Sunday, October 15, 2006

A Trial Run

Ever since my vacation to Oregon--wherein I got to ride a really nice hardtail --I've been longing for a lightweight hardtail mountain bike. Of course, I have my commuter which is nearly a complete bike. (I say nearly because it only has one chainring in the front.) The other day I thought, "If people can ride fully rigid single-speeds all over the place, I ought to be able to handle my 8 speeds on my fully rigid commuter. So, I swapped out my heavy alloy handlebar with a nice short-rise carbon handlebar. (I knew I'd need all the cushioning I could get.) With that, I headed out on a short ride up a trail I recently rode on my super-plush Jekyll--full suspension for those unfamiliar with the model.

Though the pictures show knobbies here, I've since swapped those tires out for some semi-slicks. I was using this bike for commuting, after all. Though there are still some low-end parts on it (for example: the rear derailleur is Shimano Alivio), it is quite light.

It felt light, too.

The first 50' of this trail is made up of wood chips--put there, no doubt, to control erosion . I immediately noticed that what always seemed like smooth trail now felt quite uneven and rough. I was a little shocked at first, but soon remembered the days of riding before suspension.

In those days, a lot of effort was spent picking a line. Riding on a trail was a much more dynamic experience, as I had to always be careful of things in the trail (rocks, roots, and such) that might hinder my progress. I was always moving this way and that--trying to find the perfect line between all of the obstacles. I was amazed at how quickly I had to pick up this skill that had atrophied to almost nonexistence . Gone was the lazy mountain biker that ignored anything smaller than a curb. I also enjoyed the ability to stand up and really accelerate. Though, perhaps I need to fiddle with the settings of my rear shock, I don't feel that way on my Jekyll.

As far as the missing gears, I missed them. For the most part, I was able to keep my speed up and hammer up the climbs. There were times however, when I struggled to keep my cadence high enough to keep the pedals turning. I've already ordered a front derailleur, and I have a full-crankset.

Even including the downhill, during which, I descended noticeably slower, I beat the last time on that trail (on my Jekyll) by almost 10 minutes. I really had a blast on that bike.

My plans still include a suspension fork--though I think my Manitou Black (100-120mm) is too much. I'd like to get something short and light--say 80 or 90mm. I do have a front derailleur on the way, but I still need to find shifters. I'll probably end up moving to 9 speed at that point (which will require a new chain and cassette and, maybe, rear-derailleur). I'd stick with 8-speed if I could get it to shift right, but I've never gotten my old SunTour thumb shifter to work right. (In fact, even during this ride, I had to stop and fiddle with it a bit.) I've worked out a trade of sorts with James, and will soon be able to swap out my$10 seat post with this one.

Oh, and I decided, once again, that I'm just not tough enough for a single-speed. Even with my relatively low gear of 32x32, my left knee started to really hurt as I grinded up some of the steeper climbs. Though I think their simplicity is beautiful, and I often wish I could enjoy them, you won't be finding one in my stable of bikes any time soon.

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