The Orbea vs the Kona

As I have mentioned lately, I am getting used to a new bike that I borrowed from a friend. My MTB, a 2013 Orbea Alma H20, tragically ended its useful life with a broken seat stay about a month ago. The borrowed bike, a 2013 Kona Big Unit, has been a blessing as I wouldn’t be able to do the upcoming races without it, but there have been some changes that I have had to get used to in making the switch. What follows is a breakdown of the differences between the two and my opinion of those differences. Although both are 29’er mountain bikes, they are far from the same. I’ll try to toe the line between explaining things so the layman can understand, hopefully without boring the avid cyclist with details.

For reference, here are a couple pics. First, my old ride, the Orbea Alma, setup with gravel tires for Trans Iowa last year, and my substitute ride, the Kona Big Unit setup pretty much how I’ll ride it on the OT100 and Wolf Creek 12HR races.

At the Trans Iowa 2016 finish

 

The Big Unit does Middle Fork

The single (see what I did there!) biggest difference between these two machines is the gearing. The Orbea had a triple crankset upfront and nine speed cassette in the rear for plenty of gearing options when climbing hills or zipping along on the flat sections. The Kona? One gear. One simple chain ring and a solitary cog mean that the climbs are more intense and the flat sections are sometimes slower. This completely changes the way

you can ride, potentially slowing you down on both the hills and the flats, but in the end I haven’t been that much slower. I find that without gears I am reduced to the minimum and left with no choice, I buck up and climb a bit harder than I would have geared. Comparatively, with gears I would just down shift because I could. It was easier. The drawback to the extra effort I end up using on the SS is that I can dig too deep too fast in a ride if I don’t rein in my exertion. I have had this happen a couple times and it is no fun. It won’t be an option for the OT100, so the plan is to swap out the cog with an easier gear. I’ll be slower, but it should be a more manageable output for 100 miles.

After the difference in gearing, the next big thing I noticed right away was the bars and stem. The Kona has handle bars that are 4.5″ wider than the Orbea and the stem is significantly shorter.

Skinny vs Wide bars

The wider bars are to give you a better lever when cranking up hills with only one gear. It just makes sense for climbing when you’re out of the saddle. With your hands spread out farther, you have a much stronger position with which to use your whole body to pull the bars from side to side while cranking down on the pedals. The shorter stem with the longer bars makes sense too for steering. If a longer stem was used with a longer bar,

you would have to move the bars farther to turn when descending, creating the feeling of a big lumbering beast. Imagine driving a bus with it’s huge steering wheel. Add a shorter stem and you get a faster reaction when steering, making the steering more like a sports car. At first, I hated this new setup. I felt like I had to really watch trees on either side of the trail because I was used to 2.25″ more clearance on both sides and the short stem made the steering feel too twitchy for me. Soon I got used to it and I am really liking the added power I can put to the system with my upper body on those long bars. Another advantage I have been told about is that with a wider bar, your chest is opened up more, making it easier to breathe. I’m not completely sold on that idea as the bars on the Orbea weren’t so small that my chest felt compressed when I rode. The interesting thing to do would be to swap out for wider bars on the same rig, wear a heart rate monitor and see if there was a marked difference climbing between the two setups. Maybe I will try that one day.

As I have continued to ride the Kona, I have also noticed the differences of the fork and frame as compared to the Orbea. The Kona has a carbon Niner fork vs the steel Salsa fork I had been running. The carbon is much stiffer, which does several things.

The stiffer carbon Niner fork

First off, you will hear people say that carbon eliminates vibration really well, despite its stiffness. I cannot say that I agree when comparing to the steel fork. The steel was very compliant and I never had an issue with vibrations in my hands or soreness. With the carbon I immediately noticed the vibrations and have had to get used to my hands getting some numbness and soreness in my palms. On the plus side, the stiffer carbon fork has made me much more confident on descents as I feel like I am feeling the terrain better. I think the steel fork was flexing so much that the feel of the trail was lost. It is certainly a give and take. In that same vein, the Kona, being a SS is built with a very strong rear triangle to transfer power well and stand up to much more torque for the long haul. The Orbea had a very compliant rear triangle, which was great for giving a cushy ride, but I feel like I lost a lot of power with the flexion in the frame. Once again, give and take.

Overall I must say that I am very pleased with the Kona thus far. I am enjoying the SS life and I love the sporty feel the steering, frame and fork give. Of course I am giving up a bit of comfort for those attributes, but so far I feel like it has been a good trade. When you add in the simplicity of not shifting gears and the reliability of not worrying about bashing a derailleur on something, it is a wonderful experience where you can just submerse yourself in the ride and enjoy the woods. And that’s the way MTB’ing was intended to be.

Getting used to the SS

**You will notice that I have started adding pictures to the blog. Historically I have had a terrible time uploading pics and in frustration, went with text only posts. I recently gave the extra effort to figure out what I was doing wrong. The result is hopefully a more pleasing experience for the reader. I hope you enjoy!

As I mentioned last week, I am learning to be a single speed MTB’er. At first, I thought it was crazy to go with just one gear. I could only imagine how much I would miss all those other options when it came time to climb. As I have gotten out this past week and spent some time on the SS, I have been pleasantly surprised.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Climbing hills isn’t easy with only one gear. I grunt. I sweat. I swear. Sometimes I walk. However, when everything is reduced to the minimum and you have only one option, you just do it. When I borrowed the bike from Matt, he said it well when I mentioned something to him about only having one gear. He said, “You may only have one gear, but you have three speeds- sitting, standing and walking.” Touché salesman.

I got out for 5 training rides this week. There were other rides on my commuter bike around town, but those are just chill and I don’t keep track of them. My mileage hasn’t been what I want it to be, but it is what it is. On the bright side, I’ve been consistent and my knee isn’t giving me problems. That makes life pretty good in comparison to some of the issues I have had over the last couple months.

My rides through the week were close to home on the 7 mile MTB trail at St Joe State Park. For the weekend, I have made a point to get out and go ride other stuff to keep things fresh. If all I do is ride the same thing over and over, I get bored with it.

My plan had been to ride Berryman Saturday. It is a 26 mile loop that incorporates a portion of the Ozark Trail on it’s west side, which will be part of the OT100. I figured doing that portion of trail would be good prep and I love riding there. I packed everything up and headed out Saturday morning, feeling good about the day and excited to hit the trail.

The 45 minute drive was wonderful as I enjoyed the warm late summer air and the windows down. When I turned up the road off the highway to get to the Berryman trailhead, I started getting excited. It had been awhile since I was last out there and I was looking forward to some alone time in the woods.

My excitement waned when within a quarter mile of the trail head I started seeing cars parked along the sides of the road. There was probably a couple hundred cars parked in and around the trailhead parking lot. I saw someone walking along the road and stopped to ask him what was going on. He informed me that there was a 100 mile trail run being put on. He said there were over 100 racers, but he encouraged me to go ahead and ride. He said the trail was still open and there were 4 or 5 MTB’ers already out on the course. I decided to change my plan and go somewhere else. I wanted some alone time and hated to go out and potentially disturb some runner’s groove.

So with Plan A out, I took some sweet backroads and headed for an impromptu Plan B.

Sweet backroad chill

My backroad destination was the 32/DD trailhead of the OT for some Middle Fork section action. I figured I would be alone. Most every time I drive by that lot, there is not a soul to be seen. Much to my surprise I saw some Noah kit when I pulled in. It was none other than teammates Adam and Chuck out for some sweet single track.

Adam!
Chuck!

After some small talk, I got ready quickly and we all pushed off together, heading south on the trail. Not only are Adam and Chuck faster than I am any day, on top of that they were on full suspension geared bikes. I let them know I would likely be sucking wind on the climbs and not to wait for me.

I hung with them for a couple miles, even up the first big climb. Once the second significant climb came along, they started getting away from me. It was all good as I really just wanted to take my time, get used to the SS and enjoying the day in the woods. Once I was alone, I found the ‘third gear’ of SS on some climbs and hopped off to hoof it. I stopped here and there to grab a few shots for the blog.

Beautiful creek on Middle Fork
The Big Unit does Middle Fork
Middle Fork
Middle Fork

He was camera shy

Due to my changes in plan and location, I was pressed for time and I turned back at Hwy 49, about 8 miles in on the trail. On my way back, I ran into another guy I know, Anatoli. We chatted for a few minutes and I then rolled on back to the car. I ended with just shy of 16 miles for the day, which was way short of what I really needed to be riding, but I needed to get back home as we had plans for the evening. Despite the shorter mileage, it was a great ride and a great day!

Time to switch gears

Last Friday evening, I traveled about 40 miles north to Festus for an event sponsored by Team Noah, the racing team I am a part of. Festus has their annual town fair, Twin City Days and our team put on the Moonlight Ramble, a simple little three mile bike ride to get the community involved and out on their bikes.

It was our second year putting the ride on and it was a resounding success! We had a great turn out and it was a blast. Especially the little guys and gals that came out. There was one little girl, maybe 4 years old, who had just learned to ride without training wheels two weeks before. She was a trooper and rode the whole way on her tiny bike, climbing a hill that several adults got off for. It was so cool to see her intensity as she worked that bike. Gotta love budding love of cycling!

This little lady rocked it!

After the public ride, four of us from the team (myself, Adam, Ian and Matt) gathered up at Matt’s house and went out for a short night road ride. It was so cool to get to ride with the guys as I don’t normally get a chance to do that, being that I live over an hour from the majority of the team. We enjoyed the cool night air and chatted the whole way.

After the ride, we hung out on Matt’s patio for post ride pizza, beer and a general good time. Of course the topics of conversation revolved around bikes- what was new on the market, geometry preferences and upcoming rides. Along the way, I told the guys that I didn’t know what I was going to do for the OT and Wolf Creek as I had broken my MTB frame the week before and didn’t have anything lined up for a replacement. Immediately they all offered that I could borrow a bike from one of them! I was floored.

After realizing that they were serious, we quickly fleshed out that I couldn’t borrow from Ian as he is several inches shorter than me and his bikes wouldn’t fit. Both Adam and Matt had bikes to offer, but being as we were at Matt’s house, he had one right there to try out. I went home that night with Matt’s Kona Big Unit. It was setup single speed, but my intention was to gear it for my races. I was stoked!

On the drive home, I thought about the bike and how I would set it up. Mental calculations mounting, I had a crazy idea. What If I just road it single speed? I had a little bit of experience a couple years ago riding a SS a few times. Was I ready to do that? I drove home, went to bed and slept on it.

The next day when I woke I thought about it over a cup of coffee. That was it. I decided to give it a go. Worst case I could ride it SS for a few rides and if I didn’t like it I could set it up geared.

Busy on Saturday, I got up Sunday and did some maintenance on the Kona since Matt hadn’t ridden it in awhile. I had to refresh the sealant in the tires, switch out to my pedals and put the rear cog on, as Matt had removed it for another bike while this one was stored. Once I had it fixed up, I loaded up and headed out to ride some Ozark Trail.

In the end, I had a really short ride due to time and running into Jim Davis at a trailhead. He was out cleaning trail in preparation for the OT100. He and I chatted quite awhile and then hiked in to clear a couple trees that were supposed to be there, but weren’t. Someone had taken care of them and not reported it. Once back to the car, it was too late for me to get anymore for the day and I just went home.

In the short few miles ridden, I got to do a few good climbs and had no issue making the single gear work for me. I did expend more energy in those climbs that I am not used to. It is too early to make a judgement, but I may go to an easier gear ratio and swap out the rear cog for one with a couple more teeth. That said, I love the simplicity and lightweight of the SS setup. There was so much less to worry about. No need to be concerned with that stray stick that could get in a derailleur. No bother from having to change gears. Just pedal. It was cool! I am excited to keep working this platform and take on the OT in a new way.

I would be remise if I didn’t mention again just how cool it is to have great folks to be involved with on Team Noah. I can’t thank you enough guys and especially Matt! Thanks to you I will have a ride for the upcoming races. Bring on the OT and Wolf Creek!

Here we go again

Drama. I’m really not a fan. It makes for interesting TV, books and movies, but nobody says they want drama in there life. We hate it when we have ‘that’ friend. Something is always going on with them. We think, “life can’t be THAT hard, can it?”

The positive things aren’t an issue. We want positive drama, but not so much the negative. But is a little bit of negative really that bad? It’s that old adage that we have a better appreciation for the ups because we went through the downs. If only the swings from positive to negative can be held to a slight chop instead of huge waves it helps.

Well, I have been dealing with a bit of drama over the last month or so. First it was the fact that I was way behind on training with two upcoming races. Positive drama happened and I got to training. Things were great! Then I hurt my knee. I spent three weeks nursing the knee and dealing with my drama downturn. But wait! Things swung back up last week when I got on the bike and realized the knee was performing better than expected. Life was back to good!

Toward the end of my MTB ride last Saturday I noticed the rear wheel felt a little squishy a couple times. I actually thought I had a flat at one point. I glanced down and saw that the tire was plenty full, so I kept riding. When I got back to the car I grabbed the rear wheel and noticed some side to side play. I assumed the cone nuts had managed to back off a bit and the bearings in the hub were a little loose. It was time for a bit of maintenance.

Although it was Labor Day weekend, our schedule was a bit full. One thing lead to another and I pushed my bike maintenance to the back burner. Monday evening I decided to take care of it. I pulled the wheel off the bike and almost immediately Jeneen hollered saying supper was ready. I quickly gave the hub a once over and noticed that everything seemed fine. Curious, but it would have to wait until after dinner.

Dinner came and went and I didn’t go back to the bike. Tuesday morning, I walked past my bike in the work stand, glanced over and I shuddered. Where the seat stay met the seat tube the frame was broken. Not just a little crack, but completely broken in two. How in the world did I not notice this?!?! I suppose that when I was sitting on the bike, my weight kept the tube together and somehow I didn’t have a catastrophic crash. That is certainly the bright side of it all.

The down side? I now have to replace my MTB frame. I am working on a warranty claim, but I don’t know that it will be accepted and it isn’t likely to go through before the OT100. Even if it does all go smoothly and I get it done before then, I REALLY need to be riding a MTB over the next three weeks to prepare for the race, so waiting for the warranty is not a good plan.

In the interim, I am looking for a way to replace the frame quickly that won’t cost me a fortune. Worst case scenario, I won’t have a bike and I won’t be able to ride the OT100. At first I was rocked by that, but now I’m ok with it. I don’t want that to be the case, but it certainly isn’t the end of the world. With things like hurricanes, flooding and rampant wildfires taking people’s homes and lives around our country, I have no place to complain. When I put the last month in that perspective, I’ll take a broken bike frame and a bum knee. I have it pretty good and bikes are just stuff.

 

 

Knee pain, recovery and a return to the saddle

Three weeks ago yesterday I went for a run and ended up with a significant injury to my right knee. I hobbled slowly home, thanking my stars that I had only made it a half mile away. Right away I began eating Ibuprofen like candy and icing my knee about every hour.

The first two days I couldn’t walk and most of the first two nights I couldn’t sleep because of the pain. There was no position I could find that would work to get comfortable. I was miserable and planned to go see a doctor if things didn’t improve the next day. I really didn’t want to do that because my health insurance has a very high deductible and frankly, I couldn’t afford what I figured the doc would want to do. I was pretty certain that I had a meniscus tear and the first thing would be an MRI, followed by some sort of orthopedic surgery. If I could figure out some way to avoid that, my daughter could continue to go to college and we could eat. That would be nice.

On the third morning, I swung my legs off the side of the bed, stood up and the pain was much less. The reprieve only lasted an hour or so, but that gave me enough light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel to think I might just be able to make it without a $7000 financial hit.

Slowly over the course of roughly a week, I got to the point that I could get around ok. Stairs were still a problem and I would have painful bouts, especially in the evenings, but at least I could walk. It was still frustrating though. I had big plans to do a couple events this fall, but beyond that, I just wanted to be able to get around and ride. As time wore on, I was beginning to think that I would have to get used to a new normal of no riding or hiking, unless I wanted to buck up and go see an ortho.

By the end of the month, I was in pretty poor spirits. I was able to walk around fine in normal life situations, but I still struggled with stairs and had little confidence in my knee overall. One evening in the last couple days of August, I took a short walk- about a half mile. Later that night my knee throbbed. How could I get back to normal if I couldn’t even take a little hike? I just wanted to get back to my normal activities.

In the last week of August, I saw that the local bike shop had scheduled a group MTB ride at a trail just outside of town. I had a great desire to go, but the idea of getting out of the saddle to climb hills and using my legs to work the descents seemed improbable. I couldn’t imagine my knee holding up to that with the way it felt. I spoke with a few guys around town about it and made the assertion that I would try to go. As the week went on, I was pretty stressed about the idea of riding. I didn’t want to set myself back any more.

Friday evening, I decided to take a simple road ride. I would try out the knee and see what it did. If I made it through and still felt ok with it the next morning, I would try to go on the MTB ride. I did a super easy 11 miles on the road bike that evening, staying in the saddle the whole time and keeping it to the little gears. Much to my surprise, I felt really good. No discomfort in the knee. Could there be hope?

Saturday morning I woke and got ready. My plan was to start with the group and hang in the back, only doing what I thought I could. I would try to keep it in the saddle and small gears to keep the pressure down. I met the guys at 8AM and we headed into the woods.

I was super pleased that there was a guy there who never rode MTB before. He is an older gent who rides road with us regularly and he wanted to try out the trail. Of course, he was very timid and went slow, walking many parts of the trail. I hung back with him and thought it was working out perfectly for me. I had no reason to try to keep up with the others!

I took the chance a couple times to gently get out of the saddle, just to see how it felt. I was surprised, but the knee felt fine. Next was a few pedal strokes standing up. No issues. I even took a shot at climbing out of the saddle on a short climb. Once again, no problem. My confidence was starting to return.

After about a mile, the noob friend decided to bail. We were right next to a local paved bike path and he thought that was his best bet. I tried to convince him that he just needed to keep riding, but he felt very unsure and just wanted to get on the blacktop for a spin. I wished him well and latched on back of the group, as they had stopped to wait for us.

I kept it pretty simple for a time, but slowly tried to add a little more effort to the equation. Each test was successful and gave me more confidence. By midway through the ride, I was taking a few shots at full on power and climbing some hills of the harder hills out of the saddle. It felt so good to be moving and not hurting!

Here I am two days later, still feeling good about the knee, when cycling anyway. I’m not sure why, but although I still feel unsure in certain circumstances, like climbing or descending stairs, the cycling seemed to have only good effects on the knee and and pain I have felt. I am super stoked to get back to riding with a cautious eye on the joint and see how things progress. There is no way for me to be ready for the OT100 in just 30 days, but I will do what I can and see how I feel. If I can stay pain free riding some longer distances over the next few weeks, I figure I can give the OT a go. I’m good with a bit of suffering over the distance as long as the knee has its integrity. Stay tuned for updates as I prepare for my fall races!