Know Your Limitations

An example of why off-road excursions are worth while.

I always strongly consider observations from anyone willing to wave a 44 Magnum in people’s faces.  As such, I’ve always appreciated Dirty Harry‘s recommendation that a man know his limitations.  For example, I can appreciate that I am not an elegant creature and it is best if I avoid sports involving hand-eye coordination. I’ve also noted that things go more smoothly when I keep my feet affixed to the ground, to say nothing of keeping my wheels or skis out of the air. I’m also not great with imaginary numbers, like eleventeen or thirtytwelve.

I am, however, pretty good at riding bikes.  That said,  I am prone to overconfidence when it comes to cornering. My father, a devoted BMW motorcycle loyalist, bought a mid-Eighties BMW R100 RS to give to me for my 16th birthday. In the meantime, however, I picked up bike racing.  He sold the R100 before I got a chance to ride it, citing my proclivity to overshoot turns on bicycles and observing that I didn’t also need a motor helping me crash at higher speeds and with greater consequence.

A self-professed Roadie, I do wander off-road occasionally, and generally do so aboard my beloved MB-Zip. I went for a ride on Saturday with some friends who were riding bikes built in this century, and was struck by the advances in technology involved. While my bike utilizes flexy stems and elastomers, they were aboard 29ers (which is Mountain Bike speak for “bike built on 700c wheels”) with full-suspension.

I could easily match the climbing portion of the ride, but as soon as we pointed downhill, I was left in their dust, to borrow their vernacular.  Obviously, it wasn’t my descending skills – it had to be the gear.  I promptly rented a top-end 29er full suspention rig and agreed to join my mates for a longer ride out east of the Cascades on Sunday.

I’ll let you in on a secret: the advances in Mountain Biking since 1992 have not been made in the name of climbing. That’s not to say the 29er didn’t feel great on all the other terrain, but climbing felt more akin to sitting on a balance ball than riding a bike.  Descending, on the other hand, I felt like a different rider.  I was rippin’ gnar with my bra’s (that’s Mountain Bike speak “descending quite well and managing to keep up with my friends”) and at a certain point made the observation that perhaps I was over-confident, given my unfamiliarity with the bike in particular and with the notion of riding a full suspension bike in general.

About halfway along the descent, I started noticing a peculiarity in the bike’s handling: while cornering, the front wheel was tending to wash out. All the washouts were controllable, and I continued on my way.  A few turns from the bottom of the descent, however, I failed in righting a washout in a particularly nasty corner and found myself in a tangle on the ground, bike bopping me in the face, and scattering a variety of equipment in a blast-pattern around the ground-zero of my crash.  The bike literally creaked with pain as it lay in the dust.

I was mostly unhurt, but I did taco the front wheel.  Limitation noted: don’t attempt to keep up with more experienced riders on a highly technical descent aboard a bike you are not familiar with.

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37 Replies to “Know Your Limitations”

  1. Fuck me that MB-Zip is a minger. Good job The Rules don’t apply to mountain bikes.

    Full-suspension is merely a compensation for talent

    Interesting point about 29ers. They only look good if you’re tall. Unless they have stupidly long legs, anyone under 6ft and riding a 29er is only doing so because it’s trendy*. They don’t work very well in most of the UK because the UK tends not to have long flowing downhills that benefit the “good rolling capabilities of a 29er”

    *Gary Fisher sponsored the UK’s top female racer a couple of years ago and part-way through the season made her ride a 29er. She is about 5ft-nothing tall. She kept on crashing.

  2. When you can keep up with those full suspension friends on a full rigid bike, then you know you can ride trail.

  3. @Jarvis
    Betsy Shogren (Cannondale Factory Racing) does fantastic on a 29’er (hardtail or FS), and she is no more than 153 cm.

    I have an ’09 Gary Fisher Cobia, and I’m short for male standards, being 167cm. THe 29 inch wheels mean a hell of a lot of difference in terms of ground texture and comfort. the voluminous tires add nearly an inch of suspension when displaced fully. They also take fast terrain changes a bit easier, aka you can roll over things and think less about it.

    I do think they are trendy. If I were to get a FS, I would go 26″, no doubt, but I have seen others, and ridden both 26’ers and 29’ers on the same trails in my neck of the woods, and I wouldn’t trade my 29’er hardtail for anything.

    Wait, is MTB blasphemy here on Velominati?

  4. Now don’t go thinking about buying a new mtb, Frank, before that cx bike you promised yourself.

    If there were some decent places around me to mtb, I’d seriously consider buying one. I’ll browse them in shops and have to admit, there are some 29er hardtails out there that are darn sexy. Just can’t justify it though due to lack of riding areas.

    Dirty Harry used a .44.

  5. @Jarvis

    @wvcycling re: mtb blasphemy – not if done with style

    Spot on, mate.

    More along those lines, off road really gives you rockin’ bike-handling skilz, provided you didn’t break the bones necessary to ride your road bike. (Per Der Jens, it’s OK to break ribs.) Plus, it’s also great for your form since getting over technical bits of the trail really require full efforts, and then you have to figure out how to recover while still climbing pretty ferocious terrain – provided you’re riding in the mountains.

    I dunno. I liked bits of the 29er for sure; but I really can’t get over how high the handlebars are on modern mountain bikes. It was nice going down, being able to get your weight back, but the bike is so hard to control going uphill. I’ll have to think on this more, and maybe try to coax more than a “29ers: Just say no” out of Brett, who is a bit the master mountain biker.

    One thing is for sure, those of you who don’t think mountain biking is exercise, I just went for a road ride after taking yesterday off, and while I was glad to be back on the R3, the Guns were completely fried. I relied on the 3 Rules imprinted upon my thigh more than ever.

  6. @Marko

    Now don’t go thinking about buying a new mtb, Frank, before that cx bike you promised yourself.

    I’ve been weighing that. Plus, I swore to the high heavens that I would never want another mountain bike if my Velomihottie let me by the Zip. We all know that was a lie, but on the other hand, it might be too soon to reveal it as such.

    Plus, I really want to come out next year and do the Heck of the North.


    Wait, is MTB blasphemy here on Velominati?

    Excellent question, but as long as it’s cycling, a Velominatus approves. Except recumbents, maybe. Although I saw one at the bike shop that had Zipp wheels, PowerTaps, and a full carbon frame complete with carbon lazyboy chair.

    It’s hard to disapprove of that much carbon.

  7. @Edoz

    When you can keep up with those full suspension friends on a full rigid bike, then you know you can ride trail.

    I did for a while on the first part of the descent on Saturday. But then I hit something that put my face on the ground and I lost them.

    The Bridgestone philosophy of “small, light, nimble bike” still makes a whole bunch of sense to me, though.

  8. Marko :Dirty Harry used a .44.

    Thank you! If you can’t get Clint right, we have bigger worries than falling off some over-built bike.

    Full suspension’s not my bag either. And I love descending, but was always puzzled with these guys who struggled to get up the hill first. It seemed to me that that was part of the ride. Frankly, though (and, yes, you can read that with a Dutch “a” if you like), I’ll pit my Montague and my guns and my handling against any high-end 29er with a rider of my still-modest MTB experience. Wouldn’t mind some disc brakes, but that’s another kettle of fish.

  9. @frank
    if you were to get another MTB, it sounds like you need a singlespeed.

  10. @Jarvis
    I noticed my mates had only double-rings. That’s another innovation in mountainbiking not intended to improve your climbing. That Zip, ugly-stick as it is, is all about going up the hill, baby!

    My apologies for getting the diameter of a fucking hand-canon wrong by one fucking tenth of an inch. I bet you’d feel the difference when he pointed that thing at you.

    I was in Kerala, India, once, pressed up against the fuselage of a dual-prop, with four soldiers pointing their big-ass automatic rifles at my head. I didn’t notice the caliber of their guns.

    On the other hand, I learned not to photograph an aircraft in a Communist State that day. That’s something.

    Oh, and in regards to all this, Rule #55 applies, whether on-road or off.

  11. The original Dirty Harry – one of my favorite movies of all time. Killer classic ’70s film.

    I’m a recent 29er convert, there’s no going back to 26″ wheels for me – for hardtails anyway. The 29er is smoother, rolls faster, and feels more stable. It still retains the hardtail snappy feeling as well, though smoother in the rear. It rocks. I’ve ridden mountain bikes since 1984: No suspension, hardtail, full suspension, back to a hardtail, and now the 29er hardtail. If you’re an old school XC type, can’t help but dig it. Give it a try.

    For full suspension, I’d stick with a 26″ wheel. But that’s just me. Gotta find you’re own groove.

    Frank- if you want a tour of my local trails – email me. Would be fun.

  12. I just had to change the Magnum to a 44! Like saying “I was gonna get a 26″ bike, but ended up with a 29er… it’s only 3 inches!”

    29ers are a good choice for a hardtail, but it’s still a hardtail. If I was considering a hardtail, a 29er would be in the picture. Then I’d wake up to myself and get a 5″ travel dually… Like Dan said, each to his own.

  13. As one of the blasphemous 5’9″, 5″ travel 29er riders that joined Frank on this ride (deathmarch?), I just have to recommend trying a FS 29er before knocking it. And this doesn’t mean “I rode a 29″ Specialized Stumpy 4 years ago and it was awful” – try a modern 29er from Niner, Turner, Santa Cruz, Spec, even Fisher – it will change your dirty riding world.
    The only place where 26″ wheels give an advantage is in strength (at the extreme), absolute weight, and changing direction in the air. The advantages of speed, efficiency, smoothness, and ability to defend them in public forums far outweigh the few disadvantages. Plus, check out Willow Koerber’s success as a 5’1″ racer here

    I assume you’re all riding 650C wheeled road bikes… ;)

  14. @VwVoodoo

    you’ve got me thinking now. As I’m running a long-term back injury I’m preparing myself for having to change my approach to bike riding in the future – no more singlespeed, full-suss instead of hardtail – and now, perhaps the higher front end of a 29er merits their consideration again.

    Now tell me good chap, do any decent brands make 29ers? This means someone other than Fisher Trek or Niner (Niner have distributor issues in the UK)?

  15. Check out the Turner Sultan, Specialized Stumpy 29 or Epic 29, Santa Cruz Tallboy (carbon).

  16. I’ve never ridden a 29er full suspension rig – need to try one. I’d imagine it works pretty well. Still think I’d stick with 26″ wheels for full suspension however – more room for travel. For that, I’d go with a Yeti ASR or Ibis Mojo. Yes, please. Send money.

    For hardtails, the Niner EMD or Air 9 are pretty sweet. I’ve test ridden the Niner, the Specialized, and a Scott Scale 29er. All set up as mid-priced bikes. $1800 – 2000+. Similar parts build and Rockshox fork.

    I wound up buying a Sette Razzo 29er online from $1240 delivered to my door. No sales tax. 30 day return policy, 5 year frame warranty. Very similar SRAM kit and same fork. I thought if the frame sucked, I’d eBay it, and move everything to a Niner frame – and still be ahead money wise.

    No need to, the Sette frame handles well, plus only 3.2 pounds. I also like the short 3.5″ headtube that lowers the normally jacked up 29er front end. Made in Taiwan, probably in the same factory pumping out bikes for the bigger brands.

    If you’re not concerned about what sticker is on the downtube, don’t require bike shop support, and wish to dabble in the 29er world without a big investment – worth a look. After the usual saddle, ‘bars and stem swap – I’m digging mine.

  17. @Good Geofelephant

    Many years ago, I did the bike shop gig for 4 years or so. I may be exempt from Rule #58 in certain states. I’d agree most folks should hit the local shop and I still do for some stuff.

    I will do the online schtick when needed however, mostly to keep the family budget intact. At times, the big saving cannot be ignored.

    Plus, I wrench all my own bikes – no need to witness the evil eye rolling the Sette into the local shop.

  18. @Dan O
    “Evil eye” ain’t the half of it. You shoulda heard Brett when I rode into his shop wearing a ‘net-acquired top. Australians – so sensitive. (Out of prudence, I have apologised.)

  19. @Good Geofelephant

    You got off lightly, mate. Another customer came in with a similar net-acquired jersey, and Nigel (the shop owner) demanded he remove it and replace it with our shop jersey. (Nigel gave him the jersey, he wasn’t that much of a prick to make him buy it.) The net jersey resides in the depths of the workshop, and will end up rags I’m sure…

  20. You would think that being the big BMXer that I am/was I would be all about the mountain bike. But I have never owned a MTB, never ridden one other than diagnosing a problem at the shop or after just assembling a new one. That being said, I have resisted the Kool-Aid because I know that I would want to catch big air and end up in a crumpled mass of contusions and fractures. There was a day when I was a total speed freak riding gravity bikes and street luges and going 100 kph on non-motorized vehicles but the street luge crash at 90 kph a few years ago exorcised the demon within. I just turned 49 and wisdom has finally overridden speed lust.

    Here’s a little sample of the former Cyclops – a before and after – besides the road rash there was also a broken wrist involved in the transaction.

    Be careful out there mates.

  21. @Cyclops
    My goodness, we need that picture. WordPress won’t display pictures unless you’re logged in. But you can post a link to a pic if’n you want and it will show that way. Also, if you’re logged in, you can upload pictures.

  22. @Cyclops
    Actually, I found your pictures. They didn’t show because it appears that in a fluke, WordPress recycled all the sessions and logged you out before you got a chance to post…posting now.

  23. First Post (go easy on me, I’ve been lurking for a few days and you guys are definitely speaking my language.. hope I can hang on…) I just got a HT 29er after a few years of strict road riding. In my neck of the woods (Santa Barbara, CA) most mtb rides start with a vigorous climb, and since all my mates are Cat 1/2/3 roadies and/or mtb’ers, I typically get dropped before I get a chance to stretch my limitations on the mtb. Although last night found me descending rocky -18% fire road, ass practically on the seat stays, modulating the brakes like crazy! Like skiing, the fall line is your friend (i.e. you’re frequently better off in it than out of it). And agree with Frank, climbing vigorously on a mtb will definitely improve the guns!

    Thanks for letting me share…

  24. @sgt
    AT EASE, SGT!!

    Glad to have you aboard. I, for one, always welcome anyone to the community who agrees with me. Not only that, but you’re saying all the right word…skiing! 18% grades! Modulating brakes! Agrees with Frank!

  25. Progress Report: As stated before I got some really bad speed wobbles a few years ago and since then I’ve been pretty much neutered when it comes to high speed descents. The littlest wind or twitch would have me running home to momma. I figured out what it was. My stupid Ksyrium wheels with their flat bladed spokes! I got some new Easton EA90sl wheels a couple of months ago and I feel rock solid on descents now. I haven’t spent too much time over 80kph but it’s nice to be passing people that I normally could only see in the distance.

    Yours truly two Saturdays ago:

  26. Always good to know & acknowledge your own limitations.

    Motorcycles & bicycles at sixteen, Frank? Wow, I was busying playing lots of different sports, mostly involving balls, sticks, goals, etc. at that age.

    I never saw myself becoming such an enthusiast for a sport lacking scoring or a ball. Here I am though, and a very happy transition it has been! (sure, there are points in stage racing, but I don’t do many of those)

  27. @Ron

    Motorcycles & bicycles at sixteen, Frank?

    I started Nordic ski racing at 6. I was racing the 35k Vasaloppet at 8. Started riding bikes around that time to stay in shape in Summer. Doesn’t do much for you aside from turning you into a massive bike weenie.

    I never saw myself becoming such an enthusiast for a sport lacking scoring or a ball. Here I am though, and a very happy transition it has been! (sure, there are points in stage racing, but I don’t do many of those)

    Yeah, I catch the occasional College Basketball or Football (Euro, not American) game, but really not enough to know the difference between scoring a Touchgoal or Feilddown.

    I’ve come to the realization that unless the sport involves athletes dressed in spandex, I’m not a fan. Cycling, skiing, speed skating…that about does it.

  28. Out at the MTB races today someone comes up behind me and says, “I hope you hardened the f up today.”

    Whether you like it or not, the fame of Velominati has broken out of road and ‘cross and is about to take over the MTB world as well.

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