First Impressions - Santa Cruz Bicycles Hightower 27.5+

Every Friday night in July my family hosts what we call, Fiesta Fridays. We have a bunch of friends over for tacos and let our kids stay-up late catching lightening bugs. It's a blast, but it usually means I'm up way past my bedtime. 

Gassing up for my first ride on the Santa Cruz Bicycles Hightower 27.5+

This past Friday was no exception. Friends left at 10:30 or so and I was cleaning up queso until after 11. I then ran to the shop to pick up a freshly built Demo Santa Cruz Hightower 27.5+. (Yes, you can demo this bike, just call us.)

I was pumped to get out on this bike and made plans to meet a friend out at the Briery Branch Reservoir at 6am the next morning. I was going to get a very little amount of sleep.

In my eagerness I actually arrived a good 15 minutes before 6, which if you know me, I am rarely early. Ben arrived and we loaded up for a big mountain day. Thanks to the recent Tour de Burg, a usually overgrown trail, Death Star, had been cleared and we wanted to ride it while it was in perfect form. (Thanks TdB folks!)

This meant we'd be climbing the road up to the saddle at Reddish Knob and then continuing out towards Flag Pole Knob. On the road, the Hightower was well mannered. The VPP suspension made sure I got the most out of each pedal stroke and even though the bike isn't light, it isn't hefty either. 

Before reaching Flag Pole, we veered left and took another double track road towards Death Star. We made great time and the temperature was in the high 60's - it was ideal. As we pointed our bikes downward, I got really excited to see how the Hightower would perform. It was my first time riding Death Star and Ben knew it would be a great place to test the bike, as it has a little bit of everything - double track, single track, ridge riding, rocks, roots, steep descents and ascents, off camber trail, and the list goes on.

A section of Death Star Trail in the GWNF.

We stopped after some descending and right away I knew the Hightower preferred to be pointed downward. The big wheels made the bike float and be a steam roller at the same time. I burnt in the brakes really fast! I was on the Carbon C level bike with dropper post and 1x suspension. There are quite a few levels higher than this build, but at the first level with a dropper post and carbon it's still a dream bike.

As we crossed the ridge and even took a few rock shoots, I was continually impressed by the bike. I could tell it didn't want to hop and play as much as Ben's Santa Cruz Bronson, but at the same time, the Hightower could tackle anything. It never felt too big or bulky and the geometry definitely oriented the bike towards enjoyable descents.

I had a little issue keeping the nose down on the first two short and steep climbs, but figured that out quickly and I'd chalk that up to rider error for the most part. Typically I'm nervous on off camber sections, but the Hightower felt super stable and gave me more confidence. I don't know if I went any faster on those sections, but I know I was less nervous about having my front wheel run off the trail and face planting thanks to the sure-footedness (is that a term?) of the bike.

At the bottom of Death Star we both agreed that has to be a top 10 trail in the George Washington National Forest. It's got it all. We only wished it was longer and maybe a little easier to access. Because now we were in West Virginia and had to climb back up the backside of Reddish. There was no calling it quits now, if we wanted to go home, we had to make the climb. 

Taking a breather midway up the backside of Reddish Knob

A natural spring - water anyone?

Six miles up to the Reddish Knob Spiral. Those were a tough six miles, but again the bike was great and the 1x11 (30t up front) gearing didn't hold me back (maybe I'm getting a little stronger). Reaching the top was a great feeling. 

I leaned the Hightower against the guardrail, drank a few big gulps of water and surveyed the land we had just covered. I was impressed with the bike and myself. Running on less than 5 hours of sleep I wasn't hallucinating - I was having a blast.

Looking west on Reddish Knob. Ben is planning his attack on the stairs.

That all being said, I wasn't feeling invincible. Ben took the stairs off the spiral and I had no shame in walking them. He said he'd never made all the stairs and the turn at the bottom, well he did that day and he made it look easy. Kudos to all the riders that can do that!

To finish off our ride, we were going to take Timber Ridge and Lynn back to the cars. Timber is a brutal trail. It's rocky and fast. It has a handful of steep sections of trail where my legs begged for a break and I often obliged. This is where I tested the hike-a-bike ability of the Hightower, and it passed. It can be pushed with the best of them, ha.

Conversely to the sections where I resulted to pushing the bike, on the downhill sections the bike felt like a rocket ship. The big tires ate up all the scattered rocks and the suspension was in the sweet spot of plush and responsive. By the time we'd hit the drops before Lynn, I was hooting and hollering from excitement (and to take my mind off my burning legs). 

It wasn't long before we were back at the cars and I was officially ready to make room in my garage for the Hightower. It checked off most every box for me and for the ones it didn't I think some suspension tweaks and upcoming 27.5+ tire releases can solve. 

Now I just need to try it as a 29er!


Looking towards home - Harrisonburg, VA.

Kyle's First Ride Impressions of the 2016 Cannondale Habit Carbon 3

This past Saturday, I finally had the chance to take out the shop's Demo 2016 Cannondale Habit Carbon 3. After a quick stop at Mr. J's Bagels in Harrisonburg, my buddies and I headed out to the the George Washington National Forest to ride the iconic Lookout Trail. The mix of road and rocky single track was going to be the perfect testing ground for the Habit.

We met another friend at the Wild Oak parking lot and after a few minutes of debating how to dress for the weather and adding some air to our tires, we set off.

The first half of the ride is on paved road or fire road. This was a nice way to get acquainted with the Habit. The Habit is a 120mm full-suspension bike designed for a mix of trail and XC riding. The front triangle of the bike is made from BallisTec carbon fiber and the rear triangle is Cannondale's famous aluminum. The build I was riding was a mix of Shimano parts; Deore brakes, SLX shifters, and an XT rear derailleur. Suspension components were a newly trail-tuned 120mm Lefty and a Rockshoc Monarch DebonAir rear shock. Tires are Schwalbe's Nobby Nic (front) and Rocket Ron (rear).

Right from the start the bike felt light and fast. Climbing up the nicely paved road was simple. The headtube angle is a comfy 68 degrees, so it is slack, but far from crazy. The front wheel didn't wander at all and the suspension was efficient. I probably could have tweaked the air pressure in the rear shock a bit, but overall the lock-out switch did the trick. I like the simple on/off that the Monarch has. The tires rolled fast and showed their advantage as we transitioned to the fire road. They were grippy, but not big and heavy.

At this point the bike was already a winner in my book, but the real test had yet to come, because we all buy mountain bikes for the trails and not roads. Right?!

It was a foggy morning and the trail was damp from a light rain the night before. In addition to the damp trail there was a good bit of leaf cover on the ridge. All things to consider as I played devil's advocate on the trails.

We arrived at the trailhead after 7.5 miles on the roads/fire road. As we entered the woods it was eerily quiet. The animals were still and the wind was nonexistent. This was going to be fun!

We jumped on the trail and immediately I wished that the Habit 3 came with a dropper post. I've had a dropper on my bikes for the last year and a half and to ride a bike without one now feels odd. That being said, someone who hasn't had a dropper would be fine without one. (The next build up, the Habit SE does come stock with a dropper.) 

The trail was riding great. The dirt was tacky and the leaves weren't as deep as I imagined they would be. Our group blazed through the trail pretty quickly. We stopped to session a few sections and on a few situations I wished my tires were a bit meatier, but they still did well. I imagine if it had been dry I would have been 100% OK with the tires. I must also mention that the drivetrain was flawless. This Habit has a 2X, so I had plenty of gears to choose from, which made the short and punchy sections of the trail a breeze. Personally, I love the simplicity of the 1X set-up and it would be nice to see the weight difference with a 1X versus a 2X.

As we covered more ground I couldn't help but think that this bike would be perfect for longer distance trail rides and races. The bike is set-up for climbing and descending. The 120mm is great for your average descent with a mixture of rocks and drops, but just avoid the super steep sections unless you're an above average bike handler. I never once hit the bottom of the Monarch; however, I must confess after riding a 150mm bike, I did bottom out the Lefty once.

The trail kept going and did its best to throw as many rocks our way as it could. The Habit took them all with grace and I was able to go over or around them with ease. As someone who road a Cannondale Scalpel for a year, the Habit very much reminded me of that bike with it's precise handling. 

Sadly, all rides must come to an end and this one brought us back to the car far before I was ready. As I mounted the Habit back to my car I thought to myself that I could easily see this bike being a part of my collection. I'd make a few simple changes (dropper, maybe tires, and maybe change to a 1X), but honestly I could ride the Habit and be very happy with it right out of the box. 

I encourage anyone looking for a truly well balanced bike for conquering trails and finding speed on the flats to take a long hard look at Cannondale's Habit Carbon 3. I can see people riding all over the George Washington National Forest on this bike, the trails out in Pisgah, or even the awesome trails in Richmond's James River Trail System on this bike.

Curious about the Habit? Come demo one from the shop today!


Biking While Feeling "Dadly"



Recently my wife and I welcomed our third child, Hux, into the world. He's awesome.

It's strange, but with a third kid I really feel legit now, like I'm a real dad. That being said, at the same time that I'm feeling very "dadly" I have this inner struggle to be free, take adventures, and do things that dads with young kids can't easily do.

This is where my bike comes in. Riding a bike allows me to escape, and furthermore riding my bike in Harrisonburg, VA allows me to explore, get my blood pumping, and experience the world's beauty without having to take a cross-country trip.

Granted I can't ride my bike everyday or even every week, but I've come to accept that and to cherish the times when I can ride. In this newborn stage with Hux, I can only ride during weekend naps or late at night after the crew (Melissa included) has gone to bed. This means that I need to stay pretty close to home. Thankfully Harrisonburg and the surrounding area has a ton of riding options.

For example, since Hux, I've found myself having a greater appreciation for Harrisonburg's Rocktown Trails at Hillandale Park. The trails are super close to my house, which means that within 10 minutes I can go from reading a book to the "big" kids at nap time, to the top of the Powerline Trail in Hillandale (and it would be even faster if I took my car). Yes, Hillandale won't do much for me in terms of overall fitness, but it momentarily fills my need for freedom and adventure. The trails are well maintained by SVBC and when they aren't wet they're downright fun.

Night rides are my opportunity to get out for a longer ride and it's here where I truly get the satisfaction of adventure that I crave. Being out in the cool night exploring the Shenandoah Valley's mountains is awesome. Massanutten and the GWNF are my go to areas for night rides, with the former being reserved for nights where I want to be in bed before midnight. As a dad, midnight or later seems like the mistake, but the inner refueling the adventure it brings heavily outweighs the following morning's drowsiness.

For now, my rides to Hillandale and escapes to the nearby mountains at night are keeping my desires for adventure at bay. However, I think the dad vs. adventure struggle will continue its presence in my life and my guess is that it always will. And I'm OK with that, because it will force me to find ways to balance being a dad and an explorer. Then one day I think I'll no longer see it as a struggle, but as a challenge to mesh the two.

It may seem far off now, especially since I'm swimming in diapers, but I see many Coleman family biking trips in the future!

So what about you, how do you manage being a parent and fulfilling a need for adventure and exploration?