Is it spring?

The modern interpretation is that spring begins on the first of March though the spring equinox around the 21st is a more traditional view. In my garden things are certainly starting to happen with the snowdrops almost finished with their life cycle. The Helibores are in full bloom and many early plants such as camassia are growing quickly. Even the hedges have started to sprig so it must be spring. We’ve had a dry, if cold , weekend and today is again sunny so I decided to use a different mountain bike to the Trek Fuel EX 8 which I’ve ridden since October.

The Trek has deteriorated during it’s winter of use and needs new bottom bracket bearings, where the pedals attach to the frame. The shock absorber and suspension bushes have some play in them and the transmission works dismally. Instead I chose to ride my best bike which is a Boardman FS Pro. It is a well specced bike with some good medium to top end components and apart from some play in the rear wheel bearings and a tiny bit of movement in some of the rear suspension bushes it is in good working order. The differences between the Boardman and the Trek are considerable but the bikes are both what you’d call trail bikes, aimed at the same type of riding. They are not designed to be the fastest possible cross country race bikes. They are not the most capable downhillers but they can cope with anything a trail will throw at you. The Trek has 29″ wheels and 120 mm of suspension travel at each end. The Boardman has smaller 27.5″ wheels but 140 mm of front travel and 130 mm at the rear. The bigger wheels of the Trek should ride more smoothly over bumps so it wasn’t considered necessary to have as much suspension travel. After over 5 months of riding the Trek it would be interesting to see how the Boardman compared on familiar terrain.

I had a significant birthday at the weekend so I ate and drank too much, leaving me feeling a little jaded for today’s ride. I decided to lap Healey Nab, with it’s purpose built trails, just 3 times. The first thing I noticed on the steeper climbs was that the easiest gear was higher on the Boardman. You can’t spin the pedals as quickly or easily and have to dig in hard to keep it going. Because of the different wheel sizes it’s a little tricky to determine the difference in gearing but my estimate is 16 %. In other words if you turn the Trek pedals enough to move the bike 1 meter the same pedal turn would move the Boardman around 1.16 meters. It’s therefore harder but in today’s dry conditions it caused no problems. Another difference is that the Boardman has a lower bottom bracket, even though it has more suspension travel. This manifests itself in the pedals striking lumps, bumps, rocks and roots in the trail much more easily. It’s a case of making sure you’re aware of this and taking avoiding action rather than changing the trails you ride.

Turning downhill the 2 bikes don’t feel too different most of the time but I found something interesting on a particularly rough section of trail at speed. The ground has rocky bumps but it’s the dips which catch you out. If the front wheel leaves the ground over a bump it can skip over the following dip to slam into the next bump. I keep my upper body almost horizontal with well bent arms and legs so that I can absorb the bumps and push the bike down into the dips to keep the wheels in contact with the ground as much as possible. At the highest speeds it becomes one of the most challenging segments of trail I know and I was pleased to find that the Boardman felt better than the Trek which I’ve used all winter. It must be the extra 20 mm of front suspension travel in particular, absorbing the bumps and making the wheel less prone to leave the ground. I’d love to try this area on a bike with really big travel, like 170 mm, to see if this would allow me to ride this part without paying any regard to speed.

I used 3 different climbs and descents to add variety and despite feeling fatigued I had a good ride. The weather is due to get warmer this week but with some chance of rain. I’m now feeling ready to get my pedal powered boat out for the first time since October and have pencilled it in for Wednesday.

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