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History Lesson #44

Dad - September 1965

Gram, my dad’s mother, was a serious record keeper. She had lists. She had everything marked out to perfection on the calendar. She filed stuff away. Organized. Dangerously organized I might add (sometimes too organized so she couldn’t find something…). And coolest of all? She had scrap books and photo albums so well organized it would make the national archive envious. Volumes of clippings. Hoards of photos. All neatly organized and cataloged. When I was younger and over for a visit, I’d ask her to pull a photo album for me and we’d sit side by side on the couch in the front room as she’d go through each picture with me telling me in detail about the memories she had. We continued this tradition of sharing pretty much till her passing day. She loved taking pictures and loved getting pictures. When I had an opportunity to read through her diary she kept as a teenager, what was particularly wonderful was that she spoke about days she’d take pictures. So if you read the diary, and have the album in hand? You can pinpoint the exact day in time she took a particular photo. It’s that exacting some times.

However, there was one photo album in particular though that was of my Father. It started with baby pictures and followed him through the years. Halfway through it came to his high school days. In there were photos which were taken by the local paper, the Morning Call. Some may have even had small clippings from the same newspaper about that days game. Now I don’t exactly remember how old I was when I first saw the above photo, but I do know I was fairly young. Maybe 3, maybe 4 or 5? But as soon as the page was turned and this picture above came into focus… That was it. The hook was set firm and deep. I wanted to play football. I wanted to wear #44.

You know how that saying goes: A picture says a thousand words. Well, this one spoke to me for some reason. It captured a moment in time and touched on the intensity of that moment. On the back of the photo, in Gram’s hand reads: “Thom Henry, September 1965 Boyertown 20 – Upper Perkiomen 13” So part of that picture is that Upper Perkiomen is losing (my Alma Mater as well as Gram and Pop’s AND my Dad’s… hell, pretty much everyone in the neighborhood and their kids and grandkids all went to Upper Perk…). But Dad’s still playing and playing hard no matter what the score is. He’s determined and focused. He’s not quitting. The picture is him breaking a tackle to punch through and in to the end zone. So all that really sunk in when I first saw it. I had a glimpse of my Dad’s past that had shaped him into the Father I looked up to. And on countless occasions I’d ask Gram to get that photo album for me so I could pour over this photo and others. For some reason it held my attention and I found it an inspiration.

It’s an image I’ve carried with me ever since. I would re-enact that “play” in the backyard all the time. Our dogwood was the defensive back. I’d plow through it, diving sometimes through the crotch of the tree. Hitting, spinning, playing. Never giving up. Sometimes I’d punch through, other times I’d be stopped at the 1 yard line with seconds left on my imaginary clock. But one thing is dead certain. I wanted to emulate that moment. Be that moment. That’s the start of the whole “lucky number 44” thing. It carried me through my youth and into my adulthood.

That is the beginning.

PS: I’m thinking of my Dad today. He’s recovering from surgery and it’s my Birthday. Even though I’m North of PA, I still look up to him…

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Stable in Review

Every year I dedicate a certain amount of time on the build list to prototype my own bikes to update geometry tweaks, improve handling, try new set ups and overall refine the ride. This past year of 2015 was no exception where I built new prototypes of my Huntsman, my Kid Dangerous 1×11 mountain bike and my own personal Marauder SS with an option to run it as a 1×11 and with a 30.9 dropper. So let’s roll up our sleeves and review what changes I made and why I made them. One of the biggest changes was the move to front and rear thru axles on all of these bikes.

Marauder SS : Back in Black

First up is the Marauder. Many ask me what the difference is between the Marauder and the Kid. In short there isn’t much difference geometry wise. More specifically, they are designed around a specific riders preferences as well as style and terrain frequented. If anything, the Marauders a tad shorter in the rear and a touch longer up front. But most specifically the differences are in the physical looks of the build. The Marauder is a strictly traditional diamond hardtail and it’s my take on the low slung New England breed of hardtail we all know and love. There’s some modern updates and personal touches to my own of course. One other key difference is being that the front triangle of the Marauder is much larger, clients looking to take advantage of two full sized water bottles, this would be the bike to suit their needs. I also steer larger riders in this direction too since the seat post, although maximized in terms of extension, is fully supported by the top tube and the seat stays. The Kid design relies on maximizing top tube clearance and has a distinct straight line from head tube to dropouts so if you want to carry two bottles, 99.9% of the time you’re going to be carrying a large and small bottle. Some must have that pair of large bottles while others it’s ok to skimp as their rides or races are well supported. But truth be told, I had to go way out there and build the Kid so I could come full circle design wise to reinvent and put my signature on the classic New England hardtail. Classic Side Shot albeit in high weeds… Check it out!

Marauder SS w/ 1x11 Option

A big driver for this build update over the previous version was that previously, my Marauder was a dedicated single speed. That’s fine normally. It was one hell of a clean build… but, (and there is a but) I really wanted the option to build it up as a 1×11 for shows since I pretty much bring my own personal bikes as show bikes. The big factor here was being able to show case both Shimano and Sram setups in my booth. I can’t tell you how many people ask me what the differences are so what better way to speak to these questions than to have them both sitting in front of the client. The builds vary a touch too so I can really show cyclists differences and benefits to these types of setups. Most seem to come to me to replicate what I have, and it would be nice to showcase different techniques. One big one is internal vs external cable routing and how both can be done quite cleanly. Ones a bit more aesthetic than another while the other comes from a more practical standpoint and allows for set up swaps easily. Thru axles were scrutinized with that previous dedicated SS, so this one got the thru axle treatment as well:

Endless 19t Kick Ass Cog

I also have two different length forks. The Marauder sports a 100mm Fox 32 Float while the 1×11 sports a 120mm Fox 32 Talas (Soon to be swapped for a 120mm Fox 34 Float). So I’ve got two different forks to compare too and can speak to benefits of either fork length – but I can talk about these benefits because I have both fork lengths and ride them regularly on both my 29ers.

New Bike Day : Marauder SS

Next up is my personal Huntsman. By far the bike I build the most of (and when I offer Titanium, this is where I will offer the material first). One big driving factor was to see how the power transfer benefits of thru axles on a mountain bike translated to a road bike fit for dirt and light trail duty. Another was simple: I always kicked myself for NOT painting my bike black (even though red is my favorite color – damn that flat black looks tough!) So we painted this one black:

Huntsman 1x11

Power transfer proved increased and without a decided change in stiffness. The resilience of steel on long rides holds true even with thru axles. I also started to notice on the previous build that the front wheel after heavy braking over the course of several rides would be slightly cocked towards the non-drive side. The ENVE CX fork does not have metal inserts at the dropouts so it’s a metal on carbon contact and I’d say the carbon dropout tends to be a bit slippery even when the quick release is tight. Metal on metal seems to have more bite to it – so the addition of a new ENVE CX TA fork was a no brainer for this build:

12mm TA

I also noted in conversations with clients that I’d often be using my bike as a reference but having to backpedal and tell them that the bike was only for reference and we’d be doing it differently. It became obvious I was building the majority of the Huntsman’s a certain way so what better than to build my own in that fashion which included routing for a 2x setup but run as a clean 1×11. Most didn’t want to believe me that it would look untidy but the pics spoke for themselves or if they saw the build in person, their fears were unfounded.

Big Cassette...

TA’s front and rear, wide range 10-42t cassette for a clean 1×11 setup, an option to run it as a 2×11, room for 2 bottles and then some, slightly sloping top tube and geometry to provide stability when the going gets rough but quickness and acceleration to match so the bike didn’t feel like a slug. It’s all in this build. I also moved my water bottle mounts up a touch on the seat tube to make reaching down not so much of a reach. Another set up change was a little more rise in the handlebar to saddle set up (I recently installed a Thomson 10° 90mm Elite Stem) and the addition of that 10-42t cassette from a 11-32t was eye opening. I really felt like finally the 1×11 setup was dialed in and on point for my local punchy terrain and when I was out for a long ride, I really could just sit back and pedal painlessly while seated on big climbs 30 miles into a ride:

51mm ISO

One decided different tweak was lengthening the chain stays to make a bit more room for a 40mm tire and also giving myself more clearances at the seat stay bridge and chain stays for additional mud clearances. I also tweaked the head tube angle slightly to add a bit more stability. I also had refined how I was making my chain stays and seat stays so it was nice to put those processes to use on this build to make it as current and up to date in terms of process and methodology as possible: A fully realized and refined machine.


Last but not least is my personal 1×11 Kid Dangerous. The bike that nods to more top tube clearance, flowy curves and is just down right fast and fun.

The New Whip

Big changes for this build were Thru Axles front and rear, I adjusted my cockpit length a touch (lengthen it actually), and gave myself a bit more clearance for a small water bottle at the top tube / seat tube junction. I also have been making my radius seat tubes differently with dedicated dies and bending techniques / tools. So I incorporated that into this build as well as the Marauder as well. The new technique allows for a better, more consistent curve in the seat tube and because of this kicks the tube forward a bit more than previous techniques. Interestingly enough, by tweaking the effective seat tube angle from 73 to 72 degree’s, I’m able to give the rider a bit more saddle set back in relation to the bottom bracket and place the saddle in the same place as if it were a straight tube at 73 degrees:


This bike also was built with internal cable routing but also will not technically take a dropper. I wanted to have that as an option for people to see and compare. This build is also a bit more of a endurance style build or rather an all around mountain bike so I wanted to have a post that was fixed. 1×11 drivetrain and Shimano XTR M9000 was a special treat for myself this year.


I also made the jump from Crank Brothers back to Shimano SPD’s and could not be happier I made the jump back to Shimano’s venerable SPD system. Snappy. Positive engagement. And the damn things last a lifetime instead of 3 months before the springs start to feel loose…


OH! And I’m back on WTB tires. I’ve fell in love with those WTB Trail Boss 2.4 and 2.25″ tires. Just an all around great mountain bike tire.

WTB Trail Boss 2.4"

I always kid myself about if I only could keep one bike, which one would it be? Man… that’s a tough choice but hands down I’m coming to this 1×11 build. No question. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted in a steel hardtail mountain bike and it’s everything I’ve worked towards that makes a 44 Bikes and 44 Bikes. The previous version of this build actually had a mistake on it.. The non-drive side seat stay’s bend up by the tire was a bit “off” so it appeared to be a little closer to the tire than the other side and hence it would often stay at home instead of going to shows. At the time I was under the gun to get the bike done in time for a race and only had enough material for one shot (these bends aren’t easy as they are in two separate planes). I nailed the bends this time…



Pretty soon some parts will be coming back from a review bike and I’ll be able to build up my Marauder as a 1×11 Sram X1 build and outfit my 1×11 with a Fox 34 Float. I’m really excited to put the 34 Fit4 through it’s paces – too bad we JUST got snow of course… But I’ll have plenty of time over the winter if snow doesn’t seem to want to melt sooner than later to dial in the setup and get things ready for a back to back test with both my Marauder and Kid Dangerous in tow. Not only will I have a chance to compare Sram and Shimano back to back but finally I’ll be able to see how a dropper effects my riding style. I have some thoughts but I’ve been keeping my opinion tight lipped until I actually have some time on one (Thomson of course!). Till then, here’s the 1×11 back from a longish ride this past summer:

Post Ride Shakedown

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Ancient History

Time to Visit Grandmom's

“Over the hill and through the woods…” That saying rang true the better part of my childhood, through my teenage years and well past my 20’s and 30’s. You see, my Grandmom (Mother’s Mother – Anna Mae Malasky), literally lived over a hill and basically through the woods. And you’d go to see Grandmothers house. My Grandpop built the house on what remained of the Malasky Farm which had been claimed by eminent domain when the Suburban Water Company had built what is now the Reservoir just outside of East Greenville, Pennsburg and Red Hill, PA. The Malasky Farm along with a whole host of other farms situated along the banks of the Perkiomen River were all claimed by the bull dozer so many years ago.

But fast forward to my childhood, and I only ever saw bits and pieces of that when the lake levels would drop in times of drought. Just past my Grandpop’s Cherry Orchard you could see some of the foundations of the Malasky Farm’s out buildings and the tell tale orange day lilies always bloomed just where my Great Grandmother had planted them. Ever holiday was spent at Grandmom’s (of which my Dad nicknamed “The Ponderosa”). My Mom’s side of the family is on the large side with 6 siblings total. No holiday was incomplete with out a hoard of people and an equally massive spread of home cooked food on the table. When we’d leave after a celebration, we got in the habit of chiding my dad to honk the horn and my Grandmom would wave from the window. Kind of became a ritual of sorts and every time I left myself, well, you have to honk the horn!

Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, the 4th of July. Birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, reunions. Heck, just about every other so many weeks we’d be over there for something. I was baby sat who knows how many times. I slept over who knows how many times. Mom would drop me off as a kid and I’d wait on the hill watching for her car to round the bend come 5 o’clock on Knight Road. And back in the 80’s, if you saw 2 cars the whole day coming down Knight Road, that was something!

Point being I spent my fair share of time at Grandmom’s and loved every minute spent in that kitchen or every damn nap I took on her longer than life sectional couch. The home had large windows that faced north and south. The outside was inside in a way. Just past the big yard the woods called. Endless hours of exploration, poking about and discovery entertained my every waking hour spent there. During get togethers, sometimes I’d stow away down in the basement and look through all the old books in her bookshelves or hide in the garage and peruse my Grandpop’s tools and welding equipment long since left dormant with his passing at my young age. I didn’t know him very well but knew he was an ironworker, knew he was a welder and knew he had owned his own business: “Superior Welding”. Some time later I discovered later in his career he had been a talented TIG welder ironically. My connection to him came through his shop and tools some how.

Somehow, we’d all get together and lend a hand with chores around her house. Things needed to be done and Grandmom was all on her own so we all pitched in one way or the other. Heck, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve mowed her lawn or tended to the long track of field to the end of her lane and back again! Crystal clear well water with PA Dutch pretzels waited for me up at the house when I was finished. I can still smell and taste it all.

But with the passage of time, slowly relatives began to move out of state to make lives elsewhere. Slowly each gathering became smaller. Our trips to Grandmom’s became less frequent and of course with getting all grown up on my end, I was home less. However, each holiday always drew me back to Grandmom’s front steps like clockwork. To any friend that accompanied me, the door was wide open with the introduction: “Just call me Grandmom”. One way I’d sneak in a ride while on vacation or if I needed some time to myself before getting my ears talked off at a get together would be to put my “good” clothes in a bag, send them with my parents but suit up and ride over through town on my mountain bike and then head over to Grandmom’s to hit up the Red or Blue trails around the lake. Early on riding the trails around the lake, which were dominantly horse trails, was a big no-no… So you had to be sneaky. But with time, even that changed and they allowed mountain bikers to share the trail. But in my teenage years, you’d have to poach them and I had all the trails and trail connections scoped out to minimize my exposure. My ride would end with a long slow pedal up Grandmom’s lane, which was indeed quite long being that the home was really set back far from the road. Peace and quiet resided up on that hill but the ride up the lane became cathartic in many ways.

Eventually with the passing of my Grandmom, the home was put up for auction but with a little stroke of luck, the county purchased it under the provision of putting all the land into conservation. Kind of a nice gesture so now everyone could enjoy the spot. Unfortunately the home’s roof suffered some damage and subsequently the inside received extensive water damage so rather than repair the county decided to take down the home. I had not been up to the spot since it was taken down until this past Christmas break.

So when I am home, I had always made a point of heading over to Grandmom’s. I just kept calling it that even after it was sold. Am I supposed to say “I’m going over to the reservoir”? Heck no! That’s just not right. So when I suited up this past Sunday, I said to my parents I was riding over to Grandmom’s and back. They knew where I was going but I think just saying it that way puts my heart at ease in some way. I had to pause when I reached the lane this time. When I paused I noticed a doe standing maybe 6 feet from me in the tree line to my left. Didn’t move and neither did I. So we just sat there and looked at each other. Grandmom? Maybe. I picked my bike back up and continued the grind up to where the house once stood:

Hey Grandmom!

It’s nice and quiet up there and with a good view of the surrounding area. Grandpop and Grandmom picked a good spot. It was a bit surreal to stand “in the kitchen” or “in the living room” with grass underfoot.

View from Grandmom's

The biggest thing for me was meals shared with family here. And the desserts! More than the eye could take in some times… But it’s those times up there with family engaged in conversation, howling with laughter at my Uncle’s jokes and shenanigans, joking with my Aunts and hearing my Grandmom’s tell tale laugh and wide smile. All these memories and much more flooded me up there. In many ways the home I’ve made for myself here in NH is akin to Grandmom’s house: Over a hill and through the woods. Welding fits in there too somehow. Each time I’m home though, I’ll still head over to Grandmom’s. I can’t not pay her a visit.

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44 Bikes X Radavist

RAD Teaser...

This past spring I had contacted John Watson about sending him a bike for review. He was down so I scheduled the build to arrive at his doorstep in July this past summer for him to begin the review process. Being that this was formally my first bike out for any sort of test or review, I wanted to give John the best possible experience out on the trail. That meant taking him through the custom process. It did not make sense to build a bike that was fitted to me or pick a common size that I could sell at a later date after the review. John just wouldn’t get the most out of the time reviewing the bike with compromises. Not to mention I build custom bikes. So it only made sense to build the bike like this was his bike. No compromises.

So we began the process just like I would with any of my clients. We exchanged a handful of emails and conversations about his riding style, the terrain he rides, his preferred setups and much more. I already had a pretty good idea of how John rides through his stories via his blog The Radavist and many of the photo essay’s he’s published. But as I mentioned above, I wanted John to have the best experience out on the trail – one that would reflect his own style but let him push things to the next level all the while having the bike ride like I want my bikes to ride. There’s a fine balance to be achieved here. One thing worth noting is that I do indeed prefer a slightly more upright stance when it comes to fit. To achieve this and put that rider in the best possible position, I look at where they are now on their current bike, check contact points and then compare them with some measurements of their person to see if there can be any subtle shifts to further dial in the fit. The end result and my goal is to have the handlebars and saddle height about dead even. If there is a little saddle to bar drop, that’s ok but what I’m looking to do is eliminate that discrepancy. This along with a few other factors of the fit and more important, the geometry and setup of the bike start to establish how the bike will perform as a whole out on the trail.

You see, with a slightly more upright stance, you still can climb. You’re in a comfortable position to put the head down and pedal. Drop your elbows, flatten your back and put the power through the pedals. But when it comes to technical lines, rocks, roots, big step ups or headed down hill, this stance puts you in that “ready” position. Now you have the ability to move, get off the back end of the bike, hover, compress and basically throw the bike around while “centered” and “IN” the bike. So I put all that knowledge into the design of his frame and spec’d components that I thought would best suit the demands of his terrain and riding style. So the geometry and spec reflect this sentiment. But all the while, I’m balancing how I want the bike to ride with nods to John’s terrain and riding style. The end result hopefully is a bike ready to push limits.

Marauder XXX

Spec wise, I reached out to a handful of my OEM accounts including: Cane Creek, ENVE, Industry 9, WTB and Wolf Tooth Components. I filled in the rest of the blanks with a Thomson Dropper (30.9mm), Race Face Cinch Turbine Cranks, X1 Rear Derailleur/shifter and cassette, Shimano XT M8000 Brakes and ODI lock-on grips (Yeti Hardcore!). Also, I spec’d a 2016 FOX 34 Float, 120mm FIT4 fork and murdered it out with their heritage kit. To me, these are all components I’ve ridden and put to the test. I’m confident how they all work together and I knew these would be well suited to the terrain and riding style John was going after.

Close up of the Drivetrain:

X1 1x11 Drivetrain

Close up of the Business End of the bike:

I9 Torch Trail 32

Geometry wise, this is where the magic (for me) happens. This is just the result of riding, building and repeating that process a lot. I take the direct feedback I’m getting from the trail and make adjustments to dial in how the bikes handle year after year. So when someone comes to me with specific requests, I can make subtle tweaks in the geometry to meet those requirements but also keep the bike “feeling” like I want it to feel. John’s Marauder sported a longer top tube length with short stem combination, 69 deg. head angle, a 72 deg seat tube angle (This actually puts the saddle in about the same spot as a straight seat tube that is 73 degree’s – the radius kicks the seat tube centerline forward a touch, so to compensate for that loss of set back, the seat tube angle is slackened to 72 degrees), 2.25″ of bb drop, and a 16.5″ chainstay length. That’s 419mm for all you metric people out there.

One thing to remember about geometry: No single number is king. It’s all about how all these numbers work together. One huge point to notice? I’ve not mentioned anything about stack, reach or trail. According to my opinion, these are nebulous numbers invented by the industry to try and decode geometry questions and are talking points on a bike shop show room floor or things to argue about on the internet. Reach and stack are most likely “slightly” helpful, but even reach doesn’t really tell you where your butt’s going to land on the saddle and stack has nothing to do with where your inseam sits when hovering over the bike. Trail? Don’t get me started. That number is constantly changing as a suspension fork goes through it’s travel – tire choice, tire diameter and tire pressure has more meaningful results to the rider out on the trail and those are all things that you can easily measure, change AND experiment with in real time and feel how they make a difference. The big numbers for me are cockpit length (saddle tip to center of the handlebars) and saddle height (center of the bottom bracket to the top of the saddle). Those two measurements are key for establishing your fit and where the heck you are from one bike to another.

Editor’s Note: I will say, however to counter my above statements, and not make anyone out there choosing a new bike despair, out of all the jargon thrown around these days, Reach and Stack have the most meaning to the consumer to establish fit for production bikes when comparing one bike against another. That is an important note to make. But (and that is a big but) since I am considering how the bike will perform ascending, descending and pretty much everything in between, I need more than just reach and stack… I need to know where the saddle is in relation to the handlebars. I need to know where the saddle is in relation to the bottom bracket and the pedals for that matter. Where are the handlebars in space? Where’s your butt in landing in space? Center of the bars to the saddle tip? Saddle tip to junction of seat post clamp? Stem length? Stem Rise? Handlebar width? Number of spacers below the stem? Stack of the head set? Axle to crown measurements? Head angle with sag taken into account? Head angle, travel of fork and sagged fork numbers and how does that effect the height of the head tube in space? Etc. Etc. Etc.

For me, since I am considering the bike for an individual, and the vast majority of my mountain bikes have to perform both equally well climbing as they do descending, I have to get more specific than just those two measurements. No one measurement is king as I stated. It’s a combination of measurements and angles that cumulatively depict how a bike will feel on trail and that includes standing AND while seated climbing. The take away for this editors note is that I am sweating all these details and I have had clients who just felt strongly about a very specific target number (say a client has a preference for a specific reach measurement). I actually do listen to my clients. They tell me what I want and I build them what they need.

Here’s the party end of the bike:

Marauder XXX

Once the bike was finished, we arranged delivery to occur at Golden Saddle Cyclery and we were off and running for the review. Halfway through the summer and well into September I’d see the occasional photo or be tagged in the occasional ride shot. No review yet but as I like to say: No news is good news. I’d check in with John every once in a while and he sounded really busy but totally stoked. A little more time passed and I received a reply asking if he could keep it well in to October/November? No problem! Better to have that bike in his hands really putting it to the test than have it here at 44HQ. Here’s a shot courtesy of John Watson all nice and dirty – these are the kinds of shots I like to see:

Radavist X 44 Bikes Marauder Review

Just yesterday, to my surprise while taking a break from welding up another Marauder ironically, I saw he had posted up the final review. Super stoked over here in New Hampshire! You can read all about his thoughts and see the entire photo essay at the Radavist here. A big thank you to all my OE’s who helped provide hand picked product to round out this build: Cane Creek, ENVE, Industry 9, WTB and Wolftooth Components all deserve praise for their kindness and support. A huge thank you to John Watson of the Radavist for actually answering my email and request to send him a review bike. John’s a good guy, talented photographer and can shred with the best of them. I’m stoked to have him review one of my bikes (and it appears maybe even own one…). Thank you to Golden Saddle Cyclery for taking on the task of holding the bike and building it while John was out of town too!

Earlier this year I had put together a process look book of the build above, and here are a few links if you want to see more in detail as well as see the process via Flickr:

View the 44 Bikes X Radavist Process Book via ISSUE here.

You can download a high resolution PDF of the 44 Bikes X Radavist Process Book here.

And… you can view the build set at Flickr here.

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Huntsman “Super Trail”

Chris's Huntsman "Super Trail"

When we first moved to NH in 2006, the very first thing that became completely evident was just how many well groomed dirt roads were available at my fingertips. At the time I had a single speed mountain bike and a Kona Kula made out of Reynolds 853 sporting 25mm tires. And it immediately was obvious that the narrow paved roads with little to no shoulder were not going to be the safest way to ride. I’d head out for a ride on my mountain bike and ride the dirt roads to trail heads and if I bumped into 1 car in 5-10 miles it was an event. So this got me to thinking: What if I had a road bike with big nobby tires? The Huntsman was born.

From that first prototype, the Huntsman has evolved and been refined and with it’s creation, just happened to coincide with this whole trend or style of bike referred to as a “gravel grinder”. Some loath the term, but to me it does really explain the purpose of that particular “road” bike. You get it immediately. Whatever you’d like to call it, it’s a road bike. The vast majority of Huntsman’s that roll out the shop doors have room for 40mm tires and are 11 speed equipped. A good majority of these are also 1x setups. But as time wears on, and builds continue to roll out the doors, that first prototype is always on my mind. Big tires on dirt roads are just plain fun. I’d been rolling around the concept for myself and was dubbing it the Huntsman “Super Trail”. The one bike that rules all roads. So when a client requested a Huntsman but with room for 2.3″ tires… (yes, 2.3 x 2.9!) I was all ears. He had a lot of requests that required a lot of measurements and clearances to be juggled as well as compatibility questions.

As the road bike segment has evolved over the years, and most recently I’d say that’s accelerated in the past 2 years, drivetrains have been moving all over the map. 2x setups went to 3x setups, now back to 2x and dropping the front derailleur for 1x set ups but 3x setups are still available only on a limited basis in terms of what group offers that option in a triple. It used to be no matter what speed you were running, all things still worked together but then companies started changing their pull ratio’s and the geometry of the rear derailleurs so that certain groups and speeds were not backwards compatible with others or maybe they weren’t “optimized” but could work. Cassette options seemed to have touring cluster options but then went slim and trim for mostly “race day” gearing but then they had options for touring but now you can’t mix and match but.. It’s enough to make your head spin. Recently, Sram seems to have been doing a pretty good job with their introduction of XX1 that brought 1×11 to market and the ability to have road groups mix and match cassette options from mountain. Right now, for example, I’m running a Force 22 set of 11 speed levers, mated to a Force 1 long cage rear derailleur AND their XX1 10-42t cassette and a Wolftooth direct mount Dropstop 38t chainring. It’s a 1×11 setup, but I’ve got a mix of drivetrain components in there which allows me to have a pretty tight set of gears in a wide range of usable pedal power. But with this build, there was a lot of research, note taking, erasing, crossing out and more note taking to be done. After a lot of back and forth with the client, my OEM account Shimano and building the bike, I’m happy to say that this build is finally finished. So let’s roll up our sleeves and get down to business of all the details that went into this bike. Here’s a shot from the business end of things:

Chris's Huntsman "Super Trail"

First off, this is physically a BIG bike. The client’s a big guy! But starting at the front end, he wanted a Schmidt Son Delux SL hub to provide power for the front and rear lights. He’s had lights before and did not like the shadow cast by the fender line/wheel when mounted on the side. Most loads he carries are small so losing that little bit of room up front to have a centered light was AOK and a compromise he was willing to make. The rack is custom as well as the Tapered fork. The bike sports front and rear lights both powered off of the generator hub so it was recommended by Peter White Cycles that they be ground in two spots and as you can see, I kept the cables running between the fender and rack. That’s shrink tubing keeping those cables nice and organized beneath the rack. The front rack is ground to the custom machined and removable light mount “pill” while the rear light is grounded at the fork crown mount of the rack. There is a custom machined stainless spacer behind the bolt that allows the ground to work and not interfere with the interface. When the light is not run, that can be removed and the bolt runs flush and clean. (I consider this stuff so that the bike looks purpose built and balanced in any mode.) Here’s a shot of the whole assembly:

Rack + Schmidt Light with Removable Mount

And a close up of the custom machined “pill” mount for the light:

Rack + Schmidt Light with Removable Mount

Drivetrain wise, here’s where the rub started: Client request was a triple. That’s ok, but the caveat was room for 2.3″ tires.. AND run a cassette that had a 34t or 36t cog. To make all that work, I kind of had to look into a mountain drivetrain. So I was on the phone with Sram and Shimano looking into the whole compatibility problem. Back and forth and I was initially given incorrect information from Shimano (It also could have been that I didn’t explain myself correctly or the question was misinterpreted). But I came away with the understanding that a 10spd rear mountain derailleur would work with an Ultra triple shifter set. WRONG. The pull ratio’s are different. Sram wise, all 10 speed road and mountain are cross compatible. Not so with 11 speed stuff though with both Sram and Shimano. Shimano Di2 doesn’t care as long as the front / rear derailleur’s are in the same family but the client did not want to rely on battery power when he’s in the outback. So that ruled out Di2 and he definitely wanted Shimano. So that ruled out Sram. And he definitely wanted a triple. So that ruled out a 1x or 2×11. I had to go through 4 derailleurs just to get the set up correct. The savior was a little gadget made by Jtek called the “Shiftmate”. Basically it has a pulley with two different sized grooves and a flat spot as the cross over so the cable gets looped through and when shifts are made, it alters the amount of cable pull dependent on which groove the cable initially enters and is looped around. Here’s a close up of the Jtek Shiftmate:

Jtek Shiftmate

All the gear combinations work, the shifts are in the right location and there’s no slack in the chain in the granny when on the smallest cog. That’s a win. The only combination that is maxed out for the derailleur is the 42t x 36t combo. It shifts and works, but the rear derailleur’s take up is really maxed out so I recommended to the client that he avoid using it. So 1 combo out of 30? Not too shabby considering all the other flaming hoops I’m jumping through on this one. Now that front derailleur. Originally, I had an XT spec’d. The problem being that the pull mechanism on the front derailleurs on these suckers is bulky if the cable is entering from the bottom. The square peg being the 2.3″ tire requirement and full fenders. Of course I’m also balancing the bikes feel/performance. I don’t want the bike to feel like a slug. I want the bike to be snappy and accelerate quickly too but be stable on loaded descents. There’s that part of the equation – I could’ve added a bit of extra room back here but I did not. So that forced me to re-evaluate that area and the solution was to spec a 34.9mm Ultegra Triple front derailleur, but turn / machine a custom eccentric shim. This front derailleur is designed around a 130mm rear spacing TRIPLE. Not a 135mm spaced rear triangle like this one is which is a requirement because we wanted disc brakes. See where things start to get complicated and tolerances start to stack up? Yeah, you can see the smoke pouring out of my ears at this point. But that little eccentric shim allows me to rotate the derailleur out and forward to dial in chain line, and hit all the shifts while kicking the derailleur forward a touch to make the most of every millimeter available. Here’s a shot of that:

Eccentric Clamp Shim

With a pair of stainless washers behind the bottle cage, a King Cage clears the eccentric with bottle in place and there’s mounts for 3 bottles. The bike will clear 2.3″ tires with the fenders in place – not full coverage and I used a massive Schwalbe 2.3 Nobby Nic as the test tire to make sure it all works. The rear fender has a custom machined bracket mount (which is not pictured) and it’s stainless steel too to get the fender in the right spot when in use.

Next up is cable management. There’s a lot of electricity going through this bike and cables to do the job. I can’t stand hack jobs and untidy solutions. I like keeping things neat and tidy and shrink tubing really works well in this area. Here’s a detail of a modified Di2 port, internal rear brake routing and cable routing for the rear light (yep, that “T” bracket is custom too for the rear light):


Oh and I nearly forgot! The rear light juggles the fact that it will be mounted on a possible rear rack at times too. It had to clear the fender line but what about all that extra cable? Ok, can’t shorten it so the excess is stuff inside the top tube and when you want to mount the rear light on a rear rack, pull the cable out, remove the T-bracket, attach the rear rack (4 additional rack mounts on the rear end) and keep things tidy with the Di2 grommet and shrink tubing.

Wheel wise, the wheel set was hand built by Peter White Cycles and is a pair of 29″ Velocity Blunt’s laced to a Schmidt Son Delux SL front hub and a White MI6 rear hub. 32 hole of course and 11 speed compatible. Rubber is a set of 2.1″ WTB Nano’s. ENVE Cockpit and post with Thomson stem and collar. Cane Creek 110 head set. Fork is custom with Paragon Machine Works fittings throughout the frame, fork and rack. The Fork uses Schmidt’s stainless steel dropouts with an integrated “hotshoe” for the Son Delux SL hub so no wires are needed to be removed before the front wheel is removed. Just take it in and out like you normally would. I have to say when it was all wired up and I turned the lights out and spun the tire for the first time AND the lights came on? That was quite pleasing… Drivetrain is a mix of Shimano XT and Ultegra 10 speed components. XT SPD pedals of course!

Here’s the build from the party end:

Chris's Huntsman "Super Trail"

How much does this bike weigh? It weighs “just so” that’s how much it weighs. This som-bitch is battle ready and ready to take on just about anything and everything you can throw at it. That’s why I call this version the “Super Trail”. There were a few instances when I was left scratching my head wondering if things were going to come together and there were a few set backs with the drivetrain which prolonged the delivery but the client was super patient which I appreciated and had warned we might run into some issues when everything comes together. That’s the trouble with builds like these. On paper they all work AOK. But when things come together, some times things have to change mid stride and I’ve got to be on my toes to make adjustments. I found myself at every step of the way thinking about new approaches, new parts and a common thought I had was “Well, looks like I have to machine another small part that no one makes.” That I know is something I strive to avoid. This isn’t because I’m against it, but if there is something we can stick to that is Standard, let’s stick to it. No one wants a bike so proprietary that if something does fail, they are up the creek and waiting till I make another part for them. That’s not fair and that’s one of the reasons I keep things pretty clean in this regard. But I do have the skill set to go into uncharted territory if needed but that is generally a choice I make when all others have been exhausted. This one isn’t too crazy but most of the difficulties I ran into were in the drivetrain and the fact that component company’s just don’t make certain parts anymore and if they do they’re limited in scope. All in all I’m super proud and happy of this build as it finally came together. It almost got entered into a bike tossing contest but I refrained (I think that was somewhere around front derailleur incompatibility #4?). Being that it is all white, it took on a Moby Dick persona and I felt a bit like Captain Ahab chasing after a mythical beast. But it came together!

Here’s one last parting shot from head on:

Chris's Huntsman "Super Trail"

This sucker is going to go places. I hope it serves the client well as we pulled out all the stops to build this Huntsman “Super Trail”. Enjoy and keep the rubber side down. Shred more. Race Less.

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Time to Tell it Like it is…

Shred More : Race Less

I recently read a short statement via John Watson’s Instagram account for The Radavist regarding racing and riding and I whole-heartedly agree with the sentiment. Not to mention, it’s a notion I’ve held for a long, long time. The notion of riding more and racing less or maybe it’s more about riding and less about racing. How I say it is like this: Shred More. Race Less. Now that’s no dig on racing and competition. I think that’s a really healthy thing to do and for anyone looking to get in to cycling it’s a really great entry point. So I really want to say first that my opinion is not one against racing but rather one that advocates riding. And there’s a difference I think.

To further the discussion, here’s my vantage point and I’ve competed in a handful of sports throughout my 40 revolutions around our Sun. Racing and competition are about one thing and one thing only: Winning. You’re sole purpose when you line up is to win. That’s what you are there to do. That’s what you train to do. That’s what you spend your off-season preparing for. That’s what you put the time in the gym for. That’s why you hone your skills and drill till the sun goes down. That’s why you head out come rain or shine. That takes dedication. That takes discipline. That takes singular focus. Whether you are in a team or racing for yourself, you’re there to win. Some of these races in the endurance categories it’s just about finishing the event too is a win but I’m talking about more of the traditional race format. This notion of everyone gets a t-shirt for participation is not a race. That’s not racing. That’s something entirely different and it’s a gathering to celebrate something else that starts to get close to riding with your bud’s on Saturday afternoon. Bragging rights, fist on chest sort of stuff. That’s healthy too to a degree before it becomes unhealthy.

To help illustrate my overall point, according to the National Bicycle Dealers Association, 73% of all cyclists bicycle for recreation, 53% are fitness focused, 10% are commuter focused, 8% are racing focused, and 6% are sport. The numbers add up to more than 100% because according to the poll conducted by The Bicycle Market Research Institute in 2006, cyclists ride in multiple ways and identify themselves in a variety of fashions. What stands out to me is that 8% number. That’s not a majority by a long stretch. And what is even more peculiar is when you walk in to a bike shop, the vast majority of road bikes are race oriented if you then compare that to the actual cyclist who is riding for recreation which composes 73% (I’m sure those numbers have changed a bit since 2006 as the number of cyclists total in the U.S. has changed). My biggest point is that the industry basically makes bikes that are race ready for a community that does not race. With the newer “gravel” segments and the component packages you’re seeing like Sram’s 1x setups and larger cassette cog options in 11 speed, I think this is starting to show signs of a shift occurring in the industry. I know from my own experience every “road” bike I’ve built to date for clients has had a requirement to have room for at least 32-40mm tires. None of these bikes are raced on a regular basis, if at all. Most have admitted they “used” to race but just want a good all around road bike built to handle it all and then some. Apparently, I am more in tune and market my custom bicycles to cyclists who ride their bicycles, not cyclists who race their bicycles. Those clients who do race on my client list are indeed in the minority. Most if not all of them I know for a fact Shred.

So, what is Shredding? Well..

Shredding is throwing your leg over your bike and heading out for a ride. You are focused on the line ahead of you. We’re not counting miles. We’re not counting calories burned or power output. You don’t care what place you’re in or who you’re chasing down in front of you or who you’re fighting off that wants to pass you. What we’re counting on is our friends joining in for the ride or just heading out by yourself and the weather happens to be cooperating with you at that moment in time. What you pay attention to is the line in front of you. You get in the zone and you’re focused on leaning just a bit more through this turn, or pedaling a little bit harder up that next hill. You take the time to stop, take in the scenery and reflect on where you have been, where you are and where you’re headed. You’re not taking your pulse. You’re not looking at your watch. Hopefully you’ve left your phone or device at home. You’ve “disconnected” from everything that rules your life and you’re abiding by one rule and one rule only: No Rules. The challenge is how high you can bunny hop. The challenge is just how hard you can push through that turn. The challenge is if you can make it through that rock garden ahead WITHOUT dabbing. Your goals are to overcome what you feared last ride. Riding that line you thought was impossible and cheering on your buddy who is riding something for the very first time and not dabbing!

You are focused on “the Ride” and not the finish line. That’s Shredding. You can’t do that when you’re racing. It’s that simple.

Editor’s Note: I am a product of the 90’s BMX movement. To understand my take on this is to understand the shift away from racing & competition for what defined a “Pro” during that time period. There’s a subtle nuance of definitions I’m speaking about here.

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What Season is it? Hunting Season!

Must be Hunting Season!

We’ve got a lot of season’s it seems here in New England. Especially NH: We’ve got the text book Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter thing going on. But in there, between those lines there’s a bunch of others… Mud Season, Bug season (Which has it’s own subset of seasons, namely Black Fly Season, Horsefly Season, Mosquito Season, No-See-Um Season…), Tick Season, Screened in Porch Season, Oh-Shit it’s almost Winter time to get all those projects done Season, and of course just after that one we’ve got Hunting Season. Hunting in NH like most states is broken down into a series of dates where certain types of game along with certain types of “armament” are allowed to be hunted/utilized. The ones I pay attention to are Bow, Muzzle Loader and of course, Rifle Season. Rifle being the most important as I’d say that is where the majority of the Hunters gravitate towards. In NH, that date started on November 11th and ends on November 29th this year, one week early apparently. Over the years and over the course of living in different states with different laws/rules, I’ve acquired a pretty strong Hunting Season Kit. I’ll go through that in detail below, along with some important things you want to consider IF you intend on riding in the woods during Hunting Season so things stay safe but more importantly, you respect the limited time Hunters have to enjoy their own passion and that’s regardless of whether you agree with it or not.

First some general rules that I was taught about handling a rifle. My Grandfather (Thomas P. Henry Jr. – My father’s father aka Poppy) took it upon himself one summer when I was a kid to take me back to a local Hunting Lodge which had it’s own rifle range to teach me the general rules of safety that surround a firearm. Firearms are tools and in some cases, a way of life, sport and passion. I know this is a topic of hot debate of late, so I’ll do my best to steer clear of that with this post, but for the record I’ve stated *My Opinion at the very bottom of the page.

One key point being the demystification of firearms, so let’s focus on the demystification point, and what my Grandfather passed along to me in order of importance, and I’m most likely missing a few but these are the most important for the conversation:

1. A firearm is NOT a toy. It’s designed for 1 thing and 1 thing only. That’s it. Treat them with the utmost respect.
2. Never store a firearm loaded. Always keep the ammunition separate from the firearm and that includes the clip if it has one.
3. While the firearm is not in use, always have the safety in the “on” position.
4. NEVER point a firearm at another human. Ever. Even if you’re “joking”. It’s not funny.
5. When carrying a rifle, use correct carrying methods (Pop preferred the “elbow” or “cradle” carry methods.)
6. When firing a rifle, anyone around you should be behind you. Never walk in front of someones line of sight if you are around someone using a rifle.
7. When firing a rifle, sight your target AND sight what is in front of AND behind your target (this is an important one for the post).
8. When finished, remove the clip and check the action/breach so that it is clear. Safety is on.

So you’re in the woods and mountain biking. You’ve got your blaze orange on. All the above “should” be on the Hunters “to-do” list… There shouldn’t be a problem. But this is not the case because it’s always that one bad egg out of the bunch who causes problems. So you need to know these items first unfortunately and assume that the Hunters may or just may not be doing these things. The vast majority of Hunters will know where they are hunting fairly well, know the owners of the land and if there are trails present, they should know they shouldn’t be hunting from those trails and should have a good understanding of their whereabouts in relation to the trail network. But again, as a bicyclist in the woods during Hunting Season, you gotta assume all bets are off to stay safe, and it will be that one bad actor who creates the confrontation. (That’s not a dig against Hunters, but I’ve had some run in’s in the past that left me wondering who the heck taught them anything let alone anything about firearm safety…). And out of all the things I have run in to in the woods over 25+ years of riding in the woods, the majority of the time it’s not been Hunters. I’ve spooked all sorts of wildlife from deer, to fox to bobcat, moose, black bears, and pretty much every critter you can imagine (White Tail’s are high on the list and I let them know their hiding spots are safe with me). They’re just as startled as I am and ironically just as curious. But they don’t want any piece of me and we go on our separate ways.

Here’s the first thing you want to do during Hunting Season: Adjust your ride time so that you’re not in the woods when Hunters are in the woods. Speaking with some friends who hunt (I do not), most take to the woods early in the morning or later in the day (say around 4/5pm). Here’s some additional information on times. Me? Well I’m an end of the day type rider and love to get out between 5-7pm which happens to kind of be prime time for hunting in season. So with the lack of light also in the Fall/Winter, I’ve taken to adjusting my ride time to a lunch time ride. I’ve never really been a morning rider so no troubles there. So you want to think about adjusting your time if you typically go out at peak hours for hunting so you minimize your exposure. Let me repeat that in a different way: During Hunting Season, you need to minimize your exposure to potential conflict or run-in’s with Hunters. Also, when you are riding and you hear shots fired you need to be aware of the direction that the shots are coming from and be cognizant of this. During hunting season, you just can’t go out and ride like it’s business as usual. You need to be aware of your surroundings and be ready to adjust the ride based on where you are and where hunters are. I do this constantly (yesterday’s ride I had something planned out but actually adjusted my ride because I knew there were hunters close by the area I had been planning on heading – the trails are pretty vast here which helps for my options.) But having a heightened awareness of location is a key factor to staying safe.

Next, and most important, is your kit. Blaze orange is the go to end all / be all color. I’ve always liked a vest and of all company’s Under Armour makes some really nice blaze orange hunting vests. Specifically this vest (which I own). I actually modified mine and eliminated the side mesh panels to tighten up the fit. The large bellows pockets are great for stowing extra layers, food and gear too. But I’ve recently settled on a blaze orange vest made by Giro – it’s insulated and windproof with a really great neck design specific for cycling. It packs really small and weighs nothing but also is an insulation layer when temps dip.

Layering is key in the fall, and I’ve found my 80’s/90’s florescent jerseys are back in vogue but make really great matches for the blaze orange vest – this way if you do get too hot and have to take off the blaze, you’re still coated in florescent. Since pretty much all my bikes are black, I’ve also gotten into the habit of picking brightly colored water bottles, and I found this shop sells orange! Thanks Swallow Bicycles! That little bit of extra orange on a all black bike helps to make you pop… if the florescent wasn’t already.

Moving past the blaze and florescent, layering is the way to go in the fall. I’ve taken to bibs because in the fall, the bib helps to insulate the back end of your lower back. Some times, I’ll wear 2 jerseys and a vest in the fall as one is too little, but a jacket is too much, but a vest and 2 jerseys is just right. You can also deploy a little trick I’ve learned over the years which is a tried and true insulator which I like to call the “Over Under” Method. So you put on your jersey first, then your bibs on top of that. Yes.. bib OVER the jersey. You just tucked in your jersey. Now put on your armwarmers OVER top of the sleeve. Now put on the second jersey and vest. Pow-you’ve got a layered, over-under seal. No air leaks or exposed skin to chill. If you take off your vest, you still look “cool” for the self conscious crowd. If you take off the jersey, put the vest back on and no one’s knowing anything.

My shorts are an older set of Sugoi’s but they are a bit on the thicker stouter side which helps knock off wind. I usually use knee warmers when temps dip below 40 degrees. Some like to use them when temps dip below 50 degrees. Pearl Izumi’s get the job done for me in a fleecy inside for a little added extra protection (same for the arm warmers). I also like knickers too, and Outdoor Research makes a nice set here called the “Ferrosi 3/4 Pant”. I typically start to wear knickers when the temps are in the 30’s and 20’s but that’s getting out of fall and into winter… Some times, I go a step further and add a wind breaker vest below the insulated vest just in case I get too hot but still need to shed wind. Sometimes I even take off the florescent jersey mid ride and put that over the windbreaker vest – that’s the thing with layering. You can strip stuff off and then even reorder what you brought. Takes some time, but you stay warm and safe at the same time and what you want to be is visible. Wool socks, mid calf specifically, are the best ones I’ve found from Smartwool. Cool in the summer, but warm when wet in the winter. If you do take a dip on a cold day, take your shoes off, take your socks off and wring the socks out and get your feel dry. Put the socks back on even though they are damp and things will still stay relatively warm, but much more warm if you did not wring them out. It’s happened to me.

Gloves I like full fingers I’m typically good till about 30 degree’s, then I have to wear something more substantial. If your finger tips do get cold, stop, put them under your arms or even better stuff them down your pants into your groin area. That’s one of the warmest spots on your body. Let them warm up sufficiently and you should be good to go for a long time (I’ve found my hands get cold first, but if I warm them up like this mid ride, I’m fine there on out).

Helmet? I like a silver helmet since it’s a light color during bug season (the bugs dig dark colors), in sun it kind of reflects heat. Under the helmet, I wear a cycling cap (Chuey!) to keep me warm. You lose 70% of your body heat through your head, so protect the noggin’ and you’re keeping warmer longer.

So in summary, what you really need to do to stay safe during hunting season is first and foremost to minimize your exposure to Hunters. They wait all year for that once chance so be a friend and adjust your ride times accordingly. I pretty much never encounter Hunters after doing this. I hear them but most times I suspect it’s “target practice”. Wear blaze orange and layer up with florescent! There’s actually some stylish options out there now and even hunting vests have gotten a bit more “fashion forward”. When I was younger, it was “Wow, that’s a florescent orange vest…”. Now it seems things are more considered and it’s more along the lines of “That’s a nice vest AND it’s orange!”. Anyway, no reason why you can’t be out in the woods if you know the rules, are aware of your surroundings and if you do happen to bump into a Hunter, introduce yourself, comment on the beautiful weather and ask them if they’ve had any luck. One question I always ask is which way they are headed and then adjust my ride and trails to take me in the opposite direction. Even if words are exchanged, keep to the high ground and keep your cool. No sense in escalating anything since both you and hunters are outside to have fun and enjoy the day. Be safe and enjoy Hunting season on your mountain bike.

*My own opinion being that gun rights, or gun control or what ever you’d like to dub it is an incredibly complex issue that does not have a silver bullet as a solution. Having lived in both rural communities and taken to the big city for close to a decade until returning to a rural community, there is a huge difference between how a firearm is viewed in both of these communities. Thus, good sound legislation regarding background checks, sale of guns, etc. from the Federal level needs action which includes regulation on the sale of fire arms and ammunition whether you are a mom and pop sport shop all the way up to a global manufacturer of fire arms. Better training and education for Law Enforcement needs action to better understand and interact with their public they are supposed to be serving. Health Care, especially Mental Health Care, needs to be bolstered and made more affordable as well as available to all those in need. Education from an early age to demystify guns and their use needs to be implemented so that on all levels we have support, education, understanding and laws in place that help to establish minimum requirements that are required for all. This is not just a state issue. It’s a national issue. Understanding all these issues and stressing action on all these fronts in a cohesive plan is key to a conversation to make headway on this rather complex issue.