Monday, August 3, 2009

Different toys for different playgrounds

Disclaimer: There will be yet more rhapsodising about the Anthem in this post. I am still in the honeymoon phase after all.

I’ve noticed a trend in MTB magazines recently to expound the virtues of longer travel trail bikes as the answer to everyone’s biking needs. One bike for everything. In fact this was the sales-pitch I got when I bought the XLT. I went in wanting something that climbed well, descended ok and was good for racing, and something fairly light. Also I didn’t know anything about bikes at this stage. I feel in love with the XLT, but I probably didn’t need the 130mm travel at the front and 125mm travel out the back. Or the extra weight. . (Just for comparison the Anthem has 100mm at the front and 80mm at the back and weighs a few of kilos less). But I didn’t know any better and was instantly in love with the bike, especially when I took the tractor tyres off it.

Over the years I’ve climbed and descended on this bike and it’s given me the confidence to try new scary things because it’s really forgiving. It seemed to climb well enough and I was always left with a big silly grin after any descent. I could jump stuff and do easy downhill tracks, and bulldoze over obstacles and generally have great fun. I know that this bike is a lot of the reason I’ve developed more skills in the last couple of years. It inspires confidence and it has looked after me. But in all that time I’ve never ever been able to ride the top, steep rocky bit of Kennedy’s Bush. Sure some of that has been my fitness, but on Saturday I learnt that mainly the problem was the XLT just doesn’t like climbing.

On Saturday I’d offered to show Rita the Crocodile and Kennedy’s Bush. Last year I’d really come to think of the Crocodile as my nemesis. Riding down it was fantastic, I really like switchbacks, but climbing up it; horrible. Five tight, steep switchbacks in quick succession, nicely rutted and right at the very start of ride that usually set the tone for the ride. Over exertion, followed by jelly legs and blurred vision. From then on it would be a battle for traction in the switchbacks and often my front wheel would just wander off and I’d have to walk. This would make me lose confidence and by the top I would usually be an unhappy camper. I was pretty apprehensive about riding it, especially in early August, usually I don’t get the courage up to tackle this beast till September.

Up we went and I knew pretty quickly that I didn’t have the fitness for this yet, but surprisingly I did have the traction and as I went on I cleaned all the corners that I’d been washing out on last year. We got to the top of the Croc and I was stuffed, but I was still smiling. The rest of the climb up Kennedy’s was a world of hurt, but where in the past I just wouldn’t have been able to keep turning the pedals over on the XLT, on the Anthem I could just keep moving.

Then something truly amazing happened. We got to the base of the last bit of nasty steep climb, where it turns all rocky and gross. I sat down and looked up. This bit of hill has taunted me from the start and I have never ridden to the top. Based on past experience and my complete and utter exhaustion I expected this to be the case again, but I thought I’d give it a go and see just how much better at climbing the Anthem is. It is riding-to-the-top-of-Kennedy’s-when-stuffed much better. I rode the whole thing! Sure I had to stop every minute or so, but once I’d caught my breath I could keep going and the bike gripped and let me spin and then I was at the top, collapsed in the heap, but feeling insanely triumphant!

Going down was hard work, I’m glad I’ve had a couple of years on the XLT to learn how to ride scary stuff and use my body position and suspension to ride good lines and be stable, because I needed all that knowledge to handle the Anthem on the descents. I felt like my arms were going to shake off and my elbow was popping audibly after the bone jarring ride down (yes, I could have taken it slower, but where’s the fun in that?). I won’t go on about the incredible cornering sweetness of the flowing descent but down the Croc, but oh, it was sooooo good. So for me a quiver of bikes is the right way to go. Roadie for training and raining. Singlespeed for Bottlelake and Mclean’s Island in the sand and mud and flatishness (yes, that’s a word) and skinnies. XLT for shuttles and learning scary things and riding new technical tracks (and building strength lugging its fat arse up hills). Anthem for races and climbing and fast runs on familiar tracks. They are all great and they all give me something different and each of those things makes me ride better and have more fun. One bike to rule them all? No thanks, I’ll have four.

Late edit: The lovely boys at hub cycles have come through for me and got me this lovely new seat to save my sit bones. Look how perfectly it matches my bike. The guys at Hub rock!

1 comment:

Celia said...

Nice post :)

For what it's worth, I have four too for the exact same reasons!