A mountain bike is an inanimate object, a fact which cannot be denied. I’ve never given a name to a mountain bike. I didn’t name motor vehicles, either cars, bikes or scooters which I owned, until our son, Dylan was born. It then seemed like a good idea to name vehicles as if they had a soul. Do they have a soul? Can a mountain bike, for instance, influence the way you ride beyond it’s physical characteristics? Bikes ride differently due to their weight, wheel size, suspension travel and, perhaps most importantly, the geometry of their frame and attached components. The subtleties of design combine together and seem to “speak to you” as you ride. I don’t really believe that this is a spiritual thing but can easily understand why someone would. What I do know is that different bikes elicit different emotions in the rider, whether negative or positive. I found in the early days of my mountain biking life, when I rode with other riders and occasionally swapped bikes, that other peoples bike usually felt faster than mine. I imagine that this was just the slight unfamiliarity with a vaguely different bike, rather than me actually going any quicker. Bikes didn’t even vary as much in those days since we had no suspension, just a 26″ wheeled bike with a steel diamond frame, but the differences were still tangible.
I’ve owned bikes which I’ve had a real affection for. I loved my Whyte JW4 which I bought in 2005, even though it was a 2004 model. The linkage suspension bikes had by then been discontinued but after test riding a lot of bikes I thought that the Whyte rode the best. I kept it until 2011 by which time it needed the many suspension pivots replacing. I chose to buy a new bike rather than fixing the JW4 and soon regretted my decision. I’d bought a Voodoo Canzo 26″ wheel bike with 140mm of suspension travel at each end and some quality components. It felt sluggish so I changed the Maxxis High Roller rear tyre for something less knobbly but it made no difference. The suspension appeared capable enough but it seemed as if the bike had no enthusiasm for speed. I rode the bike a lot but eventually decided on a plan to relegate the Voodoo to spare/winter bike status. I took the components from my first full suspension bike, a 1997 Marin Rift Zone, and bought another frame which I’d always aspired to. It was an Orange Sub 5 frame from around the millennium and didn’t cost me much. I’ve added a photo of a similar bike at the top of the post. Orange bikes seem to me rather like BWM motorcycles. They often appeal to the more mature rider so I expected the bike to be sensible and safe. I was entirely wrong, it was a hooligan tool. It seemed to always be encouraging me to go as fast as possible. On my first ride I set a new personal best on a downhill section which I’d ridden for over 20 years. By modern standards it was a short and tall bike with a high bottom bracket and this eventually counted against me. I went over the handlebars and compressed 2 vertebrae, losing over an inch in height and having to take a break from riding for 6 weeks. My first time off the bike in 24 years. 7 months later I’d ridden a series of jumps several times but just needed one more full speed run, encouraged by the Orange. The front wheel slid on the approach to a jump and I came down sideways, breaking some ribs and a collar bone. I retired the Orange after that, not because of the accident but because it had a metal fatigue issue on the rear suspension which couldn’t be fixed, so I decided to use the components on another frame. I bought a 2004 Whyte JW4 frame with the 2 original shock absorbers and I still have it. I bought the more advanced Whyte PRST4 frame, also a 2004, just a few months later and used the parts from the Voodoo frame which I then retired so I now have 2 of these radical bikes.
The PRST4 has a lighter box section fork and better suspension units made by Fox.
Since my 2 big accidents I’ve paid far more attention to safety whilst riding since I’m determined not to break any more bones. I bought my Boardman FS Pro the following November, between the purchases of the 2 Whyte frames, and it is a much more modern bike in terms of it’s geometry. It doesn’t have the slack steering head angle of cutting edge bikes but it does have a low bottom bracket (where the pedals attach to the frame) and bigger 27.5″ wheels. It’s a capable and fast bike but also a safe one. The suspension performance is excellent, absorbing the roughness of the trail and allowing you to keep the bike on line far better than the rather manic but exciting Whytes. I’ve also acquired a 2014 Trek Fuel EX8 from my son, Dylan. The bigger 29″ wheels absorb the undulations well but the difference between 29s and 27.5s is much less significant than that between 26 and 27.5s. In other ways the Trek is rather last generation. The bottom bracket is high and the steering head quite steep. It rides well but I’d love to ride some later designs. Would I buy an Orange again? I’d need to test one extensively first because I’m thinking that Orange have got too set in their ways. They still use a single pivot rear suspension which is very much like my 1997 Marin Rift Zone. They’ve also firmly committed to aluminium frames whilst the rest of the industry has developed carbon fibre frames. It’s easy to be shocked by the high price of modern mountain bikes but we do at least get materials which are way more advanced than those used in cars or motorcycles.
Orange really need to lend me a bike to assess, I’d be doing them a favour with their research and development. What credentials do I have for such a role? Well if you’ve read the fixed post on my site you’ll know that I built my first suspension fork in 1977, yes 1977, that wasn’t a typing error. They weren’t even called mountain bikes in those days.
I’m hoping to ride today though with the recent snow still hard frozen conditions might be difficult. I’ll use the Trek but not for any technical superiority. It’s still dirty and unwashed after my last ride so the choice is an easy one.
Whoa, that Whyte is an archive-worthy classic! So cool.
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