Saturday, September 27, 2008

Part One: Demo Days 2008

So begins the 4 part saga of a week centered around bikes and bike stuff...riding, examining, exploring, hand shaking, and schwag gathering. Part one are my thoughts from the Demo Days, an opportunity to ride yourself silly on nearly any bike you have on your dream list. Part two is Moab, part 3, Thunder Mtn Trail, and finally ending at Interbike.

Part One:

I had never been to Demo Days before and I only had 4 hrs to ride as much as I could. Stepping off the air conditioned bus at the expo was pretty impressive. It looked like a tent city laid out in the shimmering air. An oasis in the heat of the desert, an oasis of goodies. Oh boy! Riders were already crawling around the XC course like ants at a mtn bikers picnic. The course wound through the desert hills offering an XC and a DH option. I rode the same XC loop each time, about a 20 minute ride, that way I could keep the comparison as fair as possible. Each bike was set up by the vendor, I never changed a thing on the suspension. Many bikes would remain untried as I simply ran out of time, but I was focused on one thing: Riding as many FS 29ers as possible to see what the newest suspension offerings were bringing to the table and to see how my Lenz stacked up. Had I made a good decision or should I have waited for a newer wunderbike? Time will tell. Read on!

Ride one: Salsa Big Mama - Can the Mama dance?

Much buzz about this one. I was pretty sure that Salsa was coming out with a FS 29er and I was hoping it would be reasonably priced. When it hit the net, it was quite the stirrer up of stuff as it was well priced and good looking AND innovative in subtle ways. I was really looking forward to this one as Guitar Ted had really liked it and had left the impression that it rode better than the sum of it's parts would lead you to believe.

I got a red one, and Steve M. got a black one.

After introducing myself to Jason from Salsa (I link to his very fine blog), I checked out a Big Mama, LG size if I remember correctly. Right away it felt good to pedal, but I could tell it was a bit heavier than the Lev. However, compared to my Lev, it had burlier tires and more heft overall as befit the trailbike aspect of the build (true of most of the bikes I rode except the Pivot). I got to the first rolling hill and stood up and pedaled. Very nice, stiff and responsive. Nothing amazing, just solid. And that feeling remained throughout the ride. It was solid, predictable, accurate, comfortable, nuetral, and very, very fun to ride. I have been riding bikes for a long time, and if I can get on one and feel right at home, I count that as high praise. No adapting, no wondering, "is it me or the bike that feels a bit off?"

Oh, one more thing...I am an advocate for shortish CS length but I had heard that the Big Mama was pretty long back there. I had also read that it was easy to wheelie and manual, something that many other 29ers I have ridden were unwilling to do. Darned if it was not true. I never pulled out the ruler, but it was simple to wheelie and very easy to manual, as least as good as my Lev.

Nice bike. Very balanced, no suprises.

Ventana El Rey - Old Standard gets judged.

When I was trying to decide if I liked 29ers a year or so ago, I rented an EL Rey and rode it for a couple of days. I loved a few things about it. It was beautifully made, pedaled in and out of the saddle like it was built to run fast, and handled like a school bus in the tight trails around home. I figured maybe it was me not being used to the subtleties of a 29" wheel, so I figured I would grab one and see if I felt any different this time.

[NOTE: This one was set up with narrow bars and stupid angles on the brake levers. Why narrow bars on a FS 29er? It felt wrong. I ride wide bars and all the other bikes I rode had wider bars as well. can that happen that a test bike can be built up that way? Bummer.]

Was it all better now that I had a few hundred miles on 29ers? Nope. Still gorgeous, still sexy, still stiff, still clumsy and odd steering with a floppy front end and a very hard to manual, unbalanced ride. Huh. My first impression stands, and after the Big Mama, I was thinking I would not spend another 1000 dollars for less fun on the trail. When I rode by the Salsa booth, I called out to Jason that the "Big Mama won", at least so far. Impressive.

Still mystified about the manual-ing (sp?) issue. What is the deal? I had the same issue with the Fisher HiFi. I dunno. Cockpit position? Weight balance? Magic spell? All I know is that I can manual my Lev pretty easily, the Mama was about the same, maybe easier, and the El Rey was waaaay harder just like before. Huh.

Pivot 429: My first shot at a DW link bike.

Man, was I putting a lot of hope in this bike. I have a, well, you can't call it a vision exactly, but it is a feeling I dream about when I rise out of the saddle and pedal an imaginary FS bike and it scoots forward like it was a hardtail, but rides like an FS bike. So far, that exists only in my mind. Would the Pivot be the fulfillment of that dream?

Looking at it, it is a very well made bike, very sexy links and struts connecting it all together. To me, most DW bikes look cluttered and clunky but the 429 looks organic. After more setup time than the other bikes, including careful measurement of sag with a calibrated little tool, the Pivot guy blessed the set up and off I went.

Sitting and pedaling along it felt the equal to the others, maybe a bit 'deader' feeling, but it scooted when prodded. It certainly did not feel plush, but I like that anyway as I am slanted towards a firmer ride. Standing on the first rise, I thought maybe I had a low tire or the suspension was moving under pedaling force. Nope, the links were not cycling at all and I was moving pretty fast, it just felt odd. I was to find that all the DW type bikes felt like that to one degree or another, the JET-9 the least. I got used to it, but it felt very different than my Lenz and the El Rey and the Mama. Not a deal breaker.

One other thing that bugged me about all the DW type bikes: I would stand and pedal, look down at the BB area and see all that stuff hanging out there and my mind would say, "hmmmm......un-sleek" Yeah, I know....but there it is.

Another thing I noticed when I dropped into the first twisting section of trail was that this was one of the finest feeling front ends I have ever ridden. It just was dead accurate. Wow. I never quite got into sync with the rear end though. It was a fast bike and it was not a plush ride, but it never felt balanced between the front/rear. The rear would kick a bit on a ledge that the fork just flowed over. When you went fast and the bumps racheted up a notch, it was a firm but fast ride and it just railed the turns. I liked it a lot and I would not mind owning it if only for the fine front end and the cool looks. Still, it had not knocked off the Mama as the #1 fun bike.

Jet 9 - Ready to make me sad about buying my Lev 3.0?

OK, not a trailbike for this area of the country, but as a fast, lighter and more race oriented version of the RIP-9, many folks in some parts of the world would make this their one and only bike. How would it compare to the Lenz? Both have the same travel in the back (3" or so) and 100mm forks.

It was the best pedaling bike of all the DW-type bikes as you might expect since it is designed to be racey. It was obviously less plush, but it handled the trail with grace. However, you better keep an eye on the front end as it was a bit quick, especially on the scrabbly and rocky trails of the demo course. I liked it, but the Lev feels more slanted toward the trail bike feel, but with light weight and responsive pedaling of the JET. The JET is what I would ride if I liked a right-now type of steering or I needed to dance through the roots and rocks where quick turning is desired more than stablity. I would buy this bike, but I would not get off the Lev for it.

Sultan - Did Dave get it right?

Man you would think that the Turner folks found a new way to suspend gravity or something, the way that the internet buzz was going on about the turn to DW link frames. We shall see. I always held the Sultan in high regard but never got to ride one before I bought the Lenz.

Right away, I liked the bike as I pedaled out of the tent area. It was a bit short in the TT (LG size), but close enough. I actually got to swap to an XL halfway through the course and it was a closer fit to me at 6'2" and long arms. Somewhere in between as the perfect size?

Remember the fine steering 429? Add that to the Sultan, make the rear end feel as good as the front, have it track on rails, steer effortlessly, climb better than all the DW bikes except the JET (and it was close), run the DH sections so fast that I was scaring myself but let me pull it off anyway...well you get the idea. Simply amazing bike.

When I got back to the Turner tent, I mentioned it was the best trailbike of all I had ridden, but it needed a better fork to match the superb rear end. He looked at me with a wry grin and said, "you mean better than a Fox F29 120mm?", like I did not know what I was riding on, and I just replied, "Yeah. Better than that." Maybe a fork with a little bit more travel, I am not sure, but if it made the 120mm Fox look a bit less than excellent, that is kinda amazing.

So, the final tally?

Bike I would buy if someone else was writing the check or I just was flush with cash?


Bike I would buy if my Lenz broke and I wanted to stay racey for endurance stuff, etc? Niner Jet-9. I never got a chance to ride the RIP-9, obviously the more trailbike of the two.

Bike I would take home from the dance? The Big Mama. Not the best in any one area, but the cost, the fun factor, and the simple design and excellent performance all added up to top the charts IMO. An excellent everyday, weekend warrior bike for the average Joe (or Jill). Basically most everyone.

It has got me thinking about a longer travel bike, but I really can't justify it in my area. For around Vegas or areas with this much chunk, 29" wheels and 4" plus is the deal. I also figured out what the Nevegal tires are for. Trails like this. I hated them in my town, loved them here.

The Lev? How did it stand the comparison test? I made a great purchase with my Lev and no bike made me feel like I missed the boat.

A few more pics from the gallery:

The new Selma SS from Salsa, the beef on the RIP-9 front end, and the revised cog set-up on the Spot Longboard followed by the 69er El Chuco.

My only regret was that I ran out of time. Next time I will be there for more hours if not days. Frankly, I would cut back on time spent at the I-Bike show and be at the Demo more. I wanted to ride a Selma, a Spot Longboard, a Fargo, a Moots YBB, a....well, next year.


Anonymous said...

Great reviews. Most chances to test bikes/gear happen over a long period of time so it's great to be able to ride some many bikes back to back.

Interesting to hear the direct comparisons when you get to ride one after another over the same terrain.

Good stuff. Would love to have you post some of your impressions on with a link back to your blog.

Enel said...

Good reviews. I rode the Sultan and the RIP 9, and my Lunchbox on XC loop 3.

The Sultan had the best rear suspension I have ever felt, but was built up like a cross country race bike, and terribly whippy. totally inappropriate build for that much travel IMO. Still, it was competent. Front end felt quick, but heavy.

RIP was a great, appropriate build, but felt over damped, and not as plush as the Sultan at all despite having the same fork. I think it was set up. Steering was overly sharp. Nice bike.

I came away without any envy once I rode the Box on the same loops. It is just what I like.

All those bikes would have suffered more compared to the Box in Gooseberry or Moab.

Dave Byers said...

Great stuff! I have a 2008 Sultan and used for endurance racing this season but I can't help but want something lighter. The JET9 and Lev 3.0 are at the top of my list.

What width tire can you run in the rear of your Lev 3.0?

Did the cable routing on the JET( get in the way? It looks like it would rub the shock.

grannygear said...

Dave...I am running a Crossmark right now on a Stan's Flow rim. I think I could run a 2.3, but I never worry about mud issues in So Cal, so very rare.

I have plenty of room with the Crossmark and it has a pretty full profile with the wide rim run tubeless.

Sorry I never paid any mind to the cable routing on the JET and it never called my attention to a routing issue.

I bet the Lev 3.0 would build slightly lighter and is a different feel from the JET-9. More mellow overall, I happen to think it pedals better over the JET and it is a very easy bike to ride over a variety of terrain. Nice balance, not demanding, just gets it done. Good traits to have in the 8th hour of a 12 hour day, no?

I don't think you could go wrong either way.