Old 12-01-20, 09:55 AM
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Join Date: Jul 2007
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Bikes: 2014/17 Trek Domane 5.2, 2003 Fuji Cross, 2019 Trek Fuel EX8 27.5 Plus, 2012 Raleigh XXIX single-speed, 2017 Access Gravel

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Last June (2019) I bought a 2012 Raleigh XXIX from a friend. At the time I had a single-speed Schwinn road bike, and my thought was simply to sell the Schwinn and use the Raleigh as an around town, brewery, paved trail, just-for-fun kind of bike. I wasn't even doing that much mountain biking the previous two or three years. And I thought that single-speed mountain bikes, much less fully rigid SSs, were a really, really stupid idea.

But I of course I had to take the Raleigh out on a local trail just for the heck of it before I changed to more road-friendly gearing. OMG that was hard. And: OMG that was so much fun!!!!

Since then, I've probably done more mountain biking than in any other year of my life (I bought my first mtb in 1998). The bike has changed a little bit to make it ride better.
  • wider tires: 2.4 up front, 2.3 rear
  • wider rims + tubeless: WTB i25 rims
  • hydraulic brakes
  • wider, lighter, better handlebar: Spank Oozy 760mm
  • and the biggest change - switching from Gates Carbon Drive to traditional chain drive. I hadn't initially planned on this one, but when I got the new wheels I found out that the tabs on the Gates rear sprocket were so chewed up that it couldn't be slipped onto the new hub. And it was much more expensive to find and buy a new gates sprocket than to go to a chain. Plus, I wanted higher gearing which would have necessitated a new Gates belt which just about doubled that cost.

    The drivetrain switch was a blessing in disguise because it's now much, much easier to mess with gear ratios. I started with a 30/32 oval chain ring and 20t Surly cog. But as I got stronger I got a 32/34 oval chain ring which only required moving the eccentric BB for chain tension. I am now considering trying out a 19t cog which again I should be able to do without having to alter the chain length. I also will likely set up the original wheelset with path friendly tires and gearing. That will require a new shorter chain, but thanks to the split seat stay (needed for replacing the original carbon belt), it will be maybe a ten minute task to switch between the dirt trail and paved path set up. Not to be done daily, but for the occasional weekend brewery tour with friends that will be easy.
No doubt about it, this bike has made me such a better rider. For the trails that I ride 90% of the time it is more than enough. There are just a couple of downsides:
  • I am not some top-notch mountain biker. I'm somewhat of a chickensh*t on many things, regardless of the bike. But there are trails I would like to ride that I am certain something with multiple-gears and suspension would allow me to do. Back in October, I rode two trails in George Washington National Forest. The first I turned around after maybe half a mile - it was just no fun. The second was actually a blast, but there was still a whole lot of walking up hills, over things, and I'd even have to stop on some of the downhills to allow the bike's suspension (my legs, arms, back & shoulders) to take a quick rest.
  • Keeping up with friends: When I'm riding solo, I just simply have fun on the single-speed. But when doing group rides I am almost always at the far back as the people with multiple gears and full-suspension are pulling away from me. This includes people who are newer to riding trails and probably not as skilled as I am. But on, say, a flat gravel section they hit their 30x10 gearing and are gone while I am close to being spun out. Make that any sort of downhill slope and it's even worse. What's funny, though, is that on uphills I have to stay back because the geared bikes are all spinning away in low gears at speeds lower than I am able to ride. More than a few times I've had to stop because I was about to run into somebody's rear tire on hills that I regularly clear without issue.. Of course once I've stopped I often can't get started again and therefore have to walk to the next flattish section. But this adds to my lagging behind even when it's not really my fault )
  • The two above things are obviously partly due to my rigid fork vs the single-speed gearing. But I've ridden a couple of friends hard tails and that didn't make as much difference as I thought it would, meaning that the while the suspension fork obviously helped, it felt clear to me that being able to change to lower or higher gearing was what helped my success over obstacles or overall speed.
  • The more I ride, the better I get. But at some point I can't overcome the bike's limits in order to keep up with friends.
So, I am shopping for a full-squish bike again (previously I've owned a '97 Specialized Ground Control and a 2010 Giant Trance). I've demo'd a couple of friends' bikes to get a sense of what I want to buy. I'm leaning toward something like the newer, slacker XC bikes (think Trek Top Fuel with 120f/115r travel). But each time I spend an hour or two on one of these arguably more capable bikes, it's always fun to get back on the single-speed. Regardless of what new bike I get, the XXIX will not be leaving me.
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