Many of you remember the rave reviews I gave after acquiring my Trance X 29er, "Merlin", last fall. I am still as enamored with that bike as I was then, probably even more so. Merlin has given me new confidence and gotten me out of trouble when I've bitten off more than I could chew on a ride. I can't tell you how much I appreciate a bike I can pretty much just point and shoot a section of trail with when fatigue has set in. Often Merlin's abilities far exceed my own. I love his stability and sure-footedness and how he climbs up and over things with fluidity and ease.
Recently, however, I've been working on learning some techniques so that I can enhance my ride experience; amongst those is learning how to do drops. I built a modest one and tried Merlin out on it in the back yard. There's a limited amount of space and the drop isn't very big. I concentrated on shifting my weight back as I approached the lip to bring the front wheel up a bit as I pushed it forward by pivoting back on the pedals, dropping my heals a bit and straightening my arms. It was fun, and I had a moderate amount of success.
It was suggested that I give it a try with 26" wheels and see what I thought (thanks Stripes). I'll admit, I was a little hesitant. I figured I should just learn on the bike I ride the most, and I haven't ridden the smaller wheels in almost a year. "Jack" is my 2005 Giant Yukon I beefed up a few years ago with an Azonic Outlaw wheel set and a 20mm thru-axle fork. My thought at that time was that I wanted to use it for more aggressive riding - and then I bought a full-suspension bike and Jack didn't see a lot of use.
I made some modifications to the entrance and exit of the drop, which included a slightly sloped landing. I rode around for a bit before making my first attempt and worked on moving around the much smaller cockpit and transferring my weight around. Cruising around the yard, I became aware of several things; the bike felt noticeably smaller, but with that, I noticed its acceleration and responsiveness were quicker. Turns were tighter and sharper; more precise. Initially it felt a little awkward as I was used to compensating a bit for larger wheels. But, it gradually started to feel familiar again and I sped toward the drop. The first few times were kind of pathetic and I ended up mostly rolling rather than dropping. I didn't quite trust myself (or the wheels) to land me safely. But, gradually I relaxed and finally committed. And that's when I rediscovered the old friend I first learned to ride trails with. I rode that drop on and off for the entire day today and started planning new features to build.
So, does this mean I'm saying goodbye to 29" wheels? Nope, not by a long shot. I love Merlin for long trail rides and scampering up and over log piles and billygoating his way up our hills. But, there is something to be said for the way Jack's smaller wheels just seem to "fit" in a more playful, park-like atmosphere. I imagine taking him to a place like Ray's or rolling around on a pump track. Jack's "life" is far from over!
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