Michael Hanslip Coaching

If you want to go faster, you have to pedal harder

Belt drives don't like rocks

I can still remember back in 2006 when Stromlo got what would become the 2009 World Championships XC course. For 2006-8, portions of that course were used for competition at Stromlo as they dialled in the details for the big show. In 2006 it might well have been National Championships that ran on these trails. In 2008 there was a World Cup round held on virtually the same course as Worlds would be the next year.
If you have ridden a mountain bike at Stromlo, you've probably ridden up the front-side climb to the summit. Beginning from the parking lot you hit Cockatoo Switchbacks. At the top of this trail you turn left onto a firetrail and head back into the singletrack at Blue Gums. This is where the competition course begins. There is a trail on the uphill (right) side of Blue Gums called Cardiac Arrest (the earlier Nationals course used a climb called Heartbreaker - so this one is a bit of a pun, a bit of a continuation of the naming convention, and a LOT more difficult). Near the top of Cardiac, one has to ride over a small boulder. I can't remember how many people I knew who took a tooth of two off their big chainring (back then, everyone had front derailleurs and multiple chainrings) on that rock. The rock is still there, sporting the scars from all these hits. The only way to protect the teeth was to have the chain on that chainring - hard to use the big one when you're climbing a technical trail.

It was about that same year that I got my first single speed bike (a Gary Fisher Rig). It had a single mid-sized chainring (32T) and sprocket (18T). Being single speed, the chain is always on that chainring. Which meant if I happened to drop the chainring on a rock during a ride, the chainring teeth were protected and usually no bad happened. Fast forward to single speed #3 for me (Spot Rocker SS). This one has very little in common with that Gary Fisher from nearly 20 years ago. Where the Fisher was aluminium, the Spot is carbon fibre. The Fisher had a chain, the Spot a belt (Spot brand was instrumental in the development of the Gates belt drive system). They did share some traits too. Both had Fox forks. Both were 29ers.
I've long wanted to go to a belt drive on my single speed. Belts are quiet (but not silent I've learned), and light and they last a much longer time than a steel chain does. What I didn't think about was rocks. Even taking two teeth off a 40T chainring leaves you with a working bike. Touching the chain against the rock leaves a mark on the chain, a mark that might impact shifting on a geared bike but nothing that will impede a single speed. That same touch against the rock with a belt drive could well leave you stranded at the trail side. The belts are carbon fibre, which is why they have so many restrictive handling rules (don't bend them, don't fold them, don't roll them up tight, don't turn them inside out and so on); if you break the carbon fibres then the belt will fall apart quickly. Just an innocent tap of the belt against a rock (between the chainring (beltring?) and the rock) can slice the belt in half. I touched something once, don't even remember what, and lifted up a tiny piece of the protective rubber covering and one fibre sticks out. I was initially worried, but it is holding up fine after a year or more.

My intention was to equip the bike with something to protect the belt from touching down ever again. But what?
My first thought was a bashring. These are larger in diameter than the chainring and chain combo and several millmetres thick to ward off any impacts. Except that they are all designed to replace the outer chainring when the middle chainring is the in-use chainring. And the beltring on the Spot is in the outer position on the spider AND the belt is really wide compared to a chain. No easy mounting solution for a bashring.
Another tricky part is that the belt has to go on quite large sprockets at the hub, so the chainring also has to be quite large to get the desired gearing (which for a 29er bike is usually around a 50" gear). This makes it more likely to hit a rock and also harder to protect.
I found a Shimano Saint DH bashguard device that might fit. There weren't any in Australia, but Shimano kindly brought one in for me. That took ages. The Saint device only protects 1/4 of the circle. Which is OK.
Divide the circle into four pieces and two of those pieces are protected by the crank arms themselves. And most people ride one foot forwards preferentially most of the time. That means protecting only 1/4 might be enough.
Again, the thickness and outboard position of the belt were problems. The Saint device is meant to attach to the outer position of a Saint crank with the chainring in the inner position.
I succeeded in installing it in the correct position with some chainring spacers and much longer bolts. Long enough that there would be a huge leverage on the protection device if it hit a rock.
Then I found a bottom bracket mounted ISCG device. By removing the 5 mm spacer which usually sits between the drive side cup and the frame, this space can be devoted to an ISCG mounting bracket. Which in turn can hold any ISCG mounted chain device. I found a tiny chain protector of the correct size to sit outside the belt. I have similar bash guards on my DH and enduro bikes. The belt is sandwiched between the inside positioned fixed protection mounted to the bottom bracket and the 1/4 circle outside protection mounted to the crank spider.
Being mounted on a hardtail means that the bottom bracket doesn't change height quite so much as a full suspension bike and therefore the belt doesn't touch down quite so often on things. It also means I'm probably travelling a little slower on rough terrain where the probability of a strike increases.
Inside and outside protection is probably overkill, but the belts are quite expensive and I'd hate to cut it on a trail simply for misjudging a rock's position. I have some good piece of mind that my belt will last a while.

There are numerous places where you could ride a belt-drive bike without any protection. Sparrow Hill is one such place. With a little bit of experimenting and a build-your-own-adventure result, I can ride my belt bike anywhere and not fear for the life of the belt.

The Albek Atlas bike bag

As mountain bikes get longer, lower and slacker, the wheelbase is growing beyond the bounds of what fits on roof racks or in travel bags. My brand new Yakima bike carriers are really very good in many ways, but their ability to carry my two long-travel bikes is not one of those ways. But that is a story for another time.
After booking a trip to Tasmania to ride at Blue Derby and St Helens, I realised my new Slash would not fit in either of the two Evoc bags I had stored in the cupboard. The oldest was from my first trip to Whistler more than 10 years ago when the travel bikes were 26" wheeled machines (I already had XC 29ers, but the long travel bikes were still small wheels). As soon as I went 29" wheels, I couldn't use the old bag (2018 trip). Evoc enlarged the pocket space to fit a 29er wheel in there (if only just). Otherwise they were identical.
There is now an XL Evoc bag and a Pro Evoc bag. They will both take a couple of centimetres extra wheelbase in the bag, but my Sender has a 133 cm wheelbase that is too long for any Evoc bag and the Slash is about 15 mm shorter than the Sender - also a no fit solution.
Enter Albek. Their new Atlas bag lists 135 cm as possible. Eureka. A solution. And an Aussie solution at that. Albek is a (primarily) moto-x company out of Newcastle. After deciding that even with some inconvenient disassembly, the new Slash wasn't going in the old bag, I ordered a new bag. Lots of the places that might stock one were out of stock, but I found one (at full RRP, no discounts for me!) from the MX Store in Qld (bought a few items from them before: fork oil, goggles and lenses). It arrived promptly, but had two production issues. The external pocket I would normally store a few small tools in hadn't been sewn up properly. And there is a foam piece that supports the rear end of the swingarm, and it hadn't been glued together properly.
After informing the MX Store, I got a call from the mountain bike guy at Albek. Nice one guys! He said he would send me a spare foam piece from his shop supplies - one that he knows was glued correctly. And he said he would find someone to sew up my pocket. I'm actually happier with mending this one than replacing it - less shipping, lower impact on the planet.

I used the bag for the trip to Tassie and back and it was fine - bike was protected and packing is simple. So that part is great. Still haven't heard back from Albek about fixing my bag. I'm sure they'll get back to me again.

First comment is that this is really Evoc bag mark 2. It is not a 100% direct copy of the Evoc bag. It is more like a direct copy with improvements in spots that needed them. Starting with two straps to wrap up the collapsed bag in storage mode and keep it all tidy and together. Two struts go at each and of the bag to stiffen the ends - they are like sail battens in the Evoc bag and round tubes in the Albek. Four PVC pipes go into the wheel pockets to protect the brake rotors - no difference there between the two. Two big skate wheels at one end and a handle at the other for pulling through the airport. The Albek bag has slightly bigger wheels set slightly further apart for greater stability. The handle is not moulded rubber, but velcro nylon and foam. Possibly more comfortable and easily replaceable should it get damaged. Two key changes in the Albek bag. The circumferential foam rubber that runs along the spine of the bag gets squashed in the Evoc bag when it is folded up for storage. It is removable in the Atlas bag and quite easy to insert/remove. There is also a fibre rod that runs around the periphery of the bags opening zipper. This keeps the bag standing upright when open. Evoc bags tend to droop when open, making inserting the bike that little bit more challenging. To carry a road bike in the Evoc bag they recommend using the fork bag because the fork retention system in the bag only works with fat suspension fork blades. In the Albek, the fork goes in a bag that then is secured into the main bag. Hence it works with road bikes by default. They even threw in the plastic dropout protectors that new bikes ship with in case a Quick Release bike has to go in the case (prevents the pointy dropout ends penetrating the bag material).

The Atlas is a little longer, a little more versatile and a little more expensive than the Evoc equivalent. Having had two team coloured Evoc bags I find the black Atlas a bit boring, but the brightly coloured Evocs do tend to get dirty on conveyor belts in airports so there is that. If I am going to go back to Whistler next year, it will be with both the Slash and the Sender and I'll have to buy a second Atlas to carry both of them. I'd definitely do it after using it for this one trip - it really is an improved Evoc.

Yakima Highroad bike carrier

I had two Thule bike carriers permanently installed on my car. My partner had three permanently installed on her car. For a trip to Thredbo I moved one of mine to her roof bars so we could take two bikes each. There were three different bike carrier types represented here and she had a new car that we wanted a different solution for.
I sold all five Thule mounts in about an hour online. I probably could have received even more money for them at the rate they flew out of the house. I put that money towards the Yakima. I found a place online in NSW that had four in stock (it was pandemic times and no one had much in stock). They even gave me a good deal on buying four.
The beauty of the Highroad is that it goes on or off the car in about 30 seconds (probably faster). I leave the roof bars on my car because they're involved to get on or off (and the plastic that they sit on to protect the interface between rack and roof is well and truly dead after so many years). We got Seasucker roof bars for my partner's car. They go on in 5 minutes and come off in 30 seconds. I can put one, up to four, bike carriers on either car in about one minute. Super convenient. And it means the carriers don't get used (or use fuel) except when required.
I hung four hooks on the garage wall and the racks hang from those when not in use. Out of the way, but readily available.
I once used a couple of them on the roof of a friend's car and it only took a little longer to mount them there because some adjustment of the strap length was required to get a good fit on his roof bars.

The only thing wrong with the Highroad is that it doesn't work with mudguards. It clamps the front and back of the front wheel snugly to hold the bike upright and secure. A small strap goes over the rear rim to hold the back wheel in place. The rear clamp tries to squash the mudguard onto the tyre - not ideal. When I have to carry my commuter bike I just take the front wheel off and slide it in the hatch of my car, but I'd rather be able to put it on top.

As I alluded to in my Albek Atlas bike bag review, the Highroad does not cope with modern long wheelbase gravity bikes (at least in size XL). The 131 cm and 133 cm wheelbases are not so long that I can't put them on the carrier, but are too long for the rear wheel holder to sit under the rear hub. Instead I use the fat bike strap (really long) to reach up the rim to pull down on the wheel well in front of the rear hub. Slightly sub-optimal, but it works. I've taken the Sender to Thredbo multiple, multiple times since I got both the Sender and the Highroad with never a problem.

Like all carriers that hold the front wheel, there is no scope for moving bikes in relation to each other. On a small car with narrow roof bars the wide flat bars of a mountain bike can (and do) interfere with each other. To get four bikes up there requires turning the bars on at least one bike 90 degrees by loosening the stem bolts - a minor change that makes them so easy to get in place. Luckily it is only one as the DH bikes with their direct mount stems can't do the 90 degree rotation. One also has to pay attention to pedal placement as they pedals can rub each other. The bikes do end up close together.

I prefer the wheel holding system to one that clamps the frame. A post-mud-ride leaves the bikes filthy and I can put a filthy bike on a Highroad without fear of damaging either the frame finish or the clamping mechanism.

Yakima, you got it so close with these. You just needed to make them a few cm longer for modern bikes.

Reflections on the rubber

It has been around 2 years since Pirelli released the Scorpion line of MTB tyres. Initially I tried the XC tyres and loved them for grip, feeling of rolling along easily and durability. They also held air extremely well.
Pirelli expanded the line to include trail and enduro tyres too. Back in October my new Slash arrived and I put new Scorpion Enduro tyres on it. An "M" up front and an "R" in the rear. I wrote not too long ago that I was going to discontinue my habit of running less tread in the back. My recent trip to Tasmania only reinforced that intention. But for the moment, I have a rear-specific rear tyre on the Slash.

It was wet in Derby. Like riding in the bathtub wet. Our first day out it didn't rain much, but it had rained VERY heavily overnight and there was flowing water everywhere. The second day it rained all day. All day. Days three and four were actually much more sunny, but still oh-so-wet. As I haven't been anywhere in the past 2 years to ride (thanks Pandemic) this is my first experience with the Scorpions in the wet. The rubber sticks well on wet things. That's "chemical grip". Obviously I don't know how well another brand might have gone (Maxxis, Schwalbe, Continental, Kenda and WTB all having been used at some point in the last 10 years), but the chemical grip was tops. The tread itself provides the "mechanical grip". That is, the knob edges dig into soil and other soft substrates to grab on. The front tyre was excellent. The rear one, not so much. The Slash is a long bike - only 2 cm less wheelbase than my DH bike. If I put my weight forwards to keep the front tyre weighted and gripping, then the back tyre is a bit free to do what it wants. Sam Hill is possibly the best ever at ignoring what the back tyre is doing. I'm not Sam Hill. Having the back slide around too much concerns me.

I thought it was amusing. When we drove up to our accommodation in Derby, the owner was just departing having done some prep-work for our arrival (firewood and smoke alarm batteries he said). He had dirt all over his face. He said he'd been for a ride just prior and thankfully it was raining. I don't think the locals like riding in the dry. Late summer in Squamish can be slippery with all the dust loose on top of things. Your tyre might grip the dust, but the dust doesn't grip anything. Those big rock slabs (like on In N Out Burger) go from reassuringly grippy to sketchy and a bit unpredictable. Derby rocks (there are big slabs here too) get covered in mud dragged by the bikes and that makes them slick. Unless it is raining (or dry enough to have zero mud - I'm sure it happens, sometimes). I knew then that I was in for a four day mud-fest. I was.

To be fair, my partner was on an Assegai and DHR2 combo and had zero issues with sliding (except in the really slick mud). So I'm not suggesting that the Pirelli tyres do things that others cannot, but I am suggesting they are excellent at what they do. Pirelli makes the spec tyre for Formula One, for World Rally Car, and for some top motorbike competitions both on and off road. They know rubber. I think they got these pretty "right". Even if they are only as good as other tyres, they are a similar price, hold air better (in my experience with numerous examples of each brand run tubeless) and show lower rates of wear (and are also nearly immune to tearing off knobs).

And yet, having read they recently finalised their new enduro and DH tyre tread (same tread, different carcass) after 2 years of testing I see a bike from the Pirelli-Canyon DH team using a non-Pirelli tyre. What's that about?

Next time you need some tires, consider the Scorpion. You might be pleasantly surprised.

St Helens

Blue Derby has ten years of history and three (or more?) Enduro World events behind it. St Helens is only 50 km away on the east coast of Tasmania and has put in a big effort to create a trail network in the past few years. I couldn't go all the way to Derby and not spend a couple of days at St Helens.
What a contrast to Derby! It was sunny, dry and rocky rather than sodden and grey. The views from the trails almost always include the ocean - love it. If I had to characterise the whole network in Canberra terms, it is like a gigantic Bruce Ridge. Nothing really steep, everything a little meandering, and the character of the soil and trail depends exactly where on the hill you are.
St Helens might be the only place I've been that puts gap jumps on the side of green trails, and blind TTFs with consequences on blue trails - in BC these things would be marked or push the trail to black. You're 100% fine if you stick to the main trail line. But as soon as you start partaking of the optional extras to the side, you can easily get caught out on a first go. Right at the bottom is a jump over a big tree stump that favours a line into the trees - and those trees are very scarred making me think many have taken the preferred line. One blue trail had numerous rollover features, but suddenly they throw in one that has a tree stump in the run off or make it a gap jump rather than a rollover. These are all fine if you know - but blue trails aren't meant to have things that require that knowledge.
Worse than Derby is the tendency for trails to go up and down. Even the jumps trails have some big ups in them. Every descent trail becomes a jump track - we chose to ride the black trail Icarus because the description said it was a technical trail. It started out with some nice technical challenges and then it was jumps. The trail that most people seem to ride is Send Helens and it is the main jumps trail of the network - I didn't bother to try it. On the advice of one of the professional trail maintenance guys, my first descent was Old Salty Dog. It runs down a ridge, which is actually super fun and the views are great, but then it goes into the wet valley below the ridgeline and does a couple of big climbs to finish off. It's just a weird choice for me to put some big climbs at the end.

While St Helens is a proper town (restaurants, grocery stores and services galore) compared to Derby, it isn't (yet?) a big MTB destination so the shuttles only operate if you can get 4 people together for the bus to run, or you show up during a weekend or holiday. None of the above applied to me, so I was pedalling up every time. The elevation gain is similar to Stromlo, but with all the climbing and then descending and then climbing some more, it ends up being double the metres gained and 3 times the duration. Which is fine if an XC ride is what you want.
Like at Buller, the trails are connected loops. You can grow your own adventure this way by continuously connecting to the next loop until you've had enough and then come back on the other side of the loops. Again, I think they built this network on the assumption everyone would shuttle up and not ride up. The proper climbing trail, Garn Up, takes the better part of an hour to access due to the combination of distance and climbing before it. And it is by no means direct.
At the end of a week of riding my legs only felt up to one summit ascent. The second day we stopped at the top of Icarus (under the cellphone tower, which you can see poking through the trees from the trailhead - and interestingly only a few metres shy of the actual summit in elevation terms despite there being loads of pedalling in between the two).

There was nothing at St Helens that called for an Enduro bike, and everything that proclaimed bring a small bike. We got caught by a guy on a ten+ year old MTB (very short, very steep geometry - very fast up) and never saw him again. We plodded up the climbs carrying travel we didn't need to go down.

These trails are really fun. But get "climbing" and "descending" out of your head before you arrive. It's an intermix of both all the time. Stop to take in the views. Some are really special. Appreciate the great trailhead facilities (picnic tables, parking, toilets and showers, coffee shop that wasn't open when we were there) and amazing signage - you never lack for knowledge of where you are, where you're going or where you'll end up.
They also built a trail called Town Link. It runs from the centre of town to the trailhead. It runs along the ocean and through the forest. Once you leave the beach and head into the trees it is a gentle climb all the way to the trailhead. What becomes very clear is that this is a really fun, but quite gentle, descent. The only one of the day without any climbs tossed in. And if you pedal, you can go very fast down the Town Link. Luckily we weren't taking it when it was busy as it is the only bidirectional trail in the network. And it is quite narrow in places. You couldn't go fast at midday on a weekend I suspect. We met a nice local who rides his e-bike out to the trailhead and back every day for some exercise. He wasn't in a rush and I'd hate to come around a blind corner when he's coming the other way.

Oh, and the seafood in this fishing port was amazing. Highly recommend St Helens for a visit/ride.

Blue Derby

They've done an amazing job of building a mountain biking attraction in the literal middle of nowhere at Derby. There is a great network of trails draped across the hills surrounding the village. But I really found there is a gap in the network - most of the trails are very XC oriented, and then there are the Enduro tracks that are very gravity oriented and I didn't find anything in between. Take "Trouty" as an example. This trail is on the edge of the network and is visible from the highway - they've painted a gigantic trout on the fish-shaped cliff above the trail and is clearly seen by everyone driving into Derby from the East. It is a pretty amazing and fun trail. But to get to it you have to ride Krushka's, which is up and down, up and down, and even the real descending part of Krushka's would be best done on a trail or XC bike. But then you get to the chunky rock section of Trouty and you need an Enduro bike to ride it properly.
Roxanne is the trail that made the highlights show of the most recent Enduro World Cup event at Blue Derby as the pros tried to figure out the boulder field in pouring rain (note they did it WAY better than I managed in similar wet conditions!). To get to Roxanne requires a climb from the shuttle drop-off point similar to the climb of Mt Stromlo from the parking lot. And that's assuming you get a shuttle in the first place.

We arrived at the trailhead intending to climb up under our own steam, only to find that it was closed for maintenance for the day. Unfortunately, Derby is all about the shuttle and only has one climbing trail from the parking lot (Axehead) - climbing seems a problematic side-effect of being on a hill. The four+ shuttle companies suggests I am in the minority on wanting to go up pedalling. Conveniently, the shuttle pick up is about 10 metres from the trail closed sign and the Up Down and Around van pulled up just then. A ten-ride pass was purchased and we spent the whole of our four days using their shuttles. But the shuttle is more the beginning than the end. Snig Track becomes a necessity with multiple trails sprouting off the top of that climb.

On advice, I took my Enduro bike. On reflection, I should have taken my trail bike. Yes I would have been "under biked" for a couple of sections of Roxanne and Trouty, but I would have been appropriately biked for everything else.

There is a small body of water - the one with the floating sauna in it - that has a gentle green bike path around it. There is also a run little blue trail over there called Watchya Upta. The climb was a mud-fest and not only impossible to ride up but also almost impossible to walk up. So slick. Once past the mud, the rest of the track was good. If it were dry, it would probably be a real blast.
Long sections of track revealed that they were based on plastic lattice tiles. I suggest a few of those on the climb of Watchya Upta would go far to making it weatherproof.

On the Saturday we caught a shuttle up to "First 13" which is the first 13 kilometres of the track that runs from above Derby down to St Helens on the east coast. The first 13 is primarily descending. The trail head is a lovely place, even first thing in the morning when it was still pretty cold in May. Loads of room for the drop-off shuttles, toilets, maps, grass - just a really attractive place to begin. The trail was good fun too. It seemed to take about 10 minutes, but was actually close to an hour. And like almost all the trails we rode, handled being completely wet very well (it was lovely and sunny on the Saturday, but it had rained a lot and there were puddles everywhere. Mud was minimal (but sketchy when it did occur).
Then the shuttle grabbed us and hauled us to lunch. Why do shuttles always have a lunch stop? I just want to ride.
After the pub lunch (most of the guys had at least one beer - not great for the riding to follow), we hauled off again to the top of Atlas. Atlas runs about 8 km into the Derby network at the top (on Dambusters). As I rode all of Dambusters (very XC) the day before, I knew exactly where we'd join in and what my options were for the rest. Atlas, despite being shuttled to the top of a big hill, doesn't have a lot of descending. It is generally down, but not a descent.

All of the trails seem to have a common theme. The descents have climbing and the climbing trails have descending. And as I'll write about later, the St Helens trails where I went next have this same trait. This is a decision of the trail designer to change the direction of flow mid-trail. The Mt Fromme trails in North Vancouver either go up, or go down.

So, I really enjoyed going to Derby. The place we stayed was awesome, just above the trailhead and a couple of blocks from our morning coffee source. The trails are really well built. The vast majority of the tracks ride well wet. The rock sections ride better wet - no dust, dirt of mud on the rock if it is washing them clean with the rain. And it is super-grippy in the wet. But I don't think I get the trail ethos here. Glad I saw almost all the trails and have seen the beautiful place that Derby is, but I won't be rushing back. It is also fairly difficult to get to - nearly 12 hours from door to door (taxi to CBR, fly to MEL and then LST, get hire car, load hire car, drive to Scottsdale for groceries (you can't get ANYTHING in Derby) and then onto Derby).