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Some Good Salvaged from 2021

Best of 2021 - Cam McRae's List

Words Cam McRae
Photos Deniz Merdano (unless noted)
Video Cam McRae
Date Dec 30, 2021
Reading time

For most of my (almost) 56 orbits of the sun, years have had a certain predictable rhythm. This does not apply to years before I went to school, which I imagine were a relatively linear and continuous blur. Weather got warmer and colder and there were moon landings,* the episode when I was 4, before I could swim, when my friend Derek convinced me to walk 7 blocks to the ocean and start wading in, and recollections of my grandfather Hector, who died when I was 6, but overall time unfolded without regularly scheduled time stamps or interruptions. There were no wars on home soil, no disastrous earthquakes, divorces, or major fatalities in my circle before I'd lived a half dozen years. I'm sure there are a few six-year-olds who could compare and dissect the differences between 2020 and 2021 with remarkable detail and accuracy, but I surely wasn't similarly equipped in 1972. Which, for you young folk, was just before the dropper post was invented.

*or so we are led to believe!

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Megavolt - the electric edition of the BCBR - was one of the few moments when 2021 felt like more than an elongated 2020 for me. Photo - Dave Silver

Since that time, I have either been in school, or at work, or both. School is a life complication that highlights the passing of time, and most jobs have busier and quieter seasons that present themselves reliably. This time last year, it was relatively easy for me to silo my thoughts about 2020, considering how dramatically it differed from 2019, but I've been having a hard time doing the same for 2021. When I began to think about mountain biking influences that had an impact, many that first came to mind actually occurred before 2021. And indeed, 2020 was a year with signposts; the first COVID lockdowns began, restaurants, bars and movie theatres and even schools shut down, and international travel became virtually impossible. Mounts Seymour and Cypress were virtually closed down to all traffic aside from mountain bikes, which was spectacular. It was a year of firsts in my lifetime; these were situations that our great-grandchildren will likely learn about in school. 2021 however, was simply a continuation, with few milestones. There was a little bit of travel, and B.C. has had some extreme weather events, (the heat dome, multiple atmospheric rivers, and the current chillpocalypse*) but overall 2021 did little to distinguish itself from 2020, at least in my narrow view.

*2021 may go down as the year when media outlets began to weaponize weather event terminology - but the last one was mine

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2021, despite being indistinct and devoid of riding trips to exotic destinations, was one of my best ever years riding bikes. Shooting with Deniz Merdano was certainly a highlight of 2021 however.

Since 2019 there has been no Crankworx, no destination product launches (aside from sometimes impersonal online presentations, often with no opportunity to ask questions), no Sea Otter,* and Interbike breathed its last raspy breath in 2018. Each of these events required a few weeks of planning and at least a couple of weeks of recovery and wound licking, so they left a nasty bruise in the calendar. The first year of their absence was notable, the second year feels like 2020 got stretched. You are likely picking up what I'm putting down. The nebulous margin between 2020 and 2021 leaves me spinning my wheels to recall what actually made an impact; when the margins between the beginning and end of a year become blurred, it's tough to recall what came between. Without knowing where I'm going, I hope to do my best. And fuck you Omicron.

*Sea Otter in Monterey did happen this year but we did not attend


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Inserts that weigh little (between 110 and 160 grams), and yet occupy much of the volume of a given tire, make a lot of sense in a pneumatic world. I think it could be made even better with a more evolved shape.

Octa who?

When I look back at articles and reconcile them with the calendar, it becomes clear that a few products that rocked my world were revealed in 2021. The one that likely made the most impact, and could make the biggest bang in the future in some form, was Octa Mousse. What the fuck is Octa Mousse? It's an 8-sided foam (mousse!) tire insert from Spain that blew my mind, because of two elements that set them apart from other inserts I've tried. These pool noodles occupy a huge volume of the tire they inhabit, offering excellent protection and support, but they weigh much less than most other products designed for the same purpose. The closed cell foam structure of Octa Mousse also takes a hit more effectively than much of the competition, and when I removed them after a couple of months of hard and irresponsible use, they appeared as new.

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I rode the 2020 Trek Slash equipped with Enve M60 wheels and Octa Mousse inserts and I was impressed by the experience. Since that time my Octa Mousse impressions have only become more favourable.

A most significant advantage of Octa Mousse, which is related to the volume occupied, is the run flat performance. On the steep, fall line trails I frequent on the North Shore, a flat Octa Mousse-equipped tire is incredibly close to as capable as one that is fully inflated. At least in a rear wheel application that is. I've yet to ride out a front flat, but each time I've expected to limp out on a rear Octa Mousse flat, I've been able to pin it. A couple of times my ride ended on a fast section with some high speed corners, and I needed to push my weight balance forward, but I was only marginally slower than I would have been if fully inflated. For me this makes tubes a thing of the past for local rides, and bacon strips and pumps/cylinders aren't needed for shorter efforts either. I'm not the sort of rider who tears tire carcasses, or who regularly burps on corners, so gauge your opinions accordingly, but this makes me think the future of pneumatic tires could involve a much lower volume of air, and a hefty helping of mousse!


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The WeAreOne Arrival inspired confidence right out of the gate.

The Arrival

The frame that impressed me most in 2021, was the WeAreOne Arrival. I wasn't able to log enough time to determine whether or not the Arrival is a ground-breaking performer, but I put in enough hours to be certain it is reliable, fun, and highly competent. More research is needed on that front, after only a couple of rides, but I was blown away with the finish, attention to detail, and manufacturing prowess wielded by this small manufacturer, and first time frame builder, based in Kamloops British Columbia. The Arrival is a beautiful frame with excellent lines and solid geo, along with a flexible platform that can be adapted to go both up and down in travel, from DH to trail and everywhere in between. In the current form it sucks up 150mm of bumps in the rear and can be equipped with a fork of between 150 and 170 mm. All this and the Arrival is less expensive than many Asian-made carbon frames, and about a grand less than boutique frames of similar quality. It was an impressive feat accomplished by Dustin Adams and his team and I look forward to the future for this burgeoning brand.

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Those lines...

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An incredible amount of the components that make up the frame, beyond the carbon main triangle and swingarm, are made by WeAreOne.

Grax

While I personally can't see why anyone would ride a gravel bike instead of a 10 year old XC bike, I'll happily exploit any product developments that cross over productively into mountain biking, and Grax is the first one I've come across. A contraction of gravel and wax, Grax is a wax-based lube designed to withstand the rigours of drop bar grinding. Imagine 300 miles on a muddy gravel road and you can probably understand why something made for off-pavement roadies could be effective for MTB. I'd never used a wax-based chain lube previously, but studies I've read indicate they usually offer lower friction than liquid-based petroleum chain lubes.

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Grax is a long lasting chain lube aimed at gravel grinders. It also happens to work very well on MTBs.

The biggest chain lube challenge in my life involves eMTB testing. Electric bikes are much more sensitive to insufficient lube and also more difficult to service regularly. Unlike a conventional bike, Ebikes have a freewheel on both ends, at the crank and freehub, meaning it's impossible to lube your chain by pedalling backwards because the chain doesn't move. The bike must be suspended somehow, which means you'll need a stand capable of holding a bike that may be upwards of 55 lbs, or to turn the bike upside down so you can pedal the chain forward for even lube application. Without suspending the bike you can pull the chain backwards with one hand while applying lube with the other, but it's a bit clunky and certainly a pain in the ass. This extra hassle makes long-lasting lube a life saver, which is why I was attracted to the GRAX claims of durable lubrication.

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It's not hard to see why the Rocky Mountain Altitude VLT in partcular is an excellent proving ground for lube, but all eMTBs demand more from chain lube. Photo - Cam McRae

I've been using Grax on my Rocky Mountain Altitude Powerplay tester and after 10 solid rides in all sort of nasty weather, I haven't had to reapply. It goes on thick and coats all drivetrain components, including the chainring and any pulleys your bike may have. On a bike with multiple pulleys and a powerful motor, this is particularly important. It's possible I'll have to reapply soon but so far so good, and I normally pay a heavy price if I go more than two rides without reapplying lube on any bike this time of year, so this has already been a big win. The Altitude has been quieter with Grax compared to conventional lube. So far, I'm a big fan. 4 oz of Grax will cost you 20 USD.

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I spent a lot of time on the Norco Sight VLT in 2021 (review to come in early 2022)

MEGAVOLT! (and "E" in General)

One of the fun elements of riding eMTBs is the levelling affect. Riders of different fitness levels can reach the top at similar times, keeping the group dynamic rolling. When you add 40 keeners and some excellent Vancouver Island riding to the mix, it's truly a blast. BCBR's venture into a multi-day eMTB event was a huge win for those of us who participated. Lots of good-natured elbow to elbow and wheel to wheel racing/riding in a low pressure environment that emphasized fun over competition. Megavolt was just the change of scenery I needed before winter hit in full force. If you like riding eMTBs, you should consider Megavolt for 2022.

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The other eMTB I've been riding a lot is the Rocky Mountain Altitude Powerplay, an impressive jump forward by Rocky Mountain using the proprietary Dyname 4.0 motor. Full review to come after the Norco Sight VLT.

Continuing in the E vein, I've become less sheepish about riding electrified bikes and enjoying the experience more as I get used to what they are capable of. Longer rides, faster climbs, and generally more epic adventures have been a blast, while my affection for the beauty and simplicity of the human powered mountain bike remains undiminished. To me they are different implements to enjoy mountain biking, and so far it seems the sky isn't falling as many predicted. You can rip downhill on electric mountain bikes, and in some situations the extra weight, slung low, is an advantage, and you can get a great workout. I will certainly own one in the near future.

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I'm certain that eMTB manufacturers wouldn't recommend this, but towing your buddies up the hill is one way to keep bring them along on an electrified ride. Photo - Cam McRae

An element I dislike however, is the way eMTBs can exclude those who aren't fortunate enough to have access to one. Going for a ride on an eMTB with a bunch of unplugged riders works okay, but the reverse isn't true and it sucks heading out if one of your buddies can't join because he doesn't own an ebike. Our sport has become more of an elitist pursuit over time, and this development has amplified that trend.


My Favourite New Shop Tool

Unior Tools, a Slovenian company that is a big supporter of World Cup DH racing, made my life easier in 2021 with the simple tool you see below. It is an excellent pad spreader for disc brakes, and it's also much better than an adjustable wrench for straightening rotors.

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Unior's 2 in 1 Disc Brake Tool is a god send for both spreading disc pads and straightening rotors.

And that's all she wrote. Looking back 2022 may be notable for making 2021 the longest year ever. Here's to borders, bars, restaurants and all manner of social institutions opening up again before too long! Happy New Year and thanks once again for tuning in!

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Comments

impressedbyyourwokeness
+3 jdt Ripbro mrbrett
impressedbyyourwokeness  - Dec. 30, 2021, 10:10 a.m.

can you recommend how one can source OctaMousse in Canada?

Reply

cam@nsmb.com
0
Cam McRae  - Dec. 30, 2021, 3:49 p.m.

I went straight to the source. They likely ship to Canada.

https://endubikes.com/categoria-producto/octa-mousse/

Reply

cam@nsmb.com
0
Cam McRae  - Dec. 30, 2021, 3:49 p.m.

This comment has been removed.

sandy-james-oates
+1 Cam McRae
Sandy James Oates  - Dec. 31, 2021, 8:09 a.m.

Do you still run tubeless sealant with those inserts?

Reply

pete@nsmb.com
0
Pete Roggeman  - Dec. 31, 2021, 10:57 a.m.

Always. Inserts don't prevent flats or punctures, they help mitigate them (if catastrophic) as well as protect rims and allow you to run lower pressures for greater traction and comfort.

Reply

sandy-james-oates
+1 thaaad
Sandy James Oates  - Dec. 31, 2021, 4:19 p.m.

I am just thinking of the mess when you swap out tires.

Reply

pete@nsmb.com
0
Pete Roggeman  - Jan. 3, 2022, 10:14 a.m.

You're correct, that's a thing. But you'd probably be interested d to read this article (and to know that WPL's tubeless sealant is water soluble): https://nsmb.com/articles/how-does-tubeless-sealant-work/

JVP
+2 Andrew Major Cam McRae
JVP  - Dec. 30, 2021, 10:36 a.m.

That third picture is amazing!

Reply

Sethimus
+4 Kos Butch White Marc Fenigstein Pete Roggeman
Sethimus  - Dec. 30, 2021, 12:50 p.m.

just zip tie the crank to the chainring on your ebike to lube your chain cam, problem solved…

Reply

cam@nsmb.com
0
Cam McRae  - Dec. 30, 2021, 3:16 p.m.

That’s a nice idea! I just put it up on my wash stand but that involves going up and down stairs. Thanks!

Reply

kos
0
Kos  - Dec. 31, 2021, 6:14 a.m.

Genius, man. Thanks!

Reply

LWK
+1 Beau Miller Sandy James Oates thaaad
LWK  - Dec. 30, 2021, 1:01 p.m.

Is it normal to have one's hands and arms coated in grime when lubing a chain?  I'm either doing it wrong or maybe thats an ebike thing?   :*)

Reply

mrbrett
+3 LWK Velocipedestrian Dan
mrbrett  - Dec. 30, 2021, 10:07 p.m.

Yeah that was a weird shot - super filthy arm, clean bike, copious lube. It caught my eye too!

Reply

Ripbro
0
Ripbro  - Dec. 30, 2021, 4:30 p.m.

You hooked me on tannus last season, but not worrying about run flat would be a plus. Might have to try octa mousse this summer.

Reply

rwalters
+6 Andrew Major kmag76 DancingWithMyself Sam Burkhardt Cam McRae Marc Fenigstein
Ryan Walters  - Dec. 30, 2021, 4:49 p.m.

There’s a better way to lube an e-bike chain without a stand. Just stick an Allen key into one of your chainring bolts, start rotating crank backwards. The crank will eventually contact the Allen key and act as a drive pin, allowing you to backpedal the chain while applying lube. Easy peasy.

Reply

katko
+1 Dan
katko  - Dec. 31, 2021, 12:11 a.m.

Unior is a Slovenian company, not Slovakian :)

Reply

cam@nsmb.com
0
Cam McRae  - Jan. 2, 2022, 8:38 p.m.

Thanks! And sorry. Corrected.

Reply

kos
+3 Andrew Major AndrewR Cam McRae
Kos  - Dec. 31, 2021, 6:16 a.m.

E-bikes have so much torque that they definitely run through lube more quickly than a regular bike.

Or should I just say "bike" there?

For e-bike stands, just about any stand is adequate if you stick a milk crate under the front tire. That's my workaround with my wife's Liv (and yes, I typed that just so everybody knows that it isn't MY e-bike)!

Lubes: Grax sounds intriguing. My current favorite is Wolftooth WT-1. If applied properly, in a bit of an OCD manner, it lasts ~14 hours and is SO clean.

HNY NSMB!

Reply

andrewbikeguide
+2 Kos Andrew Major
AndrewR  - Dec. 31, 2021, 8:37 a.m.

@Kos Wolftooth WT-1 is currently the best I have tried. 

It is the only chain lube that lasts fours days of stream crossings and lava ash in the Chilcotin without needing a day two, three and four re-lube.

Applying as per their advice/ directions is definitely worth the additional application time.

Reply

tdmsurfguy
+1 Cam McRae
tdmsurfguy  - Dec. 31, 2021, 8:39 a.m.

Cam, I went to a waxed based lube this last year called Smoove after running ATB lube for over a decade. Not sure I’m liking it yet. Like you I’m in the wet PNW. What I haven’t liked about the smoove is the the residue it leaves on the chain and accompanied parts. I’ve been trying to make sure I follow smoove’s instructions and not over apply. I’m curious to hear your long term thoughts.

Reply

shapethings
+2 Kos Andrew Major
shapethings  - Dec. 31, 2021, 5:53 p.m.

I experimented with a bunch of lubes in 2021 (2020? they all blend together now…), and also tried Smoove —and the similar Squirt before that— and can attest that it does leave a gooey residue behind no matter how careful I was in application. I think it does a good job, but visually it's off-putting. 

I've converted my other bike to SCC Slick/Wolftooth Wt-1and will make that my unified lube of choice once the Smoove bottle is finished. Seems to last as long, fairly durable to muck and is definitely easier to apply.

Reply

cam@nsmb.com
0
Cam McRae  - Jan. 2, 2022, 10:04 a.m.

I have been using SCC slick for a couple of years and I love it most of the year but I don’t find it as long lasting or effective in the wettest seasons as GRAX. With GRAX, if I don’t do anything post-ride, (a rare occasion when I’m in a rush or get injured) my chain won’t be rusty the next morning, which isn’t what I’ve found with SCC. I also haven’t found it leaves any residue to speak of (although I haven’t tried Smoove for comparison). 

Something I have adopted from the SCC Tech directions is a full chain clean after every ride, even in the dry or when reapplying lube isn’t yet required. I just run it through a rag until the rag comes clean, moving to a clean spot on every few rotations. It seems to keep things running better and hopefully extends drivetrain life.

Reply

cam@nsmb.com
0
Cam McRae  - Jan. 2, 2022, 10:07 a.m.

When first applied GRAX looks like it’s going to be a bug mess, with a film of white coating drivetrain components, but it disappears sometime during the first ride and I haven’t noticed any residual build up. I also haven’t had to worry about how much I apply. So far so good!

Reply

kos
0
Kos  - Jan. 1, 2022, 6:04 a.m.

Same here with the Smoove. Awesome lube, but leaves a residue. WT-1 is as good or better, and dead clean.

Reply

andyf
0
andyf  - Jan. 1, 2022, 11:24 a.m.

Another SCC/WT-1 convert here for the past 18 months. I am getting 10+ hours of ride time per application, with a much cleaner drivetrain than ever.

Reply

theaeriopagite
+1 Dan
theaeriopagite  - Jan. 2, 2022, 12:30 p.m.

Haha, do you always roll in muck before waxing your chain? 😂

Reply

cam@nsmb.com
+1 Dan
Cam McRae  - Jan. 2, 2022, 8:37 p.m.

LOL. Those are photos from the GRAX website.

Reply

dan
0
Dan  - Jan. 7, 2022, 1:27 p.m.

Regarding “eeb-ing” or whatever the cool kids are calling it, I too am having a change of heart. I sampled four different* eMTBs last year and the most recent rip was on that Altitude PowerPlay. I am growing to understand and like these new-fangled machines, and I *really* like the Rocky. To me the winner of the bunch is the lowest-spec model, the Alloy 30 Coil. Given the battery assist and the futility of weight savings contributing to a better experience (unlike with meat-powered bikes) I just don’t see the value in popping for spendier bits. I’d really like to get one of my own. 

*I also rode a ‘19 Turbo Levo, a top-spec carbon/XTR/Kashima Canyon Strive:ON, and a super shitty Ghost from a few years ago.

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