Mountain Bike Suspension Data

Give me more data!!

There’s a lot out there about dialing in your bike. Road bikes have power meters, which is a truly recent development as it used to be available only in certain training facilities in certain places in the US and Europe. It wasn’t a machine you wanted to be hooked up to. Heart rate and pedal cadence weren’t enough.

On the mountain bike front not only was power a curiosity, suspension became an obsession and I don’t really know how to reconcile it. A few companies made a cycling app for smartphones that could sense movement through its built-in accelerometers, record that data, and deliver feedback to the rider. A Vancouver, BC based company named Bike-Setup is an example. Not sure it was super successful…

Now, the huge division of SRAM, Quarq, has released a little unit called ShockWiz. While I’m going to use this in the shop to help people figure out their mountain bike suspension, it seems a little silly to consider having one of these as a permanent fixture on your bike.

Quarq Shockwiz
You’re about to see this on all the bikes. It’s about $400 and pairs with a smartphone to deliver a heap of data that should be useful

This little tool isn’t obtrusive at all. Part of why I don’t like remote lockout units for my rear shock (super useful) is the gaudy extra cable making a rats-nest out of the front of my bike. So… This does a bit more than that. It records and analyzes everything about your suspension. But still.

How much data do you need?

Let’s jump back a few years, like 14. Back in 2003 the most advanced thing on a bike was Specialized’s brain. The brain is a simple concept that wasn’t new at the time. While the patent moved around a little bit in kind of a controversial way, it was a pretty smart method to get the rear end to lock-out, on its own, based on trail feedback. It was a mechanical-hydraulic system that Specialized has continued to refine and implement. No extra cable at the front end. Just an extra tube connected to the rear shock. It didn’t deliver any data. And it still doesn’t. It has a job, to make you ride faster and win races. Others probably don’t agree but this bike has a lot of podiums..

Specialized Brain on the Epic
Brain cutaway, reveals the inertia valve. Truly uncomplicated and delivers immediate results

Riding a bike used to be a feeling. This bike was something of a unique feeling. I could adjust it to my preference. I didn’t have a computer telling me the bike was vibrating me off the pedals. For some reason, and I’m unsure how I was able to tell with out my phone informing me, I could remain stable in motion while the bike took a beating.

I’m not a Luddite. I’m not a being from one of Kurt Vonnegut’s many planets. I love data. But when it comes to riding my bike I don’t get to do it enough. Bikes these days ride so well. I simply ride my bike and enjoy myself in the times that I can afford to go. My GPS shows me where I rode. It’s cool. But unnecessary. In fact, I’m unsure why I use it.

This is all that damn GPS does for me…. But I feel lost without it.

I wasn’t sure if I could ride with out knowing ride time, absolute global location, or vertical mapping. One day I forgot to bring my GPS unit and nearly had a heart attack. So I carefully mounted my bike and started turning the pedals over. All of a sudden I was riding and enjoying it and reveling in the fact that I could ride without the ball-and-chain of data acquisition! I could ride without it!

 

CyclingWeekly put out this article, I enjoyed it. It’s about data. Just like this post. I agree with them that if you’re trying to achieve some kind of speed or fitness goal, win a world cup down hill time, then yes, you’re a professional that needs this career changing data. Most of us? Most of us should go back to why we love this sport, our roots so to speak, and start simply enjoying our rides.

But….

ShockWiz shows all sorts of stuff

ShockWiz is actively collecting pretty relevant data about your mountain bike suspension. It reports metrics based on your riding preferences selected in the tech. It interacts with you by making suggestions on using volume reducing tokens, air preload, ramp, rebound and compression settings. Hell, you may find yourself wanting a better fork or shock based on what it tells you.

It seems that even still, the data that you need is coming from your heart. Are you having a good time? Is your bike broken? That’s good data.

Data is useful though it doesn’t pedal for you

So you’re telling me that your FTP is 400? That’s great. FTP is functional threshold power or the highest average power you put into the pedals for an hour while cycling. When a guy comes in and wants to talk FTP I try to get away from him. Unless he’s gaunt and 138 at 5’9″, he’s no contender for anything. When Jan Ullrich won gold at the 2000 Olympics he simply won. He was the fastest man of the day. What was his heart rate? Possibly recorded. What was his power at the finish line? Doesn’t matter. He won. He beat the other guys. He was faster. No one needs data acquisition to know it. When it got close he just pedaled harder.

But if someone needs data like their job depends on it, it’s a cat like that. As for this ShockWiz thing, it’s gaining traction and I’ll be putting on bikes for tuning purposes. As I’m unsure how folks ride their bikes, this will help me to not be blind while configuring air pressures and valving shim compression.

For everyday riding? I’m not going to stop anyone from decorating their bike with these bits of tech. There is a growing mountain bike market and people need to know how their machines are working under all conditions, every time, always and forever. The new breed of cyclist has arrived and I’m unsure if they’ve made the same startling discovery that I have, that I can go ride and still have a good time without data.

Thunder Mountain Trail

The Thunder Mountain Trail is a bit out of the way, and it’s ok

I haven’t ridden this trail as much as I should have. I grew up in Utah skiing and riding bikes. It makes sense that I should know all the trails here. But last fall was the first time I’d ridden Thunder Mountain in the Bryce Canyon area.

Zach cruising up the Bryce Canyon bike path looking for a certain Thunder Mountain Trailhead

The trail parallels Red Canyon which one generally has to pass through if headed to Bryce Canyon from Interstate 15. The only other route is to come from Escalante, Utah. Anyhow, this ride is totally sweet and worth a mission send. That being noted, Zach and I packed up right quick after work and made the 4 hour drive south from the Wasatch mountains.

Traffic southbound I-15 was light as we zoomed through the darkness with our rigs fastened to the back of the trusty automobile. With only one stop for stretching we made camp in less than 4 hours. It was 31 degrees farenheit… the night got colder but we slept in the relative comfort of winter sleeping bags.

Trail starts out in the red dirt and pine trees, iconic terrain of this part of the world

Morning time brought seriously cold air and we slept until about 9AM with our warm hats covering our eyes so they wouldn’t turn into ice balls.. Morning also brought a warm fire, coffee, and a cowboy breakfast. After all morning routines handled, we were ready to ride and hit the road. After a quick ride up the Bryce Canyon bike trail to the top of Red Canyon, we took a right on a Forest Road and through an equestrian campsite. The Thunder Mountain trail starts at the end of this road but is somehow called Coyote Hollow, so heads up.

Previous Year, Riding through hoodoos with my wife and friends

The trail quickly becomes your favorite trail. Whoever dug it had a vision. While I believe that it was initially a horse trail, and it shows in places, it’s a fantastic bike trail also. Rounding every punchy climb with a ridgeline, the hoodoos and red valleys come into view against the deep blue hue of a U2-esque desert sky.

It’s too fun of a trail to miss, you have to ride it. Or not. I’m completely fine with no one but a few riding this place. It is after all largely out of the way. If you’re headed to a major bike mecca, forget about heading here. There’s no bike shop that I can find.. So you’re on your own.

The trail sweeps up and down ridge-lines for the first 4 miles or so. Each turn brilliantly formed, off-camber straight-aways, rocky non-sense, some loose dirts; all for your riding pleasure. And every time you look up you see this kind of crap:

Karen riding up the ridge; just beautiful views, forever




Last year I rode Thunder mountain for a birthday party with my wife and friends. Yes, my wife has that SE grin that all of us mountain bikers know is absolutely contagious.

Zach surrendering to a photo op

Zach and I made less time for pictures. You could literally spend the whole day getting the best action shots in your portfolio on Thunder Mountain if you weren’t interested in maintaining the thrilling flow of two wheels down this remarkable trail.

We broke riding at the mid-trail horse camp. It has a little vista there while you eat a well earned date roll. The only thing that would have been better would have been to camp there. Bike packing is a serious possibility, even though the trail is really, really short.

After the horse camp the trail climbs and descends flowing down ridge-lines and through hoodoos all over. The descending here gets a little more rowdy. We dropped tire pressure because we are just that cool. As the trail descends there are two sections of tight switchbacks. This is usually where you’ll see the best crashes.

Crystal descending, happier than any other moment in her life

As the trail winds around and through some drainages, there’s a short climb which leads to a 1.4 mile straight-away descent back to the Red Canyon highway and bike path. We let gravity guide us back, using our huge tires to make up for not using brakes. Oh yes, we rode this trail on 27.5+ and 26 Fat hardtails.

Day 3, Soapstone to Washington Lake

Morning light shone through the pine tree limbs in a warm orange tone. It was chilly. The temperature had dropped to 43 degrees by early morning and I was grateful to have a warmer sleeping bag. I laid there and tried to drift back off to sleep. It worked.

After a bit I got up and made coffee and breakfast, wrapped up camp and headed out by 8:30. Honestly, wasn’t thinking that breaking camp would take so long. But when you’re solo and all the gear has to get on the bike it takes more planning, arranging and time. Then you attach all that crap to your steed. Securing the load is part of the packing ordeal. Unlike backpacking, this is an extra effort.

I headed up the mirror lake highway early enough that traffic was still light, for a Sunday. It was still cool outside until the sunlight hit me. The road I was looking for was off to the left about 3 miles up canyon. It was called Spring Canyon. Aptly named and gorgeous, it is lightly trafficked and dispersed camping is here and there on primitive spots.

Climbing and climbing, the trail wouldn’t relent for 1600 vertical feet. The dirt road was rocky, loose, and dusty. It made for great riding, even with the gear. It was rowdy enough that it kept most vehicles out on the highway. For a laden fat bike it was easy work. My mind is still kinda blown, looking back and thinking there was no way that this guy with his fat tires was gonna clear the incline that looked like a rocky river bed. Surprised, I rode to the top of it. Not sure I understand the physics of how that all happened but it did.

From there it was all 4×4 road; I meandered through the forest seeing lakes and spur roads all over. I noted that this would be a great spot to explore by bike with good times to be had. It was beautiful. Haystack mountain was the backdrop for the entire area. So everything looked like it had to be amazing.

I found a few campers. But because of the nature of this road it was more like normal, with high clearance trucks and jeeps, and tents! Tents, friends. No tin shelters. It was great! And quiet. And soon the road became a graded thoroughfare with the appearance of more RVs. I was way past the point of disappointment in our society.

I was really close to finding my wife and hopefully some yummy snacks. I was approaching Washington lake, an upstream neighbor to Trial Lake. Lots of people. After the two days with relatively few people around I felt like I had shown up at a mall.

Filtering water out of Trial Lake and then taking a swim in the same I was ready for some relaxation. The car had been left with a hammock. I turned on the radio and laid in the hammock for hours. The radio was a hand radio. I was waiting for my wife’s sweet voice to come over the air and let me know where she was.

She radioed in at two miles away. She was surprised to hear my voice come back. I swung gently in the hammock, in the cool mid-day air of the mighty mountains of the Uintas. It was a good day.

Fat Bike Packing – Day 2, Soapstone

Back out on the open road I descended on into Soapstone Basin by following the switchbacks down the mountain-side. The road was beleaguered by trucks hauling smaller off-road vehicles. The men driving these trucks were of size. They never move a muscle in order to move about.

This is how the Terminator won the battle against humanity.

Water. The spigots were an oasis in a country that shouldn’t have been devoid of water. There was a river nearby. This seriously shouldn’t have been the first water I’d seen in so long but I failed to trust the sources I did see because of the large populations seemingly living in such close proximity. This water was good. No nasty flavor, no hint of chlorine. Hell, it may have been free of Fluoride. Don’t tell anyone. It’s a good thing.

I drank a bunch. Topped off my reservoirs and headed immediately out to find a place to camp. I wasted an hour thinking I could find a place just there off the road. But in the end I paid $20 for a spot over a the Soapstone campground. At least, I thought, there should be running water there. I was wrong. There wasn’t a single spigot that worked. Turns out that the only running water at a campsite was the Lost Creek site, some 15 miles up the road.

So I grabbed a sweet site in the middle of the campground close to a toilet. It was open and spacious, like a comfortable house. I had room to walk around and contemplate my existence. After setting up camp I grabbed my extra bladder and headed for the sanitary station once more 1 mile back the way I came. I was able to bring back one more gallon of water.

I used it all before I left camp the following morning. Mostly drinking it.

I never really took stock before when backpacking how much I used water at camp, between drinking and cooking, one gallon per person per night seems to be about par for me. The next time I do this I’m simply going to bring an empty jug. And planning routes around water is such a legitimate thing. Which isn’t a thing I’ve ever spent much time thinking about! While backpacking in the true backcountry I just grab water where I find it. But it always seems more common. With bike packing, as this was my first experience touring altogether, water stops seem more dispersed and something to consider while planning routes and camps.

With all the consideration for water, the other main concern was food. I had definitely brought enough, with an emergency supply of bars and electrolyte powder as a luxury, just in case. But I didn’t have anything else. Night took its time getting to camp, descending slowly as I ate some more oysters and mashed potatoes. That felt like a dinner I’d repeat and recommend to others.
The camps adjacent to me were literally all trailer or camper oriented. I was there with a bike, empty car park, and a lone single man tent. My experience was so completely opposite of my fellow campers that it was nearly only laughable.

I built a nice fire out of some scrap wood I’d found around the area. While I didn’t mind the solitude a fire is about as useful as a cold fire pit when you’re not sharing it with someone. My fire-ring companion is my wife. We always enjoy them together. This time, I was alone and staring blankly into a fire that simply burned for warmth. There was no social gathering around this fire.

About 9:30 I stuffed the fire out and headed for the tent. I tied the bike to a tree so that the local children would have a hard time borrowing it for the night. There were a lot of children about. And I slept really well that night. It was quiet except for the one guy with his generator running into the night and early in the morning. Not sure what he needed all that electricity for. Probably his electric toothbrush.

Fat Bike Packing Day 2 of 3

I looked at the clock, 7:23 AM. It was early enough. It was late enough. I hadn’t rested much, heart rate still somewhat elevated I felt better in motion than trying to lay there. This day would start off a little dry, water-wise. The last stop I made for water was far enough back down the road that I drank about half my stash. After making dinner and trying to re-hydrate I didn’t have a lot to ride with to the next water stop. It definitely meant I couldn’t make coffee or oatmeal. I reversed my lunch and breakfast meal plan, which mean’t I could cook oatmeal for lunch.

About 8:20 AM I was back on the road following the undulations of FR309. I would experience some of the highest points of my ride on that ridgeline, riding spans of road over 10,000 feet. I descended quickly to the road junction, the intersection that would become a road back to Heber through Lake Creek or the other direction that would take me further out. This was FR054. Once on this road I quickly found West Fork’s headwaters.

This was the spot where I would have liked to have been camped. There was running water. Either way, I hadn’t made it that far the night before. So I enjoyed a coffee and water break there. It was my personal creekside cafe; I had some snacks and hit the road again.

My break was possibly too enjoyable. I had a long way to go. From the ridge top I’d ridden moments before I could see the major peaks of the Uintah mountains that congregated around the Mirror Lake highway. They seemed so far away and I was trying to get within 10 miles of them that day. As I broke my rest and started back up 054 and on to 091 I could see a better view. I tried taking pictures but it was so far away. I couldn’t capture the grandeur of what I was trying to do that day.

Up onto Lightning Ridge I rode and finally enjoyed some quiet from the backcountry traffic that had pestered my route. The views were spectacular and I was in the highest country around. The pines had set in all around me and the scent of old pine sap and oxidizing pine needles filled my nostrils with nostalgic rumination of all the places I’d known with that lovely smell. The dirt road had become less traveled and less maintained. My bike was content. I was content. The experience was peaceful.

The bike I’d chosen for this trip was a Rocky Mountain Blizzard -30 fat bike. I’m not a believer that their sole use should be for winter. I ride it all the time in the summer. In fact, this is my only bike. I have a RockShox Bluto on there. And it’s pretty sweet. For this bike packing thing, it was perfect for carrying the load while maintaining some kind of smooth ride. The tires could deal with the rocks and ruts below while comfortably suspending my body and gear above the bike.

Needless to say, there were plenty of comments from the backcountry peanut gallery. The “backcountry”, as it were, was loaded with bow hunters and folks in side-by-sides, RV’s, campers, trucks, four-wheelers, etc. I was never quite alone. There were sections of my ride that I experienced highway level traffic, but not trucks and cars; atv’s of all sorts were buzzing like they had business to do. There were villages of campers, the RV type, not the tent type, everywhere.

I buzzed quietly by, the sound of my DT Swiss ratchet-drive the only signal of my passing through. The whir of my huge tires didn’t manifest since the road had become so dusty. My only emissions for the day would be some expelled gas from my gut. I was really the only small polluter out there.

Riding along the ridge I pitched down toward Wolf Creek Pass and Campground. This was where I had planned to make a water stop. Well, I made a stop, started cooking my lunch and nearly out of water headed for the spigot. Dry.

Fat Bike Packing day 1 of 3

Headed out from home in down town Heber, Utah, I was in the completely wrong hour of the day and I knew it. The sun was in its full strength for the day and it was near 90 degrees Fahrenheit. I knew the hours following the ride would be fitful and I was right. But that could mean anything from a minor headache from the heat to full blown heat exhaustion. Whatever awaited me at the terminus of the days’ ride would be acceptable. It was time to head out.

With everything packed and my shift done for work all I had to do then was kiss my wife goodbye and hit the road. I left her with all the maps of the areas I’d cover, which Forest Service roads I would be on and what timing to expect. At the end I would meet her in the high alpine area of the Mirror Lake Highway through the Uintah Mountains, a location approximately 60 miles from home. I would either find her or her car. We had radios for getting in touch once I was close enough to where she would be in the mountains on Sunday.

She watched me ride off in a romantic kind of way, sweet and exciting. “I’ll see you in a couple of days,” she said with a kiss. Or that’s how I remember it. Anyhow, it was me and the open road. Traffic on surface streets was light. I was on the most rural roads of our rural city. It was hot. After 7 miles the pavement ended. It was all dirt from that point. I took a photo of the bike all loaded down to mark the occasion.

I had lightly chosen my gear for this, based on the availability of Specialized’s bike packing bags and my experience in backpacking. The “Specialized Adventure Gear” suited me well, was up to the task, and looked good. However I would like a different choice of color than black… my lightest and most minimal gear was with me. I had a few things along I wouldn’t take again.

The view from my route

With water and repair gear I had 34 pounds added to me and the bike. My final post will be a gear review. For now, on with day one’s ride. I made the dirt road by 5:00 PM. That was an hour later than I had hoped. I was also hoping that the canyon I was going to be climbing would be sheltered from the sun. Disappointed as I found no shade. Fortunately the road had been recently graded and relieved of most serious ruts. Once the road pitches up it doesn’t relent. I had programed the route into my GPS which has this annoying yet informative feature that shows where you are on the elevation profile, in real time.

I realize the chart doesn’t do this climb justice, but the brute of the climb was over the last 8 miles climbing 3500feet with a bike that was 34 pounds heavier than normal. The benefit was knowing when to anticipate breaks in the climbing which would last for mere seconds. The last climb of the immense slog appeared to have no end, at no point could I estimate a break or relief, it just kept on climbing. And the hours were passing. I knew that there was no way for me to make Wolf Creek Pass that night. I had half an hour of daylight by the time I finished the climb.

With a heavy bike and tired legs I finally hit a plateau in the climb and the ridge line riding started. I needed to find a camp so I wouldn’t be setting up in the dark. The place I found was next to some drunk bow hunters. They went on into the night. “Remember that old time back at Stinky Springs?” and other nonsense that they reminisced sung across the gentle breeze of the cool mountain air.

My one man tent was a great shelter and pretty comfortable. I was a 15 mile bike ride from home. I had a nice phone call with my wife, something that surprised us both because of the seemingly remoteness of my location. We said good night and I turned in, sleepily hearing the nonsense that my drunk neighbors were rambling.

But sleep was fleeting. The exertion and heat had rewarded me with a moderate headache. It was the price for traveling when I did. It made it near impossible to sleep. My heart rate wouldn’t settle either. I promised myself that I would sleep in if it were possible but when morning came I couldn’t’ help but leave that camp. Adventure awaited me and I knew it.

Don’t Crash into Rabbits

This is a friend of mine. I have several friends. But not as many as the rest of you. A lot of them ride bikes. And two of these guys have had issues with animals on the road.

In a 140 mile event buddy no. 1 saw something fly onto the road. Much like the creature from Aliens that flies across the road to latch onto your face, this creature was only recognized after the accident. At 40 miles per hour this rabbit jumped into the front wheel, an 18 bladed spoked wheel. The animal died. Friend went to the ER.

Bike, well take a look:

The front and rear triangles were being held fast by the internal cables connecting the rear brake and derailleur. Once I snipped those the frame fell apart. There was blood all over. And it wasn’t buddy no. 1.

Don’t hit bunnies.

Department Store Bikes (part 1)

Let’s take a look at a few things: Without insurance it will cost you roughly $16,000 (possibly more) to surgically repair a broken wrist. A broken wrist which could result from riding a bike that wasn’t assembled correctly. This is a mechanical failure that can lead to a crash.

Now, you want to start mountain biking, just for example. You see that Fatbikes are taking hold and you think it would be fun to have one. You go to a bike shop and find that an entry level Fatboy from Specialized is $1400. Whoa! That’s a ton of money.




Specialized Fatboy

Then you visit Walmart and find that they have a Mongoose fatbike called the Dolomite. It’s on sale online for $207.53.

Mongoose Dolomite

Thinking about this, “oh, it’s just a bike” runs through your mind and you fail to see the implications of “just a bike.” You buy their bike. On your first test-ride around the neighborhood you realize it doesn’t shift through its meagre 7 gears like you think it ought to. With a thump you hit a curb and the handlebars spin to a 90 degree angle from the forward direction they should face. As you tumble slowly over the bars into the grass next to the curb the handlebar pokes your abdomen causing a painful charlie-horse. You sprain your wrist breaking the fall.

But you’re fine. It’s at this point that you realize this bike wasn’t assembled correctly. In the bike shop we see these bikes all the time. While they fit a budget quite nicely they come with absolutely no guarantee of quality or proper assembly. In fact, we see them improperly assembled all the time. Forks on backwards, bolts left loose, bottom brackets loose, and pedals mounted half-heartedly.

Aside from this, we see the cheapest use of materials possible. The fork dropouts (basically responsible for holding your front wheel in the frame) aren’t substantial enough to take the mildest abuse from trail riding.




Bikes like the Fatboy are 1. assembled correctly at your local bike shop and 2. are built with quality parts and materials. I don’t care if you’re a Specialized brand hater, that’s beside the point. The fact is, if you injure yourself on a bike that comes from a shop, it’s usually a result of the way you’re riding. It’s typical for a beginner to crash in mild situations. It happens to experienced riders all the time. But you’re not crashing as a result of improper bicycle assembly or use of poor materials.

Would it have been worth paying $1400 to have a bike that shifts correctly, was safe to ride, and has the guarantee of a local shop? You can judge for yourself. $16,000 for a broke wrist? You could buy 14 really great and well built bikes for that price.