Tested: Canyon’s New Women’s Bikes

The German direct-to-consumer brand’s first women-specific rigs target the pains of smaller riders, with a redesigned frame and 650B wheel options. Our writer spent a weekend testing them and came away very impressed.

Canyon Bikes are a rare sight stateside, but perhaps not for long. The German bike maker, which outfits leading World Tour teams such as Movistar, Katusha, and Canyon-SRAM, is opening up direct-to-consumer sales in the U.S. later this summer. Along with that, the brand is launching another exciting milestone: its first women’s specific road bikes—the Canyon Ultimate WMN and Endurace WMN—which I recently spent a weekend test riding.
 
With a goal to democratize performance, Canyon studied men’s and women’s physiology to see if there really was anything different needed in a women-specific bike. It found that, compared to men, female riders are typically shorter and lighter (that one’s a duh), have shorter arms compared to torso length (by about two centimeters), narrower shoulders, and greater pelvic flexibility. Canyon also observed that current road bike frame sizes and geometries don’t necessarily suit smaller women seeking a high performance ride. Instead, they force women to sit in a more upright, less aerodynamic, less aggressive position. Canyon used this data, along with direct input from racers on the Canyon-SRAM pro women’s team, to develop a road bike with agile handling specifically with small women in mind. 
 
The result are the Canyon Ultimate WMN CF SLX Disc and the Endurace WMN CF SL Disc. Compared to its unisex models, the WMN’s bikes have a shorter reach, taller headtube, and (in some cases) smaller wheels with the idea being that women of any size can ride in the same low, aero position that men are accustomed to. Both bikes are expertly crafted, with stunning attention to detail, and have nimble yet predictable handling. 

Before I get into the features, I want to mention the price: while exact pricing is TBD, we can guesstimate based on the European list prices that the Ultimate could start around $3,361, while the Endurace would start at $2,240. That's a tremendous bargain—as is the sub-$7,000 price tag for the fully tricked out models I tested. Additionally, there’s an aluminum version of the Endurace (not tested) that starts at $1,680. Canyon’s WMN bikes will be available for U.S. buyers in August.  

(Courtesy of Canyon)
 

The Ultimate is Canyon’s more aggressive race rig, while the Endurace is built for all day comfort. Don’t mistake “comfort” for “casual,” though. My position on an XS Endurace WMN CF SL Disc 9.0 was only marginally more relaxed than on an XS Canyon Ultimate WMN CF SLX Disc 9.0, especially in the drops. The Endurace’s comfort primarily comes from a slight kink near the base of the seat tube designed to absorb shock during long days in the saddle. (In a direct comparison against the Ultimate, it definitely smoothed out one particularly bumpy road.) It also has slightly larger tire clearance—up to 33-millimeter tires—for adventuring off-road. 
 
Both carbon fiber rigs are exceedingly light. Due to a slimmer, angular toptube and downtube, the Ultimate’s frame, weighing in at 765 grams (or about 1.7 pounds) for the XS, is 6.5 percent lighter than its unisex counterpart, while maintaining the same stiffness to weight ratio. The complete bike weighs 15.4 pounds. Between its narrower tube shapes and its ergonomic cockpit (a unified bar and stem combination optimized for women’s smaller hands), these WMN bikes are also more aerodynamic than Canyon’s unisex models. 
 
These features harmonize once you start pedaling. At a county line dash, the Ultimate felt solid and responsive as I sprinted out of the saddle. And as I navigated a pitchy climb, there was no feeling of having to lug it uphill. On descents, Canyon’s bikes sliced through switchbacks with gusto. While it lends itself towards agile handling, that ergo cockpit put more weight on the bike’s front end than I was accustomed to. However, by day two I was ripping through turns with a huge grin on my face, the Reynolds Assault wheels of my Endurace WMN carving a tight line, tires firmly gripping the pavement underneath. When a squirrel made a kamikaze dash across the road, its powerful hydraulic disc brakes quickly dashed my hopes of a downhill PR, but more importantly, kept the road free of skin—or fur. Electronic SRAM Red eTap shifters ensured I snapped back into a comfortable climbing gear once the road turned uphill again. 

Canyon’s WMN bikes are easily some of the best women's specific whips I’ve ridden. The Endurace, while similar in function to a Specialized Roubaix, feels sportier and more modern. And the Ultimate certainly rivals other top-of-the-line race bikes, such as the Liv Envie Advanced Pro or a Specialized Amira Expert, in terms of handling, responsiveness, and aerodynamics. 

Canyon centered its women’s sizing around an XS, so its frame sizes range from 3XS at the small end to medium at the largest. The smallest two sizes—the 2XS and 3XS—are unique in today’s landscape in that they’re built around 650B wheelsets, which have a 584-millimeter diameter compared to the 622-millimeter diameter of a 700C wheel. This means that women 5’5 and under, such as Canyon-SRAM’s Trixi Worrack, can be lower and more aggressive on the bike. Canyon made a couple other customizations so that these smaller bikes look and feel the same as their larger counterparts, including smaller disc rotors, sub-compact 52/36 chainrings (instead of a compact on sizes XS+), and smaller-sized cockpits. 
 
A smaller wheel size does come with a tradeoff though: limited wheel options. KT Swiss and SRAM plan to offer 650B wheels, Canyon representatives said, while Schwalbe is currently the only tire maker for this size on the road. 

Need Bike Clothes? Go Grocery Shopping.

Lidl, a German grocer and Pro Tour sponsor that recently opened in the U.S., is launching a line of bike apparel and equipment that could save you hundreds over the competition

If you’ve ever complained that cycling equipment is too costly, take note: at supermarket chain Lidl, you can buy an entire kit—jersey, shorts, and cleats—for under $75.

The German grocery giant has carved out its niche across the globe by offering a tightly curated range of goods, many private labeled, at exceptionally low prices. Part of the company’s model is to supplement its perishable stocks with weekly promotions of non-food items, from power tools to kitchen appliances, which are available at outstanding costs as long as stock lasts. The cycling gear, which launched as part of the company’s third cycle of such specials, is part of Lidl’s (pronounced lee-duhl) Crivit sportswear line. “To inspire our communities to live a healthy lifestyle, we like to offer this fitness collection at affordable prices,” says Jessica Haggard, a spokeswoman for the company. 

The cycling line consists of just 10 items to start, including a quick-drying jersey for men and women for just $14 and padded shorts and bibs for $20. Gloves will go for $7, socks for $4, and cycling shoes for $40. Other items in the line include a mini-pump for $7, bike lock for $5, and photochromic glasses for $40. Those prices may make you question the quality, though judging by the shoes—which appear to be a Boa-dial and Velcro strap model with mounts for three-bolt and SPD-style cleats—the gear looks credible. 

Lidl is no stranger to the cycling market. The company has sponsored Pro Tour cycling team Etixx-Quickstep for the past two seasons, which includes high-profile racers including Mark Cavendish, Tony Martin, Tom Boonen, and World Champ Michael Kwiatowski. The team annulled its contract with its previous grocery supplier to bring on Lidl, which team manager Patrick Lefevre heralded as a step forward for the cycling industry, calling the German grocer, “perhaps the largest private company that is stepping into cycling.” Meanwhile, Lidl touts its experience with Etixx-Quickstep as informing its Crivit cycling gear.

Lidl, which has 10,000 stores in 28 countries, opened its first U.S. operations on June 15, with 10 stores across North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. The company, which has also confirmed locations in Georgia, Ohio, and Texas, is opening four more locations on July 13 and plans to have over 100 stores across the east coast by the end of Summer 2018.

While the new cycling apparel line, which went on sale on June 29, will only last until stock is out, Lidl says that consumers can expect to see more of the gear in the future. “I can't speak to exactly how many times it will be in store per year, but at least several times a year,” says Haggard. “We definitely see demand. There are local cycling groups in almost every market we are currently in.”

The 10 Movies at Telluride Mountainfilm That We’re Most Excited About

The iconic film festival has quite the spread this year, from a Nepalese man who gathers poisonous honey on high cliffs to a couple of pro climbers tandem-riding a scooter in an ode to ‘Dumb and Dumber’

Telluride Mountainfilm is one of our favorite film festivals because it offers such a great overall experience. Are you a film buff? Of course you’ll like it. Do you want to have meaningful conversations about conservation and the refugee crisis? This is your place. Do you just wear a lot of puffy jackets? Get in your Toyota Tacoma and see what you’re missing.

Whether or not you can make it out this weekend to the 2017 festival, you can watch some great featured films, many of which will premiere there. We’re anticipating these most.

‘The Last Honey Hunter’

In Nepal, Mauli Dhan Rai climbs rope ladders up cliffs to collect poisonous honey from the world’s largest honeybee. Who doesn’t want to watch that? Plus, it’s directed by Ben Knight, who you probably know from Denali, DamNation, and a great many fish-related films. 

‘Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey’

If you know climbing, you know Fred Beckey, the now nonagenarian legend who’s both a controversial figure and veritable encyclopedia of the sport. Director Dave O’Leske spent ten years making the film—watching the trailer, you may gather that it has something to do with Beck’s independent and ornery nature. (Expect many variations of, “I don’t care.”) 

‘Lunag Ri’

“Fewer people have been up Lunag Ri than have been on the moon,” says Conrad Anker in the most romantic description of a first ascent we’ve heard in a while. In this documentary, the 54-year-old mountaineer and 26-year-old Austrian sport climber David Lama attempt the 22,661-foot peak together. You may remember the emergency that befell their trip, but you’ll also see Lama’s return to his fatherland (his Nepalese father trained as a trekking guide here) and Anker’s signature mentorship storyline, which never really gets old. 

‘Freedom of the Wheels: For Matt and Will Every Adventure Is a No Brainer’

Pro climbers Matt Segal and Will Stanhope have created another labor-intensive buddy comedy to follow Boys in the Bugs, which made the rounds in festivals earlier this year. This one’s brand new and it takes place on a scooter. Specifically, Segal and Stanhope riding tandem on a scooter for 200 miles to Aspen, Colorado, as an homage to Dumb and Dumber. Our expert analysis predicts that the goofiness of Boys in the Bugs will pale in comparison to this. 

‘Albatross’

You might know Midway Island as the remote piece of land in the North Pacific Ocean that’s become an accidental garbage dump. And you might know Chris Jordan as the creator of a disturbing series of photos showing dead seabirds on the island, their stomachs cut open to reveal a tangle of plastic items. Together, they make for a unique take on the nature documentary. Jordan spent several years traveling to the island to film the tens of thousands of albatross that have died on the island. 

‘Safety Third’

Director Cedar Wright spends a lot of time with Alex Honnold, as many will remember from his Sufferfest series. In Safety Third he spends some time with another astonishingly talented free soloist, Brad Gobright—who has, in fact, been compared to Honnold. The 30-minute edit draws attention to an underrecognized climbing star (with accompanying dirtbag lifestyle quirks, like a diet of sprinkled donuts and scraps from work) and should be crammed with as much humor as any of Cedar Wright’s film. 

‘A Field Guide to Losing Your Friends’

This documentary has a devastating start: Tyler Dunning loses his best friend to terror-related bombings in Uganda in 2010. But things take a hopeful turn when Dunning sets out to visit all 59 U.S. national parks, hoping to find a way to cope. The mission isn’t entirely original, but the parks really do provide touching backdrops for a tough narrative on dealing with grief. 

‘Chocolate Spokes’

Gregory Crichlow is a striking character, not only for the fact that he’s always seen wearing a bow tie but also for his commitment to the bikers of Denver, Colorado's Five Points neighborhood—a historically black and Hispanic neighborhood in the midst of gentrification. Chocolate Spokes is a look at Crichlow’s bike shop of the same name. It is both character study and meditation on the role one custom bike store can play in a community. The director, multihyphenate Brendan Leonard, continues his record of bringing endearing amounts of enthusiasm to any subject he tackles.

‘No Man’s Land’

No Man’s Land takes on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation just a year after the fact, which could explain why director David Byars makes a point of keeping things “rigorously nonjudgmental.” We’re eager to see how the Mountainfilm grant-winner tackles the much-discussed events. 

‘HAFE: The Story Behind’

The syndrome known as HAFE is an anomaly in the field of emergency medicine—a high-altitude stomach problem with symptoms that sound so tongue-in-cheek, it’s surprising that the Western Journal of Medicine published a serious study about it in 1981. Similarly, HAFE: The Story Behind is a bit of a wildcard at Telluride—six minutes of strange, silly fun. All you need to know of the plot: two medical school grads take a trip into Colorado’s San Juan Mountains and make a very unexpected discovery that we won't spoil here.

The Art of Balancing Two High-Adrenaline Jobs

Anna Pfaff is a professional alpinist when conditions are right and a trauma nurse the rest of the time

Most elite alpinists grow up in tiny mountain towns. Anna Pfaff, on the other hand, was raised in rural northeast Ohio. “I didn’t do anything outdoorsy until I was 20 or so,” she says. “That’s when I moved to Colorado to finish my nursing degree at the University of Colorado Denver.” Soon after, a few of Pfaff’s classmates invited her to climb with them at Indian Creek, near Moab, Utah, for the weekend. “When I came back from that trip, I did whatever it took to go climbing and be around climbers.”

After graduating in 2003, Pfaff relocated to Boulder and met plenty of locals eager to teach her the systems and intricacies of technical rock climbing. Soon, she was spending most of her free time on either the multi-pitch routes in Eldorado Canyon, a few miles outside of Boulder, or the splitter cracks in Indian Creek. In 2004, Pfaff drove out to Yosemite alone, and was “absorbed by the Camp 4 climbing community,” she says. “They took me under their wing—that’s when it all really started for me.”

(Clayton Boyd / The North Face)

Thirteen years later, Pfaff has bagged first ascents in India, Bolivia, Nepal, and Columbia, and established new routes in Pakistan and Chile—all while working as a registered nurse in the Bay Area. She signed with the North Face last fall and will join some of her new teammates on an expedition in India this August. “My life isn’t normal in any way,” Pfaff says. “Juggling expedition climbing and nursing requires total commitment. I have two lifestyles—not two careers—but I’m happy with the path I chose. Isn’t that the point?”

Age: 35
Job: Trauma nurse; sponsored alpinist with the North Face, La Sportiva, Blue Water, DeLorme, CAMP, Jubo, and Gnarly
Hometown: Medina, Ohio
Home Base: Oakland, California 
Morning Ritual: “Drinking a lot of coffee and making a list for the day.”
Her Perfect Route: “I love mixed climbing, so probably a thin crack up to a nice pillar of WI5 ice.”
2017 International Agenda: Newfoundland in January, Iceland in March, Peru in June, and India in August.
Favorite Piece of Gear: “A yellow Black Diamond Camalot. Because if I’m using one, it means I’m climbing a hand crack.”
Nursing Certifications: Registered Nurse, Certified Emergency Nurse, Trauma Nursing Core Course, Pediatric Advanced Life Support, Basic Life Support 
Climbing Certifications: “The only class I’ve taken was on basic anchor building, back when I first started climbing. I just kind of learned through mentors and getting out there!”


How to decide if a dual career is right for you: “Having a dual career is my way of focusing on my ultimate goals in life: going on expeditions and helping people. If your dream is juggling nursing and alpinism, it’s best to start both early. Both fields require a lot of experience. Don’t be scared to jump in and figure out your path along the way—I didn’t know I would be an expeditionary alpinist when I started climbing. But here’s the key: you have to be incredibly disciplined to be a trauma nurse or a professional alpinist. For example, I often pass up vacationing with my friends because I need to train for upcoming expeditions.”

Juggling two jobs: “I can walk into the emergency room after being in the mountains for six weeks and handle some crazy trauma like a gunshot wound, but it took me 14 years of training and hard work to get to that point. I just get into a flow and everything else fades into the background until I finish the day’s work. But of course there are certain things in my life that are still a hot mess. Sometimes I’ll freak out and think that I’ve been at the hospital way too long and I need to skip and go climbing. But then when I’ve spent six or seven weeks climbing, I’ll feel this urge to go be a nurse again. It’s always been one extreme or the other with me.”

(Tim Kemple / The North Face)

Day to day: “My contract with the hospital requires me to work at least four shifts per month, but sometimes I work more than that. As a trauma nurse, I deal with anything from gunshot wounds to car accidents. My shifts are 12 hours each, but my schedule is pretty flexible: if I need six months off to climb, I'll do 10 shifts in a row. I live with some emergency room co-workers when I’m in Oakland; kind of like a nursing commune. If I’m not on an expedition but have a good chunk of time to climb, I follow the good weather in my van and sleep in that. Some people probably see living in a van as a sacrifice, but I think of it as freedom.”

How she recharges: “Sleep. Really, that’s the only downtime I have. When I’m not on an expedition, I rotate between sleeping, working at the hospital, and training. I only have a limited amount of money, so I put it almost entirely into keeping my van running and going climbing. I don’t go to bars or anything like that.”

Finding jobs with meaning: “Both of my careers hinge on constant progression: I can always be better. I think the key is to find a field you enjoy that fits your personality. I work in trauma now, but I’ve also done oncology and the intensive care unit. I like dealing with unexpected scenarios all the time, and I thrive on organized chaos. I’ve always had two urges—to help people and be active outside—so I chose careers that fit the lifestyle I knew I wanted. The result has been that my identity hasn’t changed much throughout my careers. But, my careers have definitely reinforced my belief that you have to make the most of every moment. I’ve lost friends in the mountains—two died just last year—and as a trauma nurse, you see people die all the time.”

Staying in elite shape while holding down a hectic job: “There are only 24 hours in the day, so choose wisely what parts of your body you need to train and figure out the most efficient way to do it. I usually train at night, after work. I always have a specific exercise plan, like, ‘I’m going to go to the rock gym and climb ten pitches of 5.10 and 20 pitches of 5.11.’ And I always tailor my training towards upcoming trips. Right now, I’m working out six days a week because I’ll be climbing in Peru soon; after that, I have a trip to India. Alpinism requires pretty much every type of fitness—I run, climb, lift weights, and hangboard, plus do yoga, pull-ups, sit-ups, push-ups…”

How to find happiness and stay inspired: “I think two of the most important rules in life are have fun and remember that life is short. Everybody has a different idea of the perfect life, so you have to figure out what keeps you happy and inspired. Sometimes you need to put your head down and sacrifice for your ultimate goal, but if you’re in the right career, there will still be inspiring moments during that slog. For me, those moments happen when I meet patients who are fighting back against their illnesses or injuries, or when I travel for an expedition and talk to someone who’s facing challenges I’ve never encountered.”

Career highlights: “The 2016 first ascent I did with my friend Juliana Garcia on Tiquimani in Bolivia comes to mind. I’ve enjoyed being able to push my body to the highest level and seeing how far I can take my climbing. But even more than standing on summits, I love learning about the various cultures, lifestyles, and beliefs that I run into overseas. As for my nursing career, there have been times when my patient seems to be doing fine, but my intuition kicks in and I dig a little deeper and catch something that wasn’t apparent. Also, if a patient comes out of surgery successfully, talking to them when they wake up is phenomenally rewarding.”

Future plans: “I just want to keep training, seeing the world, helping people, and staying alive. This career path works for me right now, and I’m confident that it’s how I want to spend my time. I don’t think it will last forever, but I’m going to continue to do it for as long as I can, and for as long as I love it."

6 Weekend Trips You Can Pull Off from the City

Get far into the wilderness in as little time as possible

Overnight camping doesn’t have be a weeklong, use-all-your-vacation-days affair. Do it right, and you can pull off a solid one- or two-night trek into the wilderness during a weekend. This is true even for major cities like Denver or Boston. You just need to know where to go.

From: Denver, Colorado

Indian Peaks Wilderness

Towering above the town of Boulder in Colorado’s Front Range, Indian Peaks Wilderness is about 90 minutes from downtown Denver. Plan a two-night backpacking trip starting from the Fourth of July trailhead or the Buchanan Pass trailhead and you’ll have access to 133 miles of trails, dozens of lakes, and six mountain passes that cross the Continental Divide. Be sure to secure a permit to camp in the backcountry before you head out.

From: Seattle, Washington

Alpine Lakes Wilderness

Washington’s Alpine Lakes Wilderness is as vast as it is accessible. Less than two hours east of Seattle, the area covers 394,000 acres, with 600 miles of trails and peaks that look like the Alps. Start at the Salmon La Sac trailhead and backpack eight miles and 3,000 vertical feet of elevation gain to Tuck and Robin Lakes. Both are downright gorgeous spots to pitch your tent, and camping permits will be easier to secure than the Cascades’ popular Enchantments area.

From: Boston, Massachusetts

Long Trail, Vermont

Vermont’s 272-mile Long Trail crosses the Green Mountains from the southern end of Vermont to the Canadian border. There are more than 70 first-come, first-served backcountry campsites along the way. For the closest trailhead from Boston—about three hours by car—start at the trail’s southern terminus, near Williamstown, Massachusetts, and point it north, hiking a section of the trail that coincides with the Appalachian Trail. Your end goal could be Bennington, Vermont, 18 miles away. Prefer a point-to-point over an out-and-back? Luckily, a few local taxi services and bus lines will provide a shuttle.

From: San Francisco, California

Desolation Wilderness

Desolation Wilderness, which spans 63,960 acres and is filled with granite slabs and crystal-clear lakes, isn’t that hard to get to. But once you approach the south end of Lake Tahoe, 3.5 hours from San Francisco, you’ll feel a million miles away. Start at the Echo Lakes trailhead and hike in six miles along the famed Pacific Crest Trail to Lake Aloha for an overnight destination. Be sure to reserve a permit in advance.

From: Salt Lake City, Utah

High Uintas Wilderness

This 456,705-acre zone—the largest wilderness area in Utah—features 545 miles of trails and endless backpacking options. You can set out for Utah’s highest peak—13,528-foot Kings Peak—or try an out-and-back section of the Highline Trail, which runs east to west for more than 70 miles and can be accessed via the Mirror Lake Highway trailhead. Both are about a 3.5-hour drive from Salt Lake City.

From: Minneapolis, Minnesota

Superior Hiking Trail

The 326-mile Superior Hiking Trail climbs along a rocky ridgeline above Lake Superior and has more than 90 backcountry campsites perfectly built for multiday outings. You can hike out and back or walk one direction and arrange for a shuttle back to your car. The closest trailhead from Minneapolis is about 2.5 hours away, near Duluth.

You Need a Bike with Flat Pedals

It’s time to let yourself go

In the world of cycling, it's common knowledge that in order to engage in "serious" riding you need foot retention, which today means using some type of clipless pedal system.

Like many of cycling's rules both written and unwritten (the Velominati comes to mind), this is mostly a bunch of bullshit.

The main reason people will tell you that you need foot retention while riding is that it provides maximum power transfer between your legs and the bicycle's transmission. See, when you're putzing along in sneakers you're merely pushing down on the pedals and hemorrhaging valuable energy through the flexy soles of your Vans. However, when you're clipped in, you're both pushing and pulling the pedals and sending power from your magical ruby slippers to your cranks for the entire 360 degrees of the pedal stroke, thereby extracting the full potential of your high-performance carbon fiber bicycle.

Yeah, right.

In order to deliver power to your drivetrain efficiently, you need a good bike fit, a reasonably smooth pedal stroke, and a solid platform for your feet. Beyond that, if you think a clipless system will allow you to "pedal all the way through the stroke" or "eliminate the dead spot" from it in a way that flat pedals will not, then I've also got some oval chainrings and a perpetual motion machine to sell you.

That's just not how legs work.

If you'd like to learn more about why this is true (or even if you don't) I recommend reading Just Ride by Grant Petersen. He also dispels lots of other bike myths, like the one about how if you ride your bike while wearing underpants you're not a real cyclist and you will die.

But that's another subject for another time.

(Courtesy of Redvinediary Twitter)

This isn't to say I don't like clipless pedals or that I don't use them. I do and I do, quite often. Here's why:

  • They can help you bunnyhop the bike over curbs, potholes, logs, or whatever else your local habitat puts in your way. 
  • They can help keep your feet in place on rough terrain or while sprinting. 
  • They will definitely keep your feet from slipping off the pedals in rain and mud. 
  • They work with shoes that are optimized for cycling (lightweight, breathable, easy to adjust while in the saddle, etc.).

At the same time, a lot of the reason I use clipless is simply habit and mindless adherence to custom, because some of these advantages are also drawbacks. Cycling shoes are great for riding bikes, but they suck for everything else, whereas flat pedals offer you an infinite choice of footwear. Oh, sure, you can get SPD-compatible sneakers, but why? And while that secure clipless connection can be great on technical terrain, it quickly turns against you when you get hung up on something and fall down a gully with your bike still attached to your feet.

I know I can't be the only rider who's struggled to extricate themselves from beneath their bicycle like an upside-down beetle trying to right itself.

More than this, there are certain aspects of clipless pedals that are downright insidious. Firstly, they make you lazy. Do you really need to be physically attached to your bike in order to ride it over a log? Do you really need special equipment to tell you where exactly to place your feet, like you're slipping into the ass groove in your sofa? (This goes double if you had to pay a bike fit professional to help position that "ass groove" in the first place.) Secondly, clipless pedals engender a smug sense of superiority. Once you master clipless pedals, you look askance at any rider who has not, and on a certain level you feel your attachment to the bike reflects your commitment to the sport. They're tentative noobs, whereas you're like a captain ready to go down with the ship. "If this bike falls over I'm going with it!"

And there you are, still attached to your state-of-the-art suspension bicycle at the bottom of a ravine.

Sure, none of this may seem like a big deal, but if you're not careful, then before you know it you're chasing the perfect pedal stroke like a dog gnawing at its own ass. Have you ever seen roadies subjecting themselves to the useless indignity of one-legged pedaling drills?

That could be you.

On the other hand (or foot), dispensing with the ritual of clipping in and out and opting for flat pedals at least some of the time will keep you in touch with why you love riding bikes in the first place. You'll be able to go just as fast and just as far. You won't wear out your cleats on the sidewalk or slip in the coffee shop. You can walk deep into the woods and find a place to relieve yourself with traction and confidence. Oh, sure, your non-bike-specific shoes may look funny with your stretchy clothes, but guess what? You don't need to wear those all the time either. Equipping at least one bike in your fleet will help keep at least one foot planted securely outside the realm of total weeniedom.

And unless you do a lot of sprinting in rainstorms, you'll sacrifice little to nothing in terms of performance with flat pedals. In fact they'll probably improve your performance in the long run, given the fit and positioning issues so many riders seem to have with clipless. (If you need a pedal system with lots of float, ask yourself why you're bothering with it in the first place.)

Love your clipless pedals? Then by all means keep using them. After all, there's no denying the thrill of that first "click" as you roll out on a cycling adventure. At the same time, don't lose sight of what they can and can't do. Clipless pedals won't eliminate the dead spot from your pedal stroke, but flat pedals will eliminate the dead spot from your cycling enjoyment.

The Case for Traveling Slowly

Do yourself a favor: book shorter legs and stop in unexpected spots. You might be surprised at all the little treasures you find.

When I was 30, I owned a sporty Volkswagen Golf, and I loved to tear around in it like I was Michael Schumacher. On road trips, I’d turn on the radar detector, peg the engine past 90 miles per hour, and stretch the gas in my tank to fumes to minimize stoppages. I timed my gas station breaks like Indy pit stops. 

Traveling with Artemis, the Airstream, has put an end to that nonsense. Like it or not, long, fast days are the antithesis of pulling a travel trailer.

For one, the Chevy Colorado, while perfectly adequate for the task, is on the small side of the truck spectrum. With some 6,000 pounds of trailer behind us fully loaded, we’d win no races. And Artemis can get a bit wobbly much over 65 miles per hour, especially in the wind, a near-constant in the West. We also burn through gasoline when hauling, averaging no more than 13 miles per gallon. Frequent gas stops are mandatory. 

At first, the dawdling pace offended me. I wanted to hurry up, go farther, see it all. An early stop felt like a failure because it might mean missing out on some park or wilderness or mountain down the road. I was clinging to the impatience of my youth. 

Yet I’ve learned that one of the joys of living on the road is that you can make it up as you go. If we drive to a new location and don’t like it, we can move the next day. If we’re fond of a place, we can stay a week or a month. There’s no set agenda, no itinerary, no endpoint.

(JJAG Media)

It isn’t only about pacing, either. It’s about seeing what’s around you rather than looking down the road. Jen and I discovered this again a few weeks ago in southern Colorado. Following a job at 4UR Ranch, our plan was to beeline to Summit County. Google Maps said the drive would take four hours, which seemed reasonable, if aggressive, after several days of dawn-to-dusk shooting. But once in the truck, we were both exhausted and dozy. We only made it to Del Norte, 40 minutes down the road.

The last time we stopped in Del Norte was maybe 12 years ago. What was once a poky little place has grown up. In the past, the only reason to come here was on climbing trips to Penitente if you lost a piece of gear, which might be replaced at a dark little hardware store that doubled as a climbing shop. Today, there’s a hip brewery, Three Barrels, a freshly renovated historic hotel with a quaint bar, the Windsor, and a bustling outdoor shop called Kristi’s that’s brimming with gear for climbing, biking, fishing, camping, hiking, and pretty much anything else you might want to do.

The guy behind the counter at Kristi’s raved about new mountain bike trails in the area and offered me loose, photocopied maps. It reminded me of Fruita two decades ago. Despite my exhaustion, I couldn’t resist the lure of new trails, so I persuaded Jen to wait, then pedaled up Spruce Street toward Lookout Mountain and the recently constructed Pronghorn System. I didn’t expect much, but the trails turned out to be excellent. By the time I returned, it was late afternoon. We didn’t want to drive into the night, and we had another map of new trails, just 20 minutes up the road. So we decided to hole up at Penitente Canyon Campground and have a run and ride in the morning before continuing north. Like the Pronghorn system, the trails at Penitente were unexpectedly good: reminiscent of Buffalo Creek, minus crowds. 

We were so smitten with this bit of Colorado that we’d have spent another couple of days there if it hadn’t been for an appointment in Summit County. Instead, we begrudgingly packed up and rolled out. As we slowly rambled north, it occurred to me that we’d have never seen Del Norte if it weren’t for Artemis. For years, we’ve sped past it en route from Santa Fe, New Mexico, to Denver, and we would have continued to do so. It’s not a destination that ranked on our list. And yet we’ve already vowed to return in autumn—maybe sooner.

Jen and I have recommitted to traveling shorter distances and pulling over in places we don’t intend to stop. From a bar stuffed with fine bourbons to hills brimming with new trails, you never know what you might find. Besides, even if my 30-year-old self would roll his eyes in scorn if he heard me say it, I’ve come to prefer cruising to racing. 

The Climbing Job That Desperately Needs More Women

Sarah Laine gets to create rock climbing routes for a living, and she’s one of few women who do it

Sarah Laine discovered the climbing gym in college, like many who have fallen in love with the sport. But Laine, who at the time was a dance major considering medical school, took her passion for rock climbing to the extreme. As climbing became an increasingly important part of her life, Laine abandoned her premed track at Washington University in St. Louis, and eventually the idea of medical school entirely. Now she works full-time as a route setter at Brooklyn Boulders (BKB), one of New York City’s premier climbing and bouldering gyms.

Route setters are responsible for coming up with creative ways to place the holds in an indoor climbing gym. Laine, one of the few women with this job, has always been interested in putting up routes, especially flowy ones. She describes the work as a collision between an art form and a construction gig. “We talk a lot about aesthetics and making different feelings out of the rock climbs,” says Laine. “But we’re also using tools and going up and down ladders. It’s hard manual labor!”


Age: 25
Job: Route setter, Brooklyn Boulders
Hometown: Long Island, New York
Home Base: Brooklyn, New York
Morning Ritual: The NYC shuffle. “I wake up at 6 a.m. to move my car (to avoid parking tickets). And then I go for a run. The only reason I can run is that I have to move my car. And coffee.”
Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Climbing Hero: Lynn Hill. “She’s just a really strong rock climber. After she free-climbed the Nose on El Cap [Ed note: becoming the first person to do so], she has the famous quote that I love: ‘It goes, boys!’ That’s what I want to embody as a female route setter: someone who is breaking barriers and showing other women that women can do what men can do.”
Favorite Piece of Gear: “My bouldering chalk bag. It has a lot of sentimental value.”
Favorite Place to Climb: The Red River Gorge in Kentucky “because of its long sport routes.”
Bucket List Climbing Destination: The Rocklands, South Africa. “I’m going this July.”

(Courtesy of Sarah Laine)

Getting into Route Setting: “I first set a few boulder problems for Island Rock in Long Island. I would go in the summer between semesters and ask the head route setter every once in awhile if I could set. They’d let me set a problem during the day when no one was there. And they weren’t paying me—I was just doing it for fun. I started working for BKB in July 2013 as belay staff, and then at the front desk, and then doing coaching and teaching. In September 2016, I started route setting full-time. I’m on a team of about ten people working between the two BKB gyms.”

Prereqs for Setting: “You can just learn! USA Climbing has route-setter certifications, but you don’t necessarily need one. I haven’t done any yet. Some of the guys I work with have Level One certifications, and there are five levels total. To set for the big comps in the U.S., you have to have a certain level of route setting. And if you were to apply for jobs, it’s a way to show that you actually know how to route set, because there’s such a variation of quality at different gyms—the certification offers a standard. It can vouch for how good you are.”

Typical Day at the Office: “I get to work at 9 a.m., most of the time by bike. We start our day by caution-taping off the area we’re gonna set. We strip the walls of holds from the previous routes, and clean the chalk and rubber off the walls. Then we set. There will be a chief or head route setter, who will make a spread for the day and tell us if we’re setting boulder problems and tell us the rating: V0 to V10. On ropes, we’ll be on our own individual rope, and we’ll set two to three routes, hitting three different grades: easy, medium, and hard. Once we’re finished setting for the day, we forerun, which is where we climb everything we set and make sure it’s doable and that all the climbs are consistent and up to par. We might find that one move is way too hard or easy for a climb, so we make tweaks.”

How She Approaches Routes: “We have a lot of creative freedom. Pretty much the only thing we’re given in terms of guidance is grades, and even that’s up to us for the most part. If I’m gonna set a V3, I get to figure out what style I want to go for, and then determine what holds work for that, etc. I tend to set climbs that have a little bit of flow to them—I love when I get on a climb and each move feels natural and I can move constantly through holds rather than having to start and stop to figure out what to do next. On climbs that flow well, climbing feels intuitive. When I first started, I was making things too straightforward, so I’m trying to learn to make things a little less obvious and make sequences trickier.”

What People Don’t Understand About Setting: “I think a lot of people think that the process of route setting is a lot more structured than it is and that grading is a lot more structured than it is. I’ve realized that the grades we give to climbs are so arbitrary and subjective to how we’re feeling that day and to peoples’ different strengths and weaknesses. We’ll have discussions where someone will think a climb is super easy and someone else will think it’s hard, and we’ll have to figure out where it falls on the spectrum. It’s hard to do that in a completely unbiased way. When climbers who are (usually) new come to a gym and do what’s referred to as ‘grade chasing’ (climbing harder and harder routes), they get bummed when they can’t climb a V2 but just climbed a bunch of V3s. The grade says more about the route than you as a climber. Route setting is more about the movement and less about grade.”

The Difficulties (and Gender Dynamics) of Determining Difficulty: “One of the hard parts about being a female route setter is giving and receiving feedback. This happens when we forerun; it can be a sensitive subject. I have to remind myself that I’ve been climbing for a long time, so I should speak up if something feels off, but it’s been a process. And for [male setters] to take feedback from me has also been a learning process. I’m a lot weaker than the other members of my team, which isn’t true of all females, but it’s true of me. They all easily climb the hard grades, and sometimes I can’t do a lot of the hard climbs in a set.

“Once, there was a climb they all said was a V6, and I couldn’t even do the first move. I know that I should at least be able to do the first move, or the first few moves of a V6, but this one felt really difficult. It was fairly early on in my route setting, and I said that it seemed way too hard for V6, but a bunch of the other guys were convinced it was V6. I had this long discussion with them. The setter rotated a foot and added a hold and still called it V6, and I still didn’t think it was. The next day, they upped the grade because people were struggling. The lesson there is to be confident enough to have a voice and consider your feedback as valuable as the rest of the guys’.”

Most Rewarding Part of the Job: “Constantly having a challenge and really learning something every day. When I was teaching and coaching climbing, I was feeling stagnant and wasn’t getting enough stimulation because I was doing the same thing every day. I wanted to do something that was really focused on logic and reasoning and problem solving, and that’s what route setting is giving me. You get to come up with your own puzzle. I’m responsible for my day and the outcomes. Plus, it’s fun to watch people do my climbs.”

Lessons from the Job: “Take each day as it comes. You have some days when it seems like nothing you do turns out the way you want it to, when all your climbs seem terrible or disappointing. And then the next day you set all gems. It’s hard to tell why those days happen, but the lesson has always been not to get discouraged. I’ve beaten myself up about climbs I don’t think are good, and the next day I get a clean state to try again. It’s a good way to think about living, to try not to live in the past and to do your best the next day.”

How She Recharges: “I recharge by climbing, so it can get difficult because so much of my job is climbing. I think most of the setters on my team would consider themselves introverts. A lot of my recharge time is alone time, either taking time to climb on my own or read, but also climbing with friends. Most of it is just climbing. The answer is climbing!”

Future Plans: “I’m in the trial phase trying to figure out if I can do this as a career. It’s definitely something people can do as a career. I could do it for a long time and work my way up, but route setting is difficult and creative. It’s similar to being in the art world—it’s a struggle. You have to be talented and motivated.”

Advice for Aspiring Setters: “Try to talk to the route setters at your gym, and don’t be discouraged if all the route setters you see are men. There are plenty of women out there doing the job. If you’re committed and excited, you’re more than capable.”

7 Perfect Summer Cabins You Can Sleep in This Weekend

These summer cabins can help you have one of the best weekends of your summer

Picture this: You’ve spent all day outside—climbing, swimming, biking, trail running—and by day’s end, you’re ready to post up on the front porch of your very own cabin, maybe by a lake or a river and definitely with tall trees surrounding you and a fire pit out front. This is a summer dream, but it can be harder than you think to track down a cabin that’s rustic yet comfortable and has good, easy access to the outdoors. So we’ve done the homework for you.


Noon Lodge

Big Bear Lake, California

(Courtesy of Noon Lodge)

At Noon Lodge in Big Bear Lake—about three hours east of Los Angeles—you’ll stay in a cozy cabin built in the 1950s. It’s quirky and historic but has the modern-day conveniences of cornhole, bocce ball, shuffleboard, and outdoor barbecues. Big Bear, in the heart of the San Bernardino Mountains, is known for its hiking, lake sports, and, in winter, skiing and snowboarding at Big Bear Mountain Resort. From $156 per night.

Shobac

Upper Kingsburg, Nova Scotia

(Courtesy of Shobac)

Once an abandoned fishing village, Shobac, on the end of a peninsula in Nova Scotia, was resuscitated in 1988 by renowned architect Brian MacKay-Lyon and turned into a beautiful village of cottages and studios at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. The four cottages are stunning but not overdone—you’ll get an outfitted kitchen, cedar floors, a couple beds, and a sleeping area under the stars. There’s sea kayaking, surfing, and fishing nearby. From $1,189 for a week.

Huttopia White Mountains

North Conway, New Hampshire

(Courtesy of Huttopia)

In June, a French camping-getaway company called Huttopia opened its first U.S. outpost in North Conway, New Hampshire. Called Huttopia White Mountains, the place is essentially the campground of your dreams. You have the choice of bring-your-own-tent sites, pop-up canvas tents, and five charming 350-square-foot wooden cabins that sleep up to six people, all within easy access to the White Mountains. You can get fresh crepes, croissants, espresso, and pizzas from an Airstream trailer on the property. From $150 per night.

Sunwolf

Squamish, British Columbia

(Courtesy of Sunwolf)

An old fishing camp in Squamish, British Columbia, Sunwolf was purchased and renovated in 2011 by former Whistler ski patrollers and raft guides who dreamed of a cabin operation on five acres of grassy woodland at the confluence of the Cheakamus and Cheekye Rivers. Today, there are ten cabins and one cottage, half of which have been completely renovated. You can take guided whitewater raft trips with Squamish Rafting Company. The resort’s restaurant, Fergie’s CafĂ©, has been voted best breakfast in town. From $100 per night.

The Mohicans

Glenmont, Ohio

(Courtesy of The Mohicans)

The Mohicans is a rustic enclave of treehouses and cabins located between Cleveland and Columbus, near Findley and Malabar Farm State Parks. Folks come here for barn weddings, but the quaint wood cabins alone are worth a visit. Hand-built by local Amish and timbered from nearby forests, the four cabins are either two or four bedrooms, so they’re best suited for a family or group of friends. Nearby, you can hike in Mohican State Park, fish a pond on the property, or mountain bike from your cabin. From $250 per night.

Suttle Lodge

Sisters, Oregon

(Courtesy of Suttle Lodge)

The Suttle Lodge opened in 2016 near Sisters, Oregon, following a total overhaul of an old campy lodge by the group that operates Portland’s hip Ace Hotel. Head to the Boathouse for kayak or SUP rentals, or order up buttermilk pancakes or fish and chips. The main lodge has a cocktail lounge and 11 rooms, or book one of the 14 cabins near the shores of Suttle Lake—some are rustic with bunk beds and shared bathrooms; others have been completely redone with full kitchens and fireplaces. Located within Deschutes National Forest, the lodge offers ample hiking, biking, fishing, and hot-spring soaking in the surrounding wilderness. From $125 per night.

Ultima Thule Lodge

McCarthy, Alaska

(Courtesy of Ultima Thule)

Alaska’s Ultima Thule Lodge isn’t at all easy to get to—it’s 100 miles from the nearest paved road, within Wrangell–St. Elias National Park. To get here, you’ll fly or drive from Anchorage to the historic mining village of McCarthy, then hop a flight to the lodge. Once you’re there, you’ll sleep in one of five gorgeous cabins and be treated to a cedar sauna, wood-fired hot tub, and meals prepared with ingredients from the lodge’s own organic vegetable garden. By day, you’ll fish for salmon and trout in the Chitina River, hike through high-alpine tundras, or fly bush planes through the Wrangell Mountains. $7,950 for an all-inclusive four-night stay.

American Climbers Confirm the Hillary Step Is Gone

Ascending Everest may be easier now that one of the most difficult features en route to the summit has crumbled, veteran mountaineers say.

Facebook Icon

Twitter Icon

sms

email

American climbers Garrett Madison and Ben Jones, both of whom summited Everest in the final weeks of May, tell Outside that the Hillary Step has been significantly altered. Their revelations bring clarity to a debate that left the mountaineering world wondering whether or not Everest’s most iconic feature still existed. 

The Hillary Step, which is located at an elevation of 28,839 feet, was a near-vertical rock outcropping 200 feet below Everest’s summit. It has long been one of the most foreboding obstacles on the mountain’s South Col route. Named after Sir Edmund Hillary, who in 1953 used the 39-foot feature to make the first ascent of Everest with Tenzing Norgay, the step was among the most challenging and notorious features on the mountain.

In its previous form, the step was comprised of four large boulders and several smaller rocks stacked on top of each other. But both Madison and Jones tell Outside that the main boulder—the largest and highest rock in the feature—is gone. Both join other observers in speculating that the boulder was shaken loose during the massive earthquake that hit the region in 2015.

“The boulder formally know as the Hillary Step is gone,” Madison says. “It’s pretty obvious that the boulder fell off and has been replaced by snow. You can see some of the rocks below it that were there before, but the gigantic boulder is missing now.”

Madison, who completed his eighth summit of Everest on May 23, sent Outside before and after photos of the Hillary Step—one image from 2011 and another from 2017—that show where the boulder is missing. Dave Hahn, an experienced guide who has summited Everest 15 times (more than any non-Sherpa climber), reviewed the images at Outside’s request. “The photos show pretty conclusively that a large mass of rock is missing. I’d say that [main] boulder is absolutely gone,” he says. Hahn also noted that there are “scars” of lighter rock exposed that didn’t exist before, but he hopes to examine higher resolution photos in the future.

“The main boulder that is the actual step is completely gone. There is no question in my mind that it is gone,” says Jones, a guide for Alpine Ascents who made his fourth summit of Everest on May 27.

Speculation regarding the Hillary Step’s condition began a year ago, when climbers summited Everest for the first time since the earthquake. But there was so much snow near the summit in 2016 that mountaineers couldn’t determine whether the step was gone or just buried. The debate ignited in mid-May, when British mountaineer Tim Mosedale posted a picture of the step on Twitter with a caption that read, in part, “The Hillary Step is no more.” However, soon after his post, Nepalese officials disputed Mosedale’s claim, telling CNN it was a “false rumor.”

(Garrett Madison)

The debate left media outlets and climbers confused, not knowing what, if anything, remained of the feature. But now that mountaineers like Madison and Jones have returned from the mountain, the consensus is that the Hillary Step is a shell of its former self. “Now, instead of the Hillary Step, you have some snow steps on a 45-degree angle,” Madison says. “And it actually makes the climbing much easier because instead of ascending this pure vertical rock face, it’s just walking up some snow steps with a fixed line.”

When weather windows make it possible to summit, droves of climbers head up the South Col at once, and the Hillary Step was known for creating a bottleneck anytime there was heavy traffic—a relatively common occurrence in recent years. Hahn, for instance, says that he remembers once standing in line for an hour, waiting for over 100 people to come off the summit before he could climb the step. Madison predicts that, because the main boulder fell, traffic congestion might be more easily mitigated. “It’s actually safer now because you can essentially walk around people and two way traffic is easier.”

Whether or not the section will be easier to climb is still up for debate. Jones noted that on May 27 his team also climbed snow steps where the main boulder used to be, but “there are some definite loose boulders and bigger rocks in that area that could pose a little bit of a danger,” especially in a dryer climbing season, he says.

Hahn also is skeptical about whether the section will be easier. “Even if the rocks fell away, you’re still going to have an elevation change there in the ridge,” he says. “You’ll always have a step in the ridge, but maybe not the same obstacles as before.” In Hahn’s mind, the real loss is the “monument” to the climbers who first summited Everest. “It was an extremely great tribute to Tenzing and Hillary,” he says. “I couldn’t climb it without thinking of them.”