12 Mar 2011
Heart be Still, I am Weak in the Knees
Ok, it’s time… this post has been marinating for a while now. The lack of new posts to this blog is mostly due to my waffling between writing a very technical wrap-up and an all out gusher of my newest ride. I just wasn’t sure where I wanted to go with it but it’s time to get it out. Plus, my riding partners have to be sick of listening to me freak out over the bike every time we hit the trail. So, here it goes… let the technical gushing commence.
Yesterday, I was up in Bellingham with the chance to grab an hour of trail at Galbraith and once again was reminded how incredible my bike is. From the first moment I snapped into the pedals a few weeks ago, I was in love with this bike in every way and every time I ride it, I fall deeper in love. Call me a sucker but this bike has me wrapped around it’s little finger.
From a previous post, here are the specs:
Full 10 speed Shimano Dyna•Sys XTR on an Intense Tracer with Shimano M980 10×2 cranks (38×26), XTR trail brakes, XTR rotors, M988 XTR trail wheels, M985 XTR trail pedals, M980 RD & FD, PRO Atherton hb & stem, PRO XCR grips, PRO W’s Condor saddle, Crankbrothers Joplin sp, Fox Talus RLC with FIT damper and Float RP23 shock, Schwalbe 2.4 Rocket Ron tires.
I’m sure I’ve said it before but can you say, “Oh my goodness!”? Yes, on paper it looks like a very nice bike but actually riding it is another story entirely. The ride is, well, perfect.
For a 6 inch bike, she rides like a full on XC rig going up. Easy and light, technical climbing is a breeze. In fact, normally the main climb up Galbraith kills me. It’s sustained with tight switchbacks, sections of wet slippery glazed roots and steep little jaunts that usually make me want to throw up after going deep into oxygen deprivation. That climb is really no way to start a ride, but as Malkmus say’s, you have to pay your dues before you pay the rent. So it goes with mountain biking.
On the Tracer it was, by my best approximation, easy. I got to the top of the hill and wondered aloud to myself, “How is it we’re at the top already?” Can a bike do that for you? I’m certainly not in peak condition after having spent most of the winter healing up from a crash that literally left me unable to hang onto a handlebar so there is no good physical reason on my part I should be feeling this good on the bike.
Honestly, I should be suffering big time. My legs should be yelling at me to stop. My lungs should be popping out of my chest. I should be totally cross-eyed and seeing stars from breathing through my eyeballs and my head should feel like it’s about to explode. None of this is happening. With each ride I continue to be in total awe of my little nugget of perfect bike. It’s like the universe aligned all the stars on this bike and said, “Let’s make it the best thing ever,” and then proceeded to make the best thing ever. See, now I’m gushing…
I want to attribute the magic to the 10th cog. It’s the perfect jump shifting both up and down. It feels just right and it’s there when you need it the most. I still haven’t had to drop into the small chainring as the 38 is simply right for everything in our neck of the woods. When you think you just can’t take the climb anymore, you have one more cog to go to and when you do it’s like the heavens open up, the birds start singing, the day gets a little brighter and your legs thank you for the good fortune that is the 10th cog. Brilliant.
But it’s so much more than the 10th cog. It’s no secret I love wheels and in my opinion, wheels are the most overlooked and underrated piece of gear in general. Wheels have the ability to change lives. You can take an otherwise very nice bike, throw some crappy wheels on it and effectively turn it into a very unenjoyable experience. Kind of sad so many bikes come with shitty wheels. Conversely, the same is true with great wheels. Take a so-so bike, swap the crappy wheels with good one’s and that so-so bike becomes a bike worth riding. My point is, wheels should not be discounted. After all, wheels are your connection to the ground.
Now, I happen to know that the guy who designs the wheels for Shimano is an ex-pro road racer and designs wheels with ride quality in mind – ride quality being the way the ride feels. I love that philosophy of design. The XTR trail wheel (23mm rim) is not the lightest thing ever but rides like it is. There is a supple finesse to this wheel which make those 2.4′s feel like 1.9′s. Who wouldn’t want that? Coupled with all that finesse is the bomb-proof nature of Shimano wheels. Hard hits, smacking stuff straight on and generally riding with total reckless abandonment is not something I would choose to do with just any wheel. That’s a recipe for eventual disaster but these wheels will take it all and still deliver a ride with grace and elegance fit for a king, (or a queen in this case).
Shoot. I’m gushing again. As if enjoying the climbing weren’t shocking enough, coming down the mountain is ridiculous. Ridiculous fun, that is. The Tracer dances. I continue to find myself pedaling through sections I’d normally coast through. The first time this happened, I chalked it up to being a good day on the bike but the more time I spend on this bike, the more I find I’m pedaling through sections of trail I really have no business pedaling through. I don’t know if I’ve ever consistently gone this fast on a bike beacuse I’m a ‘braker’. I like to fly into stuff at full-speed, jam the brakes and shoot out the other side. Not the best method for maintaining speed through turns but I like the way it feels. Human sling-shot style, yo.
Now with these completely redesigned brakes, control is the name of the game. The tiny little brake lever fits perfectly into my index finger and the response is so quick and sure, I truly only use the one finger for braking. I’ve never really gotten to experience the joy of one-finger braking because my hands are small and I could never get a good grip on the old levers with just one finger. Two-finger braking is now officially part of my past and I’m not looking back, ever.
As if the lever by itself weren’t perfect enough, it feels like most of the time I only have to think about braking and suddenly I’ve managed to scrub enough speed to make it through everything at mach speeds. Hence the pedaling instead of coasting scenario. These brakes inspire confidence with their super powerful, super light touch and exerting less energy to keep the bike under control is a good thing.
1100 words into this and I could go on and on about each individual component but it occurs to me it’s all of it together. It’s the total sum of the parts that makes this bike a dream come true. Pedals that don’t clog with mud, smooth, quiet and quick shifting, Kashima coating, spectacular suspension and suspension design, wide cockpit, super stiff head tube… it does goes on and on. Like a great meal leaving you with a very satisfied happy feeling knowing you’ve just experienced something special, this bike satiates on a level deep inside. I had a sneaking suspicion it was going to be good but I had no idea how good it was going to be.