The first day of the Outdoor (formerly the better-sounding “Dirt”) Demo is mellow, as many of the dealers who flock here from across the nation elect not to come until the second day. It makes for a perfect opportunity for us to grab test rides on the most desirable bikes early.
The first shady tent I visited was the Salsa installation, and they had some tasty goods. They’re coming out with a new bike of an old sort that’s making a comeback lately: the Fargo, with drop handlebars and fat tires together, like peanut butter and chocolate. It was inspired a trip from Anchorage to Moab undertaken some 14 years ago by Jason Boucher â€“ he’s been dreaming of the perfect dirt touring bike ever since. (That kind of a trip will stay with you.) This one’s got mounts for six (6!) bottle cages, or fuel canisters as the case may be, and of course rack and fender mounts. Its rear disc caliper is nestled in the crook of the rear triangle, an increasingly popular place, which keeps it out of the way of all those other mounts.
Coincidentally Chuck Hood of Co-Motion walked up to the booth with a similar sort of bike, the Pangea, a special build for some folks on a round-the-world trip (more info on that later). The down tube, seat tube and chainstays are tandem-size (Co-Motion being tandem experts and all), and it sports full-on fat tires as well, making it a true beast of burden. Chuck has put the beast through its paces and called the ride “supple.”
Andrew and I went out to actually do some demoing on some dirt, he on the Fargo, and me on Salsa’s new 4″-travel 29er, the Big Mama (see our Blog about Mama and the El Kaboing). The Big Mama’s a pure fun bike, and didn’t feel as big as her name implies â€“ she’s more big in spirit than in body. She handled the loose, gravelly terrain with enough ease that I even caught a little air, and didn’t feel hefty hefty on the way up (or down).
From what we saw today, it would seem that a common area of exploration is increasing travel on 29ers, to four, five, and even six inches. It’s a natural progression â€“ engineers and framebuilders have learned how to build bikes around 29″ wheels, then figured out how best to add some travel, now they’re increasing it. Where’s the natural limit, though? Hard to say. The larger wheels don’t need as much suspension in the first place, but they also are supposedly weaker (although I haven’t seen a plague of taco’d big wheels amongst the people I know who ride them), so their potential for hucking, downhill, freeride, etc. use is perhaps not so great. It is amazing, though, what those engineers have been able to accomplish in terms of keeping the weight down on these big frames.
Next up for some dirt demo action was the Titus Racer X, aluminum 29er version. This bike doesn’t mess around: firm suspension, quick steering, fast acceleration. However the ProPedal switch on the Fox RP23 shock (which is cropping up on still more bikes) made a big difference in the suspension feel, going from “all business” to “well, maybe we’ll kick back and have a few.”
You may have seen those ads and perhaps checked out the website of a hippie-lookin’ dude named Hammerschmidt who’s been hanging with the otherwise clean-cut folks at SRAM. Well, this dude makes an interesting crankset. The Truvativ Hammerschmidt crank is a solution for the funkiness of a front derailleur on a big-travel bike; it’s an enclosed two-gear system that operates with a SRAM X-0 or X-9 shifter, giving either a 22/36t or a 24/38t combination, but in a small space and with only one actual chainring.
I checked out a disassembled one on a table in the SRAM tent, and it looks surprisingly simple:
I tried one out on a cute little track laid out behind the tent, and was amazed at how truly instantaneous the shifting was. It was so fast, I nearly launched myself off the bike going into the 38 “tooth” Overdrive mode.
As that little taste didn’t qualify as a ride, I sought out another interesting specimen for a longer trip, and found the always-interesting Ibis booth. They’ve been making some changes to the unique Tranny frame they showed at last year’s show, with the help of Brian Lopes, who’s been racing one in four-cross competition: “detuning” the chainstays for better feel, and making the seatstay cable guides removable and crafting nifty expandable top-tube guides for easily switching between singlespeed or geared configurations. The Trannys available for demoing were set up as singlespeeds, and in fact one of Ibis’ own placed in the top 30 at the SSWC08 atop one.
But the beautiful Mojo caught my riding eye. Damn, for a 5.5″-travel bike, it sure pedaled fast. All that travel didn’t make its presence known until it was called upon to make up for my sloppy, heat-addled steering skills sending me into the rocks. That shiny red upper link is new â€“ what formerly was two halves on either side of that bolt is now one piece, thanks to those connecting bits going across horizontally. It’s only 15g more material that adds what the Ibis folks say is a significant amount of stiffness to the rear end.
Stay tuned, dear audience, to this space for more updates from the desert. Click here for our photo gallery from day one of Outdoor Demo.