Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Marin Rock Springs

I'm sure that you'll already have read the run up to this article and now want to find out more about the Marin, Rock Springs.

These, our first full suspension MTB's, were acquired in January 2002 and transformed our enjoyment of riding off road. They gave us the confidence to tackle truely off road trails rather than boring fire roads, family cycle paths or disused railway lines. Why so ? The suspension allowed us to ride for longer, further, faster and over uneven terrain with little extra effort. The kit spec and especially the hydraulic disc brakes made controlling the bike so more easier and more accurate to fire between the trees. Whilst I'll agree that it's possible to ride knarly terrain on a rigid MTB (with no suspension) I imagine that you'd have to be a dedicated, hard core biker to pull it off and to keep grinning.

Over the three years of ownership we've enjoyed many miles riding any terrain infront of us. The TARA system (travel & ride height adjust) means that we can alter the bikes ride by the repositioning the rear shock on the swingarm. This almost gives us 3 bikes in 1 with a choice of 4"s of rising rate rear wheel travel for the smoother trails, 5"s linear travel and 6"s falling rate travel for the steep, knarly downhills. Overall, I'd say that we both rode with the suspension typically set in the mid travel option which seemed to give the best overall balance.

Whilst the basic bike specification remained the same we did change a few things like the saddle as everyones rump is slightly different. We also experimented a little with tyres and found the original WTB Motoraptors were a fair all rounder but that the drier summer months benefited from Panaracer Trailblasters felt lighter, faster and easier to pedal.

My pedals were changed for Time ATAC Aliums, bars for light FSA XC190's with a lovely feel, grips to right grippy ODI Hardcore's, the stem for a lighter On-One Inbred stem, and the WTB headset for a fully sealed Cane Creek S6.

One of the most fundamental changes was to replace the standard layback seatpost with an inline Thomson unit which shifted my weight slightly further forward and eliminated the tendancy for the front wheel to washout / loose grip in corners.

The drivetrains ran faultlessly but the Deore rear shifter did start to loose it's positive click (a sign it's on it's way out) and both shifters were upgraded to Shimano LX - with their lighter action.

The rear bushes that secure the Fox shock in position (a pair of DU08's) were replaced approximately every 18months under regular use but the main pivot bearings never gave any trouble throughout.

The Manitou Black front fork gradually bedded in after a few months and I steadily began to appreciate the TPC damping which I've continued to appreciate on my currently bouncer, a Nixon. The Black also introduced me to a handy climbing aid whereby the fork travel can be reduced by and inch or two which helps prevent the front from rear up on steep climbs, whilst in a low / high torque gear.

These rigs also gave me the confidence to start takling repairs and general maintanence myself and one of the larger tasks was to regularly maintain both the front forks and rear shocks which were regularly cleaned, stripped, checked for wear (none) before regreasing and re-assembly. Ultimately, this tinker heaven spurred me on to build my own new rig from scratch.

Overall, I was mighty impressed and grateful for John Whyte for his design - a former F1 designer for Renault, who then became world champs after which he retired from motorsport and began making bicycles. When she had to leave I was still quite happy as she was passed on to a former work buddy who I hoped would enjoy her as much as I...

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Zinn and the Art of MTB Maintenance

After acquiring our first two steeds, I decided to maintain them properly myself rather than pay a local bike shop to do it badly. Now whilst I'm quite handy with a spanner it's often advisible to have an understanding of the process so that you don't make a mess of it and damage any components. That's the main reason why I invested in this maintenance book, which has plenty of complimentary reviews.

It's well written, clear, contains exploded diagrams to aide the process and covers all aspects of MTB ownership, right down to wheel building. It's frequently updated and re-released as the technology of our fab sport evolves, so you're advised to acquire the lastest edition. I highly recommend it.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Met 5th Element

After around three years MTBing with my original helment, a Met Crackerjack, it was looking a little battered and worn but my major gripe was with my hot head ! At slow, speeds I often felt like my head was going to boil and I often ripped it off at the top of climbs to try and cool down. I visited a few bike shops to try on helmets from other manufacturer's but Met's just seem to fit me better than most. Favourable online reviews and magazine article's swung my attention towards the 5th Element, as it has a staggering 29 vents compared to just 14 on my Crackerjack.

Over the year it been robust and durable and the additional cooling it offers has been very welcome indeed. It's mostly comfortable although the forehead strap can sometimes dig in as the pads aren't billiant around the front. I've found that the retention system is good and tight although the chin strap can wiggle it'self loose after a days riding - which is no bigee as it's easily nipped back up. The large number of vents haven't compromised it's strength either - as tested on a recent trip to Cannock !

Encouragingly, all Met helmet's come with a 3 year warranty. Although the full UK retail price is £80, you'll now often find them available online for nearly 50% off - which makes it a really good deal. I paid in the region of £60 and would have no qualms buying another.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Why Did I Start MTBing ?

Way back in the days when I was at school and college, I used to ride everywhere on a variety of steeds. Mainly them 'orrible stretched out racer things that give you chronic back ache ! Then I started work and quickly passed my driving test which then meant bikes were a thing of the past. Is there any wonder, as they were uncomfortable, were hard work and kept getting nicked...

Until, many years later when I wandered past a local bike shop and thought I'd kill a few minutes browsing. I was surprised at how much bikes had changed, with common acceptance of new technology such as indexed gears (no more "hunting" for that sweet spot"), 27 or even 30 gears (whatever happened to Sturmey Archer 3 speeds ? - OMG, they're still going !), aluminium frames and then there were these bikes they called "Mountain Bikes".

A few weeks passed while I thumbed a few bike mag's and caught up on the latest gear and I also started to recall how much fun it'd been to ride all those years back. Needless to say it wasn't long before I went back to the shop and bought a basic MTB, a Claud Butler, Stone River hardtail with elastomer front forks, 21 gears and little else worthy of note.

The important thing was that it re-inspired me to get cycling again, to keep on riding and to keep fit. It also allowed me to explore parts of the local town and countryside that you just don't see while cacooned in a tin can on wheels.

After a couple of years Chipmunk started to join me on local rides which was great. But we soon learnt that if we rode anything remotely bumpy and away from the smooth hardpack, that it badly aggravate her previously slipped disc(s). After a few trips to the people who "bend you into funny shapes" they set the seed of an idea that if she must ride then it really should be comfortable, so why not try a full suspension bike ?

Ok, lets see what's available as the local bike shop. Unfortunately, they didn't have much to offer so we travelled up to Daventry and visited Leisure Lakes which had a much wider range of steeds and also offered them to try. After a few discussions with the staff, we had two full suspension MTB's booked for a demo wkend on a Trek Fuel 80 and a Marin Rock Springs.

A few wks later, we collected these damn fangled MTB's and set off around our local trails on 'em. Immediately we were impressed with the ride quality and how the rough trails were transformed and felt so much smoother. Not only that but the gear changes were slick / rapid and they both had disc brakes which didn't just slow you down, they actually stopped you ! We rode the same "test" section repeatedly, swapping bikes and trying different settings to see how they compared. The demo bikes were returned and over Xmas we discussed the bikes, recalling different attributes that we liked or disliked. All good fun but also quite confusing.

Chipmunk was initially more interested in the women's specific version of the Trek after reading a magazine article about the excellent female fit. But she both found that the ride was much so much smoother on the Marin and untimately more enjoyable.

I was undecided as the Trek was lightening fast and very nimble but the Marin was more comfortable and also had three different suspension settings (4, 5 or 6inces of travel using the TARA link) which appealed as it was almost like having 3 bikes in one.

In the New Year, we visited LLakes in Nottingham for Chipmunk to test ride a smaller 15.5" Marin as the 17" demo seemed a little tall for her. This clinched it and we both ordered Rock Springs (click for bike info) for collection in a few weeks time, once stock of the latest model had arrived.

For the next three years, these beasts were ridden all over the country on various terrain and performed admirably. Chipmunk no longer suffered with a bad back and I found that my riding ability improved as the Marin coaxed me into riding things I wouldn't previously have considered.

As you'll gather, we're now big fan's of full suspension MTB's and while we no longer ride our Marin's we still regularly hit the off road trails and still ride full suspension. See you around...