I changed the rear gear cable on the Trek EX8 29″ wheel mountain bike yesterday so thought I’d ride it today. I’d thought after my last ride, where I’d enjoyed working hard on 3 laps of the same circuit, that I’d do something similar today. I haven’t had many rides on the Trek so changed my plan to one where I’d ride familiar trails to get to know the bike better. Healey Nab was the obvious choice. I ride there so often that on several segments the app. Strava has me as a Local Legend. I’ve explained before that it’s rather disappointing to discover that this doesn’t mean you’re any good but just that you’ve ridden the segment more times than anyone else in the last 90 days. I became a Local Legend on my last ride as well, being the only rider out of about 5 riders who’d ridden a segment twice. Small beer then and not something to highlight on my CV.
Today I took the mixed road and trail route to the north end of the hill and climbed the shorter, steeper way around the old quarry to the top because the official alternative is impossibly muddy. I looped around the top loop with it’s gentle, twisty descent and more direct climb to get the feel of conditions and met another rider towards the top on an E bike. It was his first visit to Healey Nab and it transpired that he’s a lifelong cyclist, former BMXer and is now discovering the joys of mountain biking. After an hour all he’d found were some very muddy trails so I offered to take him on a lap of the red graded circuit. He seemed very competent on the descent, where I stopped once to point out some other options. We climbed back to the top and I indicated some alternative options he could take in drier conditions. My occasional tour guide commentaries left me seriously panting. I was surprised that, on the fairly steep climbs, I couldn’t talk and ride at the same time. Back at the top and he was returning to his car, parked on a road behind the hill. He thanked me and said he’d really enjoyed what I’d shown him, especially after he’d started to think there was nothing worth riding. I hadn’t been concentrating much on the change of bike so thought I’d ride 2 more laps to really get to grips with it. Before I set off today I’d slid the seat as far forwards as I could.
The fact is my son, Dylan, is much taller than me and this was his bike. It’s a size large and I’m a medium sized person, especially since I lost over an inch in height in an accident which compressed 2 vertebrae. Dylan fitted a shorter handlebar stem, partly for reasons of fashion, when he was riding the bike and this shifts the weight bias backwards. With more weight now pressing on the rear wheel, rear end grip will be increased. Unfortunately, with less weight now pushing down on the front wheel, grip here is reduced. I could maybe dig out the original stem but the bike is already rather long for me. I need a smaller frame but since I don’t have that option I’ve had to explore an alternative. The seat is as far forwards as possible so all I can do is shift my body weight. On my next 2 descents I was conciously leaning extra weight through my hands onto the handlebars to get more front wheel grip and it was working. The bike felt well balanced and the more I ride it, the more natural this style will start to feel. Some riders complain that 29″ wheel bikes are cumbersome around tight corners. Healey Nab’s descents have plenty of tight corners and I really don’t find the bigger wheels a problem here. Perhaps you just need to muscle the bigger bike a bit more. The bike feels like the most stable of my current collection of 5 bikes on these trails and the bigger wheels, with the cushioning effect of fatter tyres, make it a great ride. I’ll probably ride the 29er again on Sunday.