Low-Trail Fog Cutter Update

I’ve been riding the Fog Cutter for several months and a comment prompted me to do an update.

I spent the summer of 2015 learning how to ride long distances. Issues of Bicycle Quarterly lay scattered around my apartment as I read and reread each issue absorbing all the tidbits about riding further than I ever expected to want to go. Jan Heine cultivated a wonderful collection of stories that inspired me to set goals and reach further than I had before. I built up to a century, then a 200k and finally a 240k ride, smashing my personal distance record as the season ended.

All my rides were on a normal racing bike. Skinny tires, no luggage capacity beyond a small saddle bag. I would load my camelback with food for 8 hours on the road, pedaling off into the morning dawn with the tiny pocket stuffed to capacity with clif bars and powerbars. If there was a chance of rain it was stressful to find a place to put my pocket sized rain jacket. The bike was fast but carried nothing.

The more I read, the more I wanted a low-trail all road bike. The fat tires were just the thing I needed for the inevitable gravel sections encountered far into the countyside. I had been suffering from pinch flats nearly every gravel encounter. Easily accessible handlebar bag coupled with neutral low-trail handling would make carrying food and clothes a snap while keeping the handling lively and intuitive.

After racing gravel and mountain bikes I knew I needed disc brakes. I got on, then got off, then tried to get back on the waiting list for the Elephant NFE. Essentially this was the only good low-trail disc option in 2015. I looked hard at the Soma Grand Randonneur but the brakes were outdated for my tastes. It took a while for the market to catch up, some small batch low-trail disc bikes appeared but they always had some sort of issue. Threaded headsets, overbuilt frame and fork or the company being overrun by personal issues relating to the ownership.

I tried a front rack with my high and mid-trail bikes and it was fine but just never that great. I could tell something was missing. A semi-cryptic post from then Soma online marking manager put me on the trail for converting a regular bike into a low-trail bike with just a fork swap. I read a ton of what Fred Blasdel wrote about geometry and handling over at V-Salon and figured this was my best shot.

After a frustrating experience with the Masi Speciale Randonneur I committed to my earlier idea and ordered the Fog Cutter and Soma low-trail conversion fork. From the first ride I was smitten, the bike was everything I had been dreaming about for three years. Testing it at the Marietta training cit confirmed it could be fast, the first century confirmed it was comfortable, and the unloaded handling was so good it took six months to get around to putting a rack on.

There are only the most minor handling changes with a rack and moderate 5-11 pound load. Steering slows slightly and the bike wants to lean a little more but it’s still quick, precise and intuitive. I acclimated to the front load almost instantly and larger loads ~20 pounds create a larger change but it’s the same small incremental differences. At this point I’ve done a 240k ride with overnight touring load, 3 rides 200k and longer and 8 rides over 150k with my average ride time for the bike at 4 hours and 17 minutes. Currently I’m at 4300 miles, 296 hours, 69 rides over almost exactly 8 months of riding.

I’ve done pick-up sprints against friends on track bikes and racing bikes and never felt like I was at a disadvantage. The bike is fast enough that it’s just plain fun to ride, with a front rack it’s just as fun but able to carry additional clothes to keep riding when the temperature swings from 60 to 30 degrees as the sun sets. Or a touring load for a quick overnight with friends.

Or enough food and water for a gravel adventure on the dark side of the moon, or interesting ground scores like vacuum thermos or large hand tools or whatever. Low trail and a front bag is awesome, it deepens the riding experience in a meaningful way that so many other gadgets and geometry tweaks are advertised as doing but in fact almost never live up to their hype. The low-trail Fog Cutter has worked out very well for me. The combination of a reasonably flexible high-offset, low-trail fork and a lighter built production frame (54cm was <4.25 pounds) creates a great riding bike that I'd seriously recommend to anyone looking for the mythical bike expounded in so many Bicycle Quarterly articles.

Albany 200k

I did the Audax Atlanta Albany 200k this morning. 130 miles 2990″ – ended up at 8:01/8:17 moving/total. 9 riders, I was the only one who drove down from Atlanta same day, 3:15am wakeup was rough. I’m trying to be positive but the ride kinda sucked, a brutal headwind the last 3 hours and a flat boring course just didn’t do much for me. It’s a drag to ride by tons of awesome looking silt/clay roads in favor of numbered highways with semi-trucks. At the very least it stayed warm and dry.

It wasn’t a bad ride, just thought the novelty of a very flat course would be fun and it wasn’t. After the first couple abandoned farm houses and cotton fields to the horizon it gets kinda old.

This was my first brevet on the Fog Cutter, styled as a classic 1950s randonneuring bike. It was fine, not magic or anything. The wider tires, fenders and handlebar bag really caused some suffering in the head and side winds. BQ can do all the wind tunnel testing they want but it’s obvious that outside, in the real world, winds are going to have a larger effect on this style of bike.

 

 

 

2019 Event Schedule

Gravel

3/23/2019 – Fried Clay 200k
4/27/2019 – Big Frog 65
6/29/2019 – Red Clay Ramble
8/3/2019 – Mulberry Mayhem
9/14/2019 – Fools Gold 55
10/12/2019 – Shake ‘n’ Brake
11/16/2019 – Death March Revival
11/23/2019 – Conasauga Crusher

MTB

3/16/2019 Cloudland Canyon
7/20/2019 Bartram Night Race

Road

Track

Touring

Chattanooga
Greenville

Randonneuring

• 200k – 1/12/2019 Albany
• 300k – 2/9/2019 Monticello
400k – 3/9/3019 Athens/Augusta
600k – 3/30/2019 So Many Roads

Just for Fun

3/24/2019 – The BeltGrind
Turkey Shuffle

R70:

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Geometry Primer

Tight cornering and turning is based much more around trail, handlebar width and individual rider skill than wheelbase, IME/O.

I think this is partially due to mis-attribution due to a lack of understanding how small changes in the first two variables have more outsize effects on the feel of a bike much more so than wheelbase. Especially during high speed and aggressive movement of the bike/rider. Something like ~7mm of trail and corresponding ~2-3mm of flop can have a very large effect on how a bike feels as it begins to lean over. Conversely, when riding blind I’ve found most riders have a hard time differentiating less than 20-40mm of wheelbase change, especially if it’s balanced on both the front and rear end.

Looking at the bikes that finish DK is interesting but most people do not understand geometry well enough to have had it be a defining factor in what bike they choose to purchase/ride in comparison to all the other variables involved. It takes quite a bit of $$$/experience to really suss out the small changes and their effects.

I will also say that the terms relaxed and aggressive are poor descriptors and do not describe how a bike rides. It would be better to describe bikes along a spectrum as:

Use steering to turn or maintain a straight course, leaning and body english produce much less reaction and are much less necessary. Also has less stability at the front end as the speed increases.

or

Use leaning the bike at an angle, counter-steering (push handlebars inside of the turn) and body english to turn or maintain a straight course, steering with the handlebars produces much less reaction and is much less necessary. Also has more stability at the front end as the speed increases.

Low Trail 35mm
Steering, less stable at speed

Mid Trail 55mm
Balanced steer/lean, stable at speed

High Trail 70mm
Leaning/countersteer, very stable at speed

Note: larger tires, more aggressive tread and lower pressure all increase trail for a given geometry. Wider handlebars provide more leverage and increase feedback on low trail, too wide creates a nervous descending bike that is overly sensitive to small corrections – oversteer condition. Narrower handlebars do not have enough leverage and decrease feedback for high trail, the bike is hard to maneuver during descending and resists cornering – understeer condition.

Personally I find high trail bikes extremely hard to corner with handlebars less than 52cm wide. Even then they require a significant amount of leaning and benefit from very aggressive side knobs to prevent sliding at lower speeds than lower trail bikes. Conversely I find low trail to be much too nervous descending – compared to mid/high trail, smaller rocks and road features tend to wrench the front end around requiring significant focus to make corrections to track the preferred line. Mid trail is my preferred front end geometry as it has a good balance of steering/leaning and although it lacks the stability of high trail on rough descents at very high speed it is still acceptable for the additional ease of cornering.

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Why ride gravel?

I found it humorous that was posted in the fixed gear forum. If anyone understands doing something just because it’s fun it should be posters there.

Anyway; compared to gravel, road riding is intensely boring. The depth of gravel is a huge pull. Learning to ride different surfaces in different conditions, at speed is a satisfying skill to learn and develop. Nothing on pavement can compare to winding down a twisty gravel descent at the edge of traction, deep in the woods alone as the winter wind rattles the bare forest around you. The more technical and deeper into gravel you go the more serene pavement seems. Pavement is the bright suburban grocery store to hunting your dinner in the woods with a knife on gravel.

Hyperbolic to the extreme? Of course, but that’s how it feels.

Often I’ll spend 2 hours riding a flat, straight, paved rail trail to some gravel. The more I’m on the trail the more my bike seems to bog down and my legs get heavier and heavier. Once I get off the trail and gravel starts crunching under my tires the bike seems to come alive, my legs feel light and efforts come easy as I rumble along in the dust. It’s a wonderful feeling and I find it sad some people haven’t felt the pull and don’t know what they’re missing.

Banditing short sections of hiking trail in a tiny city park surrounded by urban sprawl is nothing. Fast food for a soul that needs full nourishment.

All this is to say nothing of the technical aspects. Compare two road slicks, are they different? Who cares, they’ll both get you down the road and around the corner just fine.

Ah now compare two gravel tires. Are you riding in the wet? Is the course muddy or dry? Hardpack or loose railroad ballast? How much climbing do you expect? Do these knobs give enough traction while leaning to go down that switchback at the speed you need? Does having a front tire more aggressive than the rear give you more capability of just the ability to outride your skill level?

How are you handlebars? Flared? How much? What width?

Stem length? Too long and you’re over the front end on any descent and getting squirrely over the bars. Too short and that rock you didn’t see is wrenching the bars from your hands and tossing you to the ground.

There’s a ton of things to learn and observe. As they say the core loop is enjoyable, it reinforces continuing the activity in a way that road riding does not once there’s a taste of the chalky dust in the air.