Thursday, November 22, 2007

Full suspension 101

We had some awesome fun last weekend at the Wild Wellington 12/6 hour MTB race set in the Mt Vic Hills near Haitaitai.
We were racing in the "Legends class" . Thats over 40 years old each.
The Jville Cycles Legends team had 2 past national masters champs in the team, the current champ, and an Adventure Racing specalist in the form of Jerome Sheppard . Jerome is more famous by being related to his daughter Samara, who just happens to be Jville Cycle's most competitiive rider, and the NZ and Oceania XC champ in the womens under 19 class. This was a legit team of Jville riders. Actually, we may have been the first team of non ring-ins truth be known.

You would think we would have had a competitive chance, but its been a long time since Francis and myself have graced the podium at the national level, and there was a new batch of legends dealing to us in the form of Ian Paintin and his hand picked team.
After a while we decided that we were outclassed so the effort went into:
1. Having more fun - and
2. Doing some testing on the array of bikes that Francis from Jville Cycles had for us to try out. Its just so happened that we had pretty similar in-seam measurements, and we were all running Time pedals, except for Jerome.

I have to admit to being a bit of a hardtail person, and largely of the belief that full suspension, disc brakes and tubeless tyres are the efforts of bored marketing execs, and American MountainBike magazines trying to force new product on us.

The course was about 17 mins climbing and 3 mins descending for most of us, so on paper you would think it was a hands down hardtail course.
The uphill was nearly all smooth middle gear climbing though, so if you had a smooth spin, or a lock out on your rear shock, there was no bobbing happening anyway.

The first bike I tried, (other than my old 93 Litespeed hard-tail) was Francis's Jamis XCR full-susser. This is what he uses when he is in "race mode" and is also what our team-mate Trevor Woodward used to win the Master-2 national series, and one-off Champs this year. Trev had opted not to bring his one in, but had brought his Jamis hard tail and his Cannondale Rush Play-bike just for a laugh.

The ride on the Jamis XCR was my first time on a fully, and first time with discs all round. You can take anything I say with a grain of salt, as normally I cant tell the difference between my Mag 21s and my SIDS, but this bike felt pretty sharp. I no longer had to pick a line around the rough stuff, I just took a stab and bombed through it!

It felt a bit heavier on the climbs but then on the descents it was way less sketchy than my hard tail which was shod with the Michelin Jets, and the discs pulled me up in a real hurry. The modualtion on these discs (XTR I think? ) was pretty sweet to a v-brake user like myself.

I shot into the pits and recorded a time substanially faster than my hardtail's best time. This was a big surprise to me. I swung my leg over Francis's other bike, the 08 Commencal Meta and shot out for my next lap. The first tiny descent into the single track had me experiencing some serious over-braking. These brakes were powerful. Overkill in this situation for sure, but ideal in this bike's intended environment which is bombing the big stuff. This was a seriously fun machine. Even climbing felt very relaxed, and it always felt like I was running a gear lower than any of the other bikes. It may have been the more relaxed set-back position, I dont know, but it was by far the "funnest" bike. It had a 120mm fork on the front with 100mm at the rear end. My second lap was substantially slower on the Commencal, but thats probably mostly a lack of fitness. 2 laps was a long way with my current form. Francis pointed out that the way he had the Commnecal meta set up was not standard for such a play bike, but it seemed to be well balanced for what we were doing with it on the day.

Trev convinced me to give his alloy Cannondale Rush a thrash, so after I lowered the seat 12 inches I was away.This machine felt a bit ponderous to start with but the standout feature was the Lefty fork. It was so solid and really seemed to hold its line amazingly well. It seemed to be fast without feeling fast. I hated the crazy shifters that you change with the backs of your fingers, but Trev had bar-ends fitted so this made it easier to change up to an easier gear. The bar ends felt great actually, and it made me wish I still had them on my hard tail.

Something that Ricky Pincott said was worth noting. The Cannondale Lefty is very cheap to rebuild, unlike some other shocks which seem to be pretty expendable. So if you are not the kind of person that changes their bike every two years, then a lefty equipped bike might be a good investment.

When I got back onto my hard tail I suddenly wondered what had happend to my brakes. They were very average. The old hope disc front I had fitted seemed about as good as a poor v-brake.

As we got the track dialed in we found our favourite steeds. I eventually went back to my hard tail, Trev just got faster and faster on the Rush to get our fastest time by a long way, and Jerome just lapped it up with the Commencal. Francis stuck with the Jamis XCR , and the Salsa Juan Solo missed out on a ride from our crew, although I think one of the other teams may have given it a thrash? All in all a great days riding on a physically demanding but not technically challenging course. Very well oganised too.