Monday, October 13, 2008

Re-Thinking the Mountain Bike

I found myself commuting to work last week on my mountain bike with somewhat narrow (38mm-ish) slicks installed, as the freehub on my road bike has lately been threatening to "go fixie" on me. What I'm finding is that with the exception of the lack of an aero position for the stiff headwinds and higher speeds, and a really good high gear for the occasional sprint up to motor vehicle speeds, the bike really makes a nice all-around ride. It's set up fairly stretched out with flat bars, a long stem, and full bar-ends. Although I would probably wish for more hand postitons on a longer ride, it's a treat having that "roll over anything" feeling when it comes to shortcuts through parks, trips up and down stairs and traveling the heavily pot holed New Jersey roads that often cause pinch flats when I'm not paying close enough attention on my road bike. I love the bike, its versatility and its durability, but I've just learned to live with the flat bars as a fact of life for mountain bikers, using the bar-ends whenever possible.

Going back to the road bike for a second- when I bought it, I intended to take the drop bars off and replace them with something more familiar, most likely a flat bar with some old MTB brake levers. Looking back, I really can't say why this was, but after riding it as-is (as-was at this point) for a while I realized that drop bars, in addition to bring efficient and practical for how I ride, are actually pretty comfortable. My wrists much prefer the palms-inward position to the palms-downward position for longer distances.

Over the summer, most of my time was spent on the road bike and very little time on trails on the mountain bike. When I finally did get out with the mountain bike, I found that in the miles spent on the hoods and drops of the road bike I had picked up some habits that did not really work well with my mountain bike setup. Specifically, I wanted to ride on the bar ends practically the whole time. This was fine climbing and while cruising along on smooth, level terrain. The problem arose, however, when I approached a big obstacle, such as a pile of logs, and took a good grip on the bar ends out of habit. That position really feels strong and stable. Going up and over still worked well, however, on the downward side things tended to get a little tricky as I attempted to shift my hands back to the flat bar (where the brake levers are) halfway through a technical section. Bad idea. That could be ugly.

Anyway, back to the recent past, the good people at Salsa have presented the Fargo to us, which seems to strike a chord for those of us who want something fairly speedy (after all, it is a 29er) yet still able to roll over anything. I really hope that Salsa does well with this one. While it's designed for a very specific activity, long distance off road touring, it seems like the demanding nature of that activity makes it a very good fit for practically all non-racing conditions that I would encounter.

P.S. I should add that I am aware of some of the bikes sporting drop bars from the early days of mountain biking and hope to build up my own rig in that image. Anybody know where I can find a set of hydraulic road brake levers for my HS33's?


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