2008 Fuel EX9: Post Punk Pondering

Usually it’s meant as a joke, but this time there was more than a grain of truth to the old saying: Bike testing is a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it. You see, the 2007 edition of the Punk Bike Enduro, was a cold, rainy and muddy affair. But, such is the life of a test pilot—needless to say, I soldiered on.

Muddy Punk
Did I mention it was muddy?
I must admit that the sloppy conditions made my singlespeed quite the attractive arrow in the proverbial quiver. But, damnit, I had a bike to test! Time to suck it up.Fortunately It didn’t take long to rig up some "rider comfort" mods for the Trek Fuel EX9 test bike. In preparation for the quagmire, I attached a quick released fender via the steatpost, added a crud catcher beneath the downtube, and fashioned a front mud flap from a bit of plastic (cut from a blueberry container) and zip-tied it to the fork bridge. That should keep some of the mess off of the pilot. But what about the bike? How would the tires, and all those gears and suspension bits, handle the sloppy conditions?

In the traction department, I was not lacking. The widely spaced, medium-height tread pattern on the Tubeless Ready Bontrager Jones XR tires actually turned out to work quite well in the soup. They did a good job of self-cleaning, except in one particular nasty patch of clay—where any tire would have been overmatched. As I mentioned in a earlier post, I converted these tires/wheels to tubeless, so I was able to run the tires soft enough to give the bike a sure-footed feeling on wet, muddy roots and rocks. This did not surprise me—in the mud I prefer tires with a pattern like the Bontrager Jones XR’s. I’ve never been a fan of those tall-knobbed so-called mud tires—the knobs can squirm over wet roots and send you on your backside in the blink of an eye.

At the end of the day, I was happy to be sporting 27 speeds, and not just one. I resorted to my granny ring on more than one occasion, and kept grinding along—while others pushed. The drivetrain didn’t give me a lick of trouble, despite the harsh conditions. While I normally prefer Gripshift, this was one day that I was happy to be sporting trigger shifters. I went through three different pairs of gloves on Punk day, and my experience is that wet, muddy gloves and Gripshift is not a good combination—when the shifters and/or gloves get a coating of mud, shifting can become difficult to impossible.

Having 110/120mm of front/rear suspension is a definite advantage in technical terrain on a nasty day. Being able to keep my butt in the saddle and put the power to the pedals, while the suspension sucks up the impacts, lets me hammer through some unbelievably bad conditions. It goes without saying that full suspension and disc brakes were the shiznitt on the downhills.

You know what? I’m pretty darned happy that I left the singlespeed hanging on the hook in the basement after all.

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