Kevin Littlefield has been making quite the name for himself over the past few years. From amazing results at National Champs, to most recently taking 33rd in the Canadian Open Pro Downhill race at this years Whistler Crankworx, there is no question that this 19 year old means business.
A quick image search for “carbon failure” is enough to make anyone doubt that carbon bars are a good idea. I’ve been a skeptic myself for a long time, and have just stuck with regular old middle-weight aluminum bars. Carbon has come a long way in recent years and so the chance to try out Gravity’s new Gradient bar and stem was my way of dipping the toes in the hot tub of a carbon cockpit.
The bars certainly feel very light using the always sophisticated one hand holds the old aluminum bars, one hand holds the carbon bars test. The diminutive stem also felt quite light. Beyond that, the parts are black and the graphics are subtle. Installation went smoothly and torque specs are printed near the stem bolts, which is always appreciated when dealing with carbon. The bars felt flat in their upsweep but on paper, nothing was goofy about the bar geometry. I must say that I was concerned about stiffness of the stem compared to my gold standard of the Thomson X4 50mm stem. I was also surprised by the low cost of the stem compared to the expected cost of the bars.
Gravity provided two versions of the bars for testing, a riser version and a flat version. I started with the flat bar thinking the novelty of something different might be fun. The flat bars stayed on my bike for exactly two rides. The first ride left me feeling like my hands were too low, even with spacers stacked under the stem, and I couldn’t effectively pull up on the front end for hops or get comfortable in turns. The second ride confirmed that flat was indeed whack for my needs. I suspect they would be a lot more useful on longer travel wagon-wheeled bikes with monstrously high front ends.
Swapping to the riser version proved to be a lot more comfortable even though there is not a ton of rise to these bars. As a side note, the lock on grips tossed in by Gravity are great. They are thin without giving a harsh ride and do not get too slippery when your mitts get sweaty.
I know that it adds material and thus weight to make a bar wider but 740mm is on the narrow end for some folks these days. Wide bars are also narrow bars with the clever use of a saw but narrow bars tend to stay narrow. That being said, 29” is big enough for most users and crazy wide bars don’t exactly fit on some trails very well anyway. Carbon dorks tend to look at weight in grams rather than in practicality of width options, so I see why the lighter and narrower starting point is where Gravity landed. The stem that didn’t inspire an outpouring of feelings about its sturdiness in the parking lot did its job just fine on the trail, but the controls as a whole felt less stiff than my previous rig. Could be the nature of carbon, could just be “ride compliance” or a combination of both. It’s hard to blame that on only a stem since its little nub is probably contributing an insignificant amount of flex compared to the 14” lever of a handlebar sticking out on either side. Mushy dirt, many inches of suspension, and your own arms moving around also make it hard to say how stiff your bar and stem really are. A higher rise version of the bars (maybe 25mm) would be something that I would switch to if the option were available. I should also point out that throughout testing I was glad that I had left my steerer tube long so that I could play with spacer stacks – cockpit setup is finicky business.
My policy on handlebars, regardless of material, has always been the same as for underwear: replace every 12-18 months regardless of any major accidents. I would carry on with that policy on these bars simply because a couple hundred dollars in handlebars is a lot cheaper than a full dental rebuild. I don’t think that the Gradient bar and stem would suffer any more damage in crashes nor wear abnormally quickly compared to my previous gear. The grips, on the bonus side, are holding up quite well for me so far.
Bars and stems are two things that I don’t ever want to worry about. I just want them to put my hands in a comfortable place and keep them there without any sudden changes. If they are black and have clean graphics, even better. So these offerings from Gravity hit those marks right on. The stem does so at a price that is hard to beat and gets a star bump for doing so. The bars did their job just fine but didn’t have me drinking the carbon bar kool-aid. There are more expensive carbon offerings out there and there are cheaper aluminum options, and I’d be hard pressed to tell the difference in a Pepsi Challenge so they get the lower rating due to being less cost effective.
Visit www.ridegravity.com for more details.
Kevin Shiramizu has been riding mountain bikes for over 15 years. During that time he accumulated multiple state championships in Colorado for XC and trials riding, a junior national champ title in trials, and went to Worlds to get his ass kicked by euros in 2003. His riding favors flat corners and sneaky lines. After a doozy of a head injury, he hung up the downhill bike for good in early 2010 and now foolishly rides a very capable trail bike with less protection and crashes just as hard as ever. He likes rough, technical trails at high elevation, but usually settles for dry, dusty, and blown out. He spent five good years of his youth working in bike shops and pitched in efforts over the years with Decline, LitterMag, Dirt, and Vital MTB. He also helped develop frames and tires during his time as a guy who occasionally gets paid to ride his bike in a fancy way in front of big crowds of people.
This was a little video our Gravity team shot on a trip to Orcas Island out in the Puget Sound. The Gravity team said “This was the last weekend of trail riding on the Island until after Labor Day, so we had to have one last horah!”
They also added “the Island has one of the best skateparks in Washington, so you know we had to hit that too!”
The Full Carbon Gradient Goods are being used by our team in this video, so if you haven’t watched this yet, you need to check it out!
Special thanks goes out to Tyler Deschaine who created the video.
Saturday June 28th marked the start of the Cascadia Dirt Cup Enduro Races in Washington State. The event brought out 170 riders to compete from Amateur to Pro, and even a Hard Tail Open class was offered.
The participants showed up early for the rider meeting before getting on the first round of shuttles to the top to start the day.
Full Speed Ahead’s Neutral Support Team was available to assist any rider having mechanical issues on the course. Due to series regulation, no rider was aloud to receive outside help from a non-racing spectator. Patrik Zuest, Jeff Donaldson, Joel Richardson, and Gravity Team rider Scott Kemp all had loaded their Enduro packs with extra tubes, tools, and nourishment for those riders who might have needed a helping hand during the course of the day.
FSA provides Neutral Support free of charge for any racer no matter sponsor affiliation. An FSA Neutral Support racer can be easily identified by the bright Red FSA NS jerseys, jackets and backpacks on the course. FSA NS will be present at each Cascadia Dirt Cup Enduro, as well as each NW Epic XC race this season. Big thanks to the FSA NS team!
CRANKWORX WHISTLER ANNOUNCES RIDER LINEUP FOR THE 2014 GOPRO DIRT DIARIES VIDEO CONTEST
Six Legendary Riders Selected To Build Film Crews And Tell Stories For Show August 12, 2014
WHISTLER, BC June 2, 2014 In its third year at Crankworx Whistler, the GoPro Dirt Diaries has put the creative and storytelling control in the hands of professional riders. Six mountain bike athletes, each varying widely in discipline, focus and background, have been chosen to compete in the video contest. The selected riders have been tasked with hand-picking their own teams and will be given seven weeks to create a 4-6 minute video that tells a story to be screened on Tuesday, August 12, 2014 in Whistler Olympic Plaza in front of a live audience.
I have just come off an awesome summer in the Southern Hemispheres biking capital, Queenstown! Every summer for the past five years I have enjoyed what Queenstown and the surrounding area have to offer and it keeps drawing me back with nothing but good times. This summer started off pretty chill with lots of sessions at Mini and Big Dream which is a DH bike paradise with jumps of all sizes along with an awesome mulch jump for the small bike. The dream arena is on all year round due to its superb draining. It sees a lot of use at the end of each season when the Gorge Road jump park is still too wet to ride. Gorge opened at the start of December this summer which stole the show for me, after a summer in Morzine with no dirt jumps what so ever. I didn’t touch any of my other bikes for a few weeks after Gorge opened with plenty of all day sessions and sessions until dark going down with an awesome crew.
Flip Bar at the Mini Dream mulch jump(Pic: Emmerson Wilken)
Come the new year there were a few races on the horizon which I decided I would give a go. I had just built up a new Turner 5-Spot trail bike so wanted to see how it would go in a few enduros. I started out racing XC pretty seriously and like to think I still have a bit of fitness left from that so thought I might do alright but never expected to be getting podiums! The first enduro of the summer I did was the DME which sold out in an amazing four minutes so I was lucky to sneak in there! The race is held on some private trails up near the top of the South Island which are some of the best trails I have ridden in NZ and with 80 km of single track to choose from there was no shortage of choice for the organizers. I surprised myself with a 4th place not to far back from the winner Justin Leov which I couldn’t have been happier with! This re-ignited my passion for racing so I ended up doing a few more enduros and mega avalanche style races over the summer with plenty of podiums including a couple where I ended up on the top step.
DME enduro (Pic: David Chadwick)
It was a beautiful weekend on Dry Hill in Port Angeles, Washington for the 2nd stop of the Northwest Cup series. There were many Canadians present as any points gained also counted towards the B.C. Cup points race. This event proved to be a gnarly one, resulting in many close calls, and even a couple big crashes. The dry track presented totally different conditions than the previous race which was wet and muddy. The Dry Hill trail builders have been extremely busy over the off season adding numerous new features throughout the courses.