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Documenting this Rider’s Transition from a Trek Fuel EX9 to a Canfield Brothers “the One”

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I was pretty bummed that I had bought the wrong bike. More than that, I’d travelled across the western United States on my anniversary (yes my wife is that cool) because it was the only medium Canfield Brothers “the One” that I could find for sale in the west. Rare bike. Limited opportunity. And I’d even test ridden it in the guy’s cul de sac. Should’ve ridden it in the mountains near his house! was what I was thinking as I pedaled up my local climb with 7+ inches of front travel squishing with each pedal stroke and my knees feeling uncomfortably close to the bars.

But, as other people had testified that this was the light dh bike that could actually climb, and people my height (6ft) said the medium was good if you like a smaller rig, I went all in. I forced myself to forget how things used to be by selling my other mountain bike, a Trek Fuel EX9 (had to replenish some of the house downpayment fund I’d used to get the Canfield. Again, yes, my wife is that cool).

And after one month and a 20mm stem change, I love this bike like no other steed I’ve ever owned.

Yes I instantly lost almost 3 minutes on a regular 18 minute climb- the bike is at least ten pounds heavier and has more travel than anything I’ve ever owned before. But it does climb like a stubborn goat, and I ended up loving riding it so much that I’ve gotten in the best shape of my life and ended up crushing all my uphill times from my xc bike days. Yes I still have visible bruising on my right butt cheek from getting thrown sideways due to a pedal strike on a downhill three weeks ago- it has a lower bottom bracket than anything I’ve ever owned before, but that low bb makes for the best “in the pocket” feel I’ve ever experienced on a downhill. And yes, at first, when I hit road or xc stuff on my way to the real dh, it felt like the slack front end was a chopper that wanted to flop to the side at the slightest provocation making me doubt my purchase. But man… you point that thing downhill and lordy oh lordy. Sweetness ensues.

What I have found is that regardless of the fact that I have to work a little harder for that peak, I should’ve been riding this “downhiller that pedals” as soon as one was invented. This Canfield is so perfectly suited to my style of riding that I feel I’ve cheated myself for years. I’m 42 and I now feel like I’m in a rush to hit all the “big spots” before I don’t want to hit the big spots anymore.

If you’re at all like I was- on the fence about the type of bike you’re riding because you’re looking for a bike that slays the downhill, but you have to be able to pedal up your local steepness… spend no more time thinking. You love to jump and huck the bike off stuff? Me too. Love to slide and charge down -45 degree slopes? Same. Go get that Canfield (the One has been replaced by the Balance which you can set up with 650s or 26” wheels). Added bonus was that I just took it to Skeggs for the first time and it was so, so fun on what turned out to be the flowiest xc singletrack I’ve ever ridden in my life. It was roller coaster smooth, with lots of rollers and poppers to get air on, and the One handled it beautifully.

One caveat: if you’re already the slow climber in your group, you might consider adding an additional riding day to your weekly regimen to offset the time you’re going to loose in the transition from the bike you should have been able to pedal well in the first place. Your buddies will wait if they’re really your buddies, but let’s not be impolite eh?

My mantra as I climb now is, “I give a *%$# about an uphill.   I give a %$&# about an uphill.” Which really is synonymous with- while a little more emphatic than- the mantra I’ve lived by for two decades: “I only ride up TO go down.”

The good thing is that now… I’m doing it on the right bike.

update: It is now one year later and I am now the proud owner of a Canfield Brothers Balance… the bike that the One morphed into in 2014. That should tell you what I think- after more than 20 years of mountain biking on other brands of bikes- what I think of the creations the brothers produce.

Crashing Blows

Crashes used to have 4 stages:

Stage 1. The “Ahhhhh crap” stage.

This is that moment when you realize you will be hitting the ground very hard, very soon.  Thankfully, time slows down under these circumstances so you can enjoy these little epochs like a scone with coffee.  Sometimes, they feel so long that, heck, you could go back for a refill, wait for a barista to go on break, return, and then make your macchiatto.  Case in point:  when I crashed yesterday- from clipping my pedal and getting thrown sideways as if I was riding side saddle on the top tube- I literally had time to think, This is taking a while… there’s grass swooshing under my butt right now.  This isn’t so bad.  I might come in for a soft landing. 

My train of thought was interrupted, however, by stage two.

Stage 2.  The impact.

The shock of the hit and sometimes, the instantaneous pain of it.  Sometimes the pain grows in the latter stages, but regardless where it enters the frame, I hate it (preaching to the choir, I know).  Comes in all shapes, sizes, lengths of lacerations, diameters of bruises, and depths of fractures.  You would think this would be the stage of the crash that makes me/us think about whether or not riding is really worth it.  To me though, it’s not so bad as the eternal second(s) of stage 1.

Stage 3.  The dust settling/body assessment phase.

Most crashes fall into the get-up-and-say, “&%#$ that HURT, but any crash you can ride away from is a good one I guess!”  Some crashes are get-up-even-faster-because-you’re-about-to-be-run-over-by-your-tailgating-buddies.  Still others force you to lay there regardless and figure out if all your limbs are working and in one piece (and whether or not you’ll be able to find your bike, let alone ride it home).  Pain- if it’s going to grow- usually does so exponentially in this stage.  Thankfully though, civilization is usually a mere ten to fifteen miles away at this juncture so as soon as you groan your way to your feet and wobble over to that poison oak bush that so thoughtfully snatched your bike out of the sky, you can climb aboard and forget all about your little meeting with the earth while pedaling merrily between bluebirds for the remainder of the ride.

Stage 4.  The recovery phase.

I don’t remember this being all that significant before I was in my thirties, but you can put that down to memory loss as I’m sure it’s never been fun.  Can’t sleep for the first few nights until things scab over, and the bruises seem to seek out marauding countertops and coffee tables to bash.  This joyful stage starts with hunting down a washcloth that will be ok to ruin since you’ll be “steel-wooling” your dirt-crusted abrasions with it.  But… give it a few days and usually we’re good to go; hopping back on our bikes.

Until we get to that point in our lives when we notice that frequently… we’re not good to go in a couple days anymore.

I remember the time I crashed on a little popper, coming down a fire trail in Briones a decade ago.  It was no different than any other minor crash and yet… it was.  Not AT the time, but rather FOR the time.  Or- more specifically- for the amount of time it took to heal.  I was 32 and after riding and crashing for pretty much my entire life (riding more often than crashing thankfully) I noticed one major difference after that one:  I had the same abrasions and the same bruises, but the sad change was the ridiculous amount of time it took my body to feel normal again.  Since that memorable crash at 32, I have been among the ranks of those riding studs who enjoy the distinguished 5th stage of crashing.

Stage 5.  The what-the-hell!-this-is-taking-forever! phase.

This usually starts two weeks into stage 4 and can last for a surprisingly long time.  Simply stated, crashing doesn’t hurt more as you age, it just takes more time to heal, so it hurts for longer.  What used to take a week or two to get over now takes three weeks to a month.  Two of my riding buddies (seen in the photo above) went down at the beginning of the summer.  It’s now late August and one is still on the mend, unable to ride, while the other was going so stir crazy, he hopped on his bike yesterday even though he was wearing a medical boot for his broken heel… and he’s the young’n in his mid-thirties!

So all you whippersnappers out there, enjoy your quick-healing years while you can because you’ll still love riding just as much in your 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and later.  The difference is that you’ll know you have the capability to do what you used to, buuuuuut… you might like riding so much you want to skip being laid up for a month or three.

And punching bluebirds in the face just for being happy while you wobble home bleeding is just not nice.

Crusted.

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When I dropped my bike off at the shop today, the mechanic looked at me like, Really?

My bike is dirty. Real dirty. All the time. Mind you, my chain is clean and if it makes a sound on a ride, it gets the treatment when I’m done, before I even walk into the house. But my bike? Crusted. It’s only when I bring it into the shop that I even notice (and I only remember as I’m wheeling it in and thinking, Ah crap. I forgot to wash my bike again).

I can’t be the only one. I mean, I ride… often. I’m never in race shape, but I’m usually riding twice or three times a week. In the twenty-plus years I’ve been hitting the trails, the mountain bikes I’ve owned- three GT’s, a Giant, a Trek, and my current Canfield Bros. “the One”- all lasted me years. Long enough to make me want an upgrade bad enough to drop thousands of dollars I hated to part with each time. And I punish my bikes. We punish them. I mean, it’s what they’re made for right? So can an admirable crust of earth hurt that much if each of my bikes have lasted that long?

If there’s a downside to mountain biking (besides the uphill… I’ve only ever ridden up for the express purpose of going down) it’s the amount of time an entire ride takes sometimes. Especially if you have to tack on a few miles of road before you hit your local spot or you’re driving to your destination for that day’s adventure. I realize for many gung-ho noobies (I was one once) and some weekend warriors, an all-day adventure is exactly what they love. I do too sometimes.  I would guess though, that most mountain bikers who’ve ridden for a long time, and many just in general, love the sport in a more subdued, subtle way and consider it a part of a full day, versus the crux of the full day. Anyway, after two to six hours of riding, the last thing I want to do when I get home is wash my rig. Especially when I’m going to get it dirty again in a couple days. So there it sits, much-loved but ignored when not in use, much like my unmade bed (which after a childhood of having to make it says something about nature versus nurture, or at least practicality winning).

Really though, I made it sound like it’s a conscious choice to not wash my bike and it’s not. It literally doesn’t cross my mind until I’m walking sheepishly into my local bike shop with my adobe-sculpture-on-wheels that I remember.  Do you remember?  Does it cross your mind?  Or did it used to, and you can recall the point in your life at which you said, “Ahhhh, forget it. I’m riding again in two days anyway.”  Or is your bike pristine, and I’m just Pig Pen on wheels?

I guess I wanted to apologize to all those mechanics out there who’ve had to break out the hammer and chisel to do me a solid. It is appreciated.

 Really.

Love Your Own Backyard

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I thought of writing this blog one day as I was ruminating on a phenomenon I like to call, “The downhill is always greener on the other side of the fence.” Lots of times, in Cali, BC, Utah and other places with loads of mountain biking options, we’re so blessed with quality rides within driving distance that we can develop a we-gotta-go-there habit at the expense of our jilted local ride.

I guess I wanted to be the voice of that local ride, since it can only whisper to us in a grassy susurrus and the occasional poison oak rash if we don’t ride it much. Me? I can beckon to you in the vociferous tones of SHOUTY CAPS to, “HIT THAT LOCAL RIDE!!!”

And regularly please. It misses you.

One of the greatest things about living and working in the San Francisco Bay Area, and before that Humboldt County and the eastern edge of L.A. County, is that I have been able to bike out my front door or classroom and within 15 minutes or less be riding my local spot. Some places were better than others of course, but they all, every one of them, granted you ways to achieve the stoke. In L.A. it was the crazy fast fire roads and the singletrack-laced foothills of Mt. Baldy that I loved. Marshall Canyon, Webb, and the rest of the cinnamon scented San Gabriels are stamped in my memory forever. In Humboldt, I was out my garage and dropping into the community forest, dodging giant redwoods and sliding down chutes that I probably wouldn’t ride anymore since I am no longer made of rubber. In the Bay Area, my local rides have been Crockett Hills, with its view of the delta and technical, hilly, short loops, and my current love: Briones. Actually Briones and I have had a relationship for the past twelve years. I was still riding here when I lived in Crockett since I could hop on the bike when my students were dismissed and I’d be climbing the crazy-steep Lafayette side within minutes. Are there better rides in L.A., Humboldt, and the Bay? Sure. But are our local spots just as awesome in their own unique ways? I would argue that when we add in two positive factors, then, yes. They are just as awesome.

Number one: it’s close. It’s our hood. Our neck o’ the woods. We can ride there often, find its secrets, get to know its sweet spots, and realize the ultimate truth of, “the more we know it, the more we love/shred it.” And number two (and this is the tough one for many of us because it implies effort on our behalf): our spots always have potential. And because of proximity, we can do something about that potential if we choose.

Take for example our favorite spots (if that actually differs from our local spot). At the very least, somebody cleared the trail. They saw the potential. Often times our favorites have jumps, rollers, berms, log drops… again, someone saw the potential and put in the effort. Has anyone put in the work at our local ride? If not, perhaps it’s our turn to see the potential and put in the work.

If you build it they will come you will ride it like a champ.

My local ride, Briones, is not kind to the out-of-shape. Especially on the aforementioned Lafayette side. I know this because I usually burn out on biking after about six months of continuous riding. I stop biking altogether for most of the winter (and put in some work while the soil is willing), then hop back on the bike in the spring and cry my way uphill for the next couple months. I repeat the cycle of falling in love with my bike, and Briones all over again every year. Wash rinse repeat. However… once I am in shape, having spent years exploring Briones, it always proves itself to be more than just Mount Diablo’s smaller, less-popular step-sister. It is the east bay’s quietly hidden mountain biking gem with something to offer for every style of riding. Does it top Demo Forest in Santa Cruz? No. But do I genuinely love riding in my “Backyard Briones?” Totally. Which is why you’ll usually find me biking there two or three times a week with the smile of stoke upon my face, rather than sitting at home, planning a trip somewhere else, subscribing to the philosophy that the downhill is always greener…

My dh is some quality green.