I took it out Tuesday afternoon for a 40-mile ride on mainly woodchip neighborhood trails and some regional gravel rail-trails. I also rode it last night on the 20-mile dirty training ride I do every Wednesday. I haven't yet to put it on any prolonged stretch of singletrack, so I'm not prepared to make any serious statements about the switch from a carbon/aluminum full-suspension 26er to a titanium softail 29er, but here's a couple of the thoughts I've had while riding the bike so far.
- For starters, there was no moment in which the clouds parted, sunlight shone through, birds chirped, and I realized that I was riding God's personal steed. It's a bike. While very different from my Giant NRS, it's still a bike. It works fundamentally the same. I pedal, the wheel's turn. I may have expected some big hallelujah moment because of the cost, but it didn't happen. It's still just a bike.
- Switching from Shimano XT components to a Sram Xo drivetrain is wonderful. The grip-shifters are taking me a while to get used to again, but the bike is shifting so much better than my Giant ever did, I can't begin to say how happy I am with the drivetrain choice.
- Still working on the positioning of the new Ergon grips. Something about them just doesn't feel right to my hands yet. Gotta adjust their position again before today's ride and see how it feels.
Now for the good stuff... some quick impressions from the first 60 miles.
- I've already noticed several times that the larger wheels hold the line straight through soft slippery corners much better, despite my 26-inch instincts telling me to expect the bike to get a little squirrely. Little by little I was getting my confidence in the bike up to where I would not touch the brakes and just trust the larger contact-patch to keep my upright and so far so good. There were some slippery high-speed turns in the twisty-curvy Redmond Watershed trails that the bike just railed through from one apex to the next last night. Very cool.
- There's no doubt the 29er takes a bit more energy to accelerate with from a standstill, and I have found that I'm a bit more sluggish out of the gate and throughout the first couple miles, but that said, once I've warmed up and am going, it seems as easy if not even easier to keep the momentum of the bike going. Even when acceleration is involved, I didn't feel a noticeable difference in speed or effort in terms of making the occasional short burst, so long as I was already in motion.
- I was expecting to have to dramatically adjust my gear selection for specific hills and I hadn't. Maybe I was just pumped up about being on the new bike I don't know (I haven't looked at my HR track yet) but at the most I was only shifting down one extra cog than normal during the climbs yesterday.
- Speaking of climbing, here's the bike's bread and butter: traction while climbing. Granted, I hadn't hit any technical singletrack climbs with it yet, but I made a point of picking the rockiest, ruttiest line I could last night during the climb up "Horse Pasture Hill" and despite running the tires at 41psi, they stuck to the ground like glue and I went right up the hill as easy as if I chose the smoothest line. Impressive.
Aside: I like running high pressure in my tires so please don't email me (or, worse, leave voice messages with my wife) telling me to run in the low 30's. Or how wonderful Stan's are... I'm sure you think they are, just as I think running tubes at 38-40psi is wonderful -- and no I don't get flats either. It's called personal preference. It's all good.
- It was brought to my attention last night that the 1 inch YBB "suspension" tends to bob quite a bit while I'm riding. "More than your NRS does" I was told. I have to make sure the right spring was used for my weight, but I believe this is a function of design. It's not a sophisticated rear shock with air. It's an elastomer and a spring. I could be wrong, but it either compresses under my weight all the time or it never will and therefore be of no use to me. It's not meant to only compress on "big hits", but rather to offer a more comfortable, pliable ride quality. No, it's not ideal if it's compressing while I'm riding pavement, but honestly I barely even noticed it.
- Titanium. I haven't ridden a long enough or harsh enough route yet to truly feel any difference in terms of ride quality other than to say that my back doesn't hurt me on this bike at all and that I notice less of the small tiny vibrations and bumps, but more of the larger bumps. That's pretty much what I expected going from a full-suspension to the Ti softail. That said, Kevin was telling me last night that from a ride he's done on a Ti rigid fork once, he promises me that after a very long all-day ride, that my body will not be beaten up as much on a Ti frame as it would feel on an aluminum or even carbon frame. I hope he's right. I'm going 50 today and 50-70 more on Saturday with this new bike so maybe I'll be able to sense something significant over the course of those rides as they have more singletrack than what I've ridden so far.
- Lastly, let's talk weight. The bike weighs 26.9 pounds (average of two different scales), despite a frame that only weighs 4.25 pounds and it being done up with some of the lightest drivetrain components and posts/bars you can buy. I could have saved weight going to mechanical disc brakes instead of hydraulic, and there are probably lighter wheels out there that I could have bought, as well as lighter pedals, and a lighter seat. I don't care. Weight weenies out there will try to pawn off lightweight accessories onto me under the misguided impression that it will make a noticeable difference. It won't... without risk.
The bike is still nearly 2 pounds less than my Giant and I want a bike that is light enough to not be a burden to hike and climb with, but durable enough to not break -- hence the wheel/tire choice. I'd rather lose a pound from my gut than worry about buying 100 grams of weight savings on the bike. Also, one thing the weight weenies forget is that those sub-25 pound bikes are all fine and good for 1) short course racing, or 2) people who weigh 150 pounds. But for guys like me who are 6'1" and 175 to 185 pounds (or more) and who plan on riding 6-8 hours a day for a week straight... buying the lightweight foo-foo accessories doesn't make any sense.