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Huntsman “Super Trail”

Chris's Huntsman "Super Trail"

When we first moved to NH in 2006, the very first ting 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 through 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 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 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.

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Huntsman 1×11 Build Check

Huntsman 1x11

A few weeks ago, the New England Builders’ Ball was approaching and right around the same time I had budgeted some time in the build list to rebuild a new Huntsman for myself. So planets were aligned and it was time to churn out a new prototype with a few new features to test out and have on hand at the Builders’ Ball to speak to. Some of the features on the previous prototype were tests on certain techniques and standards and since then, I’ve been building each one very similarly based on what I learned from that previous build. What I was finding was I’d show the bike then speak to how I would build it differently than what people were looking at which wasn’t necessarily misleading, but made for a tough conversation. So part of this build was actually to update things so I could speak to those specifics and why they are built the way they are built. Standard features seem to be room for 40mm tires, subtle sloping top tube, 44mm head tube to accept a tapered fork and “future proof” the frame, derailleur cables routed down the down tube, internal cable route for the rear brake, ISO 51mm rear disc mount and standard issue deeply curved and formed seat and chain stays.

The big things I wanted to try for myself were 12mm T.A. front and rear for this rig which in essence can be raced as a cross bike but more or less, the Huntsman is the original “go-to” do everything bike really designed with ripping dirt roads and jeep roads in mind. Back in 2005 when we moved to NH, it became abundantly clear that a traditional road bike with 25mm skinnies just wasn’t going to cut it. With the vast network of dirt roads here in NH, I needed something to get me out there and back again and thus the Huntsman was born. It just so happens that the trend towards Gravel was getting hot and this coincided with me building my first Huntsman a few years before it became a “trend”. So slightly ahead of the bell curve by chance! But I wanted this latest rig to reap the power transfer of thru axles that I learned by building around those standards on my mountain bikes. Front 12mm TA:

12mm TA

Rear 12mm TA:

51mm ISO

My only gripe about the recent trend towards thru axles on the road side of things was the decision of the industry to go 12mm TA vs mountain’s 15mm TA. You’ll note that I am technically running a pair of mountain wheels so I had to machine a set of end caps that were 12mm and fit the slots of the ENVE CX TA fork. I still can swap out end cap kits and use this wheel set on my mountain bikes, but it would have been really nice if 15mm was used throughout mountain and road for redundancy and simplicity (and less standards to comply with). But, the industry went 12mm front, so we have yet another standard. About 1-2 hours on the lathe and I was in business with 2 custom machined end caps of which to date, I9 did not make (and they make A LOT of end cap kits!). Paragon Machine Works rear thru axle was drilled out to lighten it up a tad and PMW fittings are used throughout the build as always (Head Tube, Bottom Bracket, Dropouts and Braze-on’s).

I also wanted to try out an XD driver set up on this next build for a really wide range 1×11 to reap the benefits of that 42t cassette cog:

Big Cassette...

What’s nice about this gearing is I have a relatively high gear but when the hills get steep I can sit back and just pedal almost like a true granny and the 38t x 42t combination gets that job done nicely. I feel like I have a really good range at both ends of the spectrum now and with my lower back showing some age.. that just means less stress and strain on me. That’s can’t hurt and I’ve noticed my recovery time as I age slowing down. But that doesn’t slow me down so this is a good set up!

Wolftooth’s Dropstop chainrings get the job done up front and Shimano’s XTR pedals are the only way to go (I also noticed that the cleat locking mechanism is treated differently than the XT versions making the release a bit smoother and snappier. That comes into play on longer rides for me I noticed and the effort to unclip to take a breather takes less effort when my legs are tired.)


Ti Nitride treatments were deployed for the head and seat tube badges on this rig to hook up with the gold decal kit on flat black powder. Lucky No. 27 is a homage to my Grandfather Thomas Peter Henry (aka Poppy). That was his number way back when they didn’t have face masks and the helmets were still leather. Just a nice personal touch to remember his spirit…

Ti-Nitride Head Tube Badge

Lucky No. 27

I work in subtleties and it’s all about the details for me. One of those is the careful attention to the seat stay bridge, the curves and how they mirror the shape of the tire and lend to extra heal clearances. Form and function merge as one:


Other details on all the builds now include the Made in NH decal with a Perkiomen Broad Point, one of the first arrowheads I found a kid. This is a specific point to my region in Pennsylvania where I grew up. But I wanted the symbols to represent my new home as well as my own – thus the Made in NH X Broad Point. A marriage and nod to both homes.

Made in NH

Another detail is the “Swear to Shred” Motto decal.


Small tool roll for spare and minimal tools rounds off the build:

Selle Italia

Changes to the drivetrain along with big changes to the axle configurations make round out the biggest adjustments I made to the bike. Geometry wise, that’s all dialed in from the previous version so no changes were made there and depending on use, I will tweak those numbers from client to client (mine is 70.5* HT Angle, 73* ST angle, 2.75″ BB Drop). One change I did make for this build was to add a touch more length to the chain stays for more tire clearance and a bit more stability but more so for tire clearances (the other version was built around 35mm tires but could just fit 40’s, so I wanted to add that bit of extra length and build the bike based on the 40mm standard). All in all this build is pretty dialed in. And it’s black… I kept kicking myself for not getting the other version in black. So it goes. Back in black!

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TA or QR?

It's all in the Details

A while back, Shimano and Fox teamed up to create the 15mm TA standard for suspension forks. (EDIT: More to that point of history, check out this article over on NSMB from 2010.) Up till then, Rock Shox had pioneered the 20mm thru axle, but these forks were really biased towards the freeride or DH segments. Shimano and Fox teamed up because there was a need for a fork that was both light and stiff, but not necessarily as stiff as a DH fork and certainly not as light as a XC racing rig. I like to call this a “Mountain Bike”. Remember those?

So before all this 15mm TA business happened, I was still riding 26″ mountain bikes, and I was running a Rock Shox Revelation. 1.125″ steerer and a 9mm quick release hub. Out of curiosity, I found a lightly used Pike with a 20mm TA. Luck would have it my wheel set was sporting a set of DT Swiss / Hugi hub set and the front hub could be converted to 20mm TA with the swap of the end cap kit. That first ride kind of changed everything – not just from a performance stand point regarding the fork, but from a stiffness and control in tech stand point. The front end just stuck to the line I aimed it at… This changed everything.

After our move to NH a few years later, I found myself curious about the big wheels. 29″ wheels that is. New to the area, I also did not have any clue where any of the single track was. 29″ wheels made perfect sense: Build up a bike that could carry some speed and those big 29″ wheels could handle dirt road and trail duties without sucking the life force out of me as 26″ wheels tend to do on long spans of road. I found a Surly Karate Monkey frame/fork, built it up as a single speed and began exploring. Rigid is of course fun, but suspension is even more fun. So once again, I found myself with a Rock Shox fork beneath me but it was a QR version (I don’t think Thru Axles had totally come into vogue “just” yet? They were present, but the hook hadn’t been set, yet.). Right around this time I also found myself looking over Ted Wojcik’s shoulder every friday and we built a frame together as I had drawn it. A great learning experience and a bond of friendship was forged too. But I recall the hubbub that abounded when Shimano and Fox introduced their 15mm TA. Yet another standard was created when there already existed one. A trend in the cycling industry that seems to be rehashed over and over again! But, all this new technology getting thrown around aside, some things stick while others fall away. The ones that stick typically are the ones that make sense in the long run and have a clear performance advantage.

Fast forward and I’ve built out the shop and have begun building bikes under the name 44 Bikes. Experimenting with different tube sets, tube diameters in combination with 44mm head tubes and tapered forks/15mm TA’s, it became crystal clear just how much of a performance advantage these new suspension forks had over the old ones I had ridden for years. Brake induced fork flutter was pretty much gone, that washy feeling under hard braking in corners was pretty much gone, when I pointed the bike at a line of tech, the bike responded with a lot of confidence and control… Etc. Etc. And etc. I was sold. Quick releases on a suspension fork were out. Thru Axles were “THE HOT SET UP”. Check it out. A little weight penalty yes, but that old quick release just is dwarfed by a Fox 15mm TA:

15mm TA / QR 100

Manliness aside, the connection that a thru axle brings to the table is a solid one. Which brings me to the subject at hand, and the recent uproar of “talk” regarding thru axles and road bikes. What I want to speak about is more on the mountain side of things primarily and draw parallels that show how the performance of certain set ups can be improved. Way up there at the top is technically my 7th mountain bike prototype. It sports a QR 135mm rear. I love this bike. But with the advent of 12x142mm TA’s for the rear, and having ridden one on my single speed due to the ease of swapping the dropout inserts made by Paragon Machine Works, it has become clear (once again) just how much of a performance advantage a 12x142mm TA in the rear can offer. Power through the pedal to the rear end is incredible. On a steel hardtail, I “thought” this would translate to a really stiff rear end. Quite the opposite once out on the trail. The stiffness actually translates to power transfer (according to my opinion) and on longer rides the resiliency that steel is known for is still there all day long. But the thru axle further triangulates the rear end and kind of ties the two dropouts together in a way that creates this solid, power transfer system. Here’s one of the business sides of the old QR 135 setup:


One thing about this set up is when it’s in combination with disc brakes. If the QR isn’t tight enough, under heavy braking, the wheel can become slightly ajar or come out of alignment in the dropouts. So you gotta keep that QR tight (not gorilla tight) but tight none the less. On a TA, you can get them tight, but just tight enough by setting the adjustment of where the threads engage (Shimano’s set up). The thru axle still has a cam of sorts on the end so you still draw the two dropouts towards each other. But since the axle goes all the way through and is encapsulated by the dropouts, even if the TA is slightly loose, there is just no way that wheel is coming ajar. You’d have to physically unthread and pull the axle halfway out for that to happen. So there’s that factor to think about. Here’s the business end of a TA on my latest prototype which replaced the one above:


I know I’ve heard some talk about repeatability of alignment between wheel sets with wheel swapping and quickness of swapping wheels. Those two things I kind of view as marketing hype. For one, each hub manufacturer adhere’s to their own set of guidelines for tolerances. A “plus or minus” of a given measurement. I’ve had two identical hubs from the same company that both would require a subtle adjustment at the disc brake caliper – just a simple realignment of the caliper. They still worked, but the rotors rubbed on one wheel while it did not on the other. The whole quickness of wheel swapping I see like this: With a TA, you must unthread the thru axle, then pull it all the way out, set it down somewhere for safe keeping, or hold on to it in one hand (and make sure no dirt gets on the thread if you do set it down), then drop the wheel out. On a quick release wheel, you flip the QR, loosen the nut a few turns and pull the wheel out. Hence the terminology: “Quick Release”. So you could argue there is an extra step with a TA that requires you to remove the thru axle while a quick release remains in place. This is splitting hairs though, I know that. But both can be done quickly and painlessly by a skilled mechanic or an experienced rider. The clear advantages are in the performance attributes spoken about above when it comes to power transfer and reliability of alignment under heavy braking long term when in combination with a disc brake set up. And for your viewing pleasure, here’s what both a QR 135mm looks like next to a 12x142mm TA:

12x142 TA / QR 135

When translating this over to the road and especially dirt roads with loaded bike packing set ups, and your bike is sporting disc brakes, there are clear advantages. Traditional caliper or canti-lever brakes and thru axles? Not sure there is a real, quantitative need there? And it’s more to do with where the applied braking forces are in relation to the wheel honestly – on a traditional Canti-lever or caliper brake, the brakes are being applied from both sides of the wheel – on a disc brake set up, which is asymmetric, you’re applying brake forces only on one side and it’s more likely to “pull” the wheel towards the disc brake side and hence the need for something a little more stout at the connection point: The axle. (There’s physics there, of which I vaguely recall from college and high school… Something to do with axis of rotation and applied force with relation to the axis of rotation – I’m no scientist apparently, but I think we all get the basic take away.) From a builder perspective, there is little room for error when building a thru axle compatible fork or frame. But from a user stand point, I can see where a more solid connection through a triangulated rear end of a bicycle which is loaded down with a bike packing set up will allow for more power through to your pedal stroke creating more efficiencies with less power loss. Each pedal stroke over 100, 200 or 1000 miles plus adds up. And if you are going the distance, each pedal stroke matters with forward motion. Or have a quick release loosen up on you or not be tight enough with a loaded touring set up with disc brakes? CX Racing set ups with disc brakes with greater power transfer? These are clear performance advantages. Small ones, but like any system, it’s the sum of it’s parts. All these little things add up. Shave some weight here, add some stiffness there. Again: it all begins to add up.

Are thru axles here to stay? Yes, they are. The bigger question however is where do the belong? Just like the whole DH segment vs the Trail segment where the question becomes “Just how stiff does stiff have to be?” you need to ask yourself just how much performance do you need and if you are running disc brakes or cantilever brakes, how solid of a connection do you need. Either set up be it disc or cantilever can be handled with by a quick release. They’re light, they’re simple and they’re not broken. But if you want just a touch more performance and want the self assurance of a more solid connection, the a thru axle may be the right set up choice for you. Personally, I think it all comes down to your set up, what kind of terrain you’re riding and how you’re riding. This starts to paint a picture of your needs and requirements for your build. These are the questions I ask myself with each client: What are you riding? How are you riding? What do you need? Those same questions you should ask of yourself when choosing your set up and deciding if disc brakes make sense and with disc brakes do thru axles make sense.