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Existentialism-- Just a bloody good excuse to go riding...

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Long travel XC?

Ever done a quick search of "XC vs AM bikes"? Well, I'm not even gonna try and make sense of some of the things said. Frankly I think all AM bikes first evolve from rigid to "XC" and the quest for ever longer travel for better comfort on rides over time.

Sure, things got beefier as more designs started catering for stronger tubing, design and tweaking geometries to accommodate the increase in travel and the rigors that comes with it from the bigger poundings in the trail.

Some of course argues its the difference of how hard you can huck an AM over an XC as stronger frames and longer travel lends itself to the wilder side of riding. Manufacturers obviously cash in on all of these if they haven't already bucking the trends in the first place and soon the market got flooded with components that were touted one or the other or better yet, do-it-all kind of riding.

I was sucked into the longer travel camp few years back after having gotten bored with hardtails on 80-100mm. travel. The fun factor was definitely a draw and soon bombing down fast was a bigger priority than climbing up.

(my last HT before packing up for the "AM" camp, circa 2007)

The first "AM", my ex-Motolite could do only with climbs at 120mm. At its intended max 140mm travel, the front starts twitching everywhere. Even in its most beefed up form with considerable weight in front, running no spacer stacks below stem with lo-riser bars and all...its really nothing more than a long legged XC bike at best.

The geometry just wasn't right. At the time, the debate on whether something is climbable is still very much centered around just the head angle and seat stay length. Any headtube angle with a starting number less than a "7" would be frowned upon when it comes to discussion on being an efficient climber.

Pure XC frames with 71-72 degree head angle and 16.75" stays were still pretty the default numbers from the lycra toting camp.

Things started shifting towards slacker head angles and longer travel but all built into a light package and many folks were willing to sacrifice a little nimbleness for the added comfort (and I suspect there is a linear relationship of longer travel and confidence when it comes to pointing the bike down, though most won't care to admit but excuse it purely by saying that a lot of technical downwards meandering can only be achieved by long travel fork).
Other areas that affected handling were ever shorter stems with an ever longer handlebar combo.

 After the Motolite. I was determined to get a 6"x6" bike that can climb at least sufficiently well on the usual trails and with a bit of beefing will go down like a light duty DH. 2 years of waiting and researching and came the bike I could never stop raving about. Just like the amount of upgrades that has been put onto it that hasn't seen much of a slowdown since the bike was builta year ago.

Like all things, they come full circle, lately I've been yearning to get back on a hardtail. But not quite convinced that short travel would be the best thing for me as I've really been dependent on tweaking fork settings and relying on the last bit of travel in some of the riding. Just couldn't see how getting back to the pure XC days with short travel is ever going to get the "job" done. The problem was no matter how well designed, it seems that as the travel gets longer, the climbing ability will take a step down in terms of front handling. I wanted the closest climbing feel but with more travel.

Like all my bike builds, I take months to follow the development and changes of a frame before deciding. With the Ragley Blue Pig  it was a good 10 months of tracking its development and reviews. One point that sticks out was from the designer Brant Richard himself, he mentioned on the seat tube angle which is a make or break point in deciding whether a long travel frame can climb. I was skeptical at first, but then this and many of the things on the frame is anything but conventional and so is the guy behind it.

After a not so smooth bike build (still sorting out some issues) I finally got it out.

First up. Typical "AM" config with mid rise longish bar and short 50mm stem. Looks good in picture but felt weird when riding.

The steep seat tube really does make a difference. Given that I got a medium Pig with a 23" top tube, a top tube length that is like most of my other bikes. It felt a little crammed with a 50mm stem that it was first set with. Just too much of the front tire can be seen.

Much better when stem was swapped to 70mm and bar rotated slightly forward. Alternatively could have gone 80mm on the stem

Nice for all the wheelie and manual moves. Pretty much in terms of climbing ability like my much tweaked EG. However running 140mm up front in this combo, the bar height was higher than the EG's 160mm travel. Not by much but it started me thinking what if...

With less than 6 hours from a last nite road ride to swapping components for this morning test I was just too tired to change everything at one go. So on goes a Torsion Bar with the 70mm stem that was already on it.

Now the bar height becomes ~2" lower than the EG as I again compare the two side by side. More rooms to lower as the stem, an old race face Diablo had 10 degree of rise and not "flippable"

Torsion Bar!  Wonders of singlespeeding components. However it was again back to being too short, like the 50mm with a riser bar where there is too much view of the front wheel. The climbing was much improved over what I thought was quite good in the previous ride in spite of still having too much wheel up front (ie the weight is probably a little more weighted backwards than optimal for climbs) now with a much lower bar height.

Throughout the ride I kept thinking..."what if its a 100mm 6 degree stem and flipped downwards to match the Torsion...?) Ok, the usual applies, better climb today but pulling the front up for jumps, wheelies became a tad harder. Alright, there will always be a trade off. But as a long travel efficient climbing hardtail, hmmm.....

...was  thinking so hard it probably ended up with my stupid move and a nice big dent on an otherwise new frame.... Not too bothered by the way, luckily I gotten the Pig, the bloody thing is steel. Dread to think if it was the alu version or the cursing under m breath if it was the Ti.

Home after 2nd ride today, 3 cockpit configurations and 1 big gash looks like there is really hope for a long travel climbing hardtail out there.

So if this works, then the Pig will spot 3 configs.

A long 720mm lo riser bar with 70mm stem for the usual "AM" riding

Torsion with 100mm as pictured here for the  XC days and just to mind fark the gearie weenies, my complete SS drivetrain swap-out is on standby.

Verdict would be out tomorrow or Sun if it works. 1st rocky ascent up BT followed by the concrete climb should tell.

If all goes well, a full fledge XC-able Pig just means swaping out to lighter parts and better rolling tires for the all out Bankai moves in the trail.


  1. Gone were the days where 25mm travel were king..

    Funny how we can ride any trail on 1 single bike in the past.

  2. Guess the notion of "fun" has undergone radical changes over the years :)