On One 456 carbon

First impression after getting the frame out of the box was how light it was; compared with the steel 456 it replaced it’s incredible. Lacquer finish etc was ‘ok’ but for the price you can’t complain. I bought 2 sets of bolt on dropouts – one for gears and one for singlespeed – I’ve used some thread lock on the bolts attaching these and had no problems. The various inserts seem to be aligned well – I quite like the idea of the BB being inside a threaded aluminium sleeve – any water that does find it’s way into the frame isn’t able to get to the BB bearings.

Originally I had planned to be running it with gears but, following a frame failure and a complex parts swap across three bikes it turned out to be a singlespeed in the end. I built it with some 130mm Pace RC41’s but have subsequently fitted some 140mm Marzocchi 44 Micro Ti forks with a QR15 axle. Other parts are Easton low rise carbon bars, 90mm stem and carbon seatpost, Magura Louise brakes, XTR cranks, Salsa cog/ring and Hope Pro2/DtSwiss wheelset. Complete with the 44’s it weighs about 22lbs.I rode it for about 3 months with the Pace forks and was never entirely happy with it – the front end just didn’t seem to allow me to ride the woods at Stanmer the way that the back end seem to be indicating it could. After the fork change the whole bike seemed to come together – the solid front end now tracks really well, deals with roots and obstacles cleanly and the back end (helped no doubt by weighing next to nothing) obediently follows wherever it’s led. I do sometimes miss the ability to lock down (rather than out) the forks but even with a 140mm forks I don’t seem to suffer from wandering climbs – probably as much a result of the bikes geometry as the fact I’ll be stood up pulling faces on anything with a significant gradient due to the lack of gear choices. I know this is a frame review but these Marzocchi forks are great – I’m so impressed I’ve got a set at 120mm on my steel Kinesis Decade Versa.

As well as pinging off and over logs and roots around Stanmer I’ve taken the bike out on a 31 mile Wiggle organised ride on the North Downs (route here – http://connect.garmin.com/activity/83177769) and whilst this was by no means a technical ride it did show me that the bike is far more comfortable over a reasonable distance at good pace than the steel bike it replaced. It’s a solid feeling bike (more so than the steel in some respects) but it has an ability to not transmit ‘chatter’ off the trail that leads to a much more relaxed ride feel.

So, is it worth a couple of hundred quid more than the steel 456? At the moment I’d say yes – it seems to flatter my somewhat mincing approach to obstacles more but at the same time not leave my lower back asking for a rest after 15 miles. This is my first carbon frame and whilst I’ve no reason to doubt its’ longevity there is always a slight worry about crash damage and overall lifespan. I’ve heli-taped the whole down tube and various other places where cables may rub. A good chain stay protector is a must – the stays are so deep I get chain slap occasionally, even running singlespeed with a well tensioned chain.

Things that bother me about this frame – mainly transmitted noise – the slightest squeak from a component (and I’ve not got that many running it SS) seems to be amplified through the frame to the point that you think it’s about to fail – a ‘failing BB’ turned out to be a chain that needed a bit of lube after one very wet ride. It can sound like a Tupperware box full of marbles being shaken on fast descents with loose stones on them as various bits of high speed geology hit the frame. I had some problems getting a disk calliper to fit – they run inside the rear triangle and with the slidey dropouts there was no room for a Magura Marta calliper. On-one do a different non-drive side dropout for geared use that runs the calliper above the seat stay but this won’t work with a SS setup. The only other issue I’ve had is with the On-One headset I use to run a 1 & 1/8th steerer in a tapered frame – it’s been difficult to get it to run consistently tight enough without being ‘too tight’ – the bottom bearing also needs cleaning out and re-greasing far more frequently than I’d expect on a £40 headset.

So, overall as an upgrade from a steel 456 what have I gained? Well, I’ve not lost the geometry and dimensions that made the steel frame into such a nice ride, which was critical for me. I’ve now got a lighter frame that seems to do everything the steel bike did but it does it all with just a bit more panache.

Oh, and it’s not pink.

Luke

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Review: Trek Fuel EX9

Nick's Trek Fuel EX9

One of the brightonmtb crew has been nagging me for months to write a review of my Trek Fuel. When that person is obviously incredibly technically-minded, whereas I can only change my pads and mend a puncture but little else, that is quite a daunting task. However, a promise is a promise so I will do my best.

The Trek is my first full suss, after happily riding a Rockhopper for 3 years. I loved the Rockhopper (and still do), as it was my first ‘proper’ mountain bike and introduced me to the joys of off road riding. I explored miles and miles of bridleway on and off the South Downs Way on the Rockhopper every weekend as soon as the sun rose on a Saturday morning. However, it wasn’t till I went to the Brecon Beacons and rode up and down the Gap that I realised that hardtails and slabs of granite are not the best combination!

I started the inevitable months of research for a full suss so I could revisit South Wales, and narrowed my choices down to a Scott Scale, Stumpjumper, Giant Trance or the Fuel. On the way to Whiteways is Southdowns Bikes in Storrington, owned by the very helpful and friendly Martin. At the time they stocked 3 of my options so I was able to test all three easily and cost effectively. While I was drawn to the Stumpie, the Fuel just felt right as soon as I started to ride it and the white and black finish of EX9 08 version looked brilliant.

So how have the first 18 months been? It took a while to get used to the Fuel and I tended to alternate between the two bikes each weekend. However, a trip to Cwn Carn really showed the benefits of the Fuel. While it is not the lightest bike(at 28 plus lbs), it stills climbs well but it was the bike’s descending capabilities that really made the difference giving me far more confidence as it soaked up nearly everything thrown at it. This is where I believe the ABP system, which places the pivot on the rear axle to remove brake influence on suspension movement plus the Full Floater, where the rear shock is placed on the extended chainstays, moving down as the rocker compresses the unit from the top, really come into their own smoothing out the trails.

The bike is well specced with 130mm travel up front (Fox Talas) and 120mm at the rear (Fox Float RP2), Juicy 7 brakes and a Shimano Deore/Sram combi drivetrain. I have made very few changes to the bike, apart from replacing the uncomfortable Bontrager saddle a with a Fizik Gobi (a popular saddle amongst the brightonmtb group). Despite the tubeless ready Bontrager Race Lite wheels I have still not converted to tubeless preferring to replace the Bontrager tyres with Panaracers (Trailrakers, Cinders and Razers depending on the conditions) as I have found these to be the best for puncture resistannce.

So would I recommend the Trek Fuel?

I love it and I would highly recommend that any first time buyer of a full suss who wants to build their confidence, tackle more challenging terrain but still enjoy a mixture of xc plus singletrack riding should really consider this an option.

As What Mountain Bike said in a recent review ‘What really elevates it above some strong competition is its ability to flatter pretty much everyone’s riding style’. It certainly flatters mine.

 

A year in the life of a Blur LT

Easter 2007 I bought a Santa Cruz Blur LT frame. The first thing I noticed when lifting the frame out of the box was that all the tubes were large diameter and very chunky in the hand, the frame itself was almost the same weight as that of my Nomad; this was a surprise. The Blur was built with a mix of SRAM X9 and Shimano XT drive-train, Mavic 717 rims, layback seat post, Formula ORO K24 brakes, my usual high-n-wide bars, slime tubes and Michelin all mountain extreme tyres. Initially it was fitted with a Fox 32 Vanilla 130 mm travel fork although this was soon changed to a Pace 40 fighter with 150mm travel. Continue reading

Bikes for Boys

cbike1.jpgLittle boys that is. And it is an area fraught with difficulty if you do not want to be a Disappointing Dad. The test for this is a small boy’s silence or even worse a half smile.You could walk into a supermarket, a discount chain or even order from a newspaper advert and buy an astonishingly cheap bike and although it may cope with the occasional bridleway, it may struggle with regular trail duties. Your local bike shop may carry one of the major players who make a kid’s version of your own steed.That may be an easy solution but only if it is going to be used and not end up joining other investment items which you store unused in your garage.

Some web sites offer frames or bikes with useful information on sizing and weight. These can be a good point of comparison.

However we all have a shed or garage with lots of unused kit which would be ideal for someone else because you really needed Steve Peat’s grips and Cedric Garcia’s bars and your old ones are on the shelf and if not you really need some new wheels anyway so that would not count on the costs of course.

After a little research, I settled on a hardtail with a maximum target weight of 25 lbs. The frame was a real problem as advertised sale items were plentiful but finding actual stock proved difficult.

Merlin had an older model which seemed ideal but the cost was a large chunk of a whole bike from a chainstore but I felt that the quality would be better and the weight a little less so that help justify it.

I was so pleased at the silver frame when it arrived I choose forks specifically to match and although I had intended to use as much of my shed stock as possible that changed to only shiny silver bits. I did reuse some wheels and some v-brakes but bought new handlebars, stem, seat post, clamp and saddle to match the frame.

I had expected to buy much of this from whatever internet retailer was offering a discount but Halfords provided some bits cheaper and most importantly in silver.

All the bits laid out brought a smile to the face of an eager boy that only fell slightly when I explained that assembling it himself would be good for him.

I felt sorry for his teacher when trying to explain the method of installing the crown race to the fork as he fiddled with just about everything else.

After much ado, and over a couple of days, the build slowly accumulated. The bottom bracket was fitted, the fork, stem, bars, seat post and saddle but it did not look like progress. Tubes and tyres, a cassette and quick releases and the wheels fitted. Now it looked like a bike and if you are twelve then surely it is almost finished now.

Shifters and brake levers, fit the v-brakes, now the brake cables, this is how you adjust them. How much longer Dad!

By the time we had measured cut and fitted the cables the set up of the transmission seemed to be an unnecessary punishment so I crumpled under the pressure and finished all the little bits myself somewhat later.

The finished bike looked great and a satisfied smile and a brief, “thanks Dad”, means that I have passed the test.

For a couple of hundred pounds we have enjoyed a joint task and he has learnt a few new skills. He can join me around the trails of Sussex and I can impress him with my hard won skills built up over years in the mud.

Unfortunately, there is a downside to this.

Like many of you out there, I tackle the steepest climbs with determination, the knurliest roots with courage and even the occasional shallow river crossing with gusto but I cannot jump.

Well I can jump a bit, the odd lip here, a small drop off there but nothing big. Not anything, you find in a BMX park, not even if it is a tabletop.

And there is the rub.

First time out at Whiteways, slippy, treacherous, rooty single track, straight over the top. A drop off with a steep edge, straight down, and even the large bomb hole drop, straight down. Now I have led a few rides round here and usually a few people shy away from this drop or at least need some reassurance to roll over the edge. So all my advantage gained from years of experience evaporated in just one ride.

But this pales into insignificance with jumping. Tricky log – jump that. Tight awkward corner – jump that. Ditch – jump that. Big rock – jump up, jump off. Great big hole that you must avoid – jump that.

cjump.jpg

It gets worse. Standing at the side of the track watching your little baby boy hurtling towards the jump ramp that you have ridden around for years looking at sideways thinking one day, one day. He launches himself a metre into the air, hangs suspended, lands three metres after the spot you were assuming to be the landing area and all as gently and as lightly as a little deer.

I will never be able to do that even if I threw caution to the wind and hurled myself towards potential oblivion with careless abandon risking life, limb and mortgage payments.

And if I did, I would land more hippopotamus.

So if you have to face the choice then do not be the Disappointing Dad who picks the wrong bike instead choose to be the Disappointed Dad that Father Time has cruelly exposed.

After all, we can all live vicariously.

Resurrection

Some of us have an old friend who used to accompany us on all our rides but age has perhaps got the better of them and they do not go out with us anymore.An old photograph might raise a nostalgic smile but we ride with different friends now and only a memory surfaces when we recall a particular incident at a point on the trail. Your friend may ride with someone else or perhaps no longer goes out but hangs forlornly on the garage wall. This was the fate of my old Hardrock ; dismantled and unused but now reborn anew.hardrock1.jpgI started with the purchase of an inexpensive fork but with 130mm rather than the 80mm of the past and although it may invalidate the frame warranty ( long since past ) unless I become addicted to the air ( also unlikely ) it relaxes the head angle and provides something to hide behind. A crankset swap, with the new replacement fitted onto my main bike, and the refitting of some of the original components the skeleton was complete. Some wheel swapping proved irksome as I wanted to fit at least a front disk brake but a Hope insert changed a 20mm thru-axle to a quick release. Hydraulic brakes were expensive so I opted for a cable solution. Unfortunately I could only find a front brake discounted on the internet so the initial build continued with a v-brake on the rear. Old flat pedals, a nice new chain, two borrowed tyres but without something blue.

A shakedown ride was required so a lone pilot from Jill, not Jack, on a dry summer’s evening was the ideal soft test. Not soft though. The 2002 frame has something of a reputation for its ‘direct’ feedback which allows the trail to feed directly to your back and as the short initial climb over the brick proved, age had not dulled this ability. It did feel light and responsive compared to a 34lb Freeride bike and on a dry ridge bridleway acceleration was great. A small amount of stuttering on the rough, a small amount of skipping on the brakes, a small amount of slip on the wet chalk and a large amount of pounding on your body – biking little and large.

A couple of other very short rides has convince me that the advantage of a hardtail’s simplicity is really the weight but my old back needs a cushion . It may be a Thudbuster would fix this so I have not discounted the idea of a 20lb carbon thing that would pedal itself up hills on a warm summer evening but my old friend has been cleaned and fitted with a nice new rear cable brake and is waiting on its new rider to brave the cold.

Hopefully it will have a chance to be ridden regularly again but for me all our rides together are only in the past.