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Wrapping Up 2019

Best Of 2019 - Andrew's List

Words Andrew Major
Photos Andrew Major*
Date Dec 31, 2019

2019

It seems bizarre that we're already nailing the coffin on 2019 and preparing to launch the year of perfect vision but, alas, that's the case. We've had the most amazing October and November I can remember in my years living on the North Shore and the trail conditions have been pretty amazing - folks just need to remember to factor the weather into their trail selections so that we can have nice things.

Anyways, I'm keeping it brief this year. Here's my best of 2019 for the, definitely round, world of NSMB.

*Cover image Deniz Merdano

Reader Feedback

I know how this looks gosh darn it but I'm really not intending to blow sunshine up your chamois. This year there was a king's ransom of excellent feedback and discussion in the comments around reviews and editorial pieces on NSMB. I think this constructive, intelligent, respectful, and sometimes hilarious dialogue is appreciated by the folks reading and creating content here.

I think this community is an institution in itself.

Formula Cura4 NSMB AndrewM (12).JPG

The most e-mails and messages I received about articles were once again related to teardown pieces with Jeff of Bikeroom & Wheelthing.

Formula Cura4 Nice Tools NSMB AndrewM (3).JPG

That's been the case for a few years now but don't tell Jeff because it will go straight to his head. Look at that face? He's cheeky enough.

I also received quite a few e-mails and Instagram messages about articles. Apologies if I took a long while to get back to you or responded sporadically. I always try to answer questions and I really appreciate a good chat about bikes I just run out of time.

There is lots of interesting stuff coming up on NSMB for 2020 so I'm really looking forward to reading and partaking in the comments.

Fresh Wood & Gnarly Trails

In my years riding Fromme, I don't think I've ever heard of a lineup of riders waiting to drop into Boundary Trail. Espresso? Bobsled? 7th? Sure. But Double-Black Boundary? It turns out that if you build it they really will come and Pat, Sean, Joe, and the rest of the NSMBA Trail Crew nailed it. Those Karen-style slats offer piles of grip even when it's wet and the new ladders preserve the character of the trail beautifully.

Boundary Trail Updates NSMB AndrewM (32).JPG

The fresh wood work on Boundary was made possible in part by $2000 in direct donations from riders.

Boundary Trail Updates NSMB AndrewM (31).JPG

There's plenty left to be done, so if you have some Christmas money burning a hole in your pocket here's the link.

Lower Crippler NSMB AndrewM (1).jpg

Also in the category of amazing fresh wood is Andi Fisher's work preserving gnar on Lower Crippler.

There were countless rumours this year about the impending demises - through decommissioning or repurposing - of some of my favourite trails like (upper) Digger not to mention the end of teeter-totters on the Shore and there were a lot of pitchforks and torches being dragged out to protest the sterilization of wicked, heritage, Shore routes.

I think the mountain biking community delivers an indisputable economic good, in people coming here to ride spending money, and social good, in maintaining trails for everyone to use, but we still have to be ever vigilant because in some peoples' eyes we'll always be #Scofflaws which is why it's so important to continue electing reasonable multi-issue candidates who understand the community and activity of mountain biking (Hi Mathew Bond).

That said, it's really uplifting to read the Mayor, Mike Little, who's sitting upon the largest horde of great trails on the Shore come out in favour of personal responsibility: "I have no interest in seeing our public lands sanitized from risk and therefore sanitized from recreational usage.” May that sentiment be carried forth to playgrounds, pump tracks, skate parks, and so forth.

AMajor_XFusion_NSMB_KazYamamura-8.original.jpg

I make no secret that I'm scared of heights and, for this reason, my friends love to drag me down Boogieman. It turns out there's even a video on the internet of me singing to myself while I ride it... Photo: Kaz Yamamura

Don't squander the opportunity this delivers to go out and challenge yourself in 2020. Go ride some trails you've never hit before, or haven't hit in a while. Take a snack and session some features like it's Y2K. SCARE YOURSELF! Or, if you're past scaring yourself then go for an adventure in your back yard.

And while you're doing all that, make an effort to ride with some folks you've never pedaled with before. Maybe they're a stronger rider or a weaker one but either way, there's a lot to be gained checking out trails with fresh eyes.

Rider Driven Companies

In the past I used the term 'rider-owned companies' but that doesn't come close to capturing what I mean. There are plenty of outfits that empower employees who are embedded in the activity and there are plenty pushing stale products where I'm sure the owners identify themselves as riders.

I'm not interested in dwelling on the companies trailing behind and I couldn't come close to a definitive list of companies pushing the needle, but here are some strong examples in my mind.

Growler Geo NSMB AndrewM.jpg

Good old bike industry R&D. Rocky Mountain provides the blueprint and now it's time for the other mainstream players to get on with the ripping-off and duplicating.

Rocky Mountain isn't a small company beating its owner's drum, like Knolly or Chromag, but for 2020 they've released two bold bikes that I think perfectly strike the balance between being for everyone who mountain bikes and also delivering geometry that will be current for a while yet. It's definitely a case of empowering a team of folks to design the bikes they want to ride.

The first is the 2020 Slayer series which is a fully modern take on Shore bikes of years past that were meant to be ridden to the top, hucked off drops, shredded at the bike park, and ridden all day. With a coil rear shock and a suitable spec, these are not weight-weenie bikes but they can be pedaled up anything by a motivated rider and they are awesome fun on the way down.

The second is the 2020 Growler hardtail series. Starting with the Growler 20 I tested, at 1000 USD, these hardtails have proper modern mountain bike geometry despite their modest prices. Most budget hardtails have static (no sag) head tube angles in the ballpark of the Growler when it's fully bottomed out.

Rocky Growler 20 NSMB AndrewM (1).JPG

Aside from good tire spec there's nothing about the Growler 20 that stands out against other 1000 USD bikes other than the progressive geometry. I hope more companies get on board (wake up?).

Rocky Growler 20 NSMB AndrewM (3).JPG

The Growler is capable and fun on trails where many similarly priced bikes are barely rideable.

On the much smaller end of the company-size scale is Alberta based Porcelain Rocket whose entire manufacturing facility wouldn't hold Rocky Mountain's North Vancouver lunch room. Their team assembles functional, prime-quality, gear that works for their own riding and adventures and sells it worldwide to folks seeking stuff they can use for a lifetime.

My Dumpling hip pack is a handy rolltop with exactly the right amount of room for everything I need to carry, including my Micro 4:3 camera and a 14mm pancake lens. It's seam welded so it's as weatherproof as any pack I've used. My wet jacket straps on externally under the bungee enclosure if I need to take it off, so the rest of my gear stays dry. The generous hip 'wings' make it incredibly comfortable to wear even when it's maxed out with tools and kit to its full 3L volume.

In addition to the team at Porcelain Rocket imaging, creating, and testing their gear the company has a wide network of friends using their products for everything cycling from commuting, to massive offroad touring adventures, to aggressive mountain biking and you can imagine. Their stuff isn't cheaply made or cheaply priced but their passion for good Canadian-Made gear and experience on the trails and adventuring is included in the price.

Porcelain Rocket Jac NSMB AndrewM.jpg

My Porcelain Rocket Dumpling was made in a 600 sq/ft garage by folks that love to ride bikes, talk bikes, and make stuff for bikes - in Canada. Photo: JacVenture

And 'Passion' is the keyword. Not just having it, because most mountain bike company workers are passionate about our sport, but rather finding a way to tap into it.

Whether it's an embedded company culture fully on display the likes of Transition Bikes or a more subtle examples like Marin's min-maxing, Rocky's Growler line, or Wilderness Trail Bikes making amazing niche tires their staff wants to ride that's the kind of gear I want to buy when I wear out my current stuff.

I'd love to read about your favourite example in the comments below!

Happy New Year!

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Comments

Vikb
+3 twk Andrew Major Pete Roggeman
Vik Banerjee  - Dec. 31, 2019, 6:02 a.m.

All the best for 2020 Andrew.

Both of the mountain bikes sitting in my man cave right now have Porcelain Rocket bags on them. Great products. My oldest PR bag is ~9 years old and going strong despite regular use. Occasionally I'll chat with Scott at PR about one of his sweet new bags and he'll ask if I am interested in ordering one. My answer is usually yes, but I'm still wear out the old one that it would replace! A good problem to have I guess.

My Guerrilla Gravity Smash 29er is a great bike from a rider focused company. Well made in the US. Great geo and suspension. Great customer service. I rarely buy complete bikes as I'd end up replacing so much stuff, but the combo of GG's smart build kits and the ability to change parts before the bike ships meant I got to enjoy the OEM cost savings and have the spec I wanted to ride. 

I've wanted a custom MTB for a while. I finally pulled the trigger on a steel hardtail made by Peter over at Daambuilt in PQ in 2019. Custom bikes are $$$ compared to a production frame so I was a bit worried it wouldn't live up to my own self-generated hype. With 5 months of riding under my belt I can say it was well worth it. It's so nice to have a bike that fits me well and has exactly the features/geo I care about. 

Finally I'll give a shout out to RSD Bikes in Toronto. My GF was envious of my steel hardtail stoke. She started riding 10 years ago on a SC Nomad Mk2 so never went through the rigid/hardtail phase of MTB evolution us older riders did. She wanted to try one, but didn't want to spend huge $$. The RSD Middle Child was an amazing deal on a well built frame with up to date geo/features. Best of all as I built up her complete bike every part was a keeper except the dropper remote. Right down to quality inner tubes, saddle and grips. Getting a quality frame, progressive geo and excellent build kit from a Canadian company at a very affordable price seems like the promised land. Great news is she loves the MC and loves the hardtail experience.

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Dec. 31, 2019, 1:23 p.m.

Cool list of bikes!

Been following Peter Daam's work for a while. Out of curiosity (as someone who has gone the custom route a few times) what were you looking for that you couldn't find in a stock frame?

.

RSD has come up lately in a few conversations just in terms of good geometry VS quality VS price. The steel Middlechild is where the Kona Honzo should have progressed to by now and I love that it has sliders since what is every hardtail rider if not a non-conforming single speeder! 

Personally, I'd rather see the same geo-chart built around a 100mm fork but, recognizing that I'm a weirdo, I think it's rightly the perfect middle ground between need and want for most riders looking for a versatile hardtail. I also have it on good authority that the 29x2.6" tire clearance is with the stays slammed so those of us who'd rather a 2.8" tire on a 40mm rim can make it work. 

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I wish GG hadn't ditched their aluminum frame production. My brother has an aluminum Smash from one of the last runs (raw of course) and it is a beautiful bridge of new (H20 holder, kinematics, geo) and old (beauty welds, round tubes, craftmanship). Works great with a coil (he had SuspensionWerx resize the CCDB off his Nomad) and even little details like the 3mm rear wheel offset (actually 6mm for his Boostinator kit) make so much sense. It's easily my favourite full suspension bike that's not on the market anymore (even if it's not what I'd ride personally). 

The carbon frames are very interesting as well from a manufacturing perspective - would love to see the whole manufacturing process. 

.

I see a lot of value in products like my Dumpling or the Stealth bum bag. Sure, I like supporting little companies but more than that - in both those cases they bring something interesting, SIMPLE, high quality, and fully thought out to market. Whether it's a matter of 'buy nice or buy twice' or just committing to a product both are so good I don't see any reason to seek out something else.

Happy New Year!

Reply

reini-wagner
+2 Andrew Major twk
Reini Wagner  - Jan. 1, 2020, 12:42 p.m.

Regarding:

> The steel Middlechild is where the Kona Honzo should have progressed to by now

Let's not forget about the pipedream moxie, for those weirdos among us shredding their hard tails on the old continent (but not only those of course)! I think your statement suits that frame as well.

Happy new year to you all as well from Austria!

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Jan. 1, 2020, 4:52 p.m.

The Moxie is almost interesting - it has sliders, modern geo,  and a 65.5-HTA (sagged) w/ a 140mm fork. And because they make the effort to list the sagged HTA. 

But, then I can’t figure out why anyone would want a 77-STA on a hardtail - and then it gets steeper with sag! And if it makes sense on an XXL then that just doubles up on the reason to have size specific STA-effective numbers. I get that I’m behind the times on my STA preference on FS bikes but at least with the saddle pushed back they sag enough going uphill to get in a good power position. 

Anyways, apologies for the rant but it boggles my mind. I can’t believe that non of the good dropper posts have a 25-35mm setback option as a work around for folks with femurs that want a fresh bike.

Happy New Year!

Reply

metacomet
+1 Andrew Major
Metacomet  - Jan. 2, 2020, 6:55 p.m.

Andrew, the 9point8 Fall Line has a 25mm setback option. And that's a Great dropper post.

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Jan. 3, 2020, 10:03 p.m.

To each their own.

reini-wagner
+1 Andrew Major
Reini Wagner  - Jan. 3, 2020, 3:43 a.m.

Hi Andrew,

thanks for the speedy reply. No worries about the rant - i have no experience with STAs in that area myself (all my mtbs are around 74° or lower unsagged), so cannot really judge on it. Do you think that even with the reach figure to match the steep STA, and a properly firm fork setup, it would still be too steep for the uphill?

I get your point regarding the dropper posts. Could this lack of setback posts be because the setback would exert unfavorable torque on the mechanics of the telescopic post?

Thanks in advance for your thoughts, always appreciated!

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Jan. 3, 2020, 10:02 p.m.

Steep STAs definitely are much easier on dropper posts - particularly the guides / bushings.

I’d reason a setback post with a steep STA would be easier on the post than no offset with a slack STA.

Steep STA allows for short stays / long Reach. Steep effective angles definitely make XL and XXL bikes fit better than they have historically but for Yoda sized folks like myself I don’t know if that’s the case.

twk
+1 Andrew Major
twk  - Jan. 2, 2020, 2:36 a.m.

Couldn't agree more! Since I've built mine up, I've been surprised both by its capability and how fun it is on mellower stuff, even at 160mm.

Regarding the seat angle issue mentioned by Andrew -- it hasn't been a problem for me so far, but certainly took some adjustments. But I'm a short legged guy, so seat angle differences aren't as pronounced at my saddle height. Winching up every hill standing up on that single gear helps too.

Happy new year everyone from the european side of the pond as well!

Reply

AndrewMajor
+1 twk
Andrew Major  - Jan. 3, 2020, 9:31 p.m.

Can get used to most anything I guess... But the steep seat angle especially doesn’t make sense for 1FG! You’re standing anytime the steep seat position would actually be beneficial. 

Love that you love your bike though. If you’re ever over here for a pilgrimage hit me up for a single speed ride!

Reply

twk
+1 Andrew Major
twk  - Jan. 5, 2020, 4:49 a.m.

Gladly! One day...

StacheTower16
+1 Andrew Major
StacheTower16  - Jan. 5, 2020, 4:17 p.m.

Just wanted to respond about RSD.  I bought the Ti Middle Child as I wanted a steel (or Ti) hardtail. Despite not being the value of the steel version, I can not quantify how awesome a bike this is! I have no qualms taking it anywhere in the PNW; I always end up smiling at the end of the run. And Alex was great to work with; he was more responsive than some local bike shops I have worked with.  You should throw a leg over one if you haven't!

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Jan. 6, 2020, 12:39 a.m.

I do have to say RSD is developing a passionate following! I've received a bunch of messages re. great customer service and how much folks like their bikes. I do enjoy that they haven't gone insane trying to chase geo trends (it's modern without being silly). 

If I get a chance I certainly will. 

Cheers!

Reply

fartymarty
+2 Andrew Major Mic
fartymarty  - Dec. 31, 2019, 6:46 a.m.

Thanks to all at NSMB.  You have successfully filled the void in my life left by the demise of Dirt Magazine.

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Dec. 31, 2019, 1:04 p.m.

Cheers Marty!

Reply

fartymarty
0
fartymarty  - Jan. 2, 2020, 2:46 a.m.

No worries.  Keep up the good work and critical questioning.

Reply

fartymarty
0
fartymarty  - Jan. 2, 2020, 2:46 a.m.

No worries.  Keep up the good work and critical questioning.

Reply

Cheez1ts
+4 Deniz Merdano Tim Coleman Mammal Andrew Major
Garrett Thibault  - Dec. 31, 2019, 10:40 a.m.

I've gotten into skinnies for the first time in my life since your scare yourself article, thanks Andrew!

Reply

Timmigrant
+1 Andrew Major
Tim Coleman  - Dec. 31, 2019, 11:06 a.m.

You have to at least try and ride all the skinnies!

Reply

AndrewMajor
+1 JVP
Andrew Major  - Dec. 31, 2019, 1:03 p.m.

Tim, new rule?

All NSMB test bikes have to be ridden on the Boogieman teeter-totter.

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Dec. 31, 2019, 1:02 p.m.

Thank you Garrett,

Between your comment and the fact another $100 showed up in the Boundary kitty, I can definitely say that my day has been made! 

Happy New Year,

Reply

Mic
+1 Andrew Major
Mic  - Jan. 1, 2020, 11:07 a.m.

Happy New Year! The Boundary pics are just awesome. 

I know want to ride a 29er Hardtail with modern geo on the shore. Sweet....maybe 2021.

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Jan. 1, 2020, 4:52 p.m.

Cheers Mic! Boundary is awesome - definitely check it out when you come.

Happy New Year!

Reply

Kelownakona
0 twk James Vasilyev
Kelownakona  - Jan. 1, 2020, 11:19 p.m.

The Slayer being the 2020 recommendation that breaks catastrophically?

Reply

AndrewMajor
+2 twk Truleofthumb
Andrew Major  - Jan. 1, 2020, 11:44 p.m.

The Slayer is an awesome choice for anyone looking for a long travel 29’er. Highly recommended. It would be on my two bike shortlist along with the new Enduro for pedalable almost-DH-29’ers. 180mm DC up front and go. And yes, I know about the Enduro frame failures too - doesn’t change my opinion at all.

Plenty of local folks have been beating the sh*t out of Slayers for months and I haven’t heard of any failures outside of Pinkbike’s. Doesn’t mean there haven’t been any but I’ve heard of enough other broken bikes locally over that time period that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with my ears.

I’ve seen plenty of bikes fail over the years - including my own - from plenty of brands. It sucks when someone gets hurt; it’s mountain biking.  This isn’t 4000+ Norco DH & Freeride frames getting recalled for headtube failures, it’s one broken bike. The whole sh*t show around it is past getting ridiculous.

And yeah, I guess I’ll eat my helmet if that changes but from what I’ve seen the Slayer put through I’d be very surprised.

Reply

AndrewMajor
+2 twk Truleofthumb
Andrew Major  - Jan. 2, 2020, 12:54 a.m.

They (Rocky + WTB + PR) were also just a few examples of a larger idea. I could go on for days with other examples of companies skimming the passion and experience of their employees to make interesting bike stuff.

Reply

hankthespacecowboy
+1 Andrew Major
hankthespacecowboy  - Jan. 3, 2020, 5:52 a.m.

I just bought a set of Formula Cura 4 brakes based largely on your teardown / review, and the feedback / comments that followed. Long lever, mineral oil, and power were the factors that sold me. Curious to see what the upgrade feels like from my OG Juicy 7's.

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Jan. 3, 2020, 9:11 p.m.

Full review is coming in January - nothing in there that will change your mind though; awesome brakes. Testing the new Organic pads VS classic sintered Formula compound as well.

Reply

michael
+1 Andrew Major
Michael  - Jan. 3, 2020, 8:18 p.m.

Man, years ago Starfish/Boundary was one of the original Fromme gnarly gnars. If you survived in the rain, instant hero status buds buy you beers!

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Jan. 3, 2020, 9:12 p.m.

Tires, brakes, geo - bikes have come a long way! Especially when it’s greasy!

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