Thursday, October 12, 2017

What to expect when you are expecting

We are really lucky as mountain bikers these days.  The sheer selection of not just bikes, but really good bikes is staggering.  Once you reach a certain price point, frame geometry, components, and suspension design are all at such a high level you'll get a good bike.  Given the wide range available, there are subtle differences and actually getting some time on a bike is a good thing.

There has been a growth in opportunities to demo bikes. Big brands have travelling demo days that go around the country.  Recent demo specific events, such as Outerfest have given many riders a chance to test multiple bikes on a day.  However, where I am there is very limited opportunity. This is made even more difficult given the desire for  a small and even extra small size.

So what does one do with  out a lot of demo opportunities?  Three things.  1) just hop on as many bikes as you can of friends.  Any chance I get, I would just hop on a bike, even if it was too big or set too stiff.  My goal was just to get a taste of the bike geometry and suspension feel.  Last year I was able to spend a few days on a friend's Santa Cruz 5010.  This was a great opportunity to set it up for my weight, saddle height, tire pressure... I learned a few things, such as how much I missed a dually.  I ended up not liking the bike that much because of the geometry and the suspension feel. This is a great thing actually, to know what you don't like as much as what you do like.  In general, I didn't like the slacker seat tube angle, and the suspension didn't feel good to me in terms of pedaling efficiency.  That is surprising because VPP is supposed to be a great pedaling bike.  There is a lot going on and needs to go on with suspension tuning as well, especially with my weight.  I have heard that Avalanche tuning can help a lot with that. 

Similarly, I hopped on a friend's Devinci Marshall.  I really liked the general feel of the suspension, but knew that sizing was going to be a problem.  It had plus tires and while it did roll good straight, I still haven't been fully pulled over to that side.  So the few minutes on reinforced that. 

Now let's be clear.  Hopping on a bike just let's you get a taste.  Even a few hour demo can be completely off because setup and suspension tuning takes so much effort.  But it can just help frame your thoughts and direction.

2) Reviews. Oh reviews, whether they are professional or from the peanut gallery have to be taken with many grains of salt.  There are so many reviews that say one thing and another review that says another.  I have read reviews and then actually ridden the product and can't fathom how they came up with their review.

One thing I like to look for is just any consistency.  Is there something that keeps coming up over and over again.

Here are some reviews on the Hei Hei Trail

Dirt Rag
Mountain Bike Action
Mountain Bike Action Test
link from Kona
You tube from Bike magazine
Video marketing Connor Fearon on the bike

So what are the things the stood out to me about the Kona Hei Hei trail that put it on my radar?  Mostly, the climbing ability.  Almost every review talked about its pedaling efficiency and climbing. As much as I want to think I am like the advertisements on pink bike, I know the reality that around here I pedal a lot and I like to climb.  The single track around here is just grinding and pedaling, so a bike that is good only on the downhill isn't going to be fun in the long run for me.

Other things I liked was the steep seat tube, and 68 degree head angle. 68 on a 'trail bike' with 140mm is counter to what most specify. I think the philosophy is that a trail bike with that much travel would emphasize more downhill stability and prefer a slacker head tube. I think our terrain and my ride style would do well with this 68 degree aspect to the geometry.

A lot of reviews call the bike more of a cross country inspired trail bike.  And in the end I think that describes me and my style.  Again, I have to fight the trend of falling for the marketing that emphasizes downhills.  Any video marketing of a bike that does not show pedaling up hill and single track has to be viewed skeptically, I think. 

The Dirt Rag review said some interesting things. 
Another fact about my local trails: They involve a lot of pedaling. That’s exactly where the Hei Hei shines. More pedal-y than plush, the Fuse Independent Suspension feels efficient and composed. It climbs with alacrity, and uncle Bob is a very distant relative. Rather than wallow in the mid-stroke, the rear suspension remains cool, calm and collected as you pedal through obstacle courses strewn with rocks and roots.
High or low praise, you be the judge:

At the risk of damning it with what may sound like faint praise, this could be one of the best plain-old mountain bikes going 
So what is left now?  3) Just get something.  I am the classic paralysis by analysis consumer.  I probably would have gone months and years without getting a bike until I was able to demo tons of bikes.  'Thankfully'  I broke my hardtail so had push the purchase up.  I found it on sale on ebay and made an offer that I fully expected to be turned down.  And I won it.

And after the shock as worn off and after spending some time on it. I am glad for this series of events. Just to have a bike under me and learning and coming to new conclusions about what I like and don't like.

In the end, I have to tell my self and know.  This is not the last bike I will ever get.  So it is ok, to just get something and it doesn't have to be the end all and has to be loved so much that it justifies getting it. Get it, change it, try different set ups,  like it hate it, learn from it.