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Category: cycling

Thoughts on Classic and Modern Mountain Bike Fit

High Rock Bay, Keewenaw Peninsula, Michigan (East End of Point Trail Phase II)

How I Confused Myself

I’ve been riding mountain bikes for around 13 years, drop bar bikes for for seven on gravel and occasional road stuff, and spend a few hours a week on a trainer in winter. During all of this I’ve had a particular interest in ensuring my bikes fit well, so when I switch between bikes the contact points (pedals, saddle, grips, brakes, shifters, etc) are consistent and the bikes’ other characteristics (geometry, travel, tire size, etc) are the difference in how they ride. I like knowing that I can hop on any of my bikes and the fit won’t feel weird or limit what I can do or how long I can ride for.

In pursuing a good fit I’ve had a total of two full bike fits (Ryan Katulic at Apto Cycling and Jessica Bratus at fitmi!), two small/adjustment fits (Ernie Dell at Cycletherapy and Chris Goddard at Fraser Bicycle). I’ve read a ton of articles and papers on bike fit and spent countless hours measuring my bikes and building and using spreadsheets to compare and calculate geometry, tweaking everything from stem length and bar sweep to saddle height and setback.

Between these fits and my research everything coalesced into a spreadsheet of measurements (crank length, saddle setback from crank spindle, bar distance from saddle nose, bar drop from saddle, etc) that worked very well and I could copy to all my bikes. Switching between, say, my hard tail Salsa El Mariachi XC bike, my Salsa Mukluk fatbike, and my Specialized Camber trail bike all felt the same fit-wise; the bikes’ geometries and suspension made them ride differently. As the 2016 Camber is a “modern” geometry mountain bike, to make the fit match I had to place the saddle as far rearward as possible and use a relatively long (75mm) stem. At the time I figured this was just what needed to be done.

The saddle height and setback was the same across all my bikes — road and mountain — and in general it seemed to work well. My back might get a little sore when doing a lot of hard seated climbing, but isn’t that just what happens when leaned way over and pushing on the pedals?

As time moved on and my technical mountain biking abilities advanced I began looking at new bikes. I found that what’s called “modern” mountain bike geometry — steeper seat tubes, dropper posts, longer reach, shorter stems, and wider bars — was present on all new bikes. This was a step beyond the Camber, which had already pushed what I could do with my chosen bike fit. Seat tubes are getting steep enough that I’d need a setback post to match my current setup, but there’s very few setback droppers available and they are rarely seen. Wider bars and shorter stems, touted for handling and stability, seemed like they would compromise handling on twisty trails.

Clearly the bike manufacturers weren’t all screwing things up, so I figured something had to be off with my thinking about bike fit as it relates to modern mountain bike geometry, so I set out to understand the changes.

What I came to realize was that much of the traditional mountain bike geometry and fit was based around effectively do-all bikes; hard tail XC (cross-country) geometry frames that were great when pedaled hard on relatively smooth surfaces, handled well in tight and twisty trees, and were manageable over rough sections. They climbed fine, descended fine, cornered fine, but still had roots in staying seated, pedaling hard, standing to eek out short/steep pitches; going fast while putting out power and dealing with rough spots along the way. Sure, they could be ridden very capably on serious, rough mountain bike trails, but they are more at home on smooth trails with slow corners.

As mountain bikes evolved the “modern” geometry made leaps and bounds with off-road handling with minimal compromises from the classic do-all XC bikes. With these modern geometry bikes, attempts at copying a classic mountain bike’s fit using the classic saddle setback and saddle-to-bar distance will be frustrating and result in an awkward-steering bike. And it’ll throw away many of the modern geometry’s benefits.

What I realized is that my fit was for a classic mountain bike geometry, thus for a modern bike I needed to learn more about bike fit.

Steep Seat Tubes and Dropper Posts

I feel that a dropper post is practically essential equipment for a mountain bike. The ability to get the saddle down and out of the way opens up possibilities for handling that outweigh added mechanical complexity and weight. For everything from moving the saddle away to float through blown out gravely downhills and allowing the bike to move around under me on rough stuff, from moving the saddle for leaning, balancing, and railing berms and flat corners to jumping something along a trail, dropper posts have significantly enhanced my mountain bike riding. Like any bike control dropper posts have a learning curve, but once understood it make riding more fun.

Modern geometry frames tend to have fairly steep seat tubes, and copying my classic saddle position was going to require a setback seatpost. Nearly every dropper post out there (except for the Command Post IRcc) has no setback, which meant I couldn’t have a modern frame, a dropper, and the saddle setback I’d previously used; this seemed like a problem.

It’s often claimed that a steeper seat tube angle makes climbing easier, but…. how? At first this seemed silly, because wouldn’t you want efficient pedaling via an optimized saddle-crank position? Which, for me, required more setback than a modern frame and seatpost would allow?

Climbing is typically where one puts out maximum power on a mountain bike. Looking at how just a couple of degrees of seat tube angle can move the saddle too far behind the crank, it turns out that even a moderate climb effectively moves the saddle far enough back to be a problem. For example, with a 725mm saddle height on a 75° seat tube, a basic 5% climb changes the effective seat tube angle by ~3°, moving the saddle ~35mm rearward. (These are rough numbers that presume the bike rotates around the bottom bracket.)

Think of how uncomfortable and inefficient it would be to ride with your saddle an inch and a half behind where it should be… This is why steeper seat tubes are said to climb better: they tend to result in an optimised-for-power position when the bike is tilted up and climbing. Even better, being centered on the bike instead of hanging over the rear wheel enhances control when climbing; chunky roots and rocks are easier, with the front end less likely to lift and wander around.

When on flat ground or descents the saddle is a bit forward for optimal pedaling, but that’s okay. It feels fine, it’s still possible to put out plenty of power, and it’s a great trade-off for improved climbing.

Sometimes when riding hard and doing a lot of seated pedaling, particularly when climbing on a full suspension, my lower back would start to hurt. While strengthening my core helped, it turned out that modern geometry did the most to sort this out, because moving the seat forward meant that when climbing my hip angle is more open and thus pulling less on my lower back. Now when climbing hard on trails while seated my lower back feels better, the same as when I’m really hammering on the road.

While this steeper seat tube angle makes a slight compromise in that it’s not quite as efficient when pedaling on dirt road type stuff, it’s fine. I’ve done long rides linking up trails using dirt roads, and even long dirt road rides (eg: The Crusher 40-mile) and the different position when pedaling on flat ground isn’t noticeable… The improvements in off-road climbing more than than make up for it.

Long Frame Reach / Short Stem / Wide Bar

When I first tried out a wider bar (760mm, from my usual 710mm) with what I thought was a short 75mm stem on a nearly straight bar I felt the bike steered slowly. Pedaling seated and weaving through the tightest sections I knew of, it felt like I was constantly wrestling the bike and dumping it into corners to stay on the trail. It didn’t feel in control.

When I began looking at modern geometry mountain bikes, I was amazed at just how long the frame reach (the distance forward from the bottom bracket to the center of the top of the head tube) was. Going purely off of frame numbers it looked like unless I went to a short stem — which seemed awkward — I should be riding smaller size frames than in the past.

Narrow trees on the North Country Trail near Mile 682.

It turns out that what I thought was a shorter stem really wasn’t, and I needed an even shorter stem (60mm) for the bike to fit me properly. With the wide bar spreading my arms out more, and with the longer reach of the frame, the stem I had was too long. The awkward feeling came from riding what was effectively too large of a bike and needing to steer with my shoulders instead of my arms. By moving to an appropriate length stem the distance from my feet to my hands (more on this later) became appropriate and steering once again felt under control.

For a given size frame, modern mountain bike geometry will have a longer reach, so the overall distance forward from the bottom bracket to the grips ends up being the same when paired with a shorter stem. The shorter stem better positions the body over the center of the bike, making for a more stable ride.

Wider bars offer greater leverage, which makes everything from countersteering around fast corners to staying on a desired line in rough terrain easier. As wider bars spread out one’s arms, the stem needs to be even shorter to keep from being leaned over too far reaching for bars that are too far away. By having the bars an appropriate distance from the body steering is done with the arms, eliminating that whole-body wrestling feeling just to get around corners.

While a modern geometry bike does steer a bit slower at low speeds due to the shorter stem, wider bars, and slacker head tube angles, getting the right length stem keeps steering in the arms, mitigating most of this. For the sluggishness that remains, the benefits strongly outweigh the negatives; a well-fit bike has well balanced handling whether technical or not at low or high speeds.

Dialed Brought It All Together

The RideLogic basics of fitting a bike.

In researching fit to modern geometry mountain bikes, I came across Lee McCormack’s book Dialed: The secret math of a perfect mountain bike setup about his RideLogic bike fit. While some parts are a bit prescriptive and didn’t give me the understanding I wanted, the ideas and results seemed interesting, so as an experiment I went about fitting all my bikes using this method.

For the basics of this method, check out Lee McCormack’s Guide to Bike Set-Up on Pinkbike. For specifics, buy a copy of Dialed here and read it. (Neither this post nor the Pinkbike article are a replacement for the book. I suggest getting the PDF as it’s cheaper than print, and having it in print doesn’t add much value.)

In Dialed and the RideLogic fit the focus is a measurement called RAD (Rider Area Distance); the distance from the bottom bracket spindle to where your hands sit on the bars along the centerline of the bike. This is how well your bike fits your body, and unless your frame is way too large or small, can mostly be handled by changing the length of your stem.

Dialed then focuses on RAAD (Rider Area Angle in Degrees), or the angle of that line between the bottom bracket/grip and the ground. The shallower the angle the more flat/XC-friendly the bike is, the steeper the more downhill/trail-ish it is. Recommendations for RAAD range from ~55° for XC race to ~57° for XC/trail all the way to ~62° for downhill.

Finally, SHO (Steering/Hands Offset), or the distance your hands are forward of the steerer tube axis. This should be set up for the type of bike and riding you do, which per Dialed close to 0mm is ideal for trail / DH riding, but XC racers will often find themselves with something much longer. Changing stem length is the easiest way to change SHO, but needs to be balanced with RAD being more important. For example, I currently have a ~27mm SHO on my trail bike, but can’t get this much shorter without decreasing the RAD too far.

(Dialed goes into far more, like how to measure your body to determine your RAD needs, how to choose a frame based on your measurements, bar width, crank length, and saddle positioning specifics, so read the book and watch the referenced videos.)

Once you know your RAD and the RAAD and SHO for your type of bike and riding, you can swap around stem length/rise, spacers, and handlebar rise and sweep to get it right for you. Position the saddle for appropriate leg extension and generally pretty centered on the seatpost, and for most people you’ll be fine. (Remember: All that matters is hand position relative to your feet and the bike’s steerer axis. Whether you use a riser bar or stem or add spacers, all that matters is where your hands end up.)

Thus, so long as your bike is in the right size range, doing a really good setup of a new bike is only a matter of measure, adjust, and ride.

Standing over my bike, with pedals resting on two picnic tables, to check RAD.

Dialed suggests placing your bike in a gap, such as between two picnic tables, with pedals balanced on each side to see how your current bike’s RAD matches your body. In November 2019 I visited a local park, pushed some picnic tables together, and checked out my RAAD, just like Lee does in his demonstration videos. I found my Salsa El Mariachi SS and Mukluk were already perfect RAD, but the Camber’s was too long.

Fitting on a 15mm shorter stem on the Camber fixed the RAD problem and I moved the saddle forward from my road-like slammed-back previous position to something centered and average. I then rode the it all spring and summer on everything I could in Michigan, but from the first test ride it felt right. I’d been riding it for three full years thinking it felt fine, like a big trail bike that I sometimes had to throw around; I thought this was normal for that kind of bike. After going through the Dialed fit, mostly to adjust RAD (and consequently with a shorter SHO) and putting the saddle into a standard modern geometry position, it all came together. Whether flat/twisty trails, long climbs and descents, techy/steep rock, loose gravely sand — pretty much everything I could find in the Lower and Upper Peninsulas of Michigan — the bike felt great.

Specialized Camber set up for measuring RAD, RAAD, and SHO.

So why did it work? If the bar is too far away, and especially with a long stem, steering is mostly done by leaning the body and slightly turning the arms. This isn’t good for handling a mountain bike, as good bike-body separation (a cornerstone of handling a bike) requires steering without needing to move the torso too much. The shorter the stem, and the closer the bar is to the optimal distance from your body, the more you steer with just your arms.

When RAD is set up right, leaning and countersteering on fast stuff works well, turning the bars in slow stuff is comfortable without feeling like a wrestling match, and lifting the front end of the bike and navigating rough stuff is comfortable. And all of this good handling requires both a short SHO (to support steering with the arms) and having the appropriate RAAD (to keep properly balanced on the bike).

That’s when it all made sense: Modern mountain bike geometry, with a longer reach, shorter stem, and wider bars, allows for a shorter SHO with appropriate RAD and RAAD. This allows steering more with the arms resulting in better handling on all surfaces where mountain bikes get ridden. This is why modern mountain bikes have these (modern) geometries.

How I Fit Myself to a Modern Mountain Bike

After finally realizing how modern mountain bike geometry and the Dialed method of fitting a mountain bike work in tandem, I set out to use it when building up the All-City Electric Queen and the Salsa Timberjack which replaced it. Starting with my desired RAD (~835mm) and RAAD (~57°) I did the following:

Measuring RAD and RAAD on the Timberjack.
  1. Use the stack and reach of the frame, coupled with the headset and bar dimensions to estimate stem and spacer requirements to reach desired RAD and RAAD. I typically check a couple size frames and pick one that’ll work best. (’s Stem Comparison Tool is very helpful for this.)
  2. Assemble the bike with a placeholder stem, then set it on level ground. (I clamp the rear wheel to a post in the basement, then use a Flop Stop Handlebar Holder to hold the front wheel straight.)
  3. Tape a piece of string, taut, between the center of each hand position.
  4. Place a long straightedge along the string, using masking tape to hold it in place.
  5. Insert a hex tool in the bottom bracket bolt, wrap a string around the hex tool, and secure the other end to the straightedge.

With a tape measure, dial gauge angle finder, and a hex tool to fit in the top cap I can get all the necessary measurements:

  • RAD: Distance along the string from BB to hand position.
  • RAAD: Angle of string from BB to grip.
  • SHO: Distance from string between grips to steerer axis. (Inserting a hex tool into the top cap to extend the steerer axis makes this easier.)

Then, based on the measurements of the bike’s current RAD, RAAD, and SHO, the stem, spacers, and bar can be adjusted or swapped to get my desired setup.

On my Timberjack I was able to get a 835mm RAD, 58° RAAD, and 27mm SHO during assembly; from the first ride it handled perfectly. Setting the saddle to 735mm height (top/center of saddle to BB spindle) is spot-on for 175mm cranks, and just slightly behind centered in the rails has been great for everything from pedaling on flat ground to grinding up 20% slopes.

With all of this together I now have a bike that fits me well, is comfortable when pedaling hard either on flat ground or when climbing very steep stuff, is easy to handle at low or high speeds, and handles great on technical trails. And thanks to this process I have a set of numbers, which I understand the reasoning behind, that can be used to set up a new bike to fit me properly and thus ride well.

The Obligatory Summary

A modern geometry mountain bike, properly set up with modern fit, comes together into a great package that is incredibly capable and fun to ride. Trying to force a classic fit and stem length on a modern frame doesn’t work well, and will result in a weird-handling less-capable bike.

By adopting modern geometry and using the methodology spelled out in Dialed it’s straightforward to get a good fitting mountain bike that makes riding easier and more enjoyable. Even if you think your fit is fine, it’s worth checking RAD, RAAD, and SHO and experimenting with suggested changes. You may be as surprised as I was with how a few small changes that make riding even better.

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Industry Nine Trail S Hydra 28h Wheelset Hub and Rim Details

On my Salsa Timberjack I have a set of Industry Nine (I9) Trail S Hydra 28h wheels. These have been a great high-end yet thrifty wheelset, combining a relatively low cost and high quality 27mm internal width aluminum rim and straight-pull steel spokes with high-end Hydra hubs.

This wheelset uses a straight-pull hub that is not sold separately or listed on the website, which makes finding specifications a little difficult if one wants to rebuild the wheels with different rims, replace spokes, etc. I’m considering replacing the aluminum rims with some carbon fiber rims over the winter, so I set about gathering all the specs so I could look into options.

Thankfully I9’s customer service is top notch, and the folks there told me everything I wanted to know about the wheelset. Since this info is otherwise difficult to find, and to maybe save the support folks some hassle, I figured I’d share them here:

Industry Nine – Trail S Hydra 28h Wheelset (29er, XD Driver, Six Bolt) Specs:

  • Hubs: Industry Nine Hydra (28 hole, straight pull, six-bolt, XD driver, black)
    • Front (Diagram)
      • NDS Flange Ø (A): 46mm
      • NDS Center to Flange (B): 28mm
      • DS Center to Flange (C): 43mm
      • DS Flange Ø (D): 46mm
    • Rear (Diagram)
      • NDS Flange Ø (A): 46mm
      • NDS Center to Flange (B): 24mm
      • DS Center to Flange (C): 37mm
      • DS Flange Ø (D):60mm
    • Freehub Lube: Dumonde Tech PRO X Freehub Oil
  • Rims: Industry Nine Trail S (28 hole, 597mm ERD for 29er, symmetric / 0mm offset)
  • Spokes: Sapim Race Straightpull (303mm for 29er, 285mm for 27.5)
  • Nipples: Sapim Double square (14mm, 2.0mm, black, alloy)

(Note, these are for a wheelset purchased in May 2020, specs documented on 2020-Nov-20. These specs could change with future revisions.)

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Rebuilding Shimano SLX (BL-M7000) Brake Levers

Within the past few months I’ve started to notice oil on the main lever pivots of the Shimano SLX (BL-M7000) brakes on my Salsa Mukluk and the brakes have started to feel like they need a bleed. It was recommended that I try rebuilding them — cleaning them out and re-greasing the seals — before replacing.

Using some Danco Silicone Faucet Grease and following a couple of YouTube videos to understand the teardown process I was able to easily get both levers apart and back together, and after my first test ride they seem to be working great. I believe these were getting dirty after a few years of exposure to all sorts of conditions and the seals needed a bit of freshening up. (In this design the end of the piston and thus a thin piece of seal is exposed to the elements.)

The overall process was quite straightforward, and between these two videos (1, 2) I had no problems figuring out what to do. While the first video is a bit dark, the subtitles helped tremendously. The second is in Tagalog, but shows the process clearly. EV-BL-M7000-3978.pdf, Shimano’s exploded view of the lever, is also somewhat helpful but does not show the details of the piston nor the push rod. If you are reasonably mechanically inclined, and can work with small parts, you’ll have no problem.

Here’s the major steps, along with notes. These steps apply to both the BL-M7000 (SLX) and BL-M8000 (XT) levers and are likely applicable to other similar levers. I recommend that you do levers one at a time, or take photos as you go, to see how the parts fit together. The lever return spring is particularly fiddly to get into place and it’s location is not immediately obvious during reassembly.


  1. Disconnect brake hose and remove lever from bar.
  2. Remove bleed port, squeeze lever a few times to drain excess oil.
  3. Remove the small rubber plug which covers the set screw holding the pivot pin (Lever Axle, #5 on EV) in place. Back out but do not remove this set screw (Lever Axle Fixing Bolt and Cap, #4 on EV).
  4. Press out pivot pin from underside using a 3mm hex wrench or rod to remove the lever. (I had to use a small hammer to loosen it as it was stuck in place.)
  5. Locate the T-shaped ball-end shaft which presses on the piston. Remove with a twisting motion on the head, snapping it into or out of the plastic guides.
  6. Locate the plastic pivot plate which has a hooked bottom for the pad contact adjust lever. Remove this; loosen by pushing it out via the holes in the lever body.
  7. Remove the pad contact adjust lever, which the pad contact adjust screw presses against. (This screw exists on both XT and SLX levers, although it’s externally blanked on SLX.) Depressing the piston with a ball end hex wrench and lifting the lever out with smooth jaw needle nose pliers makes this easier.
  8. Use a thin rod, such as a 3mm wrench, to push the piston and spring out via the brake hose end. Be careful not to mar the mirror-polished brake piston bore.
  9. Remove the other plastic pivot plate.


  1. Wipe down the brake lever body to remove oil and gunk. Clean out the inside of the bore with a paper towel, being careful not to damage the mirror polish. I do not suggest submerging or using soap or degreaser as it’ll be difficult to clean out the reservoir half of the lever.
  2. Gently wipe off the piston and spring. Inspect the seals for damage. If they are damaged, you’ll need to find a new piston as these are key to the brake working and not leaking.
  3. Clean the lever and reach adjustment. (I used dish soap and a paintbush.)
  4. Clean the lever return spring. Do not bend this.
  5. Clean the plastic guide plates, being sure to not scratch the them.
  6. Disassemble and clean the T-shaped ball-end shaft. There are two small plastic caps, a bushing, an axle, and the ball end shaft. Take care of the plastic end caps, these slide in the guide plates to make everything work.


  1. Reassemble the T-shaped ball-end shaft putting a bit of silicone grease in and on the bushing, in and on the plastic end caps, and on the ball end.
  2. Fit the pivot plate without the hooked bottom.
  3. Drop the spring into the brake lever.
  4. Apply a very thin film of silicone grease to the piston and drop it into the lever with the concave end facing out.
  5. Replace the pad contact adjust lever while gently holding the piston in with a tool.
  6. Fit the other pivot plate, with the hooked bottom, into place with the hooked bottom fitting around the pad contact adjust lever.
  7. Replace the T-shaped ball end shaft with a twisting motion that allows the end caps to it follows the ramps on the pivot plates.
  8. Partially insert the pivot pin into the lever.
  9. Fit the lever return spring between into the lever between the main lever blade and reach adjust.
  10. Align the pivot pin holes in the lever with the spring, with the lever pressing against the bushing on the T-shaped ball end shaft, and slide the pivot pin into place. (This was easiest when I guided the assembly together with a 3mm hex wrench.)
  11. Tighten the set screw to hold the pivot pin in place.
  12. Check that the lever moves and returns smoothly. Assess and fix if not.
  13. Turn the reach adjust for maximum reach. Reattach hose and bleed system.
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Bontrager Line Dropper Post Failure Mode + Repair

The Bontrager Line Dropper Seatpost, as fitted on Kristen’s Trek Fuel EX 9.8 Women’s (mirror) is a quality dropper, and I’m particularly impressed with the way built-in sacrificial parts fail when the saddle is hit hard from the side. Over the summer Kristen has had a couple crashes which, due to hard impacts on the side of the saddle, damaged the dropper. After the first crash the saddle (and inner part of the dropper) would turn easily to one side, and after the second the saddle had a bunch of side to side play, and could be turned to the side fairly easily.

On this dropper there are two plastic keys that slide in grooves in the outer tube as the saddle moves up and down. They keep the saddle from moving to the side, are designed to fail when the saddle is hit hard from the side. By using a sacrificial part like these plastic keys, Trek/Bontrager’s designers have a dropper which works well, but only costs a few dollars to repair after a damaging crash.

The key set, part number 572184 and $5.99 MSRP, is replaced by removing the seatpost from the bike, unscrewing the bottom of the post by hand, then unscrewing the retaining ring at the top of the post with a strap wrench. Sliding off the outer tube reveals the keys, which can be popped out with a pin or a razor blade. Wiping everything down, fitting the replacement keys in the groove, lubing with Slickoleum, then putting everything back together is all that’s needed to repair the dropper to like-new condition.

The photo above shows a pair of damaged keys, along with the plastic shavings cleaned out of the dropper after a failure. The rounded edges on the keys show where they fail when overloaded, and the shavings are the remains of the once-sharp edges.

I’m really happy with this dropper. It works well, it’s overall pretty cheap, is easy to disassemble to repair after a crash, and replacing the main cylinder should be just as easy, whenever it comes time for that.

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Suggested First Rides in Marquette

Here’s a quick list of easy to follow mountain bike routes in the Marquette area, as Trailforks routes. Fun, accessible routes friendly to all bike types, from rigid fatbikes to squishy trail bikes, perfect for getting you started riding in the Marquette area. Each loop will take most riders an hour to and hour-and-a-half each, excluding stops, and are excellent on their own or as a basis for exploring other trails.

These trails are all built and maintained by the Noquemanon Trails Network and are constantly being improved and expanded. Without their work you wouldn’t have these great trails to ride, and without donations they can’t exist. Click here to send some money their way to keep these trails great. (Sign up for a full NTN membership here.)

Keep in mind all these trails are two way and quite popular in both directions. Be nice, say hi, yield appropriately, and let others know how many more folks are behind you.

NTN North Trails (from BLP Trailhead)

Kristen’s Favorite Loop: One of the best ways to get started with riding North Trails. An easier route than the South Trails, but by no means boring, this route includes views of the awesome Forestville Dam and Falls, Wright Street Falls, Forestville Basin, the penstock (large wood pipe). Climbing is gradual but sustained, as are the descents, with just enough rock sprinkled in to make things fun.

NTN South Trails (from South Trailhead)

Green / Morgan Creek Loop (Clockwise): Perfect intro to the South Trails, with rolling climbs and descents, riding past and over waterfalls. Scatterings of rocks and roots are all over, but nothing difficult; the perfect everything trail. Follow the green signs.

Red / Pioneer Loop (Clockwise): Begins with the Benson Grade Access Road climb, then starts with a relatively flat but slightly rocky single track before snaking it’s way along a beautiful brook and mildly rocky trails along with views of Lake Superior. A bit more technical than Green, but another great trail to get started on. Follow the red signs.

Gorge-ous to Blue: A step above the Red and Green loops, this heads downhill on the incredibly scenic Gorge-ous trail (part of the Yellow route) and loops back to the trailhead using portions of the Blue loop. Gorge-ous is mostly smooth dirt, with a handful of rocks and roots, and some decent (for Michigan) exposure. Blue, the oldest route in the system, is considerably rougher and has some challenging climbs, but is still a lot of fun. Starts by following Grom (Purple Signs) to Gorge-ous (Yellow Signs) and then continues on Forget-Me-Not (Blue Signs) after reaching the Carp River.

(If you want more information, check out my longer post, Marquette Mountain Biking for Trolls, which gives downstate Michigan folks pointers on getting started riding in the Marquette area.)

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Crankbrothers Eggbeater Pedals Wing Wear

Crankbrothers Eggbeater and Candy pedals have been my go-to for years, performing admirably year-round.

All Crankbrothers pedals require periodic maintenance in the form of the Pedal Refresh Kit, which replaces the bushings and bearings and gets them spinning like new. The cleats — made of brass — wear out as well and require replacement roughly once a season, along with the required-for-carbon-soles Shoe Shields.

Unfortunately, there is one kind of wear which puts the pedal near the end of its life: pedal wing wear. Above you can see the pedal wings on the Eggbeater 3 pedals from my Specialized Camber, which worn to a point.

The wings are normally box shaped, providing a nice even load on the cleat and sole of the shoe. After wearing to a point the cleat and Shoe Shield wear are accelerating, to the degree that my cleats have worn out mid-year instead of late autumn.

With all this wear put together, pedaling my Camber felt a bit vague and I’d get squeaking and clicking sounds from the pedals when putting down a lot of steady power. Flipping the pedals 90° to change up the engagement would help, as some of the wings are worn less than others, but it’s now time for the pedals to go.

(Instead of replacing with new Crankbrothers pedals I’m giving Shimano PD-M8100 (Deore XT M8100) SPD pedals a go. I’m hoping the larger contact area between the cleat, pedal, and shoe lugs will help with some foot pain problems I’ve had during longer rides. I also expect cleat replacement will be less frequent, costing less long-term. I have concerns about how well SPDs will clear snow and/or permit very fast exit when suddenly stopping on technical sections, so I won’t be selling off my remaining Eggbeaters any time soon.)

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Shimano Hydraulic Brakes May Self-Contaminate Due To Residual Oil In Bleed Nipple

It seems the design of the bleed nipple on Shimano hydraulic disc brakes may result in contamination of the brake pads if extra care isn’t taken to clean residual oil from inside the nipple after bleeding the brakes. Newer Shimano hydraulic calipers, such as the Shimano BR-M7100 (SLX), have this nipple facing downward when installed on most bikes which seems to exacerbate the issue.

After following the Shimano brake bleed procedure and disconnecting the hose, the nipple will still contain about 0.06 mL of brake fluid, roughly a full drop, closed only by a snap-fit rubber cap. (See exploded view, inside of nipple is ~20mm x ~2mm ⌀.) On many brakes, including the BR-M7100 when mounted to a fork or seatstay, the nipple points downward and the residual oil inside slowly weeps out, wetting the outside of the cap and the caliper. Particularly after mixing with dust and forming an oily paste this can fling to the rotor or pads, contaminating the pads, leading to poor performance and noise.

On other Shimano brakes, such as the the BR-M8000, the bleed nipple is on the other end of the caliper. These point up and don’t seem to weep residual oil as readily. However, because bikes are stored and transported in a variety of positions, much less bounced all over the place while riding, any oil in the nipple can cause escape.

To avoid self-contamination it’s necessary to remove all residual oil from inside of the bleed nipple after a bleed. This can be done by twisting the corner of a paper towel into a point, shoving it into the nipple, and blotting the oil up. A couple iterations of this and thorough cleaning of the caliper and inside of the nipple with isopropyl alcohol seems sufficient. After doing this the nipple caps on our bikes have remained dry.

I came to this realization after a handful of dusty rides on the Timberjack when I noticed this cap had a bunch of dark oil-soaked dust on it. A quick check showed the inside of the cap was quite oily. There was also a thin film of oil wicking on to the bleed nipple and caliper body. As the bike is nearly new the brakes had recently been bled and the outside of the calipers thoroughly cleaned, it all fit together. (I suspect this may have led to the contamination problems I had earlier with the pads, although those pads themselves seemed bad from the get-go.)

On Kristen’s fatbike — a 2018 Specialized Fatboy Carbon Comp which received M7100 SLX brakes to replace the failed SRAM Level TLs but has only been kept upright since the brake install — the front brake whose nipple points down had oil in the cap. The rear brake, mounted to the chainstay and pointing the nipple up, was dry, but still had visible oil in the nipple.

This could also explain a mysterious fouled-front-brake problem on my Warbird, whose BR-R7070 (105) calipers have a downward facing bleed port on the front and upward facing on the rear. This was fixed with a sanding of the rotor and pad replacement, but I could not find a source of oil and the system seemed sealed. I now believe residual oil migration past the rubber cap, after I bled the brakes following a fork replacement, fouled the pads.

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Preferred Bicycle Lubricants

Here is a list of the lubricants I use for bicycles and a few notes about each one.

General Grease
Park Tool PolyLube 1000 (PPL-1, Tube)
Use for general greasing. Threads of fasteners, coating bearings before installation, etc. This is a go-to grease that gets used on everything unless there’s a specific need for something special.

Chain Lube
ProGold ProLink Chain Lube
Use for all chain lubing purposes. As this lube is a heavier oil in a lighter carrier, I use the following process: Wipe chain with dry paper towel to remove dirt and old lube. Wipe chain with alcohol-soaked paper towel if it’s particularly dirty. Apply one drop to each roller on the inside of the chain. Turn crank backwards for 10-15 seconds to ensure lube is well distributed. Use a new dry paper towel to wipe off the outer plates of the chain (lube does nothing here). Let sit for a while, perhaps overnight, before riding so the the volatile compounds in the lube can evaporate leaving only the useful stuff. It’ll pick up less dirt this way, too.

Waterproof Grease
PEAK Synthetic Marine Grease (branded as Advance Auto Parts Marine Grease)
Used whenever a heavy, highly water resistant grease is needed. I use this on the lower bearing on headsets, bottom bracket spindles, car hitch racks. Use with caution as this grease attracts dirt, thickens, and migrates pretty easily and thus isn’t good for basic lubricating. (Any standard marine grease will work in place of this, the Advanced Auto Parts version was the cheapest when I bought some.)

Permatex Copper Anti-Seize Lubricant
Anti-seize is a grease with metal powder in it, used to inhibit galvanic corrosion when dissimilar metals are in contact. Instead of the original parts corroding the small metal flakes in the grease will corrode, prolonging the life of the parts and preventing seizing. I mostly use this on titanium frames as it’ll quickly corrode aluminum parts (such as headset cups, bottom brackets, seatposts, and mounting screws) but also use it on steel and aluminum frames when installing press-fit headsets and threaded bottom brackets, as a preventative measure.

Suspension Grease
Buzzy’s Slick Honey / Slickoleum / SRAM Butter
All three of these products are the same thing. It’s ideal for lubricating anything that slides or is suspension-related. Also works great on dropper posts. It’s also an ideal lube for Hope freehubs.

Small / Fine Parts
Tri-Flow Superior Lubricant (Drip Bottle)
This is a very thin lube which carries PTFE (Teflon). Perfect for lubricating small pivot points such as derailleurs and shifters.

DT Swiss Ratchets
DT Swiss Special Grease (Red, HXTXXX00NSG20S)
DT Swiss hubs, with star ratchets, specifically call for a tacky, yet somewhat thin, red grease which DT Swiss calls Special Grease. So little is used on each cleaning that a small container, one of which comes with every replacement ratchet set, will last for years.

Friction Paste
Finish Line Fiber Grip / Park Tool SuperGrip (SAC-2)
Sometimes things slip when you don’t want them to (eg: seatposts, bars) or you want to add extra grip without torquing tighter. Friction paste, a light grease with sandpaper-like grit in it, is perfect. It’s common to use this on the handlebar clamp part of a stem to ensure the bar doesn’t move, on seatposts in carbon frames, etc. Never use this on anything which is supposed to move, and be aware that it’ll abrade the clamped surfaces of whatever you apply it to.

Spoke Nipple Lube / PTFE Paste
When building wheels I lube the spoke threads with ULTRA Tef-Gel, which is a PTFE (Teflon) paste. Designed for use on saltwater-exposed fasteners, this is an incredibly tenacious anti-corrosive that keeps spokes and nipples from binding together doubles as lubricant during assembly. Use ensures they’ll still be turnable after years of year-round exposure. This also works well for installing press-fit bottom brackets which call for PTFE paste.

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Salsa Timberjack: Fixing a Mistake

After building up the All-City Electric Queen and riding it a handful of times, it just didn’t feel… right. Standing and handling the bike was fine, but seated pedaling — especially when climbing or just after sitting back down — felt quite off. Turns out the problem was the 71° seat tube angle on the frame coupled with my shorter femurs; I simply can’t get the saddle far enough forward on one of these frames.

Unfortunately, the only good solution was to get a different frame. The Salsa Timberjack was my original choice for this hard tail trail bike build, but I got excited by the idea of a steel bike, loved the paint on the Electric Queen, and glossed over the seat tube angle. By the time I realized I needed a new frame the stand-alone black frames were no longer available. Fortunately, over at the excellent Sports Rack Marquette, Evan had some new frames from complete bikes available, and I was able to get a beautiful gloss teal frame from a 2019 Timberjack Deore 27.5+ from them.

Besides matching my wants geometry-wise, the frame is a great choice because all parts except for the headset swapped over, and the frame came with a headset. While the stock Cane Creek 10 is a lower end part, which lacks sealing on the top bearing cover and has a plastic compression rings and crown races and black oxide bearings, it works and will be fine for a while. The fork was already fitted with a higher end matching crown race, and I have a Cane Creek Hellbender 70 headset ready swap in once the bearings and compression ring start to go.

One downside to the Timberjack vs. Electric Queen is that I’ll no longer have a rigid fork for the bike, but if I really want one the Firestarter 110 Deluxe is a perfect match. The top tube on this bike is also a little bit tall, as it’s also designed for bikepacking and fitting a top tube bag, but it’s plenty comfortable to ride and I love all the bottle cage options.

To round out the build and get the colors nice I ordered some new fork decals from Slik Graphics. Unfortunately, I screwed up and ordered the decals for the Factory-series forks, so while it looks good, I technically have the wrong upper logo on the fork lowers. I’ve since ordered another set with the proper Performance decals for the upper, and am waiting for them to arrive. Since this order was placed Slik became involved in a dispute with Fox, so I’m hoping to receive the updated decals. Even if they don’t arrive, at least the colors are right on the fork. I could even remove the upper decals and have it still look good.

When finishing up the build I ran into a significant problem with the brakes: squealing and vibration. Due to part availability I’d purchased the calipers and levers as a non-retail / meant-for-complete-bikes / likely grey market set from a well-known eBay seller, ronde-cycling. I was never able to get them bedded in properly, and after a few rides they began squealing horridly and shuddering under hard braking. This seller offers different pads options with the brakes, and I began to suspect they handle the pads with each brake set sale, did so poorly, and contaminated the pads before they got to me.

I tried the normal recommendations of cleaning everything, sanding the pads and rotors, and even baking the pads in the oven, but on each bed-in procedure they’d begin squealing again. Resolution a set of new J04C pads and a bed-in and now the brakes are working great. At ~$50 for a new set of pads this really added to the cost of the brakes, but at least they are now working.

Final build, with water bottle cages, pedals, and computer came out to right around 27 pounds. And, it fits! Since building it I’ve put over 180 miles and nearly 16 hours on the bike, haven’t touched the geometry, and I’m really happy with the result. It’s exactly what I wanted; a high quality hard tail trail bike.

Full details below:

Frame: Salsa Timberjack (Large, Teal, 2019)
Fork: Fox 34 Step-Cast (Performance, FIT4 damper, Black Upper Tube Finish, 120mm, 51mm offset, 15QR)
Fork Decals: Slik Graphics Fox 34 Step-Cast Factory Style Decal Kit / Fox 34 Step Cast Performance Elite Decal Kit (Color 1: Medium Grey, Color 2: Dark Grey, Finish: Matte)
Headset: Cane Creek 10 (Black, ZS44/ZS56)
Crankset: SRAM X1 1400 GXP
Bottom Bracket: SRAM GXP (Black)
Chainring: SRAM X-SYNC 2 (32t, steel, Direct Mount, 3mm / Boost)
Derailleur: SRAM GX Eagle
Shifter: SRAM GX Eagle
Shift Cables / Housing: Shimano Bulk
Cassette: SRAM XG-1275
Brakes: Shimano SLX M7100 (Levers: BL-M7100, Calipers: BR-7100)
Brake Pads: Shimano J04C (Finned, Metal)
Front Rotor: SM-RT86-L (203mm)
Rear Rotor: SM-RT86-M (180mm)
Front Brake Adapter: SM-MA-F203P/P (160mm Post to 203mm Post)
Rear Brake Adapter: Shimano SM-MA-R180P/S (IS to 180mm Post)
Stem: Salsa Guide (+6°, 60mm)
Bar: Salsa Salt Flat (750mm)
Wheels: Industry Nine Trail S Hydra 28H (29″)†
Tires: Maxxis Rekon (29 x 2.4″, 3C/EXO/TR)
Seatpost: Fox Transfer Performance Elite (2020, Black, 125mm, 30.9mm, Internal)
Dropper Lever: Wolf Tooth ReMote Light Action (Black, 22.2mm Clamp)
Seatpost Collar: Salsa Lip-Lock (Black, 35.0 mm)
Saddle: Specialized Power Expert (143mm)
Pedals: Crank Brothers Eggbeater 3 (Green, from Blackborow)
Grips: ESI Extra Chunky (Black)
Bottle Cages: Specialized Zee Cage II (Black Gloss, 1x Left, 2x Right)
Computer: Garmin Edge 530, Garmin Speed and Cadence Sensors (v1), Best Tek Garmin Stem Mount
Bell: Mirracycle Original Incredibell (Black)
Derailleur Hanger: QBP FS1373
Frame Protection Tape: 3M 2228, McMaster-Carr UHMW PE
Cable Rattle Prevention: Frost King EPDM Weatherseal (V25A, slipped over dropper housing)

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CRAMBA Trails Outline Poster from OSM Data

Finding myself a little bored, I put together a poster (11″ x 17″) showing outlines of the CRAMBA-supported trails on one overview. (Link)

This ended up being more popular than I expected, with a handful of people wanting to know how I did it, so I’ll detail the steps here:

  1. Ensure that all the trail routes are in OpenStreetMap.
  2. Using JOSM load each trail area one at a time and make an OSM XML file with just the data you want outlined:
    1. Select the ways which comprise the trail you want shown.
    2. Create a new data layer (Command-N).
    3. Make the original data layer active.
    4. Copy the selected data from the first layer to your new layer with EditMerge Selection (Shift-Command-M).
    5. Hide the original data layer.
    6. Review the new layer to be sure it has everything you want.
    7. Select all nodes and ways (Command-A) and remove all tags to make later processing easier.
    8. Look good? Is everything you want in the new layer? Save it to a .osm file and do the next trail.
  3. Once you have an OSM file for each trail, convert them to Adobe Illustrator format using this version of
    1. Get working on your computer. I run this on macOS, and it works fine on Linux as well. Since it’s a Perl script there are probably some dependencies; likely resolved by installing a few modules.
    2. Process each OSM file with: --input infilename.osm --projection mercator --output
  4. Open each file in Illustrator, combine them into a larger document, make it look the way you want, etc.
  5. Done!

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