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  1. #1
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    From where I sit: 2019 bike testing.

    Simple fact: Bicycles have never been better than they are today.

    As far as categories of bikes for riding off-road, we used to break things into XC, Trials, and DH. Before that you either had a mountain bike (and used it for, um, everything) or you didn't. Nowadays there are additional categories for Trail, All Mountain, and Enduro, plus Slopestyle and Dirt Jump. Where do those fit in, how do they apply to you, and which bike should be chosen for each? Further muddying the waters there are subcategories such as Downcountry, Cross Stuntry, even (swear to god...) SlopeDuro.

    To the end of answering that question for myself I used to attend the annual bike industry trade show every fall. Or at least once they started to have an on-dirt demo where you could actually ride different bikes, on dirt, and feel the nuances of each. Eventually that demo became crazy crowded, such that you'd spend more of the day waiting for a specific bike to become available than you would riding. Sometimes you'd never get a chance to swing a leg over that bike. Eventually I stopped going because I wasn't getting to actually ride the bikes I was going there to ride.

    There are lots of other demo events these days, most of which seem to be afflicted with similar crowding issues, or they're held at places that can handle crowds but you still can't get the bikes you want. Or you finally get the bike you want but the trails are so milquetoast that you can't learn much about it. The last demo event I attended featured manufacturer's reps whom insisted on cramming their hastily assembled propaganda ("this layup is unparalleled in it's ability to be laterally*stiff yet vertically compliant...") down your throat one-on-one while slooooowly installing your pedals and ostensibly tweaking the suspension to suit you.

    For these and other reasons I haven't attended a demo event for a few years. But an opportunity presented itself this fall -- fell into my lap you might say -- which I simply couldn't refuse. Outside Magazine holds an annual event where they test and review 50 of the most highly desired bikes (roughly split half road and half mountain) in an effort to pin down some of the nuances, pick their favorites, and then write about the nuances of the favorites so that their readers can better make their own buying (or not) decisions. This year's test was going to happen in my backyard, on trails that I've been riding and maintaining for better than two decades. Pretty sweet, right?

    It gets better. The test bikes were shipped to my shop in advance so that I could unbox, assemble, debug, and test ride them before the real test even started. How many times does an opportunity like that present itself? Never. Well, for me, once -- and this was it. I took full advantage, riding at lunch or after work (sometimes both) for a few weeks straight, to the extent that when the test actually, finally began my legs were already fried. First world problems!



    The results of the testing are not mine to share. The details on several of the bikes are actually still under embargo for a month or more, so although I wrote individual reviews for 20+ of the mountain bikes, I'm not going to share those now, either. Maybe later. Instead, below I've detailed some big picture thoughts on the minutia that made itself apparent as the test proceeded. Sort of feels like a 2019 'state of the industry', at least from where I sit.


    + + + + + + + + +


    For those of us not racing professionally, for those of us that 'just ride' with our friends, dogs, or solo, it seems the most important metric is not weight, not seat tube angle, not suspension kinematics. The most important metric for many of us is simply how the bike makes you feel while riding, or when the ride is done.

    i can't speak for others but I don't care too much about efficiency or weight on the way up as long as the bike doesn't get in my way when climbing, and as long as it also feels playful on the way back down. Time needed to complete a loop or section is irrelevant. I want to get outside for awhile, get some exercise, breathe fresh air, incinerate a few endorphins in a white hot fire, then return to life with a smile on my face. Riding a lively bike that hops and pops and manuals well is the quickest way to achieve all of the above. Riding something that's .09162% lighter or more efficient yet sacrifices liveliness and playfulness does not put a smile on my face.

    I'm not sure I care about frame material anymore. Suspension quality and tire casing construction can make a more noticeable difference in subjective feel while being much less expensive to employ.

    I definitely care about wheel size -- 29" and 29+ just roll over ledges, roots, chunk much better. 27.5" is dead to me, except for fat tires. It was interesting to learn that 90% of the testers were in this same boat.

    I definitely care about tire size -- bigger and more aggressive is almost universally better for where I live and how I ride. Anything smaller than 2.6" collects dust in my garage, and even 2.6" tires feel too small -- too harsh -- for better than half of the year.

    29+ has some sort of stigma attached. Perhaps related to the fatbikes that paved the way for them. The lone 29+ FS bike in this test was derogatorily (if playfully?) referred to as 'the yoga ball' before anyone had even ridden it. The metamorphosis from laughingstock to legitimate contender took but a few minutes. The first few to ride it came back somewhat astonished: "It's not heavy" they said. "It rides really light, actually", they said. "It is so. effing. smooth!" they said. "I had so much fun!", they said. And after a day of this, the next day the chatter morphed to "If that bike was for sale I'd take it home with me. Now. Tonight".



    One of the testers summed it up perhaps best with "I'm guilty of judging that book by its cover. I was *so* wrong. I want one now. I want one NOW!"

    Crazy, stupid, ridiculous, so-low-that-they're-unpedalable-uphill bottom bracket heights persist. Even on bikes that are ostensibly made to be pedaled up *big* hills. How does one do it -- climb tech trails that is? Ratchet uphill for 2 hours straight?

    I can think of no single gear-specific parameter that has had a greater negative effect on our trails than low bottom brackets. When people repeatedly bash their feet or chainring into rocks and ledges they think not of the welfare of the trail but that of their machine. Bash a rock enough times and one of two things happens: Either said rock gets dislodged and removed, or if the rock is deeply embedded riders just start to go around it. Our local trails now feature hundreds upon hundreds of go-arounds -- to the point that many of these trails are no longer singletrack so much as a series of linked figure 8's. These same trails also now feature hundreds of holes where a rock used to be, but was ultimately dislodged by a barrage of low bottom bracket bikes.

    I wasn't sure that anyone in the industry 'got it' until this test, where testers could be frequently heard discussing how some bikes -- bikes that the marketing machines have made people believe are highly desirable for tech riding -- simply could not be pedaled up anything remotely technical. I fear that it's going to take years and years for the industry to pull its collective head out of its collective ass and slowly start to bring BB's back up into the realm of reasonable.

    Shaped headset spacers. I walked out into the shop just now and noted 4 random road bikes (all from the test) leaning against each other, not one of which could share a stem or headset spacers with any of the others. The only big-picture benefit that I can see to designing things this way is to keep road riders tethered to a certain shop in the same way that they are tethered to prepared surfaces. And that same lack of foresight has recently arrived in the mountain bike world, where 2 of the test bikes featured shaped HS spacers, HS bearing covers, and HS top caps.



    There were two hardtails in the test. I rode one of them, twice. I saw each of them get ridden a total of once after that. Perhaps this is more a testament to the corrugated, blocky nature of the local trails than anything else, but no one wanted anything to do with them -- regardless of wheel size. I saw people reach for FS bikes that didn't fit them, or that they'd already ridden several times, rather than ride one of the hardtails.

    175mm droppers are stupid. Your butt hits the tire before your chest hits the saddle, and sometimes your saddle hits the tire as suspension compresses. I subscribe to the 'if some is good more must be better' credo with lots of things. Bacon and ice cream immediately come to mind. I personally don't see much point in droppers beyond 125mm, and could happily live with 100mm. Perhaps the best evidence for this is that almost no one runs the saddle on their DH bike 7" lower than their fully extended height. 4 to 5" is more like it.



    Electronic shifting is silly. And unreliable. And a solution in search of a problem, creating problems all it's own. I like progress, I like to drink kool aid, and I embrace change when it's sensible and demonstrably better than the alternative. E-shifting simply isn't either.

    Boost spacing is nice, in that at least we're all agreeing on *something* finally. This was the first bike comparo in memory where every MTB used the same hub spacing front and rear. Wheels were swapped between bikes, quickly and easily, for various reasons. Different rotor sizes and cassettes/freehubs meant that not every wheelset was truly quick switch, but getting everyone on the same page with both brakes and cassettes is probably asking too much.

    Crazy low out of the box cockpits. I ride -- as do 99% of my riding partners -- with my handlebars a bit above my fully extended saddle height. Several of the test bikes came with their steerer tubes cut so short that 1.5" to 2" below saddle height was as high as the bars could be set. Some were so low out of the box that I was unable to test-ride them beyond a quick lap around the parking lot, where I was so uncomfortable I immediately returned the bike to the corral and chose something else.

    Bars well below saddle height is a young persons game and sometimes an XC racer's preference. I rode that way for better than two decades, and I have irreparable nerve damage in my neck and hands as a result. It hurts NO ONE to leave steerer tubes a little longer on stock bikes. Those that want a slammed position can still get it. Those that want a more upright position won't immediately be turned off of a potential candidate.

    Gearboxes are coming. They aren't quite 'there' yet because improvements in shifting ergonomics and reductions in frictional losses still need incremental progress. But they're already really good. There's something about being able to take tight lines through chunky right handers without fear of ripping a $300 der off the bike. If someone could figure out a way to run a gearbox on an FS bike and *not* need an external tensioner, I'd probably jump in right now.



    Most high engagement hubs add needless noise and drag. Easy to feel that drag when coasting -- the bike slows as though the brakes are rubbing. Impossible not to hear the added racket, and equally impossible to converse over said racket. I'd love for consumers to see past the marketing and arrive at some sane realization that (for starters) fast engaging hubs don't have to be noisy or draggy. I'd also love to see people recognize that normal and even slow engaging hubs aren't a limiter in technical riding situations. The rider is the limiter -- not the hub.



    We are so lucky with rims and tires these days. 26, 27.5, 29. Skinny, medium, wide, plus, mid-fat, fat, morbidly obese, and everything in between. Carbon and aluminum. Tubeless ready as standard. Supple, high thread count, and reinforced casings with a dizzying number of tread patterns to choose from. If you can’t find what you’re looking for within all of those, you are truly a .01%er.



    Maxxis makes fantastic tires and deserves the market domination they currently enjoy. That said, it was also really nice to see other, smaller brands represented and ripping.

    Integrated storage options are taking hold. Anything is better than a big bulbous pack on our very sweaty backs. Putting tools into bottle cages (on frames that are finally starting to prioritize fitting them!), pumps alongside, and tubes or tubeless plugs elsewhere is the minimum going forward. Plus there's a whole slew of good, well designed fanny packs (Hipster satchels? European Carry-alls?!) just hitting the market. For 5+ hour rides you're always going to need something more than the basics discussed above, but for shorter rides it's nice to ride unencumbered.



    + + + + + + +

    I've only been riding bikes on dirt for 40 years, thus I still have a lot to learn. I'm grateful to this crew for the opportunity to be so deeply immersed into bike-nerddom for a solid month this fall.

    Thanks for checkin' in.

  2. #2
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    Wow! What an opportunity Mike! Thank you very much for your thoughts, they seem to echoe many of my own, especially when it comes to BB heights, 29ers and bike fit. I would love to hear your thoughts on some of these bikes in time and also on that Trust Message hiding there in plain sight!

  3. #3
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    ride a hardtail, ya wimps!

    I agree with most of this and appreciate the effort.

  4. #4
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    Nice writing and great insights Mike.

    I love your take on low bottom brackets. Hopefully things will go back towards sanity there.

    I ride a 27.5 bike now, but it seems that the new 29ers are really the way to go for the reasons you outlined.
    Riding Washington State singletrack since 1986

  5. #5
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    Wow that was quite a dissertation. Below is a review from the equivalent of a sophomoric student, not your graduate adviser.


    Quote Originally Posted by mikesee View Post
    Simple fact: Bicycles have never been better than they are today.

    YES



    For those of us not racing professionally, for those of us that 'just ride' with our friends, dogs, or solo, it seems the most important metric is not weight, not seat tube angle, not suspension kinematics. The most important metric for many of us is simply how the bike makes you feel while riding, or when the ride is done.

    Yes. That's why I always have to laugh when someone mentions performance and 50-60 lb e-bikes in the same breath. "You can't do a hub drive, that will completely ruin performance due to unsprung weight." On a 56-lb bike. They are trying to fix performance on a 56-lb bike. Who cares. They are fun, period. Doesn't matter if they perform great on the trail or not.


    i can't speak for others but I don't care too much about efficiency or weight on the way up as long as the bike doesn't get in my way when climbing, and as long as it also feels playful on the way back down.

    Yes



    Time needed to complete a loop or section is irrelevant.

    After you already time it and can't do any better, yes.



    I definitely care about wheel size -- 29" and 29+ just roll over ledges, roots, chunk much better. 27.5" is dead to me, except for fat tires. It was interesting to learn that 90% of the testers were in this same boat.

    Maybe it depends if it's XC vs. all-mountain? Smaller drops/obstacles are no problem with a 27.5" tire. Bigger obstacles and you are doing all-mountain anyway, maybe 29" is better for that, I don't know.




    I definitely care about tire size -- bigger and more aggressive is almost universally better for where I live and how I ride. Anything smaller than 2.6" collects dust in my garage, and even 2.6" tires feel too small -- too harsh -- for better than half of the year.

    Yes, but many people are in flatter, smoother areas and don't need a wide tire. Ironically many in the + forum say they don't need anything more than a 2.6 that actually measures a 2.6 (in other words they may put on a 2.8 on a smaller rim and it measures 2.6, and they are often very happy with it anyway. I have a 2.70 on a 26mm rim, measures 2.45, does just fine).



    29+ has some sort of stigma attached.

    The only time I would buy one is if it came with 27.5+ tires or was compatible. I've flirted with buying a 29" fork for my 27.5" bike due to this option. Personally, anything over 27.0 inches diameter seems just fine for rollover on XC trails, even chunky, rocky ones. And I'm not in a flat area. But if someone likes a 29", that's great. I like to get down close to the dirt when riding so a 27.5" just seems like a better frame for me, that's all.




    Crazy, stupid, ridiculous, so-low-that-they're-unpedalable-uphill bottom bracket heights persist. Even on bikes that are ostensibly made to be pedaled up *big* hills. How does one do it -- climb tech trails that is? Ratchet uphill for 2 hours straight?

    I have way more pedal strikes downhill than uphill, but yes it can happen uphill too. I really don't care about them much either way.




    I can think of no single gear-specific parameter that has had a greater negative effect on our trails than low bottom brackets. When people repeatedly bash their feet or chainring into rocks and ledges they think not of the welfare of the trail but that of their machine. Bash a rock enough times and one of two things happens: Either said rock gets dislodged and removed, or if the rock is deeply embedded riders just start to go around it. Our local trails now feature hundreds upon hundreds of go-arounds -- to the point that many of these trails are no longer singletrack so much as a series of linked figure 8's. These same trails also now feature hundreds of holes where a rock used to be, but was ultimately dislodged by a barrage of low bottom bracket bikes.

    Oh well.



    There were two hardtails in the test. I rode one of them, twice. I saw each of them get ridden a total of once after that. Perhaps this is more a testament to the corrugated, blocky nature of the local trails than anything else, but no one wanted anything to do with them -- regardless of wheel size. I saw people reach for FS bikes that didn't fit them, or that they'd already ridden several times, rather than ride one of the hardtails.

    Yes, and 95% of Americans prefer automatic transmissions to stick shifts. Same difference. In the words of Jello Biafra, give me convenience or give me death.



    Crazy low out of the box cockpits. I ride -- as do 99% of my riding partners -- with my handlebars a bit above my fully extended saddle height. Several of the test bikes came with their steerer tubes cut so short that 1.5" to 2" below saddle height was as high as the bars could be set. Some were so low out of the box that I was unable to test-ride them beyond a quick lap around the parking lot, where I was so uncomfortable I immediately returned the bike to the corral and chose something else.

    Bars well below saddle height is a young persons game and sometimes an XC racer's preference. I rode that way for better than two decades, and I have irreparable nerve damage in my neck and hands as a result. It hurts NO ONE to leave steerer tubes a little longer on stock bikes. Those that want a slammed position can still get it. Those that want a more upright position won't immediately be turned off of a potential candidate.

    I'm surprised about this. I just put on a headset adapter to raise my 26" handlebars two inches. Much nicer now, especially downhill. Why would they go back to low handlebars? I hate that feeling downhill where you feel like the bike is going to tip over forward because you are so hunched over forward towards the low handlebars.



    Most high engagement hubs add needless noise and drag. Easy to feel that drag when coasting -- the bike slows as though the brakes are rubbing. Impossible not to hear the added racket, and equally impossible to converse over said racket. I'd love for consumers to see past the marketing and arrive at some sane realization that (for starters) fast engaging hubs don't have to be noisy or draggy. I'd also love to see people recognize that normal and even slow engaging hubs aren't a limiter in technical riding situations. The rider is the limiter -- not the hub.

    I hear it all the time with guys that pass me up or down on expensive bikes. That constant buzzing sound like a muted jet engine. Annoying.



    We are so lucky with rims and tires these days. 26, 27.5, 29. Skinny, medium, wide, plus, mid-fat, fat, morbidly obese, and everything in between. Carbon and aluminum. Tubeless ready as standard. Supple, high thread count, and reinforced casings with a dizzying number of tread patterns to choose from. If you can’t find what you’re looking for within all of those, you are truly a .01%er.

    Wait a minute isn't 27.5" dead?



    Maxxis makes fantastic tires and deserves the market domination they currently enjoy. That said, it was also really nice to see other, smaller brands represented and ripping.

    Agree 110%. I've tried WTB, Kenda, Continental, some off brands, nothing compares. Next tire will be the 2.6 Rekon, and for some reason if I don't like it, I'll go right back to DHF 2.5. Tire weight is no factor if it keeps you from crashing. I also have a Minion 2.8 sitting in the garage waiting to be mounted, I could almost eat those side knobs for dessert!

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Curveball View Post
    I ride a 27.5 bike now, but it seems that the new 29ers are really the way to go for the reasons you outlined.

    Do you have rollover problems with a 27.5" tire? The only time I do is if the obstacles are relatively big, like an 8-inch embedded rock going uphill. I dunno if even a 29" can clear that well or not. What specific rollover problems are you having?

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    how low is "too low" for a BB? is it different for hardtails, FS, or rigid bikes?

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    Quote Originally Posted by mack_turtle View Post
    ride a hardtail, ya wimps!

    I did, for a few decades.

    These days I choose to see a world full of color. But I support your right to limit yourself to black and white.


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    Quote Originally Posted by mack_turtle View Post
    how low is "too low" for a BB? is it different for hardtails, FS, or rigid bikes?

    It has to be different for each.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mikesee View Post
    I did, for a few decades.

    These days I choose to see a world full of color. But I support your right to limit yourself to black and white.

    it's not really a choice because $$, but yeah. the rest of that discussion is a distraction from the spirit of this one, so I'll leave it there.

  11. #11
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    Good read, disagree about the long droppers and cockpit height though. And the BB height thing is just horses for courses, good to have options out there.

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    Quote Originally Posted by David R View Post
    cockpit height

    Maybe you missed it, but my schtick about cockpit height was that you don't have to exclude one end of the spectrum to keep everyone happy. Give people options to run things high and everyone gets what they want. Cut steerers short from the start and you just missed ~half of your potential sales.

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    Quote Originally Posted by richj8990 View Post
    Do you have rollover problems with a 27.5" tire? The only time I do is if the obstacles are relatively big, like an 8-inch embedded rock going uphill. I dunno if even a 29" can clear that well or not. What specific rollover problems are you having?
    Trail craters and boulders do cause problems for me. I mean, it's not really bad per se, but I can certainly see advantages to having larger wheels in some situations.

    FWIW, I've never ridden a 29er yet, but would like to try it out to see how much of a difference it makes. I try to keep an open mind about things.
    Riding Washington State singletrack since 1986

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    Great write up. I agree with many of your points, including the ice cream and bacon observation. I have yet to experience some of the featured options, so will reserve judgement until I have had the opportunity to give them a try.

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    Thanks for the post Mike! Really enjoy reading about your first hand experience and thoughts with this. Just curious, what were the hardtails in the test?

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    Quote Originally Posted by BrianU View Post
    Thanks for the post Mike! Really enjoy reading about your first hand experience and thoughts with this. Just curious, what were the hardtails in the test?

    Viral Skeptic 29" and a B+ Ritchey.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mikesee View Post
    Simple fact: Bicycles have never been better than they are today.
    Hasn't that been true at any point in time, or was there a time when new bikes got generally worse than previous bikes?
    Do the math.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lone Rager View Post
    Hasn't that been true at any point in time, or was there a time when new bikes got generally worse than previous bikes?
    https://www.bicyclebluebook.com/sear....aspx?id=44653
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  19. #19
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    Nice write-up. It must be so much fun to play with all those bike.
    My rides:
    Lynskey Ti Pro29 SS
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    KHS Team 29
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    KHS CX 550 cyclocross

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lone Rager View Post
    Hasn't that been true at any point in time, or was there a time when new bikes got generally worse than previous bikes?
    Hey Rager from your question I guess you weren't around for the early days of full suspension. There were some outright dogs produced. Laughable, actually.

    But I don't remember hardtail design ever going backward. That said, my current bike's head angle is quite close to my first bike's -- somewhere around 66°. That was a 1984 DiamondBack Mean Streak. Between '84 and today HA got as steep as 72°. What were we thinking?
    =sParty

    Edit: After I posted this, I scrolled up to find rideit's post about the 1993 Trek 9000. Ha! That's the bike I was thinking of. It wasn't the only dog, but it might have been the worst of the bad.
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    Great post, makes a ton of sense. Thanks for sharing it!

    Quote Originally Posted by mikesee View Post
    Viral Skeptic 29" and a B+ Ritchey.
    Oh.


    Hardtails are the biz, but i woulda passed up on those bikes too.
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    Quote Originally Posted by mikesee View Post
    Maybe you missed it, but my schtick about cockpit height was that you don't have to exclude one end of the spectrum to keep everyone happy. Give people options to run things high and everyone gets what they want. Cut steerers short from the start and you just missed ~half of your potential sales.
    Yeah fair enough, there is a maximum amount of spacers you probably should run though, so there's no point in leaving the steerer longer than that, you're right that there's no point in cutting it shorter though too.

    I'm the opposite to you, in that after riding a bike with too long a head tube (09 Turner 5spot) tall stack is a deal-breaker for me (eg the new XL Santa Cruz 5010 with its 170mm long head tube). I haven't paid too much attention to it, but the only person I ride with who I can think of with bars higher than his saddle has a bunch of ongoing issues from a bad motorbike crash. I wonder if the different bar/saddle heights has anything to do with our preference for droppers too? I'd never own a bike that couldn't fit at least a 150mm dropper. Different strokes...

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    Mike, this is terrific stuff and I look forward to your bike reviews. Thank you for sharing.

    One caveat about droppers: some of us have quite long legs. The height of the obstacles you can hit without going over the bars depends heavily on your center of gravity relative to the size of the wheel. Wheels don't get any bigger for tall people; on the same bike, someone with a 32" inseam has a significant stability advantage over another with 36", even at a shorter frame length. That four-inch difference is why the 125mm that's adequate for someone with short legs may not be nearly enough for the long-limbed.

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    Quote Originally Posted by alexdi View Post
    Mike, this is terrific stuff and I look forward to your bike reviews. Thank you for sharing.

    One caveat about droppers: some of us have quite long legs. The height of the obstacles you can hit without going over the bars depends heavily on your center of gravity relative to the size of the wheel. Wheels don't get any bigger for tall people; on the same bike, someone with a 32" inseam has a significant stability advantage over another with 36", even at a shorter frame length. That four-inch difference is why the 125mm that's adequate for someone with short legs may not be nearly enough for the long-limbed.
    It's center of gravity relative to front-center. Being tall just means you can use larger wheels without having to compromise geo.


    I'm with mike on the dropper thing- for me, 125 is just fine, 150 is marginally better, and 170 and i can drop the saddle lower than my legs work well so it's actually a handicap. Definitely more drop is better when the bike is too small, and i'm a sample of 1, so ymmv.

    I have a 36" inseam, and i remember mikesee being pretty darn tall too.
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    Good write up! I really want to try something with a gearbox especially if the suspension is designed for it. Not having to worry about chain stretch can blow the door wide open for suspension designs. I do have two issues though.

    What issues do you have with electronic shifting exactly? Is it that you need to charge it once a month, never needing to replace cables again, or the quicker shifting? I don't know of any reliability issues compared to a conventional mech either.

    I'm also not sold on the low BB being the issue with pedal strikes. Practically everyone is riding FS now and our suspension is more plush than ever. Taking into account sag and hitting basically any bump at all will compress your suspension at least 2" or more I think suspension is much more to blame for pedal strikes. Not to mention the suspension travel makes avoiding pedal strikes a moving target, sometimes you have the clearance but sometimes you don't. A higher BB will help a little but isn't much in comparison. The issue with your trails is people are to damn lazy to ride over anything so they go around instead.

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    I'm interested..

    Any advancements away from dinky pivot bearings?
    video=youtube;][/video]...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fajita Dave View Post
    I'm also not sold on the low BB being the issue with pedal strikes. Practically everyone is riding FS now and our suspension is more plush than ever. Taking into account sag and hitting basically any bump at all will compress your suspension at least 2" or more I think suspension is much more to blame for pedal strikes. Not to mention the suspension travel makes avoiding pedal strikes a moving target, sometimes you have the clearance but sometimes you don't. A higher BB will help a little but isn't much in comparison. The issue with your trails is people are to damn lazy to ride over anything so they go around instead.
    Oh hell yes. Leave the BB low and reduce suspension travel -- that's the ticket. Heck, let's take it a step farther -- ride a hardtail and we can keep those pesky BBs as low as we want.
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  28. #28
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    Great write up
    Love big tires on bike wheels. I wish they may 31 inch wheels.
    As a very tall person running a 200mm dropper I have to disagree Longer droppers are nice. I could run 185 an be totaly happy, but a 150 always leaves me wanting more.

    Bar height needs to be balanced with seat setback so you can keep the front end down. I like the steeper STA, but you really need to extend the reach too. I don't think there is a normal mountain bike made that will let me run my bars even with my seat.
    Making shit harder than it needs to be isn't awesome, it's just...harder.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sparticus View Post
    Oh hell yes. Leave the BB low and reduce suspension travel -- that's the ticket. Heck, let's take it a step farther -- ride a hardtail and we can keep those pesky BBs as low as we want.
    =sParty
    That's an interesting way to look at it. Sign me up. I'm not quite on board with 'hardtails for everyone,' but a 160/100 29er with a 320mm bb height would be a thing of beauty.
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    Quote Originally Posted by scottzg View Post
    It's center of gravity relative to front-center.
    Reach has less impact than height. For a seated rider, we can simplify by looking at the angle between the front hub axle and the center of the saddle: the steeper the angle, the more likely the rider goes over the bars when the wheel hits an obstacle. I just mocked this up in BikeCAD-- for a typical frame, that angle is about 3D higher with a 36" inseam relative to 32". Extend the frame reach by 60mm and it's still 1D higher, and those of us with short torsos aren't even on long-reach frames.

    We could talk in circles about dynamic rider positioning and flexibility, but if limited dropper travel prevents one rider from getting as low as another, the bike won't be as stable.

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    Quote Originally Posted by alexdi View Post
    We could talk in circles about dynamic rider positioning and flexibility, but if limited dropper travel prevents one rider from getting as low as another, the bike won't be as stable.
    Over the years I've ridden with quite a few guys with that weird LOOOOONG inseam/short torso combination, and they'd all benefit from long droppers on their mtb's. Though none of them have been very serious mtb riders. It's always just been an occasional thing for them. They spend way more time on road bikes. I have to wonder if a good dropper that actually let them control their COG more (in combination with a bike that has a taller stack) would make mtb more enjoyable for them. Those guys were always so OTB-prone.

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    Weight doesn't matter as much as most people think. Frame material doesn't really matter much, tire and wheel size does matter. Plus tires have a stigma, and pedal strikes suck.

    The above are my words, but it could be called a summary of yours. I wish they were written on big sign on the wall above every rack of new bikes. The testing looks like a blast. I bet you learned more in a short time about bikes than most riders will learn in years.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mikesee View Post

    For those of us not racing... the most important metric is not weight, not seat tube angle, not suspension kinematics. The most important metric for many of us is simply how the bike makes you feel while riding, or when the ride is done.
    Totally agree

    I definitely care about wheel size -- 29" and 29+ just roll over ledges, roots, chunk much better. 27.5" is dead to me, except for fat tires. It was interesting to learn that 90% of the testers were in this same boat.
    Yup

    29+ has some sort of stigma... they said. "It rides really light, actually", they said. "I had so much fun!"

    One of the testers summed it up perhaps best with "I'm guilty of judging that book by its cover. I was *so* wrong. I want one now. I want one NOW!"
    Double Yup

    I fear that it's going to take years and years for the industry to pull its collective head out of its collective ass and slowly start to bring BB's back up into the realm of reasonable.
    Sadly, probably true. But I've noticed one manufacturer quietly making geometry changes to a long running model that is known for it's geometry. Most notably raising the BB.

    Shaped headset spacers. 2 of the test bikes featured shaped HS spacers, HS bearing covers, and HS top caps.
    Totally stupid and unnecessary

    175mm droppers are stupid.
    Completely disagree. At 6'3" with a 35" inseam my COG is much higher than most. I've owned a 100mm, 150, and now two 170mm droppers (and still have two 150's). I use every millimeter of the longer droppers and love it. Being able to get my weight LOW really helps in corners, jumps, and technical descents. BTW I have room to spare and could fit an even longer dropper.

    I admit when I bought the first one I though 170 might be overkill but after two rides I decided it was awesome. Just because some people don't/won't/can't benefit from a longer dropper doesn't mean they shouldn't exist. To each his own, I'm keeping my long droppers.

    Crazy low out of the box cockpits. It hurts NO ONE to leave steerer tubes a little longer on stock bikes.
    Totally agree. Try riding an XL, especially guys that are on the high side of recommended sizing. Low handlebars are a real bummer and often a deal breaker. I would like to see more manufacturers leave the L and XL steer tubes uncut.

    Most high engagement hubs add needless noise and drag. (for starters) fast engaging hubs don't have to be noisy or draggy.
    Yup, though I do prefer higher engagement, I really dislike noisy hubs and will not build a wheel with a loud hub.

    I've only been riding bikes on dirt for 40 years, thus I still have a lot to learn. I'm grateful to this crew for the opportunity to be so deeply immersed into bike-nerddom for a solid month this fall.

    Thanks for checkin' in.
    Some very good points above. Looking forward to the bike reviews. Great writeup Mike.
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    Quote Originally Posted by scottzg View Post
    I have a 36" inseam, and i remember mikesee being pretty darn tall too.

    I'm 5'10", but I have a 32" inseam.

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    Except for racing, 27.5 for me. But to be honest, I am more interested in freeriding and the like.

    Also give me the longest possible dropper post. I want the seat as low and as out of the way as humanly possible.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fajita Dave View Post
    What issues do you have with electronic shifting exactly? Is it that you need to charge it once a month, never needing to replace cables again, or the quicker shifting? I don't know of any reliability issues compared to a conventional mech either.

    During the build and test period there were so many glitches, weirdnesses, dead batteries (even after being fully charged that very morning), and as-yet unresolved issues with these super high end spaceships that I came away wanting nothing to do with them.

    Again, if they were solving some persistent niggling problem with traditional setups I'd welcome them with open arms. But they aren't -- they're just replacing easily solved minor niggles with more expensive and complex variants.

    IMHO the long-range solution is to get rid of derailleurs altogether, regardless of what's moving them left and right. Make a silent, drag-free, 600% range e-shifted gearbox that's effectively zero maintenance and costs ~$1k for the unit -- then you'd have something.



    Quote Originally Posted by Fajita Dave View Post
    I'm also not sold on the low BB being the issue with pedal strikes. Practically everyone is riding FS now and our suspension is more plush than ever. Taking into account sag and hitting basically any bump at all will compress your suspension at least 2" or more I think suspension is much more to blame for pedal strikes. Not to mention the suspension travel makes avoiding pedal strikes a moving target, sometimes you have the clearance but sometimes you don't. A higher BB will help a little but isn't much in comparison. The issue with your trails is people are to damn lazy to ride over anything so they go around instead.

    Good thing I wasn't selling anything to you, I was just telling you how things are around here.

    You seem to fail to grasp that BB height is considered when suspension bikes are designed. Designers have pushed and pushed to drop the BB height on the new bikes-du-jour. These have issues with pedal strikes in lumpy terrain -- I know because I just rode most of them on said lumpy terrain.

    There were a few bikes in the test that had reasonable BB heights, or some sort of 'flip chip' arrangement that allowed you to raise the BB. No problems with pedal strikes on the highest BB bikes in the test.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Harold View Post
    guys with that weird LOOOOONG inseam/short torso combination, and they'd all benefit from long droppers on their mtb's.
    This describes me. I'm 74" tall and 36" of that is inseam -- I'm nearly half leg. And my arms are similarly proportioned. I can sit on the couch in the living room and reach into the fridge in the kitchen for a beer. Well, almost.

    Quote Originally Posted by Harold View Post
    none of them have been very serious mtb riders. It's always just been an occasional thing for them.
    This doesn't describe me in any way, shape or form. I backed away from riding the fog line once I discovered the joy of picking a line on a mountain bike some three decades ago. Thank god. This was long before texting drivers.

    Still living the dream. I feel lucky to be a mountain biker.
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    What about fat bikes?
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    I enjoyed reading this and will probably seek out the aforementioned Outdoors magazine when its released. This review is what BikeMag's BIBLE should be.

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    I think BB height depends on the individual and their terrain. One man's too low is another's perfect height. On average, are they too low? I'm not sure. On my 2 LLS bikes, on is not, but the HT is when the 2.8 27.5+ are on, not when 29 is. My solution was 165cm cranks and now it's golden even with huge flat pedals.

    I have 160mm droppers and would not go shorter, nor do I need more. My buds all have 150-170mm except one who has a bike that came with 125mm. It isn't enough on some trails but he is on a tighter bike budget, so is getting by.

    I would choose my LLS steel hardtail over lots of FS bikes today. If they had a Moxie, Pedalhead, Rootdown, Primer, or they like maybe they would have been more popular.
    I got some bad ideas in my head.

  41. #41
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    Quote Originally Posted by alexbn921 View Post
    I could run 185 an be totaly happy, but a 150 always leaves me wanting more.

    .
    That's what she said
    "We LOVE cows! They make trails for us.....

    And then we eat them."

    Thrill Bikers Unite!

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    Quote Originally Posted by mikesee View Post
    During the build and test period there were so many glitches, weirdnesses, dead batteries (even after being fully charged that very morning), and as-yet unresolved issues with these super high end spaceships that I came away wanting nothing to do with them.

    Again, if they were solving some persistent niggling problem with traditional setups I'd welcome them with open arms. But they aren't -- they're just replacing easily solved minor niggles with more expensive and complex variants.


    Shimano or another brand?

    I'm still having a hard time imagining these issues were that prevalent. Of all the (Shimano) Di2 bikes I have, and have seen, there have been zero issues for years. Yes, zero. XT, XTR, Ultegra, mixing them, doesn't matter.

    Yet in this test scenario, there are issues galore?

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    Quote Originally Posted by mikesee View Post
    I'm 5'10", but I have a 32" inseam.
    lol never mind!



    It's interesting to see a bunch of comments on dropper length preferences. There doesn't seem to be a real consensus about how taller people need more drop or anything like that. Just depends on the individual.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Travis Bickle View Post
    I think BB height depends on the individual and their terrain.

    Of course it does.


    Quote Originally Posted by Travis Bickle View Post
    I would choose my LLS steel hardtail over lots of FS bikes today.

    Sounds like we ride very different terrain, or with very different riding styles. Or you're ~half my age with no regard for health/longevity, but I don't think either of those last two are true.

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    60 years old, but I try be open to new things.
    I got some bad ideas in my head.

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    Quote Originally Posted by scottzg View Post
    lol never mind!



    It's interesting to see a bunch of comments on dropper length preferences. There doesn't seem to be a real consensus about how taller people need more drop or anything like that. Just depends on the individual.
    My inseam is similar. I currently have a 125mm dropper and I'd be satisfied if that was the most drop possible. Pretty sure I can fit 150mm in the frame I'm building up now, and I'm not sure it's even possible for me to find a frame that would fit me and could also fit a dropper much longer than 150mm. I have demoed more than one bike where the frame that fit me had a dropper that was too long, so I could never ride it at full extension. In talking to various shops about that, it seems like they leave that exclusively up to you to deal with after the purchase. Haven't found one yet willing to swap for a post with less drop prior to taking the bike home. Sorry, but I'm not interested in purchasing a right-fitting dropper at full retail to deal with such an elementary fit issue, and being unable to break even on selling the stock one.

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    Late addendum.

    After riding everyone else's idea of bicycle nirvana for the last month and leaving my own bike hanging forlorn all that time, the last 2 nights I've plucked my dream machine off the hook and gotten reacquainted with it.





    2 glorious, golden hour, AHA-I-remember-why-I-love-29+FS-so damn-much rides.





    Testing gee-whiz carbon spaceships with all sorts of buttons, bells, and whistles is awesome and all that, but g'damn am I glad to be back home.

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    At 5'5", I can't say I agree on the 29ers. Fortunately it's a diverse market.

    On the 125 vs. 150 dropper, for me, it doesn't really matter, but it is nice to get the saddle another inch out of the way. In terms of technique, it probably doesn't matter at all, though, as I can get low enough on my 125 to do whatever I'm willing to do.

    Very enjoyable to read, btw.

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    id say a few years ago when most bikes came with press fit bottom brackets would be a good example
    Quote Originally Posted by Lone Rager View Post
    Hasn't that been true at any point in time, or was there a time when new bikes got generally worse than previous bikes?

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    Im really curious about that new suspension fork with the linkage. Ive been dying to hear a descent in depth review about it. I guess your not at liberty to say anything at all about it though....yet...Ive also seen some from builders building variations of the same concept using rear shocks and a 90 degree angle with a hinge, I really think there is something to this concept.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fattyrider38 View Post
    I really think there is something to this concept.
    That makes one of us... Have you seen the price tag? You think it's 3x better than a Fox 34/36?
    Rigid SS 29er
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    Stop asking how much it weighs and just go ride it.

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    yes at 2700 dollars i would never buy it, its the concept of a suspension fork that is not telescopic that Im interested in
    Quote Originally Posted by *OneSpeed* View Post
    That makes one of us... Have you seen the price tag? You think it's 3x better than a Fox 34/36?

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    If there was an MTB Master and mikesee was his padawan I'm certain mikesee saying yes to playing with 50 new mountain bikes would have been his final test to earn MTB Master rank...

    Most human powered bikes are cool. All wheel sizes are cool. One's geo preferences is theirs alone.

    A couple points to counter what some newbs may think is universal given the sample size here:

    1. I have 2 different high engagement hubs by different manufacturers one quiet (DT Swiss) the other virtually silent and practically frictionless (P321).

    2. Geo IS important (maybe the most important consideration when buying a new bike) even if you don't race especially if your local trails are difficult. Personally if there was one measurement I would single out to consider carefully it would be BB Drop relative to crank length.

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    Quote Originally Posted by geraldooka View Post
    Personally if there was one measurement I would single out to consider carefully it would be BB Drop relative to crank length.
    Is this to avoid pedal strikes or for raise/ lower your center of gravity? Or both?

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    Quote Originally Posted by 93EXCivic View Post
    Except for racing, 27.5 for me. But to be honest, I am more interested in freeriding and the like.

    Also give me the longest possible dropper post. I want the seat as low and as out of the way as humanly possible.

    I saw an article about a year ago that interviewed XC racers. They basically all said they use 29" for competitive racing, but a decent percentage of them, I think around 30% said that in their off time they prefer 27.5" because it's simply more fun. Having fun on the trail is not all about performance numbers.
    Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres: quod Belgiae, quod Celtae, et quod Aquitainae.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mack_turtle View Post
    Is this to avoid pedal strikes or for raise/ lower your center of gravity? Or both?
    Not to get all technical here but it's about moment of inertia rather than center of gravity. Lowering the BB lowers the MOI when you're standing on the pedals giving a bike a more smooth and stable ride. When you lean a bike into a corner they don't "lean" as much as they rotate on an axis. If you raise the height of the MOI along that axis it will give it more of a "top heavy" kind of feel. It's far from the only factor with bike handling though.

    You can't just jack up the BB height and not expect to ruin the ride modern geo bikes have blasting through a downhill. Most trail and enduro bikes I've seen already have BB heights around 13.5". It's the long /soft travel most bikes have now and rider technique that causes pedal strikes.

    With that being said I think XC bikes and the "do it all" kind of bikes could use higher BBs. I looked at the specs to a Scott Spark the other day and saw a 12.5" BB height. Can't imagine someone racing XC would get much of a benefit from that.

  57. #57
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    From where I sit: 2019 bike testing.

    Quote Originally Posted by mack_turtle View Post
    Is this to avoid pedal strikes or for raise/ lower your center of gravity? Or both?
    Both, nothing ruins a ride particularly for new riders than constantly smacking their pedals. Instead of COG I tend to think of geometry as a series of compromises playing with the numbers will change the behavior of the bike (obviously to non newbs). Raising the B.B. drop will induce instability so perhaps one then lengthens the wheelbase to induce stability. The opposite can be true and so on with all the other variables. The relationship of all the angles is complex but not impossible to explain or understand. Decide where one wants more or less compromise for the terrain they ride and how they want to ride it and they’d be further ahead than reading “review” articles or folks personal preferences on forums.

    Thats not to say I find geo discussions worthless on forums or in articles I think there is value in looking at the pros and cons of a particular design. For example; If one has never ridden a bike with a head angle slacker than XXº it could be useful to hear from folks who have, to get some real world feedback on how that affected their ride in relation to other key details of the bike or leave to their own past bike experiences. Is it perfect? Of course not but it adds some data points to ones research.

    Its statements like "that BB is way too low" or "no one needs anything slacker than XX"... That are worthless.

    Here's a 2 minute map I made that probably only scratches the surface of slack head angles but put this type of thought into all aspects of a bike and one can find something as close to their unicorn as possible.

    From where I sit: 2019 bike testing.-slacker-head-angle.jpg

  58. #58
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    Quote Originally Posted by geraldooka View Post

    Here's a 2 minute map I made that probably only scratches the surface of slack head angles but put this type of thought into all aspects of a bike and one can find something as close to their unicorn as possible.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    I've just been exposed to this sort of analysis while working on an advanced degree. It's wierd to see that map in this context. Also weird because i think head angle is a consequence of other more important dimensions (front-center and cockpit length), so to me the model looks like what happens when you start in the middle. Super interesting post, thank you.
    Last edited by scottzg; 4 Weeks Ago at 04:51 PM.
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    Some interesting thoughts here. As an owner of a 29+ Stache in rocky (but not chunky) NJ, I find a HT a very viable option. FS always needs some sort of maintenance. I had a 29" rigid before this bike and loved the connected feel of the bike. That said, I had a 6" bike before that and am well aware of the benefits. I'm sure I'll get a F/S again sometime.

    Regarding the 29+ bias, I notice on the local forum that the Stache doesn't get much discussion since the shops that dominate the board don't sell Trek. It's ironic as they're located next to some of the smoother trails in the state where a HT 29+ would shine. Still, it's like cars: If you own a Chevy dealership, you're not going to talk about the benefits of a Honda.

    I'm kind of waiting for the much discussed, but never seems to get here onrush of the the 29x2.6 FS. Yeti just put out some new bikes that take 2.4 max; that was a surprise, though I'm in no way stuck on Yeti.

    In addition, if someone hands you a 29+ with 25 psi in the tires at some demo day, you're not going to like it. I suspect this happens a lot based on what I read. Or, in the case of the Stache, with the tire all the way in the back of the dropout (default) where it's less playful.

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    Quote Originally Posted by scottzg View Post
    I've just been exposed to this sort of analysis while working on an advanced degree. It's wierd to see that map in this context. Also weird because i think head angle is a consequence of other more important dimensions (front-center and cockpit length), so to me the model looks like what happens when you start in the middle. Super interesting post, thank you.
    I'd hesitate to call that an analysis More a brief thought exercise, I find those tools useful to get the brain flowing and considering related ideas. Re the the basis of the map it obviously could start anywhere, front centre? Sure. Seat Angle? Yup. Full-suspension? Well you get the idea.

    Re head angle as a consequence of front centre I hear you and don't think that invalidates the above thought process on head angle, its something that would and should likely be in there as it clearly impacts it. I've put a bit of thought on that one recently as I've finally joined that lucky club of first worlders to get a custom frame built up.

    I also posed this question to others: How do you prefer to take your front centre medicine?

    Slack head angle shorter reach.
    Steeper head angle longer reach.

    Why? Discuss (maybe somewhere else since this is mikesee's thread)

    For the sake of this discussion no you can't have a little of both

    @goldsbar - Oh ya I forgot to mention that one (again for the newbs) hardtails are awesome, you may love them or not but they are certainly worth your time to consider.

  61. #61
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sparticus View Post
    What about fat bikes?
    =sParty

    What about 'em?

  62. #62
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    Quote Originally Posted by goldsbar View Post
    I'm kind of waiting for the much discussed, but never seems to get here onrush of the the 29x2.6 FS.

    The awesome thing about a 29+ sled with a high-ish BB is that you can still stick 2.6" meat on it. Very rare to borderline impossible to start with a bike made for 2.6's and upsize to 3.0.

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    I have been on this site for ten years. That's the best article I have ever read and one of the most informative. Thanks, Mike. I really appreciate your insights.

    And two thumbs up on low bottom brackets. I had a Specialized Stumpjumper FSR 650B "fattie" that I eventually sold because of the pedal strikes from an unreasonably low bottom bracket.

    As for gearboxes, I have a Roloff on my gravel bike and I really like it. The power loss through drag is grossly exaggerated by critics of internally geared hubs and, now that I have a few thousand miles on it, the thing is as smooth as butter.

    The Pinion gearbox looks like a real winner and I hope to get one some day.

  64. #64
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fajita Dave View Post
    Not to get all technical here but it's about moment of inertia rather than center of gravity. Lowering the BB lowers the MOI when you're standing on the pedals giving a bike a more smooth and stable ride. When you lean a bike into a corner they don't "lean" as much as they rotate on an axis. If you raise the height of the MOI along that axis it will give it more of a "top heavy" kind of feel. It's far from the only factor with bike handling though.
    NERD!

    JK

    I was aware that "center of gravity" is not quite the right term, but the scientifically uninitiated, we know what is meant by that. I appreciate the way you explained it though.

    Quote Originally Posted by geraldooka View Post
    ... The relationship of all the angles is complex but not impossible to explain or understand. Decide where one wants more or less compromise for the terrain they ride and how they want to ride it and they’d be further ahead than reading “review” articles or folks personal preferences on forums.

    ...

    Here's a 2 minute map I made that probably only scratches the surface of slack head angles but put this type of thought into all aspects of a bike and one can find something as close to their unicorn as possible.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    this! thank you for taking the time to make that map. I too believe that these things are complex but not impossible to understand. understanding the "why" should help riders make informed decisions about what bike they buy and how they set it up based on their riding style, terrain, and skill level. there's too much hyperbole about "this bike rails around corners!" that needs qualification.

    If you or anyone is interested, it would be really cool to see an interactive tool based on the logic map you posted above, but connect all the dots of different aspects of bicycle geometry. if someone could map it out logically in the manner you did and then make a graphical representation that changes as you nominally change frame geometry. it would not and probably could not be precise or accurate, but it could give riders a general idea that a bike with a high BB, short wheelbase, steep head tube, blah blah blah would generally handle like ___ relative to a frame with one variable changed. I lack the technical skills or specific knowledge to make such a tool, but it would be endlessly beneficial for demystifying bicycle geometry and how it affects handling.

  65. #65
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    I'm having a hard time digesting the hardtail comments. I've noticed a trend over the last year or so of more riders in my region (Upstate SC, WNC) buying/building more aggro hardtails. This isn't just one or two people. Chatter in the Charlotte NC area shows the same. These are typically people who started off on FS bikes and now, for whatever reason, are looking at HTs. I think the industry is missing the signs on this trend. At least in the USA.

  66. #66
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    Yes, progressive hardtails are a thing.
    I got some bad ideas in my head.

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