I find it fascinating that the human race seems to equate utopia with sitting on our ass. The deeply rooted belief is that the less we have to do physically, the better off we are. Thus in utopia we would have to do nothing. Forget the interdependence of physical and mental health, it seems the human race wants to experience the world virtually where there is no physical strain, stress, or sweat. This is really amazing since our bodies are built for movement. I do wonder where this concept originated and why progress towards an advanced civilization is a function of inventing things that relieve of us of doing stuff ourselves.
Maybe it’s like scattered intelligence where not one of the population sees the whole picture – A certain substitute for doing something oneself looks appealing, and before we know it the world is awash in convenience products independent of a master plan. I will admit to succumbing to the Dark Side in some areas. It find it great to get in my car at the end of the workday and lower all four windows with a button. While a hand crank on the driver’s window is not that big a deal, leaning across to the passenger door to crank a window is a bit more of a task. It really becomes a task when driving and a cloud burst has sideways rain pouring in the passenger window while I desperately try to crank it up without crashing. And then there is no way around having to get out and crank rear windows. And yes, I have a garage door opener too. Go figure, another car-related convenience. One would not be far off in theorizing I have certain obsessive issues when it comes to cars.
I am old enough to know firsthand what it meant to “dial” a phone, “change” the TV channel, push a lawnmower (which I still do), kick start a motorcycle, and “write” a letter. The common justification seems to be that convenience products will give us more time to do the things that we really want to do – like play virtual reality games I guess. But it seems like the convenience may be becoming the end instead of a means to an end.
My wife is an expert on how the human body is supposed to move, and she deals every day with the consequences people increasingly face by using their bodies less and incorrectly (as is the case when tilting your head down to read your smart phone). But there is also a mental consequence as we rely on things to do more work for us. When I started road racing, I’d have to get a road map, chart my course to a race, and write down directions. And to follow those written directions I had to be attentive to distance traveled, road signs, direction, etc. Now we just input the address into Google maps and a friendly accented voice of our choice tells us exactly what to do, and we don’t even have to think. And thinking is brain exercise, and like physical exercise, when we stop doing it the ability fades away.
However we mountain bikers, roadies, cyclists, etc. are not like the masses. We revel in self-locomotion. We love to see what our bodies can do. Many of us like to get somewhere and make a smaller impact on the environment. We appreciate learning and applying the mental side of cycling like choosing the appropriate gear ratio for a climb, carefully applying just the optimal amount of braking for an off-camber corner, loading our bags for self-sufficiency, pumping up our tires for optimal performance, calculating how much energy to exert in the headwind and still have enough to get home, and judging how fast to hit a jump to avoid coming up short.
Certainly nothing is black and white. Each of us has different priorities, abilities, desires, and resources that affect, or even dictate when and where we seek assistance or convenience. And to me, anyone riding any type of bike in any way is a good thing. I just hope we don’t let the fundamental benefits of riding a bicycle slip away in the name of Progress.
Living up to its name and not disappointing, Dirty Kanza was one of the hardest, single day events I’ve ever done.
Part I: Preparing the bike
At 4:00am Saturday morning, things began to get real as I was woke from a peaceful slumber by the sound of my alarm. Only two short hours remained before go time! It’s amazing how quickly time seems to speed up as race time approaches, and what you thought was ample time quickly deteriorates to minutes…….seconds!
But let me roll the clock back a couple days. We arrived to the expo area at the Dirty Kanza in Emporia, Kansas late Thursday afternoon, and I was greeted with the task of building up one heck of a bullet proof bike: my “hot off the press” 2020 JamisRenegade C1! This was going to be one of the toughest, longest, most grueling gravel events I’ve ever done. So as I happily set about building up this new pup, I knew I needed to check and recheck everything because there wasn’t going to be any fix’n or making adjustments on course. So, headset installed, cables routed, brakes bled, bottom bracket pressed, derailleurs installed, wheels mounted, brakes adjusted, bar/stem/saddle/post all set and bars wrapped! This thing was beginning to resemble a race rig! And with that,
Thursday seemed to zip by!
On Friday, the plan was to get out early for a quick ride and make sure there wasn’t going to be any surprises to pop up. She worked FLAWLESSLY! What a relief! I was a little concerned since I had to pull parts from bikes back home and that the fit might be a little off, but I felt right at home, so things were looking good! Time to register, get files imported into my Wahoo, some new tires mounted and my work at the expo would be done and then I could start packing nutrition, filling bottles and organizing supplies. Over dinner we formulated our game plan on how we envisioned the feed-zones would go and what I’d need at different points. The thing with racing is you can try and plan for so many different scenarios, but once you’re out there racing you have to be able to adapt… kinda like when you pre-fill hydration packs with one drink mix, and decide 150 miles in you’re burned out on it, and you’d rather drink plain creek water than subject yourself to anymore of it.
And before you know it, it’s bed time because Saturday morning is inevitably going to roll around waaaaaay to soon!
Part II: Race day
Saturday morning at 4:15am, we’re loaded up and rolling down the road towards Emporia, KS forty-five minutes away. I manage to choke down a couple PB&J sandwiches… because they’re delicious and nutritious… but mostly they’re simple and require no cooking; time is of the essence! After a quick gas stop, we’re unloading and it’s time to kit up. Check, check and recheck I have everything I need and that my packs are loaded up for exchanges. I roll over to the start line around 5:45am for a 6:00am start time and try and find a pretty good spot. BINGO! I am in place and ready to rock and roll with friends Kaysee Armstrong and Cory Wallace around me.
10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, GO! The clock strikes 6:00am and we’re off! This year the Dirty Kanza had over 2,700 registered riders, so it was a sea of cyclists leaving town behind the police escort. The first few miles through town were a neutral start, but no one wanted to drift too far back so the tension was so thick it could be cut with a knife. Once the Emporia police pulled off at the first turn for gravel, it was GO TIME! My primary concern at this point was to maintain my position and not drift too far back or get tangled up in some silly crash, which there were plenty of! I immediately started having flash backs to Croatan Buck Fifty and how you were at the mercy of the rider in front of you not to lead you astray into a pot hole or rock, which is daunting considering you’re cruising down the gravel at pretty fast clip and in a cloud of dust.
The one nice thing about being at the front is most folks here have been riding a while and have pretty decent handling skills… other than the roadies… just kidding, I meant triathletes… so many aero bars! The miles seemed to zip by fairly quickly, and we quickly eclipsed my previous day’s pre-ride distance. This year’s course was said to be rougher and chunkier than last year’s, and it seemed pretty chunky to me (the course changes every 3 years).
Part III: Disaster strikes
This leads me to my next bit: being prepared and not quitting! Unfortunately with pack riding it’s hard to see what’s coming and avoiding something can be virtually impossible. The rocks here are
flint… hence the nick name, “Flint Hills,” and they’re sharp as razors! When we got to the first really rough section it was a yard sale! Crashes everywhere with people getting caught in ruts and washing out, going over the bars, and flatting! Total mayhem! In preparation the day before, I mounted up a new set of Maxxis Ramblers with Silk Shield to try and thwart the “razors”. If this was a paper-rock-scissors match… well, “rock” beats “rubber” every time! And unfortunately I fell victim to them, as so many other folks did, at mile 30. It wasn’t even a matter of taking a bad line or hitting something I should have avoided. Everything looked the same; unsuspecting gravel. But man, catch one of those rascals at a bad angle and it’s game over! When I flatted I thought, “Crap! Too soon for this nonsense, we’re barely into this race and it was too early to lose the lead group now!” But I knew it was a good one (aka really bad one) because the tire went flat immediately, and it was everything I could do to keep from going down on the descent and getting run over. When I stopped to fix it I thought, “Oh, that’s a doozy, I hope my boots/patches are going to be up to the task!” The gash in my sidewall reached from the center of my tread to a nick in the rim! I was about to put this tire up to the ultimate test… for a 170 miles!
I put two 5″ boots inside the tire, the tube partially inflated to hold them in place and then hit it with the CO2. I was golden and back rolling, but the number of folks who passed me seemed to go on FOREVER! I “reassured” myself I still had 170 miles to make up time… but that didn’t make me feel all that much better to be honest. 170 miles sounded pretty rough considering I had only been 30! So I got back into a rhythm and paced myself; this race wasn’t going to be decided anytime soon for me… or anyone!
I soldiered on with 35 miles to go to the 1st aid station. When I got there, I was met with my support team and swapped out bottles and took my hydration pack with fresh supplies. This next leg I knew was going to be a long one because it was now 9:30am, the sun was up and getting hotter, and the next aid I would see my support crew at would be at mile 150. There was a neutral support at mile 120 where only water would be available so I packed drink mix to add to it.
After the feed-zone at mile 65, it felt like the heat had been dialed up to “high,” and I was getting baked! There’s absolutely NO shade whatsoever to hide in, and the sun’s rays were brutal! Whatever sunscreen I had put on was long gone from the sweat and water I’d been pouring over myself, and the miles seemed to barely roll over. I was beginning to think this race had been a terrible idea: “I am 87 miles into this thing and still not halfway!” I was starting to go through fluids pretty quickly too, even though I had stayed on top of them really well earlier. How was I going to stretch my fluids another 30 miles?! And then around mile 90, the gods smiled down on me and an unplanned, unexpected aid station appeared before me! Was my Wahoo lying to me about mileage? Had they changed mile points and moved the neutral feed? NOPE! The EF (Team Education First) guys had set up a water tank for the racers, wahoooooooooo!!! Man was that AMAZING! I was given a cold towel while I filled my bottles, drank as much as I could, topped off my pack and poured some cold water over myself. As I left the aid I felt like a new man. This stop was an absolute life saver.
Part IV: Just when you think you’re safe
I wouldn’t say the next 30 miles zoomed by, but they certainly went by a lot quicker and a lot less painful than had the aid station not been there. So after 30 miles of motoring along, I reached the “official” neutral aid I had planned on. I refilled my bottles and pack again, added my drink mix and cooled myself with water. One of the volunteers offered to put ice down the back of my jersey, and I happily took them up on it! While there, I took the time to inspect my front tire; I couldn’t believe the cut hadn’t spread any further, and somehow the casing was still holding its shape! I’ve cut tires similar to this in the past, and usually when they’re this severe, the cords fail and the tire loses its structural integrity and tears apart or flexes into a weird “s” curve. Not this joker! Like a dang ROCK! Other than a huge cut in the side, it looked good, Silk Shield was holding her together! The one thing I did notice was the boots had migrated up and exposed a portion of the tube. I knew there was no way that was going to last, so I decided to deflate the tube, unmount the tire, and reposition the boots. Disaster averted! With all that done, I was ready to get rolling again! Roughly 35 miles until I’d see my support crew!
… And then disaster struck again! TUBES! Can’t live with em, can’t live without em! On another “mystery flint” (because ya never see ’em), I flatted
again! I pulled over and went about my way fixing it. However, when I dug through my pack I couldn’t find my extra tube and CO2s that I had gotten at the aid station with my support crew. Then I remembered I still had one mounted to my bike but that meant once I pulled it, I’d be running without supplies for the next 20 miles. This was a scary thought considering every a couple miles I would pass someone fixing a flat, and that could easily be me! And at this time the only thing worse than riding the Dirty Kanza would be walking it! I took the time to eat some food and then begged my legs to cooperate and loosen up again. We could stand around all day! Needless to say, I tried to tread extra lightly as I navigated the remaining miles to the aid station. A few miles down the road I saw Tony, one of my support crew members, snapping pictures of the racers, and I yelled to him to tell TC to get my tubes and C02s ready… and maybe wrangle up a Coke!
The highlight of the day wasn’t any of the gravel roads. Rather it was a quarter mile section of multi-use trail into aid station three that was shaded! I wanted to go sooooo slowly through that section just so I could revel in the shade; anything to make it last longer, but seeing as how this was still a “race” I thought it was best not to. There my savior, TC, was standing, waving for me. We went over to the truck, and I restocked tubes, CO2s, food, swapped bottles and added water to my pack. I had originally planned to swap hydration packs here but the thought of more drink mix didn’t sound too appealing, so I stuck to water and kept my current pack. There’s nothing quite as good as pouring cold water over yourself, except maybe having ice packed under your jersey on your back… which I did again! Talk about feeling like new! Oh and TC did have that Coke ready, thank god! So after pounding back a cold Coke and feeling like a million buckaroos, I was ready to put the hammer down! As I set out on my final stretch of the race I had an optimistic feeling! In my mind I was trying to divide up the remaining miles into little blocks. I pre-rode roughly 6 miles of the end of the Dirty Kanza, so I knew what those would be like. I had just traveled five miles. That left me with only 39 unknown miles! And that’s close to 30 miles, and that’s a cake walk!
Oddly enough, between mile 150 and 200, I actually felt really good. I had plenty of supplies with me so I could fix anything, plenty of food and water so I could kill the pack on the first thirty and have 10 miles per bottle… things were looking good. Or maybe I felt so good because I had the tough part behind me and the end was in sight! Either way I felt great, and I was catching people! I think some folks that went out hard were beginning to crack, and I was starting to reel them in. Up to this point, I had been caught in “no mans land,” and soloed from mile 30 to around mile 185. But now I was catching people riding at similar speeds which was nice. We had a small group of 4 that stuck together all the way to the finish. As we motored along and knocked out the miles, I couldn’t help but think, “This sure would have been nice 120 miles ago!” One of the riders in our group had paint sticks in his pack, and I asked what those were for. He said they were for scooping mud off tires when they would become caked with it (previous years issues). Fortunately we didn’t have to contend with mud, just a couple tiny sections around creeks and sections of dried car tracks in old mud. The dried car tracks in old mud actually posed a real threat because it was easy to get caught in one and high-siding became a real issue.
Part V: So close I can smell the BBQ
As we hit mile 194, I knew where we were! I was starting to recognize things, and this signaled the end was in sight! We turned onto the pavement with a couple miles to go and the pace quickened ever so slightly. However, by the time we hit main street it was back into a RACE! I wasn’t sure how these guys were feeling but I wasn’t really sure what I had left in the tank either. I went early, hoping I might be able to dissuade a sprint or a counter attack, but I guess they were feeling froggy too. It was a sprint! To us it felt fast and we were FLYING, but maybe to the spectators it was in slow motion. After all, we did have 200 miles in our legs! But no matter what, when I crossed the line I knew I had given it everything; right up to the end. That’s racing and that’s what makes it fun… “fun” being the operative word.
I wouldn’t describe DK as fun, but maybe it’s the sense of accomplishment or the satisfaction of seeing it to the end that’s “fun”. DK200 was an absolutely incredible experience, one with so many high and low points. It’s a race where anything can happen for 200 miles, and often a lot does happen. You can plan and plan and plan, but it comes down to experience and one’s ability to adapt and overcome. DK teaches you a lot about yourself and what you’re capable of. The thought of racing 200 miles on gravel didn’t sound that appealing to be honest, but it was something worth trying. For so many of the almost 3,000 people who do DK, I believe that’s what they are there for: not to podium, but to survive and have a great experience. My only two suggestions to make DK better: fewer sharp rocks and more shade!
And yes! That crazy Rambler tire managed to ramble on for 170 miles with that huge cut in the sidewall! I wasn’t sure if it was up to the task, but the Silk Shield did it’s job and held that tire together. INCREDIBLE!!
One never really knows the actual beginning, but a yellow Huffy with a banana seat in 1970 seems to be about right. Before that anything with wheels had my attention, but after that bicycles were clearly the front runner. But the start of this story begins almost a decade later. This story is about how I got here. Over the years strangers have asked how I got such a great job. I’d give them the two minute version of my life story that has passion, perseverance, risk taking, and hard work at the foundation. But the real truth probably lies with the universe and about a dozen awesome individuals that did not give up on me even when I gave them a good reason to do so.
Packing up to move this week had me uncovering old belongings. One such was a trophy from my first bike race forty years ago (and my most recent race was yesterday). I don’t know where I would be now if that “Rocky Ridge Enduro” race had not taken place. So the first big thank you goes to Ken Burnett. An off-road motorcycle competitor that wanted his son and friends to get a taste of racing in the woods, Ken organized what amounted to XC races long before there were MTB XC races. Ken would ride his motorcycle through the woods and staple paper directional areas to trees to map out a course. Then he would ride the course multiple times to bed it in a bit before launching waves of kids wearing skateboard helmets into the woods.
When Mr. Charlie Justice (a gentleman that truly deserves the “Mr.”) brought the stories of organized BMX racing to town, Ken led the way to get a track built in a state park and promote races. Mr. Justice introduced us grommets to the slick, big time, and fast world of BMX racing in the 80s, and my trajectory got a little tighter. I learned a lot from the Justice family – like how to never go to the next moto with a dirty jersey from a crash in the previous moto or how to build a starting gate and perfect starts. During this period my Uncle Gary stayed with us a while, and ever curious, he dug into the BMX world and was instrumental in my development. There, a couple more thank-yous.
The Oscar-winning movie Breaking Away had a big impact on me, but the unrelated brothers Jay Sandefur and the late Chris Hinds taught me how to live like a cyclist and pursue that dream. Before that dream could be realized, spine surgery derailed me a bit. It might have been a permanent derailment if not for the confidence and expertise of the late Dr. Richard Elkus. After he fused some of my 21 year old spine, he told me that only my mind, not my back, could keep me from doing things. Thanks guys.
Clark Kent, legally known as Peter Sweeny, spent a week visiting bicycle dealers with me in 1991. See, Pete was the VP of Sales at Diamond Back (two words back then, and the #4 brand in the USA at the time), and he made the mistake of asking my opinions on Diamond Back, model names, frame design, component spec, etc. Back then I really thought I knew it all, so Pete got more than he bargained for during the trip. But here’s the crazy thing, months later he tossed out my name for the open MTB product manager position. So to California I went. I don’t know what you were thinking, but thanks Pete.
While I’ve learned from others before and after, Al Stonehouse, was my bicycle industry mentor. He forced me to experience the Asian industry rituals, challenged me to think out-of-the-box, and taught me how to anticipate competitors’ moves and strategize. Bob Arnold was also at Diamond Back when I got there, but his contribution to my journey came when he offered me a landing at Answer/Manitou. From Bob I learned what real selling attitude really was, and my sales guys should forever hate him teaching me.
While it was tremendously valuable to learn about real selling, it was neither natural for me nor my strong suit. Enter Scott Boyer, the thinking man’s product manager. Scott had an amazing track record with motocross products before bicycles, and he taught me the value of being observant, insightful, and projecting possibilities based on similar past occurrences. That mindset led me to Reversed Arch patent/design still in use by Manitou twenty years later. Thanks Scott, and it was great to catch up at the Taipei Show.
This guy played a part in my BMX days, but his real impact in my life was about twenty years later. Dan Thornton had worked relentlessly for 27 years to build one of the best names in retail, when he needed a break. It took more courage than I have for him to hand the reigns over to me, and watch as I took his business a step backwards before taking two steps forward. I am very grateful for his trust and confidence.
While I am definitely a product of all the contributions made by those mentioned above, there is no way that I would be here if not for the two most amazing women I have ever known, my mom and my wife. My mom sacrificed everything for me many times, and my better half has brought out the better in me time and again (and she still needs to find more!). Certainly there are others, but these people are the reason that I have had the best jobs in the world my entire career.
First things first, we need to get one thing straight: Cane Creek’s proprietary Climb Switch Technology is not a lock-out.
In fact, we’re strongly against a full lock-out, and we’ll explain why below. For now, suffice it to say, if you experience a full lock-out, it will feel like riding a rigid fork, and could be down-right dangerous if you forget to re-open the compression for the descent. That’s why we, and most other suspension manufacturers, tune the closed compression (“lock-out”) damping force so that it only feels really firm, appropriate to the bike it is on, and will “blow off” (or re-engage) when the suspension takes a big hit (like if you forget to re-open the compression). So why do manufacturers and riders use the word “lock-out”? The term connotes a firm force in the compression damping, but it does not denote a fully rigid setting. It’s just a matter of semantics… call it what you want, but we’re going to stick with Climb Switch.
Now that we’ve settled that little issue, what is “Climb Switch” and why do you want it?
What is Climb Switch Technology?
Traditional “climbing modes” (aka what a lot of riders call “lock-out”) only address half of climbing dynamics, requiring the rider’s body to respond to the rest. Climb Switch provides climbing-specific damping in both compression and rebound. The suspension firms significantly, but is still active while you climb, which results in better connection to the trail, more control, and increased efficiency without annoying pedal-bob.
Why Climb Switch?
HELM Works Series 130 is equipped with Climb Switch Technology, seen before on Double Barrel suspension. Why would you want Climb Switch? As alluded above, suspension gives us two things: comfort and better traction & handling. Utilizing suspension in technical climbing is helpful for maintaining traction and not getting jostled around, but too much bobbing can create inefficiency in your pedaling. HELM Works Series 130 allows you many clicks of high speed compression adjustment to tailor the amount of squish you need for your climb, but the final “click” restricts the flow of oil so that the fork has a very firm pedaling platform (and you can leave your low speed compression adjustment alone). Double Barrel Climb Switch works very similarly.
TECH SPEAK: Our Climb Switch Technology is a dedicated compression circuit with completely different internals than the high and low speed compression adjustment on the standard HELM. When you activate the Climb Switch on the HELM Works Series 130 or Double Barrel suspension with a Climb Switch lever, you are completely restricting the flow of oil through the low speed circuit. This prevents the high speed circuit poppet from “blowing off” except under extreme forces (like forgetting to open up your compression on the descent). In essence, it feels really stinkin’ firm.
On the standard HELM, you would have to close both high and low speed compression to mimic the same feel, but it still wouldn’t be as firm as Climb Switch. HELM Works Series 130 is optimized for cross-country and short-travel trail bikes. Climb Switch Technology is a crucial feature for long days in the saddle and optimal performance on climbs and descents alike.
Did you know? Cane Creek has four different sales channels: retail dealers, OEMs, distributors, and eCommerce. Our retail dealers and eCommerce channels are only open within North America, which means we rely heavily on our distributor network to represent the brand globally. Extra UK Ltd. is a long-standing partner who has exclusive distribution rights of Cane Creek products to the UK and Ireland. It’s no small task, but Extra knocks it out of the park.
We caught up with Michael Braybrook, Extra’s Marketing and Events Manager, to discuss Extra’s UK presence as well as their first impressions of the HELM Works Series 130 suspension fork. But first, some background:
Extra UK Ltd. was founded in 1995 by Brian Stewart and John Phillips who still own the business today. The company is a B2B distributor supplying to over 750 bike shops, outdoor and sport retailers in the UK and Ireland. Extra’s partnership with Cane Creek began back in 2001. “As the exclusive UK distributor of Cane Creek, we carry pretty much the entire product range including spares which amounts to almost 700 SKUs! eeWings have been a big hit with UK riders, both for MTB and Road/Gravel use. However, our best-selling product over the last year or so is the DB Coil IL shock, as UK riders look to improve the suspension performance of their bike.”
Today, they also support seven appointed Certified Cane Creek Suspension Service Centres located around the country to help customers with everything from sales to set-up to servicing and spares. These Service Centres, like J-TECH Suspension and Sprung Suspension Workshop, are experts in Cane Creek suspension and are guaranteed to help you get the very best from your Cane Creek products. Cane Creek insists that riders only service their Cane Creek suspension through certified service centers. “Our suspension isn’t like ‘everyone else’s’… for the best performance and best service, you need to have your products serviced by people we’ve trained. They use specialized tools and required equipment, like a vacuum-fill machine, to ensure that your fork or shock is leaving the facility as though it is brand new,” explains Brian Williams, Distributor Sales Coordinator for Cane Creek.
As a distributor, it’s easy to feel disconnected from the end-user, as there are several parties in between. However, Extra has made a point of being highly engaged within their community, showing up at major events throughout their region to connect directly with riders, shop owners, and service technicians. This allows them to keep a finger on the pulse of the industry from the rider’s perspective, something that has undoubtedly contributed to the success of their business. They are able to find out what products rider’s want, not just what products manufacturer’s want to sell. As a result, Extra is able to share this information with our sales and product teams in order to make sure that Cane Creek, and thus Extra, is able to work to stay ahead of the curve.
“I think UK riders appreciate the quality and durability of Cane Creek products as well as the adjustability and performance enhancing features of many products. [As for us,] Cane Creek are great people to deal with, both on a personal and professional level. The products are well thought out, wonderfully engineered and genuinely unique which is really refreshing in an age of lots of me-too product coming from the same vendors with just a different brand name.”
Extra UK Ltd. received one of the very first HELM Works Series 130 suspension forks on the market and took it to the Fort William World Cup. Michael gushes, “The [HELM] WS130 offers the control and stiffness of a long travel Enduro fork in a shorter travel and lighter package which makes it perfect for most UK trail riders. The initial suppleness of the fork right out the box feels identical to the longer travel HELM Coil fork, and it took no time at all to dial in the settings for our preferred style of riding which is fairly typical in the UK.”
While Cane Creek is headquartered in Fletcher, North Carolina, USA, we have a wide global reach thanks to our distributors and industry original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). As a brand, we are particular with the firms we choose to do business with. It’s essential each of our partners has a mission closely resembling our own, as they are, in essence, our most tangible presence within their regions. Extra UK Ltd. is the exclusive Cane Creek distributor for the United Kingdom and Ireland, and we couldn’t be more honored by our 18 year partnership with this highly motivated team.
Extra UK Ltd. is located at Morris Close, Park Farm Industrial Estate, Wellingborough NN8 6XF
Special thanks to Extra UK/Mark Greshon, Michael Braybrook, Andrew Searcy
All photos provided by Extra UK.
Cane Creek’s Senior OEM Sales Manager, TR Maloney, is no stranger to endurance races…
“I am a cyclist and ultra-runner. In the past, I was an Ironman triathlete and even did some track racing. I am currently training for Leadman in beautiful Leadville, Colorado. Leadman is a 5-race event that includes a trail marathon, 50-mile mountain bike race, a 100-mile mountain bike race (the Leadville Trail 100), a 10k run, and a 100-mile run (also the Leadville Trail 100). All of these events take place within a 9-week span and at an altitude of 10,000′ and higher.”
We recently sat down with TR to discuss his training, why he chooses to train with Stages power meter, and whether or not training with power works well for both endurance athletes and for “Joe/Jane Shmoe” (aka the rest of us).
Cane Creek: You train with Stages Power meter – why? Does it help with non-cycling events?
Training for two 100-mile events simultaneously is tricky – especially when they are from two different disciplines (bike & run). I need to teach my body to absorb a lot of workout volume to be able to ride and run silly long distances back to back. This means I am in constant danger of over-training and injury. By working with a coach and a power meter, we can make sure I am working hard enough – AND SMART ENOUGH – on the bike to promote fitness advances while not destroying my legs for the run training. It’s a delicate balance.
CC: How does training with a power meter impact your training, and thus riding/racing?
TR: While the idea of being fed a lot of data can be overwhelming (it was for me at first) it’s a great tool. I work full-time and my training can be a 15-20 hour a week part-time job. I don’t have time to waste on junk miles. My training needs to be specific and with a result. The Stages Power meter keeps me on the path during interval or steady state workouts. I can see the difference in the power numbers and know I am on the right training plan. Before, without a power meter, I was left to rely on heart-rate (HR) and speed. The problem with HR is that, if I am tired, my HR can sit a little higher than usual. If I had a huge coffee before the ride, it can tick up a bit. Just being in a nervous pack of riders can lift my HR, [so it can paint an inaccurate picture]. Likewise, speed is a crazy number to solely rely on for training. One day’s tailwind can be tomorrow’s headwind.
CC: Can you notice a difference when you are quantifying your workouts?
TR: My coach puts me in pretty specific power parameters. It allows me a nice warm up, then I get to work for a couple hours and then cool down. All of this is controlled by watts. My favorite climb is up Highway 64 to the Continental Divide. Earlier in the year I held an average of 250 watts up the climb. Recently I held 284 watts up the same climb. The difference in the two efforts is my targeted training and the 5-pounds I lost, both of which really help when the road points up.
Another feature I pay attention to is the average watts on the two weekly Cane Creek lunch rides. These rides can get really rowdy. Having the Stages Power meter lets me know how much effort I’m adding to the group. I also use the wattage number to not blow my engine. I know what wattage I can lay out and not blow up. As the year progresses I can also figure out how many watts it takes to drop certain friends in the pack.
CC: How would a “newbie” get started with training with a power meter?
TR: What I like about Stages is that it’s a discrete, crank-based meter, and you have the option to go with only one sensor on one crank arm. This saves weight and money while painting a clear picture of your power. While there are plenty of long technical books that will easily put you to sleep, I suggest a basic – crude – approach to start. Go out on a ride and find a mile long hill that’s not too steep (4-5% grade), but enough to get your heart pumping. Ride up the incline at a pace that you think you can hold for 5-minutes. If you can’t catch your breath and you’re rocking your shoulders you are going too hard. The goal is to make this a strong steady effort. Hit the “lap” button at the bottom and again at the top. Keep this data and see how your wattage improves from week to week.
On group rides or training rides you will start to see patterns like being able to hold 180 watts for most of the ride or soon learn that you tire out your legs/lungs trying to hold 290 watts for more than 30-seconds. You really learn you. As you progress, you can start pairing your heart rate and watts and really get into the details of your human engine.
CC: C’mon… is training with a power meter really worth the cost?
TR: Once I put a Stages Power meter on one bike and realized what it did for me, I put Stages power meters on two more bikes. Yes, there is a cost to having this awesome technology. Cycling is evolving and the riders are evolving with the sport. Back in the 90’s I was installing small wireless (non-GPS) computers on bikes. Those were about $29 to get speed/average speed/time and distance. Today, most riders won’t ride without a $250 GPS device and usually carry an $800 phone too!
CC: Any final thoughts?
TR: Cycling makes my life better so I am happy to invest in my equipment. I’ve been in the cycling game for 25-years. In that time I would say the biggest game changers have been power meters, disc brakes and dropper posts. A power meter will really be beneficial if you are tracking your fitness. It’s an investment in your well-being. That’s always money well spent.
For more than two decades, Cane Creek has set the standard for bicycle headsets. By introducing the world to threadless technology, Cane Creek helped redefine modern bicycles; making possible the introduction of suspension forks, shaped head-tubes, carbon steerer tubes and other innovations that continue today. We don’t stop at designing and manufacturing the world’s best headsets. Cane Creek is also committed to providing the resources you need to guide you through the increasingly complex headset landscape. As always, all of our headsets are backed by our unsurpassed commitment to customer service.
“There is so much value and performance packed into this headset. With most of the major features of the 110 – including the Hellbender bearing – at a more accessible price-point, the Hellbender 70 is going to allow more riders to have better quality headsets on their bike. That’s a big win for everyone” – Sam Anderson, Product Manager (to Pinkbike)
Put simply, the Hellbender 70 is designed for abuse. But what really makes it a great headset? It’s all in the bearings. Our Hellbender bearings are made from high quality stainless steel with a higher ball bearing count and housed in a stainless steel cartridge. It’s 40-series ZN40 counterpart is made from bearing grade steel and housed in a steel cartridge with zinc coating. The Hellbender bearing has more durable, robust, and tight sealing and a more viscous grease. What does this mean for you? A longer-lasting, high-quality bearing that will withstand the dirt, sand, grime, sweat, and water that covers your bike ride after ride. But you don’t have to take our word for it… Find out why the pros choose Hellbender 70.
We chatted with three pros running the Hellbender 70 headset to find out how they really feel about premium headsets, why an upgrade is worth it (or not!), and why they trust Hellbender 70 and Cane Creek.
Caroline Washam, Pro DH
1. Hometown? Mooresville, NC, USA 2. Who are your sponsors?SRAM, RockShox, Liv Racing, Industry Nine, Schwalbe, TLD, Flat Tire Defender, Joes No Flats, Fryer Performance, Thunder Huck Bikes 3. What is your favorite trail/where is your favorite place to ride? I love riding anywhere in Western NC! Wilson’s Creek, Dupont, Pisgah…it’s all so good. 4. What do you do when you aren’t racing bicycles? Riding bicycles, teaching other people how to ride bicycles better, and working on content about bicycles! Life doesn’t suck. 5. What do you know about headsets? What’s your opinion on what makes a good headset and what makes a bad headset? I know that on my DH bike, the headset usually requires a ton of maintenance. With all the mud, power washing, and pressure the headset is under racing downhill, I usually have to take my headset apart, clean and regrease pretty often. A good headset stays smooth under pressure with seals that resist abuse. 6. You’ve been riding Hellbender 70 this season… how’s it been going? What do you like? What do you not like? Switching over to the Hellbender from the stock headset this year has been awesome. Even after some of the muddiest racing I have ever done earlier this year (and lots of power washing to clean all that mud off after each run), I didn’t hear that all-to-familiar crunching sound coming from my headset, so I could get more runs before having to perform any maintenance! 7. Why would someone upgrade from a 10-series or 40-series headset to a Hellbender 70? Who is a candidate for a premium headset? Why does it make a difference? If you’re rough on your bikes, ride rough terrain, or just want a headset that’s going to last, the Hellbender 70 is the one! 8. Why Cane Creek? Because Cane Creek creates a top-quality product, they’re a great group of humans, and they do a lot of good for our local MTB community. I couldn’t think of any better reasons to support a company. 9. Anything else? I also run the Cane Creek AngleSet on my dual slalom bike to get slacker head angle for steeper courses with technical turns. It has been one of the most beneficial upgrades to my dual slalom bike for increased performance.
1. Hometown? Wilmington, DE, USA 2. Who are your sponsors?Pivot Cycles, Pearl Izumi, Maxxis, MRP, Julbo, Shimano, 9point8, Deity Components, Leatt Protectives, Stans No Tubes, Evoc, Topeak, Dialed Health, Cane Creek 3. What is your favorite trail/where is your favorite place to ride? Sunshine Coast of BC! 4. What do you do when you aren’t racing bicycles? I don’t race much as it is. Most of what I focus on is content these days. But off the bike I’m focused on parenting like a mofo! 5. What do you know about headsets? What’s your opinion on what makes a good headset and what makes a bad headset? I know that almost everything I do with my upper body while riding is transmitted to the bike via the headset. A good headset needs to have quality bearings, is well sealed, and will can hold up to the rigors of of the elements. 6. You’ve been riding Hellbender 70 this season… how’s it been going? What do you like? What do you not like? It’s been flawless so far. 7. Why would someone upgrade from a 10-series or 40-series headset to a Hellbender 70? Who is a candidate for a premium headset? Why does it make a difference? If you are intent on progressing as a rider, then you have to accept that you will be putting greater stresses on your bike. The more aggressive you are, the more you tend to start putting more down force on the front end, which makes the headset design and quality all the more important. 8. Why Cane Creek? Because the products are top notch, and the people are as well.
1. Hometown? Vernon, NJ, USA 2. Who are your sponsors? Spoke Apparel, Mountain Creek Bike Park, Cane Creek, Shimano, Onyx Racing, Santa Cruz, Boa Technology 3. What is your favorite trail/where is your favorite place to ride? Favorite trail is a tough choice; favorite place to ride would have to be Mountain Creek Bike Park. 4. What do you do when you aren’t racing bicycles? I weld dirt midfield race car chassis 5. What do you know about headsets? What’s your opinion on what makes a good headset and what makes a bad headset? I know good amount about headsets. What makes good headset is quality seals, cups, and bearings. 6. You’ve been riding Hellbender 70 this season… how’s it been going? What do you like? What do you not like? The Hellbender 70 is great! I used to run a 110. So when I got the Hellbender 70 I was amazed by the quality. It’s pretty much on the same level as 110, [but] at a affordable price. 7. Why would someone upgrade from a 10-series or 40-series headset to a Hellbender 70? Who is a candidate for a premium headset? Why does it make a difference? The Hellbender 70 has smoother higher quality bearings along with better seals to keep things clean. Anyone can be prime candidate for the Hellbender. As this headset comes such an affordable price for amazing quality. 8. Why Cane Creek? Cane Creek right here in the USA with quick knowledgeable staff that can help you out, whether it’s warranties, finding out what size headset you need, or servicing your suspension. 9. Anything else? I also ride Cane Creek HELM Fork and DBCoil CS suspension #HELMYeah!
Hypocrisy can hide in plain sight, and it can indirectly cost us even if we don’t know that it is doing so. We all have known people to say one thing and then do another. The reality is that no one is perfect, and we’ve likely done this ourselves from time-to-time. Usually we intended to do what we said, but then the reality of our situation made it difficult. However, hypocrisy as a result of never intending to “walk the talk” is an entirely different animal. In such a case, one presented oneself in a manner knowing from the beginning that one’s actions would be different. Sometimes this can be a form of perceived self-preservation, but at others it is a way to manipulate others.
Brands are increasingly conceived, tailored, and presented as personalities. By that I mean successful brands exude personal traits that appeal to their target customers. Like in the 90’s, if Oakley was a person, they would be a cool person to hang with. Most brands struggle transcending from a brand that is synonymous with an attribute like innovation to what defines an innovation lifestyle like Apple has (or did until Steve Jobs passed away). No industry likely tries harder to do this than the automotive industry – Subaru and Porsche are two of the more successful in this regard. And yes, bicycle brands are trying hard to do this as well. I’d argue that this does not have to be a bad thing, but when hypocrisy comes to the party there could be a hangover tomorrow.
The story can go like this: “Our brand is individual, rule-breaking, fun, no-fear, etc. like you, so you should adopt our brand as your own.” More so in the dirt than on the pavement, there’s an undercurrent of anti-establishment that brands are trying to surf. If this is done authentically, then fine. But sometimes brands are asking us to believe something, but they are not living by the same creed. You may disagree, and say that you choose products that get the job done and don’t care much for brand mumbo jumbo. But I can tell you for a fact that brand’s that have authenticity issues can also struggle with product integrity. And that should concern you.
So where’s my destination with all this? Consider the bike brands that present (aka sell) themselves to you as unique and different from the big guys like Trek, Specialized, Giant, Cannondale yet the only thing that is different is the (maybe) frame – they stay with Shimano groups on road bikes while mountain bikes get SRAM drivetrains and Fox forks. Don’t get me wrong, Shimano, SRAM, and FOX make some great stuff. But there are a number of other parts makers that may not be better, but can definitely offer different experiences. And sometimes those different experiences could resonate with you and me better. So we lose out.
Why the hypocrisy? The answer is very simple: risk management. Despite positioning itself as rebellious and unique, brand XXX wants to play it safe by spec’ing parts that will be accepted by the majority of people. That brand has a real opportunity to increase the strength and authenticity of its brand by spec’ing parts that are more closely aligned with the brand’s positioning but don’t because they’re scared. They’re asking us as consumers to take a chance on their non-mainstream brand, but they are unwilling to take chances to truly deliver on the brand’s promise. Hmm.
How real is this? I had a conversation recently with a marketing and sales leader of such a brand that I’ve known for years and worked with in the past. This guy is the real deal, smart, and I respect him. He said “You know, I’ve been thinking about this lately, and we should be looking at alternative spec. But big customers (i.e. distributors and dealers) just tell me to put SRAM and Fox on because it sells.” I totally appreciate making decisions that enables a business to survive, but we should be doing things for more than just because it “sells” or we should not be hypocrites by claiming we are company of riders that exist for riders.
So you know you want a HELM fork… why wouldn’t you? Get the low-down between the three different models so you can make sure the fork you choose will be best for your riding style! And if you don’t know you want a HELM fork, let us convince you…
Born in the mountains of Western North Carolina, HELM is designed to conquer aggressive trail, enduro racing, and anything in between. By isolating each damping and air spring adjustment, the HELM has the ability to be tuned for all types of terrain and riding styles and gives the rider ultimate control of their suspension set-up.
Why HELM compared to the “other guys”? HELM gets a bad wrap for being “difficult” to use and set up. Not so! The truth is, HELM has many of the same features as other popular brands – however, HELM’s features are external and more easily adjusted without additional purchases or wildly-specific tools, giving you more control over your set-up from the comfort of your own workstand. Additionally, with HELM Air’s minimum recommended psi as low as 30psi and HELM Coil’s lightest spring working for 90lbs featherweights, we believe HELM is the best fork on the market for everyone, no matter your riding style or skill. Take your HELM from bike-to-bike with quick and easy travel adjustment, and fine tune the feel of the stroke with easy air volume adjustment, independent positive and negative air springs, and high speed/low speed compression and rebound damping. And best of all? 100% of Cane Creek HELM forks are hand-built and rider-tested in our facility in Western North Carolina by a team of highly-trained mechanics and engineers. Why does this matter? It’s a rider, not a machine, building your fork. We know about leverage ratios, we know how suspension “should” feel, we each ride this exact same fork on our own bikes… and we know it makes a difference in quality, performance, and service.
Turns out, you can have your cake and eat it too.
Use the HELM “cheat sheet” below to compare the best features of each model. And check out our Quick Set-Up video to get your HELM rolling ASAP.
HELM Quick Set-Up Video
Wheel size: 27.5″ and 27.5+”/29″
Spring: Air. Independently charge positive and negative air springs. Minimum recommended 30psi.
Damping: Independent, external high speed and low speed compression and independent, external low speed rebound
Crown offset: For 29″ forks, you can choose between standard 51mm or reduced-offset 44mm. For 27.5″ forks, standard 44mm offset.
Stanchion diameter: 35mm
Travel: Easily internally adjusted in 10mm increments. Optimized between 130mm-160mm of travel (29″) and 140mm-170mm of travel (27.5″).
Air volume: Easily internally adjusted using our air volume piston assembly. Air volume is set from the factory at 2 notches down (out of 8 possible positions), leaving you room to make the fork more or less progressive from it’s factory tune
Axle: Quick release D-LOC keyed axle. Upgrade to new Bolt-On D-LOC axle with conversion kit.
Why HELM Air? HELM is the ultimate fork for the “tinker-er” or the rider who wants or needs complete control over his or her fork (aka: you!). Because of its low air psi capabilities (30psi minimum), lightweight and/or less aggressive riders will appreciate how well the fork can perform for them where other manufacturers’ forks can’t. Additionally, 8 “notches” of air volume adjustment (and a max 150psi) allows the heavier and/or more aggressive rider to feel appropriately supportive and progressive. Independently charging the positive and negative air springs also allows the rider to create a more supple feel off-the-top (first third of the stroke) without forsaking a supportive mid-stroke and progressive end-stroke. One of our favorite features of HELM is the ease of adjusting the fork’s travel: you don’t need to buy a new air spring, you simply add or remove “clips” (two included with the fork) to set the fork at your desired travel (max of 170mm). The fork is amazingly utilitarian, supremely adjustable and tunable, and unlike anything else on the market.
Wheel size: 27.5″ and 27.5+”/29″
Spring: Coil with spring pre-load adjustment. A 55lbs spring comes standard (ideal for riders 160-200lbs), but additional spring options include: 35lbs (90-120lbs rider), 45lbs (120-160lbs rider), and 65 (200-240lbs rider).
Damping: Independent, external high speed and low speed compression and independent, external low speed rebound
Crown offset: For 29″ forks, you can choose between standard 51mm or reduced-offset 44mm. For 27.5″ forks, standard 44mm offset.
Stanchion diameter: 35mm
Travel: Easily internally adjusted in 10mm increments. Optimized between 130mm-160mm of travel.
Axle: Quick release D-LOC keyed axle. Upgrade to new Bolt-On D-LOC axle with conversion kit.
Why HELM Coil? Coil suspension is making a massive resurgence in the mountain bike marketplace for a number of reasons. Coil forks allow the rider to have the benefits of coil throughout the suspension platform. Coil springs, as opposed to air springs, have a more linear feel throughout the entire stroke of the suspension (rather than progressive, which the Air fork provides). Why would you want a more linear feel? Coil suspension reduces stroke-fade (the feeling that you’ve lost support when the suspension heats up), completely mitigates friction (seal stiction) and improves small bump sensitivity (less “chattery” and smoother over the rough stuff). HELM Coil provides a more supportive mid-stroke and is inherently consistent, reliable and easy to use. The rider can “set it and forget it” – no need to remember to check your air pressure – it’s easy to set-up, easy to use, and easier to maintain (check, check, and check!). Plus, you get the added adjustment and tuning benefits of HELM – high and low speed compression, low speed rebound, coil pre-load, and travel adjustment!
HELM Works Series 130
Wheel size: 27.5+”/29″ only
Spring: Air. Independently charge positive and negative air springs. Minimum recommended 30psi.
Damping: Independent, external high speed and low speed compression and independent, external low speed rebound + Climb Switch technology
Why HELM Works Series 130? You know you want an HELM, but you’re into short-travel, XC, “down country,” light trail-style riding. Owners of short-travel bikes like the Yeti SB100, Giant Trance Advanced Pro, Santa Cruz Blur, and Trek Top Fuel rejoice! You now have a HELM fork option for your shorter travel 29″ bike. The HELM Work Series 130 is equipped with all-new, enhanced parts including a hollow anodized shorter offset crown, bolt-on D-LOC axle, high speed compression Climb Switch (hello, pedaling efficiency!), and optimized internals including both a shorter compression rod and damper rod. However, the HELM Works Series 130 shares the same 35mm stanchions as the HELM 27.5 and HELM 29 forks, making it stiffer than its competition. The optimized features of HELM Works Series 130 bring 100 grams of weight savings over HELM Air 29. Shipping from our factory in your choice of 120mm or 130mm of travel, your XC shred sled will be ready to go faster than you can define “down country.” It’s time to party like it’s… 1999 grams.
Whether it is riders stopping by after railing trails in the Pisgah National Forest or cruising the Blue Ridge Parkway, visiting vendors, meetings with bank executives, or media coming in for an in-depth product review, people are constantly surprised to learn about what we do here. And by here, I mean our 28,000 sq. ft. (2,800 m2) building in Fletcher, North Carolina. We are far from large in terms of space or people, but the 45 people that make up Cane Creek these days handle a wide range of tasks.
As we are a product-first company, I’ll start there. All Cane Creek product is designed and engineered in-house (If you’re wondering about eeBrakes, you’ll note that nowhere are they branded a Cane Creek product since the design is not our own. However, we did drive the G4 redesign). We start with an idea, and if it is validated it gets turned into a Product Brief that outlines all required features and parameters. From there we make our own prototypes to prove out the concept. Then, once specs are finalized we perform the required ISO lab tests as well as additional tests that we come up with. We design and fabricate our own test fixtures too. We regularly buy and test our competitors’ products as well to compare our performance. Ride tests with and without data acquisition are also conducted by our staff. It is also non-stop work to verify compatibility as all of our products will interface with products on the bike that we don’t make.
Basically everything involved in us telling the story of a product is done in-house. We create all our own marketing content, so everything you read in our website, owner’s manuals, social media posts, etc. are penned by a Creeker. With some exceptions, like when we need a real pro’s help, we perform our own photography and videography. Our Marketing team creates the video story lines, dubs in audio, and does the editing. While it’s not the most awesome website in the universe, everything you see there we did ourselves. We don’t hire agencies to come up with product names, trade show booth designs, mission statements, ad designs, or promotion ideas. We interact with all our customers directly, and we perform clinics for distributors, OEMs, retailers, media, and consumers almost year round.
Nearly 40% of our workforce is dedicated to assembling, packing, and shipping product every day. However, nearly every Creeker gets involved on the floor in some aspect – especially at month-end! The tools, fixtures, test machines, etc. that are used in production are designed and made here. We manage all our suppliers directly, and that includes enforcing Quality Assurance analysis and methods. Every shock and every fork is run on a dyno at least once to verify the damping forces are as they should be and there are no leaks. We also manually check every air shock for air spring leaks. And yes, we build forks, shocks, posts, brakes, and headsets in this building.
Cane Creek is owned by its employees. So we consider all spending carefully, and if we can do it ourselves, we do. We clean our bathrooms, paint our walls, weld our own desks, and maintain our phones, servers, and computers. But this ownership is not really about what we do – it is about why we do it. Our “Why” is what some refer to as a mission statement — “Riding bikes makes life better, we work to make bikes better.”
If you read this through a magic decoder lens, it may look like “we make cool stuff that we believe in, and we do it the way we think it should be done.”
We are not perfect, but if it’s Cane Creek, it’s truly us.
Editor’s Note: We do some really special, unique stuff around here. Interested in checking it out for yourself? Join us for a tour when you’re in town. Email us to set up a date and time (kindly allow us a week’s notice if possible).