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Posted by Nate Bannish on 22nd Dec 2016
The past 12 months have been an absolute blast. Riding bikes, fixing bikes, racing bikes, photographing bikes, writing about bikes - heck, I like bikes almost as much as I like living in Alaska!
Here are some of my favorite (bike related) parts of the past year.
First fatbike race at Cuddy Park
The above picture may lead you to believe that it was easy. It was not.
This race made me nervous. I hadn't raced anything in a long time, bike or otherwise, so I figured it was only natural to start racing the native Alaskan bike - the fatbike!
Cuddy is a short way from my house, so I rode over, signed up for sport class, and soon found myself nervously toeing the start line. I've done a bunch of running races and waiting to start is always the hardest part. It's no different in a bike race.
Once we did start, I knew I had to get to the front fast. The course is twisty and flat with many opportunities to get bottlenecked. I managed to get there in the first minute... And stayed.
Here I am on the lone hill of the track.
And here is the pursuit!
Things went on this way for 30 minutes. I would dangle off the front anywhere between 5-20 seconds, resting on straightaways, looking over my shoulder, flooring it again in the turns. Despite the effort, I did manage to settle into a rhythm and smile for the camera (see above). I remember thinking to myself "races are won in turns... Races are won in turns... Wait, that's motocross! This is bicycles! Pedal harder darnit!" So I did.
Since it was a short track, we followed CX rules. We rode for half an hour and did as many laps as possible. We managed to make it to nine laps, and boom! Suddenly we were done.
Afterward I remembered why I love endurance racing so much. It's pure mad concentration during the race, but you feel great afterwards. Plus, the hot Tang was quite choice.
The Frosty (Icy!) Bottom 50
The Frosty Bottom 50 is the Alaskan variant of a road bike race. You start at Kincaid XC Ski park, ride around Anchorage, turn back at the foot of the Chugach mountains, and blast back to Kincaid. It's 46 miles of all out effort in the northern dawn.
Except it almost didn't happen this year. Weather in Alaska can be quite transient, and come a week out from the start, all of our snow melted, leaving a nasty ice glaze. Uhoh. A hundred riders racing on pure ice sounded like a recipe for disaster. But we held our breath and waited.
Then a miracle happened. It snowed. Just a bit. And then it stuck. The race was on!
We started in the dark, LED lights blazing, shivering and trying to stay warm. Quite atmospheric, if cold. It seemed that I would never get the poor fingers warm again, but then... We started.
It was a tranquil, narrow pace line for the first several miles, with nobody gunning it and my hands still struggling to get blood flow back. Once we went a few more miles, things changed. The front of the race hit the gas, and I found myself on the wrong end of a separation that decided my fate early on. I tried to pass, almost fell, and then thought the better of it. We'd catch the group again. Surely!
No. When my pursuing group got onto a wide open straightaway, we could see how far the leaders were. It wasn't pretty. Twenty minutes in and we looked to be a minute or more behind. Uhoh!
My group motored on, me taking occasional turns at the front, only to look back and see everyone falling away. This was frustrating! No one wanted to chase.
We went under a bridge and approached the offroad trail part of the race.
So by this time I knew there wouldn't be help from my group, and the trails would be the best place to make a gap and maybe even catch the front group. So I attacked!
I went alone to the turnaround point, alone back onto the bike trail, and then... I started to hurt.
It was my first time racing at such an effort, for such a long time, and in the COLD. Maybe I didn't drink enough. Maybe I didn't eat enough. Haha, yeah, I definitely didn't. I bonked. And I got caught.
My group and I rode back to Kincaid with minimal urgency in our pace. Only on the last hill did we string out, finishing in small batches, showing our candid suffer faces to the camera. I was tired, I was hurting, and I LOVED IT!
Middle Fork Escapades
This is Riley. Riley is a great guy. Riley is responsible for my love of Middle Fork trail.
It all started one day when we were both off from work (at a bike shop no less) and thought it would be responsible of us to go out on a corporate team bonding activity. We met at a favorite locale and were soon underway. Things went by quite ordinarily for a while. I was on trails I knew, we climbed doubletrack I'd pedal punched before, and we even managed a nice singletrack called South Fork rim. This led us all the way up to Glen Alps, and it was quite a view!
Our bikes decided to strike a pose while we photographed them.
And then we looked east, where it seemed a bunch of other riders had already ridden. Hmm, maybe they were headed to the Powerline Pass, or maybe they were headed to...
"Middle Fork!" Riley said.
I had heard tales of Middle Fork, but I still didn't know exactly how to get there.
"OK." I said.
As it turns out, Middle Fork is a small turn off the O'Malley trail. It's a great way to make a loop with lots of climbing and an equally fun descent. Otherwise, you'll just ride up the powerlines and back down the powerlines. Fun, but it's no Middle Fork.
Middle Fork had just opened to fatbikes a few days prior and the trail hadn't been packed in yet. It was fun, yes, in a twisty, turny, keep your balance sort of way. Fast downhill it wasn't. But I had my taste. We'd be back. And we'd be back with a helmet cam.
As the winter went on, Middle Fork became more and more popular with the local fatbikers. There was little snow down in the city, but it was perfect up here at 2200'. Saturdays saw mega groups of bikers enjoying the fresh arctic air and awesome views. On one particular weekend, I ran into this group of 9:ZERO:7 factory team riders, plus a strange orange colored bunny rabbit. Too bad I was far too busy staring at the ground to notice:
The Great Sale Bike:
Robin (our operations manager) grinned "hey, take a picture of this and send it to Riley. Show him what he's going to be doing for the next few days."
The Whiteout AL is a great frame from many viewpoints. It's easy to work on, has good cable routing, good standover, and stable geometry. Only one problem: we'd never offered it at an entry level price point. That was about to change.
You may wonder how larger companies are able to offer such low MSRPs on their bikes. It's simple. They work in volume, the volume is done overseas, and they have their own in-house component brands. We however, don't work in volume, it's not done overseas, and we have few of our own in-house components. Translation: our bikes usually cost more!
We wanted to get more people on 9:ZERO:7s. The only way we could do that was to lower the price. The only way we could lower the price was accept less margin. Ouch. But we had to do it. Thus, the $1399 9:ZERO:7 GX1x10 was born.
One Saturday's worth of wheels.
We were CRANKIN' bikes out of Chain Reaction. People were loving it. Handbuilt wheels, SRAM GX 1x10, cool colors, studded upgrades, the usual 9:ZERO:7 bells and whistles. For a price we'd never dreamed.
All good things come to an end though, and the $1399 bike is no different. It came to an end several months ago. It will, however, live on in spirit with the new Whiteout AL NX 1x11. R.I.P sweet GX, hello NX!
I've had the privilege of working on some very beautiful bikes during my days at Chain Reaction. Fatbikes, skinny bikes (think road) and inbetween bikes. Here are some of my favorites:
9:ZERO:7 Team bike I built for the Fatbike Birkie. I copied the rider's fit over from his old Whiteout, and made sure that if he won, his bike would look the part!
A Banshee Scream. Not the usual sort of bike we get to work on. Old school freeride through and through, with a Marzocchi Monster T, home studded Nokian Gazzaloddi tires, Progressive 5th Element rear shock, and Hayes brakes. It was a lot of work to get it rolling again. Rebuilt the rear hub, rebuilt the linkage, rebuilt the fork (thanks Will Ross for doing that), swapped tires, bled brakes, swapped chain, installed new cassette, etc etc. One of the most unique bikes I have ever worked on at CRC.
Orange is the new black
Some custom wheels I built up for a gentleman who wanted his bike to be extremely orange. I approve!
Tricked out carbon commuter
My very own commuter/racer/everyday rig. I put 4000 winter miles on this bike and it's never let me down. Brand new HED Big Deal wheelset.
Middle Fork mid day. That's as high as the sun gets.
Brian and I posing our bikes at the top of hillside. Wait, what are those skinny little tires? Funny you should ask:
Plus size wheels?!
With the only deep snow up high, it seemed a bit silly to be riding around town on 80mm rims and 4" tires. That's why when I heard about plus size wheels, I knew I had to build some!
I decided on WTB Scraper 45mm rims and 3" Schwalbe Rocket Ron tires. Scrapers 'cause we hadn't built them before, and Schwalbes 'cause the Rocket Ron is an awesome tire.
It was also a great opportunity for me to further test out the 2nd generation 9:ZERO:7 hub (which I love, by the way.)
The Rocket Rons waited patiently in a box.
Oooo, how fast they looked!
And oooo, how fast they were!
They felt like rocket ships on the pavement and packed snow. Not only that, but they were a lot quieter than a 4" tire with studs. With the ice being minimal and the snow being hard, I decided to run my own scientifically proven speed test.
Strava Time Trial!
A 6.1 mile course with rolling hills and twisty doubletrack, affectionately dubbed the Nürburgring. Now, there's a big date gap between second and first place, but the snow was essentially the same. The only difference is one was on my plus setup, and the other was on my HED Big Deals. Not bad. A minute!
+ Size Summer
I felt a certain obligation to keep riding my Whiteout into the spring, both because I work for 9:ZERO:7 and because I like the bike so much. It's super easy to do miles on. Feels like you could just pedal it forever. Once April rolled around, the trails dried and I ventured far and wide with the 'ol plus Whiteout.
Arctic Valley Road via Tank Trail.
Anchorage has a very large section of military land to the north. Recreation is allowed in certain areas, provided you pay for a permit and carry it with you. Brian and I made good use of this as we traversed the aptly named Tank Trail to reach Arctic Valley road.
It was a decent climb - 5.2 miles at 7% grade, all on gravel. Perfect for the plus bike to shine.
We reached the Arctic Valley Ski area and turned around to see the grand view behind us:
Brian rolled up behind me.
We stopped to put on warmer clothes. Brrr, it didn't quite feel like summer up here.
Lost Lake 4th of July with Jamie
Neither Brian or I had ever been to Seward OR ridden the Lost Lake trail, so when we were invited to spend the 4th of July weekend by 9:ZERO:7 owner Jamie, we were understandably stoked.
The view from Primrose campground.
The next day, we broke camp early and started climbing up toward Lost Lake. It started with a flowing pine forest singletrack, then plunged down to the paved road for a short stint. From there, we started climbing again, this time with lots of technical root sections thrown in. Jamie managed to conquer a monster root on his 29er, which was quite the accomplishment without having plus tires.
It wasn't the brightest day - but maybe that was a good thing. The temperature stayed quite comfortable even during the extended climb. As it got closer to the top, the trees thinned and gave way to long grass.
Jamie, me, Dog...
...With Brian soon to follow!
The view at the top was expansive, if a tad gray. Lost Lake itself was a stunning blue that only Alaska seems able to produce.
And here we are back at camp, standing on some very conveniently sized stumps... Future podium?
Hatcher's Pass, Willow, AK
Hatcher's is a twisty, gravelly, very beautiful road about 1 1/2 hours drive from Anchorage. There are a bunch of mining relics to be seen, both at the top of the pass, and along the way to the top. A perfect day outing for the plus bikes!
Brian and I parked at the far side of the pass. This meant we had a long, long way to the top (almost 30 miles!).
It started out flat, with the grade steadily ramping up and road quality decreasing.
Brian cruisin' with an amazing backdrop.
Back To Fall - and back to Fatbikes(.com)?!
When the sun starts going down before 10pm, you know things are changing in Alaska.
There's frost in the morning, a chill in the air, and termination dust on the mountains. Winter is on the way, and soon enough, it's back to the fat tires.
Fall at Eklutna Lake
The season wasn't the only thing changing. I'd been given an opportunity to begin work at 9:ZERO:7/Fatbikes.com - and I took it!
Things at a bike company are very different from things at a bike shop. Yes, I do wrench work, but I also spend about half my time on the computer. Taking photos, editing photos, creating ads, creating how-to videos, writing product descriptions, writing newsletters, managing inventory, packing shipments - all things I had never done in a professional sense before. It was awesome. Truly a change of pace, and an exciting one at that!
As the photography guy, the duty fell on me to take suitably stimulating pictures of all our new product offerings:
ooo, pretty Industry Nine hubs!
The daily view from Fatbikes.com/9:ZERO:7
oooo, Eagle cassettes!
oooo, new 9:ZERO:7 frames!
Wait, new 9:ZERO:7s? Yep! You can read about our latest frame here. I had one of my own on the way...
My 9:ZERO:7 Tundra
I didn't really have a sense of what this frame would look like until it was in my hands. I'd seen cellphone pictures from our manufacturer, but I knew better than to make color choices based on those. So I waited. And then it was here!
My first impression was wow, that's a beautiful color... After finally having seen it, I began to put together my build list - Full SRAM Eagle XX1, Wren inverted fork, HED BAD / Industry Nine hubs, Shimano XTR Trail brakes, 45NRTH Van Helga tires, Turbine dropper post, the works.
Never had a spent so money much on a bike, and never had the results been so beautiful:
And that's that...
As of this writing, there are only nine days left in 2016. We've just passed the winter solstice, and there's a lot more winter yet to come. There's snow on the ground, the trails are fast, and the bikes are fun.
I can think of nowhere else I'd rather be, nothing else I'd rather be doing, and no way I'd rather pass the year(s)! Happy New Year everybody!
Now get out there and ride!