The MTB Report, Sept 16th 2012

I've been a bit quiet on the blog of late. Ordinarily, I'd be at least updating what I've been up to on the mountain bike each weekend, but, well... I kinda couldn't.

You see, back on 26th August, I decided I'd take a little ride down to Loftus, on the edge of the Royal National Park, and ride a bit of singletrack and fire trail on my full-suspension bike, a 2011 BMC Speedfox SF03.

Well, I got to Loftus and, about halfway down temptation creek firetrail, snapped the frame in half.

DAMN IT

It wasn't as if I was riding hard. I was doing about 18km/h when it happened, as this Strava trace shows. It just... broke.

So I pushed it back to Loftus Station, caught the train home, and sulked.

And sulked

And sulked.

So, I took it in the next day for warranty inspection. The guys at Favourite Cycles in Manly were sympathetic to my plight, but warned that it may take a couple of weeks.

So I sulked

I went home and assessed the bike situation.

My spare hardtail had a torn rear tyre and a missing saddle and was maladjusted for my riding style. My AlpineStars Cro-Mega has been off the road for some months after first succumbing to a worn-out drivetrain, then being cannibalised for spares.

That left the road bike which normally lives on the Turbo Trainer in my living room. I'd never ridden it in the wild before.

There was nothing else for it. I'd have to... *shudder*... RIDE THE ROAD BIKE.

So I sucked it up, pumped up the tyres and headed out.

After some initial utter terror, I discovered that the road bike isn't actually a bad thing. It's fast. It's not comfortable, but it's FAST. After some initial adjustment issues, I started on a campaign of smashing personal bests on my local routes. I even started to get into the top places overall on some Strava segments.

Meanwhile, the staff of BMC were all enjoying the annual Eurobike trade show and having far too much fun to inspect my broken mountain bike.

So I carried on with the road bike and actually found I kinda like it.

SHOCK HORROR

So I continued learning to make it go fast and occasionally prodded the guys at Favourite for updates. News eventually came that yep, it was approved for warranty replacement.

But the partially- expected bad news was, of course, that BMC no longer make the SF03, which was discontinued at the end of 2011 in favour of a remodelled SF02 range. And they had no 2012 SF02 frames in a 26 inch wheel.

But, said they, I could have a 2012 Speedfox SF29 SLX

"Errr... OK", said I. "I'll check it out and get back to you in a bit".

Bigger wheels. Wagon wheels, in fact. I'd once said "I'd love a 29er, but I'd have to start buying paper bags in bulk, so I could wear them over my head in order that people won't recognise me".

But really, I kinda secretly wanted one. I'd be trying to figure out how to justify getting a 29er to go alongside the old Speedfox anyway. I loved the SF03, and I'd just got it feeling about as well-adjusted as I thought I could get it, but maybe the SF29 would take the good bits of the 03 and just add bigger wheels.

So I called them back and said "Yes" and also "By the way, what happens with the components of the 26er? Because there are some upgraded bits on there".

To my joy, they said "Well, you can probably keep those. We'll check with BMC".

So it came to pass that on Saturday 15th September, I drive to Manly with an empty bike rack, and came away with a brand new SF29 SLX, and pretty much a whole bike's worth of parts ready to completely renovate my mid-90s AlpineStars Cro-mega.

Bit of a win all round, I think.

So what of the new bike?

Well, I took it out pretty much straight away, for a 7km-or-so trundle around Red Hill Reserve on the Northern Beaches.

At first I was "whoah, big and weird". Then I was "Ooooh, fast and stable", and then I was all like "FUCK YEAH THIS IS AAAAAWESOME".

It took about 1.5km to decide that this is the best bike I'd almost never owned. The idea that 29 inch wheel are sluggish went straight out of the window. They're just bigger. The power transmission is different, sure. But it's not snappy, and I formed a suspicion that the wheelspin that occasionally dogged steep loose climbs on the 26er would be absent on this bike. And I was right. I'd never been to Red Hill Reserve before, but I found Marble Hill (12.2%, rough) and rocked it straight up there,  not a jot of wheelspin to be seen. It's not snappy, it's smooth. It's also stable downhill, and begs to get over obstacles.

So I returned from my short run at Red Hill enthused at ready for more battle, and the next day, went to the Royal National Park to ride LCD.

I was with my good mate Paul, who'd never ridden offroad before, so the first few kms were done at a stately pace, enjoying the scenery. The last kilometre or so is the Strava Segment "Lady Carrington - Climb to the gate", and I agreed with Paul that I'd sprint that segment.

Unfortunately, I've only ridden LCD in the dark up until now, so the point where I thought I should take off was about 1km earlier than the actual climb. I ended up hammering the life out of the last 2km of track, and probably made myself too tired for the climb itself, but I ended up feeling pretty strong. The bike didn't once feel like it was fighting me, and took everything in its stride. It felt quick, but I didn't have a result yet.

Paul followed shortly afterwards and decreed that I should sprint the return run too. My intention had been to let Paul dictate the pace for the return, but he was insistent, and I was keen to see what the bike would do. On my previous run in the dark I'd clocked just under 25km/h average, good enough for 5th spot on the leaderboard, though that had slipped to about 8th over time. We had an energy gel each, rested and got ready to go. I'd go full pace, Paul would go full pace, then we'd both go to the pub. My iPhone was showing a bit over 35 min for the outward run. Target for the return: keep it under an hour, maybe move up a place or two on the leaderboard.

Time to thrash.

Off I went, while behind me various noises of consternation echoed through the woods. I was over 40km/h and pedalling hard when I figured I might have been a bit hasty. A bit of a blood sugar spike after the energy gel was giving way to a slight dip. Luckily it passed quickly and I settled into a nice rhythm, though on a couple of occasions I almost spilled off the track passing riders who were incapable of picking a side in the face of speedier traffic. The walkers were sharing the path very well, giving me a chance to pick a line well away from them, and behaving predictably and safely, but the riders seemed less confident in the situation. Never mind. No blood, no report.

As I approached the final few kms, it was clear my pace was high, and it may be possible to go under 55 minutes - never mind the hour - but as I came towards the gate and the tarmac I had to slow down, first for a large family group then for a 4wd which failed to realise how fast I was travelling and pulled into my path from the river bridge right near the end. Still, the clock stopped at 55:25, well inside target.

I turned round and trundled back to meet Paul, who reported a minor crash in the first few hundred metres. Apparently, the noises of consternation were caused by a moment of panic, a locked brake and a slip into the ditch, and I'd just shot off into the distance. Oops.

So we headed off, not to the pub, but to the new plan of "I'll buy some decent cider and we can drink it at my place".

Cider acquired, the data was uploaded to Strava.

That's an average speed on the return of 29.2km/h. A saving of 20s would have put me second on the leaderboard and a saving of 1m20s would be KoM. So I'll be heading back soon.

We followed this up with a trip down the Cooks River Path and some LOLs on the Flying Fox at Steel Park. Perfect day.

But the bike? The bike is absurdly good. I compared the experience to being chauffeur-driven. The suspension, while nominally 20mm less than my previous speedfox, feels plush, supple and reactive while at the same time managing not to steal all the pedal power. The steering is stable and natural, and with very wide bars it also encourages an aggressive, but not uncomfortable riding position. The drivetrain feels perfectly tuned for the wheel size, with ten on the back and three on the front - though I haven't yet touched the small chainring - and overall the bike feels like it's doing everything it can to get you from A to B quickly and with the minimum fuss.

It's fantastic.

The only small niggle is the Avid Elixir 3 brakes, which aren't very adjustable and seem to occasionally sing for their supper

So yeah, I'm a convert. 29" wheels are the way to go. Really.

posted @ Tuesday, September 18, 2012 6:57 PM

 
 
 
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