Go Play Gear: Get ready for summer in Colorado with bikes, SUP, fly fishing, solar panels
EAGLE COUNTY — Coloradans have been dying to pull out their summer gear for weeks now, and it seems that the weather gods are finally allowing it.
We took it upon ourselves to try out a bunch the newest gear of the season and bring you our favorites. Check out our top picks before you head out on your next paddling, running, biking or hiking adventure.
Ride Like a Girl
Giant now has a women’s specific brand — Liv — and the Lust is its cross-country race rig that does it all. With 650 cc wheels, carbon frame, 100 mm of travel on a Fox fork and slick paint job that manages to look pretty and bad-ass at the same time, the Lust is an eye-pleaser. I tried the Advanced 2 ($3,600), a step down in components and carbon grade from the top-of-the-line Advanced 0 ($8,500).
This bike is quick and agile, rolling over rocks and skimming around switchbacks with ease. For a trail bike, it climbs well, thanks to the light frame, but the relaxed geometry certainly keeps it from being put in the mountain goat category.
That’s probably the most disappointing thing about this bike — for being billed as Liv’s cross-country, endurance bike, it could have a more aggressive geometry.
However, despite the slight lag in climbing, the Lust well makes up for it on the descents. Man, is this ride fun on Lee’s Way. It’s smooth, responsive and at times I got going so fast I scared myself — but the bike never faltered.
The verdict: A great all-round women’s bike in the 650 cc category. Hardcore cross-country riders might consider a few pricier post-purchase upgrades, but most riders in the High Country will love this ride. It’s a lot of bike for your buck, but we did wish that Liv had provided an option somewhere between $3,600 and $8,500.
— Melanie Wong
Knolly Warden (retail $4,000) and Niner Jet 9 Carbon (retail $7,250) High Gear Cyclery in Avon, 970-470-4126
I took my first ride on the Warden from Knolly Bikes ($6,841 for the tricked out version) the other day, took two runs down Lee’s Way before the afternoon showers rolled in, and I can’t get the experience out of my head.
I had done Lee’s Way several times in the past but never on such a special bike. I couldn’t believe how much better I was able to attack the trail on a bruiser of a frame. This bike has 650 cc wheels, a dropper seat post and 150 mm of suspension. On a trail like Lee’s Way, all of these things combined gave me a new set of skills I didn’t realize I had. On a trail like that, where you want to lower your seat before the descent, the push-button seat drop is a convenience I’m not sure I can go back to riding without. And on those banked turns, the wide handlebars helped me power through much faster than I had been taking them in the past. All and all, I felt the best I’ve ever felt on a mountain bike while riding the Warden.
My friend Dan Ossenfort rented a Niner Bikes Jet 9 Carbon, also from High Gear Cyclery, took it for a few runs with me down Lee’s Way and was very pleased, as well. As an experienced mountain biker from the Midwest, he called it hands down the nicest bike he has ever had the pleasure of riding. He’s an old-school kind of guy who still rides his aluminum hard tail from 2012.
“I couldn’t believe the Niner has a full rear suspension, yet it’s still lighter than my bike,” he said with a laugh.
Dan called the bike incredibly “flowy,” allowing him to ride Lee’s Way with confidence even on his very first run on the downhill trail. The 100-mm travel keeps the bike light but easily handles up to medium duty terrain.
The verdict: The high-tech features of the Warden can improve your skills instantaneously, especially when the ride gets slow and techy. Riding one will make you realize your skills will only take you as far as your gear allows. Cross-country riders will enjoy the Niner’s carbon smoothness and lightness.
— John LaConte
A river board for the mountains
With so many great sections of moving water in the state and the explosive growth of stand-up paddleboarding, many are starting to ask, “What type of board should I get for around here?” And just as there are so many places to paddle, there are an equal number of choices when it comes to boards — not only in design but also materials. There are inflatables, composite and plastic as well as a handful of new materials that are beginning to be used in the industry. But for around here and more specifically for river running, I use a Jackson Kayak SUPerCharger. Its perfect for a variety of different uses here in the mountains.
For starters the SUPerCharger is designed to be stable, durable, versatile and affordable. The extra width and thickness of the board provides stability and flotation in aerated whitewater. In addition, the deck of the board is designed to shed water and resurface quickly. This translates into less wobble and easier paddling. The durability of the SUPerCharger comes from its rotomolded construction. It is built out of the same material as whitewater kayaks, and as everyone in the mountains knows, they can take a beating.
Run it over rocks or loan it out to a friend without fear of it breaking, and you won’t have to worry about repairs or replacing it for many years. I use mine for not only running rivers but also to take my kids or dog out for a paddle and even for a perfect fishing platform. It has a recessed screw fitting on the front that will fit a rod holder, and the multiple grab handles and tie down straps on the deck allow the paddler to strap on some gear or take along a cooler. And finally, the affordability. While most boards on the market are well over $1200, the SUPerCharger is less than $800. This makes it much easier to get into the sport without spending too much and also provides a board that will give you the ability to do all the things you want to on the water here in the mountains.
The verdict: SUP here in the High Country is growing quickly and for obvious reasons. We have all types of water to adventure on and the most beautiful place to do it in. So try it on the SUPercharger this summer, and you will be bitten by the stand-up paddleboard bug as well.
— Ken Hoeve
Love for your feet
According to Wigwam, the socks contain both hydrophobic and hydrophilic fibers, resulting in a material combination that pulls moisture out of the bed of the sock and releases it out of the top of the sock. The seamless toe closure promises a blister free experience.
The socks are made in the USA and have a very impressive 2-year warranty.
I especially like the cool colors these socks come in for women, such as fuchsia and vibrant purple. I put two of these socks to the test over various mountain bike rides, ice climbing on glaciers and all-weekend (read: with one pair of socks) camping trips.
The Snow Whisper Pros ($16) are great for those chillier Colorado nights, say if you want to keep warm in your tent, or you’re hiking on a cool day.
My favorites were the Ultra Cool-Lites ($14), which despite being a thicker sock, didn’t make me overheat in 90 degree Moab weather. However, they did come up to mid-calf, causing some minor ankle bunching, and I prefer my riding and running socks to be a little lower for that reason.
The verdict: the sock’s wicking capabilities live up to the hype, although I’d reserve these for cooler weather as opposed to a blazing hot summer day. Also, they provide high quality for a very reasonable price. –
— Melanie Wong
Two words: “Come back.” In a world of a thousand ways to send a message, it seems pretty easy. But I recently encountered some scenarios where a two-way radio was the only way to do it.
The first was pretty standard: We were camping at Rancho Del Rio with plans to float down the Colorado River to State Bridge Amphitheater and catch a show. This is in Northern Eagle County, where cell phones don’t work.
Our Motorola Talkabout T460s ($89.99) were perfect for the float down the Colorado. They boast a range of 6 miles on open water and that’s plenty for most floats. The radio’s IP54 weatherproof design was more than enough for the splashing of the whitewater, and the clip and hands-free function worked great for the high action of my stand-up paddleboard, which required two hands.
On another occasion, we were camping and biking for a full weekend, and throughout the trip, we didn’t run out of batteries. But we were preparing nonetheless back at our campsite, where our Olympia external battery with dual solar charger panels ($59.95) was charging in the sun. That is, until it started hailing. We returned to the campsite to find no sun whatsoever, but the Olympia had handled the weather just fine and even managed to get one bar charged in the sun before the clouds rolled in.
The verdict: The extra bells and whistles — NOAA radio service at all times, a built-in flashlight and customizable call tones that sound like actual bells and whistles — make the Motorola Talkabout T460s as an absolute must-have item for adventuring here in the Rocky Mountains this summer. The Olympia solar charging external battery has a built-in micro USB cable as part of the device, which just happens to be exactly the port the T460s need to charge. Having the two together gives you a great feeling of security in the wilderness.
— John LaConte
For fly fishing purists
“Simple Fly Fishing, Techniques for Tenkara and Rod & Reel” (http://www.Patagonia.com)
In an age when a hundred companies are touting products that help you to travel the extreme reaches of the Earth, it seems Patagonia has demonstrated a real connection to the planet they’re helping you explore.
The company championed clean climbing in 1972 after realizing hard-steel pistons were ruining rock faces, and told their customers to stop buying their hard-steel pistons, despite the business it would cost them. In 1993, they found use for a raw material many are quick to recycle but few are able to find use for: plastic bottles. Patagonia used them to make polyester fabric. In 1996 Patagonia got away from conventionally grown cotton, which they call “one of the dirtiest crops on the planet,” instead opting for organic cotton, which doesn’t use synthetic pesticides, herbicides, defoliants and fertilizers. In 2007, they started using Bluesign approved fabrics, which are manufactured using far less energy, water, water emissions and air emissions. Last year, they began selling Fair Trade certified clothing and tracing their down from parent farm to apparel factory to ensure the birds it came from weren’t tortured to produce it.
This year, Patagonia is encouraging you to get back to the basics of fly fishing with their new book, “Simple Fly Fishing, Techniques for Tenkara and Rod & Reel.” ($24.95)
It stresses the point that the more you know, the less you need, and reminds anglers that the sport is about your connection to earth, water and fish, and not “high-tech gear, a confusing array of flies and terminal tackle, accompanied by high-priced fishing guides.”
It gives a lot of meaningful instruction, but what I enjoyed most about the book were the stories interwoven into all that instruction and how they related to the overall theme. The book often points out what we can learn from the observations of children. Craig Mathews tells us of experienced anglers learning proper dry fly tenkara technique from a six year old, and Mauro Mazzo brings us back to his childhood days in Italy, when he came upon the realization that fly fishing must be a simple sport if he could do it with poor casts and a fly he picked out because he liked its color.
The verdict: While fly fishing books are a dime a dozen these days (plus $2.99 shipping), this one calls out everything that is wrong with the sport, while offering a path back to the purity of man and fish. I would definitely recommend it as a great coffee table book for anyone interested in the sport.
— John LaConte
Designed for action
Garmin XE action camera (virb.garmin.com)
Ever want to know how fast you’re rolling? Well, amid a dozen other really cool gauges, Garmin’s action camera also has a built-in speedometer.
I’ve used it frequently, and I find their mounts easy to fasten to anything and the camera is really rugged with no external case necessary. For reporting from the field, I’m really looking forward to using Garmin’s newest camera, the VIRB XE ($399.99), with its improved audio capabilities. The new VIRB X and XE action cameras boast a new microphone for extremely clear audio, even underwater, and Bluetooth Audio connectivity for Bluetooth-enabled headsets or microphones.
These cameras will be great for moto users out on the trails this summer as the VIRB X and XE utilize internal sensors like the high-sensitivity GPS, accelerometer and gyroscope to track movements in real time and are compatible with Bluetooth-enabled on-board diagnostic tools to capture true vehicle data like speed, RPM and throttle position.
The camera is also waterproof up to 50 meters and doesn’t require an external case for underwater shooting.
The verdict: This camera is touted as being “designed for action” and indeed it does have an impressive array of capabilities to live up to that claim.
— John LaConte
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More trails will open for the season on Sunday for mountain bikers in Aspen, Snowmass Village and Glenwood Springs.