Wednesday, October 27, 2010

2 hour road bike and new MTB review!!! (finally!)

Today was rainy, humid, and muggy. Not exactly October weather here in the northeasten US, but it is what it is. On the schedule for today was a simple 90 minute ride with 5 x 5 minutes of 350-360 watts. The rest was to be done at around 200 whats with some easier efforts between intervals. Nothing crazy, but easy nonetheless. Of course easy with me is never exactly easy:).

This morning my car had some issues so I wound up riding by bike to work. Nothing big, but just something else to get in the way of things going smoothly. Anyway, after riding home, I set up my Powertap wheel on the bike only to realize it's batteries were dead. Awesome. Finally, I decided to just get out there, rain and all, and just ride. Felt pretty good actually to do a "real" workout without a powermeter. I've been a slave (in a good way) to the thing for the better part of the last 6 months and I definately grew tired of watching numbers and getting frustrated if I couldn't reach what was prescribed. I suppose at that time you should be disciplined enough to realize that the workout is probably over for you, but I'm stubborn so I often would push through and absolutely crush myself. I have a feeling that's why I had a less than optimal season this past summer. Anyway...

So out on the road today things felt good. Mtbing has made me into such a powerful and efficient cyclist it's amazing. I'm faster and stronger on the road than I've ever been, and my bike handling skills are off the charts. I was able to ride today without ever touching the ground with my feet-I know that sounds funny but what I mean is that I never had to unclip at lights. I can hold a track stand for however long, and when the light turns green I'm off. So cool... The workout was strong and I was happy with the efforts. Also I forgot how much fun riding in the rain can be (minus cleaning your bike afterwards). All in all a good day. I was supposed to do a run today as well, but in all honesty just didn't feel like it. I didn't sleep much last night and didn't want to push it. I think, and coach would probably agree with me, that there's really no need to push it at this point in the season. I'm not lacking motivation, I just honestly didn't feel like running. It'll come though I'm sure.

OK, so on to the long aticipated mtb review!!! So, I got a 26 inch bike that will be my primary bike heading into next season. I was really on the fence about going with the 26 inches over the 29er I had been riding, but hopefully the following will explain my decision.

My Old ride: Gary Fisher Xcaliber 29er Hardtail (don't know the year but I think it's a 2008)
I got this bike primarily as a crappy weather winter training/fun bike. It was originally built up as a rigid singlespeed, but this season as I entered my first XTERRA race in August, I decided to invest some cash in it and build it into a geared bike with a Rock Shox REBA SL fork. I got some decent components, stuck with the mechanical brakes, and swapped in a Deore crankset. Also, I went tubeless with the tires, using Stan's Notubes inside Hutchinson Python tires. All together, it's a pretty solid rig. Not the lightest, but just about raceworthy.
The biggest thing I have to say about 29ers is that you can't beat the ride. It may not be the fastest bike in all situations, but when it gets rolling you feel like you could easily suck up any loose rocks, bumpy roots, or sandy stretches with no problem. Simply put, the bike inspires a lot of confidence. It corners decently, but looses a lot in the way of acceleration. Here on Long Island we have a lot of tight and twisty singletrack. Loads of fun, but in many ways hard to close the gap on when riding a 29er with friends riding 26er's. Nonetheless, it's the bike I basically learned to ride on, and I still love it.

My New Ride: 2010 Trek 8000
This bike is amazing in every way. After Anne and I rode in Afan forrest in Wales a couple weeks ago (when I rode a 26 inch bike for the first time), I knew my riding style suited at 26er better than it did a 29er. I've grown very aggressive as my skills have progressed, and I enjoy the nimbleness of a smaller wheel. With the Trek, the steering is so precise I found myself more often than not oversteering, being used to having to overcompensate with the 29er. Also, being able to have a lower center of gravity allows you to take corners at much higher speeds than the 29er. Controlled drifting in tight turns is much more predictable than on a 29er. I can literally predict just how much I'm going to slide both wheels before I loose traction-something I don't think I could do as easily on the 29er. Acceleration is instant as well. Simply put, you pedal, you go. There's no waiting for the bike to "get up to speed". Granted, to keep momentum you need to keep pedaling, but that's something you have to do anyway. Climbing is much much better. I now they say that 29er's climb well, but in my experience, I've found the Trek to climb like a billygoat. The short but ridiculously steep climbs that we have here are no problem for the 26 inch wheels where I had to struggle at times with the 29er. On that same hand, decending can be a bit trickier when faced with the loose stuff and larger obstacles (roots and such), but as your skills progress that becomes less of an issue. And finally, having less bike underneath you makes tight switchbacks and jumping obstacles as easy as riding a BMX bike. Ok, well maybe not quite that easy, but you get the picture.
The components on the Trek 8000 are equally impressive. You've got a Shimano XT groupset-light and responsive, and Avid Hydraulic Brakes as well as a Rock Shox Reba Fork. All in all a super fast race bike that is durable enough to train on, and light enough to race on:). Basically everything I could ask for! Speaking of the brakes, I'd have to say that aside from the wheel size and overall handling of the bike, these are the biggest difference I've noticed. I have mechanical brakes on my 29er that seem to take all day to stop. I've gotten used to it and adjusted, but in riding the new bike, I see what all the fuss is about. Hydraulic brakes are rediculously responsive and powerful, alowing you so much more freedom to brake aggersively or lightly with just the use of your index finger. Crazy!

So, with all that, I have to say that I'm a much bigger fan of the 26 inch wheel than I am of the 29. Maybe it's the fact that I haven't ridden one of the "top" 29ers, or that I ride mostly tight and windy singletrack, but the traditional wheel just seems to be the right choice for racing. With that said though (and maybe I'm backing myself up a bit in saying this ), I have no doubt that there are situations where the 29er has it's advantages over the 26er, as well as those where the 26er is supreme over the 29er. I guess what I'm saying is that I don't believe there is one "end all, be all bike". Terrain, riding style, course, and enjoyment are what really must be considered when choosing which to ride. I'm happy that I'm lucky enough to have both, and I'll certainly ride the hell out of them-just probably the 26er much more:)
*Blogger's note: A couple of days ago Conrad Stoltz KILLED Maui on a Specialized 29er! Maybe they're not all that bad after all:)
*Oh, and sorry I didn't post pics with this post, my camera sucks and I'm too broke to buy a new one right now.

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