Friday, September 6, 2013

First Ride: Race Face Atlas from

Here's a first impression review of the Race Face Atlas Mountain Bike Handlebars from

By: Krista Gray of and San Jose Mountain Biking.

After a couple years of riding my hardtail mountain bike and taking it down steeper and steeper terrain, I finally decided a wider bar was needed. Not knowing much about all the available options out there, I turned to to check their recommendations- plenty of choices on their site, with use descriptions to help a newbie bar-shopper like me.  Loving the anodized colors I instantly gravitated toward the pink to match my flat pedals-awesome!  I should probably be building a downhill bike at this point but upgrading a current bike is fun and gratifying- not to mention easy on the wallet.  Each time I upgrade something on my bike I love it even more. Adding 4 inches to the width of my bars definitely has made my riding more comfortable and enjoyable- I’ve ridden Santa Cruz, California and Roseburg, Oregon with them so far and have no complaints- plenty of downhill and trail riding and these bars are reliable and comfortable. I’m really happy with them- they look great on my bike too. Thanks for the recommendation!


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

I don't do it for the money...

Recently I've had a few conversations, with fellow riders, that have left me wondering about what really motivates me to do what I do when it comes to this group.  I know it isn't for the money, as I don't make any running San Jose Mtb.  It actually costs money to run the meetup side of things.  It isn't for fame, I'm pretty sure there are lots of members of SJMtb that have no idea who I am or what I look like.  And despite what people think I don't do it because I love to do nothing more than sit on the Internet making sure there are rides scheduled and current content available.  So why do I do it?

I do it because I love it and what it has done for me.  Sure it's a lot of work, and it sometimes wears me down.  Without it though, who would I be?  I'm healthier and more fit than I've ever been in my whole life because I started riding.  Riding has shown me first hand what is possible when you keep working to get better at something.  Sure there are other aspect of my life that this have shown me this, but none so clearly and quickly as riding has.  When I first started riding I was 250lbs, recently married, and not really getting any thinner or healthier.  It was actually my wife that suggested we ride bikes to get some exercise, of course I'm sure she never imagined that I would take it this far.  My first rides I would stay on flat trails.  Places like Arastradero were impossible climbs, and forget getting to the top of Santa Teresa, let alone the parking lot.  With each ride I pushed a little further and a little further.  I rode everyday when I first got my mountain bike.  I would ride into work then go for longer rides home, in hopes that I would someday be strong and fit enough to ride real trails.  I'll never forget the first time I made it to the top of Quicksilver.  I had been riding there twice a week for what seemed like months, always getting too tired and winded to make it to the top.  Then one day I did it.  I didn't make it without stopping the first time I went all the way, but I made it.  In that moment I fell in love with mountain biking.  My bike became a symbol of triumph.  I couldn't wait until the next ride when I could push myself a little further.  As the months flew by I became a better and stronger rider, eventually getting to the point that my friends I had started this sport with could no longer even hope to keep up with me.  Mountain biking had given me a new life and I wanted to explore it.  

My desire to further explore mountain biking and my lack of friends willing to do the same led me to and San Jose Mountain Biking.  At first I just stalked the group, thinking to myself "I don't want to ride with a group, I'm still too slow."  Eventually, though, curiosity got the better of me and my desire to take this riding thing further led me to a ride on a Friday evening at Arastradero.  "They're all so fast" I remember thinking to myself as I tried to catch up to the group.  I was embarrassingly slow.  I had shown up late and was pushing as hard as I could to catch up with them.  When I finally did catch them I met Ken.  He was waiting for the rest of his group to finish the climb up woodrat and I was fighting to catch my breath and not seem like a total newb.  As his last guy peaked the climb I told him I would try and catch him another time for a ride.  That day marked the beginning of two new relationships for me, one with a new friend, Ken, and the second with this thing we call meetup.  As the weeks passed by I became a regular fixture in the group, trading all my solo rides for rides with the group.  Eventually as the group began to grow Ken asked me if I had any interest in hosting my own rides with the group.  I was hesitant at first but eventually said I would give it a try.  Sea Otter pre-ride was my first group led event and it would prove to be monumental in terms of SJMtbs future.  The ride went great until in the last few hundred yards something horrible happened.  Ken, the guy who along with my wife, had convinced me I was ready to lead rides had a fluke crash that ended in his shoulder being separated.  It was a whirlwind year from that point forward.  I began taking over the majority of rides as Ken healed, doing my best to fill his shoes as a ride leader.  Somewhere along the lines I pissed someone off and was removed from another group, but that's a story for a different time.  Before I knew it the year was done, and so was Ken.  He had hoped that he would get better and want to ride again, but in his off time his passion for the ride had faded.  This left a void in the group, and with no clear leader, it seemed the group would implode on itself.  It would be a long and stressful couple of weeks before things would work themselves out and in the end I would  become the Lead Organizer for San Jose Mountain Biking.  

My first year of leading the group officially saw its fair share of growing pains, as our member numbers grew,  and I struggled with gaining the respect of my fellow organizers.  We merged with the East Bay Mountain biking meetup, and began expanding our rides even further than before.  I was leading rides all the time and having a blast, but didn't realize I was burning the candle at both ends.  My desire to not let my friend down by running his group into the ground and my feeling that unless I rode everyday I would, led me to riding nearly everyday for the group.  I began to forget why I was riding and was flying on auto pilot.  To the extent that my wife took notice.  It became clear that I was going to need to do something if I was to recapture the passion that led me to riding so much in the first place.  I had to get back to those early days when I rode because I loved it.  Meetup had become a chore and the only way to change that would be to stop worrying about what I thought I had to do and just do what I wanted to do.  Ken from the very beginning had told me, "do the rides you want to do and people will come out."  but I had lost that idea somewhere along the lines and was instead hosting rides that I didn't really have passion for.  This went against every reason I agreed to take over the group in the first place and that was a big problem.

The only way to fix the issues, created by my feeling that I needed to try and please everyone, was to just stop.  I had to get back to what led me to riding with the group in the first place, passion.  Originally I didn't have a feeling that I needed to please everyone, I had a feeling that I needed to share my passion with everyone.  So to allow for this to happen I went on the offensive.  I drew up a new vision of what I felt the group should be.  I envisioned a community of organizers from all walks of life and with different skill levels, leading their rides, the rides they wanted to lead.  I began looking for more people that also had passion for riding and wanted to share it.  Asking people I had become friends with if they would like to become part of this new thing.  The plan was simple really, if I found enough people that wanted to share the rides they were passionate about there would be rides for everyone, and no one would have to do rides they didn't want to out of a feeling of obligation.  It was the beginning of a new era in SJMTB's history.  Within a few months we had a good sized group of ride leaders leading rides all over the bay.  This shift in leadership style would lead also eventually lead to SJMTB becoming the family it is today.  

Today I no longer feel I have to do rides at a certain level to accommodate riders.  Sure I still enjoy the occasional total beginner/first timer rides.  It's always exciting to see people fall in love with this sport.  After all that's why I wanted to get involved in the first place.  Seeing the look someone gets when it finally clicks for the first time out on the trail is priceless, and will always be one of the greatest rewards afforded to me by this group.  My new freedom, however, has enabled me to not just tell people about my passion, but rather actually show them.  Talking to someone about something you're passionate about is one thing, but letting them witness that passion being reborn with every twist and turn of the trail is something entirely different.  When you ride a ride you're stoked about and share it with people equally stoked it moves you.  It reaches down deep into your soul and changes you.  It binds you and your fellow riders in a series of blissful moments where nothing else matters.  For those brief moments you are free of all your cares and worries.  That is why I do this thing we call San Jose Mountain Biking.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Epic Radness! Group rides turned soul quenching shred sessions.

For the last few years now Wednesday evenings have been my mid week easy ride day.  In years past I would focus on getting together a group of beginner to intermediate level riders and tailoring my ride to the riders that showed up.  It was a always fun and a good time, however some part of me felt I was neglecting my own riding psyche.  I would often finish a ride feeling like I still needed more.  More twists, more turns, more climbs and more descents.  That feeling led to last years somewhat successful rotating wednesday night rides.  This year I've taken that idea and added a bit more randomness to it.  Sure the calendar technically has rides that I host on nearly every wednesday but this year I'm sticking to only two regular rides a month.  This has freed me up to ride places like Saratoga Gap, and Santa Teresa more often than I was able to last year.  Combined with the insane growth we've seen in the last couple of years it has become a season of epic proportions.

Coming off of an injury filled year, I started off pretty slow and unsure of myself.  It didn't seem to really matter where I rode I felt slower than ever.  As my fitness improved in the beginning of the season I began trying to push a little harder but it would still be a few months before I saw any glimmer of hope for the season.  It was some weeks back at one of first Wilder Ranch rides of the season.  The ride had originally been planned as a relatively easy going ride with a pretty big group.  Pretty typical for me at a place like Wilder.  There are plenty of fun downhill trails and lots of fun not too challenging climbs.  As our first loop drew to a close I could tell that people were pretty tired already, and may not want to stick with me through the second loop.  However, despite many of the riders peeling off when we passed through the lot I had two die-hards that were up for the torturous climb I had in store.  After a little cool down along the shore we headed up hill on a the totally busted out baldwin trail.  The climb was long and steep but I had decided that my three compatriots were up for the faster pace.  We hit the top in no time flat and were glad to have the majority of the climbing done.  Our second trip down Enchanted was pretty quick.  We all knew that we could just hang it out and meet back at the top.  The ride was finally starting to become more than just time on my bike.  It was transforming into a one of those times you think back to for years to come.  The final nail in the coffin of our simple group ride was the trip down Zane.  I let dean take the lead, still not feeling 100%, but as we entered the rocks for the second time of the day something came over me.  I hit the gas, and didn't let up.  Dean and I rocketed forward, leaving poor Fred, who was beginning to feel the 20 miles we'd already covered.  I hung on his wheel the whole way.  Pushing him faster and faster through the corners.  Bikes leaning and carving though the tight twisty single track made me feel more and more alive with every pedal stroke and every rotation of the wheels.  When we finally hit the end of the trail Dean and I both knew we had just experienced that riding nirvana that we all seek.  It was the start of something awesome.

Fast forward several weeks and several rides... I found myself sinking back into the same familiar rut.  Sure the rides were fun and I was still having a blast with some great new friends.  Still, something wasn't quite the same.  The rides all failed to capture the magic of that Wilder ride, chasing Dean down Zane.  Then Wednesday's after work happened.  We had a group of riders that were all well experienced and strong, despite some of them being new to Santa Teresa.  I was a bit nervous as I had just installed a set of platform pedals onto my bike and was unsure of how well I'd be able to climb, let a lone descend.  I hadn't tried flats in a couple years and had pretty much sworn them off.  The one thing I had going for me was that I knew the trails.  I've been riding STP since I first started riding, Stiles was literally the first technical descent I ever rode or cleaned.  As we headed out it was clear that our pace was going to be fast.  Chaz took off like a rocket... "out of shape" yeah whatever.  We all gave chase though and I was confident that I'd be able to keep his wheel up the rocks.  As we got into our climb up Stiles it was clear that the new comers to the park were intrigued by the amount of rocks.  As we regrouped before hitting the back side of Stiles we explained that we were just getting started with rocks.  The ascent up Rocky Ridge was fun, none of us really worried about dabbing a foot and we really just kept leap frogging each other.  As one of us would stall the others would pass.  It kept going right through the rock garden when the pace picked up again.  Jim, Brad and I started spinning and really pushing fast up the last half of the trail.  When we had all arrived at the top we decided on a firing order, letting Joe, take the lead as he had home court advantage.  Jim followed and we all tried to keep up, but it was no use.  Joe was gone.  Jim and I stayed pretty close despite our vast difference in equipment.  We ripped along the ridge and before I was a quarter of the way through I realized I had forgotten about my shoes and pedals.  I was one with the bike, I knew the trail and was ready for everything it threw my way.  By the time the rocks garden came up I didn't hesitate even for a second.  I just charged.  Slowing only enough to feel in control.  At the mid point Joe, Jim and I stopped to let the others catch up.  We were all smiling from ear to ear.  The ride had transformed into that soul purifying experience that stays with you.  Now I don't know your feelings on God or Mother Nature, but personally I believe that the trails I ride truly are my church.  Riding my bike makes me feel alive, and closer to God than any old building ever could.  Sorry if this offends, but if you're not a rider you're probably not reading this and if you are you likely understand where I'm coming from.  Enough of that tangent though.  This ride has ascended from the routine to the surreal.  Every corner lifted my spirit and the best was yet to come.  We finished Rocky Ridge and were all so pumped we some us didn't even notice the blood and swelling from the relentless rocks.  Moving out we headed back to Stiles for our exit back to the trail head.  It was then that Joe, a Junior in high school, confessed that he couldn't remember ever climbing so much on a ride.  He was definitely more suited for ripping down hill.  His being worn down however set the scene for a descent down Stiles that would be epic.  A run that I'll likely never forget, for in those brief moments I was cured.  My fear subsided and the tunnel vision of speed blurred all but the necessary trail features.  On any other day I would simply let gravity do the work.  That wasn't going to cut it today.  This wasn't just Joe's home turf but mine as well.  Maybe Jim had led out down the hill, but with my new found energy I was going to make sure he didn't loose me.  He never did.  I kept his wheel into every turn and even had to brake a couple times I probably wouldn't have if it was all clear in front of me.  Now if you don't know Jim then you'll just have to take my word for it, he's fast.  He's been riding for years and is now riding a legitimate super bike, built for destroying downhills.  It wasn't easy to keep up with him, but it sure was fun.  Pedaling down that trail and pushing hard into the switchbacks was an entirely new experience.  It was incredible! So incredible that even two days later I'm still thinking about it.  I pushed new limits that day.  Riding with a whole new clarity, and level of confidence I have never had.  I knew that at any moment I could wipe out and ruin my day, but whether it was the grip of the tires or the armor I had worn the whole ride, I wasn't thinking about that.  All I knew was I had found my soul ride.  The kind of ride that makes your muscles ache in new ways from using every piece of your self to power your rocket ship to pure happiness.

Well I guess I'm back.  I'm so stoked on riding right now it's crazy.  If you've never experienced your soul ride then maybe this whole thing will just sound like a bunch of gibberish.  If that's the case then what are you waiting for?   Get out there, and get right with your soul.


Friday, May 10, 2013

Long Term Test: Renthal Fatbar and Duo Stem

About a year ago now I decided that I'd had enough of sitting on the fence about going wide and short, in regards to my bar and stem combo.  I had been shopping various websites looking for a good deal on a combo that looked good together and would look good on my Trek Fuel.  Now I'll concede that it would be hard for anything to not look good on a bike like the Fuel, especially in it's flat black color, but I wanted something that popped.  When Arts Cyclery (, a sponsor of San Jose Mtb announced that they would be carrying the Renthal brand I was definitely intrigued.  I had know of Renthal since I was young having had many friends that were into dirt bikes, but didn't really know anything about their cycling division.  It was hard not to like what they offered though.  They went away from the common gimmick, using the standard anodizing colors like red, blue, purple, etc. and instead treated their products to a very unique shade of green.  It took very little for me to decide on what I was going to do.  I promptly ordered up a 20mm Fatbar and the 50mm Duo Stem from Art's.

Once the wait was over (it took a few weeks to get the exact rise bar I wanted) and my parts finally arrived I couldn't wait to install them.  They looked amazing sitting on my tool bench at work so they were bound to look even better on my ride.

Installing a new bar and stem on your bike is usually a pretty easy ordeal, especially with today's lock-on grips and easy to remove shifter and brake clamps.  The Duo stem is probably the most unique part of the setup.  Rather than using a two or four bolt face plate that clamps the bar to the front of the stem, the Duo uses two halves that sandwich around the bar and are held in place with four bolts.  The stem is marked with lines that line up with markings on top of the Fatbar allowing you to custom tune the right amount of tilt.  The markings are well placed and easy to see making getting everything dialed at the right angle pretty easy.  The stem comes with instructions for properly torquing the two halves together.  The directions are pretty clear and easy to follow though so this shouldn't cause an issue for anyone mildly mechanically inclined.

Now obviously this is an entirely subjective subject.  What I think looks hot may look like a hot mess to someone else.  However, seeing as I'm the one writing this I'll tell you what I think.  This think is SWEET!  Between the bars color and width this thing gets you noticed.  At 780mm wide this thing is definitely would look at home atop a downhill or freeride bike, but if you're looking into a wide bar that will look great on your trail steed this thing is it.  If you're into subtle bling on your ride, the sort of parts that people might over look at first only to take second look, then the metallic olive color of Renthal is for you.

Like I mentioned above this bar measure 780mm or just under 31 inches.  Now if you know bar widths that is massive.  Only a few other manufacturers even make a bigger bar.  If you're not into the super wide bars then you'll be happy to know that Renthal has included markings on both ends of this bar to shorten it up a bit.  I however have elected to keep my bar at its full factory length.  This can be a bit scary in really tight forests.  UCSC and Demo have hung me up a few times in the twisty trees, but otherwise this thing makes descending a blast.  The short stem and wide bar combo puts you in a much better attack position when things start to get a little gnarly.  Not to mention how stiff this thing is, I literally have never felt this thing flex even a little.  While a carbon bar may be a little more comfortable, I like the confidence this thing instills when you have to get up out of the saddle and really wrench on it.  Now this really wide and short combo isn't perfect.  Climbing has definitely suffered, especially long steep climbs, as the front end seems a bit harder to keep on the ground and tracking true.  Would I go back to the long stem and narrower bars?  Nope, never!  I have since shortened the stem on my hardtail to 50mm and am likely going to purchase the Lite version of the Fatbar for that bike.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Getting ready to shred and flow

Two weeks ago now, Trail Head Cyclery held their annual Dirt Demo day at Santa Teresa County Park.  I'll post more about my experience this year later, but basically THC brings out tons of demo bikes and lets you just rip it up on the rocky trails of STP.  It's not free though.  They've come up with an anti-cheapskate policy that keeps only the serious riders coming out for demos.  The entry fee for the event this year was $40.00 which really is a steal when you consider what you're getting.  For starters your entry allows you to ride as many bikes as you want all day long.  Normally people pay as much as $150.00 a day for a single demo bike.  Then there's the lunch of gourmet sausages they provide.  The stuff was great.  Maybe not the best fuel if you're riding, but is sure was delicious.  The the kicker... your $40.00 entry fee is given back to you as store credit at Trail Head.

TroyLeeDesigns X-Fit Knee guards
Of course I had a blast at the demo day, how could you not.  This post isn't about that though.  This post is about what I did with that store credit and then some.  You see, the weekend of the demo also happened to be my 30th birthday, and as luck would have it, one of my many awesome gifts was more money for Trail Head.  I originally thought about maybe just picking up a new pair of shorts or something, but was quickly talked out of it.  "Lookin to protect yourself before you wreck yourself?" Those words changed my mind immediately.  I was greeted by one of THC's sale guys who had just wrecked the day before and was telling me how his TLD pads saved his bacon.  Of course the thought of buying pads to protect my extremities had crossed my mind before, but I'd never really committed to the idea.  Having my wife next to me as the guy described his latest crash sort of sealed the deal, as she always hates hearing about some new gash or bruise I've suffered as a result of my riding.  I started test fitting the different models available and finally settled on the Troy Lee Designs X-Fit elbow and knee/shin pads.  I'll post a full product review when I've had the time to fully test them out, but they fit really nice in the shop.  After fitting and deciding on protection I was about ready to check out when Scott (another THC shop guy) saw me bust out the little red discount coupon from the demo day.  He suggested to me and the guy helping me (really sorry I didn't catch his name) that I look at some parts to really take advantage of the coupon.  After a brief conversation I decided that while my current tires aren't "worn out" they are a bit long in the tooth.

Specialized Butcher 26x2.3 Freeride/DH tire
Tires are a tricky subject.  No matter what application you're talking about there are tires that work well for some and not at all for others.  I happen to be a bit picky myself when it comes to tires.  I've never liked the feeling of having really aggressive tires on both the front and rear of my bikes.  For years now I've run a really aggressive wide tire up front while running a narrower faster tire in the rear.  This led me to look at a couple tires from Specialized.  The Captain for the rear, a faster rolling slightly narrower tire with a tighter knob pattern and the uber aggressive Butcher up front.  I've never ridden the Captain so I'll have to give a review of the tires after some rides on them, but the Butcher was equipped on the Enduro29 I test rode and it just rails.  It's an aggressive tread tire with burly knobs in the center and on the sides.  This tire will mark my first transition into the more advanced tire designs that lack a set of transition knobs.  That means I'll have to really lean the bike into the corners to take full advantage of the traction they can provide.

With the new pads and aggressive tires I think 2013 is going to be a summer of shred.  We're heading up to Tahoe again where the decomposed granite is loose and fast.  New flow sections of Tamarancho are beckoning.  And there are tons of awesome flow trails up in coast towards the Oregon border just begging for San Jose Mtb to explore.  Of course there's also my new found love of UCSC to further explore as well as demo forest and the always awesome Skyline parks.  Something tells me this will be my best year on the bike yet.  I'm looking forward to sharing it with you all.