October 9, 2015

Braap – real-world “testing” (riding)

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Some of you remember Braap. Braap was built as an experiment – partially because I wanted to do some fully custom full suspension bikes for customers and needed to inflict a few on myself first (Braap is iteration #5), and partially because I wanted to see what 29+ wheels and full suspension would be like. I end up doing a lot of bikes like this for myself – bikes that I don’t objectively need, and sometimes even suspect I’ll hate – because I’m just a curious geek, basically.

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Main pivot for Braap

It’s also helpful to have real-world saddle time on a lot of setups when a customer asks, so that I can actually give a reasonable answer instead of just making up some BS. Not that anyone in the bike industry would do that…

So I built BRAAP with fairly low expectations. I knew she’d be heavy (in this case, about 28 pounds, which isn’t that bad, but my previous FS bike was 24) and probably overkill for most of the XC trails in the neighborhood, but without enough travel (100mm) to really go hit the freeride terrain just to the south at the ski resorts. Overkill and… underkill (?) all at once. Another noble sacrifice on my part in the name of science.

Right?

Wrong.

Well, I have about a month and maybe 250 miles on Braap now, and I have done enough hard efforts on varied terrain to render a bit of a verdict: Braap is very, very awesome at everything I have done with her – not just fun, but also amazingly *fast*. I expected the former, not so much the latter. And I have non-scientific subjective experience to prove it to the world.

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Booty shot

Many of you don’t use Strava and consider it the bane of our collective existence. Good for you, now get your dogs and small children out of my way before I run you down.

Just kidding. As a has-been ex-pro, I use it on almost every ride to try to make myself feel cool and competitive/motivated, and also because I can ride the same trails on different bikes and get some vague idea how they do without relying entirely on feel. It’s not a substitute for a power meter and a rigorous/analytical analysis if you’re trying to find the absolute fastest setup – but it’s enough to tell if something is terrible or amazing.

You’re probably getting tired of my verbosity, so here’s the bottom line: I am faster on basically every type of terrain on Braap than on my hardtail, my rigid singlespeed, or comparable 29″ wheeled FS bikes, all of which are much lighter and “racier”. My fitness is unchanged from the summer (SOP: drag kids to daycare, ride home, reverse, then drink too much beer in the evening), so it’s fair to say, at the least, that the bike does not suck.

Here’s a test ride I did a few days ago on my way to pick up the kids from daycare (yes, my commute to daycare is on singletrack, Park City rules). I went hard on 4 distinct sections of the ride, all of which are fairly popular, are directional or very low-traffic and safe to ride fast on, and have had numerous attempts by fast local pros (most segments here are part of the annual PCP2P race):

-A twisty and switchbacked rolling climb (RTS video: segment starts @~3:00) that gains 142 feet in 3/4 of a mile – very similar to the type of terrain you’d see in a short track race (at least the ones I’ve done) where there’s a lot of braking into and accelerating out of corners, but little/no technical features. Result: I was 20 seconds faster than my previous best time.

A rough/rocky but not especially technical 400 foot descent (Rosebud’s video). Lots of offcamber loose rock, small ledges to jump, sand, and some tight switchbacks as well as very fast sections. Result: a little slower than another day that I also hit this trail with Braap, mainly due to a bad line choice/semi-wreck midway, but still ~20 seconds faster than on any other bike I’ve ridden.

A rough and rubbly climb. This one isn’t crazy steep (5% for 1.5 miles) but has plenty of little steep spots and rough/loose stuff. It’s harder than it looks on paper, but not actually technical anywhere. I’ve never done this all-out, so no real comparison possible – but I certainly wasn’t going slow.

A lift-served directional DH/freeride trail (Holly’s/Insurgent video from 2012 – trail has had quite a few berms and jumps added since, but this is the general idea) This 7% grade trail was rebuilt/routed in July but it’s been the site of a stage of the Canyons enduro race since then and had a couple thousand riders (just on Strava!) on it. I’ve ridden it a half-dozen times this summer on a variety of bikes and know it pretty well. It’s not modern DH with large gaps or drops, but it’s very similar to what DH race courses looked like in, say, the early 2000s – some sections where getting air is the fastest thing to do (but isn’t mandatory), plenty of rock gardens with fast/risky lines and go-arounds, some giant berms, ~10′ low-risk gap jumps, plenty of nasty brake bumps/whoops, and one 1/4 mile long flat section just to give the XC guys a little chance. It’s about as rough/gnarly as most folks would ever want to ride on an XC ride, but pretty tame by modern DH standards without any really big features. Result: 30+ seconds faster than my previous best time (and in the top 25 or so on a segment that has had several thousand attempts by racers and non-racers alike). In all honesty, lack of courage in some spots was what slowed me down, not the bike (some armor, a dropper, and a fullface would go a long way, especially when my legs were already jello from the hard effort climb segment immediately beforehand).

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Rattlecanned so I could get some time in on it before the snow flies!

I’ve tried other stuff, too. Flow trails (Ant Farm video). Very steep climbs. Pure XC loops. Long lots-of-pedaling descents (Flying Dog video). I’m faster everywhere. We don’t have much available here that would qualify as low-speed (ie New England) tech riding, so I have no idea how it would do on that sort of trail. But overall, the 29+ setup has far exceeded my expectations. All that extra rubber is doing something for me, so I’ve gone from fence-sitting to full-on recommending plus tires to any and all who are interested.

Why is the setup so fast? In a word, big low pressure tires seem to manage to give excellent traction while simultaneously offering shockingly low rolling resistance – so you can carry great speed through corners and feel safe/in control, then roll back on the power and keep that speed, or accelerate. I have zero actual data to back this up, of course.

And yes, I’ll build up a hardtail that takes the same plus tires to do some testing on that, never fear. Stay tuned (probably until spring, winter is coming any day now here). If you’re a power meter company employee reading this – just think how much good press you’d get if you found me a scratch-n-dent setup to use for my “testing”!

A note about setups: I used exactly the same parts to build up BRAAP that I had on my 29″ wheel FS bike that I rode for all of 2014 and a bunch of this summer as well, with the exception of the headset (yes, including my 15 year old LX cranks) and of course, the tires. As luck would have it, though, I had Bontrager XR2 tires on the 29″ version, which are almost identical to the Chupacabras in terms of tread pattern and general casing/shape – just smaller. Is the comparison perfect? Absolutely not, but it’s as close as you can reasonably expect to get.

24 Comments on “Braap – real-world “testing” (riding)

Noah
October 9, 2015 at 9:08 pm

I’m curious how much of this is the increased roll-over from the big tires. I wasn’t in on the 26″ to 29″ transition, so I don’t know if the experience is similar – but my limited experience with 29+ has been that those big wheels and tires feel astonishingly fast and light.

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Sam
October 9, 2015 at 9:53 pm

Lucky IMBA gold level town dweller! Have you done those same routes with a 27.5+ for comparison?

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Walt
October 9, 2015 at 10:43 pm

No chance to test 27.5+ yet, I’ve built a few but nothing directly comparable. I rarely get to ride customer bikes, and when I do they rarely fit me, so I’d have to build a dedicated 27.5+ bike to test it out… which isn’t super likely to happen soon.

I’ve done all these trails many times on:
-Full rigid singlespeed 29er
-Hardtail 29er
-4″ travel FS 29er

So I have at least tried a few different setups – but not enough to make really definitive statements. I just know the 29+ is freaky fast when I expected it to be kinda slow. It’s also wicked fun which matters more to most of us.

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Matt
October 11, 2015 at 1:40 pm

Sweet bike!
Are you rocking a stans crest rim on the rear?? If so, what psi you running and do you get alot of squirm? Thanks for the info. Love your blog. Im saving my pennies for one of your frames. Cheers

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Walt
October 11, 2015 at 2:08 pm

Yes, it’s a Crest. No, it’s not very appropriate. Cornering hard on these tires requires ~15-20 psi regardless of rim size (I’ve tried several). Honestly at lower PSI I have problems with the tires folding under hard braking, too, so even if the side loads could be handled I’d still run 15-20. Many people will be fine at lower pressures, though – it just depends on how aggressive you are.

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Chris
October 12, 2015 at 5:25 pm

Hey Walt,

How’s BRAAP on fireroad climbs? Your original assumption was it would be slower. Has that changed at all?

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Walt
October 12, 2015 at 5:33 pm

I don’t have any fire-road climbs available, believe it or not! Everything here is singletrack!

I’ll try to do a few smooth/constant grade climbs to see, though. Once I get a little sleep, Alice is killing me the last few nights.

PS Phish sucks

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Chris
October 12, 2015 at 5:45 pm

Oh boy, those are fightin’ words:) When are you coming back to CO for your whoopin?

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Walt
October 12, 2015 at 6:11 pm

I hear collegiate wrestlers are big sissies, so I’ll come back in December to apply that whoopin’. I think my biceps are like 14″ now!

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Nacho Libre
October 12, 2015 at 9:14 pm

True! But the sissy ones can handle up to 14″ biceps!! Lookin forward to seeing the family!

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Joel
October 13, 2015 at 12:34 am

I am interested in trying some plus tires, but before I burn 100 large per tire, a few questions:

Are the trails in Park City buffed out or are there sharp rocks? Seems like you would tear open those thin casings in any kind of rocky terrain.

How much do you bounce landing jumps? I suppose full sus helps here.

Have you tried the 3″ in front and a 2.4″ in back? Is the handling funky?

Thanks, keep up the good work!

Thanks

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Walt
October 13, 2015 at 9:47 am

The trails on the south side of the basin tend to be smooth dirt in the Aspen groves. On the north side (where I live) it’s more river-rock cobble-strewn down low in the sage, then some limestone rock as you get a bit higher into the trees. Not super rocky, by any stretch of the imagination, but also not super super smooth. I would say average rough/rockiness for XC riding in the Western US/Rocky Mountains.

Thus far I have not had sidewall problems on the Chupacabras. I think if you wanted to do full DH type riding you’d be better off with Minions or something along those lines but we’ll see if WTB brings out the Bridgers or something for 29+. I have ridden the Dirt Wizards (very good traction, mediocre sidewalls) and Knards (horrible in every way) as well but I have not tried a 2.4 rear/3 front combo except on the rigid singlespeed. It was ok there but I think on the dually you’d end up losing the rear end a lot in corners. Certainly something I could try at some point.

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Walt
October 13, 2015 at 9:49 am

Oh, and there is no noticeable “bounce” when landing jumps. The tires are not great big air tires, for sure, though. Not enough sidewall to screw up and land cockeyed without having them squirm all over.

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Joel
October 13, 2015 at 11:10 pm

Thanks for the feedback. I can’t fit a 29+ in the Honzo, but I may try 650+ rear, 29+ front.

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David
October 15, 2015 at 1:42 am

How did the 2.4 rear/3 front combo go on the rigid singlespeed?

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Walt
October 15, 2015 at 8:52 am

On the rigid bike, it was both a matter of necessity (can’t fit bigger tires in the rear) and also worked really well – the 3″ tire is a nice cushy ride on a rigid fork and the traction differential front/rear isn’t too noticeable.

I also tried it on the same hardtail frame with a suspension fork (ie 3″ front/2.4″ rear) and it was terrible that way – front end could do things the rear end couldn’t, so I constantly lost the rear in corners and had to ride really conservatively – the big tire wasn’t much of a benefit in that case.

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Joel
October 15, 2015 at 11:14 pm

So are you saying, hold off on the 27.5″ rear wheel purchase?

I dunno. Riding at HT with a 140mm Pike on the front is already “out of balance”, but I love it.

Why not take things to the next level?

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David
October 16, 2015 at 3:45 am

Good to know, thanks Walt, love your work.

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Feldy
October 16, 2015 at 3:14 pm

“…I end up doing a lot of bikes like this for myself – bikes that I don’t objectively need, and sometimes even suspect I’ll hate…”

You mean like your first 29er? How could you not mention that?

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walverio
October 21, 2015 at 3:44 pm

My next bike might be something like Braap.

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In defense of Surly |
November 10, 2015 at 6:10 pm

[…] No big company out there has a better innovation record (mind you, I mean the good “this is fun!” kind, not the “new bb and axle standard every 18 months so your cranks will flex .02mm less under 500W of power” type). Nobody has been willing to stick their neck out and take risks more than Surly. They rock and deserve your respect, not snobbery-based scorn. Because that lust-worthy non-Surly high end frame (especially if it’s a fatbike/plus bike) you have probably owes at least some aspects of it’s design to Surly. Without Krampus/Knard… no BRAAP! […]

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Mountain Bikes of Velocipede Salon - Page 12
November 19, 2015 at 10:44 am

[…] He uses the Ventana swingarm but the rest is his. Braap – real-world “testing” (riding) | […]

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White Mike
December 10, 2015 at 1:49 pm

Yes. 29+ is the truth. So damn fast on the downhills it’ll flip your eyelids back and on the ups you just have to stay on top of the pedals a little more to keep things moving.

Good post Walt.

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