Friday, September 30, 2011

First Ride

This was my first real ride on: 1) a hartail, 2) a 29er,  and 3) on my new 2012 Scott Scale Expert hartail 29er!.   I bought this at Caster's Bike shop in Providence and retails for $2500. It's a lot of bike for the cash: super light and beautiful carbon frame, Reba RL fork w/ remote lock, and XT drivetrain, and some yet to be identified DT Swiss wheels (XR 39?).  All the info on it is here!

I'll start out by saying that I have been told by several respectable cyclist that it takes several rides to make the transition from a 26er (especially a full susp!) and to not judge it until I am at least into my 5th ride.  I'll start out by saying that i really really want to like it:  1) It's a gorgeous bike, so visually it's easy to like. 2) It's a hard tail and I would love to have a much simpler bike and not have to worry about my pivots, shock, etc... and 3) It's a 29er and I am a sucker for fads and raves...
Off to Big River I went for the maiden voyage.  Within 20 yards on the trail, I already had a "urgh...this sucks" moment.  Riding down an easy but rooty trail my ass and back were getting a pounding and the rear end was bouncing.  Once I got my ass out the saddle that made it a little bit more tolerable.  Right, not on a squishy full susp anymore...

The second "urgh" moment came a mile later on a set of little tiny hills on "Piney trail"; a trail I was very familiar with and could probably ride with my eyes closed.  On my worse days I can usually handle the two little hills by dropping just one gear.  Not on this bike.  I had to shift down two or three gears and then had to get out of the saddle and grunt my way over the top at 0.5 mph.  (at least now I understand the concept of leverage and the need for those wide bars).  The weight of wheels was so apparent and getting this bike rolling on anything that pointed up slightly uphill was a chore!

On the other hand, on "Barbie trail", a fast and swoopy trail,  the bike handled very nicely, especially through the turns, as the traction was really superb.  At this point I had adjusted my riding style a little to be off the saddle more especially when the rear wheel needed to roll over stuff.  If I didn't,  the price was pretty high as the bike would bounce.  The worse part of the "bouncing" was not the physical cost, though that was certainly not pleasant, but rather the loss of momentum.  The 29er front wheel would roll over things much easier than my 26er, but the rear suspension on my Spech just swallows the trail.  Having susp on the rear is very much like having a very smart independent child: you can give it half assed directions and it will figure out what to do.  On my full squish, if I can get the front over it, the bike will sort out the rear on it's own.  On the other, the hard tail needed to be micro managed.  I use the word "bounce" above deliberately because the bike was not harsh and really took out the sharpness of the trail.  Unlike my aluminium road bike, which is really jarring, I could really tell that this bike was actually muffling and absorbing that direct transmission of the trail.

After Barbie and it's extension, I rode to "I see dead people", a slightly more technical trail. I had to get there  by a fire road with some minor climbing on it.  Again this climb was a out of the saddle mash the peddles experience and felt twice as hard and twice as slow as my light 26er.

My experience on "Dead people" was very good at first.  Some sections were off camber w/ roots and small baby head rocks.  The bike never lost traction and rolled with ease over everything.  My 26er in this section would need to be micro managed.  I was especially in awe by how well the Scale corned in the really tight switch backs and though the bike looks big, it certain did not steer as such.  On my 26er in the these tight switch back climbs, I would at times spin out the rear end, but no chance that was going to happen with the Scott!  The problem happened when I came to the most technical part of the trail: an off camber large flat rock that needed to be hopped on to.  This section is normally quite rideable and hasn't been an issue for me in the past.  Well, I endoed!  And I endoed again on my second attempt!  Thank fully, though my body took a hit both times, I was able to save the bike!  Filled w/ PO energy, I made it the third attempt but it wasn't smooth or pretty.   Sure 29er role over things more easily, but getting them on top of things they can't roll over is not a given!  I noticed that even over log crossings, I was struggling w/ getting the front end up high  (this might be more a results of wimpy arms though).  Someone had warned me that the the timing on 29er is really different and this was clearly a struggle for me. The same happened on the next trail (Elephant) on an angled log crossing.  It took me several attempts to get the front over it and to clear it without having to put my foot down (again this normally not an issue at all).

The usual Big River picture spot!
Where the bike came to it's own though was on the rocky climb to an overlook (see picture).  The bike rolled with ease over the smaller rocks and did not loose it's momentum, and again the increase grip was terrific. On my Epic I will at times get hung up on the rocks since they are in close proximity to each other.  I don't think I made it to the top faster, but noticed I felt more relaxed when I did get there and it had required a lot less body english.  The bike also did very well on "Allen's Ave".  I never needed to slow down for any of the fast turns and the bike rode like it was on rails. This bike really turns so well, whether it's tight or long fast turns.  The technical rock wall decent was a slight disaster though.  But that was mostly out of fear of damaging the new bike and still not haven gotten over that I had endoed twice already!

When I finally made it out to Cardy road, I decided to feel how much air I had in the tires.  I had pumped them up the night before at Caster's  to 32 psi (I had tubes in there), but they felt rock hard.  I let out a significant of air but not so much that I would risk pinch flatting with tubes.   Ridding the climb to the Hopkins Hill parking lot and the decent on the other side, both a mixture of lots of roots and rocks, the bike felt significantly better.  The bike was not as "bouncy" any more and became much softer; the rear end easier to control..

I finished the ride (as the sun was setting quickly) by taking "Shoot the moon" trail, a fast loose trail with lots of sweeping bermed turns.  I think I touched the brakes only once.  The bike never even felt close to being pushed too hard through those turns and if I had the legs, could have easily handled more speed.  Had I had lighter wheels, I would have been in heaven!

When I got back to the car, I checked my tire pressure and it was at 22 psi.  The pressure did not feel too low though.  Must be that high volume thing.  Maybe my "feeling gauge" is way off but to me the 29er tires at 22 felt like what my 26er would at 28 psi.

My phone data showed that my average speed was 8.1 mph for a two + hour ride.  That is way slow for me.  In Big River my avg will usually be at least in the low teens.  That was really disappointing since I felt like I had put in a serious effort.  I need to find someone w/ a light set of wheels to loan me to make a more fair comparison between my Sworks 26er wheels, which come in at 1400 grams, versus the current DT Swiss at 2000+

This was ride 1.  Four more to go before I make up my mind.  Sunday should be a good ride #2 at the NEMBA fun ride in Arcadia.


  1. You mean to say you've NEVER ridden a hardtail before now!!! Perhaps I'm just a bit too old school!


  2. Truth. He loosely had a hard tail for about the 1990's!
    Funny, I've been riding full suspension consistently for 6 years now, althought I've awlays had both a hardtail and a full suspension (starting with the Cannondale Super V 2000). I always reached for the hardtail and only occasionallyy rode the duaal suspension rig. I don't think I'd want to go back to a hard tail...even IF I go to a 29r.

  3. Nice write up. The answer is a full squish 29er. Preferably with remote lock out. Thanks for the review!