Figure 1 - 2014 Rocky Mountain Element RSL 970 (stock setup)
I was lucky enough this year to upgrade my 2013 Instinct 970 (previously reviewed) for a 2014 Element RSL 970. I loved my Instinct and if money was no object I’d still own it along with the Element but I was looking for something a little lighter and racier. And I sure got what I was looking for.
The stock setup on this bike is pretty sweet (Figure 1). With a 95mm travel full carbon frame (including front and rear triangle as well as pivot link), 12x142mm rear axle, Rocky’s ABC pivots (polymer bushings), tapered head tube and press fit bottom bracket, everything is pretty state of the art as far as full suspension MTB design is concerned. The main components are as follows:
Really, the stock setup is 100% functional (especially with the upgrade to the Stan’s rims from previous year’s models). You can just hop on this bike and ride the hell out of it. And at less than 26lb for a large it’s pretty darn light.
Figure 2 - Modified setup
Although this bike comes with some killer components, I have made some modifications.
I’ve always liked the simplicity of single ring drivetrains and I generally have the legs to deal with the decreased gear range. I didn’t have the cash lying around to put an XX1 or X01 group on it so I went for the hacked 1x10 setup. This is comprised of a Wolftooth 42-tooth aluminum cog along with the Wolftooth 32 tooth narrow-wide chainring. I also threw my XTR M970 crankset on because it’s about 100g lighter and I love it. To make this system work you have to take an XT or XTR cassette and, remove the 15- or 17-tooth cogs, add the 42-tooth aluminum cog, and you are in business (I replaced the b‑screw as well). The only tricky bits with this setup are getting the chainline right (just inside of cassette centre for me) and the proper chain length. Within about 30 minutes I had everything shifting pretty good on the stand.
Figure 3 - Wolftooth 32-tooth ring with 42-tooth cassette adapter
Cockpit and other little bits
I swapped the seat and post for my tried and true Thompson Masterpiece with Specialized hollow Ti‑railed Henge saddle. I’ve run this setup on multiple bikes and it’s my preference. The aluminum RaceFace bar got replaced with a Niner carbon bar that I had (mainly because I had it lying around).
How it rides
I’ve had the chance to put the Element to the test a handful of times in Fish Creek park in Calgary as well as once out at West Bragg Creek. Fish Creek has a fair but of fast single track to test your flow as well as some pretty killer little climbs. West Bragg, on the other hand, has the longer sustained climbs as wells as a lot of flowy technical sections and faster downhill’s.
Figure 4 - Ranger Summit trail near West Bragg Creek
Right away I was very happy to feel the bikes weight (or lack thereof). It climbed really well with minor pedal induced suspension motion in the fully open CTD setting. A flip of the CTD lever did basically eliminate this at the expense of some traction. I found myself climbing anything with significant rocks or bumps in the open setting and when I was on smoother climbs and wanted to hammer out of the saddle, I flicked the CTD to climb. After switching to tubeless with the Stan’s Crest rims and Continental Race King tires, I was really able to get the full traction potential and claw over the roots and rocks. This is where the 29er wheels really show their Strength (much longer ground contact patch).
Figure 5 - Dual CTD remove operated both the fork and Shock
The rear travel on this bike is 95mm. This initially had me worried because I’m used to a little more but I’m happy to say that Rocky really got it right. The progression is smooth (but not flat, I hate that) until near the end where it ramps nicely to avoid harsh bottom-out. It really makes 95mm feel quite nice. Once I had the pressures dialed in, the front and rear suspension were quite balanced and I was able to rip some descents. I wasn’t shy about launching over whatever I could and hammering into the entry of some berms and hoping I didn’t miscalculate. The combination of frame stiffness and suspension performance really inspires you to push your limits. I’m pretty sure I can hit the same kind of speeds I did on my Instinct (130mm travel bike) with a little time.
What I liked the most about this bike was the handling and ability to really carve the bike and hold speed through flowy trails. You know the ones where you’re linking turns and pop up over little jumps and obstacles just to get back on the gas and fly. If you get in the bikes “pocket” and manage your body position in the corners you can really hang it out there. I had mud in my teeth because of the ear to ear grin I was sporting.
I really liked the feel of the wheels; perfect combination of weight and lateral stiffness. They come with yellow tape pre-installed and tubeless valve-stems in the little extras bag. The Race King tires seated first time with a hand pump.
The XT brakes with 180mm rotors front and back just work. I also know how easy they are to bleed which makes me that much happier.
My budget 1x10 drivetrain worked flawlessly. The chain actually shifted onto the aluminum 42-tooth cog quicker and more consistently than it did into the 36. The 32-tooth ring held the chain even without a clutch derailleur. So far no chain drops at all and flawless shifting out of the XTR derailleur.
So far I’m completely thrilled with this bike. I have my first XC races coming up right away as well as some marathon MTB. I’ll have a longer-term review later in the summer. Until then, have fun riding your bike….. I know I will.
Figure 6 - Managed to find some mud near West Bragg
Whether it’s the optimum time of the year, its positioning as the second XC race of the year or the fact that it is held at the much loved Canmore Nordic Center, The Iron Maiden seems to bring all the awesomeness of mountain bike racing to a perfect pinnacle moment. I don’t mean to disparage the other races in the schedule as each one has its own unique flavor and fun, but people really do show up for this race. The local hermetic Canmore racers love to defend their home course, the Calgarians love to congregate close to the mountains to race and Edmontonians treat the race as a road trip to an exotic cycling Mecca. Essentially, everyone has a good reason to sign up and throw down at the Iron Maiden.
The Spin Sisters once again organized and ran the race that used to be called the Iron Lung. Maybe it’s because I grew up in North East Edmonton in the 80’s, but I really fancy the newer name of Iron Maiden as I can just imagine Eddie on a mountain bike holding a bloody scythe scaring the shit out of teenagers around the world. Anyways, The Spin Sisters always have a great grab bag of swag in which the best was their wonderfully colored racing sock, but alas, it was missing from the sign-in table. I lamented my disappointment, and the lovely ladies from the club were equally apologetic to its absence. Apparently, they didn’t have enough stock to supply the entire racing list so they had to withdrawal it from the swag list. What a pity. The grand news to assuage the sock disappointment was the fact that they kept the exact same course from last year which was a brilliant cloverleaf design. It included Soft Yogurt, Devonian Drop, FYI, Drop In, Drop Out and Baby Baluga. You ride back to the Start/Finish area three times during each lap which allows for some great spectator cheering and viewing.
So there we were, nearly 300 local and not so local mountain racers (I raced against a 16 year old kid from Saskatoon) in the backdrop of the CNC on a beautiful sunny and warm day. There were plenty of reunions as people started to show up for their pre-race routine. In some cases, like Shantel Koenig to Andrea Bunnin, you ask the often stated, “How was your winter?” during the first climb of the actual race. Bizarrely friendly we mountain biker are sometimes, aren’t we? I saw so many familiar faces from past races, and I had my mental Rolodex flipping around like it was being blown by an industrial fan. “Hey, buddy…..your name is Rob, right?”- “Are you still racing for (insert club here)?”-“Did you buy a fatbike yet” etc.
I suppose it was business as usual in the Expert category. Nearly 30 fit skilled cyclists lining up for a painfully fun hour and a half of racing on fast yet technical Canmore trails. The most amazing sight of the weekend, besides Karen Martins doing a ride-by chamois cream reapplication, was the horde of 70 Sport men. It was a majestic sight of which hasn’t been seen in years of local ABA racing. I know very well how competitive that division is as I spent time there fighting it out with other Sport racers for the precious Upgrade Points and receiving derision from the Expert and Elite racers. I also know how many fast riders reside in that category so I knew it was going to be hard to keep ahead of them during the race.
To make the race more exciting and simplified, the race organizers decided to start the Elite men, Expert men, Elite women, Sport men, Expert women and Sport women all together in a staggered start. I still don’t know how this affected the other racers due to the course congestion, but fortunately for the Expert men, we didn’t encounter too many lapped racers. I’m sure watching so many racers at once made for some exciting spectating for the crowds.
To make my race as succinct as possible, I will describe it like this: Clipped into my left pedal at the first try; the race is already a success. Crashed descending the A line on the second lap causing my left brake/shifter lever to point straight up in the air. Not good. I was out of breath, having fun and got elbowed out at the finish line by a boy who probably hasn’t kissed a girl (or boy) yet. Regaled with fellow racers about the glory of finishing the race.
I love Canmore.
submitted by: Greazybear
After what has seemed like an eternity since I picked up my showroom-fresh Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt 770 (my initial impressions here: http://wp.me/p3nKds-S, I have finally been able to devote some quality trail time to adjust to my new ride and form some opinions with regards to 27.5" wheels and the bike in general. For those of you only interested in the Coles Notes version: I'm officially a 'tweener convert. Technical climbing prowess, more traction, and increased smoothness and momentum over rough terrain more than make up for a nominal decrease in agility and acceleration compared to a 26er.
For those of you interested in all the nitty-gritty details, first some general stats. Rocky bills the Thunderbolt as a bike for "when XC gets rowdy". The build out of the box certainly reflects this, and while it features a respectable arsenal of higher-tier Shimano and Fox components and Stan's Crest wheels, at just over 28 pounds it is definitely not a weight-weenie XC bike (details here: http://www.bikes.com/en/bikes/thunderbolt/2014. I rode the bike a few times in the stock configuration and was admittedly overwhelmed by its heft. Despite a strict budget, I went to work swapping a few key items to shave off a bit of weight, and in the end, a Whiskey carbon bar, Selle Italia SLR seat, ESI grips, and Schwalbe Rocket Ron tires set up tubeless brought the weight down to a more tolerable 26.5 pounds. Still not "race light" by any means, but not bad considering the full aluminum frame. Swapping out the heavy OEM tires and going tubeless saved a pound alone and livened up the bike significantly - if you can only afford one improvement, lighter tires and/or wheels will give you the most noticeable improvement in ride quality and the biggest bang for your buck.
submitted by: Donkey
Here at redbike, we don’t bring in as many “big bikes” as we did a decade ago. It seems that for the average rider, modern Enduro/All-Mountain/Generic-Marketing-Term bikes give up very little downhill performance with respect to a DH rig in exchange for versatility, weight savings and climbing ability. However, some Edmontonians are so passionate about downhill performance that they desire a proper full-on DH race bike. The name of the game in this shop is DIVERSITY. Even though this is a flatland city, we’ll still bring in a DH bike if that’s what you’re after.
After all, being a free-rider / downhill enthusiast living in Edmonton necessitates a certain level dedication - just like being an ice-sculptor in Somalia or a surfer in South Sudan. If you’re dedicated enough to continue chasing your favorite style of riding in an environment that’s the least conducive to doing so, you’re clearly passionate about it! In fact it’s been observed by some, that flatlanders who are into gravity riding can sometimes be more passionate about it than those with DH trails right out their back door. They take it seriously because they have some much invested in simply getting the opportunity to ride, and once they get the chance, it’s strictly business.
One of our shop-bros recently made the pilgrimage to Kamloops which some deem a birthplace of aggressive riding. Here’s a video to prove the point. If a picture is worth a thousand words, here’s nine minutes of pictures at thirty frames per second. That’s 16.2 million words! If I haven’t made my point by then, I guess I never will.
submitted by: Kurt
Having been involved in the cycling world since the late 90’s and working in 3 different bike shops on 2 continents has provided me with a veritable panoply of bikes to ride, from double-crown fork equipped freeride hardtails to Campagnolo equipped road bikes. There was a sweet spot in my late teens and early twenties when I had the magic combination of income with no real responsibilities, meaning almost everything I made could be spent on bikes, cost was no objection. I remember making layaway payments on frames and coordinating Chris King components, building up high end bikes and then selling leftover parts on pinkbike.com before starting the next build.
However, when one has bills to pay and a spouse to share costs with, it’s no longer feasible to rotate through big ticket items at the same rate. 2 years ago I sold a fairly lightweight 26” hardtail cobbled together from various shop bits, and after a season without a mountain bike, I was missing the social aspect and technical riding that group rides on in the trees can provide. I knew I wanted a fully suspended bike that would fit the ‘all mountain’ designation – after years of stubbornly riding hardtails and single speeds, it was time for a change. Looking at the state of the industry over the last few years, 29-ers had taken over and now the 27.5 bikes were rolling onto the scene as the newest thing. But my budget was limited, and my appreciation for simplicity (perhaps a result of working on the other side of the service counter) would prove to be deciding factors. At 6’2”, I have no issues managing the bigger diameter wheels and their corresponding effects.
Upon learning of my desire to get back on the trails, I was lead up to the redbike gantry and shown a slightly dusty 2013 Salsa Horsethief 1. “It’s yours if you want it.”
Upon closer inspection, my heart started to beat a bit faster. 29” wheels with DT hubs. Simple, single pivot suspension. 120mm of front and rear travel supplied by Fox. Mid-to-high end SRAM drivetrain. Avid hydraulics brakes. Continental tires. No nonsense black and gold colour scheme reminiscent of a ’78 Pontiac Firebird. And it was my size! I took it down, set it up and hopped on board. It felt very promising, and somehow ‘right’. I ended up taking it home.
It took a few rides to get it dialed in – first I flipped the stem and dropped it down 2 spacers to get more control over the front end. I set the sag properly to 25% and fussed a bit with the compression and rebound on the Fox CTD suspension, which really transformed the bike. While might prefer a ‘set it and forget it’ style like the old RLC, I find the CTD to feel very smooth for an air shock, very similar to the plush nature of coil sprung designs. I do flip the levers to ‘climb mode’ when riding the black top to the trails, so I at least make token use of the on-the-fly adjustment options.
So what is riding a relaxed, long-travel 29er like? I would say incredibly stable, and fast. The long wheelbase, slack head tube and ample travel begs you to take things at speed. On rooty downhills where I would previously (and carefully) pick lines and work my way down with careful braking, the Horsethief encourages you to place your trust in it and let go of the brakes and roll through. With 34mm fork stanchions, a one piece rear assembly, and through-axles front and rear, it has the stiffness to track through some truly hairy stuff and respond confidently to rider input or corrections – especially if you swing wide on a line and need to get back on track.
So for a rider like me, who likes technical,steep & fast riding, this bike is great. I have done some chairlift riding in Fernie and C.O.P. and spent my teen years building ladder bridges, annoying security guards and watching North Shore Extreme and Krankedbike flicks on VHS. Roach body armour, full face helmets and broken parts were de riguer. Those of you with more aerobic backgrounds may take umbrage at the Horsethief’s 31 pound weight, propensity to bob when out of the saddle, and, uh, relaxed handling. During long, flat connecting sections of trail or fire road climbs, I’ll be at the back of the pack, spinning in the saddle. It’s not as fun and nimble to maneuver at slower speeds through tight sections or obstacles, nor as easy to hop or jump as shorter, lighter bikes with smaller wheels.
But for me, these downsides don’t really bother me. The Horsethief gives me the feeling that I can push that much harder before reaching my comfort limits, and I’m looking forward to taking it into the Rockies as soon as I can. I’m not sure I’ve ever ridden a mountain bike that has felt quite so… transparent before. It’s as if I’ve been freed from having to manage the bike and can focus more on developing my riding style. Less masochism, more fun. YMMV.
Now I just have to avoid the temptation to install coordinating gold Chris King components to ramp up the F-Body appeal… we’ll see how that works out.
submitted by: Quub
I don’t want to think that I was at all prescient about what happened during the weekend of the Coulee Cruiser race in Lethbridge, but wow, talk about a spring snowstorm! If you had read my previous blog about how the arrival of spring snowstorms reminds me that the first ABA cross country mountain bike race was upon us, you could say that I jinxed the race because it was cancelled due to rain and snow, making the trails unridable.
On the Friday of the race weekend, Shantel, Brad and I loaded up the Subaru with our mountain bikes and race gear to head down to Lethbridge and enjoy the first road trip of the year. With our travel mugs filled with coffee and heading down south on the QE2, I received an ominous phone call from Josh from the ABA. Now, we are friends, but for him to call me at 11:00am, it didn’t feel like a social call, and it wasn’t. He told me that he was standing in the coulees at Lethbridge College and the trails were so muddy and slick that he was barely able to stand still to take a picture. I told him to cancel the race immediately even though the race was Sunday and there was a slim chance of the trails drying out. But similar to Edmonton trails, the Lethbridge trails are composed of clay, and when it gets wet, the clay turns soft, slick and soupy. Josh had another meeting planned with the race organizers to discuss the race conditions, but he promised they would make a decision within the hour.
Now, we had to make a decision with the impending cancellation: Do we just cancel our accommodations in Lethbridge and Calgary and stay home or do we just spend the weekend in Calgary and have a fun team building weekend? Well, by the time we received the official cancellation notice, we were near Red Deer so the three of us decided to travel on and spend the weekend in Calgary for some quality bonding time. Brad is originally from Calgary so we had a place to stay for the weekend, which assuaged the disappointment of the cancelled race. When we arrived at Brad’s parent’s house, it was snowing moderately hard and we were tired from the drive. As cyclists, we decided that the best way to get our motivation up is to get out there and ride in the snow and 3 degree temperature. Of course, we didn’t have fenders or booties, so within 5 minutes of the ride, we were completely soaked top to bottom. Shantel forgot her glasses so her eyeballs were being pelted by snowflakes while my toes and fingers started to freeze. Brad gave us a lovely tour of the Calgary suburban neighborhoods while barely avoiding getting hit by cars that were surprised to see cyclists out during a snowstorm.
When we arrived back to the house, we decided that the only remedy for our dour moods was for us to hit the Calgary nightlife and get completely inebriated with sweet, sweet beer. After a hot shower, we headed out to The National on 17th. I knew it was going to be an epic night when we walked in and immediately saw Colm Meaney from Star Trek: The Next Generation and The Commitments fame. I mean, he was a big deal and a big man, literally, as I texted all my Trekkie friends and they went completely nerd crazy. Can you imagine if I ran into Patrick Stewart?
Shantel and I were quite pleased that The National’s beer prices were based on volume and not on the type of beer. So, we ordered the Ommegang Saison and the Dieu du Ciel Rosee Hibiscus in pints, and that was the beginning of the end. The rest of the night was quite foggy as I must have been in a fugue state, but I did manage to get to the Brad’s parent’s place in the correct bed thus avoid a “Three’s Company” mix up. All that winter training really paid off.
I woke up the next morning at 10:00am to the smell of the most glorious scent in the world, sausages. Brad’s dad, George, made us breakfast as he knew full well of our morning impairment. With our bellies filled with sausages and waffles, we had to decide whether or not were going for another urban bike ride, but after a quick deliberation, we headed to some hippie yoga studio for an hour and a half of Yin yoga. This was the mellowest yoga class I had ever been to, ever. We put ourselves in a total of 10 poses for the entire hour and a half, and one woman just slept for the entire class (one would have to assume that she had a yearly pass). It was basically nap time for adults, a sweaty one at that as it was one of those “hot yoga” places where they needed to have special tags just so you don’t get your awful UGGs mixed up at the door. I do love yoga, but I think I will stick to the power yoga next time and just take my naps at home. It’s cheaper and less embarrassing.
After another night of beer drinking at the awful Craft pub, we load up the car and headed home. During the drive, we were reminiscing about our relaxing weekend of November urban cycling in May, being Star Trek struck, being feed waffles and sausages, bike shop perusing and going to the laziest yoga class ever and we decided that it was a great start to our race season. Bring on the Royal River Valley Rumble III, baby!!!
submitted by: Greazypanda
For those of you who know how vitriolic I get when people use the word “literally” incorrectly or unnecessarily, you are probably wondering how I fell during a 90 second race. The answer is: quickly and easily.
When Mike B suggested that Hardcore should host an Eliminator race preceding the XC race in May, I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about. I imagined a bunch of cyclists biking around with laser tag equipment shooting each other until there was only one person left (Hunger Games with bikes essentially). He described it as a short loop where four starting racers would race against each other and only the top two would move on in continuing heats until a final heat declared the podium. I thought to myself that I would get absolutely destroyed in that kind of formatted race where power and aggression is essential to winning so I, of course, signed up.
It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon at Terwillegar park for the Eliminator race, and I was quietly nervous for the race because there was absolutely no precedence. We had no clue as to whom would be the favorites since all we had done has been cross-country racing, and this is a totally different kind of race. It was a four person start where your bike is held up by someone so we can be clipped in and ready to start, similar to time trail starts. The race starts with a flat sprint into the first of three right turns (Yes, the entire race consisted of only three right turns) where you had to be aggressive to hit the climb first. The climb was a gravelly double track with a center rut that took about a minute to make it to the top. The second right turn was the start of the descent, which only had one fast and safe line to the left. Then, you come ripping down the trail to make the final right turn to the Start/Finish area. Sounds pretty simple, right?
So, there I was, clipped into the pedals with a stranger holding on to my bike from behind while I perched over my bike like a 100m sprinter. It was utterly bizarre to be in that position since I was straight up and down with my wheels pointing straight as opposed to “trackstanding” with the bike angled and wheels askew. Then, the whistle blew and the next thing I knew, everyone was in front of me because I didn’t adjust my gearing properly for the start and it was too tall. While trying to push my heavy crank, Sam, James and some guy named Kory all hit the right turn well in front of me. In a panic, I started the climb by standing off of my saddle and hammering after James and Sam. Just when I caught up to James, I thought to myself that I had to keep going hard to catch Sam’s wheel. That didn’t turn out to be such a great plan. I somehow ended in the gravel rut in the middle of the trail and spun out the rear wheel. This forced my body to lurch forward onto my front wheel which also slipped out and hence the fall. I remember falling on my right cheekbone (Which is the sole reason I got modeling gigs in Japan in my 20’s), but then quickly getting up to salvage the race, but it was over as I saw Sam and James head towards the top of the climb, and since the rest was downhill, it was impossible to catch up. My professional Eliminator racing career just disappeared in front of my eyes.
I’m not going to lie, I was pretty choked crossing third, and not because of the crash, but because I had this naïve thought that I may actually be good at this. Once I rationalized the fact that I’m 41, never BMX raced, hate climbing and don’t like elbowing other racers, I started to feel better about my natural “suckiness” at Eliminator racing. But then, the physical pain from the crash started to manifest. I looked at my right knee and it was bleeding from multiple cuts, and my right elbow had a bloody abrasion. Mike B’s comment to me was, “Of course, only you would fall during the climb”. The man is a saint.
Brad was very competitive and Neil came in second which I latently expected as they are great sprinters and bike handlers. I’m hoping that this experience will embolden me to keep trying different aspects of bike racing like track, road and BMX. It was nevertheless fun to hang out with the ABA racer crowd before the impending XC race Sunday. I just hope I don’t fall, again.
submited by: Greazybear
Subtle and stealthy bikes are all the rage these days. Perhaps it’s penance for the anodized days of yore some of us have had the misfortune (?) of living through. Whatever the cause, it was time for us to have a crack at a fully “murdered out” bike (that's what the kids are calling it these days, right Kim?.
We started with a Rocky Mountain Altitude 799 MSL, a pretty cool and stealthy bike in its own right, certainly worthy of some custom tweaks. The Altitude is Rocky’s multipurpose bike for enduro, trail, or all mountain, and apparently cross country (I guess 6” is the new 4”!). To start with we swapped out the wheels for some 27.5 Axlightness carbon rims with Extralite hubs (sub 1100g) and traded the Fox fork (the gold was too blingy!) for the Rockshok Pike and saved just over 300 grams. The stock brakes were removed and replaced with Formula R1 Race brakes and Kettle cycles carbon rotors. A lighter stem (Ritchey superlogic), bar (Tune), and saddle (Sella Italia SLR) were added and some tuning (carbon derailleur plate and aftermarket cables and housing) was done to the drivetrain. But, not only was the drive train tuned for weight but also for colour. SRAM’s all black cassette (XG-1195) was added as it was lighter than a stock XX1 cassette. Similarly KMC’s all black DLC chain not only saved grams over the stock chain, but it looks the business also. Tires are Continential Xking 2.4 ( sub 600g)
Overall the bike fully retains its functionality as a do everything bike (yes, we kept the dropper post despite the potential for significant weight reduction!). However, in the end the weight saving put it right in line (may be lighter?) with other “race” oriented full suspension cross country bikes. About that weight. 21lbs and 14oz on the scale with a bottle cage and pedals. Unreal. Remember when 20lb hard tails were light? Yeah, that was only a couple of summers ago!
But more than the weight, the bike looks like a shadow, ready to slip through the trees of your favourite trail. A black panther ready to pounce. No matter what stupid description you want to use…it just looks plain cool!
Want some colour in your life? Don’t want to break the bank? The Altitude comes in a number of colours and configurations. Stop by redbike and let us help you find one that works for you.
Surely as returning geese, spring brings an influx of bike shoppers to redbike, and possibly one of the most common questions we hear is “should I get a carbon bike” or some other variation on that theme. It used to be a question only asked by people looking at road bikes, but increasingly it has trickled into mountain bikes, fat bikes, cyclocross bikes….you get the picture. In an effort to “head the question off at the pass”, I thought I might give you my spin on this topic.
We could take this question on from a material science stand point and ask which frame material is “the best”, but then this post would be filled with charts comparing the tensile strength: Young’s modulus and fatigue limit of carbon, aluminum alloys, steel and titanium. And while that might be exciting for some (I am a science nerd at heart!), you still be left with the question of what does it all mean and which is “best”. The answer is, of course, it depends.
It depends on what you want out of the bike. Now I am not trying to get out of giving a response, but you first have to tell me what you realistically want from the bike to do and feel like. Each material has its own personality and will bring different ride qualities to the table. There is a lid for every pot (as Cliff would say). I am sure you have heard the one line generalizations about the different materials: Steel gives a supple ride, aluminum is harsh, carbon solves all the worlds problems…blah, blah, blah. Internet forums are full of this “wisdom”, but beware as there are always exceptions to the rules (and there are many!).
Here is where the second “depends” comes in. Those one line generalizations have arisen for mostly good reason, but they can vary wildly from your canned expectations. In cycling (like most of life?), you get what you pay for. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, but it does pose limitations. Small brand handmade builders are able to transform a material, choosing and manipulating frame tubes individually to achieve a specific purpose. This level of detail clearly comes at a cost. At the other end of the spectrum, big box brands may pump out millions of frames a year, and efficiency and cost is optimized over materials and ride quality. But they are affordable. I should note that high end frames from these brands are given much more attention.
At redbike, we offer bicycles with a range of frame materials and “handmade-ness” to suit every purpose and would love to help you answer that age old question, “should I buy a carbon bike”. But be warned, we’ll probably ask you some hard questions about your bicycle priorities first before giving you an answer!
submitted by: Dr.
It’s been a particularly long winter for me. I haven’t yet jumped onto the fatbike steamroller, and I didn’t really end up skiing as much as I wanted to. So, I’m happy to see the sun and dry roads. Rapid 3D takes a lot of my time, and in a way where it’s hard to plan things. I could whine and complain about living to work etc but I think that would make me a POS.
I did get out on two wheels a few times this winter either running spikes on the skating rinks that are Calgary paths in the winter or renting a fatbike from the guys at Rebound in Canmore. I really like getting out in the winter, but never seem to do it as much as I should. I’m quite a light-weight as far as hands and feet in the winter are concerned. So, as a result, I end up riding either 3 or 4 1.5hr sessions a week on the trainer in my basement. It’s turned me into a closet Whovian (Dr. Who, all I can seem to watch on the trainer lately).
So, as I mentioned above, I’m really happy to have spring finally arrive. You can only ride so many trainer miles before you lose it. We also have some respectable vertical southwest of Calgary where I live, and it’s nice to push the legs/lungs. My standard mid-week loop includes the “road to Nepal” which has a nice climb and a bison farm. I almost always stop to visit the hairy beasts. As much as I think they might remember me from season to season, the ones from last year are likely delicious hamburger by now.
I got a new cross bike in the fall (Foundry Harrow), and I’ve now had a chance to ride it on the roads. I slapped a 52 tooth ring and some 28’s on, and it’s absolutely amazing. My original idea was to keep the Redline (aluminum cross bike) for riding in the spring etc, but the ride on the Harrow is so smooth that I don’t think I’ll be able to go back. The frame design and carbon layup are spot on and the larger volume tires are a must (IMO, 25’s are only for racing and 23’s are for dumb people).
For this season, I plan to focus on the ABA XC MTB series with as many of the marathons as I can fit in. I picked up a new bike (Rock Mountain Element RSL 970, review to come), and I am super excited to get it built up and start riding. I’m gonna give the whole 1x10 thing a go using the Wolftooth narrow/wide front chainring and the 42-tooth cassette cog. Generally, I’m a pusher, but I do like to ride Pneuma at Moose Mountain during the week (pretty steep) so we’ll see how it all goes.
I’m also planning some epic gravel adventures. I did a 70km gravel ride last year and liked it so I’m thinking of doing some 100 or 150km gravel rides SE of Calgary. I’d also like to up my double Highwood pass accent from last year by doing it from Longview to the Fortress convenience store and back to Longview (weekend or two before the road opens). I kinda like stupid challenges.
Well, that’s all I got right now, thank for reading and I’ll have something more before too long.
submitted by: Josh Hines