Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Frostbike 2014: The Show

So I got a good night's sleep, awoke at dark-thirty, and joined Ben Witt for the short trip to "Q" Headquarters for Frostbike. I hit the floor at 8:30 am sharp, did not stop, did not pass "Go", eat lunch, drink anything, or use the facilities until well after 5:00pm. Here is what eight and a half hours of yakking and taking images was all about, for the most part.....

The "Spray Tan" Karate Monkey
I stopped first at the Surly booth, because I knew they had that monster fat bike, the Ice Cream Truck, and I figured I'd get that out of the way first. I ran into Tyler Stilwell, the master of marketing disaster at Surly, and he showed me the ropes.

The coolest rig in the booth was the Karate Monkey refresh. No more funky track ends. No more antiquated 1 1/8th straight steerer. And check out that tinted clear over raw finish. Nice.

And while it is a cool upgrade to an old classic, one has to wonder if it is enough to do that only. There are so many great hard tails now that the Karate Monkey seems a bit lost these days in the white noise of everything else around it. Even Surly's own line up boasts more interesting bikes like the Krampus, ECR,  and Instigator. Throw the "everything but the kitchen sink" Ogre into that mix and one has to wonder why this bike, or the long in the tooth 1X1 still hang on in the Surly catalog. I could see this bike being a bit fresher with a geometry tweak, but Surly didn't see fit to do that here.

Finally, the Ice Cream Truck. Hmm.......this should have happened when they did the Moonlander. Other than this, I don't see this as ground breaking, besides the fact that it signals a break with past Surly traditions.

An Instigator with a fat front fork and 26 X 3" Knards. 

Moving on from there, it was all about tires. Tires, tires, and more tires. Of course, I checked into the Dillinger 5 fat bike tire. Yes, it is huge.......

From L-R: Dillinger 5, Dillinger 4, and Husker Du
The funny thing is that yesterday I really could have used a studded fat bike tire. We have sheets of glazed ice everywhere in town lately. Bah!

But here's the deal: $250.00 bucks a pop? (Dillinger 5) Ouch! I'll take my chances for $500.00, Alex. That's too rich for my blood. And you get a tire rated for......tubed usage. Lame.

You know, the Dillinger 5 will sell out, and probably will be a sought after tire, but I can shod my entire fat bike with Vee Rubber tires for the price of one Dillinger 5 studded tire and the Vee Rubber tires are tubeless compatible. Surly has nothing much better either.

I was hoping to see the Q brands up their game in the fat bike tire market, but I was slightly disappointed. It should be interesting to see how Bontrager fat bike tires and anything else Specialized comes up with compares to Surly/45NRTH. This could get interesting this Fall.......

Tubular gravel road tires?
Then I moved on and talked about gravel road tires with a few folks. I found out that not one, but two companies are seriously working on tubulars for gravel road use. Big tubulars.

Now, I get why the tubular seems to be a great solution for mountain biking and gravel road riding. Basically eliminate pinch flats, supple, smooth, comfortable ride, high degree of traction with low rolling resistance, can be ridden flat, etc. However; I noted two things about this idea that still need work. Rims and tire failure in the field. Oddly enough, the solution for both issues may lie in a single specialized product. Special rim tape that is pressure sensitive.

That said, and I know this may make me sound like a "Negative Nancy", but I don't really see how tubulars become a better solution than tubeless tires. Especially if tubeless tires for gravel road riding are a system of rim and tire that are designed to work together. (Stan's Iron Cross/Crest suggestions need not apply here) I'm not talking conversion of a standard tire to tubeless. That's cutting corners. I'm talking a dedicated, real tubeless solution for gravel road riders. Doesn't exist, you say? Well.......

WTB announced the Nano 40 tire just ahead of Frostbike. The Nanoraptor is an awesome tire for 29"ers and is fast, light, and comfortable. (When made in the right factory, but that's another story.....) The Nano 40 will come out late Spring, most likely, but I found out a TCS, (WTB's tubeless ready, UST based system) version will be coming later. WTB already has a disc and rim brake 700c TCS compatible rim brake models available today. There's the beginnings of your gravel road based, tubeless ready, proven system. Oh, and......Hey Surly/45NRTH! Take notes here........ Fat bikers deserve to get the same for the high dollars you ask for your products, don't cha think? I sure do.


Moving on, I saw some promising ideas for gravel road clinchers and tubeless ready tires and rims were talked about as well. So the other companies will be doing some cool things coming in the near future.

This is Anna Schwinn's Light, Strong, and......Pretty drop out.
I love Anna Schwinn. Really. She's a very interesting person to chat with, and she's designed a drop out that solves an issue I have cussed about several times. The track ends with disc brake deal. Drives me nuts. I hates it, I do. We hates it forever! 

But here comes Anna's cool All City drop out to the rescue with an ingenious design that moves the IS brake adapter along with the rear axle when you turn the adjuster screw.  Beautiful, strong, and light, (so says Anna, and I chose to believe her), this makes living with an All City Nature Boy disc model that much easier. Other companies take notes, please! 

Tim Allen's new bike. He's a National Champeen, ya know.
 Foundry Bikes. Oh the brand with the ironic name! All plasticky bikes with a name that screams "metal". (Not as in "Motorhead", but as in the ferrous, 4130 meaning.) I never quite figured out where the heck they were going with that schtick, but anyway....you could never tell a Foundry from a Chinese direct frame. The "low key branding" thing just didn't work with the all blackness thing going on in carbon fiber. Well, now these rigs are painted.

At least you can easily pick out the ironic name of the bike now! They should change the name of this brand to "Chemical Stew", or "Autoclave". At least it would fit better. Besides that, the bikes are straight up cyclo cross screamers. Don't think about putting anything bigger than a legal sized CX tire in the back, because you won't have any mud clearances. It's tight back there!

A word about Mr. Allen. He won the CX single speed national championship, I guess. You'd never know it by talking with him. A great, down to Earth, humble fellow. He was truly stoked to be getting the bike pictured here and to fly the Foundry flag. It was genuine. The thing about meeting him was that I didn't realize "who he was" until afterward when someone pointed it out to me, so I had no preconceived notions there.

SRAM's 1X road/CX set up appeared at Frostbike
Another good moment or two was had when I was able to present Jeff Kerkove with an "official Trans Iowa v10" shirt. I thought it appropriate that he get the very first one out in the "wild" to wear or use as an oil rag, if he so chooses!

I don't think that he will, of course, and he seemed truly stoked to get it. I think he was genuinely struck  by the fact that this upcoming T.I. is number ten. I know we were pretty amazed that folks wanted to do Trans Iowa a second time after we put on the first one, much less having it last ten editions.

So there were several other conversations with several other folks I don't get to see all too often. Some Trans Iowa veterans and finishers, some others that have been reading this blog or one of my other sites, (thanks, by the way), and then I looked at my watch. Dang it! I missed lunch again this year! Oh well........Onwards through the fog!

A special Trans Iowa tribute in the Salsa booth: Images by Scott Haraldson
I ran across Jason Boucher. He and I got to know each other back when he was the Salsa Cycles brand manager. Now he's moved on up the "Q" ladder. We stood and chatted for a good long while. I really enjoyed that. Then he asked if I'd seen the Trans Iowa tribute in the Salsa booth. I hadn't.

So I walked over to check it out finally after the show was clearing out for the day. I have to say that I thought it was really impressive, well done,  and definitely humbling. You know, I never planned on having all this attention on Trans Iowa, and even now I am still kind of shocked when I see people making a special effort to express something in print, on film, or in the digital realm that concerns the event. I know........it means something to a lot of folks, I get that part. Heck, it hasn't gone unnoticed in my life that it means some things as well to me personally. However; to see it at a trade show expo........ I never woulda thunk it.

Then there were beers, some vittles, some Korean food at Hoban, then nighty-night. The next day I made a brief appearance back at the show, then I had to skee-daddle back to the home base. It was a good Frostbike, but a different one. No Mike's Bikes, less shenanigans, bad weather, epic travel, and lots of great friends and acquaintances.

I'll have a bit more to say about Frostbike elsewhere, but for here that's a wrap. Thanks to the Witt Family, QBP, all the friends and acquaintances, and everyone that made Frostbike possible.


Joboo said...

A question for the guy that knows ;)
What are your thoughts on the press fit BB on the ICT?
Good, bad, indifferent?
Thank you for your time!!

Guitar Ted said...

@Joboo: It's tucked up inside there in the BB shell, so I think it'll be okay. Having seen the e13 and some of the outboard bearing designs used in horrible conditions, I don't see Surly's idea as being any worse, and barring submersion, it may actually prove to work a bit better.

MG said...

Amen Brother... I agree with you 100% on the cost of tires. The price and lack of tubeless on Surly & 45NTH tires have made Vee Tire's excellent options even more desirable!

Great report... Thank you!

Doug Mayer said...

Ooh, didn't know about the WTB TCS 700c brake track rims. Might have to seek those out!

Joboo said...

"barring submersion"
That's my hang up, my Pugs with a non press BB has performed flawlessly and the way I ride.... well sometimes I'm pedaling through, well..... let's just say it'll get submerged multiple times on a single ride. LOL
I did read they were pre production ICT..... any chance you heard different?
Again, thank for your time Sir!!

Guitar Ted said...

@Joboo: Nope, I didn't hear different.