Today I had the exciting prospect of riding my Boardman FS Pro mountain bike. I bought it new in November 2016 so riding it wasn’t truly a new prospect but I haven’t been able to ride it since 14th February. It was on that day that a small spring on the freewheel broke, leaving me with no drive. I decided it was time to replace the rather worn wheel bearings in both wheels so took them to a local bike shop, rather than doing it myself. For a variety of reasons it has taken over 10 weeks to get them back. Ben in the shop had trouble with the rear wheel which he eventually found was due to a bent shim washer jamming the wheel when he installed it in a bike. I don’t know if he felt a little guilty about the long wait but he only charged me £30 for the bearings, pawl spring, fitting and 2 gear cables which I owed him for already. In the meantime I rode the 2014 Trek until the transmission finally wore out. I used my Whyte PRST4 then had several good rides on my oldest bike, the Proflex Attack LE. Once I’d replaced a seized headset bearing I lastly used the Whyte JW4. Today, with the Boardman back in action, was an exciting prospect to find out just how different a more modern bike rides. So not exactly a new prospect but after such a long time it felt like it was something new.
The Boardman seemed somewhat conservative in 2016 when it was new. It had a short handlebar stem, a low bottom bracket, where the pedal cranks attach to the frame and the bigger 27.5 inch wheels were further apart. The steering head angle, meanwhile, was still quite steep at 67 degrees. Modern bikes are lower to keep you in touch with the ground beneath your wheels. You are much further behind the front wheel to make you far less likely to be catapulted over the bars. Bikes are longer to keep you correctly balanced between front and rear wheels. Suspension travel is longer. The Boardman has 140mm rear and 130mm front compared to 100/100mm on the Whyte’s and even less on the 25 year old Proflex.
Figures and descriptions are all well and good on paper but can you tell the difference from the rider’s seat? Absolutely you can. A massive amount. As soon as I climbed onboard the Boardman I noticed how far the front wheel stuck out in front of me. On the trails the differences were abundantly clear.
I rode to Brinscall Woods and even on easier ground I could tell how the suspension smoothed things out. I rode the technical side of a river and made it up the hardest, steep rocky climb without a foot down. I’d not made the section on the Whyte in my last ride. The rocky and technical trail was definitely easier and smoother. This may also help me to ride faster despite the Boardman’s higher weight. It’s now accepted that modern bikes will be heavier than classics. The excuse is that the longer chassis and more suspension travel make this extra weight inevitable. On some riding, especially if it involves longer, smoother climbs, an old bike may still be quicker. This was just what the next section of the ride involved.
On my last ride I’d found someone vandalising a section of trail, causing potential disaster to mountain bikers. I’d had the first true meltdown of cursing, uncontrolled rage in living memory so I checked that the section had remained unmolested. One post on a Facebook MTB page had been enough to get riders springing into action and clearing the dangerous blockages the same day. I was very impressed! With all good I carried on up the woods and across the moor to ride the shorter version of what I believe to be the best downhill in the area. The first sinuous segment was fantastic and the longer travel suspension allowed me to put more effort in though the pedals because I wasn’t getting nearly so beaten up by the bumpy ground as I had last time on the Whyte.
I again managed to get over the first rocky hump in the woods only this time it was far easier. I could keep my speed up much better over the rocks and the easy speed continued along to the top of the best part. I blasted the wonderfully varied and long downhill, realising that, whilst old bikes are a joy to ride, things have far from got worse. It was a joyous descent and I still had Healey Nab to go. Grip, comfort and easy speed are a given with a modern bike but I can’t help loving a classic.I was feeling the work later in the ride but less from the riding and more from the digging and paving around our new pond. Thankfully the pond is more or les finished so shouldn’t impact my riding again. I had an excellent and thought provoking ride today.