had an easy bail-out option in the car, rather than stuck out on two wheels. The information was surprisingly accurate, though, and I had to make very few refinements to my route notes before I actually pedaled it. Google Maps estimated about 60 miles from Bolivar to Adena by this route. You can see the turn-by-turn details at the bottom of this post.
I packed up the Salsa Fargo bike to get ready a couple of days in advance. Although the route would be taking me through a couple of small unincorporated villages, none would have even so much as a convenience store or gas station to stock up on water or snacks, so I had to bring enough with me. I also wanted to pack enough to be prepared for any weather conditions. This year’s early Spring in March has paid us back with a return to cold days and sloppy conditions, including some hail and sleet earlier in this April week.
For packing up the Fargo, I settled on the frame bag, packed with the usual emergency repair supplies, and some snacks (one Clif bar, one pack of Clif Shot Bloks, and some trail mix). In the oversized Revelate Designs Viscacha seat bag, I packed my rain gear: waterproof jacket, waterproof pants, waterproof shell gloves, and neoprene socks. Also in the seat bag were my change of clothes for when I arrived in Adena: sweatshirt, pants, underwear, socks, and sneakers. I used a small handlebar bag to keep my phone and wallet close at hand.
I put two water bottle cages on the front fork mounts, and for the first time, used the bottle cage mount on the underside of the frame’s down tube. For a cool day, I figured one bottle of water per 20 miles was enough; if it had been a hot summer day, I would have found a way to use all five bottle cage mounts, or maybe would have used a hydration pack.
I woke to find almost an inch of snow on the ground this morning. I almost bagged the ride idea completely, but I had plans to meet some friends for breakfast anyway, and since I already had the bike gear packed up, I figured I may as well toss everything in the car and see what happens.
After breakfast, I headed south and drove to Bolivar. More snow and sleet continued to fall on the way, but things cleared up to just a little overcast about when I passed the Akron-Canton airport, and by downtown Canton, it was actually sunny. In Bolivar, it was a little overcast again, but thankfully dry and pleasant.
I left my car at the Dairy Queen just off of Interstate 77. In deciding what to wear to start off, I decided on my Endura Humvee 3/4-length cycling shorts, SmartWool liner shirt, Surly wool jersey, DeFeet wool socks, Lake winter cycling boots, SmartWool cap under my helmet, Pearl Izumi windproof fleece gloves, and Pearl Izumi convertible windbreaker jacket/vest.
I got started pedaling around 10:45am, and hopped onto the Towpath Trail where it continues just south of town from Fort Laurens State Park. This section of the Towpath runs for only a few miles, beginning with a relatively smooth surface of fine gravel. After about 3 miles, a posted sign warns that “This section of trail suitable only for hiking.” The trail turns into packed dirt like a typical hiking trail; rough in some spots, interspersed with some tree roots, and even a few rocks. It’s not a problem, though, on a fat-tired bike for anyone with any singletrack riding experience.
The trail dead-ends on State Route 800. Here, I was already starting to heat up, so I made a quick stop to peel my sleeves off, taking advantage of the convertible jacket’s ability to, well, convert into a vest. After a quick jog on a brief stretch of gravel, I was onto the back roads.
The route was much as I had hoped and expected. Traffic-free rural roads, although not as much gravel as I had thought there would be. As the flatlands of northern Ohio transition into the foothills of the Appalachians, this area consists of a series of undulating ridges. You’ve gotta climb up to get to the top of one ridge, then follow a gently rolling road along the top of the ridge for a while, then dip down and back up to get to the next ridge.
The weather reared its fickle face throughout the morning and afternoon. There were a few sprinkles of rain early in the ride, but nothing serious enough to warrant digging out the waterproof gear. There were hail showers that lasted only a couple of minutes. It was that wacky kind of back-and-forth, where I’d be hearing the hailstones bouncing off of my helmet, but could look across to the adjacent ridgeline and still see patches of blue sky and sunshine peeking through. The temperature was in that odd “in-between” stage, where I would get too hot and sweaty cranking up the hills, and then too cold from the breeze on the descents.
And man, those climbs–of course, always worse than what you remember them being when you drove them in a car. I found myself in my granny gear more often than I expected. A couple hills that stand out in my brain are Brown Hill Road and Herbert Road.
I crossed the line from Tuscarawas County into Harrison County around the 25-mile mark. This was a good landmark to stop and take a little break, and the sun was out again, so I decided to re-work my clothing. I figured that if I lightened up my clothing, I wouldn’t get so hot on the climbs, therefore I’d sweat less, therefore I wouldn’t get so cold on the descents. So, I ditched the SmartWool liner shirt. I replaced the SmartWool cap with a Buff headband. I swapped out the windproof fleece gloves for my thin SmartWool liner gloves. I rubbed some sunscreen on my face and ears for safety’s sake, and got going again.
With the perfect timing of Murphy’s Law, it started to hail again, and I started to shiver. I pulled over right away, and put the sleeves back on my jacket. This, finally, turned out to be the perfect combination, and I was comfortable for the rest of the day, with the exception of the hail stones bouncing off the skin of my exposed face.
During the next few miles, I had a few of those moments that cyclists live for. As I cruised down several nice long descents, with the hail stones stinging my face like a hundred needle pricks, I found myself thinking, “I must be freakin’ insane to be out here like this, and yet there’s virtually nowhere else I’d rather be at the moment.”
The sun came and went many more times, and the miles and beautiful scenery slipped away along the continuing quiet, rural, ridge-top roads, such as this one:
After the big breakfast I had to start off the morning, I didn’t have to reach for my snack supply as much as I expected. Around the 40-mile mark, along Hanover Ridge Road, I stopped and munched on three Clif Shot Bloks. On the far side of the village of Unionvale, I turned onto the last gravel stretch, Lamborn Road, which crosses the line from Harrisson County into Jefferson County and leads into Adena.
I stopped at the top of the final granny-gear climb on Lamborn Road to look back at the ground I’d just covered:
This stretch of gravel is traditionally known to locals as Penova Ridge. Looking ahead to the final descent, I re-mounted the Fargo, and enjoyed the thrill of bombing down the hill and arriving in Adena. I arrived in town at 4:00pm on the dot, for a total of 57 miles.
So, who’s ready to join me next year for a semi-organized, unofficial endurance event? Some post-ride thoughts I have are:
1st Annual Heart of Ohio Gravel Grinder – Bolivar to Adena
Back in the first and third parts of the review of my Salsa Fargo, I talked about how the traditional mountain crankset (44-32-22 chainrings) was ideal for singletrack riding, and the touring crankset (48-36-26) was better for road/mixed surface riding. I had still been thinking since then if I could come up with the “Goldilocks” (just right) gear combination that would work well in all conditions. I recently swapped the small and middle chainrings out for Salsa 24-tooth and Race Face 34-tooth chainrings. With my 11-34 cassette, this setup gives me pretty much the same low gears in my granny gear and middle ring as I would have with the traditional mountain chainrings and an 11-32 cassette. I haven’t had the chance to try it out on singletrack yet, but I’ve done a few 50-60 mile road rides, and it has worked out well. The middle ring gives me plenty of range to handle any on-road climbs, and the 48-tooth big ring is still there for maximum cruising on flat roads and descents.
Back on March 11, my girlfriend wanted me to meet her after her class for dinner at her mom’s house. I, of course, thought it was a perfect day for a bike ride. The perfect compromise: riding my bike out to her mom’s! It was a 37-mile ride out to one of Cleveland’s western suburbs, most of which was on the Valley Parkway through the Cleveland Metroparks.
It was a perfect opportunity to test another another new piece of gear, the Revelate Designs Viscacha Seat Bag. The Viscacha is like a regular seat bag on steroids. It attaches to your seatpost and seat rails pretty much like a regular seat bag, except with two very heavy-duty velcro straps for the seatpost. It can hold up to a whopping 14 liters of stuff. For this ride, I first stuffed in a down jacket–not because I anticipated needing to wear it that day (it was over 60 degrees), but because some of the seams had started to come apart inside one of the sleeves and one of the pockets, and I asked my girlfriend’s mom to fix it for me (she enjoys science projects like that). Then, I put in the stuff I’d need once I got there: clean shirt, shorts, socks, pair of shoes, and a small kit with my toothbrush and the like. It all fit with room to spare in the Viscacha.
The only suggestion I’d have for improving the Viscacha bag would be to add a small section of shockcord, to provide a place to quickly stow a jacket or such mid-ride. The Viscacha does have four small loops on the top side, designed as a place to attach the optional Spocket bag from Revelate. I put my brain in DIY mode and obtained a two-foot section of shockcord, threaded it through the loops, and voilà–my wish is granted!
Finally, while Salsa’s distributor briefly had a couple in stock, I managed to snag one of the frame bags for the Fargo, made for Salsa by Revelate Designs. This, combined with the Viscacha Seat Bag, a couple of dry bags strapped to the Salsa Anything Cages on the fork, and I’m ready to start truly testing out packing schemes for my eventual trip on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. I’m also anticipating needing a high-capacity hydration pack; right now I’m leaning toward the Osprey Manta 20. Any thoughts or suggestions?