In my last post I explained how life, and more specifically digging a pond, had got in the way of my mountain biking. I’d exhausted myself with digging, which had to be done by hand due to the access difficulties. I was far too tired to ride after a long session of such physical work. Now, though, I’ve filled a skip to the brim and beyond which means I’ve moved at least 5 tons of soil and clay. Because of Easter we can’t get another skip until Thursday so the work is on hold. Great, I can go out on my bike. Even better, we’re enjoying a long, dry period so the ground conditions are good. Having said that we may get snow on Sunday. This is one of the penalties or joys of having a maritime climate. Temperatures vary far less during the year than on a continent but a change in wind direction can bring change at any time of year.
I’m still waiting for the return of the wheels for my newest bike, the Boardman FS Pro, so today I rode my oldest bike. The Proflex Attack LE is now 25 years old. It comes from 1996, the year before full suspension bikes at a reasonable price really hit the mark. In 1997 a number of bigger manufacturers introduced technologically superior bikes. A few of my friends bought Specialized FSRs whilst I chose a Marin Riftzone, a decision I have never regretted. I’d been saving for a full suspension bike and in 1996 my favoured choice was the higher spec. Proflex Beast. It had coil over oil damped shock absorbers at each end whereas my Attack LE, bought for a bargain £91 from EBay, has an elastomer rear suspension and originally a Rockshox Quadra 5 elastomer fork. When I first rode the bike I found that the fork really let the rest of the bike down so I engineered my own version of the Gervin Vector which was specified on the Beast. It works well, even if my homemade version is somewhat heavy. What I noticed when I pulled the bike out of the shed was that as a whole it’s a light bike by modern standards. OK so it only has half the suspension travel of a modern bike but I find it rather shocking that a new mid range bike would be heavier. This is due to the emphasis on downhill performance in contemporary mountain biking where weight is no significant disadvantage. I rode by an almost all off road route to White Coppice, encountering only a few muddy patches. I chose the easy side of the river to make life easier for an old bike and climbed Brinscall Woods. I was really feeling the effort of several days of hard work on the climb and took some photos half way up.
The elastomer suspension unit is a cylinder of synthetic rubber which compresses like a spring and returns slowly to it’s original size, acting like a damper. It’s a technology which has disappeared from modern bikes.
My homemade front fork pays homage to the Girvin fork but uses an oil damped air shock absorber. It works well, a different league of performance to the Rockshox which it replaced. The rear of the bike feel very stiff and I think that the replacement elastomer is too hard. Elastomers deteriorate, especially in hot conditions so have to be replaced eventually. I know of only one supplier of replacements, Suspensionforkparts.com, in the US. I climbed the remainder of the way and immediately started the long descent. You certainly take more of a battering with much less suspension travel and keeping the speed up is distinctly more challenging. The first part is superb, moorland singletrack, then I entered the woodland. Over the first rocky hump I failed miserably on the Proflex. It’s best done with 29” wheels. The 26” wheels and stiff suspension just weren’t working for me. I enjoyed battling along the undulating top edge of the woods and hopped over a fallen tree. Here the limited suspension travel helped by not compressing and pitching me forwards. The smoother parts of the trail were well within the bike’s capabilities and the rougher areas were exciting. Definitely more challenging than on a modern bike and not as fast but this takes little away from the fun factor. My front wheel dropped into a muddy patch and pitched me over the front, landing in the mud. Modern bikes have shorter handlebar stems so you are further behind the front wheel. I’d failed to take account of this difference by pushing my weight back. The rest of the descent went well, if more difficult in places.
I rode back to White Coppice and over Healey Nab with it’s purpose built trails. My time on the downhill was distinctly slower than on my other bikes recently but I did get held up by a slow rider lower down. Still, speed was not the essence of today’s ride. It was more of a chance to celebrate the glorious history of mountain biking and I had a great time.