The demo day had loads of bikes from several different manufacturers and although it looks empty that was due to everyone out riding. You register and leave driving licence and credit card in exchange for id card which is your voucher for a bike trial.
I wanted to look at hardtail 29er options and I had tried Chris Noble’s race bikes but these are set up for maximum speed rather than Stanmer trails so I wanted to check head angles. I spoke to Dan White of Cube who grabbed a book and looked up numbers that basically said hardtail = race but he vouched for the quality of the Cube bikes and chatted amiably for a few minutes of bikes and racing.
The Scott stand was next with bikes hanging from the saddles so we took a 29er and a 650B. The bigger wheels do seem to need a little push to leave the start gate but they seem to ignore little bumps compared to my own 26 stable. The mid size is a popular compromise with the fun of the small wheel combined with the stability and rollability of the bigger rig. They both climbed easily and I could not detect any sideways flex in either frame under load.
A short section of singletrack was ideal to test it at medium pace, or it would have been, if I could remember how to ride a hardtail. Stiff forks and a super stiff frame meant I was riding the tops of everything and missing anything that may offer a little grip. Chattering teeth and wrestling the handlebar in my novel one handed manner made this an error strewn descent and my line choice was decided by the bike. It would be stable at high speed and reward a forcible rider but not an ideal trundle machine. Finishing kit was excellent with XT brakes coping well with my brutal approach and the gears silent and nothing jumping or slipping. Saddle was race spec and super hard so ideal for a younger rider.
Unfortunately this sort of proved to me that to realise the benefits of a carbon hardtail I would have to ride harder and more deliberately than I would wish for at least 50% of the time and the forgiving nature of a full suss when things go wrong would be missed. Although no scales were available the claimed weight was 23 pounds however the large sized frame seemed heavier and the flat pedals would add something. It seemed more like 25 pounds compared to some of the race ready lightweight kit that some riders bring out in the summer so if I was building a race bike it would need to diet. Chris Noble’s numbers are on his website from the main page link and are probably a more realistic target if you want to be competitive with the fast boys.
Back at the base I dropped the fork pressure to try a softer set up to reduce the ricochet tracking and this may be key for the larger rider so overall good bike but a race bike feel for me.
Tried Cannondale next and as they had a Scalpel with a Lefty asked for a Lefty explanation. Engineering argument was good and I have always liked the idea of them but reputation of the past put some riders off a little. Tried two bikes again but both with a back boing. Scalpel climbed fine and seemed more rigid sideways than my own Ibis Mojo but that may be just because my bike needs new bearings again. Riding downward the top of the fork is super rigid and steers right on the button but I seemed to feel the lower leg flexed sideways under load or the wheel flexed or they both did. Anyways I felt I was pushing it a little too much and making it a little ‘sticky’ through the travel at times. When I backed off it felt smoother but I was pushing a lot of weight rearwards over the roots. I changed to a conventional Fox bike and it seemed smoother and faster with more confidence inspiring line behaviour. I still like the Lefty idea but not convinced yet but maybe it just needs a longer trial to convince me of the benefits. The bikes were both good and seemed a higher standard than older bikes with no flex or quirks that were off-putting. I got the impression that Cannondale had re-positioned themselves as a boutique brand almost with the finish and kit choice whereas I have the historical impression of them as a Spesh competitior.
I tried the Charge last and just for fun. For Ashley really as he is the only fat tyre regular rider amongst us and is still in recovery mode. This is a completely different bike to his Jones but big tyres on rigid ends do offer an alternative ride. Extra weight forces a push to start but low pressures allow small bumps to be dismissed and the steering is responsive and suprisingly quick and fine for singletrack. Two fat tyres offer even grip front and rear and this feels less skittish than just one on front. I could hop a log but it needed good technique and some muscle to lift the heavy tyres skyward but I think it would fly flat jumps. Might try and find a video of doubles or gap jumps A la Rob to see how you manage it. If I lived in snowy Colorado this would be a great winter bike set up as an easy geared ss however in our global-warmed muddy woods it would be hard work for me.
So overall demo days are really,really worth a visit especially if they have loads of bikes. Hargroves cycles gathered a good group on the day. A particular brand is less important than I thought as it made me consider other factors to determine key things for my riding and so I would like to demo a 29er full suss for a couple of rides on local trails to see if I clout the trees before I make a choice. I would consider a hardtail but as third bike for bridleways and Tuesdays perhaps.
Final note to Alex who actually took part in the race and did really well and Jimbo who must have been the fastest old bloke on the day surely. Well done to both of you although Jimbo’s wife Tania graced the podium so wins the household honours.