Spencer Paxson

Hard Tales, Light and Fast, The Tools for 140-km of Slack-Country Shredding

What do you carry for big rides in your back yard? Here at Kona, exploring the rituals of “the big ride” is an evolving year-round job, and perfectly fitting to our Kona Adventure Team, to whom the term “off season” does not apply. No matter the time of year, our riders are ever scheming, ever exploring, and ever testing proof of concepts for outings that touch just beyond the realm of…sensibility.  Plain old, no-frills, leg-torching, trail-devouring good times. Consider this early winter: while Barry Wicks may be single-speeding down the coast to then paddle across the San Francisco Bay and then climb to the top of a mountain and back, Cory Wallace is 4-days deep and 15,000 feet up in the Himalayan backcountry getting charged by angry yaks. Meanwhile, emerging from “paternity leave” in the Pacific Northwest, Spencer Paxson is blithely linking together a series of backyard mountain trails to see just what is possible to get done in a day. Here, Spencer checks in on his tools for one of his recent outings, a 140-km (90mi), 5,000-m (16,000ft) vert mountain bike ride across seven summits above the Salish Sea. Read on for tidbits on his bike and setup, and a few notes from the ride.  For more details on the ride itself, be sure to check out Spencer’s blog.  

The Tool for the Job: Honzo CR, size Large. For long distance days with a mix of steep, technical, satisfying trail and long “transfer” sections (think big climbs), the Honzo has been my steed of choice, particularly in winter time.  I appreciate a return to the hardtail any time of year, but especially after a summer of riding primarily full suspension on increasingly dry trails (either the Hei Hei Race or Process 29). Once the trails get slick again and force a re-education of every line, the hardtail forces, for me, a deeper “tune-up” to my skills. Lines that worked so effortlessly in the summer time are suddenly way harder by virtue of the slime, and if I have to re-learn the terrain again, then I might as well get to the core of it and ditch the rear squish.  With that mentality, why don’t I just go full ridid singlespeed, you ask? Well, I am bit of a sadist, but I like to stay reasonable…

Light and fast: For long rides, it’s important to “bring the picnic“, as they say. I like to balance the load on and off the bike. For these long “slack-country” rides, a pitstop is usually feasible, and the ride starts and finishes at home, so there’s not need to carry an extensive backcountry kit.  Still, for a full day out, efficiency and preparedness still include sufficient hydration, calories, and safety precaution. Experience, terrain and weather conditions all dictate the limits to how “sleek” you can go. As for my own testing, I’ve used a combination of MTB stage racing and multi-day enduro racing to hone my “slack country” kit.  It includes small carry devices on my bike (totaling about 0.75L), and the rest on my hips, either in a snug-fitting 3-pocket XC jersey, or a fanny pack. Above is the kit that worked for me on the most recent sadist ride, where a friend and I put together our own “7-summits mega-enduro”: 90 miles and 16,000 feet of descending (and climbing >;) across seven mountains in our back yard. A 3D recap of the ride is below and the title is full of inside jokes, so don’t ask. As for gear geeking, game changer items for me have been mini water filters (Sawyer Water Filter) and freeze-dried backcountry food packs (Mountain House Foods, Adventure Team Sponsor).

Pedals to round and round: With all of the options available, and with all of the varying concepts of a “big ride”, gearing is a personal preference. For the last two years I’ve been running a Shimano drivetrain. On this particular setup, XT 175mm cranks and 34t chainring up front paired with an XT 12-42 cassette and XTR derailleur in back. For enduro competition I typically run a 36t and will vary the cassette depending on terrain and surface conditions.  I ride almost exclusively clipped in, primarily for the pedaling efficiency provided by stiff-soled trail slippers.  Go-to kicks for me have been the Shimano XC7 shoe paired to the XTR M9000 pedals.

Sip, sip: A bottle half-full at all times, or as much as possible. I keep a bottle with mix on the bike for ‘quick-grab’, but also carry a collapsible water pouch (at least 1L) on my hips, and fill as a reserve using a mini water filter…or a stop at a gas station.

Traction control: Okay, so a little suspension is prudent.  We Adventure Teamers have been running MRP suspension for the last two seasons.  The new Ribbon has been a fantastic fork, highly adjustable and, more importantly, very reliable for huge days. The biggest single day I have done on my MRP ribbon is 100 miles and 33,000 feet of descending, and my hands didn’t hurt…so that is evidence to me of a few things, including the fact that the suspension is doing its job.  Ground contact has been the WTB Trail Boss 2.25″, either light or heavy casing depending on how fast I need to go. And if it’s sloppy, I throw a Vigilante 2.3″ on front, or both front and rear.

As for a snipped of the latest ride…

Relive Lazer Heavy and Dr. Wetzel, the Bear Meat Entree or How Logan Earned His PhD

View my ride Lazer Heavy and Dr. Wetzel, the Bear Meat Entree or How Logan Earned His PhD

It was a good day…

Me (left) and co-conspirator Logan Wetzel of Transition Bikes all smiles afterwards.

2 for 2, Thoroughly Gnarly, Totally Balmy – Spencer Paxson Checks in from a Weekend of Kona’s Backyard ‘Cross Scene

Barreling down through the mud and the snow at the ever raw and rugged Cascade Cross Series. Photo: Matt Curtis

Team Rider Spencer Paxson checks in from a messy weekend of local cyclocross action in Kona’s back yard in western Washington. While our cyclocross superstar A-Team of Helen Wyman and Kerry Werner tear up the international and national ‘cross season, Adventure Team rider Spencer has been keeping his racing craft sharp (and flying the Kona flag high) at the epicenter of Washington’s cyclocross scene.  Spencer claimed back-to-back wins amidst brutal conditions, one aboard a Private Jake, the second aboard our new Super Jake. Read on for a brief recap and on how you can get your bike to look this good.

It’s not always pretty!‘ That’s what I thought as I pedaled back home after Saturday’s race at the Hannegan Speedway in Bellingham. Round #3 of the Cascade Cross Series.  It was 33 degrees, squinting as huge flakes of snow pelted my face. We had just spent the last hour racing through a horrifyingly muddy yet amazing track on the outskirts of town.  I kept the pace up to retain the dwindling warmth in my extremities. I could feel the thick mud caked across the front of my clothes begin to stiffen and freeze.  ‘Even after all these years…it’s remarkable that we do this kind of stuff.‘ But that’s part of the point, perhaps.  The bewilderment combined with the exhilaration keeps you coming back for more because it’s all just a mystery. Or maybe that’s only for crazy people like me…

‘Squish, squelch, squash, plosh’ – the real sounds of ‘cross. Photo Matt Curtis

But finally, cyclocross conditions worth reporting on! Until this past weekend, each race I had done was warm enough for bare arms and legs.  This weekend was deep, deep in the opposite direction.  One degree above freezing, with snow and rain mixed into a marrow-chilling breeze, as if there were such a thing as cold steam.  And hundreds of bike riders keeping the mud churned all day long.

Cascade Cyclocross promoter Kip Zwolenski marveling at the carnage from Saturday’s course. Photo Matt Curtis

Sunday’s race brought me south to Tacoma and Round 5 of Seattle’s flagship MFG Cyclocross Series.  I’ve been in a hot (now cold) off-season “battle” with friend and fellow Bellinghamer Steve Fisher for the series overall this year. Of course, I’m sitting second, and all statistical analysis points towards me sticking in that spot (the perennial Bride’s Maid!). But on Sunday I edged closer with a win (Steve wasn’t there). It was not without drama, however, as shortly after the start, while taking a strange line with a big bump, I dropped a chain and fell to dead last.  Ever experienced from weathering setbacks, I was able to slither my way through the field, back to the front, and hold a lead through the pelting snow and claim a discreet victory…it was snowing so hard, I don’t think anyone could see.

“Snow-Aero” – It was coming down so heavy during the MFG race on Sunday that a thick coating formed on the leading edge of all surfaces. After an early mishap, Spencer fought through these conditions and the field to take the win.

lofi cross

Crappy picture? “That’s the point,” said Spencer. In conditions so wet and cold that fingers could barely work to use cameras, “a crisp-looking ‘Insta-perfect’ shot just wouldn’t do it justice.” Here channeling his inner Erik Tonkin and Team S&M spirit, thus loving the conditions.

Stay tuned for more updates from Spencer’s “B-Team” cyclocross action, and some even more unappealing “off-season” activities.

Lost Trails Found, Trans Cascadia 2017

An adventure in the woods. Rustic trail. Real fast. Part race, part revelry, part trail stewardship, the Trans Cascadia is all about uncovering ancient trails, creating a valuable resource for those who like to share good times amongst friends going self-powered through the woods on two wheels.  Our own Adventure Team rider Spencer Paxson takes us inside a distinctive journey to the Old Cascades of central Oregon as part of the third annual Trans Cascadia, where he partook in four days of riding racing uncovered trail.

Daniel Sharp

A long time ago, before any so-called mountain bikers roamed, a wide web of trail was built in these here hills…the Old Cascade Crest…in a land called now Oregon.

Trails once upon a time meant to move through the forests in order to skirt the flanks of fearsome mountains, to be with the land and to trade things like huckleberries. Later on, to move wagons and pack animals, or to spy forest fires. Eventually, trails just to have trails, to experience nature, and move through the forests. 

Leslie Kehmeier

Eventually the trails were lost, or forgotten. Signs marking the way had become one with the trees, and the path through the forest was no longer.

Mike Thomas

Until, one day, a party gathered in the woods to uncover these old trails and clear their way through the forest again.

Dylan VanWeelden

“Mountain bikers”, they were called. These new trail stewards, those who value a certain way of going through the forest. Many came to rebuild, and then the rest came to ride the handiwork.

Mike Thomas

The goods are best when shared, yet kept secret enough. Undisclosed until the night before, queue cards are handed out in camp and studied under headlamp.

Mike Thomas
Nate Johnson

Like the operators of the old Santiam Wagon Road, the hosts treated their people very well and looked to every detail to make their stay comfortable. Much food is prepped for 100 people spending five nights in the forest. Special ingredients are added to stave off the inevitable loamatosis, which afflicts those who consume lush trail with such gluttony.

Nate Johnson

…and after dinner ceremony, neon dance revelry…

Mike Thomas

…and after neon dance revelry, neon sleep in the woods ritual…

Lyden Trevor

…and come morning, the wheeled stables bring the steeds and their riders out the paved road and on to the primitive trailhead.

Chris Hornbeck

The ride begins along an old way through the forest. The trail is barely perceptible through the thick green moss. Walking.

Mike Thomas

A delicate balance across the creek to the next path. No pole vaulting required, just bike balancing.

Mike Thomas

Eventually out of the thick forest and up into the mid-alpine meadows, kept open long ago for living and hunting, the trail is barely perceptible through the golden grass. Old stone cairns mark the way, and clouds float.

Chris Hornbeck

Across misty, huckleberry-strewn ridge tops they go.

Leslie Kehmeier

As the descent becomes ever closer, the excitement builds.

Mike Thomas

Dropping down through the fiery fall foliage.

Dylan VanWeelden

Travelers were obliged by the swiftness of the trail to join in a train of shred. Unlike covered-wagon routes, these trails are as serpentine as possible.

Shimano

The author foot out, flat out

Mike Thomas

A section of trail ripe with Loamatosis shredarensis

Lyden Trevor

Airborne, peak sustained speeds in the section: 33.6 mph

Leslie Kehmeier

Returning to covered-wagon speed, back uphill again, across the next section of the pass.

Mike Thomas

Trail snacks galore since 1873…

Dylan VanWeelden

Along the Old Cascade Crest…

Mike Thomas

Really, it was like a dream. Repeat.

 

Joe Lawwill

The author and his steed. Spencer ended up 7th overall aboard his 2017 Process 111, snagging a few 4th & 5th stage placings across 16 stages in four days, and over 25,000 ft of descending. Check out more of Spencer’s outings on his blog, or follow along his Instagram account @slaxsonMTB

 

 

 

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…

What It Takes to Climb 10,000 Meters in a Day on a Kona Hei Hei

Uphill. 10,000 meters. 32,000 feet. It’s become a bit of a theme for cyclists to base their attempts for higher heights on the world’s highest mountain – Everesting, they call it – seeking to climb 8,848 meters in a day.

Long time Kona rider Spencer Paxson, always the geographer, sought to base his attempt on the deepest depths of the ocean: the Challenger Deep, part of the Mariana Trench at more than 10,000 meters.

On June 24, 2017, taking advantage of the maximum daylight of the summer solstice, Spencer set out to ride the Challenger High with his trusty Kona Hei Hei.

Head over to Bike Mag to read the full feature written by Lacy Kemp with photos by Paris Gore.

Spencer Paxson Enters the Pain Cave and Climbs 10,000m (32,000ft)

Spencer Paxson will remember Summer Solstice 2017 for the rest of his days. A silly little idea of his came to life, to take his Hei Hei DL and make an attempt at 10,000m vertical ascent and descending between first and last light on the longest day of the year – or the equivalent of climbing out of Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench. Why? The reasons are many, but celebrating the arrival of parenthood (soon!) and an even bigger adventure was at the top. Thanks to Paris for documenting.

To put that in perspective that’s climbing to the top of Whistler Bike Park and doing six and half laps of Top of the World or riding up and doing 28 laps of A-Line… WITH NO LIFT!

Look for a full report to drop on Bike Magazine soon

Photo: Paris Gore

Kona Endurance Team Completes Epic Rides Triple Crown, Spencer Paxson 5th Overall in Series

This just in, Spencer Paxson set out to climb over 10,000 metres in a day on the longest day of the year. Check out his Instagram stories while they’re live for the next few hours, and read on below for his report on this year’s Epic Rides Triple Crown…

Words by Spencer Paxson.

Yes, I still own a skin suit! Amidst all of our backcountry adventuring, we members of the Kona Endurance Team have also been busy doing some good old fashioned bicycle racing. Last Sunday saw the conclusion of the 2017 Epic Rides Off Road Series in Carson City, Nevada.  The three-race series began in late-April through the cactus of Prescott, Arizona, the slick rock of Grand Junction, Colorado in mid-May, and wrapped up under the hot blue skies of the the Sierra Nevadas.

Painface on a knobby-tire breakaway for two laps before being caught by the pack. Photo by Brian Leddy c/o Epic Rides

I can speak from experience that within the realm of endurance mountain biking, the Epic Rides Series has come to be the most distinguished race series in North America, attracting the entire tribe of top-ranked endurance racers this side of the Atlantic (and in some cases a few Europeans, too), all vying for a piece of the prestige and $100,000 prize. This year I managed to log consistent efforts and earn 5th overall in the series.

A podium finish eluded me this season, and snagging a top-5 overall admittedly had more to do with luck. I finished 9th in Carson City, and was a subpar 14th in the other two events.  Going into Carson City, a few riders in the top-10 were unable to contest the final event due to injuries, and there were some mechanicals in Sunday’s marathon that shifted things around even more.  Not exactly how you want to earn your marks, but then again, consistency and luck are a reality of the sport.

The Pro men start the Capitol 50 race Sunday morning. Photo by Brian Leddy c/o Epic Rides

While the racing is serious, one of the greatest things about the Epic Rides Series is that it proves how well-done events go far beyond the racing itself.  Each event consists of a 3-day festival atmosphere where beginners, seasoned amateurs, and the world’s fastest pros come together to enjoy mountain bike culture, live music and world class singletrack.  A pro fat-tire crit kicks things off on Friday night (it’s all about putting on a show!), followed by great music and beer gardens Friday and Saturday nights. Amateurs race on Saturday morning, and the pros race on Sunday. Over a thousand racers partake in the events, and thousands more come to watch and experience the weekend.

Barrington Levy headlined the music festival on Saturday, providing mellow reggae tunes for the crowd. Photo by Brian Leddy c/o Epic Rides

Each stop of the Epic Rides Series places a rewarding spotlight on its host communities, helping to promote community health, outdoor recreation and making a real boost to the local economy. As the Executive Director of the Carson City Visitors Bureau was quoted in the Nevada Appeal, “Epic Rides is more than just a good fit in Carson City. It has made an impact in our rebranding and we are seeing a dynamic change.” According to the Carson City Visitors Bureau, Carson City’s revenue in tourism increased 64 percent over the last four years, from $12.3 million to $20 million.

Racers take in a flowy descent on the Postal Run trail Saturday. Photo by Brian Leddy c/o Epic Rides

Out for food on Friday night, we noticed that several new restaurants and other businesses had opened up in Carson City since the first event in 2016 thickened their circle on the map.  Significant buy-in from sponsors and host cities provides the largest cash purse in endurance mountain biking (split equally for men & women) along with a strong media platform.  That in turn attracts major industry players and their top professional riders to participate in a world class set of events.

The momentum is unquestionable, and the series plans to expand in 2018 and beyond.  Meanwhile, Todd Sadow, President and visionary of Epic Rides, looks to support groups within the host communities to build and maintain trails of the Off-Road series. The fundraising goal in 2017 is $30,000, and 100 percent of the funds will go to repairing, maintaining, and expanding existing trail systems — evenly split between the host cities.

Proud to be keeping Kona Cog a strong presence at the Epic Rides events since their inception as a noteworthy pro-am series. Photo by Patrick Means

It is a great series to be a part of – as an elite-level racer, as a member of the mountain bike tribe at large, and as someone who appreciates the value of a healthy, local community.

Needless to say, I’m stoked to come back for an even bigger and better series in 2018!

In the meantime…time to head into the mountains.  Stay tuned for the next installment of the Kona Adventure Team’s “Cooldown Adventure”…somewhere in the mountains above Lake Tahoe…

Blazing through the streets of Carson City in Friday night’s street race. I nearly held off the pack for the win despite racing knobbies! After all, it is called a FAT tire crit.

The Kona Adventure Team, aka The Prairie Dog Companions and the Kokopelli Trail

Photos by Patrick Means.

No, The Prairie Dog Companions and the Kokopelli Trail is not an indie band name, but it probably could be.

Rather, it is the latest installment of the Kona Adventure Team, connoisseurs of two-wheeled outings, and their recent trip to the rocky trails of Colorado and Utah. There, they competed in the 50-mile Grand Junction Off Road, followed by a two-day, 165-mile ride along the Kokopelli Trail all the way to Moab.

Aboard their Hei Hei DLs (and one aboard a carbon Honzo), they endured hot sun, spotted dinosaur tracks, and fueled up on hot dogs. Read the full account as published on the front page of Pinkbike.

Long and rugged climbs through sandstone and desert sage give way to eventual singletrack and alpine shredding.

Nostalgia-Free: Pizza & Bikes at the 2017 Fraser Valley Mountain Bike Festival

Our Endurance Team is deep into the 2017 spring season and this weekend are in Grand Junction, CO for Round 2 of the Epic Rides triple crown. They’ll be putting their Hei Hei DLs to the test across the rugged terrain of the Grand Mesa. Leading up to this weekend, team rider Spencer Paxson clues us in on a fantastic event held close to Kona’s home in BC, with some special heritage dating back to Kona’s founding individuals. Stay tuned for more action from the Endurance Team as this weekend unfolds. 

Words by Spencer Paxson. Photos by James Lissimore and Scott Robarts.

Before there were trails at Vedder Mountain, there was pizza and mountain biking. The year was 1984 and it was the first “unofficial” Canadian MTB Championships, comprised of a group of cyclists from Deep Cove and the BFJCC, including the eventual co-founder of Kona Bicycles.  The winner was Alex Stieda, who would go on to become a 2-time Olympian and, in 1986, the first North American to lead to Tour de France.  The route began in Yarrow and finished near Cultus Lake with après celebrations planned at Beethoven’s Pizza off the Columbia Valley Highway.

Today there is still pizza and mountain biking at Vedder Mountain.  Beethoven’s has endured and the trails have evolved.  In fact, the mountain bike community in the Fraser Valley (Fraser Valley Mountain Bike Association) has grown in the last three decades to create a trail system that may be as timeless and pleasurable as a hot slice of pizza pie.  And so on the weekend of May 6-7, 2017, hundreds of cyclists and their friends flocked to the lakeshore for two days of mountain bike racing.  Day 1 was the Vedder Mountain Classic, a historic marathon cross-country race birthed from the original event held in 1984.  Day 2 was the Fraser Valley Enduro, a multi-stage downhill trail race and part of the more recent BC Enduro Cup and North American Enduro Tour.

During the post-race interview on Saturday, I was asked what is special about racing in this part of world.  My on-the-spot answer spoke plainly to the sense of fun, community and great trails that are so abundant in BC.  After the interview I had a further thought.  I’ve only been racing mountain bikes since 1998, around the time when the Vedder Classic went on a 16-year hiatus.  That said, I’ve raced all around the world since then, and have grown up with this sport and lived and breathed its evolution as a core participant.  What’s special about racing in this part of British Columbia is that there is no nostalgia around it.  The heritage and the heroes are still there, some are still fast as hell, all are still stoked, and some even share podiums with their children.  There’s no pretense to riding or racing here, no matter your skill level, and no need to waste time on reflecting on how it used to be, because in BC, mountain biking and racing just is.  It’s a f*@#% good time!

So, thirty-three years after the first event, it seemed fitting that a few of us representing the now globally recognized Kona Bicycles brand could collect a few accolades.  I took the win in the marathon XC ahead of rising star Rhys Verner in 3rd, long-time Kona Legend Kris Sneddon smiling from mid-pack, and second-generation Kona Employee and core newcomer Seth Cox.  On Sunday, young Rhys showed us all how the new-schoolers get it done with a top-10 overall in the enduro, while I donned my goggles-and-a-half-shell to earn second fastest overall time in the XC + Enduro combined.  It was worth a few extra slices from Beethoven’s, and with specks of Vedder’s loamy trails and pizza grease on my face, I headed home happy and ready for more.

Spencer Paxson Waxes About his 2-3 Finish with Kerry Werner at the Pisgah Stage Race!

Spencer Paxson and Kerry Werner went 2-3 at the Pisgah Stage Race on their Hei Heis. As usual, Spencer’s trip report is super thoughtful and interesting! Here goes…

Words by Spencer Paxson. Photos courtesy Blue Ridge Adventures and Icon Media Asheville.

If the Bible had been written in the Pacific Northwest, the expression “shake the dust off your feet” would go something like “scrape the moss off…” At least that was my thought as I hummed out of town in my moss-covered truck early one April morning for my first race trip of the 2017 season. It had been a long and wet winter in Bellingham. The longest in recorded history. I had let the legs go good and fallow since my last race in November, and then spent all of December off of the bike (on account of the snow). For the past three months I had been riding the magic carpet of loam on the trails around town to get back in shape. Now it was time to put it to the test and wake the senses from hibernation with a trip to the Pisgah Stage Race in North Carolina.

Needless to say, I was keen to get out and stretch my legs in the old crumbly Blue Ridge Mountains and rhododendron groves of western North Carolina. The objective was the Pisgah Stage Race, a 5-day humdinger of a mountain bike stage race based out of the town of Brevard. This would be the 9th edition of the famous event and my first time racing it. Along the way I’d link up with new teammate and North Carolina native Kerry Werner and the good folks at Tennessee Valley Bikes (TVB) in Knoxville.

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There was no lacking in fine Southern hospitality as soon as I landed in Knoxville. In no time I had tossed my bag into the back of a big truck and was driving down the highway with a Nikki Lane song twanging on the radio as the sun set over the Smoky Mountains. A big dinner of hole-in-the-wall Mexican food with Scott and Eric from TVB and the road warriors from Kona Bicycles Demo Tour had me feeling fat as a tick. With a happy post-travel coma fast approaching, I passed out that night to the sound of the local crickets and katydids.

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We shook our legs out at the Kona Demo Day at the new Knoxville Urban Wilderness trail system, followed that evening my some official pre-fueling at TVB’s new shop grand opening. Kerry and I were elected as chief judges for a “guac-off”. We sampled 14 different kinds of guacamole scoring on 8 criteria each, then topped off on street corn and sausages before bidding farewell to Knoxville and caravanning down the Blue Ridge Highway to Brevard. We weathered a flat tire on the RV and made it to the Pine Ridge campground and my first night in the Pisgah Forest. Just before midnight I had pitched a tent on a little grassy nook next the Davidson River with the blue light of the moon shining so bright I could read a book without a flashlight.

Coffee, pancakes, and NPR News in the morning would begin the routine for the coming week as Kerry whipped up a mighty fine breakfast before our first day pre-riding some of the Pisgah trails. The weather was looking prime, with sun and short-sleeve temperatures forecasted for the week, maybe a frogwash or two along the way, but otherwise uncharacteristically dry for spring. Despite the warm temperatures, the trees had not bloomed yet, and the only green in the woods was the dark evergreen of rhododendron groves. The absence of leaves gave the forest a brisk and flinty appearance. I kept an eye out for the famous white squirrels of Pisgah and imagined old-time Civil War era history as we rolled out to the trails.

“This one’ll get a little loose,” noted Kerry before we dropped into the first descent of the day. I had expected Pisgah to be rough based on the stories I had heard, but that said, I was caught off guard after four months of riding the luxurious loam carpets of Cascadia. Yes, our trails in Bellingham can get rough and wild, but there’s a nuance to everything. The trails of Pisgah are refreshingly raw, rocky and rooty, ungroomed and unapologetic. Riding fast here requires a smoothness akin to the prolonged vowels of the Southern drawl. Managing traction and speed are as different here as the accent. Fundamentals are the same, but the expressions don’t work without the subtleties. I felt like I couldn’t carry my speed if I had a bucket with a lid on it! Let’s say my Yankee rigidity would hold me back through the first half of the stage race, but I eventually adopted a smoother Southern style.

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Racing arrived soon enough, and on the morning of Stage 1 the air was abuzz as the crowd of 200 racers from 11 countries lined up for the 5-day, 140-mile journey. We plunged through an icy stream and into the rhododendron forests. A group of four, including Kerry, a local elite rider named Tristan Cowie, one Mystery European and myself, quickly separated from the masses and soon we were all seeing double as we navigated our way up and away into the forest. The battle was on.

Kerry was the defending champion of Pisgah and bringing the thunder after a career best cyclocross season in 2016, not to mention a long history as one of the top MTBrs in the country. Tristan Cowie was no stranger to the top-level of mountain bike racing himself, having been a regular on the US National Team in the 2007-2009 period. And as a local, he knew each of the trails like a tree knows its roots. The Mystery European turned out to be from Spain and was an ex-World Cup dominator. With fast conditions and good legs, we blazed through the stage setting a course record a whopping 20 minutes faster than the year before! Midway through, Tristan launched a perfect attack into a long descent, placing the Spaniard between him and myself. Spaniard’s skill going down was not as good as it was going up, and Tristan began to float away. I eventually snuck around Spaniard, but I wasn’t riding very smooth either, and though I was reeling Tristan in, there wasn’t enough of the day left to close the gap. I came in second on Day 1 by 19 seconds, a gap that would ebb and flow through the week. Kerry rolled in third.

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Meanwhile, Kona Grassroots rider Jena Greaser was dominating the Open Women’s category, and would go on to do so through the week. Jena is beginning to rack up impressive results, with a top-3 finish a few week’s prior at the TransRockies Moab Rocks stage race in Utah. Desert to Appalachia, she is a Canadian force to be reckoned with. In the Open Men’s field and just a possum’s tail behind us was Super Grassroots rider Cory Rimmer, a young and rising star from North Carolina. Cory put the hustle to the enduro sections like a fart in a fan factory and would go on to take second overall in the Enduro portion of the race.

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At the front end of the field, the days at Pisgah are relatively short at around 2-2.5hrs each. The upside is that the fatigue doesn’t stack up the way it does in longer death-march style races where each day is over 4 hours. The flip side is that the short days make for very intense and fast racing. The pace each day is faster than green grass through a goose. Course records fell left and right as we stormed through the hills, beating times set by previous legends of the sport Jeremiah Bishop, Thomas Turner, Sam Koerber and Adam Craig. Was it the trail conditions, the modern equipment, the legs, or all combined?

Whatever it was, it made for a tight battle between Tristan and me. It turns out we were well-matched. I won three stages and chopped the gap down to as little as 9 seconds, while he won the other two stages. My advantage early on was in going uphill, a metabolically expensive option. Tristan was already strong as an ox on acid on the climbs, yet his advantage was in going downhill, a much more energy-efficient option. Each day we logged at least 10 minutes worth of sustained 6 watts-per-kilogram efforts, interspersed with plenty of digs so hard they could make a preacher cuss, and long descents that left the arms feeling like a pair of arthritic snakes full of hot sauce. By day 4, I was going downhill on pace, but just couldn’t close the gap. Despite my best efforts, I finished my now customary 2nd place by less than 0.2% after five days of racing. That’s tighter than a pair of pants on a bloated elephant, and something like my 6th consecutive stage race that I’ve finished as bridesmaid.

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Kerry wrapped up the week in third overall, and took the win in the Enduro, the race within the race, comprised of a timed segment of downhill trail on each stage. Kerry rode over those rocks, ruts and roots faster than a one-legged man in a butt-kicking competition, and was still there with a cheery smile to make breakfast for us every morning. When it was all said and done we basked in glory and downed several beers, sprawled under the sun in a grassy field at the after party listening to Nikki Lane live in concert serenade the crowd, grinnin’ like possums eatin’ sweet taters. It was a damn fine week.

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Check Spencer’s blog for the full article, and follow him on Instagram !

Kona Adventure Team: Double Century Sandwich

The Kona Adventure Team is an extension of the Kona Endurance Race team in 2017. We aim to expand the repertoire of our endurance athletes, embarking on adventures that inspire, both us personally and hopefully you as well. Our athletes all love the bike, and these trips are our attempt to show a shared passion not only for riding, but also for living a full and meaningful existence. 

For the first Adventure Team story, Cory, Kris, Spencer,and Barry took on a double century on the California Coast, sandwiching a race in the middle.

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Words by Barry Wicks. Photos by Patrick Means.

The plan was simple. We’d ride from Pacifica, CA to Healdsburg, CA on Friday. On Saturday, we’d race the Grasshopper Adventure Series race called Old Caz. On Sunday we would ride back to our starting point.
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At what point does a course of travel become an adventure? What makes it turn into something else, like a journey? Are there clear metrics that make it so, or is it just a matter of perspective? Whatever the case, the Kona Adventure Team had around 17 hours and 330 miles of bike riding ahead of us – plenty of time for engaging in some trifling handlebar philosophy.
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107 miles. That’s how far we had to go one day one. That didn’t seem that far to a seasoned squad of professional bike athletes, but as the hours ticked on, and the destination remained distant, the remaining hours of daylight became a concern. The selected route, while heavy on dirt – and climbing and views in the first half – gave way to silky pavement in the last 40 miles.
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Here we are, there’s were we are going. Distance and time compress and expand in rhythm with our bodies’ need for food, water, or for the climb to come to an end.
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At times, pulling off in a muddy gravel lot to stare at the water and share a king size bag of peanut butter M&Ms is the entirety of one’s world.
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Then you find a strong Canadian to drag you those final miles into the arms of a waiting burrito, cold beer and camaraderie.
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The Grasshopper Adventure series is a longstanding race event, with its foundations firmly in the grassroots camp of “lets all get together, do an awesome ride, and try to smash each other to bits.” In this, its 19th year of existence, it has grown from the rag tag group of about 50 riders to a swollen 450+ hearty souls up for the challenge.
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The gathering and swapping of tales at the finish line is the ritual by which the ride legend grows. This gathering of the athletes, watching their fellow riders struggle to the line, is the birth of the legend that each and every Grasshopper race has created.
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By the book, an adventure is “playing a game of chance.” As a term, it is rooted in the unknown and a risk of loss. On an adventure, there ought to be a tension between something that is about to happen and whether you’ll arrive at the other side.
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The return journey always seems easier, but at the same time bittersweet. The destination is known, it means the end of the journey is near, and the escape is coming to a close.
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For us, the essential element is the experience of the place and the time spent together. Up and down the coasts, across long valleys, through the woods and over the mountains. We carve out our own version of finding happiness and bring that to the banquet to share.
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In the end, we are left with tired legs, dirty bikes, large smiles and the memories we created together.kona_norcal2-85

Wherever your next adventure may take you, we hope you find all the things that you are searching for.
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Spencer Paxson Update and Arrangements with the Weather Gods

Kona veteran Spencer Paxson returns in 2017 for his seventh year with Kona Bikes, and provides an update after a long but productive winter. After the last few years dancing around the globe, Spencer has a refreshing “homecoming” season planned with his Adventure teammates Wicks, Wallace and Sneddon.

His aim is set on high profile North American marathon and stage race events, with many peculiar backcountry and frontcountry adventures in between. Amidst all of that, he also provides an explanation for the heavy winter that befell Western North America, starting his own small business, what it’s like to evolve with the maturation of the sport (and himself), and more.

Head over to Spencer’s blog for lots of great photos and stories from his eventful 2016 – and his requests of the meteorological powers that be.

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