23 November 2021

2021 IMBA Epics

As the days and mercury get short I have some time to reflect on the summers memorable rides. While I ride almost daily on local trails I am also lucky enough to make it out of town to some dreamy mountain bike destinations a few times each season.  

This year I managed to ride three more IMBA Epics along with a bunch of other cool rides. Epics are the best of the best rides as defined by IMBA. I did Rock Lake before it was ever an Epic and if I could remember back that far maybe before there was an IMBA. Anyway, it was an easy since it was in the hood. The MaaDaaHay was another usual stop back in the day when I was heading west. Tahoe, Downievill, Park City, Sun Valley, Rossland, Umpqua, yep. I'd go back to any of them. Like any addict the rides need to keep getting more challenging get the same high. Longer, more elevation, questionable route finding... How far can I push myself and still make it back? 

This years Epics started with Surveyors Ridge in Hood River. At this point just riding Surveyors is not enough though. First, I rode up Dog River to get to the south end of Surveyors. Before even starting the epic I did a Super Connector loop. Then, the main course and finished up going down Oak Ridge. Riding the ridge and the Super Conector  were fun flowy and smooth. While Dog River up was a stiff climb with a couple uncleanable spots for me. Oak Ridge down was something else. It starts fast and in the back seat straight down steep. Then, gets into some exposed, loose, rocky, tight switchbacks with high of pucker factor. Before finishing flowy and smooth.  

Mt. Hood from Surveyor's Ridge

In August I headed to the west side for some trails in Capitol State Forest along with a stop at Mount Saint Hellens on the way back. Where I did Ape to Plains. While I'd rather do a loop this is best as an out and back or a really long shuttle. While it wasn't a great weather day I didn't have to share the trail. Rain and 50mph winds on a landscape something like the moon tend to keep crowds away. The Ape Canyon climb is legitimately tough, but ridable. It wasn't raining hard enough to be raining under the trees or windy in the canyon. Above tree line and out of the canyon though, look out. The weather was like a kick in gut crossing The Plains Of Abraham. It could have been scenic if it wasn't so socked in.  Also Capitol State Forest turned out to be its own great ride. 

My imagination of Mount Saint Hellen's through the cloud layer

Capitol State Forest turned out to be its own great riding and with free camping too. Greenline made sitting in city traffic all worthwhile.   

Cap St For

Bangtail Divide has been on my todo list for a few years. A classic, high country, ridgline ride. Perfect! I did this as a loop riding from the north end after camping there overnight. I started with an easy pavement pedal to the south trailhead. This made for a nice warmup before the singletrack pointed up to the ridge and back north. Even with the pavement section it wasn't epic far but there was plenty of vert. And the views were STUNNING!

Bangtail Divide

There were so many other memorable rides this season as well. Half a dozen +50mile singletrack days, The Midnight Century, Going to the Sun Road, every trail at local Spokane spot Beacon... Now on to snow season and planning the next years bike adventures. These will be a few new places, some familiar favorite ones and maybe more gravel or not. 

Going to the Sun Road

Graveling the John Wayne Trail

Fall colors on Misson Ridge

07 September 2021

What Was Broken Is New Again


With Velocity rims and DT Swiss spokes

13 August 2021

10 August 2021

DT Swiss Oil Slick Hubs

I've built wheels with a number of DT Swiss hubs. Even my own wheels. This was my first pair with the limited edition Oil Slick finish. LUSTFULL! Adjust your screen if you have to. The finish on these is awesome! This customer went all out with carbon rims too. I have lots of spokes. If you can get a pair of rims and hubs I'll be happy to build them up for you.

04 August 2021

Midnight Century

The Midnight Century as the name suggests is a century bike ride starting at... you guessed it midnight.

Daylight on course

It all happens the first Saturday in August. The route is a mix of pavement and gravel roads leaving from downtown Spokane. Into the rolling hills of the hay fields, away from the lights of the city the ride really takes shape. Here is a link to the route. After 20ish miles of flat pavement along the river the first climb comes out of the gravel roaded darkness like a sucker punch to the gut. And that's just the first climb that will leave you with your tongue dragging on your chain. There aren't many street signs or street lights out here so its best to have some daylight course knowledge. Because there is no ride support like course markings or water stops it pays to be prepared. Another section of old closed road with a one lane wooden bridge is being recovered by the nature around it. This section happens at a time in the ride when the senses are getting dull from the washboard ruts, or maybe because the fatigue and lack of sleep are settling in. So stay sharp! The lights of Sprague are a welcome sight on the horizon and not just because you paperboyed your way up another wee morning hour climb. This means the climbs and roughest gravel roads are all behind. Also the town ahead at least has water stop and if your pace is slow enough the Harvester opens for breakfast at 7:00. With good legs hopefully I'm heading back toward the spoke by the time the sun is coming up. Charge up your lights and I'll see you out there!


10 July 2021

Wheelbuilding FQAs

Do you build wheels fulltime?
Currently, I also spin wrenches at the LBS part time. In the past, because of my connections in the bike industry, I have done contract work as a sale rep, run product demos, and built bikes for trade shows while running my wheel bizz.

How long have you been hand building wheels? I opened as a bike/ski repair shop in ’07. Along with repairs I was building wheels for customers and shortly morphed into MLW and selling wheels online. Before that I worked for a bicycle parts distributor where I sat in front of the truing stand building wheels daily till my fingers felt like they were going to fall off. I started working in a bike shop when  shops had a Phil Wood spoke cutter and built wheels as needed.

Why not black spokes? Stainless spokes are silver when made, then afterwards they are anodized to a black. The anodization adds a layer of material like paint to the spoke. It can’t be measured with a micrometer but I know it’s there because I can feel it binding between the spoke elbow and hub flange and on the threads when I turn the nipples. Anodizing also changes the electron arrangement making spokes weaker.

What types of wheels do you build? You name it. I’ve built all kinds, but I’m still waiting for that first wheelchair wheelbuild...

What is UST? (Universal Tire System it’s a term like Kleenex) This is one manufactures name for tubeless. There are a number of tubeless systems on the market that work equally well. With the use of a sealing tape on an exposed spoke bed in the rim makes for a more traditional and lighter wheel. For mountain or cross any tire will work but tubeless specific tires work best.

What about tubeless road? Because of the higher pressure associated with road tires the rounded shape of the traditional hook and bead between the rim and tube needed to be changed. Tubeless road rims and tires have a square shape to the hook and bead. Road rims designed to work tubeless can be used tubeless or tubed. Road tires designed to work tubeless can be used tubeless or tubed. Road tires or rims NOT designed for tubeless will NOT work tubeless. Read that again if you have to, and pay special attention to the not part.

What’s the most expensive wheelset you ever built? With alloy rims, a BMX wheelset when I worked at a shop. I don’t remember the rim but Chris King hubs and titanium tie-dye spokes. I think the bill was ~$1500. I’m not sure about in today’s dollars.

What kind of wheels do you ride on your bike(s)? I’m my own best product tester so I ride it all. I really like the performance of tubeless though it makes changing tires to match riding conditions harder. Better quality aluminum rims come from the factory rounder and build up the best. Even inexpensive carbon rims come out of a mold so they are more consistently round. As for hubs you really get what you pay for. The hub really is the money part of the wheel. That being said Shimano hubs are pretty ho-hum but a lot of bang for the buck. 

Are carbon rims worth the price? The real difference in carbon is when rims get wide or deep (+25mm). Whatever your budget is spend it on good hubs first then if there’s money left go for carbon rims.

What’s an open mold? Carbon products come out of a mold, and molds are super expensive. Bigger companies with more money own their own molds. Open molds are ones that anybody including you or I can use to produce a product.

How long does it take to build a wheel? Once I have all the parts about an hour. To get there I need to measure the rims and hubs to figure out the spoke lengths first. Two measurements on the hub and one on the rim are needed. Each measurement takes a different tool with accuracy to the nearest millimeter.

29 June 2021

Tire Pressure

Thanks to the pneumatic tire customizing the ride of a bike is as easy as changing tire pressure. Tire pressure is printed on the tire sidewall along with the tire sizes. Tire pressure is listed as a range or max pressure which is dependent on tire construction. Ideal pressure depends on rider weight and riding surface. Max tire pressure isn't necessarily ideal for for riding it's just the max pressure the tire can hold without blowing off the rim. For the best performance the majority of us want to be riding below and even way below the max pressure the tire can hold. 

The right pressure should be firm enough to support the riders weight but not be so firm it's skipping across the riding surface without conforming to it. Or so soft that the tire bottoms out on the rim when under rider load. To find the right pressure I like to use the palm of my hand to push down on the tire with my body weight. Using body weight to find tire pressure is important. Rider weight should deform the tire to the shape of the riding surface. I also will use a pressure gauge but more often refer back to feel. Tire width also factors into tire pressure. The wider the tire the more deformation I want to see when I push down on the tire. 

In my case I'm 150lbs. I'll ride a road tire (23-25mm) on pavement at 70psi. For a mixed surface gravel/pavement tire (35-40mm) 35psi. My 2.4 mtn bike tires never have more than 25psi in them. Riding surfaces and conditions require different tread patterns but pressure stays pretty much the same. Tire selection is a different topic. 

Sometimes I use tubeless tires. Almost exclusively on my mtn bike, part time for road, cyclocross and graveling. Only part time because I like to change up my tires which is easier to do with tubes. Tubeless is good for a couple psi less and maybe some rolling weight. It's really flat protection as you get to that lower ideal psi where flats can happen when bottoming out the tire. Ultimately I'm going for a sense of ride quality and without tube interference I can dial that in closer. I want to feel the tire conforming to the surface I'm riding. My system is start with more pressure than I need and within the first five minutes letting out some pressure to my desired feel.

If your riding at or near your tires max pressure try letting some air out. You'll be surprised by the performance you've been missing out on.  

03 June 2021

Rambleraven Gear Trader

bike shop

Besides building the best bicycle wheels I'm now also spinning wrenches are Rambleraven Gear Trader. Rambleraven is Spokane's consignment shop for outdoor gear. Bike service fits in nicely. I run a full service bike shop for all your bike repair needs. In the winter when the bike repairs slow down I'll be tuning and waxing skis there. Stop in to get ready for your outdoor adventure. 

26 April 2021

Rock Lake Ride


Like a lot of other small towns I had never heard of Malden before the fire last fall. So I did what I do. I looked it up on the map. Almost immediately the blue of Rock Lake southwest of Malden stood out to me as a natural feature. I noticed the dashed line depicting John Wayne Trail running along the south side of the lake. I had followed the JWT from page to page since moving to Spokane 7 years ago. It looked like there were plenty of gravel roads in the area and an intriguing spot called Hole In the Ground on the east end of the lake. This was enough for me to start thinking about a bike ride through the area.

After staring at the map for an hour and plotting I had a route around Rock Lake figured out. That is as long as my map was accurate which when it comes to secondary roads and dashes wasn’t always the case. I’d start on the west side and go clockwise through the hole, then east into Malden to see the ruins and return on the JWT. Likely being combination of shadeless Palouse and scablands I thought it would be a good springtime ride when the day would be cooler. I wasn’t real sure about the distance but 50ish miles sounded about right. Also I wasn’t sure about drinking water out there so going farther I’d likely need more than the 2 bottles my bike could hold.

A gradual uphill pavement warmup lead to my first turn. On to a gravel road with an energy sapping, deep, loose, slow going riding surface. High above the lake the clear bright day made for good lake views as the light breeze rolled across the low early season hay fields. The road surface turned to hardpack gravel at the sign that said road not maintained for winter travel. The landscape turned to more scabland than Palouse and there was actually more trees than I expected. A coulpe switchbacks around an old barn led me down to The Hole In The Ground. This is a really nice basalt canyon with some flowing water that meanders its way into Rock Lake. After the climb out at the next road junction a sign says gravel ends. I took the gravel ending road as the landscape turned back into Palouse and the gravel turned to dirt. I came out onto pavement just before Malden.

I made a tour of main street or what was left of it. At some point and maybe again in the future I could see a water stop here and maybe some refreshment in the park. The JWT was easy enough to find but within a mile I got to a burned out trestle. A recent fire victim no doubt. Luckily a paved road paralleled the trail with easy access back to the trail through a burned out property. Farther along was another burned out trestle, this time without the easy road access. I tiptoed across the burned out timbers using my bike as an outrigger as the creek ragged from spring runoff below. In Pine City the view opened up and I could see another burned trestle so I took a pavement to gravel to JWT detour. Back on course I encountered more trestles not burned and in fairly ridable service. There were also 2 tunnels with just enough curve so you couldn’t see light through to the other side without getting half way through.

Eventually the JWT made its way to the south rim of Rock Lake and the trail almost turned into singletrack for a while. A couple of rock slides and gates I encountered were easy enough to pass by. As planned the JWT dumped me out on the west side of Rock Lake where I had started a couple full water bottles earlier. 

07 April 2021

Ceramic Bearings Explained

As part of my wheel building business I also do service on hubs. Most hubs today are the cartridge bearing type.  While I’ve got the hub its easy work for me to pop out the old bearings and press in new ones. I typically get new bearings from a local bearing supplier. These guys know bearings. Materials, life expectancy, seals, friction… Everything that turns has bearings and these guys have all of them.

On my last trip to the bearing shop I got to chatting with the salesman about the different bearing materials and how steel compares to ceramic. These are the two bearings most common to hubs. In this salesman’s opinion the real advantage of ceramic is their ability to dissipate heat better than steel. His comment was something along the lines of unless a bicycle is going 100mph ceramic bearing won’t make a difference because there just isn’t enough heat built up to make them advantageous. Huuuu. This is the second anti-ceramic bearing comment I’ve heard from a bearing guy. The first one was from another bearing supplier who said bicycles were pretty much the wrong application of ceramic bearings. His explanation was ceramics are glass so while it’s a smooth surface which is great for rolling on it’s also fragile. In a bicycle wheel for example any impact bigger than a curb breaks that glass.

These are two comments from the bearing experts. I rebuild all kinds of bicycle hubs as part of my wheel building services. I am always looking for better ways to do my servicing. People from other indystries can be great resources.