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  1. #1
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    Downhill Capability of Vintage Bikes vs Modern FS bikes: Suspension vs Tires?

    It's interesting what patterns you can see when you have quantitative data through apps like Strava. And, yes. Rider skill matters most in descending speed.

    I've been riding my mid-90s Kona hardtail. I was sure that it would climb decently well, but I've been surprised to see that my downhill times on a not too rocky, not too steep trail that I ride regularly are not too far off of my PRs on a full suspension bike. That's with a late 90's 70mm travel Marzocchi Z-2 Atom Bomb fork.

    Downhill Capability of Vintage Bikes vs Modern FS bikes: Suspension vs Tires?-img_0121.jpg

    One change I made when I rebuilt this bike about two years ago was to put a 3C MaxxTerra DH-F tire on the front (Yes, the picture has Trail Kings which I swapped out for the far better cornering DH-Fs). The difference that DH-F has made in than handling and cornering ability of this bike is just night-and-day better compared to the Panaracer Fire XC Pro tires that were on bike when I last rode it frequently in 2000 and Specialized Team Control/Master tires.

    I also shortened the stem from 110mm to 70mm with a low riser bar which surprisingly works great and improves the fore-aft handling balance.

    I will say that my full suspension bike definitely has a larger tolerance for rider error. I can tell my hardtail Kona might not regain traction as easily if I happen to overstep its limits.

    Thoughts on the impact of full suspension versus upgrading to modern tires?
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  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by Spectre View Post
    Thoughts on the impact of full suspension versus upgrading to modern tires?
    I will say that you can take any older bike, put a short stem, wide bars and sticky rubber and it will transform the bike. Especially anything in the last 10-15 years.
    That said, I did a couple of DH races on a hardtail when I first got serious about riding, and the second race I could barely complete the track, let alone ride at any speed. The following year on a bike with 170mm of travel front and rear was a revelation.

    That said, if something is smooth, you never know. Fast riders are fast, and they'll be fast on just about any bike.

  3. #3
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    In the 40 years since Gary Fisher set the Repack course record on a 40 year old Schwinn, a lot of people have tried to lower it. They have attacked it with modern DH bikes, but the record still stands.

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Repack Rider View Post
    In the 40 years since Gary Fisher set the Repack course record on a 40 year old Schwinn, a lot of people have tried to lower it. They have attacked it with modern DH bikes, but the record still stands.
    Objective proof! Do modern tires have better grip than the ones you guys used back in the 70s?
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  5. #5
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    I guess it depends n the trails, the steepness, and roughness. On my fav local trail, most of my fast times are done on older HT's.Which I swap between my old 80mm forked, v-braked GT Xizang and more so on my 100mm disc braked Zaskar reissue. The really steep, technical, and rough, still my 120mm 650b FS bike.
    It's easier on the FS bike, but most of these trails, not any faster.


    Oh I run Conti racekings on the zaskar and Xking/raceking on FS bike and ritchey zmax on the xizang
    All the gear and no idea.

  6. #6
    DFA
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    Quote Originally Posted by Repack Rider View Post
    In the 40 years since Gary Fisher set the Repack course record on a 40 year old Schwinn, a lot of people have tried to lower it. They have attacked it with modern DH bikes, but the record still stands.
    We're talking about Downhill, not riding down an access road.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by DFA View Post
    We're talking about Downhill, not riding down an access road.
    It's not the course, it's the competition.

    Are you suggesting that the Mammoth Kamikaze isn't "Downhill?"

  8. #8
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    I rode down Repack a few weeks back.
    Maybe the trail, contours, ruts, etc. have changed over the years- But I think you would be hard pressed to best the times of old.
    What was best time? 4:22?

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by mik_git View Post
    I guess it depends n the trails, the steepness, and roughness. On my fav local trail, most of my fast times are done on older HT's.Which I swap between my old 80mm forked, v-braked GT Xizang and more so on my 100mm disc braked Zaskar reissue. The really steep, technical, and rough, still my 120mm 650b FS bike.
    It's easier on the FS bike, but most of these trails, not any faster.


    Oh I run Conti racekings on the zaskar and Xking/raceking on FS bike and ritchey zmax on the xizang
    Definitely. This trail is only about a 11-12% grade on the climbs/descents and isn't completely smooth (but isn't rock strewn either). It confirms my guess that tire traction is the main limiting factor to descending faster on this trail. Switching from Trail Kings to tires with better cornering traction was a major revelation for me in finding more speed on this trail.
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  10. #10
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    At Keyesville some years ago, someone, possibly a poster here, had one of the fastest DH runs of the day on a klunker. Someone will be along to correct the facts.
    Ripping trails and tipping ales

  11. #11
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    Purely anecdote and based upon a very limited personal experience over the last few weeks:
    I can cover the same rock and root strewn east coast twisty switch-back downhills much more quickly on a modern FS XC 29er than I can on my vintage bikes.
    The caveat is that I’ve not tried “modernizing” my vintage rides in any way, shape or form so not really as fair a comparison as the OP is asking.
    Wanted: more of the same ... but different

  12. #12
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    I'd like to see someone take a mid nineties Kona with an 80mm fork down a World Cup DH course like Ft. William. It'd be an amazing accomplishment to even make it without walking.


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  13. #13
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    ^ This.

    There is a difference between riding downhill and riding down a hill.

    Also, there is a big difference between what was DH BITD and what DH is now. I'm not taking away from the skill and the cruets that riders had blasting at 50mph (or 80km/h in proper terms) down Kamikaze, but it's different to the DH courses now that have sharp corners with rocks and roots at the bottom of a chute.

    I used to race DH. Then I noticed the courses were getting beyond my comfort level which was good. Then they got beyond my skill level, regardless of suspension travel and tyre bite.

    Anyway, I say bring back the days when DH riders looked like XC riders and they rode rigid bikes. I also have a fondness for the era of 6" travel monocoque bikes like the Intense M1, San Andreas and Foes LTS - and skin suits. Aerodynamic skin suits, baby! That's where it's at!

    Grumps

  14. #14
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    I think the OP meant, when you're riding around on your local trails when you hit a DH section which is faster, not is an old bike as fast as a new bike on a world cup DH course.
    All the gear and no idea.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mik_git View Post
    I think the OP meant, when you're riding around on your local trails when you hit a DH section which is faster, not is an old bike as fast as a new bike on a world cup DH course.
    Well, there is a local trail here which was a world cup DH course, and I know its faster on a modern DS bike. Heck when our buddy switched to 27.5+ we couldn't keep up with him. We used to do it on hardtails, there's no way I could do it as fast as I do it now on my 6" Yeti SBC. Same for a rooty fairly straight DH blast section on our fav XC area. With my Yeti, I point it down that trail and let go the brakes. Old HT, I wouldn't dare go that fast, be in danger of getting bucked off the bike!

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by mik_git View Post
    I think the OP meant, when you're riding around on your local trails when you hit a DH section which is faster, not is an old bike as fast as a new bike on a world cup DH course.
    Oh yeah, I get it. I think I was probably inspired to post by CK's comment about Kamikaze being considered DH. It was of course, but it's not a DH course by today's eXtr33m dood standards. I still think it some knackers to ride Mammoth at the speeds those guys did, on bikes that were pretty rudimentary by todays trail bike standards even.

    I think there is a difference with modern tyres, but also geometry. Spectre is already ahead of the game with a mid 90s Kona over a lot of bikes from those days. I have always found those era Konas to be playful and nimble and having a geo that suits "cutting a bit nuts".

    Tyres and suspension play a part of course, but I think the geometry is the thing that has progressed a lot.

    And I stand by my skin suit comments.

    Grumps

  17. #17
    DFA
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    Quote Originally Posted by ameybrook View Post
    I'd like to see someone take a mid nineties Kona with an 80mm fork down a World Cup DH course like Ft. William. It'd be an amazing accomplishment to even make it without walking.
    No problem. Here's a pic of a friend riding the Flintstone section of the World Cup course (WC #6) at Bromont on his Santa Cruz Chameleon w. a Z1.


  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by root View Post
    Well, there is a local trail here which was a world cup DH course, and I know its faster on a modern DS bike. Heck when our buddy switched to 27.5+ we couldn't keep up with him. We used to do it on hardtails, there's no way I could do it as fast as I do it now on my 6" Yeti SBC. Same for a rooty fairly straight DH blast section on our fav XC area. With my Yeti, I point it down that trail and let go the brakes. Old HT, I wouldn't dare go that fast, be in danger of getting bucked off the bike!
    yes, yes, of course, there's trails here that the FS bike is way better, and some on my "local" trials are EWS course, FS much better.
    I was assuming the OP meant, trails that you happily ride on an old HT arnt necessarily faster on a FS bike, and I find that true in my neck of the woods. It's totally trail dependent. A trail you can barely ride a HT down, then of course a nice fancy new FS bike will be better. A trail that's not hard on a HT, then a FS bike may not be the tool for the job.
    All the gear and no idea.

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by mik_git View Post
    yes, yes, of course, there's trails here that the FS bike is way better, and some on my "local" trials are EWS course, FS much better.
    I was assuming the OP meant, trails that you happily ride on an old HT arnt necessarily faster on a FS bike, and I find that true in my neck of the woods. It's totally trail dependent. A trail you can barely ride a HT down, then of course a nice fancy new FS bike will be better. A trail that's not hard on a HT, then a FS bike may not be the tool for the job.
    Exactly, I was under the impression that my FS bike was faster on just about all but the smoothest trails. Just expressing my surprise that my hardtail was anywhere as fast as my FS bike especially when it seemed like it was bouncing all over the place compared to riding the same trail on my modern FS bike.

    And yes, there are some trails that I wouldn't even try riding on a hardtail anymore, though we certainly did do just that in the 90s.
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  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by Spectre View Post
    ... I've been surprised to see that my downhill times on a not too rocky, not too steep trail that I ride regularly are not too far off of my PRs on a full suspension bike...
    6 key words here throw out a huge conditional caveat to the entire idea of this thread: "not too rocky, not too steep"

    At least this is an Apples to apples comparison with a few constants versus the CK comparison with too many variables.

    I think you can take suspension out of the equation on this particular DH comparison as it's not a proper comparison for DH conditions to test the suspension.

    Why use the words "my PRs on a full suspension bike... " when comparing times on a not too rocky, not too steep section of trail? Geometry and your comfort level to corner hard are going to be the factors on this type of comparison, not suspension.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mudguard View Post
    I will say that you can take any older bike, put a short stem, wide bars and sticky rubber and it will transform the bike...
    Only if you size up on the frame, homie. You take an old bike that fits you properly with a short ETT and long stem...and simply put a short stem and wide bars on it, it's going to be too short in the reach department...which will indeed transform the bike as you stated, but transformed into something for a shorter rider.



    Quote Originally Posted by Repack Rider View Post
    In the 40 years since Gary Fisher set the Repack course record on a 40 year old Schwinn, a lot of people have tried to lower it. They have attacked it with modern DH bikes, but the record still stands.
    I think if I look at Repack as a whole, there is a long section that you have to pedal like a CAT1 XC racer...even a bit of uphill, right? Isn't it mostly a gravel road? If you somehow time-warped a modern, efficient trail bike with even 100mm travel, with wide DHF's and modern hydraulic disc brakes to the same trail conditions on that day that Gary set his 4:22...with a pilot that had Gary's CAT-1 legs for the flat section and ability to control the bike well...I think that record wouldn't stand. There's no way a drum brake with mediocre traction will be able to hang unless the brakes and traction don't matter. Reading yours and other pioneers reviews of Repack though...I doubt that's the case. Heck I've heard your generation talk about the advancements in braking technology being a huge improvement. But heck, brakes just slow you down right? Repack has changed over the years, I'm sure...but I've never been there so what do I know?

    You're really not comparing bike-A on the same trail conditions with the same rider to bike-B. Your comparing a different rider on different trail conditions and different bike. Too many variables. It's not a DH course by today's standards, so a modern DH bike isn't the proper tool for the job.

    Not to discount your efforts because I love the story, love the history, and love what this has become. It's just not anywhere close to Apples to Apples.

    Will a 50lbs rigid ballooner be faster going down a hill on a gravel road than a lighter modern bike? Maybe. If Gravity is the only constant factor to the test. Throw in turns and braking, and nope.

    Would said 50lbs rigid Schwinn be able to hang on today's light or moderate singletrack? Not a chance.

    But as the OP stated, this is a test of a vintage bike versus a modern bike on a "not too rocky, not too steep" section of trail...so maybe this is a good parallel comparison.

    If it's "all rider" as you're trying to insinuate, why did you bother modifying those old bikes? The rider should have been able to overcome it all if it's all rider. It's not. It's a combination of rider and equipment.



    Quote Originally Posted by DFA View Post
    We're talking about Downhill, not riding down an access road.

    Yup



    Quote Originally Posted by Repack Rider View Post
    Are you suggesting that the Mammoth Kamikaze isn't "Downhill?"
    It's down a hill, no doubt. The days of short travel rigs running 50+ tooth chainrings are over. Yesterday's DH Kings can in no way hang with today's DH competitions.

    Is it the rider? Yup. It's it the bikes? Yup, that too. 29ers have taken over WCDH. They roll over stuff better and keep the momentum up. Proven.

    Shaun thought he was going to make a comeback. Nope. Yesterdays Superstars couldn't even hang with Rachel Atherton, let alone Aaron Gwinn. And that's how it should be. Progression of all facets of the sport. Evel had a hard time clearing 50-sum cars...now we got guys clearing an entire football field. What's the difference? An egocentric A-hole on a rudimentary Harley versus an athlete on a proper Moto. Rider AND equipment.


    What's the connection? Action sports progression.

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by chelboed View Post
    Why use the words "my PRs on a full suspension bike... " when comparing times on a not too rocky, not too steep section of trail?
    Because given how much I was bouncing around on my 90s hardtail, it FELT nowhere near as fast as going down the same trail on a FS bike, but quantitative data showed that it was.
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  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by Spectre View Post
    But quantitative data showed that it was.
    I'd be wary on the data. Strava in particular is blurry at best. I rode with a friend a fortnight ago, my Garmin 520 (with wheel sensor) recorded our ride at 25kms, Garmin watch equipped friend recorded 21km, and it's likely to be even worse over shorter distances.
    Don't get me wrong, I use Strava all the time, but take it with a pinch of salt.

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mudguard View Post
    I'd be wary on the data. Strava in particular is blurry at best. I rode with a friend a fortnight ago, my Garmin 520 (with wheel sensor) recorded our ride at 25kms, Garmin watch equipped friend recorded 21km, and it's likely to be even worse over shorter distances.
    Don't get me wrong, I use Strava all the time, but take it with a pinch of salt.
    Good info, Thanks.
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