Ride Report - Steel Apex Trail Bike

Bike: Apex Steel 26” Trail Bike
Riders: Mike Ahrens (6’4” – 185 lbs)
Date: 9/2/06
Location: UC Santa Cruz/Wilder Ranch
Duration: 2.5 hours

Today I had a chance to thoroughly test ride my newest fleet bike, a steel Apex hardtail finished in cream powdercoat and black stickers. I chose to ride a loop that Paul Sadoff, owner of Rock Lobster Cycles, introduced me to many years ago. Starting at Paul’s shop on the west side of Santa Cruz, I briefly rode through a neighborhood and cut through a creek trail headed for UC Santa Cruz. Weather was perfect at 70 degrees with a slight sea breeze prevalent through the entire ride. When arriving at the UCSC entrance at the end of Bay Street, there is a 1 mile paved climb with moderate elevation gain. This first climb gets you into the heart of the campus with beautiful redwoods, pines and manzanita brush all around.

Brief Background:

In 1996, Paul Sadoff built me a steel hardtail using Tange Prestige tubing, Breezer dropouts and wavy gussets. I rode this bike for many years and loved the way it carved local trails around the Bay Area. It was powdercoated ‘laser green’ and finished with yellow stickers on the down tube and head tube. The photo below shows this bike in its early state with full XTR drivetrain, King headset, Salsa skewers, Ringle hubs laced to Sun rims, Control Tech brakes and seat post and Gravity Research brake levers. I liked the brakes so much they now live on my cross bike! The Rock Shox Judy carbon fork was rebuilt with an SL crown w/alloy steer tube, Risse GEM cartridge and Speed Springs for one of the lightest setups available. The fork was so light that excessive flex caused me to sell it and replace it with a newer Judy XC after a few months. This bike was eventually parted out and sold to make way for some dual-suspension designs I was developing with Paul at the time. I always regret selling this bike since it rode so well and truly introduced me to the sport of mountain biking. All of my current steel designs refer back to the ‘laser green’ hardtail for inspiration in terms of tight geometry, material selection and optimal riding position.

Current Frame Setup:

For my latest fleet bike, I used a combination of steel tubes to provide a vibrant ride quality without excessive weight. The top tube and down tube are Reynolds 853, the seat tube and head tube are Columbus Zona, the chainstays are Tange Prestige and the wishbone seatstays come directly from Nova Cycle Supply. The BB shell and rear disc dropouts come from Paragon and cable routing is disc-specific.

Geometry Overview:

Head Angle = 70 deg
Seat Angle = 72 deg
Top Tube Length (Eff) = 24.50”
Head Tube = 5.25”
BB Drop = 1.00” (12.5" BB Height with 2.1" Exi Wolf tires)
Chainstay Length (Eff) = 16.80”

Parts Overview:

My personal bikes always have precise steering characteristics. I’m looking for ‘point and shoot’ performance without any delay whatsoever. My tendency is to match a bolt-on front hub with a robust fork and of course disc brakes. By matching a Fox F100 RLC to a Paul Disc FHUB and Hope Mono Mini brakes, steering precision is dead accurate on this machine. The custom wheels are hand-built by Tahn Rehmer, the Crazy F*ckin’ German at Willow Glen Bicycles. Front and rear rims are Velocity VXC Disc, 32 hole with black anodize finish. Spokes are Sapim CX-Ray front/rear with 3-cross lacing pattern and brass nipples for durability. Rear hub is a Hugi 240 Disc with red/white stickers – clean, light and dependable all around.

The drivetrain is basically Shimano XT with the exception of the rear cassette which is XTR to save weight. A mixture of Easton and WTB parts round off the build kit to provide a lightweight yet durable bike. Final bike weight is 24.5 lbs with plans to shave a few grams off the assembly with an Easton EC70 post and super light tubes. For the time being the build kit will remain as-is until I have some more money to change things around!

Back to the ride….after climbing up to the UCSC campus, I took a series of singletrack trails which aim towards Wilder Ranch. These first trails really gave me a taste of my new bike’s nimble character. Climbing over root sections, ruts and fallen branches was easier than expected since the bike is so maneuverable. I really felt at home right away and focused on spinning through each obstacle one at a time. My fitness level was definitely being tested during some steep transition climbs within the campus; portaging the bike was also not an issue since the front triangle is large and shouldering is no sweat. I even had a chance to talk to a father who was taking his five year old son mountain biking – good job starting them out so young!

After the UC singletrack was behind me, I headed into Wilder Ranch through the Gray Whale corridor and I knew I was headed for fun. Trail conditions were ideal with nice hardpack and almost zero dust….most likely since the mornings in Santa Cruz can be damp and foggy. I chose to descend a trail called Fence Line which runs parallel to a large open space preserve on the right. The descent was lengthy and relatively easy to maintain speed through s-turns, stutter bumps, ruts and mini rock gardens. Overall the trail is extremely smooth and ‘picking a line’ doesn’t require too much concentration. Three hikers mid-way down were very nice and moved right over when they heard me coming…I was thinking how glad I was to be riding in Santa Cruz and not Marin County right at that point since I flew right by them without slowing down! Another 1/2 mile and the trail spills out into the open space preserve which has tall grass and a very narrow trail which snakes above/along another creek area. All this time the Hope Mono Minis operated squeal free thanks to their Spot Face Tool which keeps all of the mating parts aligned and parallel. At this point in the ride it was getting late and I bailed out by taking the fire road back down to Highway 1 - next time around I will be doing at least (1) more loop on the Zane Gray trail if time allows.

Summary: This new bike is a great complement to my arsenal of personal frames. It is light, responsive and goes exactly where you point it. Blending the best materials together into a cohesive package has again yielded positive results! Would I change anything next time around? Definitely not - this ride has a 'steel soul' dating back 10 years and there is no need to reinvent the wheel...