Thursday, January 16, 2014

My Favorite Bike

When it was new and unsullied.

"This is my favorite bike I have ever owned".

I said that the other night during a group ride.  And it got me to thinking.

The way things are  in my life right now, I typically have a couple of bikes or wheels or tires or forks or whatever in a revolving ellipse centered around my garage so I am forced to grab whatever is on the top of the dog pile for a ride in order to get the business done that needs to be done.

But the other day I put together a bike that had not been ridden in, what, a year?  Hard to say.  Even beyond that, it had been little ridden the year previous to last year!  Parts had been borrowed for other bikes and then uninstalled from the temporary builds they had been used for.  This bike, nearly a chassis only at this point, hung on a back hook in the garage and languished.  A shame, really, so I put it all back together with most of the original spec except for the wheels, shifters, and bars, and tuned it up again.

The first real ride was the other night with 'the gang' and I was chasing Navy Mike who was riding a Scott Spark 910, or he was chasing me, depending on the trail, for a good 90 minutes.  And it came to my mind that, and this was not the first time I had thought this, that this bike was my favorite bike I have ever owned, heck, maybe even ever ridden!

The bike I had resurrected from the nearly-dead (Princess Bride reference there) and had just defended my honor with against the Mongol hordes of the Tuesday Night Ride was a 2010 Specialized Epic Marathon.  This bike was pretty high end when it came out that year.  Brain rear shock, M5 aluminum frame, SRAM XX 2x10 shifting, carbon crown/steerer Reba fork, Roval wheels, Thomson seat post, etc.

I have added carbon Roval wheels and swapped to SRAM Grip Shift but besides that (and tires), it is stock.  And it is one sweet ride.  It is like Specialized, when they were stirring the pot of witches brew that all bikes are designed in, stole a peek into my soul and added that into the incantations, frog's legs, and dragon's gizzards that went into the cauldron.

I *heart* this Epic.  I always have.  What is remarkable to me is how well it has held up over time even when it is compared to the newer Epics and the competition.  XX may not be the wisest gearing for a older guy that lives where you climb a lot, but I get by and even when XO is really just as good and XX1 is getting all the hoopla now, XX 2x10 is still the best shifting front double crank I have ever used.  Yes, it takes a student loan to replace the cassette, etc, but it is crazy light stuff and has been dead reliable.  The bike, even with only 90mm of rear travel, feels balanced front to rear with that carbon Reba.  I went back to the OE 105mm stem and actually flipped it to get lower, reversing the trend I was on of shorter stems and higher bars.  It feels good that way.

Nothing perks up a 29er like wheels.  Cheap 29ers suck, mostly because the wheels get like hoops of lead and that is death to fun.  The Roval Control Carbons are solid enough for a much bigger travel bike yet are light and dead easy to convert across axle types.  No 142x12 rear axle for this bike.  Not even a 15QR front.  But the OS28 front axle caps and the well built frame deal with all that well enough and while carbon would be lighter and snappier for sure, it is no slouch when you stand and "git 'er done".

And there is the Mini Brain rear suspension.  If ever a technology was made for a guy like me, this is it.  Yes, you give up some suppleness.  Yes, it is proprietary and costly to repair.  But it works so well, especially when you stand and climb.  I have played with some of the latest DW link bikes and they are really, really good, likely better as an overall performing system, but the Mini Brain just has that 'something' going on that works soooo well for this type of bike.

The handling is very middle ground, not too fast, not too slow.  It is just right for covering ground as the hours and miles go by.  It is 'dialed', to use a word.  Sure, there are things here and there that are not the pinnacle of performance as time has upped the ante for what a 29er FS can be, but the sum of all this…and this is key…the sum of all the parts, angles, dimensions and specifications just rings like an old bell - smooth and clear, even if the surface is a bit tarnished.  Or is it perhaps Patina, and not tarnish?

What popped out of the cauldron that full moon night on trail, was a bike that, after going into 4 years of time passed, is still, if I had to have only one bike in the garage, and taking into consideration where I ride and how I ride, would be the one I would have still left on a hook when all the other hooks were empty.

It's a keeper, this one is.

1 comment:

Nick said...

I agree with this post 100%. I too had the same bike and felt the same things you mention. I even had the Roval Trail SL carbon hoops on it towards the end of our time together (which really took the bike to the next level). The reason I don't have it anymore? I was fortunate enough to be able to purchase a 2013 version of the Marathon. Obviously I love this latest model, I've upgraded it from stock and its the best bike I've ever owned, but that 2010 Marathon was pretty darn close.