Failure to launch

For some of us mountain bikes are a thing of lust. A mistress to whom we run every Sunday. At the intersection between adrenalin and joy is a rite of passage marked by ‘I love my bike!‘. It’s a little more complex that that; sure we love the places – physically and mentally* that these people-animated objects take us, yet hardly one of us hasn’t positioned a box fresh build in our eyeline and spent a happy hour drinking in her curves.

But like everyone else born human, we lie to ourselves. We confuse cost and value, guilt of the former inflates the latter. We’ll make all the right noises in public but in our heads we’re rehearsing ‘it’s not you, it’s me’. Serial bike wranglers recognise the signs and catch the tells. They go like something like this.

First ride blues – anticipation unmatched by reality. All that research, careful component choice, increasing shiny kit piles and eventually an aesthetic masterpiece which clears the ‘looks right will ride ride‘ bar by some distance. But there’s a dark mood when old man and new bike fail to ignite, and the expected trail highlights are cast into shadow. “It’s just a matter of time” you tell yourself – invest time in the bike and it’ll rewrite that disappointing review.

But instead you invest in changes. Not to make things better really, just to make things different. For the Rocket, my strong conviction was the frames’s uber stiffness was terminally compromised by a slightly noodly fork up front. Changed those to something significantly more substantial and switched bars and stem at the same type. And tyres. Unsurprisingly it felt quite a lot different, but better? Not really. What it felt was a bit dead and what I felt was a bit over-biked.

And before eyes roll and my bike renting history is dragged out as exhibit A, this wasn’t a ‘the bike doesn’t understand‘ me flounce. I really, really wanted to like it – love it if you like – because it ticked every box in my increasingly defined bike buying criteria. Low and slack. Long and rangy. Light enough to ride all day, butch enough to be chucked down mountains. And bought from Cy who I respect completely as both a bloke and bike designer.

Which may go some way to understand why the Solaris for which I had moderately low aspirations is probably my favourite bike. Got on it, loved it, stuck some tubeless tyres on it, left it alone, rode it lots with a big grin on my face. Which doesn’t make the Rocket a bad bike. Not a bit of that; it was bloody brilliant in the alps and when the going got scary, the rocket, well, rocked. The only thing holding it back was me.

So I never loved it. But God I wanted to. I had some brilliant rides in amazing places, yet 95{45ac9c3234d371044e23e276755ef3a4dde8f1068375defba7d385ca3cd4deb2} of the time those rides would have been somehow even more brilliant on a different bike. The three dimensional space where that bike makes sense is rarely part of my mountain bike geography. It needs a rider who has bravery stamped long in their DNA and a insouciant attitude to personal injury. Who will ride the bike all the time and make it sing in scary places.

That rider isn’t me. Probably never was. Certainly won’t be. Three times, in the 1500 kilometres of ownership, we left these shores to find some of that terrain where the best bits of the Rocket would shine. And shine it did for a few moments when deed out-thought trepidation. A couple of endless rocky descents were met by a charging bike, surging ever forward and demanding you got your bloody act together and started riding it, rather than just hanging on.

I hung on for a couple more months. Those were the months were the PYGA was firstly faster uphill and then down which clearly tags me as the limiting factor. Strava aside tho, I was enjoying it more – the terrain we have here is steep both ways so a three minute descent will inevitably trigger a 20 minute climb. It’s a numbers game and the pluses are on the side of the bike that climbs a lot better and descends only a little slower. And I’m still having a whole load of fun.

Even with all that, next years alps trip suggested a proper ‘mountain bike’ would be an ideal accompaniment. But getting back on it after 20 rides on the PYGA felt so weird. I looked down and thought ‘where’s the front wheel and why is it so small?’. So an innocent post on a bike forum quickly morphed into a lovely fella called Olly driving down from Chesterfield with a bucket full of bike want and a virtual chequebook.

So its gone home. 20 miles or so from where Cy runs Cotic and nestled in the midst of the peak district. I’ll probably see it next week – parrot, eyepatch and wooden leg notwithstanding – as part of the Hope Valley Challenge. See it at the start-line and possibly at the end as it’s resting against a pub sign while we’re drinking hoppy refuel. And I’ll be absolutely fine with that because the worse thing about the Rocket wasn’t that it was a bad bike but that I couldn’t ride it like a good one.

So the PYGA is going to the alps next year with some stouter forks and bigger tyres. Sound familiar? Failing that if I find my wandering eye has me falling out of love of ‘the one‘, there’s always 650B to consider. One of those’d look good against the fireplace.

The first step on any path to a cure is to admit you have a problem 😉

* I originally wrote ‘spiritually’ but the pretentious guff-meter exploded and proper Northerners threatened to take my plain speaking card away on the grounds of flowery wank and weepy metaphors.

4 thoughts on “Failure to launch

  1. Oliver Hewitt

    Still clearly in the honeymoon period with the rocket, but in contrast to launch issues the biggest problem I have experienced so far is in the re-entry phase 😉

    Seriously though im loving the bike, bars are now chopped down to 740 the white gear cables are now black and the rear tyre in now a minion which pretty much destroys any hope of the thing climbing quickly!

    Had a few issues initially with getting the front end in on really tight stuff but have found dropping the front tyre pressure to 22psi and moving my weight forward a lot more on the tight stuff has solved that issue. The only negative I have found so far is it does feel a bit numb unless you are on the limit, but to be fair my BFE suffers from the same condition which in contrast actually makes you spine numb until you get it up to its desired pace!

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