Thursday, September 22, 2011

Keeping it FRESH!

As Annie mentioned, we rode up at Great Brook Farms the other day at a NEMBA event.  I took the 4300 out for a spin as whenever I ride with Annie I take the small wheels so as not to drift away on my big wheels.  Since getting Annie out on dirt we've typically ridden relatively easy tread at either Wompatuck or Cutler so the major differences I noticed between the 4300 and the HiFi had to do with the difference between 26" and 29" wheels.  Handling (which is actually largely due to handle bar width) and acceleration are the quickest factors noticed on our rides.  The Great Brook ride revealed a greater difference that goes deeper than wheel size...

Our first run at Great Brook was the "beginner loop" and as such, was pretty smooth and business as usual for our rides.  As Annie took a break I headed out to explore a little (having never ridden here before) as I jumped on the "intermediate loop."  My first lesson of the day was somewhat expected.  When riding 29s you can point and ride over much of the typical trail chatter without a second thought, but on this ride I was rudely reminded that on the smaller wheels trail chatter can equal obstacles!!  Picking lines and lifting the front end became priority number one as I entered rooty/rocky trails.  Wow, what a HUGE difference!!!  This, a nuisance at first, made me wonder if riding big wheels was an unfair advantage... or even worse, a detriment to riding skills??!!

With larger wheels, which quiet the trail, do we lose our edge as a rider?  Add full suspension to that... are we "calming" the reality of mountain biking??    My second realization of the ride was how important it was for me to ride a hardtail when with Annie so I more carefully pick lines so that I recognize the challenges she faces on the trails with me instead of floating over the trail on a full squish big wheeled ride.

Third lesson came when navigating technical rocky sections.  I mentioned the other day how something "clicked" for me regarding technical riding... the aspect of that lesson I forgot to mention was braking.  Being able to balance, brake, change direction, and forge forward.  With hydraulic disc brakes, braking is super responsive and firm enabling split second direction changes.  Lesson three pointed out how mechanical disc brakes react VERY differently.  Riding the 4300 was taking more concentration and finesse then I was accustomed to.  It had been SOOOOO LONG since I actually rode small wheels on a challenging course that I forgot what it was all about.  I forgot how abusive a hardtail can actually be!!

Lesson of the day is this: Having multiple rides - different rides - keeps a rider on his toes AND keeps your local trails fresh.  If you find yourself conquering a trail section, making that rock garden routine, killing climbs in record time try switching up your ride (whether the difference is full suspension to hardtail, 29 to 26, geared to single) and hit it again.  You'll be surprised how much different the same section feels on a different bike.  You'll also be amazed at the cobwebs you'll find yourself clearing out of your brain as you readjust your focus to adapt to the whole new scene you've found yourself in.

For me some of the major draws to this sport is the ability to experience new trails, do new things on your bike, and clear the previously unclearable - to constantly evolve.  But once you've got your local trails mastered and every curve burned into your brain, it's important to find a way to stay fresh.  Getting up and moving across the country to experience a new style of riding may not be possible... so it's nice to be able to make minor adjustments in your approach to keep the trail "new" and continuously test your skills.   Keep rotating your bikes... even your oldest rig still has a few lessons to teach you.

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