Ok, first I should start with a full disclosure – I have and will most probably remain a hard tail rider. I have never gotten the hang of dual suspension bikes. So there – I’m biased. Let’s move on.
Why then a review? Simple. I just returned from a week’s vacation in Scottsdale AZ and as I always do when I get there, i rented a bike. See, the phoenix area has some GREAT trails, and as it’s a tourist destination it also has shops that rent quality bikes. Thing is, for t least the past 5 years it’s become increasingly impossible to find a shop that rents anything decent that’s not a dual-boinger. Thus my dilemma.
So anyway, this time I returned to Arizona Outback Adventures, a rental/excursion company that I’ve rented from at least 4 times over the years. As usual, nothing but duals, but all new for this season. My pick was the Fuel. The other choice was a Giant Trance X1 (more cash), but it seemed like all I gained was more travel, so I passed.
I’ll start with the good news – based on this Trek dualies have come a long way over the past few years. The Fuel falls under the ever-growing segment of “trail bikes”, which to me mean something for everyone. The bike felt much lighter and more responsive than what I expected. Suspension front and rear was way more adjustable and tighter. Not as stiff and unforgiving as a XC, but not as springy, laid back and heavy as a downhiller. I flipped the stem to gain a bit more reach over the front and felt pretty comfortable after that. The Trek excelled at high speed riding. With steady momentum I had tons more confidence through sketchy downhill sections and rock gardens than I ever would on a hardtail. The trail network I rode (the wonderful McDowell Mountain State Park competitive trails) has plenty of rollercoaster singletrack and the Trek ate it all up with gusto.
Then I got to a hill.
Ooof. Maybe there’s a knack to climbing one of these bikes, but if there is I didn’t figure it out ( and I’m not a total idiot). I always said dualies couldn’t climb because they weigh so much. That wasn’t the case here. I think I know what the problem was though. See, I think it’s the geometry. To give a rider lots of travel, they need to push the rider higher in the saddle. The riding position on the Trek is “up and back”. You have the feeling of sitting over the bike, not on it. It’s alot like I would imagine driving a Hummer would feel. It gives you a great deal of confidence at speed, but when faced with a hill climb you find your body is in the wrong place. No matter how I tried, I couldn’t shift my weight far enough forward to keep the front wheel down. Hills that would be a slam-dunk normally were rediculously difficult, an I found myself having to dismount and walk not because I lost traction or steam, but because I was popping wheelies on every downstroke of the pedals.
To be fair, I believe this be a fault of the entire genre, not the Fuel alone. Going downhill with ease is great, but I miss climbing. I sum it up like this – with a hardtail, you downhill carefully but climb easily. On a trail bike, you downhill fearlessly, but climb painfully. In my mind the downhill fun should be the payoff for a tough climb, not the opposite.
On the plus side, this has given me a great deal to think about for my own riding. I’ve decided to put the Cannondale up on Ebay – the small frame is taking it’s toll on my knees – and I’ve been soul-searching a bit to figure out what should replace it. The wish list goes a little like this…
– hard tail (duh)
– disc brakes
– 29″ wheels (in flat Illinois 26″ seem silly)
– drop bars (I KNOW!, but I’m intrigued….)
See, I think I’m tiring of specialty bikes, and the idea of an all-arounder is interesting. I already have the Bianchi, so I don’t really need a bike for go-fast on the road, but it can’t handle the commute. My commute is short, and has some trails if I chose, and I have lots of bad weather, so fat tires and durability win out over speed. Trails here suck (well, they DO in that they’re flat), so a fat tire roady is interesting. A cyclocross won’t do – tires are still to narrow for singletrack. The new crop of monstercross/expedition bikes look like a pretty interesting fit.
Hope that gives you a good idea of what I’m talking/thinking about. Thing is, there’s lots of ways to do this idea. The Salsa is set up more like a 29″ mountain bike, but with a lower bottom bracket. As such you feel like you are IN the bike instead of on it.
The Van Dessel is brand new (like as in last week at Interbike). Dunno if they’ll produce this but I sure hope so. The geometry is more like a road bike, with a less-relaxed head angle. I LOVE this bike.
The Rawland is an interesting one (also new at Interbike) – really a 650, but can also do a 29″ wheel up to a 1.8. Anther pretty bike with nice geometry.
Sigh. I guess you can see why I’m confused….