Buying a new mountain bike is a gut-wrenching experience. Aside from the first hurdle which is overcoming the natural reluctance to part with the large sums of money that today's high-end bikes cost, there is the difficult task of weeding through the innumerable volume of choices that exist. It used to be whether to go full-suspension or a hardtail. But now you have 29er versions thrown into the mix too. Not to mention the fact that there are dozens of bike manufacturers, each with their legion of supporters and detractors. The longer you look online for product reviews and analyses, the more you realize that you can find an opinion that agrees or contradicts with whatever you're gut is telling you. The more time you spend online looking for an answer, the more confused you become and the more questions you have. And in the strange world of high-end bike shopping, a preride is out of the question. Nobody actually stocks these handbuilt beauties. You buy sight unseen.
This was my problem. I've spent weeks debating whether to go for a 29er or 26er. I decided to give the 29er a try, but then came the thought of going back to a hardtail and throwing on a suspension seat post to soften the ride. Just when I thought I concluded that doing TransRockies on a hardtail would be suicide, I started reconsidering that conclusion just a day or two later. Finally, today, I had the good sense to ask a longtime hardtail fan for his opinion -- my brother. He had always ridden a hardtail and had teamed up with friends for a couple 24hr races in the past and he was very quick to say what most people were telling me: the weight savings and gains in efficiency are going to be negated by the toll riding a hardtail takes on your body over that length of time. Finally, a hardtail fan saying to definitely go full-suspension. This was what I needed to hear.
Now the question was to go with the standard 26 inch wheels or opt for something new in the 29er. The guys at Richard's Bikes (www.rbikes.com) came highly recommended for their superior customer service and knowledge, so I gave them a call. They run a website that has a very "big-store" feel to it, but they are really just your standard local bike shop. Only they're locale is Illinois.
I expressed my dilemma to their resident Ellsworth expert Mike and explained to him that I'm looking to build a purpose-built endurance racing bike. That I have another bike that I intend to beat on in foul weather and on overly rough technical trails, but that I wanted a sub-27 pound cross country full-suspension bike. I told him I was interested in the benefits of a 29er, but that I was concerned with the extra weight of the wheels and whether or not I would be hating it during the multi-hour long climbs at TransRockies. He assured me that I wasn't alone in asking those questions and that once you get the bike rolling you don't notice the extra energy it takes to accelerate the wheels. Not to mention, there are plenty of lightweight options for custom wheels.
I called his store uncertain as to whether or not I was going to go with the Evolve or the Truth (Ellsworth's 26" bike). Or maybe even opt for the Santa Cruz Blur, a bike I've lusted after for a while. Both the Evolve and the Truth are cross-country bikes with 4" of travel front/rear, both come in the awesome red-velvet paint job I wanted and they cost the same too. I started thinking to how much fun it is to ride those big hoops on my cyclocross bike off-road and decided for the Evolve.
The Evolve is a new bike. It actually doesn't hit retail for a few more weeks, but Richard's Bikes have already taken a number of pre-orders and I wanted in on the waiting list. And now I am. I ordered the frame with the 2007 Fox RP23 shock, a black Chris King Headset, and the RockShox Reba Race 29er 100mm fork with the PopLock feature. Mike too my color preferences for the headset, discussed sizing, my riding weight (including gear), and was even going to double-check on any color options there may be for the fork.
I've been agonizing over this decision for several weeks now, and I finally feel as if a huge weight has been lifted off my chest. I have a $500 refundable deposit down on a Large Red-Velvet Ellsworth Evolve and, with any luck, I'll have the frame by mid-January.