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Warbird Round 2

By: Jonathan Mauterer
Took the Warbird out for a 2 day trip this weekend with a friend. Previously didn't care for it bikepacking, but I got some new bags, made a few changes, and the terrain was a LOT of gravel grinding anyway. Figured it was worth another shot.

I met up with a group ride that was leaving from Greenfield, MA and heading up to northwest of Keene, NH. I made my way to them with my bike and gear and took the appreciated one way car shuttle. They were riding the Ashuelot Rail trail, so I followed them for about 20 miles of that into Winchester, NH and then split off. 

The mostly flat rail trail was a great testing ground for my bike. The group ride had suggested a fat bike or at least a mountain bike, but I felt I'd be just fine on my knobby 32's. Previously riding this bike I had wash out issues on any turns. While there weren't many turns on this trail, the sandy sections I encountered did not cause any problems. Bouncing rocks didn't phase me much with my spare MTB race wheelset and the tires set tubeless. I also really got to stretch out my legs catching up to the group after stopping to take some pictures (social paced group).

This time around the bike seemed to be handling alright. This trip had a number of changes to the bike after a season of riding. The stem was lowered quite a bit, I really think this helped give a less sloppy feeling. I was using a Revelate Harness to hang my gear off the front of the bike. I also made sure to pack the front heavier with food and snack items. The harness hangs the gear about an inch lower than the handlebars. Based on my previous stuff sack strapped to the bars, this gave an effective ~6" lowering of the weight. I feel this made a difference in the steering response, though it could also just be how solidly the harness holds things.

After ditching the rest of the group the route turned into more of my traditional bikepacking terrain. New England roots, rocks, steep short climbs, and sketchy descents. After one particular gravel event this year (The F2G2) I realized that the term gravel is relative. There were sections chunky enough to warrant suspension, but people were ripping them on cross and gravel bikes. This experience led me to be alright with bringing my Warbird out to questionable terrain. I was able to shift weight predictably and climb or descend with excellent confidence. I even hucked a rock drop or two...

As the daylight dimmed we approached our final destination of the Richardson-Zlogar cabin. This approach included some loose powerline "gravel" climbing. Not my favorite on any bike, but really not a fan on the Warbird. My quads had some cramps sneaking in by this point, which I blame on having a 36x11/30 single chain ring setup. I pedaled out with decent traction what I could, but my legs mostly gave out before the bike wanted to stop climbing. The sloppier I got, the looser the bike got, slide outs were more frequent so I hiked. Looked back at the distance I had covered and realized the bike didn't do all that bad.

Once the powerline trail started to level out I began looking for our cabin. We came across a tarped up pile of wood that resembled a cabin... so I planned on sleeping on the ground outside with my own gear.. after a bit more gravel we came to a clearly established trail and headed into camp.

The next day had a route that was completely up in the air. Topo maps showed a lot of unrideable steep sections both up and down. I'm pretty aggressive on the bike but some sections really had me guessing.

The trail started off on something that seemed to have been recently re-routed, or rarely traveled. We were riding over loamy, leaf covered, rocky trail. There was a lot of walking the bike. Some sections required carrying the bike and the Warbird loaded up is a bit awkward for that. I managed to make it through mostly with only two crashes and one amazing save from a full on endo (seriously, I must have been on the front tire at 45 degrees for seconds).

A couple hours in and it was obvious that this route was really not that awesome for bikepacking. Switchbacks, steep climbs, and generally raw trail conditions made navigating by bike a bit difficult. 

We popped out of the woods for a bit and reached a downhill pavement section. So far the bike had only been out gunned on one or two sections.. but for the majority of the time this route was really being taken by the Warbird. A quick swoopy downhill led to a steep stabby uphill, after this we moved over to some gravel... yep, still Warbird territory.

We reached the back side of Northfield Mountain both a bit exhausted and tried to decide if we wanted to chance another hiking trail section. Eventually we decided there really wasn't any other option. Turns out this was probably one of the most rideable sections of the whole route. Great single track and it led to an excellent overlook.

The trails were a bit chunky and after passing the look out the grade changed to a lotttt of downhill. A bit more singletrack and then we reached the steep section. I had hiked this area (a scenic waterfall right along the MM trail) and it was pretty steep and sketchy even for that. We rode what we could and then hiked the rest carefully. 

After escaping the waterfall trail we had a bit of gravel and pavement grinding ahead of us. One steep hiking section up the backside of Wendell state forest and a few climbs. The Warbird really impressed me this time around on the whole trip. The first trip I ever took on it was similar in the mixed terrain content, but I took it on unloaded. My first ride on the bike was in a parking lot and I hated it, but taking it out on the 60+ miler of all terrains I fell in love. I suppose the second loaded trip I've taken the bike on with a lot more varied terrain is the charm. I don't think the Warbird will replace my full time bikepacking rig, but I could certainly manage to ride it if I knew there was a bit of gravel, forest road, not full on techy hiking trails. 

In recap of the changes, I previously had issues with climbing and handling. Turns would wash out, climbing would be difficult to shift weight to maintain traction or front wheel control. The bike was set up for this trip with more weight in the front and a bit lower, a lowered stem, and knobby tires. I'd feel confident recommending this bike to anyone looking for a decent light duty bikepacking rig, or longer distance softbag touring rig. I think this might even be the setup for a studded winter touring rig.... 

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See more from Jonathan Mauterer or check below to see what others have shared on Cyclewrite! Feel free to contribute your own adventure.

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