So far in this series, I’ve written about my past bikes, some new trends in the industry and what I’m doing for research and test rides. Eurobike was not as earth-shaking as I thought it might be, with some interesting ideas, but nothing that will impact my decisions much. This post is about what I like [and don’t like] about some of the bikes I have thrown a leg over recently. But first, a little background…
Traction is my friend. It allows me to climb, descend, turn and stop. I’m not a huge fan of the semi-recoverable drift around a fast corner. The slide-to-ragdoll-crash into the rhubarb is less fun than it looks. Neither is powering up a rooty climb and having the rear tire unexpectedly spin on a wet root. The outcome is better than when I rode with clips and straps, but it still sucks when it happens.
Traction begins at the tires. I used to ride the lightest tires available, and at the highest pressure possible. It took me ages to figure out that for the trails I ride around Calgary, this was a bad combination. Over time, I moved from 1.9″ tires to 1.95″, then to 2.0″ and eventually massive 2.1″ treads. This helped, but I still had to keep the tire pressure way up to prevent pinch flats.
My first foray into tubeless tires was on my Titus El Guapo. There was a lot of room for wide tires on that frame and the Fox 36 fork. I ran a split-tube setup with a Maxxis Ardent in front, and a Continental Rubber Queen in back, both 2.4″ tires, on DT Swiss 5.1D rims [the D stood for “dentable”]. A pain to set up, but no more flats. In fact, I went from flatting on half my rides to no flats for 2 years on that setup. I kept lowering the tire pressure and getting more traction from both the front and rear tires. Friends started asking me how I liked the low pressure / big volume ride. “I like it. I like it a lot.”
Eventually, I set up all my bikes tubeless, except for the road and commuter bikes. The eye-opener was when I went to Velocity P-35 rims and 2.4 tires on my dearly-departed Misfit Psycles Dissent rigid singlespeed. Rolling on 700C wheels with high-volume tires and 20 psi was like nothing I had experienced before. It was fast and smooth and light. It rolled incredibly well, but the rooty and rocky climbs led to rooty and rocky descents, and I was in danger of rattling the teeth out of my head. Thus, the Dissent was relegated to winter commuter duty and I started riding my full-suspension bike more.
Bike suspension has two main purposes: to help tires maintain contact with the ground and isolate the rider from outside forces. In short, traction and comfort. There are many ways to design a suspension to achieve those two goals. I have found that linkage-driven single pivots [i.e. Kona Process, Transition, Trek, etc.] don’t climb super well, but that can be mostly fixed with shock tech. The VPP bikes [Santa Cruz, Intense, etc.] are super-plush, but seem to be squidgy [squishy+odd+vague] when pedaling. Horst Link bikes [Specialized, Norco, Rocky Mountain, etc.] track the terrain incredibly well, but bog down in their travel to a certain extent. Again, this can be fixed with shock tech, specifically the platform/climb switch. My favourite design for day-to-day riding uses a pair of short links that rotate in the same direction. This type includes DW-Link bikes [Ibis, Pivot, Turner], Banshee’s KS-Link, and the Canfield Balance.
- Pivot and Ibis bikes have short links and seem to be designed to work best with the progressive nature of air shocks. They tend to ride fairly high in their travel, and the suspension firms up when pedaling. Having saddle time on both, I prefer Ibis, specifically for its climbing prowess.
- Banshee’s KS-Link design doesn’t feel quite as firm as the Ibis or Pivot when climbing, which leads to a feeling of bob, but it’s minimal, and much less compared to something like a Stumpjumper. It tracks the ground very well, and deals with square-edged impacts [i.e. root steps] quite well. The leverage ratio drops with increasing travel, so it still works nicely with air shocks.
- The Canfield design looks very cool [crazy-short CS!], and definitely has its fans, but I’ll likely never have the chance to ride one. From what I have read, the Canfield and Banshee are similar-riding.
After years of riding bikes with 73-degree seat angles and 71-degree head angles, journeying into the realm of slacker front ends was like eating your first pain au chocolat after subsisting on par-baked Tim doughnuts. “WHY DIDN’T I DO THIS EARLIER?!?!?” I’m used to 68 degrees up front, but occasionally go to 66. Almost all the bikes I’m looking at have a 67-ish head angle. I find that those bikes climb okay, and descend incredibly well. The 51mm offset of the 29er/27+ forks keeps things from getting floppy on climbs. Seat angles have become steeper so that it’s easier to keep your center of gravity farther forward on climbs, and dropper posts get the saddle out of the way on descents. It’s win-win!
This is pretty easy. I want enough suspension travel, but not too much. 160mm is a bit much for the type of riding I do, although it is nice to have when things get really rough. Also, I have a very capable downhill bike for truly gnarly terrain. Thus, I would like 120-140mm of rear travel on my next bike.
Bikes I Like
If you’ve looked at the spreadsheet, you can likely tell that I have some favourites based on perceived value, parts spec, etc. While I haven’t made a decision yet, here are some leaders in different categories:
Attila the Fun – Intense ACV Pro
Slack, big fat tires, 150 fork up front, and Intense’s reputation for descending like a rocket pointed at a black hole. This is a rolling party.
Blinghis Khan – Ibis Mojo 3
So. Damn. Hot. I think this is the most spendy bike on my list. It screams, “I have a spouse with disposable income!”
Captain Affordable – Banshee Prime
Carbon is expensive. This bike is not carbon. There are less expensive bikes on my list, but they compromise in one way or another. Inevitably, I’d end up making a lot of changes, and spend as much or more than I would if I just got the right bits and pieces in the first place. The Prime also has a certain amount of future-proofing built in, with the swappable dropout system allowing for 29+, 29 and 27+ wheels. That flexibility is very valuable to me.
Well, I need to try and create a shortlist. I have over a dozen bikes to choose from, but I know that I won’t be getting quite a few. Those will be going into the NOPE pile.