I’ve learned quite a few lessons in my 15 years of bike testing. One of them is that it may take a while for my mind an body to adapt to the handling and personal characteristics of any new bike. Adaptation was less of an issue back in the mid- to late-90s, when I consumed a steady diet of the cookie-cutter “NORBA standard geometry” hardtails that ruled the day. At the present time, however, one has available a mind-boggling array of choices in bike design. Heck, 15 years ago I was not sold on the concept of full-suspension, and now dual-boing is my preferred mode of off-road conveyance. And, back in the day, nobody was marketing a 29er MTB.
Which brings me to the “adaptation” theme of this post: I am coming off a several-year-long string of riding 26″ full-suspension test bikes, and now I’ve got a hardtail 29er between my legs. It’s adaptation time, folks.
For the past year, my main ride has been a Trek Fuel EX, a 26″ bike with 120mm of travel. That’s the platform that my mind and body had adapted to, before I started riding the EWR OWB29er.
One of the first lessons that I re-learned was that hardtails will kick your skinny butt, if you keep it planted in the saddle. While it is true that 29″ wheels are more efficient at smoothing out the rough spots, I still have to ride this hardtail bike “like a hardtail.” That means occasionally un-weighting my butt from the saddle, transferring weight to my legs, and letting my legs act as shock absorbers, in lieu of rear suspension.
Don’t get me wrong, the 29″ wheels do offer a noticable advantage in rolling over rocky and/or rooty trails with more momentum and control than 26″ wheels. Case in point: my second ride on the OWB29er was on the 7 Spring, PA race course and its infamous “rock garden” section. It turns out that a week earlier I had ridden the same route on the Trek Fuel EX. Cleaning the rock garden felt “less challenging” on the OWB29er. The big wheels opened up more “rideable” lines, making navigation a less daunting choreâ€”just point, pedal and proceed as planned. With my butt out of the saddle, when required.
My personal technique for pedaling uphill on a full-suspension bike on uneven terrain is like stoking a tandem: head down, butt planted, digging deep, crushing the pedals and letting the suspension worry about the terrain. Riding a hartdtail uphill requires a bit more finesse in the form of subtle fore-to-aft weight shifts over obstacles, and knowing when to get out of the saddle altogether. Basic techniques learned long ago, ignored for a while, and now re-learned.
The third ride was the charmâ€”that’s when the OWB29er “disappeared beneath me” and I stopped thinking about the bike and started riding the bike. My first two rides had been solo excursions, and perhaps that made it too easy for me to over-analyze every little nuance of my new bike. Ride three was with the Dirt Rag crew, on the familiar trails out the backdoor of the office. I was sucked into playful competition, trying to keep up with Moe, atop his SC Nomand, while traveling at warp speed down the “Lost at Night” trail. Nothing to do but let ‘er rip. No time to think about the bike, just point, shoot and trust. Brrrrrrup over the twisted root garden at the drop-in. Swoosh through the tree-lined slalom section near the bottom. Splash through the creek crossing at the end. I even scored an unsolicited comment from Justin, who followed me down, and mentioned that I looked rather comfortable while ripping it up on the EWR. Yeah, thanks, I guess I did.
Riding the with the gang, I hadÂ similar feelings of confidence while jumping the EWR over downed logs taller than the bottom bracket, and snapping through twisty singletrack at speed. It’s early in the bike-testing game, but so far, daddy likes. Stay tuned to this Bat Channel for more reports, as the testing miles accumulate. And by all means, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to type your feedback in the “Leave a Reply” box at the bottom of this post. Let’s make this journey of discovery an interactive one.
I’ll see you on the trails.