27 October, 2020

Polyvalent Low Kicker and More Fall Arrivals at VO

by Kevin

The Polyvalent Low Kicker has landed. After many, many months of design, development, and testing, we are beyond stoked for the arrival of the latest addition to the Velo Orange lineup. The Low Kicker is a major update to our Polyvalent platform that introduces a low-slung top tube for easy riding while retaining a "do-it-all" design ready to tackle everything from paved commuting to gravel touring. 

We will begin to fill pre-orders in the coming days. For those that missed out on the pre-order, the Low Kicker is now available for order direct from our online store.

And the Low Kicker didn't come alone. As the weather cools down and the days grow shorter, a new shipment of Velo Orange essentials has arrived just in time for your fall and winter bike projects. 

Crazy Bars are back in stock in silver and black. We've received no shortage of questions about when more would be in. A close second, however, is the Klunker Bar, and we're not here to disappoint. Klunkers in their noir finish have also been restocked. We've also received more Left Bank handlebars in 22.2 mm and 23.8 mm sizes as well as Granola Bars in silver and black. 

On the topic of handlebar swaps, if you have been looking for an easy way to convert that old threaded fork to use modern threadless designs in a variety of clamp diameters, our Threadless Stem Adapter is also back in stock. 

We've received more fenders in a variety of popular styles and sizes. 650b x 58 mm fenders are back in black in Smooth and Wavy finishes along with 700c x 52 mm Zeppelin Fenders in Noir. 

And the list goes on. More items back in stock: 

We have also received more stock our Comfy Cotton Bar Tape and Colored Brake Cable and Derailleur Cable kits to add a splash of color to that fall/winter bike build. 

If you have been waiting for something in particular and don't see it in stock, we'll have even more arriving within the next month or two, including the brand new Pass Hunter, a new colorway for the Piolet, and more. 

16 October, 2020

Kevin's Gravel Packer Pass Hunter

by Kevin

As we near the launch of the new Pass Hunter, we have received a number of questions from customers interested in racks and bags to pair with the frame. We envision the Pass Hunter as an ideal "sport touring" bike, well-suited for a spirited weekend jaunt unencumbered by heavily loaded front and rear panniers. Pushing the concept a bit further, I wanted to see how the frame could perform as a pseudo-bikpacking rig. With a weekend gravel tour as the test, I dreamed up my minimalist gravelpacking (is this a thing or did I just make that up?) setup.

I primarily am a road cyclist, and so my original Pass Hunter build was designed around Shimano's Ultegra R8000 drivetrain and a set of 700c wheels with TRP Spyre brakes. I went with the widest Ultegra cassette offered and paired with our compact Drillium crank. I wanted a build geared for road climbing--this is a Pass Hunter, after all. And that noir Drillium crank just looks sweet, doesn't it? (The crank is on sale now, by the way).

For bars I went with our Nouveau Randonneur drops mounted to our Tall Stack stem. A 0 Setback Seatpost and Brooks C15 saddle round out the cockpit. The Cambium saddles can be a bit divisive, but I've had mine for years and tend to swap it around between my touring setups. Our noir Moderniste bottle cages complete the black and blue look, with a gold seat collar and brass stem cap (a close enough color match) providing a dab of glitz. 

When preparing the bike for gravelpacking, I swapped out the 700c wheels for a set of Shimano GRX 650b wheels. These were ready to go with a set of Teravail Rampart tires (tubeless) in 47 mm. For me, this was a major jump from the 32 mm max I am used to. I've never claimed to be down with the #supplelife, but I have to admit the supple lifers might be onto something. 

For luggage, I wanted to keep things simple and compact. I reached out to our friends at Roadrunner Bags and settled on their Jumbo Jammer handlebar bag and Fred saddle bag. This proved to be just enough space for a three-day tour, with room for my camping gear, a change of clothes, snacks, and some other miscellaneous gear. If needed, a frame bag or some fork-mounted cargo cages could easily expand carrying capacity.

After a weekend in the mountain backcountry (read my ride report here), I at times found the road groupset to be a bit outmatched. A gravel-centric 1x system might ultimately be the only change I'd make for a similar tour in the future. Otherwise, I was quite pleased. I don't see myself going back to a rack and pannier system anytime soon. Check out the complete build list under our Bike Build Ideas page.

14 October, 2020

Sampling the Rockstar Challenge

by Kevin

I first heard of the Rockstar Challenge a couple months back. A fall bicycle tour was in order, and after one too many rides on the C&O Canal Towpath it seemed a new route was called for. My good friend and touring partner Lee Cumberland was finishing prep for the Shenandoah 100 mountain bike race and caught wind of the Rockstar ride from others in that circle. 

A brief history: the Rockstar Challenge began as a trail ride catering to the hardcore mountain biking enthusiasts of the Shenandoah and Roanoke Valleys in western Virginia. It’s part bikepacking route, part all-out race that ties together some of the more challenging MTB trails in the area as it cuts a path from Harrisonburg, once known as Rocktown, to Roanoke, ending at the Mill Mountain Star. Rocktown to the star - Rockstar. You get it. 

The mountain bike trail is notoriously grueling, and in the years since it was first mapped both gravel and road options have been routed. I long ago decided mountain biking wasn’t for me, but I figured it was time I give the gravel life a go. The gravel route sounded like a good opportunity to form a proper opinion on the fad that has swept the industry over the past few years. It was also a great chance to push the capabilities of the new Pass Hunter frameset as a lightly-loaded touring steed. 

I swapped out the 700c wheels and 32 mm tires I had on the Pass Hunter for a set of 650b Shimano GRX wheels with 47 mm tires. I outfitted the bike with a couple of bags from our friends at Roadrunner. I went with the Jumbo Jammer and Fred Saddle Bag, two styles not offered as part of our VO luggage line. I packed in my camping hammock and quilts, a change of clothes, enough food to last a day or so, and water. We also brought a Sawyer filter to pull fresh water from the mountain streams we’d cross. The route does a good job of meeting up with towns and services when possible, but it is largely a backcountry ride with limited access and poor cell phone service. With proper planning of distance and timing, you could probably get away with relying on restock points along the way. 

As a disclaimer, due to time limitations the intention was never to ride the entire route. We cut off the first 50 miles or so by staging at the Stokesville Campground with plans to pick up the gravel route nearby. We’d discover that even the time we had allotted would end up being not quite enough. 

The first day began with about 10 miles of gentle climbing on paved roads in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains before reaching the first gravel road of the day. From there on, it was mostly fire roads and access roads leading to electrical towers. East coast mountains aren’t the towering behemoths of the western US. The climbs tend to be shorter but much steeper. And here the steep climbs on shaky gravel roads became both a physical and mental challenge. The first major climb traversed a bombed-out doubletrack before forking off on an overgrown road following a mountain ridge. The waist-high grass hid the obstacles below, including a large branch that caused my first (and thankfully only) wreck of the trip. With the initial bruises out of the way the next curve ball arrived: a dead-end. 

The route said go forward, but there was nowhere to go but densely overgrown woods. With no desire to backtrack we forged ahead, eventually bushwhacking our way to the yellow blaze marking a singletrack mountain bike trail. So much for the gravel ride. Needless to say, there was more hiking and less biking at this point. The day was already growing long and not much ground had been made up. 

The trail eventually gave way to another gravel road making its way down the mountainside. At the bottom it was time to go up again. Did I mention that this route packs 27,000 feet of climbing into 260 or so miles?  Luckily the trails were a bit more “gravel” than “mountain” from that point on. The rhythm of the ride became apparent at this point as the rest of the day followed a similar pattern of climbing to the ridge, dropping into the valley, and then climbing back out, crisscrossing from the eastern to western faces of the mountainsides. The day ended at the top of one such ridge with camp being set up in the nearest clear patch of woods. We only managed about 40 miles or so of what we had hoped would be at least a 70-mile day. 

The second day of the three-day excursion began with an undulating descent out of the mountains to a brief respite on paved roads. The hope was that a gas station or market would materialize for refueling, but the route continued to find us deeper in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests, eventually back on gravel and once again climbing up into the mountains (the Sawyer filter was clutch here, allowing us to refill our water bottles from a fresh mountain stream). With supplies dwindling and significantly off-pace to finish the gravel route in three days, we made the decision to jump on the alternate road route around Douthat State Park. This was about 40 miles into the day with a plan to knock out about 40 more before setting up camp. 

At a much needed dinner at the Dairy Queen in Clifton Forge, VA, we set our sights a little off route for a campground with running water, bathrooms, and hot food. We called ahead and learned, much to our delight, that the evening would also feature live music and the undisputed number-one recovery drink: beer. The sun was setting and the destination was perhaps a bit ambitious given the added distance, but a couple more hours winding through the mountains in the dark and we made camp. I can confirm the beer was very good.

The third and final day was mostly easy riding on the road. Switching paths to the shorter paved version of the Rockstar Challenge left us with only about 50 miles to cover to reach Roanoke. It was not without a few challenging climbs as we crossed the mountains one last time before descending into the Roanoke Valley and finding ourselves making quick time to the city. Tired from a few long days on the bike, the last few miles were business-like with a singular mission to cap things off with one or two more cold brews and a good meal (which luckily did not require too many extraneous miles to locate).

We never did make it to the Mill Mountain Star--we stumbled upon a brewery before getting that far. With this abbreviated, alternate routing I can’t say I successfully bested the Rockstar Challenge this time around, but I had a taste and perhaps will tackle it again in the future. Gaining this little bit of familiarity will certainly help for preparations for any next attempt. 

A solid plan and the best intentions do not always make for smooth riding. This is a fact I should have learned by now, but--surprise--I haven’t. I accept that there will always be a certain level of self-inflicted torture involved with bicycle touring. I think most bicycle tourists have a slightly sadistic streak. That or some philosophy about the impact of suffering on character.