The Outside Blog

Dispatches : Biking

First Look: 2015 Yeti SB5c

Earlier this month, Yeti unveiled its new 27.5 mountain bike, the SB5c, which is built around a suspension system unlike any you've ever seen. 

It's called Switch Infinity, and it's the next generation of the company's much-heralded Switch suspension technology.

The original Switch linkage featured an eccentric pivot that reverses direction partway through the bike’s travel. The system provided excellent pedaling platform and small-bump compliance while still offering a plush, linear feel in the deepest portion of the travel. That Switch Link debuted on a six-inch 26er, and a year later was carried over to a five-inch 29er. We tested the aluminum SB66 and the carbon SB95 extensively—and loved each one.

Then a strange thing happened. Last year, Yeti migrated the Switch Link to a new 27.5 platform, the SB75, and while it rode fine, the bike lacked the magic of its counterparts. It received decent, but not glowing, reviews from our testers (and throughout the industry), though oddly Yeti didn’t seem terribly concerned.

In hindsight, they must have known the SB5c, with its Switch Infinity suspension, was on the way. This carbon-only 27.5 machine has five inches of rear travel and is built around a 5.5-inch (140mm) fork. Yeti is billing it as an aggressive trail bike and will sell only two premium builds ($6,600 and $10,600) to start.

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At first glance, the SB5c seems to have a secondary shock system tucked above the bottom bracket, but that’s actually the core of the new Switch Infinity suspension design. The system uses the reversing eccentric pivot of the original, but it connects the pivot to a forged aluminum body that slides up and down on two gold, Kashima-coated tubes. The idea was developed in conjunction with Fox, which manufactures the tubes exclusively for Yeti. 

Switch Infinity is supposedly lighter and requires less maintenance than the original Switch Link. Yeti also says that the end result of the design is “unprecedented pedaling efficiency and small bump sensitivity when climbing paired with plush, controlled travel when descending.” 

That sounds like the same thing Yeti wrote when they launched the Switch Link, which makes us skeptical. Is this actually better or just marketing speak? But as the SB66 and SB95 rode very well, we’ll reserve judgment until we’ve tried the SB5c.

According to Yeti, the SB5c won’t replace the SB75, though it’s difficult to see how the older model will stick around very long if this bike is both lighter and rides better. Given the Infinity in the design’s name (which the company says reflects the ease with which the design can be adopted to bikes of any travel length), we have to wonder about the future of the current SB line. Indeed, over the weekend, Jared Graves dominated round five of the 2014 Enduro World Series on an as-yet-unreleased SB6c.

That makes two bikes we’re anxious to throw a leg over.

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Inside the Mind of an Ironman

Can inspirational quotes make you a champion? It worked for six-time Hawaii Ironman champion Mark Allen—and he wants to share his moral support with us mere mortals.

The legendary triathlete's new book, The Art of Competition, combines scenic photographs with Allen's own spiritual thoughts. The finished product reads in bit like a series of inspirational posters, but also as a serious reflection on healthy competition.  

We talked to Allen about the book, triathlons, and the spiritual work he does with Shaman Brant Secunda.

OUTSIDE: What made you decide to write a book of inspirational quotes?
ALLEN
: For years, people asked me, 'What did you think about during races? How did you hold it together?' I always felt I was falling short of explaining the essence of what I was doing.

How did you begin to compile the quotes?
I was on a retreat with Brant Secunda in Japan. I was lying down and these quotes just started coming to me, out of thin air. It was like a faucet. By the next day, I’d written down 35 to 40 quotes. I thought, these are pretty cool, but I didn’t have a vision for what to with them. Five years later, I decided that I needed to pair them with photographs from nature.

Why is nature such an important part of the book?
We are hard wired to feel good in nature, and the quotes have everything to do with us feeling good in life. That is how I raced best; when I felt good about life. I trained in San Diego in the winter and Boulder in the summer and I just loved those environments. You’re running by the ocean and then riding in the foothills of the Rockies. It doesn’t get any better. Nature has always been a huge part of my training. When you go outside and immerse yourself in nature, you inherently feel better.

Did you write this book for triathletes?
I wrote this book for everybody. There’s not one photo of an athlete in it. There are no numbers or formulas. It’s meant to test people on a deeper level. Obviously, there’s a sport slant to a lot of it, but it applies to personal challenges in any arena.

Should someone read this book straight through? Or take their time with a few quotes at a time?
When I had put everything together for the book, I sent out a PDF to people to get feedback. One of the guys I sent it to I thought was as far at the end of the spectrum of people who might like it as possible. He finally called me, and told me he’d at last finished reading the book. He’d started reading quotes and flipping through the pages, and then realized he could only look at two or three quotes each day because he would start thinking about each one. I think a lot of people will read a little bit at a time and go reflect on it.

The book contains positive quotes, but it also addresses problems such as being stuck, jealous, or grappling with self-pity. Do you deal with all of those?
I’ve had to overcome all of those things. I didn’t want to make the book just about fluffy positive things. I was feeling sorry for myself all those years I didn’t win races. I could be in the lead at hours five, six, or seven, but I couldn’t be in the lead at the finish line. I had jealousy and self-pity when Dave Scott kept winning and I couldn’t. We all have to find a way to move beyond those things.

Your best known race is the 1989 Ironman Hawaii battle with Dave Scott. What did that win mean to you?
It was an amazing race because we were side by side for eight hours. It had never happened before, and it hasn’t happened since. It was a defining moment for me. I made the switch to finally having the race I wanted to have. It was the first time I really integrated the soul-body concept. I really embraced how the internal space dictates what is going on outside of you.

What happened mentally with you in that race that enabled you to push through to the finish line?
Dave was surging at the half marathon point. I remember looking around at the black lava surrounding us, and thinking that it was the most amazing creation nature could make. It was like a cloud had lifted. I stopped thinking about everything and became a vehicle for performance to take place. I think almost all great athletic performances happen when you are in that space.

What was the tougher race: The duel with Dave Scott or your final Ironman Hawaii victory in 1995, when you had to make up 13 and a half minutes in the marathon over race leader Thomas Hellriegel?
I would say the final victory was the hardest. When I was racing with Dave, we were side by side the whole time. There was zero doubt about how he was feeling. With Hellriegel, I was racing a guy who’d passed me on the bike and I didn’t see again for hours. It was very hard mentally to keep going and say this is something that could turn around.

How did you keep going when you were that far back?
I knew I had to make up 30 seconds per mile in the marathon. It seemed so impossible. I threw off my heart rate monitor. It would tell me if I was running out of gas, and I didn’t want to know that.

What made you a great triathlete?
Tons of guys have the same genetics as me. I’m not a freak of nature genetically. There are a lot of guys with better numbers. But the numbers in the logbook don’t necessarily tell what you will do in competition. I discovered how to persevere in difficult moments. When you just want to quit, you have to surrender to the moment, and find a calm.

What did you love about Ironman Hawaii?
I loved that Ironman is such a complex puzzle to figure out. The wind, the heat, the energy of the Big Island. Everyone willing to give 100 percent. I really loved that.

Have you been surprised by the enormous growth in the sport of Ironman?
When I started in 1982, there were 1,000 people in the race in Kona. You didn’t have to qualify. There were very few Ironman races to enter. Now, there are races everywhere. I think people do this sport because of the community of people, and because you test yourself and challenge yourself.

What do you do in the retreats you host with Shaman Brant Secunda?
We teach retreats all over the world. We’ve been doing it since 1998. The Art of Competition is a teaser of what you can get if you develop your mind and body, which is what we work on at our retreats. We get a huge range of people at our retreats. Everyone from world class athletes to inactive, overweight individuals. The way we set up the workshops is so there’s something for everybody.

Do you also work with triathletes?
I do training camps periodically. I’ll be in Boulder in August. I talk about both the physical and mental because there’s a lot of misinformation about training. I believe in getting fit in a way that is healthy instead of burning yourself out. I tell a lot of Ironman stories because it brings to life that even champions struggle.

Do you still do triathlons?
My day-to-day exercise now is surfing. I live in Santa Cruz and absolutely love it. I get out on the water most days. It’s my cardio, my strength, my stretching, and my nature fix. I also run and lift weights.

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This Camera Will Make Cycling Cool Again

Television footage of this year’s Tour de France was a reminder of just how poor a spectator sport cycling can be.

Sure, the race lacked drama because two major protagonists, Alberto Contador and Chris Froome, crashed out early. But even on a good year, I bet most viewers cue up the DVR and skip ahead to the last 10 or 15 minutes—or, best-case scenario, the final climb.

This year, however, saw a development that could finally add some intrigue: on-bike cameras. For the first time in history, Tour de France organizer ASO permitted video cameras to be mounted onto riders’ bicycles. 

The move followed the very first use of video cameras in the pro peloton earlier this spring. Footage from the Tour de Suisse in June, especially a video of the sprint finish on Stage 5, captured the hectic nature of the final few kilometers of a professional race. Likewise, a video shot by Giant-Shimano sprinter John Degenkolb on the first stage of the Tour of California gave a sense of what it takes to win at this level—well, almost win as Degenkolb took a razor thin second place on the stage to sprinter Mark Cavendish.

At the Tour, Shimano outfitted eight of its sponsored teams, including BMC, Giant-Shimano, Orica-GreenEdge, and Sky, with the company’s new Shimano CM-1000 camera. The resulting footage appeared on both the team’s pages as well as on the official Tour de France website.

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Several Garmin-Sharp riders were also equipped with its sponsor’s new VIRB Action Camera, which resulted in a series of first-person videos on the team website. The capture from Stage 7 is especially interesting as it overlays rider metrics like speed, heart rate, distance, and power collected by the VIRB via ANT+.

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The most unconventional first-person footage came from Europecar’s Kevin Reza. After a Lotto-Bellisol racer collided with a fan on the side of the road, Reza scooped up the spectator’s helmet cam, which had tumbled into the road, and filmed several minutes of the race before passing it to his team car.

The use of cameras in the peloton is partly a reflection of just how advanced the technology has become. At 180g, the Garmin VIRB isn’t smallest camera out there, but it captures 1080p HD video as well as GPS data and cycle-specific data such as heart rate and power. The Shimano CM-1000 captures similar high-quality footage and data and weighs just 86 grams. Given these units’ diminutive size, they can be mounted on the bars or below the saddle without much effect or impediment to a racer.

However the video these cameras capture provides arguably the most interesting way to watch pro cycling. They convey the fury and treacherousness of bike racing in a way that traditional footage shot from a motorcycle or helicopter cannot.

You see riders touching and bumping one another, get a feeling for just how tight and fast they are racing, and, thanks to the sound of yelling, heaving breathing, and camera shake while sprinting, register how difficult it must be. The recap from Stage 1 of the Tour conveys just how tough it was to stay upright in the final few kilometers of the race.

As good as the footage is, however, what’s now missing is the ability to stream live during a race. Watching firsthand footage after the fact is great, but it would be even better if television could cut back and forth between top view from a helicopter, front view from a motorcycle, and footage captured within the peloton while it happens.

“There are challenges, circling primarily around weight and battery life, that have to be resolved,” before live streaming is a reality, says Dustin Brady, marketing manager at Shimano America.

He explains that while the cameras are tiny now, it will take some time before batteries will be both small enough and have a long enough life to last the duration of an entire stage. The addition of a radio transmitter will also add weight and bulk. “We are talking about professional cyclist needing to climb the Col du Galibier or Col du Tourmalet or ride for five hours in pouring rain. Additional weight matters.”

That might sound discouraging, but the fact is the technology is only in its infancy: Both the VIRB and the CM-1000 were launched this year. Meanwhile, the decision to allow on-bike video at the Tour was even more recent. “We only found out after the Tour had started that the team could use action cameras,” says Amy Johnson, the media relations associate at Garmin, “So I think it was fairly sporadic this year.”

In a sport that tends to be resistant to change, the fact that these cameras have been adopted as quickly as they have is heartening. Hopefully governing bodies will move forward with similar programs, and manufacturers will fast track development. If not, television coverage of pro cycling may live—and perhaps die—by the DVR.

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When Ski Resorts Melt

It's a sad fact: winter is shrinking. The Rutgers University Global Snow Lab reports that the Northern Hemisphere has lost more than a million square miles of snow since 1970. That's why the hottest trend in the winter-sports industry is warm-weather activities. In April, the U.S. Forest Service implemented a new system that makes it significantly easier for resorts to get permits for things like canopy tours and ropes courses. Here are four of the best excuses to get back on the lift—this time in shorts and a T-shirt.

Walk the Razor's Edge

Fernie, British Columbia
Fernie has long been overshadowed by provincial brethren like Whistler and Revelstoke, which is fine by locals—the serious alpine terrain is largely empty. Try the ridge traverse across the breathtaking Lizards Range crest. Start at the top of the Timber chairlift and take a 20-minute stroll through open meadows past Lost Boys Pass and, if you want the added security, along a short fixed rope to 7,010-foot Polar Peak, where the views span from southern Alberta to Montana. From there the three-mile loop winds down through wildflower meadows to the Lost Boys Café, where you can down a well-earned Kokanee. $22 lift ticket.

Bikes and Bikram

Snowmass and Aspen, Colorado
The two signature resorts in Colorado's Roaring Fork Valley, Snowmass and Aspen, deliver summer's yin and yang. Snowmass has the adrenaline rush: it already boasts the only lift-served 4,000-foot mountain-bike descent in the U.S., starting above the treeline and ending in the high desert. And this year the resort is teaming up with the renowned trail builders at Gravity Logic to add a full-size beginner park and pump track. Upvalley at Aspen, it's a bit mellower. Take the Silver Queen gondola to the 11,212-foot Sundeck for thrice-weekly yoga sessions with views of the Maroon Bells and Pyramid Peak. Bonus: the Sundeck hosts bluegrass shows every Sunday throughout the summer.

Armor Up

Mammoth Mountain, California
Southern California's largest resort has a long affiliation with downhill mountain biking. Last year, Mammoth brought back the Kamikaze Bike Games, the precursor to the Mountain Bike World Championships, which included the sport's first lift-served downhill race in 1986. The revamped games now feature gravity, cross-country, and cyclocross races over four days in September. If you can't make it then, check out the updated bike park—where attendance has grown 22 percent in the past two years—and its new pump track, beginner loop, and skills park (think small drops, berms, and bridges). $49 day pass, $359 season pass.

Take to the Trees

Stowe, Vermont
This year, Stowe—already one of Vermont's busiest summer hubs—debuts two fresh options. The first is a zip line near the top of 4,395-foot Mount Mansfield that sends visitors whizzing down 2,150 vertical feet over roughly two miles. The second is a high ropes course on Spruce Peak that will feature six routes for kids and adults alike, with challenges suspended up to 30 feet above the ground. If you prefer to remain on terra firma, there's always the 150-year-old, unpaved Auto Toll Road, which leads to Mansfield's summit ridge, where a 1.3-mile hike puts you atop Vermont's highest peak.

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The Joy of Cycling: Now Available for Everyone

In 2007, Boston was ranked the worst biking city in the U.S. by Bicycling magazine—for the third time. There were plenty of reasons: lack of lanes, poor road conditions, boorish drivers. Today, Boston is on its way to becoming one of the country’s most bike-friendly cities, and it’s the first to create a public bike program targeting low-income communities. The main reason for the one-eighty: former Olympian Nicole Freedman.

Freedman grew up in the Boston suburbs, rode professionally for 12 years (she won the national road-racing trial in 2000), and holds a degree in urban planning from Stanford University. In 2007, when Freedman was tasked with heading up the city’s newly launched Boston Bikes program, the city had zero bike lanes and a dismal safety record. In 2006, there were 36 bike accidents in one intersection alone.

Freedman, 42, was undaunted. She created 14 miles of bike lanes in her first two years on the job and hasn’t slowed down since. The city is now rated 16th by Bicycling. And Freedman recently secured a $15 million grant to build protected lanes, including a four-mile ring around downtown. “Cities need plans,” says Martha Roskowski, VP of the national advocacy group People for Bikes. “But they really need people like Nicole who can turn them into action.”

As Americans have finally begun to embrace the idea of bikes as transportation, other cities have made turnarounds of their own. Washington, D.C., now has six miles of protected lanes, and Chicago’s bike-share program is on pace to have 475 stations by the end of the year. What sets Boston apart is the progressive bent of its efforts. “It was really important to make sure that we reached residents with low incomes,” says Freedman. “They’re the ones most impacted by transportation costs.” Hubway, the city’s bike-share system, recently began subsidizing memberships for those making less than $20,000 a year. In March, Freedman launched Prescribe-A-Bike, which offers low-income residents a reduced $5 annual Hubway membership if a doctor recommends riding for health reasons. (Nearly 2,500 people have since signed up.) And, finally, Boston Bikes has donated more than 1,000 bicycles to in-need locals. “Cycling is universally appealing,” says Freedman. “We just have to make it accessible.”

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