Updated: May 25, 2020
As 2019 heads towards conclusion I've started reflecting on some of the more interesting aspects of this year. One of those was the opportunity to ride and coach on a variety of mountain bikes throughout the year, thanks to Just Ride Nerang who's support throughout the year I'm incredibly appreciative of. And that is why many of you will have seen me on a particular bike on one weekend, and then on something completely different on another weekend.
In any case, I thought it would be interesting and fun to reflect on what it was like to ride on so many different bikes throughout the year. So I'm going to start with the bike I was the most surprised by and enjoyed my time on the most, even though it was relatively short - The Specialized Epic Evo.
My bike tastes tend to stick with the aggressive trail / enduro MTB category - mostly because I have a tendency to break things (that's a whole other story). XC bikes tend to be built a bit lighter with obviously less travel which for me translates to "more opportunity to break stuff".
I never felt that way on the Epic Evo though. I immediately felt at home on it and did almost exactly what I would do on any aggressive trail bike without any need to hold back, even with it's 120/100mm suspension.
And boy could this thing pedal. Maybe it was the carbon wheels, perhaps it was the Specialized Brain or it was just different to what I was used to riding. The Epic simply made up for my shortcomings (my inability and dislike of pedaling) without having to hold back in any area of my riding.
Changes? I might be inclined to put a shorter stem and more aggressive tyres on it. That would be about it.
The Specialized Stumpjumper ST (ST standing for short travel) is the bike I spent most of my time coaching on this year. With it's 130/120mm suspension setup it falls into that category of a trail bike capable of handling many types of riding. I was on the 29er most of the time - actually I'm not even sure if I spent any time on the 27.5. It didn't sacrifice any maneuverability to the larger wheels (although admittedly wheel size doesn't bother me as I'm equally at home on a 26er).
Well balanced I found the Stumpy ST easy enough to coach and demonstrate a variety of techniques on, even when I hadn't set it up properly because I was running late to a class. It tackled manuals, wheelies, nose wheel pivots, drops and jumps without any issue or complaint. And it also found a home with a number of students after they demoed while learning some new skills on a course.
There were a few times through the year where I found myself on the Stumpjumper LT - the long travel version of the Stumpjumper designed for aggressive trail (or all mountain) riding. I rode both the 27.5 and 29 versions, which sport different travel for the different wheel sizes and I did notice a little difference in the nimbleness between the two, but not a whole lot.
As a rider that prefers less suspension rather than more, the Stumpy LT felt like a big bike to me, designed to take on super rough stuff. It was like a magic carpet to me compared to other bikes that I had ridden and really begged to be pointed downhill. I personally had a little bit of a challenge getting set up right so I felt balanced, but that just came down to the stack height of the handlebars which for my style of riding, needed to be a bit lower than how I normally received it set up. An eminently capable bike, I also know a few students that ended up on the Stumpy LT during the year as their new ride.
If there was another mountain bike I fell in love with through the year it was the Specialized Turbo Levo. To be honest, I only spent mere moments on this particular weapon but was just amazed at it's ability to put the power on without the jerk and kick I'd found so common on other mountain bikes.
I also found it to be incredibly balanced and easy to handle for technical challenges. Despite having the normal weight penalty of an e-bike, I found that getting the front and rear wheels off the ground, even to do nose wheel pivots was so easy that I felt like I was on a normal bike. If money was no object, I'd probably have one of these in the garage (for Kerry, not for me).
From time to time I would find myself on the Scott Genius, sporting it's 150mm travel, oversized tyres and ability to lockout its suspension. It was a bike that I felt immediately at home on and found that it absolutely ate up the lumps and bumps on the trails. It also seemed incredibly efficient when pedaling, despite having so much travel - and that's without locking out the suspension.
For me the Genius was a very balanced bike, my weight feeling very centered between the front and rear wheels. But I didn't find it super agile and never managed to really get comfortable with it in the air for some reason. I'm not quite sure what it was and no doubt with enough time I would have figured it out but I was just much happier with this bike when its wheels were on the ground eating up rough terrain.
Lately people have seen me riding around on this blue Norco Sight and have been asking if I have a new bike - which is funny because this is actually the bike that I have owned for two years now. I've been on it recently mostly because of time constraints with my new job - it's just been easier to pull it out of the garage and throw it on the car. And all things being equal, this all-mountain bike set up as a 150/135mm travel bike is the one I feel most at home on, primarily because it's been set up to how I want to ride it.
This particular Sight is the 2018 model - it's been superceded by an even more aggressive version for 2020 which for me isn't something that I'd particularly want. This version of the Sight is a great blend of versatility and capability which allows me to pretty much everything I want to do on a bike.
It's not stock anymore - a necessary upgrade in brakes after the original ones almost caught on fire once (well, they were at least smoking heavily), an upgraded shock to better match the front end, a stronger (ie downhill) rim that replaced the original that the spokes almost cracked from almost being pulled through, an upgraded hub after the pawls in the original hub shattered and a downgrade to an 11 speed drive train after 5 x 12 speed derailleurs met they're demise were all pretty necessary.
But despite these minor quibbles, the Sight is an awesome bike. Is it significantly better than my first dual suspension mountain bike? I think I'm faster on the Sight. But from a fun factor perspective, I enjoyed riding the Rocky Mountain just as much. And for me, that's what it's all about - being able to have fun on a mountain bike, which comes from having confidence in what you're riding.
If there's the one thing I've learnt throughout the year with riding so many different bikes, it's that there's no such thing as a bad mountain bike now - they're all pretty damn good. But there are mountain bikes that you'll find that you just like better, ones that will immediately boost your confidence. And it's not always what you'd necessarily expect - so it's worthwhile taking the time and effort to find the right one.