Time for a New Bike – Part 2

This is part 2 of a multi-part series on my journey to find a new bike. You can read part 1 here.

Embracing the New

The bike biz has changed. 650B-wheeled bikes have risen to dominate the mountain bike world. Fat bikes have exploded in the last few years. There’s 26+, 650B+ and 29+ bikes, with the 650B+/29er category heating up dramatically in the last year or so. With the expiry of a few rear-suspension patents [most notably, the Horst Link a.k.a. FSR rear pivot] and new  rear shock tech, full-squish bikes have become much, much better than they were only a few years ago. Just as important, many bike companies have embraced the concept of “slack and low, but doesn’t climb like crap”. It’s a good thing.

2016 Banshee Spitfire at rest. new

The Banshee Spitfire, one of a few bikes I have demo’d recently. Decent climber, SO fast on the descents…

I have changed as well. After 3 years of lessons at SGC and one at Zep, plus getting my PMBIA certification, I am a much better rider than I used to be.  No, I won’t be challenging anyone’s KOM/QOM, but I’m having more fun and riding faster. A consequence of receiving excellent coaching and becoming an instructor myself is that I’ve learned to be more self-aware with my riding. I can tell when I’ve taken a good or bad line, know when I’m getting closer to my limit, and ride trails more consistently. That consistent riding means that it’s easier to quantify the effect of improved fitness, being hung over vs. not, and changes to the bike.

That last one, “changes to the bike”, has been an eye-opener this year. Monster-trucking the Fatty down Moosepackers and R4 in March was so much fun, and felt incredibly fast compared to when I rode it on the Ibis last October. This June, I took out a 650B+ bike for a demo. It wasn’t a great ride – I had been out late the night before, and the bike setup was sub-optimal – I was bouncing everywhere. Still, I was 10% faster than my best mid-summer ride on the HD. Hmmm. I took a different 650B bike out on a demo a few weeks later, and despite the fact it was a size too small, had major drivetrain issues, and I had to stop halfway through the descent for another rider, I was within 1 second of my previous best time. Hmmmm.

Bigger is Better

I love fat tires, and I cannot lie. Now, that’s not specifically fatbike tires, it’s more that I really like lots of traction, both for cornering and climbing. That usually means I gravitate toward chunky tread and softer rubber compounds, with 2.4″ or 2.5″ widths in “regular” tires. The couple of 650B+ [2.8″ tire width] bikes I have been on this year had tires like basketballs – very bouncy – but rolled over everything with aplomb. The bikes with normal-width tires felt a lot better at speed, and were ultimately more predictable. It would be great if there were a happy medium: a tire size that rolled over things as well as the plus tires, but had the feel and control of regular tires.

Make Mine 29?

The 29er [also known as 700C] has a history in XC racing, where it remains the wheel size of choice. In the past, 29ers climbed like the wind, but generally sucked on the descents. Steep angles and short travel made them a handful on technical descents. This has changed recently, with bikes like the Specialized Enduro 29 proving that wagon wheels can go down as well as they go up. For 2017, one of the biggest trends is making bikes 650B+ and 29er compatible. That’s two wheelsizes in one bike! “But wait, how do they do that? It’s inconceivable!” As luck would have it, the outside diameter of a 29er wheel with 2.2″ tires is about the same as a 650B+ setup [and also a fatbike wheel/tire – think about that for a minute]. Thus, all the bike designer has to do is leave a few strategic millimetres of extra space in the rear end of a 29er to allow for a 2.8″ 650B tire, et voilà! It’s not quite that simple, but that’s the idea, and it works.

Stumpjumper FSR Comp 6Fattie mid-fat new

Specialized’s 6Fattie [a.k.a. 650+, 27+, etc.] can take a 29er tire/wheel for a more traditional feel.

What this means is that a whole whack of new bikes are coming out over the next year. They climb and descend well, and they’re designed for regular mountain biking, not the extremes of XC or DH. The 650B+ tires provide huge traction for climbing, braking, and cornering [depending on the tire/rim combo]. The 29er version will appeal to those who are looking for a more precise feel for their riding. In many ways, it’s the sweet spot for manufacturers, who can effectively build one bike for two separate markets by just swapping out wheelsets and putting a 10mm taller fork on the plus bike. [slow clap]

What’s Next?

I have started a spreadsheet [NERD!] of the bikes I’m looking at, their specs, prices, and what changes I’d make if I were to get one. A few notes:

  • I’m looking for something at the same general level as my Mojo HD, but with new[er] geometry, etc.
  • Yes, bikes have gone up in price, haven’t they?
  • Prices are in CAD $
  • You can use a Shimano shifter/derailleur with a SRAM cassette/chain and vice-versa
  • I’m probably not buying until spring 2017, although if I have to buy before that, I will

I’ll be documenting my search for a new bike over the fall, so I’ll discuss test rides and my research in future posts. Roll on to part 3 of this epic saga here.

You should totally write something...