--Hey, come here and try this. I could be leading into a story of teenage temptation -- the time I got lured around a corner behind the gym lockers for a first smoke, my first drag race on a two lane country road, or the unspoken ‘come here and try this’ in the eyes of my first romance.
Those are stories for another forum, like ’round a campfire under a blanket of stars. Today’s story comes from a different kind of temptation. We were recently invited to join the RockShox crew out in Durango, Colorado for a 2011 product presentation. They called it RockShox Base Camp. When asked to go, I jumped at the opportunity to go meet, greet, and ride. After all, ‘work’ in Durango sounded pretty good. And I knew that I’d get to ride all the cool new stuff.
We booked the tickets and finally, the day arrived to pack up and get on a plane. I’d filled my bag with riding gear, two sets of pedals, a Camelback, and my helmet. I was ready for everything but the altitude. I also carried on a copy of Joe Parkin’s latest book, Come and Gone. At one point, I looked out the window and saw fields of crops in western Kansas that bore the perfectly round shapes dictated by the center pivot irrigation systems. They looked too much like bicycle wheels, I thought to myself. That was when I started getting really excited about the trip. Aaahh…foreshadowing.
The leg from Denver to Durango was cloudy, so I couldn’t see any of the mountainous terrain I’d hoped for. So I resigned myself to finishing my book as we bumped up and over the individual ranges of the Southern Colorado Rockies. One of the RockShox boys picked me up at the airport and we transferred to the Strater Hotel in town. They had literally taken over the basement and back lot of the historic establishment, and it was apparent to me that they’d come in force.
The effects of arrival celebrations, the altitude, and a generous slice of breakfast ham left me foundering during the next morning’s first session. As I sat there swimming in my own saliva, I realized I was sitting directly behind Joe Parkin. He was there from Bike Magazine. I went ahead and introduced myself and told him I was enjoying his book. Then it was down to business with the RockShox product managers. They told us all about the 2011 forks and rear shocks. Thankfully, it was a short session. They were eager to get us fit on bikes and out on the trail, and I was eager to yack my guts up.
As I staggered up the four flights to my room, the labored pumping of my diaphragm as I gasped for fresh oxygen only aided in the progression of my illness. I knew I wasn’t having my best day, but if I could just throw up, I’d be better off. When the inevitable upchuck occurred, I was thankful that none came out my nose. The ham and eggs were certainly better the first time. And just as I expected, I felt instantly better. My only concern was that I was in a state of total dehydration and now lacking fuel for the ride, but by the time I’d geared up and walked down to the RockShox trailer, I was ready for part of a tasty cookie from Bread. I’d heard about their ‘Sow Your Oats Cookies’ for years and threw caution to the wind. It went down pretty damn well, I’ll admit. I managed a half a can of Coke to wash it down and reckoned that I’d be allright… for a ‘test ride’ anyway.
My test mule for the day was to be a 150mm Norco trail bike. It was outfitted with a 150mm Revelation RLT Ti fork and a Monarch RT3 rear shock. It was awesome to be surrounded by the product managers and engineers that worked so intimately with the new products. Everyone pitched in to help us all get the proper setup with our air pressures and position on the bikes. After a bit, we were ready to hit the trail. We rode down Main Street towards the Horse Gulch Trails. I quickly realized that it was going to be another one of those rides… straight up the mountain for who-knows-how-long. I wasn’t sure that my swimming head could take the pressure of even the mildest exertion, but once we settled into a rhythm, my body came around. When we started the real climbing, I struck up a dialogue with one of the rear shock engineers just in front of me on the trail and did my best to keep it as lopsided as possible -- with him doing most of the talking. Luckily, our ‘trail boss’ for the weekend, Greg Herbold, kept the pace reasonable as we headed up Telegraph for the first time.
We blazed down Anasazi and through the meadow towards the Ridge across the gulch. Just like the cookies, I’d heard about these trails and it was great to finally roll my tires over them. I could see how great the Horse Gulch trail system is for training. There was everything you could ask for -- extended climbs, ripping descents, rocks, and bermed corners. It was all there. You could take it easy, or totally hammer yourself up in there. The Norco felt great all day. Of course, it was kitted out with a full SRAM XX group, so the shifting and braking was as excellent as the suspension. My lasting impression for the day was how happy I was to see a 15mm Maxle on the fork. Judging by the stiffness and perfect front wheel tracking, I’d never have guessed it to be a 3.8lb 150mm fork. And by the time I climbed off, I’d decided it was just what my Ibis Mojo SL needed when I got back home.
Our first official afternoon provided us with a happy hour to harass the RockShox guys about their products. They had every fork and rear shock in the lineup as well as the new Reverb height adjustable seatpost. In addition to the complete versions, they had cutaways for every technology that they use. There were models of all of their dampers, air springs, travel adjusts, seatposts, Maxles, etc. It was more than one guy could absorb in a mere two hours. During the ride, I’d made good use of the Dual Position Air travel adjust on my Revelation fork. It worked so well that I went right to the dude who created it for a quiz and answer session. I found out that it’s a super simple system (I’d venture that it’s the least complicated travel adjust on the market), and I already knew how well it worked. In practice, it’s the first one I’ve ever used with a crown mounted control that that was easy to operate on the fly.
The next morning, we did shuttle runs on the Log Chutes DH trail with Herbold and Brandon Semunuk. Brandon warmed us all up with a little 25 foot gap to start the trail. The rest of us passed, of course. We all rode Nomads with Lyrics and Vivid Air rear shocks, and I know in my heart that they had those things dialed before I even threw a leg over one, but man they were sweet. I’m convinced that the Vivid Air will be the asteroid to the coil spring’s unlucky dinosaur. Four runs down the hill gave me enough time to fiddle with my air spring preload a bit on both ends of the bike and I turned in a bit less rebound on the Lyric for a perfectly balanced feel. My goal for the day was to hang with HB and Semunuk. I can’t say that I was right on their back wheels at the bottom of the trail, but I was eating a lot of the dust they were roosting, and it was a satisfying snack.
After lunch we headed back up into Horse Gulch, this time towards the Secret Trail. This time I was aboard a 120mm SID equipped Cannondale. I was curious to ride it since I hadn’t been aboard a SID since they had red lowers and 28mm upper tubes. For those of you that recall, those were some noodley-ass forks, especially if you’re built less like Julian Absalon and more like Joe Blow Chunks. We climbed up to Secret Trail and the fork was fine, but truly revealed itself when we started down. This trail is crazy in that it swerves and curves, and makes nearly no sense whatsoever, as if circus clowns dug it into the hillside. It was challenging and lots of fun, though. And I gave the SID a serious workout through the multiple G-outs and sweeping bermed turns as the trail opened up near the bottom. We raced through the meadow, sprinting from one turn to the next and the Cannondale rode like a champ!
After it was all said and done, I’d realized that I rode the snot out of that fork and it didn’t disappoint. In fact, I’d forgotten that it was their lightest offering. It felt just as stable, or more so than my old Reba. It underscores the added benefit of the 15mm Maxle thru-axle, and I’ll be selling all my quick-release equipped forks. Keep an eye out on E-Bay for some good deals.
At every turn, the RockShox crew gave us everything we needed. Our evening plan for the last night included pizza and beers at little place Greg knew. I have a suspicion that the venue was selected as much for the ‘scenery’ as the menu. Afterwards, we trucked out to The Roost Missile Ranch, Herbold’s private compound outside of town. I’d been looking forward to the visit because I’d heard that we were going to get a tour through 20 years of RockShox stuff. And sure enough, HB had plenty of that on hand. His old Miyata bikes were decked out with purple ano Onza and Ringle bits, and of course, with RockShox suspension components. There were old rear shocks, a first generation Boxxer, Judys, Mag 21s, and even an RS-1. One of his bikes had RockShox’s first disc brake! I’d never actually seen these before.
The historical value of his collection was impressive. But looking past all this, it’s clear that HB is a man who likes his toys. Dirt bikes, mini bikes, RC cars… he even had a baja bug and a road bike. We raced RC cars on his buffed out RC track. Bike trails laced the ranch, providing plenty of opportunity to launch off any of a number of ladder drops into a gulley with perfect trannies. There were doubles and step-ups sprinkled here and there as if that was just normal. If you’ve ever looked at your backyard and wished you had your own dirt jumps, you’d love his place. Beyond the bike and RC area, Herbold even has a full-fledged motocross course. And like the RC track, it gets water pumped up from an ample pond to buff it out for Sunday Morning World Championship events.
We capped off the evening with a campfire, a well-stocked cooler, and a case of Jiffy Pop popcorn. Somebody brought a guitar and it got passed around a bit, so we were entertained all night long. I felt a bit like a teenager again, especially when the night ended with somebody throwing up in the sage brush a few feet away from the campfire. The RockShox boys put on a great event. I learned a lot about the upcoming 2011 products, and just as importantly, I made some great contacts and maybe even a few friends along the way. So next time they say, ‘Hey, come here and try this’ you can be sure that I’ll be the first guy to volunteer.