29er testing!

I’ve been getting 29er curious over the last few months, and I finally got to test one at the weekend. I happened to be in Intersport in St Junien looking for gloves when I spotted their Trek Superfly AL Elite 29er demo bike. It’s free to demo for 48hrs – you just need to leave a deposit cheque and sign a contract. I picked it up on Friday, and had all weekend to test it. My plan was to set it up and do some comparison tests on the Saturday then ride a VTT Rando on it on the Sunday.

I flipped the stem, moved the controls inboard a touch, set the saddle height, and was ready to go. I measured and compared with my 26er. The Trek came up a little shorter, but as the bars were wider (over 700mm!!!), I thought it would be OK. I noted that the bottom bracket and resulting saddle height were 1 cm higher from the ground.

First impression, a bit strange. Although only 1cm higher from the ground it seemed higher. A U-turn in the driveway felt cumbersome and vague. I wondered about the extra flex that bigger wheels might give, and whether this might be an advantage on rougher ground. I set of on a short testing loop. The bike had a sort of ‘quiet’ feel to it. Very comfortabe. I was going pretty quick, I could tell that from the gear I was in, but I didn’t feel like I was going quick, just floating along really.

At the entry to the first chemin, I did my usual, ‘pedal hard through the corner and control the speed with the back brake’. The bike turned beautifully. I lost almost no speed. It felt good. Still floating, and yet more floating as I crossed some rough rocky ground. Turning downhill I began to pick up some real speed. Still floating. At the bottom of the descent it’s always tricky trying to coax a bike around the off-camber turn, but the 29er was easy, she slid around easily.

Back at ‘chez nous’ I did a quick check on bolts to make sure nothing had come loose. Next I used a timed loop of around 10 mins, a good mix of sweeping trails and technical stuff. I did a lap on the 29er, then a lap on my Specialized Epic, then another on the 29er, then a final lap on the Epic. The results were inconclusive. The difference was not measurable. I was just about the same time to the second on both. There were places where I felt faster on one that the other, but I couldn’t say that one was faster than the other.

So to the VTT Rando at Ambazac (organized by the Ambazac Sprinter Club). My friend Pierre, a 29er convert, had told me that it’s when riding with others that you notice how good the 29er really is. The Ambazac rando is normally well attended, so plenty of riders, and a 35kms loop up in the hills should be a tough test.

I made sure I was there nice and early to get a place near the front. Just before the off I realised I’d left my number board in the car! Doh! A quick dash back to the car and back, and I’ve missed the start. I chase like mad through the back markers. The first big climb and we are down to walking pace. In fact most are walking. Over the top and away. Again I’m ploughing through the back markers like a madman. Down a fast technical descent, I’m being very creative with my line, I clip a rock hard, and pinch flat the rear wheel!!!! It takes me less than a couple of minutes to fit a new tube and get away, but that’s two minutes of riders going past.

I realise my ride isn’t going as planned and calm down a little. I make ground where I can, and just wait patiently where I can’t. At the first food stop I ride straight through. There’s less traffic now, and I can ride faster. Getting into the flow, I notice how well the 29er rolls. On slight descents I seem to roll up to riders ahead of me with ease. On climbs I seem to be going well, I notice how the 29er rolls nicely over roots and rocks.

With an hour and thirty minutes on the clock I know I can’t be far from home. I’m pushing on hard. Totally absorbed in the trail and the flow. As happens so often, I’ve said this before, the trail fairies cast a spell on me, and I’m just there in the moment. The spell is only broken with the realisation that I was under the spell!!! I forgot I was riding the 29er! I was just riding.

So there you have it, a weekend testing a 29er, and no answer, no conclusion, no significant test data. I really dunno! But this… I think that for marathon type racing where you are riding over ‘un seen’ terrain where efficiency, economy of effort, and maintaing momentum are paramount, the 29er might be best. But for closed circuit racing with tight turns, with lots of stops and starts where you are wrestling the bike then a 26er might be best.

In either case, to me, the 29er didn’t feel like I was going fast even when I was. It didn’t have that ‘seat of the pants’ knife edge razor sharp hadling feel that a 26er race bike has. Going fast, and sensation of going fast are different things.
Also, I note that the Trek has quite a shallow head angle of 68 degress. That is quite a lot slacker than I’m used to, and may have added to the Trek’s ‘quiet’ feel.

Finally, don’t get me wrong, I loved riding the Trek. It’s a really lovely bike, handles beautifully. I was sad to give it back. If long distance XC is your thing you’d love it too. It’s a tool for the job.


Specialized Stumpjumper HT Comp versus S-Works Stumpjumper Carbon HT

Stumpjumper HT Comp 2009 and S-Works Carbon HT, choose your weapon.
The Stumpjumper HT Comp is the least expensive is Spesh’s Stumpy range. I reckon it’s fantastic value for money, and good enough to race on. In fact, up until I got my S-Works carbon this year, that’s exactly what I did. Since 2005 I’ve used a standard Stumpjumper Comp as my main race bike. Had some good results too. If you can’t win on the Comp, you can’t win.

The 2009 Stumpjumper HT Comp is even better. It’s now made of the same M5 alloy that was reserved for the S-Works alloy bikes. With it’s 28 spoke front wheel, flat bars, and 90mm travel forks, this ain’t no trail bike. It’s for racing………and i’ve got one…..and I rode it for the first time this week at the Armistice day VTT rando at Isle.

Wanna know how it rides? Well, I dunno! Why? Because after the first few minutes when I had to ‘brain shift’ into SRAM mode I was so busy enjoying the ride I forgot that I was riding it. I was so busy hacking up and down the sides of the Vienne Valley on super steep climbs followed by fabulous singletrack descents strewn with damp leaves covering rocks and roots, that the bike just disappeared.

Whether the bike became transparent, or part of me, or whatever doesn’t really matter. It’s the fact that it rode so well, and I felt so at home on it. It was only when I queued up at the Lavage Velos (bike wash), that I noticed it. Ridden standard, as it came, out of the box. Oh, and ridden hard too. I was third rider home out of 300.

Compared to my XTR equipped S-Works Carbon hardtail, it’s a little heavier (though much lighter on the wallet!!!). But in terms of performance, and being a XC race tool…..If you can win, you can win on the Comp. It’s that good. 🙂

Thanks to the crew at Pearce Cycles who supplied mine.

New Bike, well and truly Christened…

Christened my new 2008 Specialized S-Works Carbon Stumpjumper HT at the Regional VTT Champs last weekend…….. want to know what I thought of it? OK, but first of all let me tell you how it came to be my weapon of choice.
S-Works Carbon Hardtail Christened
Why a hardtail? – I love the clean lines of a race hardtail, the simplicity, the minimalist functionality, the way they ride. I’ve often found that riding a full-susser just doesn’t give that ‘race bike’ feel, you might be covering the ground just as fast but it doesn’t feel fast. I like to go fast, and feel like I’m going fast, that’s the buzz.

Why a Specialized hardtail – this is my sixth, and i’ve loved each one. From my very first in 1989, grey with Umma Gumma grey tyres, to my latest. I’ve never ridden any other race hardtail that I like as much. It’s the best tool for the job.

So this new S-Works Carbon one – It’s an out and out race bike. It feels special, like a race bike should – light, agile, quick-handling, and rocket fast. I wouldn’t want to just ride it every day. That’d be like using a Ferrari to commute. It’s for racing, for going fast, and the faster you go the better it feels, and the faster you want to go. It inspires, excites, urges you on…..

…to ride the knife edge that is control. The faster you go the sharper the blade. It’s amazing that the brain can control two brakes with fingertip accuracy while positioning the body for perfect balance, while reading and predicting what’s coming next racing down a hillside over rock, roots, grass, and dirt. Not to mention sorting out where other riders are so as not to hit them. You really are just there in the moment, there is nothing else, and nothing else quite like it.

That’s how it rides. Nuff said?

Sans fleurs – I’d only done two short rides on it to bed the brakes and gears in, so I was almost racing it straight out of the box. It performed faultlessly. Not only that, but the day after the race I suffered no unusual aches, pains or strains. That suggests to me that the bike is ‘right’.

I finally get to ride the Cove…

2004 Cove Handjob with Rockshok Rev U-turnsI bought it (mostly), I built it, and finally I got to ride it!

Some background
– When Supawal, my bro’ came to visit us he flew out with his Cove Hummer. Now it’s always a headache flying with bikes. Not only is there the struggle to get the damn thing to the check-in desk there’s also the risk that the nice ‘baggy jandlers’ will damage it. So, the idea was to build up a ‘guests bike’ with second hand bits sourced from our collective collection of bits, and bits from the classifieds on singletrackworld.

The build – we got a 2004 Cove Hanjob frame and a pair of Rockshok Coil U-Turn Revelations from STW as the base. LX shiters and mechs, XT wheels, DMR wingbars and Conrod stem, Spesh chainset, Hayes brakes. The whole thing took a couple of months to put together. Actually it came together in a different guise first with some bits stolen from Carla’s bike, which is why she was the first to ride it.

OK, I’m getting there – not! So, Carla takes a real shine to it. She just rides it. That never happened before. Normally we spend weeks tweaking things until it’s just so. But with the Cove, she just rides it. Eventually Supawal shows up for a flying visit with the Revelations, which are the final part of the jigsaw. So he rides it for the weekend, and loves it, while the stolen bits go back onto Carla’s Spesh, and she rides that. Supawal flies home, Carla goes back to riding the Cove. “But it’s got huge riser bars on, and a blokes saddle”, I say. “It’s fine as it is, I’ll just ride it”, says Carla. So what with events where we both ride, days that we both ride, and serious training days on my own, I never got the chance to try it. Then weeks later, we’re due to go for a ride, Carla decides she hasn’t got the legs, and it’s my chance at last. Change the saddle height, rock the brake levers forward a touch, and I’m set.

First impressions – Haven’t ridden a steel bike in years, first thing I notice is how much lateral flex there is from the relatively skinny tubes. How slow/stable the steering feels with it’s 68deg head angle. I can take my hand off the bars at virtual standstill. I stop and check the travel I have on the forks, 100mm, exactly what the frame was designed for.

Up through the woods, she climbs well, feels light, nimble. At the top of the forest now with a long descent in store. Firing down the first rocky section it feels as though I don’t have enough weight over the front of the bike, maybe it’s the huge high DMR bars. I stop and wind the forks down a little to 90mm. Now it feels just right, and I launch down the second half of the desent, fast. There’s a huge rock, I flick to the left, there’s a low branch that I didn’t see in the late afternoon sun that whips my face. I’m off line, all over the place, into all sorts of ruts rocks wood and mud. There’s a drop off that I didn’t really want to ride. With total lack of style I plop out onto the main trail. I made it, I’m thinkin’ maybe these Cove Handjobs have got something.

I’m musing over the Cove + Revelations combination, and at some point over the next hour and a half I forgot that I was riding the Cove, I was just out on my bike having a great time. So easy to ride, so comfortable, schweet handling, such fun……. maybe I should get one! 🙂

Specialized Stumpjumper Comp 2005 – Long termer report

Stumpjumper CompHappy 2nd birthday to my Spesh Stumjumper hardtail. She’s carried me safely through many a ride, in fact she’s been my main bike throughout the two years I’ve had her. I’m begining to lose count, but I reckon this must be my fourth Stumpy. To my mind the Stumpjumper hardtail is the XC race frame par excellence. It feels fast, and by golly it is fast. Ask anyone who’s ever owned one, and if you ain’t never owned one then you ain’t never rode an MTB. Anyway, as it’s her birthday I thought it would be interesting to take a look at how she’s wearing.

Superficially she’s lookin’ good, she’s been well cared for, I’m fastidious about bike care. The only marks on her are transit marks from her forays into France. I’ve made no upgrades to her, so she’s pretty much a stock bike, bit’s have worn, and been replaced as you’d expect. Two years riding in all sorts of weather and terrain has taken it’s toll as follows…

First of all, the FSA headset has never been touched (apart from lubing), and is as smooth as new. Likewise the LX shifters, and front half of the cable outers. The brakes have never needed bleeding, and the wheels rims are still round and straight.

Front Wheel – Specialized Stout hub, 28 spoker, light as a feather, straight as a dye, has only needed one set of bearings that took around 10 minutes to fit.

Rear Wheel – Shimano LX, has needed new bearings and cones, plus freehub body. One broken spoke replaced. I reckon this is the achilles heel of the bike.

Fox Forks – RL80s have performed faultlessly. When I noticed a small amount of play in the bushes I sent them off for a rebuild. No signs of wear on the stauncions, still going strong.

Saddle – Halfway through it’s second winter it was starting to look a bit tatty, nothing wrong with it, but like I said, I’m fastidious, I had the chance to replace it, so I did.

Front mech – Last September, it fell apart. It had taken a few knocks, and I had straingtened it a few times, but finally I had to replace it.

Bottom Bracket – Octalink, can’t beat ’em last ages. Been changed once.

Drive Chain – 4 chains, 2 cassettes, one set of rings, one set of jockey wheels. Not bad considering what it’s been through. Bear in mind that the middle and granny rings are steel (slight weight penalty, but last much longer).

Shimano Octalink ChainsetShimano XT Disc Brakes

Brakes – Three sets of pads. When the first set wore out I tried some EBC ones that seemed to last no time at all. Went back to shimano ones, much better.

To sum up, not bad considering the work she’s done. She’s due for a birthday makeover. She’ll get new chain, cassette and rings, also a new set of disc pads and discs. That’ll see her ready for some early spring action. Bring it on!!!

Crank Bros Smarty Pedals 2006

I’ve used Crank Bros pedals before, for cyclo-cross. I had two sets of Eggbeaters. I chose them because they were light, simple, easy to use, and fantastic in mud. They gave a couple of seasons of faultless service (I stripped and regreased them regularly). After that I sold the bikes. They may still be going strong.
smarty_2.jpg smarty_3.jpg
I’ve always associated the Crank Bros name with quality specialist products. To me the Smarty pedals looked cheap. Maybe it was the plastic, or the shiny black spindles I’m not sure. Also not sure about the spare plastic covers in different colours. Seemed like a waste of plastic to me. I expect they’d end up in that drawer where things go never to be found again. But they are very light, much lighter than the Shimano pedals I took off.
smarty_1.jpg smarty_4.jpg
Fitting the Smartys was a piece of cake, no problem, simple. Pedals fitted to the bike in seconds, and the cleats only took a little longer. Because Crank Bros pedals have such good float there was no need to spend ages lining cleats up, then testing and tweaking. Just line ’em up fairly straight, tighten the bolts and you’re done. No tension screw to faff about with either. In fact they were so easy to set up I tried them with three different pairs of shoes. Top Marks!

Once fitted it was time to ride. As a rider with experience of clip-in pedals the Smartys took no time at all to get used to. Clip in was easy and sure, clip out was the same. I could use them confidently straight away. Top Marks again.

But, they creaked. The shoe creaked against the pedal. This was worse on the oldest pair of shoes I tried, and it maybe that the creaking would stop as they beded in. They didn’t seem to be designed with maintenence in mind. The plastic end cap was difficult to remove, and I could see how it could easily become loose/worn and get lost. The pedals had a larger Q factor (meaning that the riders feet are further apart) than the Shimano ones I took off. While this was not a problem for me, I know it is a biomechanical issue with some riders.
smarty_5.jpg smarty_10.jpg
As I understand it Smartys are Crank Bros budget pedal, and as such I think they are great. As I said earlier, i’ve always associated Crank Bros with quality specialist products. If I was looking for a cheap lightweight pedal then the Crank Bros name would give me confidence, and I would look no further. Would I buy some? Well for cyclo-cross yes, but for mountainbiking no. My mountainbiking pedals take such a hammering that I choose robust over lightness every time. I’ve had one bad painful experience with a lightweight pedal, and I don’t want another. Placed side by side with a similarly priced but much heavier Shimano pedal I’d choose the Shimano one.

Bear in mind that I only tested the pedals on one ride so cannot comment on how they’d be long-term. I tested them on my Spesh Stumjumper Hardtail. I tested them with three pairs of shoes – a hardly used but old pair of Shimano, an old pair of Specialized 2000 pro race shoe, and a Specialized 2006 carbon soled race shoe.

Thanks to Julie of 2Pure, and Pearce Cycles for the opportunity to try these pedals.

My New Stumpy – The SO’s tale!

Excited but apprehensive is how I would describe what I felt when I collected my new Specialized Stumpjumper Comp 2007.  My old stumpy comp, is now about 5 years old and has been my winter bike for the last 2 years. I ride my 2004 FSR full suspension the rest of the year and  I was finding the switch from full suspension, disk to hardtail, V brakes more difficult each time, but I still wasn’t sure whether I’d made the right choice of another hardtail.

My intial reaction was “looks great but not too flashâ€?.  A nice black satin finish with the new silver decals to the top tube, a very lean looking machine.  Specced with Fox F90 RL forks, Avid Juicy 5 disks, and Sram X-9 shifters, I give it the usual lift to see what it weighs – “Oh my god it’s so light, what will it be like downhill?â€? – I was to find out soon enough.
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Specialized 2007 Epic and FSR tested.

First some background – The last time I got the chance to test an Epic and an FSR back to back, side by side, was in 2004 (we also rode a 2004 Enduro that day). At that time the FSR had 100mm at both ends, and I loved it so much I bought one. The Epic also had 100mm both ends, and I didn’t like it at all. Since then I have owned a 2005 FSR, which I had a love/hate relationship with, before going back to a Stumpjumper Hardtail for 2006.

My testing partner for the day was my brother ‘Supawal’. The great thing about testing with Supawal is that we ride almost identical set-up, so swithching bikes mid test was a simple matter of switching bikes! Technically we are of similar ability, so differences in bike should show more. We chose Mortimer Forest as our test venue, as it has a good mix of trails and terrains.
2007 Specialized FSR 2007 Specialized Epic

Both test bikes looked sexy in their colours. I’ve often prefereed the colours of the test bikes to the colours of the production bikes. The FSR was a lovely purple colour, while the Epic looked hot in mustard yellow. After checking tyre/shock pressures, setting saddle heights we loaded them into the van. Both bikes felt light, the Epic especially. I’d say the 2007 Epic with it’s E5 frame is only slightly heavier than my 2005 M4 Stumpy HT.

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First Ride – Specialized Roubaix S-Works SL 2007

A lovely sunny autumn day, it’s mid morning, and I’m supposed to be working, but can’t wait any longer. I decide to take an early lunch and go out on my bike.

Outside it’s warm enough for shorts and a short sleeved jersey. As I carry my bike down the steps to the road it occurs to me that I have dramatically increased the weight of my bike by adding a bottle cage and bottle (did I mention that she only weighs 16lbs? 😉 ).

Round the sharp left-hander and onto the short climb out of the cul-de-sac she handles beautifully, and surges forward when I press on the pedals. Out of the saddle on the hoods feels completely comfortable. Out onto the main road, and along past the school where there is a long stretch of frost damaged road, a perfect test for the Roubaix’s Zertz damping. I rattle across it at a brisk pace. I can still feel the road, the feedback is still there, but the jackhammer jolts that you would get from a normal road race bike have no sting.

Heading downhill towards Wolverley I pick up a lot of speed. OK, now I’m not so happy, I feel a little wary going this fast. It’s not the bike, it’s the traffic. I move out from the kerb a little and push on, it’s only half a mile to my turn.

Up through Wolverley village and onto the lanes. Kingsford lane runs along the bottom of Kinver edge, at around three miles long it’s a snaking roller-coaster of a lane and a good test for the Roubaix. I float along effortlessly, just the whoosh from the tyres, in the beautiful countryside, under the lovely autumn sun. I weave my way through the lanes to the Sheepwalks, probably the biggest steepest climb in the area. Pushing myself back on the saddle I take the first part of the climb seated, hands on the tops. It feels easy.

The climb eases, and the panorama opens out. I can see the Abberleys, the Malverns, and beyond. The final part of the climb is a steep ramp, and I attack it out of the saddle. Legs stinging with ‘good’ pain I reach the top and decide to stop a while and take it all in.

I’d been out for around an hour now, the bike had exceeded all of my expectations. I decided to push on a bit to see if it was real, or whether I could break the spell. By Shatterford I had worked up a good sweat, the faster I went the more I liked it. Back towards Kinver, sprinting every rise, and feeling funky. Speeding into Cookley with 1:40 done I stormed up the last climb before dashing down the A449 towards the lights at ‘Nabarro’s Folley’. No fear of the speed or the traffic now.

Almost two hours done, and I had worked hard in places. No back-ache, shoulder fine, feeling as fresh as when I started out. Spell still in tact 🙂 But, I was on my own, what I really need is someone to test it out on 😉   

Back on the road – Specialized Roubaix S-Works SL 2007

It’s been a couple of years since I rode a road bike, but my dodgy shoulder has stabilised enough to make me want to try one again. Of course it would have to be a Spesh, and over recent months I’ve been thinking about the Specialized Roubaix. When I saw a picture of the all new 2007 version, and heard tales from the trade launch about how fabulous this bike was my mind was made up. I ordered one! 🙂

Originally scheduled to arrive sometime in November, imagine how excited I was when I got an email from Gary at Pearce Cycles to tell me it had arrived. This was on thursday, the day after my 51st birthday! Ace world cup meticulous mechanic James had built her up, and next day I was there to collect her. Wow!!! Even better in the flesh, the pictures I’d seen just didn’t do justice. So light, so well put together, as much like a work of art as a bike, and so damn sexy.

I could go on and on about how the 2007 S-Works Roubaix is a totally new frame that represents the absolute leading edge of what can be achieved with carbon cycle technology. How the frame is stiffer and lighter than ever, how the S-Works carbon crankset is lighter and stiffer than Dura-Ace, how the new Mavic 10th Anniversary Ksyrium Edition Spéciale wheels were chosen as the very best blend of performance and compliance, how even the open-tubular tyres are designed to be the fastest most comfortable tyres possible. Or how Specialized’s Systems approach to Bike Design fits with their ‘inovate or die’ creed, but I won’t. Too excited see.

So excited that I ran out of fuel on my way home. Had to use my new bike to go to the garage. It wasn’t what I wanted for a first ride. I’d planned best kit, sunny day, super route. As I pedaled toward the garage in my non-cycling clothes and trainers I tried not to notice how bloody fantastic she felt.

When I got her home, I put her in the living room so that I could have a cuppa and study her. First proper ride tomorrow, if it’s sunny.