Process 111 Swan Song & Trans Cascadia Tech Talk with Team Rider Spencer Paxson

Kona team rider and endurance/backcountry specialist Spencer Paxson reports with an in-depth bike & gear check as he preps for the 2017 Trans Cascadia, a renowned 4-day blind format, backcountry enduro event taking place somewhere deep in the mountains of Oregon’s Willamette National Forest on September 28-October 1.    

Just as my 2017 event season began in April with a mountain bike stage race (Pisgah Stage Race in North Carolina), it will conclude in October with another multi-day mountain bike event – the coveted Trans Cascadia, a 4-day blind-format, backcountry enduro race through Oregon’s Willamette National Forest. It’s the sort of event that eager-beaver MTB folks save up for all year in their piggy banks and vacation hours in order to capture a gourmet, catered, well organized wilderness experience with friends, and the remarkable autumn riding conditions unique to the Cascade Mountains.

After a 2-month mid-season break from travel and competition (“parental leave!“), I’m looking forward to representing at this special event – a showcase of trail stewardship, eco-tourism, high-level competition, and plain old good times riding bikes in the woods. One of the special aspects of this event is that it is the impetus and fulfillment of reviving forgotten Forest Service trail networks, expanding high quality recreation resources and bringing them back into the fold for others to enjoy. See a more in-depth write-up from our friends at Pinkbike.

In keeping with the inner geek in most of us mountain bikers, below is a rundown of the gear I’ll be taking along, and my rationale for using it. As I’ve said of previous gear-related posts, hopefully you know to never listen to a sponsored professional, as they never provide unbiased advice…;)…but they do come from experience…

The 2017 Kona Process 111 w/ Team Spec – size Large. Indeed this will be the swan song for this trusty steed, as the new Process G2 platform (released earlier this month), is bringing on a new generation of trail machines well-suited for events such as Trans Cascadia. From my perspective as a team rider, the new bikes are better off selling like hotcakes and going into the hands of Kona customers asap…me, I’ll get my turn eventually.  In the meantime, lets give this horse one more good run through the mountains.

I am 5’9.5″ (1.75m) but with a relatively long torso, so the reach of this bike (475mm) suits me well, especially in a gravity & speed-oriented scenario.

I balance the long reach with a short stem (35mm Pro Bikegear Tharsis Trail Stem), 740mm bar (Pro Bikegear Tharsis Trail), and a 46mm fork offset (MRP Ribbon 130mm), which provides 5mm longer mechanical trail compared with the standard 51mm offest.  In my experience, this combination provides a pleasant balance of quick steering axis with slightly increased high-speed stability and consistency through corners.  It’s a bit different than my XC race bike setup, but not wildly different (see other post on the 10,000-meter ride setup on Hei Hei). I keep a grip with WTB’s Padloc Commander grips (30mm diameter). Shimano XTR M9020 Trail brake levers can handle a bit more abuse than the light M9000 brethren, plus the additional stopping power and reduced fade is noticeable. Those brakes are using a 180mm rotor in front and a 160mm rotor in back…and metallic pads in the calipers for longevity.

Critical to any “long” bike setup (or really any MTB, for that matter) is a dropper post, ideally one that drops all the way to the seat collar. Back on the handlebar, I run the small KS Remote lever on the left side pointing downwards so my thumb has easy access while the rest of my hand stays safely positioned for handling and braking. I run the KS Lev Integra paired with a WTB Silverado saddle on top.

Suspension – The front end is held up by MRP’s new Ribbon fork, highly adjustable and reliable, which I’ve enjoyed to great success across a diverse range of trail conditions, from marathon XC racing to aggressive trail riding. The rear end is held up by FOX’s Float DPS Evol shock.

This fork is set at 130mm. I weigh around 155 pounds (70kg) hydrated without riding kit. For fast riding I typically run a firm sag around 15%, with the positive chamber filled to 95 psi (~10psi higher than factory recommended for my bodyweight) and the negative chamber filled to 102 psi or just under 110% the pressure of the positive chamber. I have the Ramp Control knob set to 14 (2 clicks from fully “ramped”), rebound at 11 (from closed), and low speed compression is a quick flip switch at the top right leg, which at this firm setting stays open most of the time. This setup works for me because it feels very supple and progressive, and for my riding style works well for moving proactively along the high-speed, velvety, high-traction conditions of many of my favorite trails in Washington and Oregon…but of course may take some tweaking once we get to these new trails at TC.

I run around 25% sag in the rear with the custom Process factory tune from Fox.  This works out to 142 psi with rebound set at 10 clicks (from closed) and the compression switch flipped to “open” most of the time. Again…this may need to be adjusted for the conditions in Oregon.

Wheels and Tires – WTB tires and wheels go round and round.  Given the blind format racing, I plan on needing extra braking traction on the front end of the bike to keep from flying into the woods on unfamiliar turns, which is why I’m likely going to run the 2.3 Vigilante, Tough Casing, Fast Rolling compound.  It’s a bit heavy (1140g) compared with the next option, the 2.25 Trail Boss Light Casing Fast Rolling (795g), but the extra grip and security may be worth it.  We’ll see.  In the back I’ll run the Trail Boss.  And depending on conditions, either dual Trail Boss if it’s not too rough, or dual Vigilante if the skies decide to open up. Tires are mounted to the WTB Ci31 29″ rim, laced to Shimano XT hubs.

Trail Boss…a bit less bite than then Vigilante, but this casing option is significantly lighter and may be the ticket for speed on the balance of climbing and descending.  It treated me well on the 10,000m Challenger High Epic back in June.

 Tire pressure will be a day-of decision based on trail surface and conditions, but in general have been running anywhere from 18-21psi, typically the same front and back (weight distribution shifts to either balanced or more weight on front of bike while riding aggressively down). I think about “system weight” for tire pressure…bodyweight + kit + bike.  Though I weigh around 155lbs (70kg), my system weight is closer to 190lbs (86kg).Drivetrain – An MRP 1x V3 chain guide keeps things in line aboard the Shimano XTR/XT drivetrain, with 175mm XTR M9020 cranks, 36t ring, XTR M9000 rear mech, and XT M8000 11-42 cassette, and XT M8000 chain.  The front chainring size certainly isn’t for everyone (nor is anything on any bike, for that matter, all setups are individual!), but I prefer it because 1) I have the strength and power to push it efficiently, 2) there is slightly less chain-wrap around the ring so it feels a bit better and wears less in the muck, and 3) I can keep a bit more tension on the chain as it spends more time in the smaller-interval middle cogs in the back (15-17-19-21) …and if I need to cover lots of ground at a very high speed, I don’t spin out as quickly. Pedals are XTR M9000 pedals…with fresh cleats after a long summer of riding!

I spend the majority of my bike time in the more fitness/endurance-oriented world of XC, marathon, and cyclocross, and since 2012, a power meter has been an important training tool.  I use a Stages power meter mounted to my XTR crankarm in order to collect performance data from training and competitions so that I can be more efficient with training for a specific discipline, tracking progress and managing fatigue along the way.

The ride kit will include the following items tucked into a High Above Designs Lookout hip bag, and a Barrier Micro seat bag by Blackburn Designs:

CLIF product (Bars & Bloks) in a 1/2 size screw cap “snack can”; Sawyer water filter & 1L bag (there’s time to stop and refill in putt-putt enduro biking); tire plugs for quick fix + 2x spare tubes 27.5×2.3 w/ tire lever, filled by Blackburn SL Mini Pump w/ CO2 backup; emergency whistle, space blanket, compress & quik-clot, plastic baggie /w NSAIDs + antihistamine just in case; zip ties, spare der. hanger, Blackburn Wayside multi tool for a good fix; iphone + GoalZero battery pack.

Off the trail…Though Trans Cascadia will provide tents and sleeping pads a generally posh setup, I’m still planning to travel with my go-to quiver of Kona Adventure Team gear. After all, this is a backcountry adventure.  You never know what’s going to happen!  Tents from Eureka, sleeping systems by Klymit, bags and camp wear from Mission Workshop, backup camp food from Mountain House, cookwear from JetBoil (in case we need some midnight snacks), and gear bags from Blackburn Design.

Over and out for now…