Wednesday, August 19, 2015

MTB Test Riding #1

So, I'm starting to shop for a new mountain bike. I honestly don't expect to buy until 2017 (Happy 40th B-day to me!), but so much has changed in mountain bike technology in that past 10 years since I got my last bike, and there are so many options out there today, I'm going to try to get out there and test ride as many bikes as possible to inform my desicsion.

I was just going to write the following in a text file on a computer, but then I said, hey, why not post it on the blog so maybe my thoughts might influence others. Also, easier to find on the blog than a random text file on my computer.

Today was the Giant demo ride day at Cam-Rock. I rode the Athem, Trance and Reign.

Overall Impressions:
  • Disc brakes still aren't that great. The XT brakes on the Anthem and Trance (with 160mm rotors) were very unimpressive, though they matched the modulation of my Avid v-brakes, they had significantly less stopping power than my 15 year old SD Mag's. Once I got on the Reign with the 200/180mm rotors, I'd say the stopping power just about matched the v-brakes on my Soulcraft. Viva la v-brakes!
  • Newer bikes have much more stiff steering than my 10 year old Soulcraft. This was most pronounced on the Anthem which was horizontally stuff and vertically compliant to the point of feeling kind of weird... but it definitely improved bike handling.
  • I think I'm going to want a dropper post (if I want a dropper post) with the ability to pre-set a couple heights. What I really wanted was a XC position like I normally ride in, then about a 1" drop for more technical sections and then maybe a total of a 4" drop for when it really gets vertical. The type of dropper post on the Giants was awkward, you flip the lever on the bars for the dropper post, then you needed to put a little extra pressure on the saddle to compress the post. It would move down pretty fast and suddenly the saddle is way too low to work well as a contact point to help you handle the bike.
  • 27.5" tires didn't really feel all that different than 26" tires. Maybe because I run larger diameter tires 2.4" at lower pressure than the bikes I tested which all ran 2.2" or 2.25" tires. I feel like all these bikes would have worked better with larger volume tires at lower pressure. This would allow for more small-bump compliance and better traction.
  • I liked the Fox suspension products better than the Rock Shox. The Fox bits seemed easier to use, for example the rear shocks suspension firmness adjustment lever was easy to get at and remember which setting was which. The same lever on the Rock Shocks Monarch was hard to reach and impossible to see what setting it was in... you'd just have to memorize it. Also, I'm a bit of a Fox snob after owning some really bad RS forks back in 90's and early 2000's. To be fair, the Revelation fork is not as well regarded as RS's higher end Pike fork.
Reign Advanced 27.5 1: This is their "Enduro" bike with 6.3" of travel in the rear and 130-160mm in the front. I felt like this much travel was useful. The head tube angle was 65-degrees. This was a little ridiculous. Though it felt really smooth and controlled in the berms, and very playful on small drops, it was awkward on the flats and climbs sine the bike wanted to "wander". In fact, the steering kind-of had the habit of oscillating. The bike was also heavy (these guys weighed it at 31.7 lbs) and the suspension ate up a lot of pedaling energy. Lastly, the stem was really short and the bike had a very upright riding position. These four strikes made it a bike that would be fun to ride downhill, but I would really only recommend it when you have a chair lift or pickup truck carrying you to the top of the hill because pedaling it up was not fun.

Trance Advanced 27.5 1: This bike was pretty well rounded, but still the HT angle felt a little to slack and wallowy at 67-degrees. Suspension gave up some energy on the climbs, but if you set the suspension to the stiffest setting (which was a pretty easy flick of the switch) it wasn't bad at all. Still kind-of heavy though, but then again, I'm pretty heavy right now too. These guys say its only 25.8 lbs, but it felt heavier, maybe that weight is sans-pedals. The medium size had great stand over, but the top tube was too short, I would have to go with a 70mm stem (I think the stock was 50mm) and maybe move the seat back a little further.

Anthem Advanced 27.5 1: Bearing in mind that I've been riding around on a bike with a 71° head angle for the past 20 years or so, I felt pretty at-home with the 68.5° head-angle on the Anthem. It definitely helped stabilize things in rock gardens and in berms compared to my Soulcraft. Honestly, I may be OK with a head angle as low as 68° for all-around riding. (UPDATE: This bike may actually have a 69.5° HT angle (Giants geometry charts aren't consistant), which would explain why I felt relatively at home on it.) You could tell it didn't have a lot of travel, 100mm in the back I could use more, but I suppose that's 100mm more than my hardtail. With the suspension set to the firm setting, it actually felt like it had a firmer rear-rend than my steel hardtail (with a Ti seatpost), for better or for worse. The 100mm fork in the front was very laterally-stiff for good control, but was somewhat unimpressive from a soaking-up bumps standpoint, perhaps because I'm used to riding a 100mm fork on my Soulcraft, but perhaps the fork was set up a bit too stiff for me. Size large actually fit me perfectly horizontally, but left me with 1" or less standover clearance, which is not acceptable. Medium would need a longer stem, but I don't see why they can't just make this model with more standover clearance. This bike seems to be marketed as an XC racer, but honestly I think my Soulcraft would be more efficient and work better on all but the most rough courses. These guys say its about 25 lbs, didn't really notice the weight either way, which I suppose is a good thing.

Conclusion:  If I was buying right now, I think I'd either by a short-travel FS bike with a longer travel fork on the front (like the Anthem SX which was not available for a test ride) or a Ti or Steel hardtail with a similarly longer-travel fork. By longer, I'm thinking 110-140mm adjustable fork like a Fox Talas. I think it would be ideal if this allowed me to ride the bike with a roughly 68.5-degree head angle for XC riding and a roughly 67-degree head angle for technical, vertical trails. But Man, I don't like how the Anthem SX is all SRAM 1x11 with a Rock Shox fork. I feel a 2x drivetrain would suite my needs better.
Maybe a 27.5+ bike would work well too, I'll have to find a way to throw my leg over one of those.