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Trail Review: The Virginia Creeper Trail

As mountain bikers, we all yearn for the excitement of the single track but sometimes it’s a good idea to introduce new riders and those less aggressive to biking on tamer trails. For the past few weeks, my wife has shown an interest in riding but is scared to death of single track so I was thrilled when we found the Virginia Creeper Trail.

The trail is an old rail trail that runs from Abingdon VA to the Virginia North Carolina state line. Since it was a rail trail it features gradual climbs and descents, and lots of mountain scenic beauty.

For our trip, we rented a cabin at the old Alvarado Train Stop which put us right on the trail and the first morning we hopped on our bikes and rode the flat 7.5 miles into Damascus for breakfast and to get a shuttle to the Whitetop Station which is the last train stop on top of the mountain. Here are a few of the photos from this segment:

Plus the Strava ride for the map and elevation:

I was surprised at how much of a tourist attraction this trail was. I saw plenty of both new and experienced riders and thankfully it’s wide enough to support easy passing.

People ready to begin their ride down the Creeper Trail

When you leave Whitetop it’s a 2-mile descent with a pretty nice grade. You don’t have to pedal at all until you reach the next stop Green Cove Station, but you will use your brakes a lot.

If you are into history then be sure and stop at Green Cove Station as it’s all original and has a gift shop and very knowledgeable staff that can share many details on the station from when it was created.

From Green Cove down to Damascus the trail still continues downhill but you do have to peddle more, and this came as a surprise to us as everyone we talked to that had done it before really stressed how downhill and easy it was. Granted peddling downhill isn’t hard, but it’s not a 17-mile coast.

As the trail meanders down the mountain you get plenty of opportunities to see the river and cross over many bridges. The scenery is pretty and worth it doing it for that.

What also surprised us was the shuttle service told us that most everyone does Whitetop Station and ends their ride in Damascus, so most people that say they’ve done the Creeper Trail didn’t even ride the whole thing. From Damascus it has 7.7 miles to Alvarado, then 8 miles from Alvarado to Abingdon.

The 17 miles from Whitetop to Damascus takes a few hours and it has a lot of seat time for new riders. Before this trip, my wife had only ridden paved greenways and was surprised at how bumpy gravel is, especially in places where rocks are jutting out. Needless to say the next morning she was sore all over and most of those were because of the seat time.

Finally, if you are looking for food and plan to ride to Alvarado the little store has some great sandwiches and you don’t even have to leave the trail.

If you are looking for an awesome family biking adventure I’d highly recommend the Creeper Trail. It was a lot of fun but if you ride a lot don’t go in expecting a workout. Here is the final Strava segment from Whitetop down to Alvarado:

Lake Hickory MTB Trails Review

Lake Hickory MTB trails are located a little over an hour north-west of Charlotte NC and is a trail system that re-opened in spring of 2018 with over a $100,000 of renovations and improvements and rebuilt by Terra Tek, a professional trail builder.

The trail system has three main sections for all skill levels and a paved greenway that runs between two parking areas. Here is an overview of the single track:

  • The Hickory Springs Loop, a 1.5-mile beginner friendly loop, with easy access to the green-way.
  • The Broyhill Trail, a 4.3-mile intermediate loop with spectacular views of Lake Hickory, fast flowy berms and some great trail features that will keep you on your toes.
  • Skills Park and Rock n’ Road Pump Track: One of the biggest pump tracks in the region, as well as an advanced 1/8th-mile jump line.

The trails had tons of flow and it was fun riding them but the whole trail system is only about 6 miles, so if you are an avid rider you may want to consider doing multiple loops. It was far easier than what you might find in DuPont or Pisgah and the elevation was tame with no any huge climbs, just short punchy up hills. The Broyhill was designated as intermediate but I found it pretty easy if you stick to the main line. It had a few options that are sketchy but easy to avoid.

The jump line was rollable and the pump track was fun to tool around on. This was the first pump track I’ve ridden so I can’t judge how it compares to any others. All I can say is pumping is harder than it looks.

After our ride, we rode down the greenway to the other parking area and it was directly on the lake which gave some great views:

Lake Hickory

Looking at Lake Hickory from the parking lot

Then coming back we found this old Boy Scout cabin that was built in 1937 and rehabilitated in 2011:

Boy Scout Cabin

What is awesome about this trail system is how close it is to downtown Hickory North Carolina. Once you’ve finished riding for the day you can hit downtown and enjoy dinner and a local craft beer at the Olde Hickory Taproom, or one of the other many restaurants in the area.

Resources:

4 Reasons Why I Ride Flats On My Mountain Bike

SRAM vs. Shimano, Fox vs. Rockshox, aluminum vs. carbon, these are all things we mountain bikers find to disagree about. One topic though that I hear come up maybe even more than all of these is clips vs. flats. I can’t tell you how many YouTube videos I’ve seen doing clips vs flats time trials, power tests and conversion stories. I’m not going to share anything scientific here. I’m not even going to try to convince you that flats are best. In this piece I simply want to share the advantages that I have found to riding flats over the years.

One word though before I get into things. When I am talking about riding with flats, I am not talking about tennis shoes and plastic demo pedals. I am talking about investing in a good pair of bike specific flats like the FiveTen Freerider. And also investing in a decent pair of flat pedals with metal, adjustable pins, such as the Imrider Polyamide Flat Pedal.

Bike Sharing

My wife and I are fortunate to be about the same size humans, so we can share bikes very easily. Flat pedals make this extra easy. There’s no adjusting tension or anything like that. Also whenever i share bikes with beginner bikers I don’t have to swap pedals for them.

Quick Rides

As a dad of 3, sometimes 30 minutes is all the time I have to sneak in a ride. Since I wear my FiveTens as everyday footwear, I can literally grab a bike and ride. The same is true for getting ready at the trailhead and leaving afterwards. No footwear changes needed.

Confidence

Now you can argue this point both ways. Some will say that being clipped in means you don’t need to worry about your feet bouncing off the pedals. In my opinion though I would much rather be able to stick a foot out quickly to save a fall.

Some would call me crazy and have raced a few xc races in flats. At the lower levels of xc racing I’ve been amazed to see at least one rider in each race simply tip over because they could not track-stand for a pile up on the trail or maneuver around an obstacle. I’ve always been left thinking they’d probably be better off on flats.

I also find that I am probably more willing to try new skills and tricks riding on flats. Again, being able to press the eject button and walk / stumble away from a crash is a big benefit.

Urban Riding

Living in a metro area means that sometimes my mountain bike rides will include a stop at a store, coffee shop, or even running a quick errand. Not clacking around in clipless pedals, along with having normal looking biking clothing, helps me “fit in” in those settings.

How about you? Why do you ride flats or clips? I’d love to hear your reasoning in the comments below.

Giant Releases Another 29er. The Trance.

There was a time not long ago when you could hear Giant’s marketing department tell you that 27.5 was the perfect wheel size for mountain bikes. All mountain bikes. In the past year though we are seeing a change in tune from Giant. They have now added two full squish 29er bikes back into their lineup. The latest is the Trance 29er.

Earlier this year, Giant introduced the Anthem 29er which is 100mm/90mm xc race platform. Now, the Trance 29 adds a 130mm/110mm trail bike platform to their lineup. The 130mm/110mm combination is a bit of a head scratcher and I honestly wonder if the rear end will feel under gunned. It may be that this combination will work out well, but other manufactures such as Specialized with the StumpJumper ST and Niner with the Jet 9 have chosen to have a bit more balanced 130mm/120mm combo.

Even though the Trance 29 shares a the name with the Trance, the two bikes seem to be pretty different. The 27.5 Trance is a 150mm/140mm bike with completely different geometry from the Trance 29. So, I expect the two bikes, though they share a name, will ride very differently.

Giant, is offering the Trance 29 in 4 different builds, 1 aluminum and 3 carbon fiber. The Aluminum Trance 29 2 has the easiest to swallow price tag $3,050 and comes with a well thought out build kit. SRAM NX Eagle makes one of its first appearances on a manufacturer spec and proven FOX suspension and SRAM Guide T bikes make this bike really look like a pretty good value.

The carbon version of the Trance Advanced Pro 29 all come with carbon front and rear triangles. The lowest end option starts at $4,300 and comes with the same spec as the alloy version. Whether $1250 for the carbon upgrade is worth it, is a hard question. The builds go up in price from there all the way to the $8,300 Trance Advanced Pro 29 0.

https://www.giant-bicycles.com/us/trance29

Strava Summit Replaces Premium With À La Carte Options.

Strava has a unique challenge as it tries to appeal to a wide range of athletes. The up-sell to premium has often been a hard sell. Not all the premium features appeal to all riders. For example if you don’t have a heart rate monitor or power meter much of the advanced activity analysis isn’t super useful. On the other hand, if you always ride in the city, the safety features might not be very useful.

Now Strava has split these premium features out into new packs that are available individually. There are three packs: Training, Safety and Analysis. Each pack can be purchased individually for $2.00 a month or you can get all the premium features for $5.00 a month as long as you pay annually.

The one bummer for me as a mountain biker, is I feel like the features I would use most still span multiple packs. I would probably use the beacon from the safety pack, Live segments from the analysis pack and custom goals from the training pack.

Other features, I don’t think I would get any use out of, so it is hard to know that I’m paying for those unused features. The market does seem ripe for a mountain biking specific tracking app to fill the odd niche that we require. We’ll have to wait and see if anyone is able to make an impact in this market. Overall your particular needs are going to determine if Strava Summit is a good value for you.

New Plugger Tubeless Tire Repair Kit From Blackburn

Tire plugs are rapidly becoming the tool of choice for fixing tubeless tires. Blackburn’s new “Plugger” utilizes the same bacon strip plugs that you are already probably familiar with. It does however include several unique design features.

The Plugger comes with it’s own holster that allows you to both have the tool pre-loaded with a plug and also quickly grab it when you notice a flat. The holster doubles as storage for additional plugs. In addition Blackburn includes a strap to allow for easy attachment directly to your bike.

Weighing in at only 27g for the tool and 47g with the tool and strap the Blackburn plugger won’t weigh you down. It’s also relatively easy on your wallet at only $19.95 with 10 plugs included.

Blackburn Plugger Tubeless Repair Kit

New Big Honzo Lineup From Kona in 3 Frame Materials.

The Big Honzo from Kona has made a name for itself as being a flexible 27.5 plus hardtail platform for many different riding styles. The new 2019 lineup expands the Big Honzo range to include Carbon Fiber, Aluminum and Steel options. It’s not often that you will find a platform offered in that many frame materials.

The 2019 bikes also expand the front travel, as is popular right now, from 120mm to 130mm. This additional 10mm of travel slackens out the head tube angle from 68 degrees to 67.5 degrees. Kona has adjusted the geometry to keep the bottom bracket at the same height as last year’s model. So you don’t have all the same tradeoffs you encounter when up-forking a 120mm bike.

The Base Aluminum Big Honzo

The Aluminum versions are the most affordable, starting at $1699. This gets you a SRAM NX drivetrain and a Rockshox Recon Solo RL. While not a bargain basement offering, it is a respectable build kit. The steel version comes in a single build at $2399 with an upgraded build kit from the base aluminum version. You can also get the steel Big Honzo as a frame only, if you wish to build it up yourself.

The Big Honzo ST (Steel)

The carbon Big Honzo builds start at $2999. This is arguably getting into the same price range as some pretty nice full squish bikes. However a full squish bike isn’t for everyone. Bikepackers and those wanting less complexity in their bike may want to give the Big Honzo from Kona a look, even in these more expensive options.

All versions of the bike come with a dropper seat post, which I applaud Kona for including. Removing the dropper from a hardtail may make the price-tag a bit lower, but even a beginner buying their first bike can benefit greatly from a dropper post, so including it makes sense. You can find out more about the builds over at Kona’s website.

Quarry Ridge MTB Trail Review

The Quarry Ridge trail system is located a little bit southwest of Madison, WI. It is still within the suburban area so finding a place for lunch and making your way to the trailhead are simple.

Wisconsin riding is dominated by rolling hills and organic, forest trails with roots and rocks left over by the ice age. Quarry Ridge is a bit different in that it is centered around a singular summit and features some larger rock slabs and formations. There were enough different downhill options once you get to the top that I didn’t get to try everything in this ride.

You can tell that Quarry Ridge has been built by riders that appreciate speed and technical challenges. There are a ton of well-built berms, table tops and other features that yield a great mix of flow and technical challenges. Check out the video below for all the details and my full review of these trails.

In addition, here is a map of  Quarry Ridge courtesy of Trailforks.com

Halo Headband Review

I live in the southeastern United States and this time of year it gets miserable for outside activities. The high temperature is close to one-hundred, it’s humid, no breeze, and you sweat as soon as you walk outside.

While mountain biking, a common occurrence is your helmet soaks up all your sweat and then when you hit any sort of obstacle that makes your head bob, the sweat pours out and down your face. Yeah, it’s gross.

This is where the Halo Headband shines. It’s designed with a rubber gutter that wraps around your forehead and it catches any sweat and channels it to the side of your head. As someone who wears glasses riding with this has been a huge improvement for keeping my eyesight clear and lenses clean. Here is an up-close look at it:

Halo II Headband Gutter

Halo Headband Gutter

The Halo Headband is a one size fits all that is made out of an elastic material so it will stretch to fit any size head. I have a small head and have friends with larger heads, none of us had any issues with the fit. We all wear it under our biking helmets too with zero issue.

Halo II Headband

Halo II Headband is made in the USA

Another great feature is it’s machine washable, dries quickly, and comfortable. At the time of publishing the Halo Headband is $15 on Amazon and I highly recommend it for those hot summer riding months. In fact, I bought one and then later purchased a second because I was getting so much use out of it.

Tyke-Toter Child Carrier Mountain Biking Review

Many people assume that having young kids means that mountain biking adventures will be fewer and farther between. Yes, there are balance bikes and bike trailers. But your 3-year-old isn’t going to make it more than a few miles on a balance bike, and most trailers just aren’t suited for singletrack.

Enter the Tyke-Toter. The Tyke-Toter is one entrant in a breed of new bike seats that positions your child above your top tube and between your arms. This positioning is key. Your child is not only protected between your arms but is also positioned near the center of gravity of the bike. Unlike systems that place the child near the handle bars or behind the rider the Tyke-Toter preserves the maximum amount of your bike’s regular handling characteristics.

In addition, at $115 the Tyke-Toter is one of the most inexpensive child carrying solutions. It isn’t quite as adaptable as a trailer, but the price and off-road capabilities make it well worth the price.

Installation

The Tyke-Toter comes with two main components, the seat and a footrest. The seat itself is attached to your bike using a quick release clamp on your exposed seat post. It goes without saying that dropper posts and carbon seat posts are out of the question here. The clamp has aggressive teeth but even so getting the right amount of tension when installing takes a bit of practice.

Quick release clamps directly to the seatpost

The foot rest is attached via two Velcro straps to the downtube of your bike. Tyke-Toter also supplies some self adhesive foam pads to increase the diameter of your downtube if needed. Again, I would be slightly nervous installing this on a carbon frame, but on an aluminum or steel frame it is no problem.

Modifications

I knew from the get go that I would be taking the Tyke-Toter off-road, that was my primary purpose in buying it. The Tyke-Toter though is not officially an off-road device, so everything from this point on is me sharing my personal experience, not in any way suggesting you should do the same. There are many different skill levels of riders and kids. You need to do what you think is safe for your child.

One of the shortcomings of the stock design of the Tyke-Toter is that the foot rest does not in any way prevent the child’s foot from slipping forward into the front wheel. This is a legitimate concern depending on the bike the Tyke-Toter is mounted to. I mounted the Tyke-Toter to my Raleigh Tokul 3 which has a relatively slack 68.5 degree headtube angle. This meant that there was quite a bit of room between my son’s feet and the front tire. Even so, I wanted to be safe instead of sorry.

I experimented with a couple of different solutions. In he end, the best solution to this problem was to drill some holes in the existing footrest. Then bolt on two plastic clips from old style clip pedals. These held my son’s feet from sliding forward into the front tire, even on very rough terrain. This solution has worked surprisingly well and it would be great if Tyke-Toter added something like this to the product.

Modified foot rest

Riding

The first couple of times I took the Tyke-Toter out I was a little concerned. The width of having a 2-4 year old sitting in between you legs means that you end up pedaling a bit bow-legged. However, as I got used to it and my body adapted I realized that the Tyke-Toter is amazing. I’m able to do 75% of what I can do solo on my mountain bike with my kid tagging along.

This has opened up the opportunity for longer family rides covering 5-10 miles instead of 1-2. Also, I have been able to ride technical terrain that my son would not have been able to handle on his own. Here is an example from Grand Mesa Colorado, me and my son handling a tricky little downhill section without issue. You can hear how much fun he is having!

The Tyke-Toter comes with a small handlebar in front of the seat. This handlebar is comfortable for road and xc pedaling. However when things get rough my son switches to grabbing on to my bars directly. This gives him a much more stable body position. He can also stand up on the foot rest in order to absorb larger impacts and bumps. We’ve discovered a rhythm and communication style where I advise him of when he is going to need to stand up or switch to holding onto my bars for upcoming features on the trail.

I have found that when my son stands or sits up, there is a chance of me hitting my chin on the top of his helmet. I’m not overly tall at about 5′ 10″ so unless you are much shorter than me, I wouldn’t be too concerned. Here is an additional video with more riding examples.

Crashing

Have I crashed the Tyke-Toter? Yup. Did anyone get hurt? I sprained my pinky. Seriously though, we’ve laid the bike down multiple times and I have to say the Tyke-Toter design seems pretty ideal. There are no straps holding my son in and he is immediately in my arms as soon as I let go of the handle bars. This means that when I hit the eject button he comes right along with me. This is much better than having him continue on with the bike.

We’ve low sided a couple of times. Stumbled off a couple of technical climbs. But our worst crash was a high-speed slide out on a wet wooden banked curve. Even in this instance though my son came away with a couple of scratches while I bore the brunt of the impact.

Final Thoughts

Even though it required a bit of modification to meet my needs I feel like the Tyke Toter is one of the best biking investments I have made. It has opened up countless possible rides that just would not have otherwise been possible. For a dad of 2… soon to be 3, the Tyke Toter has changed my riding more than dropper posts or great suspension designs. This simple tool has truly transformed real mountain biking into a family affair.

At $115 the Tyke-Toter has been more than worth the money I spent on it. It’s become an indispensable tool in my bag of child hauling bike tricks.

 

Buy Now

Pros:

  • Cost
  • Ideal positioning
  • Easy installation and removal
  • Super fun
  • Safest setup I’ve seen

Cons:

  • Foot rest should have toe clips
  • Will not work with dropper posts or carbon equipment
  • You end up biking a bit bow-legged
  • Shorter individuals may find the child’s head bumping their chin