Last weekend Pinky and TDM attended a gathering of friends at a private compound in Sisters Oregon. Beer and hot-tubs were the main focus, but between beer reps and marveling at our friend’s amazing property we always sneak a few laps at the Peterson Ridge Trails, which happens to be one of our favorite casual places to roll a mountain bike. As the weekend approached TDM’s Mojo HD developed a bit of a squeak, announcing (loudly) that it was time to please get some fresh bearings in the linkage. TDM was a bit tardy on the repairs, resulting in a rather nice bike laying around the garage floor in about thirty-five pieces. For a moment TDM assumed that he would be sitting out the bike rides this year, hanging out at the ranch with beer and books while Pinky and friends enjoyed the day on wheels, but then he noticed Pinky’s former steed; a mid-1990’s Specialized Rockhopper upon which Pinky had once done notable damage to berms and many male egos across the region. The bike had been bumped from regular use when she purchased a delightful Yeti three years previous, and the aging hardtale had hung on a rack since then. TDM had many memories of Pinky mowing down singltrack on this classic, and it appeared that some fun could be had on the bike, so it was placed on the back of the desert cruiser alongside the YETI, and we drove over the pass to Sisters.
Sisters is very well adapted to riding fast bikes, and TDM woke up on Saturday morning looking forward to getting back on a bike with some raw XC speed. After extending the seatpost to max and adjusting the brakes a bit the bike seemed ready to go, and TDM found the fit of the bike to be surprisingly good (whenever possible TDM recommends the choice of life partners who happen to ride the same size bike). That said, it was obvious that the road bike fitting techniques frequently applied on early mtn bikes was something that would take some re-adjustment to. TDM fell in behind Pinky and immediately reveled in the quick acceleration this bike provided. This excitement lasted into the first turn, where TDM suddenly noticed that the 90 degree head-tube angle and the stretched-taffy body position were conspiring to kill him. The second turn felt no better, and with his thumb desperately searching for the dropper post lever, he approached the much steeper third turn. Finding no solution for his ass’s position above his hands, he decided to tap the brakes to slow down a notch. Nothing happened. ..the bike seemed to speed up. TDM pulled harder on the brakes as he began to press into the turn, and so, of course, the V-brakes suddenly clamped down, and both wheels stopped turning…and TDM simply rode off into the forest before coming to rest some feet away in a patch of sage.
Over the next 30 or so miles some of the tricks of riding the bike were recalled, and by the end of the day I was pretty comfy with the whole thing, but the idea of riding gnarly trails or jump-lines on the gadget seemed a terrifying prospect, and I found myself open-mouthed at the thought of what I’d seen Pinky do on this bike in the past…often going faster than many other competent riders on 6” trail bikes. TDM also recalled that he was once able to do the same on his old Gunnar; a bike whose margin for error was famously limited, but on which I could (at one time) hang close to expert riders of modern bikes on even the burliest of descents.
After some analysis I believe the difference came down to one thing; the new bikes felt safe. The body sits more comfy and upright, the bikes are better balanced, and the slack front end refuses all but the most committed of endo attempts. The brakes work in a predictable and smooth manner, the suspension sucks up chatter and leaves one only with the important signals; hop off this, slam that, plow through it all. TDM recalled that when he first started riding some of his friend’s modern bikes he quickly realized that they could plow through things that he’d always assumed must be avoided to keep the bike moving forward without unfortunate consequences…you could pick the line and go there, even if something was in the way. He also recalled that, having learned to smash roots and rocks, he could actually do the same thing on the Gunnar, but it just took a little more attention to detail, a lot more body english and the commitment to pull it off. Basically, things he never would have tried on a hardtale were learned on a squishy bike, but then applied to the old bike in a way that made it seem more capable than ever.
So why was it then that, having known these things, he could not now re-instate the skills and trickery he once had? The short version is that I don’t have a clue, but I suspect that TDM has become uncomfortable with discomfort. There can be no doubt that TDM appears to be a generally better rider now than two years ago when the Ibis came to roost in his garage, but those skills are not available for activation when it feels like death is on the line. One thing is clear though; the old bike was super fun, even if it did expose some softness in his technique. The old bike will get ridden again, but probably not at Black Rock or in the mac with the boys.
TDM is saving for a modern hardtale, but there can be no doubt that his love for the new bike has been made stronger by revisiting the past, even if there is a new respect for what we all did back in the day on bikes that were, lets face it, pretty damn crappy.