Thursday, April 21, 2016

Mixed Terrain or You Only Need One

Yesterday was an unofficial bank holiday in San Francisco. Since that usually means getting around the city turns into a big old charlie foxtrot, I took the opportunity to get outta dodge and fill up on good clean California dirt.

Obviously Marin County has a lot of good places to ride. Unfortunately that also means that on days like this the popular spots are overflowing with Rapha wearing throwback Oakley types, so I headed south towards Pacifica and beyond.

The great thing about the Bay Area, is it's not too difficult to escape the city on your own power. Hop a train and climb over the first mountain you come to and you'll find there's not a Dropbox shirt in sight. Pacifica is one of those classic Norcal burnout towns. There's a definite hardcore surfer vibe to the place, which helps to counter all the positive vibes from the hippie crystal shops. But in general it's a chill longboards and flip flops kind of scene. Vanagon pop tops outnumber permanent residents.

The great thing about this ride is it's about 50% offroad, so for singletrack addicts like me it's not a miserable hammer fest. The flip side of that is you can't get away with riding a skinny tire road bike if you want to get rad.

And that brings me to my main point. I'm privileged to have a couple bikes to choose from, but in reality I would be perfectly fine riding the same bike every single day. "How can you say that?" "Don't you work for a bike company?"

Bare with me now. Yes, Soma makes lots of different bikes, and yes they're all designed for different kinds of riding. However, if you compare all the bikes in our line with products from Cervelo or Santa Cruz it becomes apparent that they're all closer to the "all-rounder" unicorn than they are purpose built for any particular racing discipline.

For instance, the Smoothie (our "road race" bike) has fender eyelets. How many race bikes even fit 28c tires? You might argue that the Smoothie is in fact more of an enduro road bike to whit I would respond "Who the hell cares what you call it?"

You can always slap a pair of Shikoro tires on and roll pretty confidently over all kinds of marginally paved surfaces. Conversely, you can put 42mm Cazadero tires on either of our hardtail frames and end up with a totally functional offroad touring bike.

Of course there are compromises. You may well get less rolling resistance with 45mm slick tires. You might have better mud performance with a 32mm cyclocross tire. But, we feel that the 42mm Cazadero offers the best overall ride quality for true mixed terrain routes.

For example, I give you the Old San Pedro Mountain Road, aka Planet of the Apes. This is one of those magical abandoned places that reminds you that everything that man has built will fade in the blink of an eye.

This old road predates the recently re-purposed Devil's Slide road that connects Pacifica with Halfmoon Bay. Parts of the route remain mostly preserved, the pavement intact and exposed. Other sections have completely eroded away so that the single dirt high line is all that remains; bordered by jagged rock face on one side and open space on the other.

The road is absolutely rideable on a "skinny tire" cross bikes. No problem. Lots of people do it. But finesse is key. Coming down the trail like you would on a fully suspended MTB isn't going to work so well in the drops.

The trail winds it's way further inland as you climb up through eucalyptus forests and emerge onto windswept ridge tops. For every crest you're rewarded with photogenic vistas and cool breezes blowing up from the Pacific far below.

There are a lot of decent tires that are made for this type of riding. Panaracer, WTB, Maxxis, Kenda and even Surly have good options at reasonable price points. We think the Cazadero is still the very best option for our neck of the woods, because of rather than in spite of the compromises we chose to make when we designed the tread pattern.

An aggressive tread like the Bruce Gordon R&R works fine on loose terrain because the gaps in the tread allow the tire to bite down into soft dirt and conform to irregular rock faces. However given long miles on tarmac it becomes apparent that the soft rubber also creates a fair amount of drag and wears prematurely.

Conversely a file tread like the Teravail Cannonball rolls faster on crushed gravel but fails to afford enough cornering traction on steep, rocky descents.

For the Cazadero we chose to use a connected center tread, roughly equivalent to the width of a road tire's contact area. Inflated to 50-60 lb, they have surprisingly little rubber touching the road, and consequently feel much faster when going flat out in a straight line. Once you air down to trail pressure it feels more like any other mountain tire.

Soma has been working with Panasonic tires for ages, and we are big fans of their classic tire designs. The Fire XC is actually my all time favorite cross country tire, and the first tire I ever bought. Like the Fire CX and XC , the Cazadero employs a reversible tread design which is optimized for steering performance in the front position vs. traction and acceleration in the rear.

We also used a similar side knob design which bites into the ground when you lean into an off camber turn. The knobs are staggered to shift the weight from the sides to the center as the wheel roates forward.

Circling back to my original point; with the right component selection almost any of our bikes can be optimized to suit the riding style of any climate. The Doublecross, Saga, Wolverine, Buena Vista and Grand Randonneur all fit 42mm Cazadero tires with room to spare, but we know you'll probably want to play the field. Pretty much anything made by Panaracer will treat you nice.

Given that you really can get away with riding one bike all the time, then why do we make so many different options? Fair point. I think the Wolverine is so popular because it leave the door open to so many possibilities. But even so, the Saga does a better job with fully loaded panniers, while the Double Cross has more traditional CX geometry. Some people prefer the added junk clearance of the Buena Vista, and not just ladies! While low trail geometry is far from common for offroad bikes, the GR can certainly handle a bit of trail riding as many owners have discovered.

 There's no wrong answer. The good thing is you don't have to choose just one. I have 3 slightly different drop bar touring bikes and I ride all of them. Square footage is precious around these parts, but if you're lucky enough to have a garage then you probably know exactly how many bikes you can fit in it.

Regardless of what kind of bikes you're into you will undoubtedly appreciate the freedom of just walking out your front door and seeing where the road takes you. We're spoiled living where we live, but let me tell you I've lived all over this country and there's always a spot nearby just waiting to be explored.

For you that might mean riding a few blocks to a city park and hanging out on a blanket. Or it could mean 1500 feet of climbing. Or it could mean taking the next 3 months to cycle to the tip of Baja. The point is just ride your damn bike.

If you live nearby, or you plan on visiting California in the near future you can always rent a bike that's already equipped for  where you want to ride. My friends at Best Coast Biking just started a new company for exactly that reason. Check out their video while you're there.

The Devil's Slide is now a closed bike path with some of the most incredible views of the Pacific ocean anywhere. And  you can take as many selfies as you like without worrying about getting run over by a truck.

This route is definitely demanding, so I wouldn't recommend it for your first time out. But there are so many good rides around here. Just check out one of the great bicycle touring resources like Adventure Cycling and Pedal Inn or just ask your local bike shop peeps where they ride.

Hang loose y'all.

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