Saturday, January 26, 2008

Choices, choices

So, which FS 29er to buy, hmmmm? Beats me, but I have narrowed it down and my choices have been heavily influenced by the time spent on the KM.

I have been very impressed by how little you can get away with regarding suspension travel and gearing choice after riding this bike. I would have been very skeptical a few months ago if you had told me that a rigid SS 29er is a viable bike in most conditions. I still know it is not a one-bike-solution for me, but now if you told me that now, I would nod my head and say "yeah, I can see that". I have been running the front M29 fork locked out for a lot of climbing lately as I have begun to appreciate how it does not drop the h-bar height as I stand to climb. The other day, I forgot to unlock the fork and headed down a very fast, albeit smooth, down hill and only realized I had screwed up when I hit the bottom and the rougher creek bed. "Huh", I thought. Interesting.

And I have really enjoyed not having a grannygear. I would not want to pedal the Rockies this way, but on a group ride, while other riders spun away like mad hamsters up a steep, rocky climb, I pedaled up in the 32/34 and never missed a beat. Now I could not have done that for a one mile climb of that pitch, but it proves a point that you can make do with less if you have more....more wheel size that is. It is the 29er wheel and the hard tail frame that has made all this work for me.

The bigger wheel is so much smoother that less suspension is needed unless you are talking drops and hucks, etc. The bigger wheels really seem to come alive when a bigger gear leads to more momentum and torque. No science to back this up, but it sure works for me on the trail. The HT just gives back so much of your effort and puts it into the ground. I am spoiled by the pedaling efficiency. I jumped on a Gary Fisher Cake and pedaled it a bit and I thought it was broken or had a flat tire or something. Ick.

So, I think that in my neck of the woods and for the way I ride, the FS needs to be a few things: Light, a fast pedaler, agile, and good on long climbs. I have struggled with 3" or 4" of travel. I think 3" in the back and 4" up front would work well. A good 3" bike should pedal well and be a bit lighter. The 4" fork will take the bigger hits and the rear wheel should follow nicely with less travel.

My choices as of now:

Titus Racer X 29er

Niner JET 9

Lenz 3" Leviathan

and....just to look a bit at what is supposed to be a very firm pedaling and light 4" bike, the Gary Fisher HiFi is being demoed at a local riding area and I am planning to check it out. Fisher bikes tend to break an awful lot. Not too crazy about that.

The JET 9 could be the hands down winner. I like the .25" shorter CS length and it looks built for agility and speed over long distances. Not on the market yet though and I am too nervous to pre-order one without feedback from new owners. I am not an early adopter by trade. If not, the Racer X is no spring chicken but is so proven, it is no gamble at all.

We shall see. In the meantime, I am happy with less on my Monkey, but I better buy soon before I talk myself into a fully rigid 29er SS.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

What do you call wet dirt?

Oh yeah, I remember. Mud. That's it. It had been so long since I had seen it, I had forgotten. But since So Cal has had more rain in 2008 than in all of 2007 (well, nearly, anyway), I actually rode in the mud today. You see mud riding in So Cal is optional. Heck, just wait a day or so, it will dry out. Meanwhile, road ride. Or find a sandy ride, no worries.

But today, I totally brain-faded and rode over to a nearby trail area that is notoriously bad after a rain. In fact they make bricks from the clay soil in that area. Huh. I figured out the mistake after a few yards of trail time and the resulting increase in wheelweight from about 2 cubic yards of clay stuck to the Maxxis tires. It looked funny, like the pics of those Surly Pugsleys I see in the snow pics. I should have slapped my forehead and turned around, but I did not. Oddly enough, I smiled a bit and pedaled on. This was fun. I really was not causing any ruts in the road, I was just picking up the top 1/4" of soil and carrying it with me.

After a bit of climbing it got to where I had to stand to get over the top of the gear and that was the end. Too much slippage, so I turned around and headed down. Mud was flinging everywhere, pelting me all the way down, but the 29" wheels were like skiing and handled great. Fun!

Well, I needed more saddle time then that, so I picked up a pavement climb that led to more doubletrack DH. Faster than the other section I rode, I really needed to pay attention to stay upright, but it was such a grinfest. Looking behind me, I barely left tiretracks, but it was very cool riding in something other than dry, hardpacked, dirt like So Cal is typically like. I really need to get out more. I look at the photos of the folks in the eastern woods and the leaves and roots and it looks so awesome to ride, swooping and dicing through that blur of hardwoods. I wonder if they look at the vistas and long downhill runs that we have and think the same thing? Grass is always greener, I guess.

I remain impressed by the 29" wheels in difficult conditions. They supply so much stability and confidence and just get down the trail with grace and style.

Next thing I need to try...snow. I think that is where water gets really cold and falls to the ground, but I forget.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

2007 in the Rearview Mirror

Well, another one is 'in the bag' of time as it were, and 2008 is livin' large. I went for a ride today, nothing special, just some time on the bike in between cleaning out my garage, and as I was getting ready I was thinking how I changed more in this year cycling wise than I had changed in the previous decade. Such as:

- Baggy Shorts. I have two pair now and I have not worn anything else since this summer when I got my first ones. I have a good pile of lycra shorts all sitting forlorn cuz of the newfound baggy-ness. I like 'em. I did not find them too hot for summer, they are way warmer in winter (as long as you have leg warmers), and I LOVE the pockets. I am a nook-and-cranny kind of guy and I tend to take a lot of stuff when I ride. Heck, I just love being able to put my keys in my pocket as I get all loaded up to ride without trying to tuck them in the waistband of my shorts or something (most of my jerseys have no pockets). Besides, mountain biking is sooo baggy in nature, if you know what I mean.

- 29ers. Darn those big wheels for making me spend more money. Truth is, I am on my way to converting my entire fleet of scoots over to big wheels. Why not? I don't huck off of stuff anyway and the way they roll over stuff, stick like glue in turns, and are sooo stable, it just works so good for me. Not for everyone, I am sure. I have ridden my nearly brand new Cannondale Prophet twice since I got the 29er. Twice in what, three months? Yep. I got it bad.

- Fewer Gears. The 1x9 setup on the 29er is habit forming. I would have never guessed I could ride so many things in the middle chainring. I don't miss the big ring at all, but I cannot go without a small chainring forever. Too many mountains out here and I am too old to get that tough. So, the FS 29er (upcoming) will have a small chainring, but likely not a big ring. And, I bet I will pedal bigger gears anyway, just cuz I know I can.

- Hardtails...Again. Now THAT is a blast to the past. The last time I rode a HT off road was...hmmm...maybe 10 years ago? Hey, after all it is bumpy out there. But here I am on the HT Karate Monkey and it is darn near good enough to be my only bike. Almost. My back is just not up to the abuse of a HT. The Thudbuster is really amazing. It does a great job for in the saddle time, really great. But a long day on a bumpy trail will work me over too good. And, frankly, I have gotten lazy. My riding technique on an FS is way more point and shoot than on a HT and this last trip to the Utah area showed how much harder you have to work to climb techy, ledgy stuff on a HT. But, till then, I am being spoiled by the get-up-and-go-ness of the HT when I push hard on the pedals. Nice, that. And it really is no bull about how 29" wheels smooth out the trail. If I was younger and I rode in a part of the country that was a bit smoother and less digital than So Cal, a HT 29er is all I would want.

I think that pretty much caps it off. Big shorts, big wheels, 9 gears, and a hard butt. What a year.

2008 should be amazing.