Last year when working on the 2015 editorial calendar for Dirt Rag, I realized the holy grail might finally be found.
Found is really the wrong word, and maybe the grail is the wrong metaphor, but who doesn’t love a good Indiana Jones reference? In any case, the grail I’m referring to is a single mountain bike that can handle all the riding I would want to do in a year, and do them all well enough that I wouldn’t regret not taking another bike that was more suited to the task at hand. And I had to have fun. Having to suffer through an event due to poor bike choice is never any fun.
In any given year I might be taking part in endurace events (100 milers, stage races), attempting to not crash too hard in a bike park, or exorcising demons on a bike-camping trip. That is a tall order to ask of a single bike, and an even taller order to ask when the rider (me) has access to bikes that are designed with a focus on just such events.
With all that in mind, I picked three events to see if a modern trail bike could really do it all.
I planned a multi-day trip in the wilds of central Pennsylvania. With plenty of little-used pavement, dirt roads and singletrack, this would be a true test of my route finding and the bike’s ability handle a variety of terrain with the load of a self-contained camping set up.
What I’d be riding if I wasn’t on the “One Bike”: RSD Mutant rigid steel 29plus, a model that is now replaced with the Big Chief.
I decided it was time to revisit the Wilderness 101. The last time I rode it was at least a decade ago, on a rigid Karate Monkey with terrible cable disc brakes, terrible IRC Mythos tires, and an inadvertently terrible 34-18 gear choice. It was a top 5 hardest day ever on the bike for me. And I’ve had a lot of hard days on the bike.
What I’d be riding if I wasn’t on the “One Bike”: Black Cat Custom 29er hardtail singlespeed
The Chomolungma Challenge at Snowshoe Bike Park is not the most well know downhill race, but it deserves more attention. Chomolungma translates as “Goddess Mother of Mountains,” a name used by Tibetans for the mountain we know as Everest. What does this have to do with Snowshoe, a much smaller hill nowhere near Tibet? Everest is 29,029 feet tall. 20 laps of the Western Territory at Snowshoe is roughly 30,000 feet. Line up some racers and see who can do it the quickest. Simple.
I did this race a few years ago on a downhill bike, and for the most part enjoyed it, even with a broken derailleur cable for the last five laps or so. This was also the race the broke our circulation guy’s shoulder. (This was a awful as it sounds)
Unfortunately due to deadline timing, I won’t actually be able to take part in the race, but I’ll travel to Snowshoe to do the laps to simulate the carnage. I’ll miss the nice ladies handing out drinks and snacks in the lift lines during the race.
What I’d be riding if I wasn’t on the “One Bike”: KTM Lycan LT 271.
The One Bike
I had a list of mid- to long-travel 29ers that I was working from when this idea was hatched. The big wheels are more suited to the endurance and bike packing parts of this challenge, and the bigger wheels would hopefully make up for some of the short travel when attempting to not die at the bike park. Some riders wondered why I wasn’t using a longer travel 27.5 bike, but I felt the bigger wheels and shorter travel were more important for the two longer events.
One by one the 29ers fell by the wayside. Some where about to be redesigned, some companies didn’t return my calls or emails, and some were being sold at a faster rate than they could be made leaving none for the begging media.
So I started searching again. And hit upon this:
That is a picture of the 2015 Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt BC Edition. A few emails to Andres Hestler, and the bike was at my door.
Yes, it “only” has 27.5 wheels. Everything else about it is just about perfect. A 130 mm Pike fork is sturdy enough for Snowshoe, but not so long and heavy as to be a huge hinderance bikepacking or attempting to make quick work of 101 miles. The carbon frame keeps weight down. A dropper post is must, obviously. The real key that sold me on the Thunderbolt is Rocky’s Ride9 geometry adjust technology.
Via a simple chip system, head angle can be adjusted from 68.2 degrees to a delightfully slack 66.5-degrees. That is among the slackest available for a bike with a 130 mm front end, at least for a stock bike. Ride-9 also allows for adjustments for a more linear or progressive shock rate, and for lighter or heavier riders. This sounds pretty ideal for my uses. A single bolt holds the chips in place, although in the slackest setting, the frame blocks access to the air valve, making shock tuning a bit of a pain.
I’m limiting myself to only tire and cockpit changes. I’ve made some swaps to stock parts to get some extra time on components I’m reviewing, but nothing that changes the nature of the bike.
Stay tuned for the changes I made for each challenge, the gear that helped me finish, and finally the big write up in the pages of our magazine. Subscribe right now and you might be in time for the full test to arrive in your mail box.