So I did it. I kinda, well…not really kinda, I just did it, OK? I gave in to a market trend. I was going to say that it’s not really a trend to kind of save me from eating crow, but it really is. Although, in my defense, I think it has way more merit and staying power than just a trend or a fad. It’s here to stay. I think this so strongly, that I actually invested in the movement lock, stock and barrel. I mean, like “pass the Koolaid” invested. Seriously I drank the Koolaid so completely and with such zeal that this bike is now my only “go to” for all of my off road rides. So yeah, you could say that I got the fever pretty bad. Now, is this trend something that you could do without as a cyclist? Absolutely. It’s not super ground breaking. But I truly believe it is a change to the bicycle for the better. I also believe, and this is important, it is a sign of the bike industry finally starting to move, although very slowly, and very reluctantly, away from the typical, homogenizing and boring trickling down of race technology. I mean seriously, this change ads weight to the over all bike that you are riding. It really doesn’t roll at cross country race speeds. Nor does it shed precious weight from the super important “rolling wheel weight”. It’s a movement in components that will make your bike more comfortable, have better traction and roll over obstacles easier. To me it’s a change that screams: “Go out and have fun on your bike again!” Unplug, disconnect and go have “fun like you were a kid on your bike” again. It’s kinda exactly what I have been saying all along.
So, why now? Why the move towards this trend? Because of everything above. That’s why. But also because the technical truth of this trend, it’s benefit to the rider, is right there for all to see. It just makes perfect sense. Especially for the un-racer (this is a Grant Petersen thing, the un-racer. If you don’t know who Grant is, do yourself a favor and look him up and study his “velosophy.” After you do, you will thank me. So you’re welcome in advance.) The sense of it is: it will make your bicycle handle like a dream off road and on road for that matter. But in this blog let’s just talk about the attributes this change has added to the off road rig.
OK so, if you haven’t guessed it yet, the trend that I am speaking of is what the industry is calling “plus size” bikes. The two most popular types are the 27.5+ and the 29+. This is referring to the size of the wheel/tire combo. So, just to be clear, you can go to the bike shop and look at bikes that have 27.5″ wheels and 29″ wheels. Those sizes have been around awhile, and have a solid proven track record of performance. And you have, like all things, different camps of opinions on the different sizes and their pros and cons. Now this trend of adding the “+” to the wheels size is just indicating that these “plus” bikes have the same size rim diameter but with a slightly taller and wider (fatter) tire on a much wider rim. Some people also call these bikes “mid-fat” bikes. Being that they are between a “fat” tire bike and a bike with a “normal” size tire.
The benefits that the “plus” size ads to the ride is noticeable and measurable. I have only ridden my new plus-sized steed a few times and already can tell that I made the right move by accepting and welcoming this change into my riding life.
There are a few different disciplines that the plus tire is ideal for. Like, enduro riding (27.5+ and 29+), aggressive trail riding (27.5+) and bikepacking (29+). There are a few more, but you get the idea.
Let’s take one second to talk about the rim width of these bikes. The rims that these plus-sized bikes are using range from 35mm’s wide to 50mm’s wide. I chose the 50mm wide Surly Rabbit Hole rim to build my bike up with. And I am using Wilderness Trail Bikes (WTB) Ranger 29 x 3.0 tires as well.
The reason these plus bikes use the wider rim width is to handle the wider tire size. Narrower than 35mm’s and the tire beads won’t seat right or in some cases won’t seat at all. The wider tire size on an appropriately wide rim allows for more air volume and lower air pressures. The wider the rim, the lower the pressure. And if you are running lower pressure with a tubeless tire setup, you needn’t worry about pinch flats.
Another one of the biggest benefits to running your tires at a low pressure is that with the lower pressure you are getting a significantly wider contact patch on the surface you are riding on. You take that wider contact patch and add it to the slightly taller tires which are giving you an over all bigger wheel diameter, and you have a bike that will just about roll over almost anything with a blissfully wide, low-pressure contact patch. It’s with this combination of ingredients that you have traction for days.
This low pressure/high traction also ads to the overall quality of your ride comfort as well. It’s ability to absorb the ruts, trail blemishes, small/medium rocks and stutter bumps is amazing.
I am running my bike rigid and with the plus sized set up and my brooks B-17, yeah, it’s a pretty goddamn plush ride.
Running your tires tubeless is awesome. I have never done it until I got this bike. It was easy to do for me as well with the rim and tire combo I chose. Not running the big tubes shaved about a pound per wheel of rolling weight for anyone that cares. I didn’t care that much. I am running tubeless mostly for the ride quality and flat resistance of the tubeless system.
Now, I don’t know if you remember…but a few blog posts back I was expressing a real need to wander on my bike. To change the way I rode. To simplify things in my riding style. The disciplines that attracted me were touring and bikepacking. The wandering and adventurous nature of both these disciplines were what moved me towards them. It seemed as if it were pulling or tugging at my soul hard, especially since I hit the 50 year old mark. Seriously. So that’s the direction I jumped into, with both feet. Just totally head first. I mean, right? It’s tugging at something as important as your soul you go for it. Right? I sure as shit did go for it. I got the Long Haul Trucker touring bicycle first, followed by the Surly ECR bikepacking rig.
To purchase the Long Haul Trucker (we’ll call it the LHT from here on out) I did what I told myself I wouldn’t do again. I sold a bike. I know, I suck. But I don’t make a shit ton of money and when I want to do something, or set my mind to try something exciting, new or different, I don’t have the desire or patience to wait and save my money. Plus, the reason I decided to sell my bikes is they were all on the verge of becoming uncomfortable. They all had an aggressive-ish geometry that was race inspired. I was done with all that. There was a point where I would go out to the garage, look at the bikes and not want to ride. Simply because all I could think about was the pain-in-the-ass ritual of getting “geared up” to go out on a ride only to be semi-comfortable. In case you don’t know, getting geared up, in this particular case, meant getting dressed in cycling specific clothing and accessories. Now, not getting “geared-up” is a whole new post on it’s own, which I will get to, so stay tuned. So back to the conundrum in the garage….I thought, keep these bikes and seldomly ride them, or sell them and expand my riding experience…you know, fully commit to my new “velosophy” and embrace this new chapter with total zeal. Well, if you know me, I went with the latter over the former.
I sold my road bike to purchase the LHT. I sold my cross country inspired mountain bike frame (Surly Karate Monkey) and my cyclocross bike (Surly Straggler). So the need for me to be more “aero” and/or in the dreaded “race” position on my bike is now long gone. I only have two bikes, the LHT for all of my road and gravel excursions and the ECR for all my full blown dirt excursions. It feels right. Like it was a forward moving decision.
Let me expand a bit more on this major change I’m making. It’s not happening because I’m getting older, although in my older age, the race inspired geometry is becoming more and more uncomfortable to ride. But also it’s because race inspired geometry pushes you (even subconsciously) to ride in a way that I have no interest in riding anymore. It is my humble (right) opinion that the bike industries constant need to trickle down the race attitude/lifestyle part of cycling is making riding bikes inaccessible to the masses. And frankly, I’m tired of it. That kind of riding is for a very small percentage of cyclists. Seriously. And the industry spends almost 100% of it’s resources pushing this “riding” lifestyle. I know, I know…they need to sell bikes. I get that. I guess my real issue (if you can call it that) is that so many bike riders that are new to the sport are pushed, shamed or even bullied by shop employees, magazines, advertisements and even their own peers to buying into and riding with this race attitude, so they never have a chance to try something different. Or enjoy a different way of riding all together. I know a hand full of cyclist that would enjoy this adventure with me but are too scared (like I was) to not be taken seriously as a cyclist. It’s very sad to me.
Riding my new Surly ECR has already shown me, in the three times I have ridden it since I have built it up four days ago, the power (that’s right, I said power) of slowing down, stopping frequently and actually enjoying the ride for what it is again…for me, it’s an escape from everyday life. Not a race to the make-believe finish line. And as I show up to the trail head with my regular t-shirt, everyday shorts, sandals, no helmet with a big straw hat on to protect my neck and face from the scorching summer sun, it’s a middle finger to all of the false claims of wicking tech fabrics, energy bars/gels, supplement drinks, 1×12 drive-trains, 7″ of front and rear travel, full-fingered gloves, chamois, tiny pedals, KOM’ing and *gasp* helmets. It’s a middle finger to the industry that keeps telling you that you need these things to have fun on your bike. You don’t. You can have fun with all of the stuff above, I know, I have in the past, but you don’t need any of it. It’s kinda of a silent “fuck you” to the industry I love so much as I hope at least one person is mildly inspired by my appearance to see for themselves and try it out. Seriously. If that’s you…here’s a good place to start, go read this book: Just Ride: A Radically Practical Guide to Riding Your Bike
I am here to tell you don’t need to look, ride or act like you are in a race to enjoy your bikes. You don’t. Don’t believe me? Try it. Seriously, try it with me. I can almost guarantee you that you won’t miss the old way.