The 3 bears, 4 bears…. many bears

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Too big, too small, just right. Right? We’re all on the same page of this fairy tale. As allegories go, it’s not exactly subtle. To whit, don’t snaffle stuff that’s not yours and differences should be celebrated.

Like bloody everything else, it’d offer a thought stroking metaphor for the British public overwhelmingly voting for a man who has slept in all those beds. With soon-to-be single mothers, foreign donors and Dominic Cummins*

Moving on.  Let’s keep calm and look at some lovely bike images. These represent my best efforts to identify, build, ride and keep a bike which perfectly intersects the space between where hardtails and enduro bikes are brilliant.

I’ve spent ten years working on this project. It’s not been entirely successful.

ST4 Build - a difficult birth.

My first proper attempt to buy  a mid travel bike.  Last of the 26 inch wheels,  steep angles, my first dropper. 120mm up and down travel with another 10mm of sideways movement available on demand. Laterally stiff it wasn’t, but proper fun it was.

Until it ate itself in the Pyrenees. Took the cranks off and the bottom bracket fell out with them. But before then it’d proved that all these 150mm rigs, back in 2010, being touted as ‘quiver killers were just shit climbers with stupid geometry.

Orange were so impressed with my destruction of their latest product they sent me another one. It was far stiffer. And much less fun.

Pyga OneTen 29

Little did I know this next bike was the baseline for the ‘third way’. A bike with ‘just enough travel’. 120 up front, 10mm less out the back. The Pyga holds many other accolades;  a proper trail 29er, most kilometres ridden, most countries ridden in, first bolt through fork, last front mech.

It wasn’t my middle bike. It was pretty much my only bike. I rode it everywhere before the siren call of long travel and new fangled wheel sizes dispatched it to the classified ads.

It remains the best do-it-all bike I’ve ever had. And while it’s not perfect, neither am I. Occasionally I still miss that granny ring 😉

Cotic Flare Max. First ride 😄

Ah the Cotic Flare Max. Another 120mm of travel, another 29er (occasionally swapped out for the emperors’ new chubbies), another great bike which never really displaced hardtails for razzing around the woods, or something a bit more substantial for those bigger days out.

I had a lot of great rides on the FlareMax but the elephant in the room was in fact the bike. It was heavier than my 150mm carbon full suss. It was more fun when confidence was high, but still felt like a solution looking for a problem.

Or maybe I was. These were not duds. Everyone was properly involving. Looking for the funnest not the fastest line. Rewarding bike handling over bollock virtue signalling.  Reminding me the landscape was analogue, and efficiency is not the same as excitement.

Smuggler - 1

The Smuggler lived that analogue life in spades. 115mm at the business end, 140mm for partying up front. Ridiculously capable even when it shouldn’t have been. Once at Bike Park Wales, I cleaned up my PRs against bikes with proper enduro credentials.

It wasn’t light tho. Oh no. Made the FlareMax look like an XC whippet. It left me nearly walking the last climb on the beast at CyB after I’d fitted a coil shock to further increase its heft. Wasn’t designed for UK mud either. Reasonable tyre in the back stopped winter play.

Great fun but maybe the first ever short travel bike that should come with an uplift pass.

Bird in the wild!

Whats that thing about insanity? Try the same thing and expect a different result. Finding a bike between my super capable chubby hardtail and the RipMo was a tough ask. This Bird Aeris 120 didn’t answer it. Never had the poppy analogue vibe of its predecessors. They were all good at something. This just left me cold.

At which point I decided there was no third way. The RipMo is sub 30lbs and it climbs brilliantly. It’s fun when you’re not fast and super confidence inspiring when you are. There’s no gap to bridge, no other way to find. I nodded my way into a two bikes being perfect vibe and closed the project.

Occam in the wild!

Hah not so fast,  because I bought the Occam. Of course I did. It was silly light, snappy fast, bonkers agile and properly cheap for a lot of frame. It was maybe a little long travel for the third way,  but at that weight it had to be the one.

Of course it did. Of course it wasn’t.

I’d already sort of given up on it before it brutally attacked Tim and attempted to wrench his leg off. Sure it was light, but it was almost too efficient. I couldn’t shake the feeling I was letting it down. I’m sure in the hands of a properly fast rider, it’d make a lot of sense.

For me tho, it was just a lot of head scratching. I took it to a trail centre where I assumed it would be silly fast. And it was if you’re measuring marginal gains**. Even that didn’t matter as I’m mostly past riding against the clock. I’m more riding against the decline, so I may as well be having fun doing it.

The question we’re left with then is:  will the Ripley finally nail this third way thing? What kind of bear is it? Will it be shit in the woods? What will make me choose it over my other fantastic bikes? And I suppose why do I think this might be the one, and how the hell will I know?

Let’s assume worse case I’ll have some fun finding out. I don’t regret those other bikes. Sure they represent an expensive approach to dream fulfilment. But the whole research/buy/build/ride/sell cycle always trips the scale between interesting and exciting.

I’m not sure any of them have transported me into the land of the contented. But that’s not about the bikes.

It really never was.

*After the exit poll, I was overcome with a ‘for fucks sake’ hour in which I stamped out a sweary polemic on exactly what is wrong with this country.  Reviewing with a hangover reminds me why we don’t do politics on the hedgehog.

**Cwmcarn. Three visits, three different bikes.  Similar times, not much in it up or down. I’m not sure the bike is the high water mark here.

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