Category Archives: Bikepacking

Marin Pine Mountain 2: Steel 27.5+ Hardtail – First Look Review [VIDEO]

Marin celebrates its 30 year anniversary with a new bike that harkens back to the classic, well-liked model it shares its name with, the Pine Mountain. In the video below, we take a look at the 2016 Marin Pine Mountain 2. The Pine Mountain 2 has upgraded build specs and frame construction (compared to the Pine Mounatin 1) that we took a close look at. Not only did we discuss those build specs and frame construction choices made by Marin, but also the possible applications for this 27.5 plus hardtail trail bike.

When looking at the Marin Pine Mountain 2, there were many things I immediately liked and/or was intrigued with.

The first was the frame construction. Columbus CrMo steel catches my attention right away. I have been a huge fan of steel hardtails ever since my first singlespeed 29er. The modern steel frames can be drawn, butted, and formed very precisely yielding a frame that has ride quality and rigidity in just the right places for a great balance of efficiency and comfort. This frame is unique in that it has really cool, high quality, yet understated graphics and design elements. The 30th anniversary emblem on the seat tube looks phenomenal. The raw, clear-coated frame with brazing showing through makes this frame look completely custom and has an industrial feel. As I looked at the brazing, I noticed this steel frame has cable routing through the frame. For a steel frame this is almost unheard of. Mad props to Marin for including this. It isn’t entirely necessary, but isappreciated as it makes this bike look clean, high quality, and if you didn’t know better, a one-off piece that was custom ordered.

Secondly, was the plus sized wheels and tires. While WTB Trailblazers are on the narrow end of the plus bike tread options, they roll quick and add volume that is noticeable. The WTB Scraper rims, with their 45mm inner width, allow a wide profile and will be a good foundation for any other tires you may decide to use in the future.

Thirdly, the rack and fender mounts on the frame are definitely a rarity on a trail bike like this. In my opinion, its better to have them and not need them, should you only use this bike in drier conditions for a general trail bike instead of loading it up or outfitting it with fenders. Like the adage goes, “Its better to have them and not need them, then not have them and wish you had them.” I imagine other frames like this, capable of general trail riding with higher volume tires and a little more comfortable geometry, will start incorporating features that cater to bikepacking, longer rides, and carrying more gear as overnight trips by bike continue to grow in popularity.

Fourth, I noticed the HUGE amount of clearance on the Fox Float 34 fork. This thing could probably come close to clearing an actual fat bike tire. It appears that tires close to 4 inches wide may fit. 29 plus tires should fit no problem, so I imagine just about any 27.5 plus tire could fit up there. That is a great plus. Pun intended.

Fifth, the dropper post. This was very intriguing. While I have yet to use a dropper post on a bikepacking trip, I have used them on trail rides and they are undoubtedly a huge benefit. This is the first time I can recall seeing a bike come factory spec’d with both a dropper post and rack mounts on the frame.  I quickly wondered why. Why haven’t I seen this combination before and why did Marin include both. Both of my two hypotheses hinged on the assumption that because Marin wanted to make this a trail bike (Marin calls it “Trail+”), they included a dropper post. That seems reasonable. My first hypothesis is that in order to utilize a dropper post while bikepacking, the larger seat bags that are so common and often necessary for carrying sleeping bags, tents, clothing, or other bulky items would not be possible. Since the large seat bag wouldn’t be used when using the dropper, rack mounts would provide the opportunity to carry that necessary volume on a rear rack. The second hypothesis is that Marin figured most of the time, trail riders would prefer to have a dropper post, so they included it in the build, but they knew that the plus-size platform, with the trail geometry and steel frame would attract many riders would see this bike as one that can fulfill two roles: trail riding and bikepacking/all terrain touring. If riders plan to trail ride most days, but occasionally use it for an overnight bike trip, it would be easy to either swap out the seat post and use a large seat bag, or mount a rack and bags to carry their gear. I think its a good call and may be ahead of its time in a trend that may start in the future as we see more riders using their bikes to explore and spend nights in the backcountry.

Build Specs as listed on

  • Frame: Columbus Thron Butted and Formed CrMo, 27.5+ Wheels, Boost 148x12mm Naild Locking Thru-Axle Dropouts
  • Weight: 29.01 lb/13.16 kg (published bike weight is based on a size Medium frame)
  • Front Fork: Fox Float 34 27.5+, 3 Position Lever, 110x15mm Thru-Axle
  • Crankset: Shimano Deore XT Hollowtech II, 32T
  • Derailleur Rear: Shimano Deore XT Shadow Plus
  • Shift Lever: Shimano Deore XT 1×11-Speed
  • Derailleur Front: Cassette: Shimano Deore XT 11-Speed, 11-42T
  • Bottom Bracket: Shimano Hollowtech II
  • Chain: KMC X11L
  • Hub Rear: Formula, 148x12mm, Alloy Axle, Quad Cartridge Sealed Bearing, Centerlock Disc, 32H
  • Hub Front: Formula, 110x15mm, Sealed Cartridge Bearing, Centerlock Disc 28H
  • Rim: WTB Scraper, 45mm Inner, Tubeless Ready Spokes
  • Nipples: 14g Black Stainless Steel
  • Tires: WTB Trail Blazer, 27.5×2.8
  • Brakes Front: Shimano SLX Hydraulic Disc, 180mm Rotor
  • Brakes Rear: Shimano SLX Hydraulic Disc, 160mm Rotor
  • Brake Levers: Shimano SLX Hydraulic Cockpit
  • Handlebar: Marin Flat Top Riser Grips: Marin Locking
  • Stem: Marin 3D Forged Alloy
  • Headset: FSA Orbit, Sealed Cartridge Bearing, 1 1/8
  • Seatpost: KS LEV Integra, 30.9mm
  • Saddle: WTB SLC XC



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Ride alongside one another. On bikes, through life, together.



MTB Tip of the Week – Episode 6: Ditch Your Camelbak

This is Episode 6 in an ongoing series of videos we will be posting regularly to share our mountain biking tips and tricks with our subscribers.

Prior Episodes:

Episode 5: GPS for Mountain Biking

Episode 4: Maps for Mountain Biking

Episode 3: The LBS

Episode 2: 1X Drivetrain Bail Out

Episode 1: Cold Fingers Remedy


EPISODE 6: Ditch Your Camelbak

Back in the early 2000’s, I purchased an aluminum-framed mountain bike with front suspension. With the mountain bike, I was offered 10% off any additional accessories at the time of purchase. After picking out a helmet, pump, patches, spare tube, tire levers, and multitool, I looked over the bike wondering what else I was missing.  I saw water bottle mounts and instantly headed toward the water bottle cages. After picking up two, I began looking over the water bottles. The salesman came back to me and said he would throw in a couple water bottles for free if I was okay with them having the shop logo and contact info on them. I said of course, but then I was surprised as he led me toward some small backpacks that he began telling me about. He had started using these packs to carry all the water he needed for his ride, as well as all his trail-side repair  tools and supplies. It had a hose and a bite valve that were up by your chest where they were less likely to get covered in dirt and more likely to keep you well hydrated without the fear of losing your bottle while riding. I loved the concept and was sold. I used a Camelbak for a decade straight without even thinking about going back to waterbottles ever again. In fact, with each new mountain bike I purchased, I scoffed at the water bottle mounts on the frame as I thought they were archaic and antiquated since the invention of the Camelbak. I was a huge fan.

Then I started seeing how far I could go in a single ride and entered endurance XC races. I quickly realized that having water mounted to my bike felt much better than on my back for any rides over 20 miles or a couple hours. I started using water bottle cages and water bottles again while using a small seat bag to carry my other items that had previously went into the Camelbak. I mounted up to 5 water bottles on my bike at a time to allow me to go into areas without opportunities to refill, all while keeping my back free from the weight that would be too great of a burden to bear over the extended hours of longer rides.

Then bikepacking bags entered my world. Sure, water bottle cages with a small seat bag are what I often choose to use for smaller, local loop rides, but more often these days, I find myself leaving my frame bag on the bike. Why?

Here are 5 quick reasons as shown in the MTB Tip of the Week video below:

  1. Get as much weight as low as possible.  Putting the heavier items that need to be carried (such as a multitool, spare tube, and water in a hydration bladder) as low as possible on the bike, close to the bottom bracket, gets the center of gravity lower. This in turn enables easier maneuvering of the bicycle when moving the bike side to side than it would if the weight was carried higher up. Think of your bike like a lever. It is moved left to right and right to left as you lean and turn it, the tires, where they contact the ground are the pivot points. Getting the weight as close to the ground enables easier side to side transfer into turns.
  2. Comfort. If you have had a heavy backpack on for any length of time, you have realized how fatigued you can get in a very short amount of time. Keeping the weight of your water and other items off your back allows you to stay comfortable for a much longer period of time.
  3. Agility. I already wrote about the ability to keep the weight low on the bike, which helps to maneuver the bike, but it also allows your body to become more agile. Bending and balancing over top of the bike is much, much easier when you don’t have extra weight on your torso. Those of us who have lost weight have undoubtedly experienced this when we pleasantly found it easier to stay on that technical, narrow trail after losing 5 or 10 pounds.
  4. Accessibility.  It is much easier to get into a frame bag to access small, frequently used items while riding than it is in a backpack style bag. the openings are right there beneath and in front of you.
  5. Ventilation. While this one may not be realized as frequently in the winter as in summer, it is huge, especially where I live in San Diego. Allowing your back to breathe through your jersey by not having any pack against it will dramatically aid cooling and keep you feeling fresh longer than you would if you were trapping sweat between you and your Camelbak.


I hope you find this MTB Tip of the Week useful. Many frame bags available these days have a hydration port that facilitates the passing of a hydration bladder hose through the frame bag and up to your handlebar cockpit area. You may need a hose extension kit, but most likely your LBS will have this available for you to purchase. Many of the frame bag builders are located in the USA and will custom make a bag for your individual bike. There are many all over North America, and there may be a frame bag builder very near to you. You don’t need to have a hardtail to enjoy the benefits of a framebag either. Many designs for full suspension frames are already in existence.

Take a look at what Bikepackers Magazine has put together for the list of framebag manufacturers:


Leave a comment below or send me an email at .

Thanks for your support! Now get outside and find some trails to ride!

– Nick

Review: Chumba Ursa 29 plus Bikepacking Rig


My review of the Chumba Ursa 29+ Bikepacking rig got published on Bikepackers Magazine today.

Check it out!



Heard of Bike-Centennial?

How about the Adventure Cycling Association? They are celebrating their 40 year anniversary and have lots of events planned throughout the year and around the country!

Check it out!

Haphazard Bikepacking – Commuter’s Bedroll


Carrying things on your bike doesn’t always need to be a well planned out affair with the best gear, ideal bags, or perfect route. Sometimes it’s adventurous to make due with what you have to accomplish a particular goal. In the three videos below, I decided to bring you along to show my haphazardly assembled bikepacking setup. It’s not ideal and normally I would have brought a proper setup with a full handlebar bag or harness and dry bag, but I had the Revelate pocket in my backpack already. I had used that pocket the the week before on a ride when I had kept some everyday essentials in it. Since I had many things that I needed for my day within it,  I decided to just throw it in my backpack for work, jump on the bike, and go. Once I got to work I had an idea about bringing more items home with me that I wanted to have for the weekend.
Let me explain with these short videos:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

First Look & Review: Pivot Cycles – Les Fat

For the better part of 2015, I viewed the Pivot Les Fat as a type of white whale. Although I did not actually obsess over it to the point of it nearly destroying me, I did devote much time to learning how Pivot designed it and if it was a “Jack of all trades, master of none”, or a really good, lightweight all-day, endurance-oriented, adventure-ready, multiple-season, multiple-tire sized framework on which to plan my future outings upon.


Photo Credit:


Before this past weekend, I had not been able to even see one in person, let alone ride one, and yet at the same time it seemed to be the ultimate “swiss army knife” bike with ability to accommodate all wheel sizes, Swinger dropouts and reversible headset cups maximizing versatility by changing geometry to suit the application/wheel size, and built up upon a lightweight, yet famously durable Pivot carbon frameset. Either it was really popular and flying off the shelves, or local Pivot dealers decided not to stock it.
Although I hadn’t necessarily traveled far and wide to specifically seek out the Les Fat, mostly due to the price point inhibiting my desire of actually owning one (the frameset alone retails for $2699), every person who had purchased one, from what I read or heard, had a difficult time finding one for a test ride, let alone sourcing one in stock to buy it.
The shop closest to home for me, aka my LBS (local bike shop), Black Mountain Bicycles, hosted a Demo Day this past weekend, where Specialized, Pivot,  and SRAM came with their latest offerings. Weeks prior, after finding out that my schedule was clear for that day, I asked my friend at the shop if he knew about the lineup Pivot would bring, specifically if they were bringing a Les Fat. I hadn’t seen one on the showroom floor at the LBS, so I was curious about seeing one in person and possibly riding one on my local trails.
Before going to the Demo Day, I already knew quite a bit about the Les Fat from studying up on it earlier this year.
The ability to run a set of 29+ wheels and tires (or any other size you like) on a high quality frameset was a little bit rare, but to be able to adjust the geometry accordingly while keeping the bottom bracket height the same was beyond rare. Not only that, but the bike has the clearance for up to 5 inch tires and yet they trimmed down the Q-factor tremendously, apparently “a full 15mm narrower than other cranks designed for 197mm rear ends”.  They internally routed the frame for a dropper post, shifter cables, and hydraulic disc brake hoses as well.

I could go on and on about the specs, but you can read all those on Pivot’s website, ( You should probably click that link, it will open it in a new tab, and then you can toggle between my initial impressions review here and the Pivot website. Thats what I would do. 🙂

Let’s not beat around the bush too much, how about we get right to what I did and did not like? Sound good? Great! Read on…

What I liked.
1. The look.

Sleek for a fat bike, not over the top on color or graphics (Salsa has rainbow sherbert colored Beargreases for 2016, which some adore, but I abhor), and nicely shaped tubing, the downtube is thick in all the right places, but doesn’t look overly beefy from the profile view.
2. Cornering and trailbike prowess.
The first trail taken was a downhill with many banked switchback turns. The Maxxis Mammoth 26×4 tires were interesting.  On my primary bike, I have been running a 29×2.4 Maxxis Ardent on the rear that had a similar tread pattern for the most part to the Mammoth, but more evenly spaced knobs without so much space between the center knobs and side knobs. This space between the center and side knobs could be advantageous or horrendous,  depending on your riding style. I quickly found that I was able to really trust the side knobs, particularly on the front tire, but when braking would break loose the rear tire VERY easily for such a high volume, large contact patch tire. It broke loose much easier than the 2.4 Ardent. Both front and rear tires were holding approximately 8psi. While this rear tire breaking loose was annoying to me initially,  I learned to use it to my advantage and drift the corners that resulted in VERY fast turns. The side knobs were there for me too when I leaned the bike hard. The lower bottom bracket and slacker headtube angle of 69 degrees really helped make this fatbike feel like a capable trailbike. (I did have a significant pedal strike on one turn, likely due to the lower bottom bracket.) I was smiling all the way down those 6 bermed switchbacks. I came to a bridge with a slight lip up to it and gave it a quick bunny hop. Although the wheels and tires felt a little heavy, it was nimble in the air and sailed easily over the bridge, adding more trail bike confidence for me. I felt like I was already familiar with how this bike handled in what was less than a mile of riding and I was ready to really push it to see what it’s limits were.

3. Q-factor.

I have ridden Surly, Salsa, and Borealis fatbikes previously and after riding my primary bike everyday, which is a 29er with a 73mm bottom bracket , I dramatically notice the difference in Q-factor when my cranks are spread out to 132mm  and I feel like my legs are really bowing out on each pedal stroke. Yeah, you get used to it to some extent, but I always look at bikes with the intention of riding them of all day and multi-day rides. A large Q-factor always seems like a bad idea for endurance riding to me, even though I admittedly have no first hand experience riding all day in the saddle on those types of bikes. Another bike I was able to test and review this year was the 29plus Trek Stache 9, which did not have a high Q-factor,  but had short chainstays and wide seatstays. I found myself rubbing my calves, particularly the right calf on the seatstay numerous times while climbing and moving my body around to stay balanced up technical climbs. It only had a 148mm rear hub. The Les Fat has a 197mm rear hub. The Q-factor is 120mm, which is apparently 15mm narrower than all the other 197mm rear hub fat bikes on the market. On the Pivot Les Fat, I did not notice the Q-factor much, if at all and my calves rubbed on the rack mount bolts maybe two times while balancing up technical climbs, but that was just barely noticeable, not like the Trek Stache 9.

4. Mounts.
Three waterbottle cage mounts! Rear rack mounts! Phenomenal. Many kudos to Pivot for including these. Most carbon frame manufacturers try to avoid excessive mounts because they want their carbon frames to be uber light. Not sure why they didn’t choose to also include mounts on the fork. That would have made it even better for a multi-day, exploration, endurance rig.




What I didn’t like.


1. Climbing.
Climbing was a chore. This was likely the combination of a slacker, 69 degree headtube angle,  and heavy wheels and tires.

The front end wandered. It felt like I was having to significantly restart the momentum with each pedal stroke, even though I was clipped in, smoothly and continually turning the cranks with lots of wattage. The wheels weighed in at 4.96lbs (the lower build with Sun Mulefut rims apparently are 1lb heavier) and the tires are almost 3lbs each. That is much more that I am used to and more than a 29er or even 29+ set of wheels and tires would weigh. The frame, at 3.5lbs and fork at 1.7lbs are much lighter than my steel frame and fork however.
I would have loved to try it configured differently  (see dislike # 2). After the initial downhill with bermed turns, I was very much hoping that, with the carbon frame and rigid fork, I would be able to fly on the uphill that was next. I gave it all I had as this climb was not too steep, but long enough at over a half mile and one of the best short sprint barometers for my fitness.
After pushing hard for half of it, it was obvious that this carbon frame and carbon fork were not as easy to climb as my steel frame with steel fork. I figured that something was significantly different, but was ready to ride the rest of the 10 mile loop I had planned to figure out what it might be. After descending another tight turning, flowy, downhill singletrack section that I had ridden every Monday all summer, I felt like this bike was fast again. I was right. Strava said it was my personal record. 15 minutes into a ride, on an unfamiliar bike is crazy to be getting a PR on a trail I have ridden so often, but it really inspired confidence in the turns. I then hopped on the road a bit. The geometry of the medium frame was very neutral, allowing a comfortable, upright riding position, which was likely due, at least in part, to the 70mm stem. I typically run a 100 or 110mm stem on my 29er. The bars were also very wide. This is the short stem, wide bar trend that everyone seems to love right now, but I have been reluctant. It’s what I rode from 2004 to 2010, but I no longer find it advantageous. More on that in a future article. On the road, needless to say, I tried getting down closer to the bars and extention my torso out toward the front end more. Putting my forearms on the grips into a pseudo aerobar position tended to help, but the wheels felt a little more difficult to keep up to speed, maybe because the rims and tires weigh so much more than I am used to. Regardless, I then bombed down a fireroad with brand new waterbars to either slow down for, or bunny hop. I confidently did a mix of both and got another downhill PR on this bike. Phenomenal.  Then came the climb. Yeah, not so good. A wandering front end that wanted to lift up, the fact that I couldn’t keep my weigh over the front end and stretch out like I did on the road, and the rear tire slipping out when I was on a 10 to 15% grade left me very frustrated.


A short, steep, loose-over-hard pack climb where the front end wandered while climbing.

2. Internal Cable and Hose Routing
Rattled loudly and continually on every downhill. That is all. I would otherwise find this to be very beneficial.


3. Stiff Carbon
Though the fat, 4 inch, tires took a lot of jarring out of the trail from their high volume and low pressure, I could tell that the carbon fork and frame did not seem to be very forgiving. This was especially evident when dropping off curbs, either as a wheelie drop or each wheel separately. Going up the curbs was a breeze either way. Bunny hopping was easy too.  The bike feels very easy to manuveur. It did feel abrupt and stiff compared to steel however.


4. Lack of complete build options.
This was one of the biggest let downs for me. Somehow I had hoped that Pivot had brought additional wheelsets with them that fit the fat bike width drop outs, but fit different sized tires like 29×3.0 or 27.5×3.0. They offer two build packages, but they are both spec’d with 26×4 tires. If you designed it to run alternate wheel sizes, it would at least be nice to test ride it with one or more of those setups as well. The differences in geometry are only listed for a few of the combinations, but it should give you an idea of how the wheel size changes the geometry. It doesn’t change much, but could be just enough to make you prefer a certain setup. With no way to test a configuration that I may prefer,  quite possibly 29×3.0, I was left cautiously curious.


5. Price
$2599 for the frameset
$4699 for the lower end “Les Fat X01” 26×4 build with rigid fork and Mulefut wheelset.

Currently, I don’t see the higher end “Les Fat XX1” 26×4 build available. Anywhere. I believe the Pivot rep that handed me the bike (it was this build which I test rode) said that it’s MSRP was $5399. I can’t easily find the high end build MSRP, but will edit it once it shows up.


Overall, I really, really wanted to like this bike, despite the larger “pay to play” ratio than I would normally consider. I actually think I may have enjoyed this bike tremendously if it had a 29+ setup with lighter wheels like Velocity Duallys and Maxxis Chronicle tires upon them. Unless I build up a set of 150/197mm spaced hubs, throw on my own cassette/rotors/tires, and ask the Pivot dealer if I can throw them on the test bike at the next demo, I don’t see myself ever finding out. I like the idea of having a fat bike at my disposal, even if I live in sunny San Diego. It would be fun to throw some 5 inch wheels/tires on and take it to the beach or desert, and of course up to the mountains where we get snow for a few days per year. I did get my fastest downhill times on a few familiar segments…I have always wanted another bike…I would have to trade my car for it. And then I would only have a frame. It was fun Les Fat, but I don’t see us meeting up again down the road.


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Ride alongside one another. On bikes, through life, together.











Drop Bar MTB Philosophy Part 2/2


Finishing off the discussion with Mikki from Revolution Cycles on Salsa Cycles Fargo vs Cutthroat and Deadwood.

If you missed part 1/2, check it out here:

Drop Bar Mountain Bike Philosophy and Setup Optimization – Salsa Fargo, Deadwood, and Cutthroat [VIDEO]

In this video, Nick gets the rundown on Mikki’s Salsa Fargo setup for mountain biking, commuting, and bikepacking. Mikki discusses his setup, what he plans to change and why those changes will better suit his application. Part 2 will discuss more on the Cutthroat model, how it differs from the Fargo and Deadwood as well as how it could easily be modified from bikepacking race bike to more of a comfortable commuter or a more generally capable mountain bike.
Many thanks to Mikki from for taking the time to discuss his rig with us. If you are ever in Solana Beach, CA make sure you stop by and say hello!

Thanks for watching.

20150908 – Just posted part 2/2. You can view it here:

Salsa Cycles 2016 Deadwood – 29plus [VIDEO]

Check out what I was fortunate enough to demo today!

Many thanks to Mikki from Revolution Cycles in Solana Beach, CA for hosting and Cori from Salsa Cycles !

Old School Bikepacking


Just thought I would quickly share this photo and remind us all that it isn’t really about wheel size, suspension or not, what gear you have or any of that.

Its about getting out for a ride! Longer the better.

Today I will head out this afternoon to get in some miles on a solo ride nearby my house.

Hopefully the focus will be more on enjoyment and less on training miles, but that is an internal battle I am all too familiar with.

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