Latest Posts

Enduro Pack? Fanny Pack? Lumbar Bag? – Dakine Hot Laps 5L Review

Kind of like runners always searching for the perfect shoe or motorheads looking for the next engine tweak it seems like mountain bikers are constantly searching for a better way to carry their tools, food and water on the trail. The options are limitless. Lately an option from 30 years ago has come back into style: fanny packs. The Dakine Hot Laps 5L takes the basic concept of a fanny pack, or Enduro Pack, or Lumbar Bag, whatever makes you feel less embarrassed, and puts it on steroids (pardon my road racing pun). The Hot Laps 5L adds a full hydration system, cooling vents, internal storage pockets and a clever synching system.

Features

Starting from the outside, the Dakine Hot Laps 5L features a well thought out belt system. The large buckle features a single-sides cinch system and a handy elastic keeper for the slack strap. Attached to the strap is a large padded area that reaches around an average sized pair of hips. The padding along the sides and back also features engineered venting to provide additional cooling. Lumbar packs make a lot of sense in hot conditions where a full backpack would produce massive back sweat. So, this additional venting is welcome.

The pack itself features two main compartments. The one closest to your body holds the hydration bladder. Specially designed by Dakine, the 2L bladder features an internal baffle that helps it hold it’s shape even when it is not full. The bladder also has a fold over opening at the top for filling and cleaning that is secured with a sliding clip.

The hose for the bladder is routed out a slit in the side of the pack. It is designed to wrap around one hip and all the way to the other where it is secured with a magnetic buckle that is the best I have ever used. It goes beyond being a simple magnet and includes a clip that holds it securely while riding yet is easy to remove with a twist.

The second compartment contains organizing pockets for all the bits and bobs you bring on a ride. I have found that I am able to bring all of my standard equipment along with a couple of bars easily in this compartment. I run out of room though if I try to pack along camera gear as well. Which is when my Osprey Daylight comes back out.

A typical carry for a 2 hour ride. Not pictured: phone and hydration bladder.

Riding

The first thing you will notice when switching from a backpack to a hip pack is just how free your shoulders and back feel. The Dakine Hot Laps 5L definitely delivers in this departments. With no straps going over my shoulders and across my chest I felt much more “free” while riding.

However, after loading up the Dakine for the first time I also realized that hip packs are much more sensitive to loading, setup and weight. If the straps are too tight they would constrict my stomach while riding. Too loose and the pack would be bouncing all over the place. In that just right amount of tension though, the Hot Laps pack is a pleasure to ride with. Don’t be surprised if you have to experiment and adjust to find the right fit.

Compression straps on the sides help to eliminate bouncing and hold your load close to your body.

I found that if I loaded the Hot Laps 5L with a full load of water and my tools / nutrition I would get stomach pain no matter how I adjusted the pack. In my case I found that about 2/3 full on the hydration bladder is all that can be carried comfortably. On the bright side, the hydration bladder tastes good, and is a joy to use. As mentioned earlier, the magnetic latch mechanism is secure, yet easy to use. I had no trouble grabbing a drink on smoother sections of trail. My only other complaint with the bladder is that the hose doesn’t have any sort of shut off, which would be nice to prevent leaks during transport.

Overall the Hot Laps 5L is a very capable fanny pack and it has found a permanent place in my lineup of go-to bags. The option of running hydration or extra storage along with the freedom a fanny pack provides has made me a convert for most rides lasting less than two and a half hours.

Buy Now

Pros:

  • Included hydration bladder
  • Ample storage
  • Great hydration hose retention
  • Free shoulders

Cons:

  • Can be tricky to get adjusted
  • Bladder is best used not all the way full
  • You can’t bring the kitchen sink
  • No shut off on the hydration hose

The Best $1000 Hardtail Trail Bikes

Hardtails are how most people get on the trails for the first time. Whether it is a $200 Walmart bike or a $2000 XC machine you can learn something and gain valuable skills on a hardtail. However, around the $1000 mark there seems to be a tipping point where you get quality components and geometry that you won’t want to immediately throw away after a year of riding. In this round-up, we’ll share our top best $1000 hardtail trail bikes.

There are a couple of criteria that were used in building this list. First, we allowed a little bit of wiggle room on the MSRP price knowing that sales, dealer incentives etc would allow you to obtain any of these bikes for right around $1000. Second, if the manufacturer specced the bike with a coil shock they were disqualified. Low end coil shocks do not yield a capable trail bike that can be tailored to rider weight the way an air fork can. Finally, if the manufacturer specced the bike with a 2x or 3x drivetrain they were also disqualified. With all of the great 1x systems out there, there is no reason to be speccing a $1000 bike with a 2x that is harder to use and more of a maintenance headache.

Most Affordable: Marin San Quinten 1

The Marin San Quentin hardtails slot in between the already existing Alcatraz dirt jump bike and more tail/xc oriented Nail Trail. An “aggressive hardtail,” the San Quentin receives a slacked out 65° head tube angle which should stabilize things when pointing the bike downhill while425mm chainstays will keep the rear end compact and easy to move around. Best of all, this is the cheapest bike in our round-up. At $849 you will make some component sacrifices, but you are also buying into a capable platform.

More Info
Wheel Size27.5"
ForkSuntour XCM32 120mm
Drive TrainShimano Altus, 9-Speed
BrakesTektro M275 Hydraulic Disc
WheelsMarin Double Wall 27.5 29mm internal width
TiresVee Tire, Crown Gem 27.5x2.3", Dual Control Compound, Wire Bead
SeatpostMarin Alloy Light
Price849.99

Best Downhill Bike: Commencal META HT AM ORIGIN

This thing is a beast. With 150mm fork up front, the Commencal Meta HT AM Origin is by far the longest legged bike in this list. Outfitted with 27.5×2.6 tires it’s in the not quite plus territory that many aggresive riders are finding to be the sweet spot. It also features larger 200mm rotors up front for greater downhill stopping power. Arguably this is one of the most stunning looking bikes on the list as well.

More Info

 

Wheel Size27.5
ForkROCKSHOX RECON RL, 150 mm
Drive TrainSRAM X5, 10 sp
BrakesTEKTRO HD-M275
WheelsFormula Hubs with WTB ST i35, 32 holes, 35 mm inner width
TiresVEETIRECO FLOW SNAPP, 27.5 x 2.6, skinwall, 72 TPI front and rear
SeatpostRIDE ALPHA
Price1099

Best All Around Trail Bike: Diamondback Sync’r

Highlights on the Diamondback Sync’r build include a respectable Rockshox 130mm fork, the best drivetrain of the bunch, NX 11 speed and Shimano MT500 brakes. The Sync’rs extra 10mm boost of front travel sets it apart from many other bikes in this category and will make you think just a little bit less about taking this bike into gnarly terrain.

More Info
Wheel Size27.5
ForkRockshox Recon RL, Solo Air, 130mm Travel
Drive TrainSRAM NX X-Horizon, 11 Speed
BrakesShimano MT500 Hydraulic Disc
Wheels27.5 Diamondback blanchard
TiresWTB Vigilante, 27.5x2.3"
SeatpostDB Alloy Micro Adjust, 30.9mm
Price1199

Best Trail Hardtail with a Dropper: Giant Fathom 2

Squeezing a dropper post into a $1000 price point proves to be a challenge. But, Giant has managed to do it with their Fathom 2. With 27.5+ wheels, a dropper and a decent air fork this bike won’t be begging for an immediate upgrade.

More Info
Wheel Size27.5+
ForkSuntour SF19-Raidon 32, 120mm
Drive TrainShimano Deore, 1x10
BrakesTektro HDM 275
WheelsGiant AM 27.5, 30mm inner width, with giant hubs
TiresMaxxis Ardent Race 27.5x2.8
SeatpostGiant Contact Switch dropper post with remote lever
Price1,100

Best Equipped 120mm Bike: Salsa Timberjack NX1 27.5+

The Salsa Timberjack comes with a super respectable build kit. Using the 120mm RockShox Judy fork that was recently reintroduced, this budget hardtail incorporates big brand components. The SRAM NX drivetrain is arguably the best budget drivetrain on the market, and Tektro HD-M290 Hydraulic brakes should provide adequate stopping power.

More Info
Wheel Size27.5+
ForkRockShox Judy Silver TK Solo Air 120mm
Drive TrainSRAM NX 11 Speed
BrakesTektro HD-M290 Hydraulic
WheelsFormula Hubs with WTB Scraper i40 27.5"
TiresWTB Ranger, 27.5 x 2.8" Comp, 27 tpi casing
SeatpostPromax
Price1099

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