Saturday, August 17, 2013

Trampling Trepidation on the Loaded Tesseract

Check out those curves.
So, as you may well have noticed, Loaded has been busy in their workshop once again and has this time brought a killer new creation to the longboarding world: the Tesseract. What is a tesseract? Well, it's a four dimensional shape of two cubes attached at the corners that rotates through time and space. Kinda hard to wrap your head around at first—I didn't even know a shape could be four dimensional. Don't worry too much about that, though—the board is three dimensional and extremely rideable. Loaded did do quite a bit of three dimensional stretching and warping to the wood and fiberglass in order to produce so much contour and form within a single deck and I'll talk about that soon enough.

First, as with all boards I look at, I like to talk about the specs. A 39” deck on a 24.5-26” adjustable wheelbase that's 9.5” wide at its chunkiest point. Other features include 0.33” of rocker (resulting in 3.5 deg of wedging at the trucks), 0.30-0.39” of concave, a nice fat W running the centerline, wheelflares and some fairly wide 7.25” kicktails. Oh yea, and the Tesseract is symmetrical meaning you can shred any which way you like.

Blunts and mad tigers in the SLO sun.
Right from the start, we can see a lot of similarities to Loaded's last freeride/downhill deck: the Chubby Unicorn. Let me assure you, the two decks, although they share many of the same features, ride very differently. Just a quick comparison between the two before I dive into the meat of the Tesseract review. The Chubby leans more towards the DH discipline and favors bigger riders with it's longer size, slightly wider standing platform (though I hardly noticed the difference) and having a bigger wheelbase. The Tesseract, on the other hand, will serve the freeriding and downhill enthusiast just as well as the Chubby Unicorn but with slightly snappier handling, less frills (no UHMW base layer, no urethane sidewalls, no recessed truck mounts, no grab rails), and a more buyer-friendly price tag. I've ridden both and I love riding both, but I think that right now my deck of choice would have to be the Tesseract.

Santa Barbara hidden hills
So, what is it that sets the Tesseract apart from the rest of the longboards on the market? Well, that's what the rest of this review is for. After all, the Tesseract is not just a wooden replica of the Chubby Unicorn—it deserves to be viewed in its own light. As per usual, Loaded has gone the whole nine yards when it comes to construction, but has also added some creative twists into the process. The Tesseract has Loaded's tried-and-true layers of vertically laminated bamboo between layers of fiberglass as well as an extra layer of pattern-textured cork on the bottom to for durability and dampening. The different materials combine to create a stiff deck with a little bit of a damp flex to provide good road feel while giving your feet a little bit of a break at higher speeds or on coarser pavement. I was skeptical about the cork's durability at first, but it seems to have held up well to the scuffing and grinding my boards go through.

Santa Cruz forests. Photo: the lovely Sam Kass
What else is good about the board? I think that Loaded really hit the nail on the head with the Tesseract's concave and standing platform. This board offers a slew of different features that keep your feet where you want them and allow you to know where your feet are on the board without looking down. Now, any company can throw a bunch of things like rocker, concave, elliptical W, wheel flares and kicktails into a board, but Loaded managed to do it in a way that's not too overwhelming. The board feels natural under my feet from when I first step onto it to when I'm going 40mph on rough roads. The wheel flares compliment the tapering of the W-cave (yes, the W concave actual gets less dramatic near the bolts of the board) which then transitions nicely into the kick tails without altering the shape of functionality of them. The rocker is subtle enough to not be noticed if you're not paying attention to it, but it does a great job in creating a big dish for your feet to stick in. For me, the features of the board are configured to fit my size 12 feet and tucking/freeriding pretty much perfectly. It's a big plus to not have to constantly be maneuvering my feet to take advantage of the board's bumps and grooves.

One of the lovely coastal hills on my commute after visiting the farmstand for some fresh produce.
Right when I got the Tesseract, I took a roadtrip with it all up and down the CA coast and even up into Oregon, visiting friends and hitting some awesome hills along the way. And while I consider that roadtrip to have provided the true proving grounds for the board, I think I've gotten to know it best through “commuting.” My commute, however, has become a little different than most since I moved to the coastal hills north of California's Bay Area. Typically I have a 6 mile skate into a little surf town which involves lots of downhills and uphills, sharp turns, gentle sweepers, very rough pavement and a skatepark (if I decide to stop there, of course). This board was a natural for the downhill and I felt sure-footed the entire time, even on the sketchier pavement (which there is plenty of around here). When I first moved out here, I was sliding to slow down a lot since I didn't know the roads very well. Never once did my feet even think about sliding off the deck. Check after check, I was able to work my way down the hills until I got confident enough with them to just tuck and bomb. Oh, and those wheelflares are perfectly placed for toeside checks and 180s, too. Just sayin.

I also mentioned the skatepark in my “commute.” I hit up the skatepark from time to time, but the features were a bit small overall for the boards size. Most of the time I would ride around on the funbox, attempt the quarter pipe, and mess aorund the parking lot. The board's kicks are nice and wide and well proportioned to the board which makes manuals a breeze to control and pivots a breeze to whip around. Ollies and fliptricks took awhile to get (still working on most actually) due to the boards curves. These curves also make dancing a little awkward at first, but your learn to use them to your advantage by letting them guide your feet around the board. As I said before, this board is a jack of all trades, which also means it is a king of none. The board isn't ideal for for everything, but it does a great job at most!

San Luis Obispo playtime.
A few notes on board setups: Loaded has tested a wide range of trucks on this deck and recommends trucks below 45 deg (Caliber 44s, Paris 43s, etc) to keep the steering geometry sorted and suggests a soft riser for trucks over 45 deg (I could list any number of cast/precision trucks here, but you get the idea) to keep everything sitting nicely. Loaded does a nice sum-up of all the trucks they rode on the board here. When I first got the board I swapped out the stock trucks to try out some 50 deg Randals and Calibers since I ride 50 deg on all my other boards. Well, it felt alright, but when I switched back to the Paris 43 deg, the board felt both alive and much more controllable. The 50 degrees with the wedging seemed to be a bit much for me (note that I didn't use a riser/wedge the trucks at all) and the 43 degrees with some loose trucks worked well for all my usual skating shenanigans.

I've also heard some complaints about wheel size. I've had the best luck with 65-70mm wheels and didn't get any bite on the inner wheelbase with just a soft riser. I threw on some 75mm wheels with a 1/8” riser and it worked alright on a faster run, but I felt like I had to avoid sliding to avoid wheelbite and where's the fun in that? Then again, I do like to run fairly loose trucks (I weigh 180lbs and was running riptide APS barrels 85a all around), so that explains some of the bit. If you're hesitant at all stick to wheels under 70mm and you'll be golden, even with little to no riser. Go above that, and you may need to increase the board height a bit depending on your setup.

Cruising Humboldt Redwoods area.
So, what do I think of the Tesseract? It's probably the most well rounded board Loaded has produced to date. It's a jack of all trades, but seems to hold it's own best on steep hills and sharp turns. Take it sideways and you'll feel right at home. Ride it on two wheels instead of four, or take all four wheels off the ground. It's not the best for pushing—the W concave makes it a little funky after a few miles—and it's not the best in a skatepark, but hey, you're likely not buying this board to ride bowls and stair sets. Yea, it's beefy enough to handle some serious drops, but this board is just asking to go fast and sideways. The kicktails are also a nice feature to throw some spice into your riding. Plenty of screwing around in between runs, seeing if you can pop an ollie at 25mph, and of course, blunt slides galore if you're into that sort of thing (I sure as hell am). It's a great board to add to the quiver and if you're not careful, it may take over a lot of your quiver without you even realizing it!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

I've Been Away and Busy

For the last few months I've been on Southeast Farallon Island.
On a foggy morning at the SEFI lighthouse
 Having an amazing time in the fog and occasional sun
Olive-sided Flycatcher on a background of Farallon Weed
 looking at lots of seabirds and the occasional landbird
Steller's Sea Lion
 every once and awhile we'd get mammals too!
Black Oystercatcher chick, ready to fledge
Check out some more of my photos on my flickr account!
Also, just made a post on the Farallon blog page on bird photography here!