I've been having a recurring dream lately about the trails along Big Creek in Delhi. They are the strange and wonderful playground of my youth where I would spend endless hours exploring by bike or on foot with my trusty dog Zeke at my side. I've been dreaming of the fun that was had out there, the tears that were shed, and the quiet I enjoyed on my own. Its funny how quickly time can slip away from you and the playground of your youth lies empty when suddenly you find yourself in need of reliving some of that adventure, even just for a few hours. I made the decision to hop on my fat bike and ride out to those trails that were calling to me, some of which I have not seen in a decade.
I began my trip from home down the rail trail that connects the towns of Simcoe and Delhi. This old CN railroad has been unused for many years and was converted into a trail about 5 years ago, much to my delight. Its a nice sight seeing pedal all the way from town to town. When you come into the Delhi end there are a few fossils of the old rail line to be seen, as well as an abandoned section of tracks. Beyond that and along the tracks in town are the empty buildings that once housed budding small-town industry, now left to slowly decay and be either turned into warehousing or reclaimed by nature.
Once riding through town, the rail line eventually reaches the trestle over Big Creek. The "Swimming Hole" trails as we called them. The descent from the trestle to the bottom of the valley is steep and fast, taking you quickly into the thick forest that grows along the valley and shades the creek. No matter where I am along this creek, from the trestle all the way to the hamlet of Lyndoch, I always have that feeling of eyes being on me. Sometimes the feeling is very slight and in the back of my mind, other times the feeling can be overwhelming. Its always there, a ghostly presence that follows in your shadow. I gave it a nickname many years ago, "The Watcher". He is always just over your shoulder, sometimes the valley is so still and quiet you can hear your heartbeat and at that moment you can almost swear you can her "The Watcher" breathing on your shoulder. A quick turn of your head and there is nothing around you. It can play games with your head. I'm not sure if he is a silent guardian of the forest or something more sinister, either way I don't want to find out.
I pick up the pace a bit, still crawling along the overgrown trails, trying to keep The Watcher at bay. Stories from my childhood come flooding back into my head. Whether they were just made up by other kids to scare us or actual accounts of creepy happenings along this stretch, it still brings a feeling of dread over you. The stories of the "Railway Man" and his ghostly apparition swinging his lantern along the trestle, I swear I could see the light from it a few times in my younger days making its way from one end of the trestle to the other. Maybe The Watcher and the Railway Man are the same person? I'll never know.
I stop to inspect the massive structure now over me, it was condemned and closed a few years back and the occasional trains have stopped all together. The state of degradation was alarming up close and in person. This crossing has been in use for a long time and will now stand as an mausoleum of sorts along the creek with the Railway Man above, walking from one end of the trestle to the other with his lamp. The massive steel girders and hammered rivits are an impressive sight from below, standing next to the massive concrete footings.
I push along, moving further from town, along overgrown trails and farmers fields, through the long lost trails of Dick's Hill to the next ghostly destination along Big Creek, the old Croton Dam. Here is a place that history has forgotten, you won't find anything about it in a newspaper or online. If you want to learn about it you need to know a local. It was once a power generating dam that supplied energy for Delhi (which was Fredricksburg at the time). It broke apart and was washed away in high spring flood waters and has been abandoned since. The old roads are barely visible, along with a couple of remaining foundations of long torn down houses. The derelict dam still remains although a large section of it is broken away and has been washed far down the creek. There is alot of history to explore here, the hollow remains of the dam where the massive turbines were housed are easily accessible through the huge tunnel that the water flowed through, the rooms where the generating equipment were installed are just as easy to get to. Climbing up out of the valley to the top of the old village of Croton will bring you out to a barely used dead end road. If you decide to explore some more you can find an old road at the top of the valley that will bring you to the abandoned Croton cemetery. When the dam and village were abandoned the handful of people buried here were exhumed and taken to the Delhi and New Salem cemeteries, or so the story goes. You can find an area off this old road that has dips and heaps in the forest floor, just like something was dug up and the pile of dirt and hole left as it was. The feeling of The Watcher is in full effect here. My camera died but I have some photos of the place taken a few years ago.
I begin my ride away from the old dam that the forest is slowly taking back. My ride down the lonely dirt road back towards civilization, away from The Watcher. His grip loosens with each turn of the pedals away from the valley, in a short time I will be out of his reach and back into the safety of town, without him breathing on my shoulder. He will be waiting for me the next time I venture down into the valley, he always does. He knows that I'll be back again one day.
Well, I've put a few rides on the Norco now. I'm running 25% sag in the fork and 14psi rear, 11 psi front in the tires (I'm 260lbs). The bike is 100% stock at this point. It weighs 29 lbs.
When I got the bike home I had to do a few little fixes right from the factory. The left crank arm would rub the frame under load, I had to remove the cranks and bb and place the spacer from the right side to the left, no rubbing issue and better chain line now. The levers needed to be repositioned, and the lever reach shortened, but this is all personal preference.
I had my sights set on a few other 650b+ bikes (Spec and Cannondale) and even a couple of trail 29ers but the Norco beat them out because of a few key features. The Spec has only 28/24 spoke count wheels, for a guy my size I don't trust them, the Norco is reliable 32 spoke wheels. Both the Specialized and the C'Dale have pressfit bottom brackets, whereas the Norco is good old BSA threaded.... its no secret that I fucking hate pressfit bb's. The Norco has more aggressive geometry compared to the Spec and Dale, which is what I was looking for in a bike like this. The Norco has a kick ass Race Face Affect crankset.
I decided to move away from riding fat bikes exclusively. While they are more than capable of handling any terrain / situation that I could throw them at, I have to admit that they did have their drawbacks as well. The biggest drawback for me was the Q factor put my hips in an odd spot and caused me lower back / hip pain over long rides (as in 6+ hours). I'm not leaving fat bikes all together though as I still own the Nashbar and plan to use it for many miles on both dirt and snow, and the 'plus' size tires don't offer near the float that the fat bikes do, the big advantage to 'plus' bikes is traction. That and variety is the spice of life. Whats better than having a nice variety of bikes?
My thoughts in no particular order:
-Fork works surprisingly well, have not even been close to the limit of its travel
-The Nobby Nic tires grip it and rip it. A very aggressive tread that hooks up everywhere. I might run a 3.0 Rocket Ron in the rear for summer conditions, that combo (in a 2.25) works good on my 29er.
-You can't ride this bike lazy, you need to be on the gas to get the most out of the massive amount of grip and aggressive geo.
-The grey/black paintjob with safety orange/ yellow decals looks awesome in person, the photos don't do it justice.
-The 1x gearing is spot on, a 36-11 cassette with a 28t chainring works great, no cassette adaptors or diner plates needed out back and improved ground clearance at the chainring.
The Shimano shifter and derailleur work superbly, Shimano quality as per usual.
-The chainstay yoke is a work of art
-The fake lock on grips are cheesy as shit, Norco should have spec'd a real lock on grip.
-The brake hoses and shifter cable housing need to be trimmed up alot, this should have been taken care of at the factory.
I can't wait to rack up a bunch of miles on this sweet rig, it seems like the near perfect trail bike for the loose / sandy trails in TP.
Way back, sometime in the mid 90's, my parents decided that it was time to get my brother and I new bikes. Our Huffy bmx bikes were too small for us and we needed something with gears and proper brakes. My mother loaded us up with our uncle, who was an avid road rider, and drove us to the big city of London, Ontario to buy new bikes. I was thrilled. The thought of a new bike with gears and knobby tires was very attractive to my budding adventurous spirit. Eventually my mother settled on buying us a set of Wal-Mart bikes.
Mine was a sliver Triumph Sahara. It had 15 speeds, rim brakes, and an oversize steel frame. It was my first "mountain bike". I use the term mountain bike very loosely as it was not well suited to any off road use. That bike took me places. First it was beyond our street, then to the outer limits of town, and eventually down to "Dick's Hill" where the mountain biking bug caught me. At first, the ride to Dick's and back was an all day epic, covering about a 5km round trip. Eventually my friends and I built some new trails in the woods down there, and after piecing together some ATV trails, we had a decent loop.
I did my first bit of snow biking on that rig. I remember putting on a flannel lumberjack jacket and heading into the trails along North Creek. It was cold and wet but I just couldn't stay off the bike all winter. The old Shimano Indexed thumb shifters worked like shit but I didn't seem to notice, or the fact that the brakes would barely slow you down being old sidepull brakes working on steel rims.
I learned how to fix bikes on that old Triumph as well. The gears needed constant adjustment, and cable replacements were frequent as the plain jane steel cables from the local hardware store would rust nearly solid in a few months. It was a constant struggle to keep the wheels running true, I spent many hours with an adjustable wrench turning spoke nipples in all sorts of directions. Brake adjustments were usually done with a nice set of vice-grips. The bike did feature internal cable routing, although the holes in the steel frame seemed to weep rust coloured water all too frequently. Hub, bottom bracket, and chain maintenance consisted of a healthy dose of WD-40 every now and again, the tires got air when they were flat. It was a ghetto maintenance regime but I slowly learned what every nut bolt and screw did on the bike, and how to get odd noises to go away.
As the years went by the bike wore down more and more. Lots of stuff broke and was replaced with whatever I could find that would fit. When it finally died it must have had over 5000km on it. I remember the day it died quite well too. My friend and I rode from town out to a stretch of trails near LaSalette, it was a cold winter day and we were laden with big heavy boots and jackets. Our backpacks were stuffed with extra socks, food, and some screwdrivers and vice grips in case of a mechanical issue. We were having a blast, riding the frozen packed snow when disaster struck. I was riding up a slight incline when the worn out middle chainring finally gave out and folded over at 90 degrees and jammed into the chainstay on its way around. The pedals were jammed and I was going no where. I had pushed the bike out of the bush when my friend and I came up with the bright idea that he would tow me home with a bungee cord he happened to have in his bag. We made it about half of a kilometer when he said "Hey, this is working out alot better than I thought it would" immediately followed by the cord snapping. I pushed the bike all the way home after that, nearly 8km of walking.
The poor old Triumph was done. Worn out and not worth fixing it was put aside to live out the last few months of its life in the back of the shed. The funeral was a sad day for me. My dad was putting shingles on our roof and had rented a dumpster for the cleanup. I lifted that heavy old Triumph over my head one last time and heaved it into the bin. The old girl had been my sidekick for the last few years and was just tossed away like garbage. It might still live way down deep in a landfill somewhere, slowly rusting away into nothing, or maybe it was melted down and turned into a few nuts and bolts.
I was so proud of that bike when I got it and it took me places and showed me things that I would have never seen otherwise. I feel like my life could have turned out much differently if my parents had decided to buy me something else, like a skateboard or a mini bike, but I'm sure glad they bought me that mountain bike. That Wal-Mart bike was a gateway drug, which led to my addiction of all things bicycle that has been a part of me since that bike. I am thankful that I owned it, that my parents bought it for me, and that I didn't know there was anything better out there. That bike was the best bike in the world to me during the time I owned it. It saw more blood sweat and tears than any other bicycle I've owned. There is a reason I'm a cyclist and a licensed mechanic, and I think that bike had alot to do with both. Thanks mom and dad!
Ever since I sold my Fatboy SE, I've had people picking my brain about why I rid myself of it and if it was a good bike or not. I've decided that I'll put it all out in the open, right here where people can choose to read it or ignore. Did I like the bike? Sure did. Did it have problems? Oh fuck yeah. Here are some honest thoughts from a guy who paid his own hard earned cash on the bike.
The Good Stuff:
The Fatboy is a phenomenal handling bike. Specialized really knows how to tweak geometry and get a quick but stable ride out of this bike. It never felt slow or sluggish, it carved hard and got up to speed quickly. Fit was excellent too, the stock cockpit was well sorted and the OEM bar / stem / post held everything together nicely.
It is decently light weight for a fat bike. With my 1x conversion and lightweight tubes I got the bike down to 31lbs, which I feel is reasonable for this type of bike.
The Specialized Ground Control tires are fantastic. They might cost an arm and a leg to replace but they work wonderfully. They roll fast and bite everywhere, with supple sidewalls to soak up the trail chatter.
I really liked the Specialized Henge saddle. I had some doubts about it at first but it won me over in the end. I liked it so much that I'm thinking of having my local Specialized dealer hook me up with one for my new trail bike. The Body Geometry grips were great too, the shape and feel were excellent, no hands going numb after spending hours riding.
The Bad Stuff:
First off I'm going to say fuck off with the pressfit bottom bracket creak box. I hated pressfit before but this bike took it to another level of mind numbing creaking and groaning with every pedal rotation. Maybe it has something to do with the wider crank spindle or increased loads due to the fat tires, either way it was an annoying and loud bunch of shit that could have been solved with running a good old BSA threaded shell.
The cassette. In its own, the cassette isn't all that bad. Its a lower end offering from Sunrace that seemed to shift just fine..... BUT...... Specialized tossed on a cassette with no carrier body onto and aluminum freehub. What the fuck are you thinking Specialized? What a bonehead move on your part. Here is a photo of my freehub body after one easy ride around the block with mentioned shitty cassette. Over a few weeks it would have been total annihilation of the freehub body. What pea brained idiots decided on that cassette / hub?
Since we are already talking about the hub, I might as well mention how shitty the Specialized hubs are. The rear hub had a tendency to puke the freehub body bearings on a few occasions, and judging by numerous online threads, I'm not alone here. Thanks Specialized for spec'ing Swiss Cheese for a hub.
Still on the hub topic..... why not a thru axle setup? Would have stiffened the bike up, and added some much needed longevity to the rear hub. That along with the fact that all of Specialized's competition has moved to thru axles.
The brakes. One thing I know fer certain is that if you're going to spec a mechanical brake on your bike, skid all the shit out there and go right for the best (and very affordable) Avid BB7. No excuses here, the OEM Tektro brakes are total fucking garbage. Also, the levers and cables / housings can be tossed into the trash along with the brakes.
Specialized nearly hit a home run here with a super handling bike, but some of the parts spec really holds it back. They might want to go back to the drawing board with a few choices or be left in the dust by better offerings in the same price range. I ended up modding mine enough to overcome some of the drawbacks but the hub and bb issues were the straw that broke the camel's back so to speak.
Maybe Specialized can offer me a job to spec their bikes with more of a "working man's" build kit that would stand up to some decent abuse, but I won't hold my breath waiting for it. I would get fired after the first day for telling the engineers and designers that they are fucking idiots for moving away from a threaded bb shell.
Agree or disagree, like it or not, thats how The Bric sees the Fatboy SE. This isn't a review so I won't give it a rating. If I hadn't gotten such a deal on the Fatboy I most likely would have bought something else, like a Kona Wo or Norco Sasquatch, but I don't regret my time on the Fatboy either.
Oh, and while I'm in a bitching mood and before I forget, here is the obligatory "Get the Fuck off my Lawn!"
This December has been the best for riding in recent history. I remember last year we had snow and a white christmas, whereas this year its looking to be green and in the single digits. I managed two great rides this week.
I had Thursday off and took the Norco Torrent out for its second ride. I've gotten comfortable on this bike and am getting the hang of riding such an aggressive trail bike. It likes to be pushed hard and it didn't disappoint on Thursday. I managed nearly 30km of singletrack mixed between the East Side and the West at Turkey Point. I'm really digging the short stays and long top tube, the 3" wide Nobby Nic's hold traction in everything. I ride this bike like I rode my KTM dirt bike, on the gas and attacking every little obstacle. Its not the kind of bike that you want to use for a lolly-gagging tour, but should be pretty good on all day rides if you can keep pushing it hard all day. Enough about if for now though, I'll post up more thoughts on it in a while.
Sunday was the Outspokin Cycles fat bike Demo Day at Turkey Point. My wife has strictly forbidden me from even looking at any new bikes after buying the Norco, so I didn't want to tempt myself by taking a new fatty or two out. Instead I loaded up Little Bric and the new Adam's Trail-A-Bike for a morning of fun. Little Bric was wide eyed and smiling at the sight of all the bikes and riders. We attached the Trail-A-Bike and headed out into the singletrack, not really knowing what to expect of the little guy. He ended up loving every second of it, hooting and yelling for me to go faster. We rode the easier trails in the Provincial Park and ended up riding around 15km in a few hours, with some breaks tossed in spent looking at interesting trees and searching the forest floor for treasures. It was a great time and probably one of my favourite rides of the year. Little Bric and I are going to have to do lots more of this next year.
There are only a couple more weeks left of 2015 and its been nice to be able to squeeze every last ride I can out of this year. Hopefully 2016 holds as much great riding as this year has.
I did it. I replaced the Fatboy with something a little more gnarly. It was a close decision between the Norco Torrent and the C'Dale Beast of the East, but the Norco had a few advantages over the C'Dale. I picked up a Norco Torrent 7.2 from the good guys at Totally Spoked in Stratford, the bike has a Shimano 1x10 drivetrain with a Race Face Affect crank (threaded bb shell, fuck yeah!), Schwalbe tires, and an SR Suntour fork. Its one of the new "mid fat" or "plus sized" offering coming to market this year with 27.5 x 3.0" tires, making the outer tire diameter effectively a 29er. The first ride went quite well, the bike likes to be ridden hard. Its not something that you want to go for a Sunday sightseeing stroll with, it really shines when you put alot of coal on the fire. The Schwalbe tires hook up awesome, I still need to tweak the air pressures though. The drivetrain was typical Shimano, perfect shifts and no issues. The SR Suntour fork worked quite well and it seems that Suntour has really upped their game as of late. I can't wait to put a bunch more miles on this rig and get to know her better. I'll follow up in a while with more of my thoughts.
The Bric...._ mountain biker, road rider, heavyweight gear abuser. Built like a brick sh*thouse. No bike is safe.