The Outside Blog

Dispatches : Biking

A Superior Midwest Road Trip

Get your fill of Lake Superior views on this 550-mile, five-day tour through prime hiking and biking country.

Packing List: Sea kayak with spray skirt, 29er, flannel shirts

Highlights: Rest up for your tour with a waterfront suite at Duluth’s South Pier Inn (from $197). When you cross the Blatnik Bridge into Wisconsin, stop at Thirsty Pagan Brewing in Superior for a Derailed pizza and an India Pagan Ale.

In Bayfield, buy provisions—like smoked lake trout from Newago Fish Market—then launch your kayak (or take a full-day tour, $99) and explore the sea caves in 22-island Apostle Islands National Lake-shore.

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Once you reach Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, take a detour up 11-mile-long Black River Scenic Byway and hike to any of seven waterfalls before the road dead-ends at Lake Superior. Book a room at Eagle River Inn, near the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula (from $99), and sip Knob Creek bourbon with your smoked spare ribs on the lakeside deck at adjoining Fitzgerald’s Restaurant.

Then head to Copper Harbor, which has some of the country’s best singletrack—the trails top out at 900 feet and roll through dense forest. Take a bike and have at it (rentals from $26). Drive down the sandy beach side of the Keweenaw Peninsula to the town of Marquette. Run the half-mile stairway up Sugarloaf Mountain, six miles north of town, then head to Black Rocks and take the 15-foot plunge into Lake Superior.

Pitch a tent lakeside at Twelvemile Beach Campground ($16) in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and get to hiking, fishing, and paddling along the park’s 40 miles of shoreline and in adjoining million-acre Hiawatha National Forest.

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Southwestern Ghost Tour

Explore the biggest, starkest landscapes in the country on this 950-mile, ten-day adventure.

Packing list: Headlamps, plenty of water, Cormac McCarthy books on tape 

Highlights: Head 20 miles east from Las Cruces to hike around—or climb—1,800-foot Sugarloaf (a multipitch 5.6) in the Organ Mountains. Then drive northeast to the 275-square-mile gypsum dunes of White Sands National Monument and camp under the stars at one of ten primitive sites ($3).

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Head southeast and explore the 119 known limestone caves of Carlsbad Caverns ($10) before driving on to Marathon, Texas, to splurge on a newly renovated room and a quail dinner at the Gage Hotel (from $109).

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From Lajitas, put in for a three-day guided paddle on the Rio Grande through the sheer 1,500-foot limestone walls of Santa Elena Canyon and Class IV Rock Slide Rapids ($475). Shuttle back to Lajitas and head west to Big Bend Ranch State Park to mountain-bike perhaps the most underutilized 238 miles of hiking and mountain-biking trails in the nation.

Time the trip through the town 
of Marfa to camp out at the Trans-Pecos Festival of Music and Love, headlined last year by M. Ward (September 25–28), then bomb through Davis to the McDonald Observatory for a final look at the Southwestern sky ($12).

Detour: Peel off at Artesia and drive 41 miles north to Roswell, the extraterrestrial capital of the universe, to visit the International UFO Museum. 

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First Ride: Specialized S-Works Enduro 29

We’ve been waiting more than a year to ride the Enduro 29. The delay has been partly a question of availability and crossed signals. There was a bit of apathy, too, because since the bike’s launch, a whole slew of new long-travel 29ers (including the BMC, the Niner, and Intense) have hit the market—and our garage.

But the wait’s been instructive: while we’ve been anticipating the Enduro 29, we’ve ridden back-to-back editions of the Enduro 26. During the 2013 test, riders were keen on the small-wheeled iteration of the bike. But last January, during trials for the 2014 bikes, most testers shrugged it off in favor of the longer-travel 29ers, which seem to have come into their own this year with tighter geometries, quicker handling, and feathery weights. 

One reviewer—an ex-pro downhill racer and current bike shop owner—swore that he’d never again stock 26-inch wheels in his shop after he was repeatedly hung up by the Enduro 26’s small wheels in the rocky chunk on the trails around Tucson.

Such is the market right now. While long-travel 29ers were once considered ponderous and almost carnival-esque, they’re now gaining traction. (And, if the rumors are to believed, the Enduro 26 won’t be around much longer anyways as there are whispers of a tweener model in the works.) 

That’s all to say that by the time the S-Works Enduro 29 (E29) arrived last week, our expectations were exceptionally high. (Especially after watching footage of Matt Hunter carving the perfect turn aboard this very bike.) But then it’s a $9,250 bicycle, which should put the bar about as high as you can reach.

And after two rides, we’re not disappointed.

Though a bike with 155mm (6.1 inches) of travel out back and 160mm (6.3 inches) up front is almost by definition all about slamming the descents, what has struck us most so far is the E29’s climbing manners.

Thanks to exceedingly short chainstays for a bike this size, surprisingly nimble geometry (including excellent standover), and an almost unbelievable 27.4-pound total weight, this bike ascends with the directness and ease of an escalator. That might verge into hyperbole, but—no joke—the acceleration when you step on the pedal is comparable to bikes two inches smaller and three pounds lighter, and the steering is so agile and accurate that we’ve yet to even consider front-end drift, even on the steepest, loosest pitches. 

And of course the E29 absolutely shreds the downhill, too. That credit largely goes to the RockShox Pike fork, which balances firm and plush and long travel like nothing else currently on the market. 

The rear end, with the Cane Creek Double Barrel shock, has taken a bit more fiddling to get used to and still doesn’t feel quite dialed. But so far it’s energetic and bottomless-feeling in the big stuff and gives the bike an overall playfulness. As we’ve said before, if they’re built right, 29ers can be just as quick and agile as bikes with 26-inch wheels. (Anyone who doubts that should take one-after-the-other runs on the E29 and several 26ers.) We’ve done it now, and we were both quicker and happier on the 29er.

The big complaint is sure to be the stratospheric price tag on the S-Works E29 (though realistically it’s in the same ballpark as every other high-end bike on the market). But there’s no denying the expense, which gets you a SRAM XX1 drivetrain, carbon Traverse SL wheels, and Specialized’s Command dropper seat post. (A note about that post: Though it gets lots of flack for its high-speed return rate, we don’t really perceive that as a problem and actually prefer this post to most other brands, which break down often. The Specialized is the only dropper we’ve ever owned that hasn’t failed, and that’s after three years of hard use.)

Don’t get me wrong. The E29 isn’t a perfect bike. The XO brakes are mushy and squawky and will hopefully be replaced in 2015 by either the new SRAM Guide brakes or anything by Shimano. Likewise, the Butcher tires are the cheapest, lightest model and both got sidewall cuts in short order. We realize bike companies stock gossamer tires at retail to keep the showroom models feeling lightweight on the floor. But on a bike this meaty, we’d prefer a little extra heft if it meant we’d get some sidewall protection. These are little niggles, but, as noted, at this price we expect almost perfection. 

If you can’t justify almost $10,000 for a bike (and few can) the E29 comes in two additional specs: the Expert at $6,600 and the Comp at $3,500. Naturally, neither will be as light or spry as the S-Works version, but they will pack the same geometry, basic ride feel, and manners for much less capital.

And no matter which model you chose, judging by our rides so far, we’d be shocked if you didn’t ride away as a long-travel 29er convert.

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The Outdoor Exchange: Never Buy Gear Again

If your friends’ lack of kayaks keeps spoiling your dreams of organizing flotillas in nearby lakes, weep no more: last week, a small group of New Jersey men formally quit their jobs to focus on The Outdoor Exchange (OX), a subscription-based gear closet.

The brainchild of outdoor enthusiast and startup veteran Dariusz Jamiolkowski, five-week-old OX gives subscribers access to a catalog of high-end, expensive gear. Basic subscriptions to OX (there are a few options, the cheapest of which is $100) allow users to rent one item per week. You can rent more items at 10 percent of each additional product’s value. OX recently started an Indiegogo campaign to boost its membership, and expects to be “fully operational” by July, after which point basic subscription costs will double. 

So far, most of the rentals come from New Jersey (OX is based in Fairlawn), but subscribers hail from California, Colorado, Florida, and even England. Jamiolkowski estimates the young company rents about 10 items per week, and he hopes to attract more than 1,000 total subscribers by the end of summer, mainly by preaching the company's cause at big events like the Philly Folk music festival and relying on word of mouth. 


But while OX is still young (currently it only has a couple hundred paying members), it's run by seven business- and tech-savy teammates whose resumes are padded with names like Lockheed Martin and Novo Nordisk. Jamiolkowski officially left his position as Handybook’s vice president of finance in February after being accepted into startup incubator TechLaunch, while marketing lead Adam Hackett quit his day job on June 6.

That team has come up with a unique gear-sharing model. Unlike GearCommons—another peer-to-peer program that depends on its users to supply gear—OX stocked its warehouse full of gear by working directly with manufacturers and distributors. The majority of the 300 products in its inventory were provided by companies like Black Diamond, Hobie, Maverick, and Folbot, a foldable kayak manufacturer. It's a relationship that benefits both parties. 

“The issue (Folbot’s) having is that they have a great product, but it's hard for somebody who hasn't been in a foldable kayak to spend $1,200 on a foldable kayak,” Jamiolkowski said. “So we're putting butts in the seats for these guys. We're gonna get people to try the product and nine out of 10 people are gonna try it and say it was great, but one person is gonna end up purchasing the kayak...And our customers are going to be happy because they get to use a premium product at a low entry-point.”

The company is still working out some kinks, including how to streamline shipping costs. For New Jersey residents, OX will drop off and set up gear at trailheads within 25 miles of its warehouse for $20. But the idea of spending $100 a year on shared gear doesn’t sound as good if you have to pay an additonal $200 in shipping.

This week, OX began testing what its founder calls the Trailblazer Program. For a set $74 per year, subscribers can ship all their rentals for free within the continental United States. Ultimately, the team hopes to open local warehouses where subscriptions are most concentrated to help defray costs. 

You may be wondering, “What happens if the gear gets damaged?” Well, Jamiolkowski and his team have set up a system to incentivize good gear treatment. OX rates both customers and gear internally when products are returned. If a customer gets low enough marks, she can’t rent gear anymore. “In order for this to work, it's gotta work both ways,” says Jamiolkowski. “Have you seen Meet the Fockers? We're building the Circle of Trust.

“We have families to support and mortgages to pay for, but we strongly believe in what we're doing, based on everything we've done so far to build a very successful, not only business, but a community for outdoor enthusiasts,” he says. 

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