Singlespeed for Racing on Rough Trails?- Mtbr.com
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  1. #1
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    Singlespeed for Racing on Rough Trails?

    I currently have a 2014 Salsa El Mariachi rigid singlespeed and have been very happy with it. I have no complaints other than the weight and am considering buying something lighter. I'm hesitant though because there's lots of roots and rocks on the trails in the area, and I'm worried a lighter, racier frame may actually be slower due to the stiffness.

    Does anyone have any input on this? Can a 25 pound compliant steel rigid singlespeed be faster than a 20 pound carbon rigid singlespeed?

    2 of my top choices so far are the Niner One 9 RDO and the Titanium El Mariachi. I own an aluminum air 9 geared hardtail and the steel mariachi, so I know the geo of either of these would be fine.

    A suspension fork would be ideal for these trails, but I really prefer rigid forks on my singlespeeds.

    Here's the upgrades I've done so far on my mariachi. I think the weight in the frame, fork, and cranks is the only thing keeping it from being perfect for me.

    Roval Traverse SL Fattie Carbon Wheels
    Ikon 2.35 front & rear set up tubeless
    Salsa Carbon Bars
    Lizard Skins DSP Grips
    Easton carbon Post
    WTB Rocket V SLT Saddle
    KMC chain
    Niner cog

    Thanks!

  2. #2
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    You will get a hundred different answers since this boils down to personal preference. For what it's worth, I find a my lighter yet stiffer aluminum ss rigid much more comfortable over my heavier more compliant steel ss rigid through the rough trails.
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    Quote Originally Posted by A1an View Post
    You will get a hundred different answers since this is mainly a personal preference dilemma. For what it's worth, I find a my lighter yet stiffer aluminum ss rigid much more comfortable over my heavier more compliant steel ss rigid through the rough trails.
    how is that? could you elaborate on why you find it more comfortable on rough trails?

    i have done the stiff aluminum frame rigid SS thing and did not like it. way too punishing. i switched to a steel frame and was immediately impressed by the difference in ride quality.

    1/100
    OP- if your goal is outright speed for racing a suspension fork would be faster on rough terrain. knowing that it's not what you want, there is always a trade off when it comes to racing. depending on your personal goals/preferences you will have to sacrifice comfort, and strength, for weight as that is the biggest enemy in racing (assuming your in perfect physical condition).

    as far as it being too stiff to be fast- i don't think that would be a problem. as far as speed goes, rigid is rigid. i don't think a steel frame is faster than aluminum/carbon frame because it gives a little. probably the opposite, but that may be subjective or hard to prove.

    maybe you could switch to a suspension fork for races with the roughest terrain, and keep it rigid for everything else?

    the other option is to invest some money in your current ride, if your otherwise happy with it, to lighten it up.
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    Stop asking how much it weighs and just go ride it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by BENKD29
    as far as it being too stiff to be fast- i don't think that would be a problem. as far as speed goes, rigid is rigid. i don't think a steel frame is faster than aluminum/carbon frame because it gives a little. probably the opposite, but that may be subjective or hard to prove.
    Interesting....I know a lot less than many here but if steel is more compliant then wouldn't the rider feel the difference hence making them faster on trails? I can't speak for 20 lb carbon jobs but mine is a 25 lb steel job with steel forks and seems to have no problem riding up at the front with friends with carbon. Granted we are not racing but we rode pretty hard that day. I think the rider has a lot to do with it but equipment certainly makes a difference also.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by BENKD29 View Post
    how is that? could you elaborate on why you find it more comfortable on rough trails?
    Don't know why, it just is. If I were to throw out a guess...maybe weight. I'm a good big faster through the same rough trails on my lighter/stiffer bike compared to the other and I feel my upper body is much less fatigued. Both have equal gearing and wheel size.
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  6. #6
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    If you get a carbon frame, you can easily have a 20 lb bike WITH a suspension fork. That's going to be faster

    If you get the One9RDO (I have one it's awesome), and are planning on getting a matching fork, you can purchase a good suspension fork (like a 2015 fox on closeout) for essentially the same price as the RDO rigid fork.

    A suspension fork is going to let you ride any sort of rough trail faster. That's not saying you can't ride a rigid fork fast... but suspension is faster.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by iowamtb View Post
    Interesting....I know a lot less than many here but if steel is more compliant then wouldn't the rider feel the difference hence making them faster on trails? I can't speak for 20 lb carbon jobs but mine is a 25 lb steel job with steel forks and seems to have no problem riding up at the front with friends with carbon. Granted we are not racing but we rode pretty hard that day. I think the rider has a lot to do with it but equipment certainly makes a difference also.
    i guess the short answer is if steel was faster, every pro in every discipline of cycling would be riding it. there are 1 or 2 (in cyclocross i believe) but not many. for guys like us, it's the rider not the bike.

    the other ongoing debate is weather the flex of a steel frame in the BB area is less efficient than a stiffer frame. i think it is a bit less efficient, though not enough to slow me down or dissuade me from riding it. 4 of my 5 bikes are steel with the exception of my fatbike... which i plan on replacing.
    Rigid SS 29er
    SS 29+
    Fat Lefty
    SS cyclocross
    Full Sus 29er (Yuck)

    Stop asking how much it weighs and just go ride it.

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    Not about the bike.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by newmarketrog View Post
    Not about the bike.
    I agree, but my training time is more limited than funds for a bike. Might as well buy speed where possible

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    Quote Originally Posted by A1an View Post
    Don't know why, it just is. If I were to throw out a guess...maybe weight. I'm a good big faster through the same rough trails on my lighter/stiffer bike compared to the other and I feel my upper body is much less fatigued. Both have equal gearing and wheel size.
    Have you tried switching wheels (and tires with them) between the two bikes?
    Yeah I only carry cans cause I'm a weight weenie.

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    Quote Originally Posted by iowamtb View Post
    Interesting....I know a lot less than many here but if steel is more compliant then wouldn't the rider feel the difference hence making them faster on trails? I can't speak for 20 lb carbon jobs but mine is a 25 lb steel job with steel forks and seems to have no problem riding up at the front with friends with carbon. Granted we are not racing but we rode pretty hard that day. I think the rider has a lot to do with it but equipment certainly makes a difference also.
    Feel does not necessarily directly impact performance per se.

    My FS 1x10 rig feels awesome, flows, very compliant, smooth..it feels awesome and fast.

    I'm killing it performance wise though on my ss steel hardtail though...but it sure doesn't feel like it!

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by AlexCuse View Post
    Have you tried switching wheels (and tires with them) between the two bikes?
    I use the same wheel/tire on the front of each. The rear on the steel bike is a wider rim with a slightly higher volume tire compared to the other bike.
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  13. #13
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    Tires and geometry. Don't worry about the frame material.

    Get something fatter up front. Geax Goma 2.4" tires are awesome. Better yet, get some 29+ Chupacabra's. Ikons rear will work great. I run 2.2, but have 2.35 waiting.

    Geometry--get something that is a bit slacker, puts less weight on your hands. IMO, go custom. ~69deg HTA, tall HT to get the bars higher, and you'll shred the chunk. My custom full rigid steel bike blasts right through the rock gardens. Great thing is, the frameset cost is about what you'll spend on a carbon frame.

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    Xc speed/Racing=70/71 hta. No need to slack for going fast all round. Under 70 is just industry koolaid, imo.

    Spend money on wheels. Where it counts.

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    Quote Originally Posted by BENKD29
    i guess the short answer is if steel was faster, every pro in every discipline of cycling would be riding it. there are 1 or 2 (in cyclocross i believe) but not many. for guys like us, it's the rider not the bike.

    the other ongoing debate is weather the flex of a steel frame in the BB area is less efficient than a stiffer frame. i think it is a bit less efficient, though not enough to slow me down or dissuade me from riding it. 4 of my 5 bikes are steel with the exception of my fatbike... which i plan on replacing.
    I am seeing the light lol. I love steel as it is said it is less harsh than aluminum. But I guess less harsh = more comfort does not = more speed. Basically you can't have both......or can you? Interesting thread.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by newmarketrog View Post
    Xc speed/Racing=70/71 hta. No need to slack for going fast all round. Under 70 is just industry koolaid, imo.

    Spend money on wheels. Where it counts.
    Mine with 69HTA, 42" WB is a killer XC machine. Again, the question at hand was for "racing on rough trails," which I find slacker angles more helpful than say my old Niner One9, Karate Monkey, Monocog Flight. Gets the weight back and off the hands, which works for me (on a rigid). Of course, we all have our preference and geometry won't magically make you a good rider.

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    How heavy is that frame? My race bike is built on a 4lb frame and it's right around 21lbs without any weenie parts on it. Most FS rigs are 4.5lb frame weight as well, and build up in the 22-23lb range pretty easily with gears. You might want to just weigh everything you have currently and see where the weight is hiding. Sure, you could buy a lighter frame, but if all of the build kit is heavy it doesn't really matter.

  18. #18
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    You will indeed buy speed with a lighter bike (in your case 3 to 5 pounds less) if you go to a high end carbon frame and your races include 2000+++ vertical feet of climbing. The ride on carbon is excellent, so it won't really affect performance, it will be your personal preference. You will buy speed bc you will increase your power (p=w/kg). However, will that extra power improve your result? No, not likely (if you lost like 10 pounds off the bike then maybe, if you lost 10 pounds and lost 5 on the bike, then yes, highly likely your results will improve). If you have less climbing than that, weight isn't holding you back at all. If you live in a mountain region where there are screaming descents, a sus fork will make you faster and may affect your results (it's good to have both rigid and suspended, and plug in as needed). If you race some endurance three+++ hour races, the sus fork will slow some fatigue as well and may affect your result too. Enjoy you Salsa... lose 5 pounds off your body and suspend the front end. You'll be faster.
    "Racing cyclocross exposes the truth, it's the biggest reason many people do not race it"

  19. #19
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    My opinion is a steel/titanium framed hardtail with a high end fork (like a Sid xx) that has a remote lockout has always been my favorite and I seem to be the fastest on this setup..

    under 5 lbs weight savings is insignificant..

  20. #20
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    XC racing I would go aluminum and light. Rocky and technical stuff I would want my frame to be more compliant and not care as much about weight. I rode an aluminum SS last season and it was great on the single track dirt trails, but beat the hell out of me on the rocky stuff. Same goes for geometry like someone mentioned above, the bike I was riding had a real steep head tube angle which was great on single track. It really stumbled over itself on the rocky stuff though...

    That's my experience anyways. I know guys who ride steep HTA on real rocky stuff... maybe I just suck?

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    I think strempf is making a very important point about the relative value of things... those sound like words of wisdom to me.

    Assume we can express compliance as a percentage, where 100% is the most rigid ride ever, rattling down the highway with every pebble knocking you around; and 0 would be the noodliest wiggliest FS bike ever. How would you rate the effect of making certain changes?

    Example (pulled right out of my anus): My aluminum frame/carbon fork felt like a 90 when I first got it and it felt like 80 when I went tubeless and got my pressures down to 26psi. Making these changes made the bike feel 10% more compliant.

    How would you guys answer these questions?

    1. I swapped my aluminum frame with a steel frame, kept the same wheels and fork.
    2. I swapped my front tire for a 3.0 and kept my 2.2 in the rear.
    3. I bought a new frame and went from round to flat (ovalized) top tubes and stays, same material.
    4. I swapped my steel fork for a carbon fork.

    I've been riding on aluminum frames so long I forgot what steel feels like, of course I'm dying to get back on it. But I really wonder if I'm talking about a major transformative change to the experience, or one of those 1% advantages that, to be clear, might mean a lot to racers.

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    Swapping out frame material is so subjective as is a degree or two in geometry (it's the motor, the overall weight and where that weight is that matters in a race, not much else is important if we are talking "buying speed", going fast and results.). Just saying'... It's dependent on design, shapes, etc. so answering the question from TampaDave is too difficult. I can compare a Niner Air 9 C and AL. I race both regularly and both have the same fork and same wheels and RDO post. They feel more the same than different in almost every way (I will admit the RDO post probably has something to do with that). Perhaps the C dampens trail vibrations better, but doesn't affect performance or my results. This thread is about weight and I do agree that PSI and rubber can really make a difference in ride quality, perhaps more than frame material assuming we are talking about well designed frames. Also, (basically) the question is about going lighter to buy speed... losing weight on the frame is not nearly as valuable as losing weight on the wheels. Rotational mass should come off first... if we are talking racing conditions where the value of spinning up is high. Going to a 2.4 to improve the ride quality is a good idea... but not a great one in my humble opinion. Adding too much mass to the outside of the wheel is not a good idea. Perhaps a better balance of volume (2.3), weight, rolling resistance and durability. For me that balance is an s-works renegade 2.3 front, and control renegade 2.3 rear. They roll wicked fast, are really light, perform well at 22 psi (I am 148 lbs) and have enough volume to smooth things out a bit. I only use them to race, not for trail riding or training. The difference between my tire choice and the Ikon 2.35 that he's using is probably about a half pound, maybe a bit more... and where it matters most. So, regarding weight... if it spins, make it as light as you can (perhaps) without compromising reliability. If it doesn't spin, it's much less likely to matter much (unless it's significant weight like 10 lbs or more). He's also on a rigid fork... and a suspended fork will slow fatigue and improve speed over technical terrain and descents (it may not improve other characteristics like cornering and feel). But as far as making gains in technical race conditions, the heavier suspended fork trumps the lighter rigid fork (and if he's on steel it may not be lighter). So, buying speed may be possible by changing the fork.

    IMHO, the answer to his question: Can a 25 pound compliant steel rigid singlespeed be faster than a 20 pound carbon rigid single speed? If there is climbing (all else being equal), No (its pure physics). Will it matter? No. Will going from a rigid fork to a sus fork matter in technical conditions? Yes.
    "Racing cyclocross exposes the truth, it's the biggest reason many people do not race it"

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    Quote Originally Posted by coke View Post
    I currently have a 2014 Salsa El Mariachi rigid singlespeed and have been very happy with it. I have no complaints other than the weight and am considering buying something lighter. I'm hesitant though because there's lots of roots and rocks on the trails in the area, and I'm worried a lighter, racier frame may actually be slower due to the stiffness.

    Does anyone have any input on this? Can a 25 pound compliant steel rigid singlespeed be faster than a 20 pound carbon rigid singlespeed?

    2 of my top choices so far are the Niner One 9 RDO and the Titanium El Mariachi. I own an aluminum air 9 geared hardtail and the steel mariachi, so I know the geo of either of these would be fine.

    A suspension fork would be ideal for these trails, but I really prefer rigid forks on my singlespeeds.

    Here's the upgrades I've done so far on my mariachi. I think the weight in the frame, fork, and cranks is the only thing keeping it from being perfect for me.

    Roval Traverse SL Fattie Carbon Wheels
    Ikon 2.35 front & rear set up tubeless
    Salsa Carbon Bars
    Lizard Skins DSP Grips
    Easton carbon Post
    WTB Rocket V SLT Saddle
    KMC chain
    Niner cog

    Thanks!
    I have the same bike, lots of changes made to it. I love this frame and fork.

    That crank is like a boat anchor. Get rid of that crank and that will help a bunch.

  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by TampaDave View Post
    How would you guys answer these questions?

    1. I swapped my aluminum frame with a steel frame, kept the same wheels and fork.
    2. I swapped my front tire for a 3.0 and kept my 2.2 in the rear.
    3. I bought a new frame and went from round to flat (ovalized) top tubes and stays, same material.
    4. I swapped my steel fork for a carbon fork.

    I've been riding on aluminum frames so long I forgot what steel feels like, of course I'm dying to get back on it. But I really wonder if I'm talking about a major transformative change to the experience, or one of those 1% advantages that, to be clear, might mean a lot to racers.
    Here is the thing: regardless of frame material, going custom is a whole 'nother ball game compared to production. So if your current frame is production, going custom, be it aluminum, steel or ti, you will be blown away (given your framebuilder knows what they're doing). For me, the price point was the best with steel, but dream of going Ti one day.

  25. #25
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    Thanks everyone. I had another race Sunday on a rough trail. Overall I'm happy with the bike, but think I may look at keeping the frame for now and buying a carbon fork and possibly carbon cranks. If possible, the plan is to buy cranks and a fork that are compatible with both my bike and a niner One 9 so that I can upgrade the frame later on if I feel the need.

  26. #26
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    Yesterday I test rode a friends Niner Sir 9 which had an RDO fork. I was amazed at how much lighter the bike was and the fork rode really well.

    Just placed an order for an Enve fork and a set of XX1 carbon cranks. Can't wait!

    Thanks again for all info in this thread.

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    Optimizing frame geometry/fit, and then cockpit ergonomics and tires will have a much bigger affect than the frame material or the weight.

    -Walt

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    Quote Originally Posted by Walt View Post
    Optimizing frame geometry/fit, and then cockpit ergonomics and tires will have a much bigger affect than the frame material or the weight.

    -Walt
    That's the main reason I'm keeping this frame for now. It fits me better than any bike I've ridden. During a ride it just dissappears. I have considered custom but not sure what I'd change.

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    Quote Originally Posted by coke View Post
    That's the main reason I'm keeping this frame for now. It fits me better than any bike I've ridden. During a ride it just dissappears. I have considered custom but not sure what I'd change.
    No reason to go custom then. If i were gonna go custom i'd walk my unit frame right on in and ask the builder to duplicate it. Ox platinum pleeze

  30. #30
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    I've owned a One9, Sir9, Mariachi, Spot and now a Highball. Material does matter and how they lay it up matters too. When the first One9, non RDO came out, it was horrible as it was way the hell too stiff up and down.
    My One9 and Sir9 were the first loves of my life and I rode them everywhere. I could NEVER keep the chain on either bike. The One9 was better at it, but the lack of BB stiffness always threw my chains. I tried everything, and measured chainlines down the the mm. Chris at Niner thought I was crazy.
    I bought the Highball, and bam, no more chain throws. Take that!
    Forks play a huge roll in comfort/ride/stiffness. I've run the Pace carbon, custom blacksheep ti, Niner, Origin8. The Ti was by far the softest fork, and the Niner the stiffest. I loved the Niner stiffness fore/aft, but overall it was too stiff for me (160lbs). I Have a early prototype fork of theirs, so maybe the production ones thru the years have softened. I like the softness of the Pace with the fore/aft stiffness of the Niner.

    Racing on bumpy rutted course on a rigid SS is murder, especially downhill rutted sections. Ouch.

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    Quote Originally Posted by rensho View Post
    I loved the Niner stiffness fore/aft, but overall it was too stiff for me (160lbs).
    just curious, do you think a heavier rider would find it to have the right amount of compliance? or are you saying the design/construction of the fork is too stiff for you?
    Rigid SS 29er
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    Stop asking how much it weighs and just go ride it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by BENKD29 View Post
    just curious, do you think a heavier rider would find it to have the right amount of compliance? or are you saying the design/construction of the fork is too stiff for you?
    I don't like to guess. Best start would be to call the Niner guys and ask them if the fork has been redesigned to be more compliant since gen 1(i don't know if there has been more than 1 gen).
    I love that the fork is strong/stiff/superlight. The fork would be A LOT better for me, and perhaps anyone even at 200lbs if it were more compliant.

    Obviously the spectrum of SS rigid riders is wide... When I was riding SS rigid exclusively, I would bomb DH fairly fast and recklessly. For instance, I could stay on B riders on Nomads at Downieville. This makes for a huge pounding of hands/wrists and bodies. I run a 25.4 carbon bar to help with the pounding. Of course a big front tire helps. What I'm trying to say is there are riders that just ride SS for simplicity and enjoyment and there are ones that hammer the crap out of them. The former would have no issue with the Niner fork. The latter would want it to be more compliant.

    Hope that helps.

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    Quote Originally Posted by rensho View Post
    I've owned a One9, Sir9, Mariachi, Spot and now a Highball. Material does matter and how they lay it up matters too. When the first One9, non RDO came out, it was horrible as it was way the hell too stiff up and down.
    My One9 and Sir9 were the first loves of my life and I rode them everywhere. I could NEVER keep the chain on either bike. The One9 was better at it, but the lack of BB stiffness always threw my chains. I tried everything, and measured chainlines down the the mm. Chris at Niner thought I was crazy.
    I bought the Highball, and bam, no more chain throws. Take that!
    Forks play a huge roll in comfort/ride/stiffness. I've run the Pace carbon, custom blacksheep ti, Niner, Origin8. The Ti was by far the softest fork, and the Niner the stiffest. I loved the Niner stiffness fore/aft, but overall it was too stiff for me (160lbs). I Have a early prototype fork of theirs, so maybe the production ones thru the years have softened. I like the softness of the Pace with the fore/aft stiffness of the Niner.

    Racing on bumpy rutted course on a rigid SS is murder, especially downhill rutted sections. Ouch.
    Did you try a narrow/wide and a true SS rear cog? I assume you must have, but my bike only stopped dropping chains after that. My renthal front chainrings are the best on everything for me.

  34. #34
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    Guess I should give an update. I bought a Niner One 9 RDO frame back in August. I found that it tracks the trail better and bounces less than my mariachi. I really noticed it while seated and pedaling over small roots. The carbon frame seems to flex more than steel for bumps, but at the same time is stiffer while out of the saddle and climbing. I've been able to drop the rear tire from a 2.35 to a 2.2 and it seems just as compliant if not more than the 2.35 on the steel frame. I've also beat most of the PRs I set with the steel bike. I've found that the springiness of steel was acting somewhat like an undamped shock and making the bike more difficult to control. Carbon is rigid and some of the bumps are harder, but it's more predictable not having a springy frame & fork in rough terrain.

  35. #35
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    Quote Originally Posted by newmarketrog View Post
    Not about the bike.

    OMG ... thank you !....

    ride what you find most enjoyable... you'll be faster on that bike...

  36. #36
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    Quote Originally Posted by coke View Post
    Guess I should give an update. I bought a Niner One 9 RDO frame back in August. I found that it tracks the trail better and bounces less than my mariachi. I really noticed it while seated and pedaling over small roots. The carbon frame seems to flex more than steel for bumps, but at the same time is stiffer while out of the saddle and climbing. I've been able to drop the rear tire from a 2.35 to a 2.2 and it seems just as compliant if not more than the 2.35 on the steel frame. I've also beat most of the PRs I set with the steel bike. I've found that the springiness of steel was acting somewhat like an undamped shock and making the bike more difficult to control. Carbon is rigid and some of the bumps are harder, but it's more predictable not having a springy frame & fork in rough terrain.
    Are you beating your PRs by a lot or a little. It could be new bike syndrome. It sounds like you really enjoy the handling, which is great.

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    My training has stepped up the last few months so it's not all bike, but I have broken my old PRs. Also, another big factor is that I switched from flat pedals and 5.10s to clipless with sidi.

    Local trail roughly 400' of climbing, 5.5 miles, not too rough but very tight with lots of switchbacks. PR on steel = 36 minutes. PR on carbon = 33 minutes

    Local trail roughly 500' of climbing, 6.5 miles, rocky and rough. PR on steel around 45 minutes. PR on carbon around 40 minutes.

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