Maybe it’s a result of my introduction to mountain biking. Maybe it’s our local terrain. Maybe it’s just the status quo around these parts. Regardless, I’ve always been a hard tail kinda guy, be it 26, 29 or 27.5 wheels. Dual suspension bikes always seemed heavy and complicated to me. Traditions like this die hard.
Our biggest bike brand, Jamis, has a very passionate cult following (I’m sure both Jamis and I wish that this following were more than cult) for their 650b/27.5 bikes, particularly their dual-suspension Dakar 650b. Seriously: look at the back issues of Mountain Bike Action and Bike. Those guys cannot shut up about the awesomeness of this bike. Reviews can be found here.
Ryan and I have talked about this many times: we cannot expand our own and our customers’ horizons without bikes for them to see and ride. Thus, we’ve thought about demo dual-suspension 650b bikes for some time. 2013 is the year we finally got around to it.
About two weeks ago our cargo arrived: a 17 and a 19 Dakar with all the trimmings — White Brothers Loop fork, SRAM X.0 drivetrain, American Classic wheels… all of it. We got these things for one reason: demo fever. We want our customers to try these things. Maybe you’ll want one and maybe you won’t, but you’ll never find out without riding one.
The Dakar is a pretty serious bike — five inches of travel at both ends. Yes, that means a 130mm travel fork. It sounds like overkill to most of us with West Michigan roots, but the bike has serious cross-country geometry. It’s made for trails like we use and is not a pure trail bike like, for instance, the Scott Genius.
So of course I built one of them (just happened to be in my size) one morning and went riding with friends at Fort Custer later that evening. Keep in mind that I had zero experience with a suspended rear-end before this ride and spent almost no time setting it up. Still, I liked it. I felt like I had to work too hard going uphill, but the descents were fantastic. Cornering was a little slower than expected, but still pretty interesting. I took me almost no time at all to get used to sitting down the entire ride. Fun.
I thought about the things I didn’t like, mainly the slow turn-in, and considered remedies. The next time out I put a little more air in the shock and let a little air out of the fork. Bang on. All of the sudden this thing steered like my hard tail while still absorbing bumps like crazy. After a couple of laps on a very technical course, I’m pretty darn hooked.
I have a few takeaways from this experience:
- A dual-suspension bike is heavier than a similar hard tail. However, I’ve come to the conclusion that heavy, at some point, is almost a state of mind.
- A dual-suspension bike is a bit more complicated than a hard tail. That said, even someone with my limited know-how and resources can make it work. This stuff is not rocket science.
- A dual-suspension bike is easier on your body. This should not be a surprise.
- A dual-suspension bike is also easier on your mind. You don’t need to be quite as obsessive about your line on a dual-suspension bike. If you hit that root with the rear tire, it won’t spring you up in the air and screw up your flow. Instead, the suspension will absorb the hit and away you go. I found it rather surprising the first few times.
Am I a convert? I dunno about that. I got back on Old Green last Friday and once again enjoyed myself enormously. The thing I haven’t done is back to back loops with my normal bike and one of these demo things. Frankly, I’m not sure I’m in good enough shape for that sort of test to be valid. Still, it would be pretty fun to try…