I bought my first mountain bike magazines in 1992 and found that the US mag. Mountain Bike Action was the best at the time. The UK mags. seemed to be too orientated towards the youths, not the adults but were in other ways more relevant to the developing UK MTB scene. Cross country racing events were very popular back then but were of no interest to me, I just liked riding. In March 1997 a new UK based mag. came along, Mountain Bike Rider (MBR). Their strap line was “Just get out and ride.” Perfect for me, then, so it became my regular magazine choice. I don’t remember when or why I stopped regularly reading MBR but when I did it had an unanticipated effect. Mountain biking is a young and rapidly evolving sport and I was missing the changes to bike technology, especially after 2013 when I was riding on my own. I’d seen the emergence of bigger, 29 inch wheels but it was only after I visited a shop when my son was becoming interested in riding in 2014 that I discovered that the traditional 26 inch wheel was basically dead. An old European size, 650b, which has a diameter of 27.5 inches had emerged. It’s a convenient half way between 26″ and 29″ for those who believe one is too big and the other too small. I subscribed to MBR again and have remained an avid reader.
Not every item in MBR is relevant to me. Last month was an E bike special and I wouldn’t want an electrically assisted bike at this time. This months copy featured a long section about dream riding locations for after the coronavirus crisis is over. I’d love to visit some or all of them but there’s no realistic chance I’ll see any. If I do go abroad it will be with my wife, not to ride (excluding scooter rides with my mates!). Then there’s the dog, Freddie. We can leave him with someone for a few hours but leaving him for a week is a big ask. There’s no way I’d leave him in a kennels, it would distress him since we’re always here for him.
The next item was right up my street. An article about bike geometry! Early mountain bikes were really just strengthened road bikes with fat tyres and it was very easy to go head first over the handlebars. Modern bikes are radically different, longer, lower and with a far less steep steering head angle. The piece covered all the important points in a concise and easy to understand manner. At the end the writer said that next month there will be a second article telling you how to modify your current bike to make changes to it’s performance. I couldn’t wait until next month, I went straight outside and started fiddling with my Boarman FS Pro. It’s a 2016 bike so probably no longer cutting edge, if it ever was. I bought it during a 20% off week when the price was reduced to an unbelievable £1,200. Unfortunately they only had large or small, not the medium I would have chosen. I rode the bike for a good while before realising that I could reduce the length of the bike simply by sliding the saddle forwards. This also steepened the effective seat tube angle, which is a contemporary idea. Moving the seat forwards brought the handle bars to a more comfortable, less stretched position but perhaps more importantly moved my centre of gravity forward. With more weight now pressing on the front wheel grip was improved at the front, an effect further enhanced by reducing the amount of weight concentrated on the rear tyre contact patch. I’ve mentioned before that you need to use your arms to press down on the handlebars to improve front wheel grip and I must say that the bike was far better balanced between front and rear grip with my new seat position.
The saddle is forwards about as far as it can go on the rails. I could improve the look with a straight rather than laid back saddle stem.
Today I thought it would be an interesting experiment to lower the handlebars. This would not be for aerodynamic reasons but to move my torso forwards and down, concentrating yet more weight on the front wheel, which is the wheel riders are least keen to have sliding. I took out 2 spacers from under the handlebar stem and put them above.
The bars have dropped by around 20mm, or over half an inch.
Small changes can have a big effect on a bike so I needed to go out and see if I could tell the difference. A ride to Brinscall Woods for my current favourite downhill seemed like a good test. I rode to the woods by a familiar route but decided to try to find a route I’ve only ridden this year and then from the top, down. I didn’t find the bottom so decided to go up by a very steep climb where I had to push the bike in several places. I reached the top of a long downhill section and set a fastest ever time on the first part, according to the app. Strava. This could have been helped by my change to the handlebar height and the attendant change in centre of gravity, or it could have been because I was loving being out on a sunny day! I’ve ridden the trail many times this year and there’s nothing like repeating a trail to help you to get faster. I now know where not to touch the brakes. Later, on a segment entitled “Better than going straight down” I thought things were going well though not perfect all the way. My time was only one second slower than my best ever so again it isn’t possible to attribute the performance to either bike or rider. The bike doesn’t feel any different to me but I’ll stick with the change for a while. On the Healey Nab climb I set a very fast time because a gate was open which is usually closed. On the main downhill my recent times have mainly been between 1 minute 24 seconds and 1 minute 20. Today was 1 minute 20, right at the top end of my times. After the jump section is a delightful twisty part and an open area. The gate to the field beyond was open so I went straight through which gave me a quick start. I’ve decided to not try for a fast time down this hill so didn’t pedal hard from the start. It has 2 high speed twisty sections which need full commitment. I passed through the first one at over 30 mph and took off over a hump. Exciting but more danger than I’m really looking for. The gate at the bottom was also open which allowed me to get a freak result on Strava of second fastest of all time for the whole drop. I honestly don’t regret not going for it on the first part, even if I could have achieved a King of the Mountains result.
The changes to the bike may have had a small positive effect but it’s at best very subtle. What matters more is that I had a good ride.