A Mechanic’s Journey to Finding a New Bike
I needed a new bike. Maybe not in the sense that I need dinner or beer but regardless, I needed a new bike. That was the easy decision. Next came the hard part. I have a custom built 650B hardtail which I love, but I finally conceded that I needed something that was a bit more forgiving on the descents.
20 years ago it was easy to look at what you wanted in terms of getting down a trail faster but now the options are mind blowing! Plus bikes, fat bikes, trail bikes, enduro bikes….the list is endless. Maybe I should just take up Golf? I could buy some clubs and walk around a field. But, I’m sure that a 9 Iron has probably been replaced with a ‘Boost Launcher’ and five other variants, and walking around a field is pretty boring. I needed to embrace the change and ultimately the choices that we now have. Bikes are more amazing than ever!
Early in the thought process, I figured that I’d want something that wasn’t too horrific when going uphill but was a entertaining when going down, and something a bit different from the norm. Ultimate speed wasn’t such a huge concern but fun and competency was. As such I soon settled for a full suspension Trail or Enduro type bike, previously known as an ‘All Mountain’ bike, and before then a ‘mountain bike’. Well, that was easy. Or not….
One day a 2018 Trek Stache 9.7 arrived in the shop. It was so ridiculous! 29 inch wheels with 3 inch wide tires hooked into a sleek carbon frame.
Being incredibly old, I remember a time before Snapchat and Facebook, and ‘Instagram’ involved going to a shop, handing over a film and by some weird process that film was turned into photographs appearing on paper. You’d then show your friends, who would pretend to look impressed while you showed them yet another blurry photo of a goat.
More relevantly, during this time there was a phase when many mountain bikes had what where called elevated chainstays. The idea being that with moving the stays above the bottom bracket shell, mud clearance was improved, chainsuck eliminated and the effective chainstay length could be shortened which improved traction.
Advances in tube shaping and drivetrain design made this feature somewhat redundant. Fast forward 25+ years and to a world where large wheels and tires exist, and again similar problems arise. Trek revisited this technology as part of an experiment to see how short they could get the stays on a 29+ bike, and raised the driveside chainstay. I love the mix of old school design brought up to date in a light, stiff package which results in a bike that at first glance might look like a weird ‘niche’ bike but in reality is rated as a competent all-rounder. Check out what Cam McCaul can do on one!
I would have pulled the trigger on one if the exact spec that I wanted would have been in stock at the time, and I’m sure it would have been hilarious but as it was, the search continued as I was feeling impatient.
I have owned two Chromag bikes previously (Stylus and Aperture) and always love what the local company does. I gave serious consideration to the Rootdown BA as it had the potential to be similar to my current hardtail but roll over the chunder on the likes of Crouching Squirrel and Entrails faster. I’ve briefly ridden a Primer and Surface knew I wouldn’t be in for any surprises. I even planned a day to visit the Chromag HQ to check some bikes out.
The following day Norco adjusted their pricing on their carbon Sight and Range and a bike that I’d not looked closely at before appeared on my radar.
The 2018 Norco Range C3. This fitted firmly in my original desire for an ‘enduro’ type bike before my mind went wandering towards hardtails on steroids. The carbon Range platform had already proved itself as being durable, but it was the front and rear DVO suspension that set this bike apart from the plethora of similar bikes in this category. This ticked off the ‘something a bit different from the norm’ box, and the bike was in stock in the local warehouse. Hurrah!
Two days later the bike arrived.
We take great care when assembling the bikes at Republic, and I extended the same attention to detail to my own bike. All suspension pivot hardware was removed from the frame, interfaces greased and the hardware re-installed with threadlock and torqued to specification.
This prevents the hardware from potentially getting seized in the future also allows us to check for any issues such as frame alignment problems. The frame was perfect. It was time to get it dirty!
The frame is built to take a beating (unlike me…..one of the reasons that I bought the bike!). For the Carbon Range, the decision was made to increase strength over the aluminum version rather than save weight. This is unusual but personally I think was a great decision. It was immediately clear that the bike has a sturdy feel to it, even climbing up Jacks on its maiden ride. Climbing up 50 Shades Of Green something else was clear. The 34 tooth front ring had to go! The Sram GX Eagle drivetrain gives a great range and good functionality at an affordable price but for our local trails, a 34 / 10 top gear is too high for me so I swapped out the ring for a 30 tooth chain ring. Climbing on the bike is nowhere near as horrific experience as I thought it might be. It’s easy to forget that long travel full suspension bikes can be good climbers. They stick to the ground, especially on steep technical climbs such as the final drag up to Entrails.
As relieved as I was with regards to the performance of the bike going uphill, I bought it for dropping down the other side. It took a few rides to get the bike set up how I liked it. The steering initially felt a bit slow but cutting the bar down from 800mm to 780mm fixed that. 20mm made a big difference that the bike became sprightly yet still planted. Setting up the DVO suspension, especially the fork is also a more involved process but well worth the investment. The fork is designed to be run with only around 15% sag which is unusual. I initially had more sag but a big bottom out moment taught me to mend my ways. With the correct air pressure to control compression deep in its travel, the ‘Off The Top’ negative spring preload adjuster is then used to give the fork a plush feeling at the beginning of the stroke. Now the fork feels composed and torsionally stiff when hitting cambered roots fast on Hybrid, yet still gives up its travel for smaller hits.
At some point you have to slow down. Seemingly every bike around this price point comes with Sram Guide R brakes. These brakes are awesome for modulating speed and look sleek. There’s only one slight issue I found with them. Stopping! This was rammed home on Boney Elbows which I know fairly well. I just couldn’t keep the speed down as much as I liked. Sintered pads would help, and if you don’t ride super steep trails then these brakes will suffice, but I upgraded the front brake lever to the RSC version which has the Swinglink between the lever blade and the master cylinder piston. This adds modulation but also power and just a better lever feel. I know plenty of people sell their Guide R brakes, but just swapping out the front lever to an RS or RSC version is a fairly economical upgrade.
Some people might be put off by the TranzX dropper post, but to be honest I think it is really good! It feels smoother through its stroke than my Reverb, has adjustable air pressure and looks pretty good. Being a nerdy mechanic, I did modify an old Shimano XTR front shifter to make a more interesting dropper post lever. There’s nothing functionally wrong with the stock lever though.
So after way too much thinking and not enough action (story of my life!), I finally have a great bike that I have made my own for a modest price. I am probably one of the few people wishing for winter to go away!