The same, but different.

ST 4 built not ridden
Bike testing is something I take very seriously. Mainly because the sheer volume passing through the hedgy shed is long past double figures, and can’t be far from celebrating a silver jubilee. So it goes; build, test, declare undying love, upgrade, cast aside, discard in the shadow of shiny new things, then sell.

Notice at no point do the words “Research”, “Logic”, “Profit” or even “Enjoy” gets close to elbowing their way into that tired list of bike rental. I did consider building a shed with just two openings labelled “in” and “out” with little space for actual occupation.

Lately things have improved, although this is analogous to a 50 a day man boasting he’s cut down to 48 fags during any 24 hour period. The difference with the Orange ST4 is it had become a firm favourite which I had no intention of selling.

Really, none at all, rebuilt the Cove, rode it, liked it, put it back on the hanger. Pace was occasionally dusted off but failed to excite, Trailstar is kids woody accompanied for which it is ace, but I’ve no intention of riding it anywhere else.

So a certain irony then when the ST4 decided to dump me and some of its’ more important internals after less than a year. Still fickle chap that I am, its’ rather burlier mutant twin has already displaced it in the “keeper” category*

So bike testing. Here’s my approach honed over far too many random purchases. Finish bike build at exact time red wine bottle is empty. Ideally this will be before midnight, but rarely is this the case as the “last small job” appears to have triggered a rebuild from the wheels up. Forget to sleep properly due to lame excitement, chicken issues** that apparently must be discussed at 3am, and multiple visits to the bog.

Groan when alarm chirpily informs you that 7am is actually a real time on a Sunday. Lurch out into the rain and lash bike onto trailer. Select least stinky riding kit and motor off in search of other early morning nutters. Turn back at three quarter distance to retrieve trailer key left on kitchen table. Get stuck behind tractor and nearly end life attempting risky passing manoeuvre. Find friend still drinking tea and dither for a bit.

Riding eventually had to happen after we’d run out of new things to poke and prod. First 25 minutes was climbing, first on the road switching to a much hated shaley double track expressly laid to make me miserable. Goes on for a bit, nearly as long as my technical evaluation of the new ST4’s climbing prowess “pretty stiff back there, pro pedal is a bit keen, shit I’m knackered today“.

Finally a descent, flick the happy switch on the shock which instantly sits the bike deeper in the travel. Throw it into a couple of slippy corners and down a steep rock gulley and it feels the same but different. Up front is a bloody good fork, but it feels out-classed by what’s happening out the back. Super plush over the bigger rocks but ramping up nicely deep into the stroke. Probably a bit too much meaning a stop for some “biffer air” in the chamber.

For those not of a bikeacul persuasion, the last paragraphs may read like nonsense. In fact, even those who do will rightly question my ability to critique anything much more complex than “the wheels go round when you press the pedally bits“. And you may be right, but I contend that riding the same trails with the same kit on a different frame is a fine way to work out what’s different.

We rode on past our normal switchback point and headed deeper into the hills. Lots of steep climbs on wet grass and loose shale demonstrated a total absence of flex, rather the bike hunkers down and demands grip from the surface. It’s pretty damn effective until my lungs give out.

The middle Malvern hills throw silly steep and loose descents as a challenge to the fat tyred, and we took them on without much drama but quite a lot of speed. Couple of jumps, then a significant flight of cheeky steps were soaked up and spat out by a bike that appears to have eliminated flex in this third incarnation.

Too early to tell for sure, but by this time I’d abandoned any rigorous evaluation of the suspension performance, instead removing the analytical part of my brain entirely to allow the section marked “Silly and Impulsive” to have its’ head. Quick scoot through some lovely Autumn-turning singletrack, plunge down into the quarry before a last 200m climb close to where we started.

Close but above. Good, because I am really knackered now – being easily outclimbed by my pal on his proper heavy Heckler. Windy up here too, so it’s a quick nod to the God of Staying Wheel Side Up and we’re away. Off the ridge spine, rock drop into a loose ninety degree turn, then the same but reversed, line up the drop, dispatch with nary a worry – when did we start thinking 5 inches of travel as Trail? Jeez these things are awesome – fast turns lead us into a final off camber woody section.

Boom-Boom down there, hip swinging the rear tyre away from the trees, quick breath, brakeless eyes wide open over steep and wet roots shooting us out onto a grassy slope where rain and due ensures braking traction is a bit of a random affair. Grin, point, tea and medals.

Riding any bike almost any day is generally a joy. Today should have been the end of a painful disappointing journey with the old ST4. In fact it felt like the start of another altogether happier one.

3 posts in three days? Unheard of. Work tomorrow, normal silence will be resumed I suspect.

* Yes it’s a very small category. But statistically, it counts.

** One of the poor buggers appears to have been shot if the wound is anything to go by.

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