It’s finally February, and although there are still a few months of winter to endure, this is the month when I start to get excited for the upcoming riding season. I ride year round mind you, so unlike most people my excitement doesn’t stem from the idea of getting to ride again. Winter trail riding is actually my preferred winter sport, so much so that I haven’t gone snowboarding in years, and I don’t even own skis or skates. My excitement instead sprouts from those few, fleeting, brief moments when the sun starts to feel warm again, and the wind starts to lose it’s icy edge. The longer days help too, adding to the anticipation that builds around long summer rides to come. Oh, and did I mention NEW BIKES!!!
I’ve been in the market for a new trail steed for a few years now. My current beloved Rocky Mountain Element is certainly starting to show her age after six years of merciless peddling and abuse. If that bike had an odometer, it would likely rival readings on most cars made the same year. I’m proud to say that while racking up all those miles I’ve earned the distinguished title of “bike destroyer” at redbike, and have convinced myself the rolling eyes and exasperated looks I get when I bring in my mangled bike are instead fondness for this unique skill I possess for wearing things out. I’m quite certain that with all the money I have spent replacing and repairing things, I likely could have invested in a small software start-up and retired by now.
What’s been keeping me from buying? Well, let’s just say the timing hasn’t been quite right until now. Since 2008, a lot has changed in the mountain bike world, and it was hard to know what “great ideas” were going to get dropped and what was going to stick around. Drive trains have evolved from 3 by 9, to 2 by 10, to 1 by 10, and now to 1 by 11. Brakes are lighter and stronger. Forks and suspension have been reconfigured and remodeled, some even with electronics now. The number of different bottom bracket sizes is dizzying, and “quick releases” have been replaced with through axles to increase stiffness and steering precision. Tapered head tubes are the norm, and dropper seat posts, once commonly scoffed at by all except devout downhillers, are now a common sight.
Probably the biggest upheaval though, especially considering the riding I like to do, is wheel size. In a few short years, 29 inch wheels have become the norm and have swayed a large contingent of riders. However, I have always remained quite hesitant of the 29er and fiercely resistant to buying one. Despite claims by proponents of better climbing and an increased ability to roll over obstacles, the claims by their detractors of less nimble handling and a deadening and dumbing down of the trail just didn’t sit well with me. My favourite things about trail riding are searching for and finding the best lines through difficult sections of trail, and how there are always spots to be improved upon and polished. I will always prefer amassing technical mastery and skill, as opposed to launching into techy sections at full speed and hoping to come out unscathed at the other end. Additionally, my height has factored significantly into my obstinance, as fit is necessarily fudged for short riders resulting in unflattering bar/stem and seat post configurations. Find a picture of someone under 5’4″ on a 29er, and I will guarantee you some awkward looking sauce. Finally, as someone comfortably in the 35-44 age bracket, my body demands full suspension if I don’t want to become addicted to painkillers. Fully 29ers are hefty, and with no interest in a hardtail, I never joined the majority of my riding compatriots who have embraced the 29er. So, amidst spy shots and rumors of the building momentum for an “in-betweener” 27.5 inch (aka 650b) wheel size that would supposedly capture the best traits of both it’s smaller and bigger wheeled brethren, I have waited patiently (sort of) for the perfect “mutt”.
Well, Rocky Mountain has finally come through and released (almost) exactly what I’ve been waiting for… the THUNDERBOLT! The Thunderbolt is designated an xc/trail bike for riding and racing with 27.5 wheels and 120mm of suspension front and back. Billed as retaining the nimbleness and agility of a 26er, while climbing and rolling over obstacles better like a 29er, it has all the new and fancy bells and whistles listed above, and although it isn’t perfect (hoping for a carbon release next year), it certainly presents itself as a capable and super fun to ride bike. I had a chance to meet my Thunderbolt in person yesterday, and sporting a matte black finish with lime green accents, a worthy spec of xt/xtr, race face, and Stan’s wheels, the bike looks hawt, and I think I’m going to have a lot of fun riding this year. You can take an interwebs peek here, but I’m letting it steal some showfloor glory at the shop for a little while, so make sure to check it out and ogle over it next time your in.
Big thanks once again to Brent, Cliff, and the whole redbike crew for once again satisfying my inner bike desires and helping me to spend my savings. Looking forward to putting my Thunderbolt through the wringer over the next couple months so I can give my thoughts and opinions on the “perfect wheel size” and all the other new-fangled bike tech I’m about to enjoy trying out.
*Update: you can check out my thoughts on the Thunderbolt after a few months of “testing” here: http://wp.me/p3nKds-Y