Because of my day job I spend an inordinate amount of time riding a road bike. Maybe not a crazy number of miles, but definitely a crazy number of days. Hell, I got a company Pinarello F10 handed to me in the same way I got issued my MacBook Pro. My uniform for work is a full Giordana FRC kit in team colors and I have used the company mechanic far more often than the company IT department.
I occasionally shave my legs, take the random FTP test and visit Steephill.tv on a regular basis to get a dose of the professional race scene, but I also have a subscription to BIKE magazine, love watching mountain bike videos on instagram and find myself ocassionally geeking out over sag percentages and rebound rates.
And never has it been a better time to be a bicyclist in the off-season. The amount of fodder to pour over is at an all-time high. You have your traditional books and magazine, you have podcast and youtube channels, you have online training tools like Zwift and TrainerRoad and Sufferfest and you have Strava to not only track everything you do, but the ability to stalk all your friends, neighbors and even the professionals who let you peak at there impressive numbers.
All this is to say I have spent an inordinate amount of time this winter reading training articles, listening to mountain bike podcasts, studying workout charts and generally geeking out over all things bicycle.
And what I’ve concluded is I desperately want a new mountain bike.
And buying a new mountain bike right now should be a no-brainer. No one is making a bad bicycle right now. Whether that be a mountain bike or a road bike or a gravel bike, the bicycles of 2019 are amazing. From the shifting to the braking to the geometry, bicycles right now are better than they have ever been.
Which is both a blessing and a curse.
If all the bikes are great, then how does one pick a new whip? And to make the task of picking a new mountain bike even more daunting the people who ride mountain bikers, come in more varietals than grapes. You have your enduro riders, cross-country rides, downhill riders, down-country riders, short track experts, freeriders, single-speeders and your garden variety trail rider. And there is a bike for each and everyone of them.
So here is what I’ve learned about the modern mountain bikes, so far. 100mm is plenty of travel. 150mm is not enough travel. 130mm is the new 145mm. 180mm hardtails are the new singlespeed. Having longer travel upfront is better than having the same travel front and rear, unless having the same travel is better than the other way around. And hardtails are great unless you have one.
And thus, if I may summarize, the mountain bike shopper is looking for a one-quiver bicycle and as far as I can tell it does not exist. If you want to race, you need a cross-country bike which is short on travel and light on weight or at least a trail bike that has a solid pedaling platform, that climbs really well. And if you want to trail ride our need a cross-country bike that is a little slacker and descends well or an enduro bike with cross country tendencies. Not to mention that if you live in some place flat, but aspire to hit the bike parks for some big hucks then you will want something that pedals really well, has a reasonable amount of travel, but rides like a much bigger sled.
Now once you have picked out the perfect mountain bike for your riding conditions you are going to have to make some serious calculation and decisions about how you will set up your suspension. Do you want small bump compliance or do you want a bottomless feel to your whip. Do you want aggressive rebound over stutter clutter and/or big hit plushness. Should you be running a coil shock, are you going to nerd out over rebound and compression and therefore want a shock with a myriad of adjustment or are you a set it and forget it kind of guy. Then we have stem length, saddle setback, dropper post drop, bar width and water bottle placement.
Oh wait, even before all this you need to decide if you want a 29er, a 27.5er or maybe you picture yourself as a 27.5+ kind of pedaler. The 29er is faster unless you are riding in the tighter slower sections then they are apparently slower and more cumbersome. And the 27.5er is faster unless you are in the faster sections and then they are slower. And they are more fun unless you are riding faster sections, then they are less fun. Finally, the 27.5+ is more confidence inspiring and possibly faster in trickier sections with more grip, but can also be difficult because they can feel uncertain while being certainly fun.
Of course, this leads us to tires and tire pressure. Softer rubber offers more grip, but also wears faster and can be a bit pricey. Harder rubber is good for certain conditions and certain days and then bigger tires with lower tire pressures being great for some conditions on some days and you will need a tire with wider spread tread for those other days on other conditions. This, of course, will all become much clearer once you have added your Quark Tyre Wiz monitors and start to parse the data.
Which brings us to another crucial question. Are you Shimano rider or SRAM devotee? Is the bird the word? Or are you still of the belief 2x drivetrains make for a better riding experience? And what about the conundrum of whether you are in the Rock Shox or the Fox Factory Racing camp. Or maybe you like the idea of running a smaller companies suspension: Marzocchi, DVO, Cane Creek or maybe Manitou.
I have weighed all of these things, done all the research, watched all the videos and have narrowed my choice down to three bicycles. They are, in no particular order, the Yeti SB6, the Santa Cruz Hightower 27.5+ and the Scott Spark RC 900. Which is to say, I have literally no idea what bike I should be riding.
I’m battling two very clear schools of thought at this juncture. The first being there is something comforting about being way over-biked for almost all conditions. Which explains my love of the Yeti. It runs on 27.5 inch wheels, has 6 inches of travel, climbs surprisingly well and under almost no circumstances would I ever take full advantage of all the craziness it is capable of getting one into. I would be so over-biked as to be embarrassing.
Which brings us to the second school of thought, which is to buy the bike for the type of riding you actually do. Which for me, at the moment is a lot of pedaling with my beloved labrador, Carter Whitney, and mostly Cross Country types of trails. Which brings us the Scott Spark RC. The bike rolls 100mm of travel front and back, is whisper light and has just a enough rowdie built-in to make it’s race specific pedigree a blast to blast. I road one of these steeds at last years Barner Burner and it is all that and a bag of chips.
And finally we come to the school of thought I had not discovered in all of my research, which is the Holy Shit I love this thing and it makes no sense at all. But this bike is a blast. I borrowed my friend Tony’s Hightower, which is all blinged out with the Eagle drivetrain, the Fox Factory fork with the Fit4 damper and Float DPX2 shock and giant carbon hoops from Enve. Sitting on it, looking down at those giant WBR tires I was figuring it was going to be like spending the day on a clown bike. How less right could I have been? Certainly, the 27.5+ tires didn’t make it climb like the Spark, but it went up just fine. Climbing and clambering over everything I could ram it into and when the trail turned sloshy, rooty and steep it was nothing but a ripping good time.
So I am so close to making a decision. I just need to test ride the Evil Following MB, the Specialized Stumpjumper S-Works 29, the Yeti SB130, the Trek Fuel EX, the Cannondale Bad Habit, the Spot Mayhem 29, the BMC Fourstroke, the Ibis Ripmo…
Our next installment will take on the hot button topics of baggy shorts vs. lycra, full face helmet vs. enduro lids and the backpack vs. fanny pack vs. no pack conundrum.
Please stay tuned.