Thursday, June 20, 2013

Rediscovering the Hard-tail

I’ve been a big fan of full suspension mountain bikes since I started riding. I’ve always thought they offered me the most control and a very efficient ride. On my trail bikes, full squish allows me an amazing amount of capability on all types of terrain.

So, as I got ready for this season I figured I should finally suck it up and try getting used to a hard-tail 29er for gravel grinders and mostly smooth rides like the Cohutta 100
I built up a used carbon Giant XTC 29er frame I purchased from a friend. Then for the inaugural ride/race, I rode it in the 2013 Monster Cross and Mountain Bike race. Things felt good right from the start, but then a deer hit me. That’s another story. So I got back on the bike and finished my 1st race on a hard-tail. I really enjoyed the efficiency during the gravel race.

Next up, I decided to do a trail ride on the relatively smooth trails of Pocahontas State Park. I found the ride to be a rude surprise. I was not used to so much punishment coming up through the seat. Additionally, having a super stiff rear, I felt like every root and rock was overdriving the fork and translating all the work the rear suspension used to the front. I was pretty disappointed. The bike sat for a while as I rode my full squishy bikes. I have a lot of those.

So fast forward a few months and I decided to give the hard-tail another whirl in the GW forest mountains on the new lookout mountain trail and sections of the SM 100 including the long descent down Dowels Draft. I was surprised at just how well it climbed on the ascent up Hankey mountain. Soon, I was riding the new trail on Lookout mountain. I rode it all OK, but was quickly adjusting to the riding style of “negotiating” rather than “shredding”. I got down the hill just fine, but my hands were killing me. Maybe too much air in the fork? For long gravel roads and such the hard-tail was great, but not so much for trails that are less than smooth.

The next weekend, I would be racing the Mohican 100.

Now I had a tough choice. I’ve got an awesome Giant Anthem X 29er Advanced and this is my primary race bike and it’s pretty light at 25lbs with pedals. Or I could try riding my hard-tail which I had just measured at 23.5lbs with pedals. I figured the weight difference was not that big of a deal. I’ve probably got an extra 3-5 pound on my body. The main focus would be on efficiency.
So, I got the stiffy ready. Softened the front fork up a bit, and ran a little less air in my tires. A quick test ride at Powhite Park here on Richmond confirmed my suspicions that  my  rough mountain ride was partly due to the fork and tire settings.

Now, which one to bring to the race…? I’ll bring them both!

Once at the Mohican Wilderness I made my decision to pre-ride on the hard-tail. I noticed how well the bike flowed on the mostly smooth single track, and I noticed that I could not hang it out and ride as aggressive as I usually do. Compromise.

So long story short on my 1st 100 mile race on a hard-tail… It went very well. Mohican is a fairly smooth race, but there are a lot of roots and a few techy bits. On the road sections the Mr. Stiffy kills it. Also, I noticed on rolling/flowing single track how pumping anything gave me immediate acceleration. I felt like the bike was picking up speed better on rolling transitions better than my full squishy bike. However I did loose time and momentum on the rougher sections. But, when you think about it, hundred miler’s are mostly smooth-ish trail and a lot of gravel/road. Hmm, a new weapon in my quiver.

On the way back to Richmond, my teammate and I stopped at Douthat State Park for a “recovery” ride. Once again I was surprised. Now that I was focused on shredding for fun, I realized how easily bunny hopping was. Subconscious. So trails I had ridden many times before became a different version of the same puzzle to solve. Short rough rock section…shit, just jump it. That corners a bit slow…just jump off that rock at the entrance and bypass the turn. Here comes that rock garden I always blast through…slow down a bit and survive it. And so it went, the stiffy gives and the stiffy takes away.

I love my full squish and definitely have more control on full suspension, but the hard-tail rocks for gravel and smoother trails. Either way, I’ve discovered another tool and another way to keep my riding skills evolving.

Some people are looking for a “Quiver Killer” but I’d rather have a Killer Quiver.

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