Sunday, 28 February 2016

Something a little different? Trek Fuel EX 9.8

As a self confessed weight weenie and XC racer boy I have often glanced at modern trail bikes and wondered if slacker head angles, longer forks and some plumper rubber could turn me into Jared Graves.

When I was invited to ride at Surrey Hills this weekend, with my main bike out of action I contacted Alex at South Downs Bikes in Goring to see if he had a demo bike I could try. Given the technical trails around Peaslake perhaps this was my chance to scratch that Trail Bike itch. In the end Alex very kindly lent me his own Trek Fuel EX 9.8.

Its a stunning looking bike shod with 27.5 inch wheels, the middle sized half brother of the 29er and original 26er. The 27.5 inch wheel is ridden by short arses or riders hoping to maintain some of the sharp 26er handling, but still with some of the improved rolling momentum of the larger 29er. The wheels are fitted with 2.35 tyres and the Fuel has 120mm of suspension travel front and rear, with a nice slack 68 degree head angle. Its poles apart from my hardtail with 90mm fork.

Despite all these differences the thing that took the greatest getting used too were the monstrous 760mm wide handlebars! As my familiarity with the bike grew the benefits of that 120mm of travel came to the fore. The suspension means that you can ignore roots and rocks that would knock a hardtail off line and just pick the fastest route down the trail. The extra mass of the bike certainly made itself felt on the climbs, but the suspension enabled the rear tyre to maintain grip again letting me pick more technical lines. Checking my Strava account when I got home I set my personal bests on all the famous trails, like 'Barry Knows Best' and 'Yogurt Pots'.

I admit I am not normally interested in bikes with bulging 2.3 inch tyres and anything over 100mm of suspension travel. I haven't owned a full suspension bike since the 29er revolution 5 years ago. To me the larger diameter wheels made the extra weight and complexity of suspension unnecessary. However, technical riding has always been my weakness. Riding the Trek certainly gave me confidence to carry more speed and attack more agressive lines, but the limiting factor was still my own personal skill level. The advantages of this type of bike over a XC race bike are obvious in technical terrain and when decending. However, I spent the entire ride labouring at the back of the group. Dragging the burly frame, fork and wheels around really took its toll. Perhaps a there is a middle ground that might offer the best of both worlds - the Trek Top Fuel perhaps?

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

New arrival!

My daughter Sapphire was born on Valentines day, so cycling hasn't even been on the radar for a few weeks. On Sunday I took a few hours off nappie duty for a road ride with the boys. It was brilliant to be back in the saddle.  Surprisingly I felt quite strong on the bike, perhaps I should take two weeks off more often! 

Time is going to be precious in the coming months, so I'm going to need to make the most of my opportunities to get out on the bike. Today it was a window of 50 minutes while my wife was on the school run to collect our older son. Just time for 5 hill reps up the Sculpture climb at Goodwood.

Needless to say I won't be breaking any mileage records in 2016. I am nearly 500 miles behind last year already and it isn't even March! It will be interesting to see if with focused training I can maintain an equivalent level of fitness. Last year was built largely on commuting miles, but it was not very specific training and I expect much of it was nonsense mileage which gained little other than tiring me out. We'll see!

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

New Wheels!

Three years ago I bought some carbon 29er wheel rims direct from Light Bicycles in China. In terms of bang for your buck they were hard to beat! Laced to No Tubes 3.30 hubs using Sapim spokes, they built up into a 1500g wheelset. As a benchmark Specialized’s 1400g Roval SL’s are a common sight on cross country race bikes. The rim profiles and intended use are identical, but they are over twice the cost of my Light Bicycle wheels.

In three years I didn’t encounter any issues with durability and the customer service has always been superb. It is testament to both the rims and Darren who built them up for me, that they have remained straight and true from day one. However two rock strikes, one on the front which was repairable and a more serious one on the rear that wasn't, have finally brought the curtain down on these wheels adventures after 3000 miles.

So what to replace them with? If I had a pot of gold or a generous sponsor it might have been ENVE’s or the Rovals. As XC racer on a family budget another visit to the now much slicker Light Bicycles website was the way to go.

Three years ago ordering direct from Light Bicycles in China felt like a bit of a risk. I now know several riders who like me have been riding hard on their Light Bicycles wheels with no worries about durability. The amount of positive reports and feedback online is also testament to the quality of the products they produce. No fear now that these are just cheap, knock-off copies of established brands products, that will crumble to dust  at the first sight of dirt. Or that Light Bicycles customer support will vanish if there is a hint of a problem.

It is also interesting that the review of my old wheels is the most visited page on this blog.  now offers  a broad range of different rim options for a diverse range of cycling disciplines and riding styles. Since 2013 the trend has been toward hookless rims. Removing the un-necessary bead hook to hold the tyre makes the rims easier to manufacture, as they do not need the secondary machining process to create the internal profile. It also leaves the carbon fibre structure intact, with the reported advantage of increasing overall strength.
My current rim profile - with bead hook

New rim profile - without bead hook

I opted for the lightest, cross country focused rims, clicked the online order button and waited 2 weeks for the tracked parcel to whizz around the world in a couple of days and then crawl through UK customs and the final 40 miles from the airport to my house! The website states a 360g weight +/- 15g. I asked if they could choose some rims at the lighter end of the scale and quickly received an email to say they were happy to oblige. Straight out the box and onto the scales the combined weight was 718g. The internal 22mm width is a little wider than my old rims and should be wide enough to fit a 2.3in tyre, which is about as large as I can imagine ever needing to go. 
New hoops!
The rims cost $380 plus £26 UK customs and handling fee. Building them up onto my existing hubs makes them without doubt the most cost effective route to a quality set of replacement carbon wheels. A ride review will follow when Darren has woven his magic!