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Uncle Dave

Bikes for the Mechanically Dis-inclined

Words Dave Tolnai
Date Mar 4, 2022
Reading time

This is a story about a close member of my family. One that I lived with for approximately 14 or 15 years of my youth. As the purpose of this story is not to call him out specifically, I will just refer to him as “him”, “he” and “his”, for the remainder.

The first time I sold him a bicycle, it was 1997. The bike was a 1995 Rocky Mountain Equipe (the shit brown one, with red accents). This was also the first bike that I ever rode on the Shore, and by the end of its time with me I had turned it into a grade A, shore killing monster via the installation of an Envy bash guard (sold to me by Wade Simmons himself…it could have been made of cardboard and I still would have bought it), a first gen (Answer patent infringing) Azonic riser bar, XT V Brakes, a Syncros seatpost and a pair of gold Race face cranks. These were also all of the things that I pulled off before handing the bike over to him (save for the Syncros post). I bought some closeout LX garbage to swap in for the good stuff.

Soon after he took possession, he moved to New Zealand, and I didn’t see the bike until I visited him a couple of years later. I had accepted that the Equipe had entered a different phase of its existence when it left me, but I was still shocked by what it had become. Imagine that scene from your 10 year high school reunion where the WHL hockey player is now an over-weight mattress salesman (true story). It was like somebody had spent the previous few years doing nothing more with the bike than spraying it down with a garden hose before shutting it away in a damp shed for 6 months at a time. The chain was rusty. The cables were rusty. The seatpost seemed to be welded in place, and when I attempted to move it, I was greeted by a massive shrieking noise before I fell on my ass, saddle still in hand. It took a pipe wrench to get the remains out.

After that it travelled back to Canada, and I would catch the odd glimpse of it in his garage. If I asked him about it he would still claim that it was a great bike and that it was occasionally ridden off road. And then last year, it came full circle! His daughter started at UBC, and she brought the bike along as her commuter, returning it to within a half kilometer of where it started.

Since his daughter had absconded with his “mountain bike,” his hunt for a new one really ramped up. By this time, the hunt had been in progress for at least the last five or six years. This rigorous search involved him sending me an e-mail every 6 months to see if I had a bicycle that I could give to him. Yes, give. Amazingly, this technique eventually paid off. One day his wife phoned me to say that she wanted to get him a new bike for his 50th birthday. After years of saying no, I was forced to admit that I had the perfect bike, one that I hadn’t ridden in at least a year, sitting in my storage room. We hammered out a price, and I sent it on its way.

In a fit of self-delusion, I wrote out a couple of paragraphs for him on the maintenance tasks that he absolutely couldn’t skip, under threat of death or financial hardship. Things like “occasionally lube the chain because the replacement Eagle cassette will run you a few hundred dollars” and “buy a shock pump and put some air in the suspension at least every few months.” I knew that the probability of him following this bare bones maintenance advice was close to nil, but I felt it was my duty to the bicycle to at least try. The poor thing really doesn’t stand a chance.

6 months later, I received an e-mail from him with a question, not about the bike I sold him, but about his wife’s bike. “She’s been riding her mountain bike a lot lately, but her back is really bothering her. I was thinking I’d buy her a dropper seatpost. Do you have one?” There was a photo attached. This is the photo.

Trek Bicycle Screenshot.jpg

I'm a little bit worried that somebody is going to pop into the comments and tell me "No Dave, that model of Trek only had 15mm of shock stroke by design."

There are many things surprising about this photograph. The chain isn’t rusty. The tires aren’t bald. Indeed, it looks like it has hardly spent any time whatsoever in a damp shed or being dragged behind a car at highway speed. There’s also…you know…some other things going on. I wrote him back to ask him if he had bought the shock pump I had told him to buy, and how it was going with checking the pressure in his suspension every month or so. He admitted that he hadn’t yet done that. It took a phone call to drive home the importance of doing so, and to convince him that returning the above Trek to a functional full suspension bicycle was going to be better bang for the buck than a dropper post.

My mind immediately went to this chain of events when I read Andrew’s article the other month. My feelings almost perfectly reflect what he was putting forth and I’m in near total agreement that there are people out there who might be better served with the purchase of a hardtail mountain bike, versus a fancier full suspension model. Perhaps I even know two perfect candidates. Indeed, there would be fewer things that would degrade, and a greater chance that their bicycles would continue to function as designed, even two or three years down the road.

I also thought back to the conversations that I’ve had over the years with people who are getting into the sport and looking for a recommendation on what bike to buy. Of the few dozen times (at least) that I’ve had that conversation, I don’t think I’ve ever pushed somebody towards a full suspension bike. Or at least I didn’t until recently. Where I once recommended a hardtail, I now just become a bit evasive. It’s hard enough for most people to keep even a basic bicycle running properly that there is no way that I would condemn some naïve newbie to the trials and tribulations of a full suspension bicycle. This sounds logical, but from the outside I think I just come across as a gigantic asshole. What sort of person chooses one thing for themselves but recommends a completely different thing to others?


Eventually, I saw the error of my ways and we bought her a decent full suspension bike capable of doing both things and her interest in riding bikes climbed exponentially. As far as she’s concerned, I can fuck right off with my bicycle logic.

I think back on the path my girlfriend has travelled. I built her up two bikes when she was first starting out. The first was a nice steel hardtail with decent parts, meant for all of those rides where we had to go up a hill first. The other was a collection of utter shit that I scavenged together from my storage locker and bashed into place on an old VPFree frame. She used that if we ever shuttled or went to the bike park. Shockingly, she much preferred riding the claptrap bucket of bolts VPFree over the hardtail. Eventually, I saw the error of my ways and we bought her a decent full suspension bike capable of doing both things and her interest in riding bikes climbed exponentially. As far as she’s concerned, I can fuck right off with my bicycle logic.

This, most will see, starts to form the basis of a contradiction, and a battle between logic and lust. To the fully logical mind, of course we should all start out on hardtails! And we should all invest in index funds, recycle our toilet paper and only drink water harvested from our rooftops. Of course younger riders, people on a budget or people just learning the ropes are going to have an easier time looking after a hardtail bike. But if you follow that train of logic too far down the track to determine what might be cheaper or easier to own, eventually you wind up at a place where you never bought a bicycle and you took up disc golf instead.

There’s nothing logical about this sport! It does not make sense to spend a bunch of calories climbing to the top of a mountain just so that you can risk injury on the way down. It does not make sense to spend thousands of dollars on equipment that is going to get scratched, smashed and beaten. No part of what we do is considered reasonable by the population at large, so why get all responsible with your choice of bicycle? Why should only the old, the experienced, the non-thrifty and the mechanically inclined be the ones to experience the improvements made to full suspension bicycles over the last few years? That’s the part that doesn’t make any sense! But even then, I still can’t see myself telling somebody just getting into the sport that they should plunge in and buy a nice, budget full suspension bike. But what’s the alternative? Investigating this contradiction is where things get really interesting.

Start by considering just how easy it is to make a bike ride terribly. I could spend 5 minutes with nothing more than a mini tool and some imagination and make any full suspension bike ride like shit (well, any bike, really). A few turns of a b-tension screw, a few clicks of some knobs in the wrong direction on the fork, and 20 psi out of the rear shock and you’ve turned a finely-tuned bicycle into an afternoon of frustration. The window of performance on most of our bikes is so small, it actually seems crazy that we send anybody out into the world on something that is so finicky and delicate. We’ve created a toy for the masses, but only a portion of the people that use them are capable of keeping them running at their best!* Maybe it’s not that certain people would be better served by hardtails, but maybe we’d all be better served by better full suspension bikes?

*Yes, yes. Shops exist. It can be difficult for an experienced rider to find a shop with the necessary combination of trust and competence. I can’t imagine how hard this can be for somebody with less knowledge of the situation.

What do I mean by that? Well, I think we need to consider that the reality we’ve created for ourselves is totally insane. Imagine what might happen to the bicycle if reliability was judged not by us psychopaths who think nothing of doing a lowers service in the front yard in freezing weather, but by the people who don’t know what a shock pump is or why you would need one? Maybe there are new markets that would open up if we started to appreciate the needs of the mechanically disadvantaged? Would you pay more for a bicycle that only needed the bearings replaced half as often? Would you accept 95% of the suspension performance if it meant you didn’t live half of your life worrying about whether or not your fork needed servicing? Would you appreciate spending your spare dollars on a trip for four to Mexico, rather than on that new cassette that you need for your Eagle drivetrain?

Yes, yes, I’m glad that my bicycle no longer stabs me through the calf muscle if I jump off a rock incorrectly. We’re long past the days when frames were disposable and oil shot out of our forks and painted our disc rotors every third or fourth ride. Bikes are arguably more reliable now than they ever have been, but this is an extremely relative statement based on years of insanity. If full suspension mountain bikes are going to roll out to the masses (as appears to be the case), our current bar for what is considered ”reliable” or “easily maintainable” might be far too low.

There’s a trope in manufacturing where if you want to learn the quickest way to do something, give it to the laziest guy on your team and watch how he does it.** It feels like there could be something similar to be learned here about maintaining bicycles. We may all benefit from what happens if we consider ownership from the perspective of the people who don’t have full home repair shops in their basement.

But until then, listen to Andrew.

Sorry,

Uncle Dave

**Incidentally, if you ever find yourself working for somebody that repeatedly says this in meetings, start looking for a new job. This is a terrible idea said by people that have never approached an actual factory floor. The laziest guy on the floor is never some secret reservoir of productivity that gets all their work done in half the time so that they can sit around gawking at their phone. The laziest guy on the floor is the one who finds creative napping locations in dark corners of the building. Taking that into consideration, I’m not exactly filled with confidence that I’ve formed a winning argument here today.


Uncle Dave's Music Club

Great music seems to be need one of two things. Either it needs to feel like the artist has poured every piece of themselves into it, or it needs to feel like it is some kind of effortless little thing that was tossed off as if it were nothing. The best of the best is both.

Dry Cleaning is scratching this massive itch that I didn’t know was there. Scratchcard Lanyard is about as effortless as it gets, and is so damned catchy that I can’t stop listening to it. While a great video, I somehow find the song is more catchy if you only listen and don’t watch, so take that into consideration. And I also feel like I need to point out the similar vibe to this classic piece of art.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6PuqlOTyJt0

Building on that, Strong Feelings scratches even deeper at that itch. The vocals feel similarly tossed off, but that rumbling bass builds into an immensely complex song. I love it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XsujZ82VKDg

Faye Webster is also putting out songs with an effortless vibe. Her voice is super interesting, and I like the story she tells with I Know I’m Funny haha. Put that shit on repeat.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gmuNjoR8jUI

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Comments

Bikeryder85
Bikeryder85
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+8 Vik Banerjee Geof Harries Nologo Cam McRae Merwinn Spencer Nelson Pete Roggeman Paul Stuart

It's not that I'm lazy, I swear.....

Time is the biggest factor for me. When i recommend a bike to someone, it is usually a fellow dad who wants to get his family into the sport. I almost never recommend a full suspension. I have little time to maintain my bikes myself (with a basement shop!), so I dont expect some of my friends to magically have more time than me (esp. since they usually have more kids). We also no longer have a local shop to help....Plus a really good hardtail can be fast and fun! 

Now if you'll excuse me while I fluff the pillow in my nap spot....

Reply

skooks
Skooks
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+2 bishopsmike Andrew Major

I hear you about time constraints. I have to say that time spent in the shop with your kids is gold though (assuming they are interested). One of the most gratifying thing I did with my kid was to spend time in the garage working on bikes. He was totally into it and used this experience to get a job as a shop mechanic at age 14. He is good at it too. He has rebuild every part on his car and is studying mechanical engineering. His hands-on experience is going to serve him very well in his career.

Reply

hankthespacecowboy
hankthespacecowboy
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+4 Cam McRae YDiv Pete Roggeman bishopsmike

I didn't think about it until I read this article, but now that you mention it, the savings accrued from staying with a Zee 10 spd drivetrain has indeed been about the same as the cost of buying a ticket for our annual pilgrimage of gustatory & singletrack pleasures in Mexico...

Reply

mammal
Mammal
3 months, 3 weeks ago
0

Absolutely nothing wrong with 10spd! Other than the fact that Deore is now the only Shimano replacement option (could be worse).

Reply

Polymath
Peter Leeds
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+1 bishopsmike

Absolutely.  I intentionally decided on a full 10 sp XTR setup for my titanium hardtail build a few years ago for a few reasons:  it was cheaper.  The gears I would use (the first 5) are all titanium cogs and take forever to wear.  The lack of a pie plate rear end cog that would wear in 3 months made me cringe.  Moreover, you get the gearing with a 21 front ring.  Bought a whole spare drivetrain at the time thinking it was being cautious.  Now I see it as the best insurance I could of had.  Drivetrain has never failed me and the shifting is superb.  Try finding 10 spd XTR parts new today......

Reply

cheapondirt
cheapondirt
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+3 Paul Stuart eriksg Timer

This was a highly enjoyable read.

I always thought the hardtail suggestion was intended to steer people toward spending less when they aren't sure if they really want to dive into the money pit. I've seen enough people take a passing interest in different hobbies just long enough to buy the gear. Then they either lose money on resale or keep accumulating stuff that goes unused.

Reply

heckler
Sven Luebke
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+3 Tjaard Breeuwer Mammal Justin White

Spend a day or two volunteering at Bike To Work Week at a free maintenance station.  You will not believe the level this article also applies for the casual cyclist   Its frightening sometimes what people will keep rolling in city traffic. 

Hey, lets’ add motors and batteries and wire harnesses!?

Reply

YDiv
YDiv
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+2 Vik Banerjee Merwinn

Hey... disc golf is fun too!

However, I do think that there's still a very strong argument for recommending hardtails. It's not as if hardtails have remained stagnant while all the improvements are on the full suspension bikes. 

I think a bit of demographics + riding style comes into play as well, not everyone will eventually transition towards needing a FS bike, or even being able to make full use of it.

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Captain-Snappy
Merwinn
3 months, 3 weeks ago
0

"not everyone will eventually transition towards needing a FS bike, or even being able to make full use of it.

Sage advice for the big box store crowd.

Reply

avner-b
Avner B.
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+2 cheapondirt Justin White

I think that something like an Orange with a coil shock doesn't require that much more maintenance than a HT and still deliver all the benefits of a FS.

Reply

davetolnai
Dave Tolnai
3 months, 3 weeks ago
0

I think this is a great example.  I think this is exactly what I'm getting at.  We are so swayed by "maximum performance", is it time to start thinking about what we might gain by simplifying things a bit and considering longevity and ease of maintenance.

It would be interesting to explore a modern single pivot bike.  I think single pivots probably get a bit of a bad rap just because they've been around for so long and there were so many bad examples of them.  I wonder what a truly modern one that takes advantage of all that we've learned would be like?

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just6979
Justin White
3 months, 2 weeks ago
0

I think single pivots got a bad rap because there was a rash of them with stupid high chain growth and anti-squat, because "efficiency" on smooth ground was (for some reason, despite the intention to take these bikes on rough ground) deemed very, maybe most, important.

I loved my single pivots: one designed around a 2x drivetrain and one with 2x optional, so my 1x conversions left them fairly active, with traction for days.

Reply

mat8246
mat8246
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+1 Paul Stuart

Great music selections. I Know I’m Funny haha really crept up on me.

Reply

just6979
Justin White
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+1 hambobet

I have personally never understood the idea of recommending only hardtails, but I do recognize that it's very much terrain and "ride fantasy" dependent.

'Round here (North of Boston), there are some amazing folks absolutely shredding on hardtails, but they're absolute beasts and have been riding for decades on all flavors of bikes. For mere mortals who think they might want more than rail-trails and fire-roads, attempting the local "real" trails really benefits from the traction and comfort provided by a full-sus. And that's a huge part of getting over that first hump of "this is hard work and everything hurts, but I'm having fun and I can see the light of enjoying this all the time".

To me, telling a newbie to avoid a rear shock is like telling someone to buy a car without a windshield washer because it will have to be refilled someday. Sure, they could just stop at a service station and use the brushy-thing every time the windshield gets dirty, or carry a separate spray bottle and rag, but those options are so inconvenient (and uncomfortable and potentially unsafe if you're trying to clean a window on the side of the highway), that's it's easily worth the effort to learn how to refill the built-in washer system. Or it could be like just getting a park bench for your living room instead of a couch, just because the couch will eventually need the upholstery cleaned and even maybe new cushions or springs. Yes, the bench is almost infinitely easier to maintain, but the comfort level, and subsequent enjoyment, is not even in the ballpark.

And this is coming from someone who was the very last in the group to go full-suspension. I had only hardtails for 15+ years, but for the last 10-ish years I have only ridden a hardtail when something on the full-sus is down for repairs and I'm waiting for parts, which has only happened a handful of times in the last decade.

* Not down for repairs just because it's full-sus, but broken because I ride it often and hard and wear out or smash shit. A full-time hardtail would be broken just as often: no shock or pivots to wear, but it would beat up way more tires and wheels.

* And one of those was waiting for a theft replacement so that doesn't count against the full-sus at all!

Reply

davetolnai
Dave Tolnai
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+2 Timer Justin White

Your park bench analogy is beautiful.

Reply

syncro
Mark
3 months, 3 weeks ago
-1 bishopsmike

The problem with the park bench analogy is that it completely misses what is probably the main reason to start on a hard tail - people learn essential trail skills faster because they can't rely on the bike tech to make things easier.

Reply

davetolnai
Dave Tolnai
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+3 bishopsmike Cooper Quinn Justin White

I think this is overblown. I think you learn more skills when you’re enjoying yourself.

Reply

syncro
Mark
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+1 Justin White

Good point about the fun factor, it was something I considered while typing my reply. However, there's no certainty that a FS bike is going to be more (or less) fun than a hard tail. I have plenty of fun on my hard tail so maybe my opinion is partly biased because of that, but I think you get a better sense of the trail and what the bike is doing under you on a hard tail that you do on a FS bike.

It's probably a debate that can't be settled unless someone ran a controlled study with enough participants to establish some real world data. And doubt any bike co will do that as there's more money in FS bikes.

Reply

davetolnai
Dave Tolnai
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+4 bishopsmike Velocipedestrian Paul Lindsay Justin White

I think this whole "you learn better skills on a hardtail" thing is something that we've told ourselves to justify all of those years we spent riding on a hardtail.  Did we learn something by riding on bad equipment?  Sure.  Years spent death gripping my cantilevers in hopes that they would have a small effect on my speed as I bombed down the North Shore in the wet taught me something, I'm just not sure it's relevant.  Absolutely, all of those years riding a hardtail played some part in how I now ride a bike, but I'm not sure it matters.

Consider grom development these days.  You can throw a kid on a bike, and within a couple of years they are shredding harder than even the best riders were in the 90's.  Not all of them, but enough that I consider it to be a thing.  There are many factors in this, but I believe one of them is equipment that is easier to ride and use.

If you put a beginner on equipment that is easier to use, they will enjoy themselves more and they will get better much faster.  You can argue that they've missed something along the way, and maybe they have, but it's silly to expect people starting out now to follow the same path we did years ago.

One could probably make this same argument in all sorts of sports.  Do you learn a better swing with an old tennis racket?  Do you learn a better golf stroke when the sweet spot is tiny?  Probably.  But why would you worry about this when you have new equipment that is easier to use and allows you to go out there and perform better with less effort?  Any argument against this is just grumpy OG's complaining about the good old days.  And I include myself in that statement.

just6979
Justin White
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+1 bishopsmike

"but I think you get a better sense of the trail and what the bike is doing under you on a hard tail that you do on a FS bike."

So... why not rigid? Like seriously. I started on rigid, does that mean I have even more skills than HT?

I don't buy it anyway: I know way more about what the trail is doing when my fork and shock are nicely tracking the terrain, letting me feel that feedback (damped, yes, but always still there) and using it to manage traction, instead of holding on for dear life as my tires skip over most of the terrain and much of the trail feedback is lost in a sea of noise.

You'd need to be on a pretty plushly set up DH level bike on green flow trails to not have any "sense of the trail and what the bike is doing under you". I would argue a full-sus actually gives you more sense of the trail because the rear wheel will literally be in contact with the ground more often, once any bit of speed is attained. And what the bike is doing is felt through so many more places than just the rear wheel.

As far as skills, I'm not exactly sure what skills can only be learned on a hardtail. Maybe, maybe, it forces the rider to very quickly get real good at letting the rear come up, but that's still a skill that is needed on FS if you want to be smooth and to maintain momentum. It just becomes an additional skill that can be built over time like most things, instead of something you almost need to know before you start or else get real good at fixing rear pinch-flats and truing wheels.

"The difference in riding style between a hard tail and a FS is definitely different, and I know that riding a hard tail helps keep me sharper because of that."

But if they're different styles, what is the hardtail keeping you sharp for? I personally don't really ride any different on HT vs FS, just on the HT I am forced to always pretty much completely soak up big rear wheel hits or risk breaking things. Remember, I'm still soaking up hits on the FS, but I don't have to eat it all by myself, which can be nice if I'm getting tired, or just busy with the rest of the bike trying to find front-end traction of something. 

PS: Although this is a reply to Mark's comment, and quotes them directly, it's really addressed to anyone proselytizing that riding hardtail first  builds [different?] skills better than riding full-sus. Nothing personal, just used those quotes because they capture a couple very common arguments I happen to disagree with.

syncro
Mark
3 months, 3 weeks ago
0 eriksg bishopsmike

Dave, who's saying that a hard tail has to bad equipment or close to 30yrs old? A modern hard tail is way ahead of any sort of clap trap rig you're referring to. And if someone is on a budget they can typically get much more bike for less money with a hard tail. So in that vein what makes more sense - a modern 27 or 29 hard tail with good geometry or an older FS bike with dated geometry and most likely beat suspension at both ends?

I don't tell myself a hard tail is "better to learn on" in order to justify anything, but I do ride one because it's a lot of fun. The difference in riding style between a hard tail and a FS is definitely different, and I know that riding a hard tail helps keep me sharper because of that. The easiest way to describe it is that on a hard tail you have to be more engaged with the trail and I think that's where the biggest benefit comes from.

The grom thing is interesting but I think there's way more going on there than just better bikes. For starters the amount of groms riding is way higher as there are way more parents who ride and kids tend to gravitate to sports their parents participate in. There are also properly sized bikes for kids these days, so they actually have something to ride - HT or FS. So in general there are just way more kids riding at early ages than 30 years ago.

Look, I agree that better equipment that is easier to use can be more fun, but a FS bike isn't necessarily better than a HT when budget is factored in. And honestly, I think trail choice and someone's teaching style/expertise will have way more impact on how much fun someone will have when they are learning to ride than whether they are riding a fancy bike FS bike or not.

eriksg
eriksg
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+1 Justin White

Off topic, but where north of Boston do you ride? I grew up in MA, riding hiking trails around Framingham.

Reply

just6979
Justin White
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+1 goose8

Lynn Woods is my "back yard", Greenwood in Beverly is my "side yard", but the full range is pretty much everything along 128 from Lynn to Gloucester. Mt Ann granite FTW!

Reply

eriksg
eriksg
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+1 Justin White

I'll have to check those places out some time when I'm back east. Hopkinton State Park and Callahan were my home trails.

As someone who pretty quickly graduated to and rode full suspension bikes when I was starting out, a K2 Attack and then graduating to a Specialized FSR, it's interesting to consider that maybe I enjoy hardtails so much now precisely because I had the experience and developed the skill. Maybe it's also that a modern hardtail is still a huge step up in grip and confidence from mid/late 2000s era full suspension XC bikes, due to brakes, tires and geo. But I've recently loved razzing an old rim brake hardtail too, a bike I hated 15 years ago. That has to be a change in skills and perspective.

I talk up the hardtail for sure. I also don't try to dissuade my friends who buy carbon full sussers as first bikes. But I think my honest advise on what to do would depend a lot on the person's attitude. Are they looking for fast and fun quickly? Or are they going to be committed in the face of difficulty or even want to be pushed to learn skills in that way? Interest and aptitude (and income) to do maintainance would come into it, but I think the perspective the person has is critical. And honestly fast and fun quickly is probably the majority of people, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Reply

andy-eunson
Andy Eunson
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+1 Mike Bergen

Some people shouldn’t own tools or bikes that require them from time to time. I know this guy we shall call Bobnoxious. He bought a Rockshox Mag 21 back in the day and installed it himself. But he ran the brake housing through the stem cable stop or noodle or whatever it had to work with the old rigid fork. The cable itself he routed through the cable stop on the arch. So when he pulled the brake it compressed the fork. Sort of. And when he hit a bump and got all that 50mm of travel (or 40mm) the brakes opened up. He blamed the fork and claimed he was going to sue Paul Turner for all his crashes that day.

Reply

xy9ine
Perry Schebel
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+2 Mike Bergen Andy Eunson

ok, that's pretty funny (and amazing he didn't somehow notice the cable stop built into the brace). how long did it take him to realize the error of his ways?

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andy-eunson
Andy Eunson
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+1 Timer

When I told him. And showed him why it worked so badly. Then he understood. You probably know him too. Might drive a bus in North Van. 

I have a good friend who is also mechanically challenged. I don’t know how many first rides of the year we do where I ask her if she checked the air in her tires. Yes I pumped them up she said. I check. Put on my my pump while looking at her askance. Pump said 6 psi Marie Ann. Or the time she asked me if she should put new cable and housing on her drivetrain on her tri bike. Marie Ann. It’s DI2. But she always asks. And she tries.

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D4nderson
D4nderson
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+1 Pete Roggeman

Great read and good music for a friday post work beer! A bit off topic but since you mentioned it... The "shit brown" rocky mountain. I have/had a 2019 BC instinct 50 in "shit brown"; that was before it was recalled and returned to me in "space garbage matte grey". Not many fans of that shade of metallic brown but it called to my memory of seeing a vintage 77 pontiac firebird when I was younger. It looked sporty and I swear gave me an edge on the trials. I kept the bike as I like the ride but god damn the soul connection between man and machine was exorcised with the new paint. Makes me wonder how much more we enjoy what we ride just based on attachment to bike vs top tech. I know the bike you reference was not well looked after but it made me think when I was reading: I bet your family member had some good times on it despite the lack of maintenance. Apologies for some random thoughts, I always enjoy reading your articles and look forward to the new music recommendations!

Reply

davetolnai
Dave Tolnai
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+1 D4nderson

I call it shit brown, but I loved that bike, and I loved that colour. I knew I was going to buy a new bike that year and I figured it would be an equipe, just based on budget.  I was so stoked when I saw it for the first time in the catalogue, and I don't think I even looked at anything else.  It was either going to be Kona or Rocky and the brown sealed it.  Could have done without the red accents, though, and it looked a lot better when I swapped it all out.

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bishopsmike
bishopsmike
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+1 Justin White

I don't agree with the "you learn proper technique" argument about starting with a hardtail.  You'd probably also learn better edging technique with straight skis, but I'd never recommend them to my loved ones cause, well I love them.

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syncro
Mark
3 months, 3 weeks ago
0 Velocipedestrian bishopsmike

@bishopsmike

With proper trail skills you learn things like line choice, braking points, sight lines, etc. More suspension and better brakes allows people to get away with more mistakes and go faster, which may be fine for an experienced rider but not so much for a new rider. That new rider will probably rely on the better bike tech to make up for a lack of skill which will result in more wear and tear on the trail surface and potentially more injuries when crashing into hard obstacles like trees and rocks. A hardtail almost forces you to keep the speed in check a bit more. That's part of why the comparison to skiing doesn't really work - it's a very different environment.

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just6979
Justin White
3 months, 2 weeks ago
0

That's a lot of assumptions and probably's. You still need to learn all those skills on both bikes, but full-sus gives you more forgiveness to do that learning. Artificially steepening the learning curve does not equate to more skills, it equates to more attrition.

I could also argue a hardtail contributes equal or more to wear and tear on the trail because the rear wheel will spend more time skipping over terrain, meaning forced late braking and more skids. Less crashes doesn't make sense either, because the most common beginner crashes aren't usually speed related, it's misjudging terrain, bad body position (the good ol scoot back and accidentally stop the rear wheel with your ass while going over a slow drop, is a good example), and plain old lack of skills at making saves.

Remember, I don't think anyone is saying someone should to start on a DH racebike, because that can be limiting, too. Just a short to mid travel all-arounder for the most flexibility. Getting away with more mistakes is kind of the most important thing in learning.

You think race drivers should just jump to F1 cars because they'll be forced to learn extremely tight braking zones and very precise throttle control immediately, where a tiny mistake puts you in the wall? Or maybe start in karts where the penalty for a mistake is minimal and learning opportunities are maximal?

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cxfahrer
cxfahrer
3 months, 3 weeks ago
0

Well, if one is totally new to a certain sport activity, he/she has to rely on what other people tell them. Or the internet.

I just imagined that I would like to go skiing. What should I buy? And for what kind of skiing..?? This goes for most folks that want to go mtbiking. One approach could be to make them buy the most versatile bike, and naturally the most expensive they can afford. Then they can never really complain that you not recommended them the better version (XT equipped, carbon rims etc.), when those parts start to fail. And anyway, these bikes will spend their lives in a cellar or on a bike rack, and never will roll down any Northshore trail. So why bother telling them something about hardtail, if they are not enthusiasts?

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Briain
Briain
3 months, 3 weeks ago
0

I really think you might be on to something. As a hardtail lover I wouldn't recommend one to a beginner basically ever because while you will end up with a better skillset there's a bigger learning curve so if it isn't fun why would you keep doing it. However your right about keeping a full-sus going requires time and knowledge that a lot of people either don't have or aren't interested in. So while I might like the idea of trying to get down the trails on a rigid singlespeed in reality most people are better served on a full sus trail bike that they need to maintain a little so it actually works

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joseph-crabtree
Joseph Crabtree
3 months, 3 weeks ago
0 Velocipedestrian Vik Banerjee Matt Lee KavuRider

At the risk of sounding elitist our sport is tech driven and if you can't maintain your bike then you better find someone to do it for you. There is no shortcuts, doesn't matter if its a hardtail or FS there is a minimum maintenance required to make a reliable riding bike. If that's not for you I would recommend taking up something else.

Kind of how I feel about E-bikes, if you don't want to get fit enough to get to the top of the hill on your own power find another sport. I think there is nothing sadder than seeing a able-bodied person riding an E-bike up a hill.

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davetolnai
Dave Tolnai
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+5 cheapondirt Mike Ferrentino Mammal Cooper Quinn Justin White

I'm not suggesting that maintenance needs to go to zero, or ever will.  I'm suggesting that how we measure what is acceptable might be skewed.  The easy answer has always been "buy a hardtail", but as I pointed out above, this feels flawed.

More people are riding bikes and not all of them are going to know how to fix them.  You're suggesting that things work just fine for you, so people should either figure it out or go away.  I don't think this is a great long term solution.  Taking that further, I'm suggesting that we might benefit if we listened to those people who don't know how to fix anything and we might reap the benefit of products that take those users into consideration.

The sport is changing.  It always has changed.  It always will change.  The only way to guide that change is to talk about it.

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SprSonik
Mark Forbes
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+1 Briain

Rigid SS is about as maintenance free as any hobby. And fun too. Sadly, I have accumulated far too many injuries (many on rigid SSs) to enjoy being beaten up when I ride anymore. I still throw a leg over one occasionally, but that is a young rider's game. As to ebikes, can't wait to get one in another year or two, perfect for recovery rides, especially injury recovery.

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BenS
Ben Shaw
3 months, 3 weeks ago
0

If you want to know how a job done half-assed can foul up your whole operation….

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syncro
Mark
3 months, 3 weeks ago
0

I think the main reason to start on a hardtail is people are more likely to learn proper trail skills, and learn them faster, that on a FS bike. If people aren't having fun on a hardtail then either mtb'ing isn't the sport for them or they are starting out on the wrong trails which which may not necessarily be their own fault.

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JVP
JVP
3 months, 3 weeks ago
0

Oh man, this article really resonated with me!  I'm that guy who notices and fixes broken or loose stuff (often headsets for some reason) on my friends bikes.

So I had this neighbor that bought some land in the mountains of Central WA. Total newbie to MTB, but he wanted to build some trails out there and buy a MTB to enjoy them. He asked me to help pick one out from bikesdirect or some such junky site that he was looking at. His budget was just above Walmart, but not into "real bike" territory. 

I was able to recommend him a hardtail, with just barely adequate components. Geo sucked, but good enough for him to enjoy some basic bike paths (no chance he'd ever actually build those trails). Nope, he didn't think it was cool, and went and bought a total throwaway new fully that I told him not to get. A month later he comes to me and asks to help him get the shock working - coil, no adjustments, way oversprung, squeaked like a hamster on meth. Sorry bud, that's not a format that can be upgraded or even tuned. It was literally throw away trash. But he thought it was cooler than a hardtail, and there was nothing that was going to change his mind.

You shoulda seen some of the home renovations that guy did. Holy crap.

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Timer
Timer
3 months, 3 weeks ago
0

I don't think there is such a large difference in maintenance between Hardtails and full suss.

Before I ever had to replace frame bearings on any bike, I had already gone through drivetrain parts, brake levers, fork services, wheel truings, rim replacements and so on, on that bike.

Skipping the rear shock just doesn't change all that much.

The only advice I would give is: Stay away from high end suspension products and stick to mainstream brands for brakes and drivetrains.

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syncro
Mark
3 months, 3 weeks ago
0

@Justin White

It's all good, it’s just discussion, although tbh I think you’re misinterpreted what I said. To start with, if you’re sending a beginner/new rider down a trail where they are “holding on for dear life” then I’d say that you’re doing a pretty poor (and unsafe) job of teaching someone to ride. The context of the article seemed to indicate that the riders in question where new to mtb’ing and that budget was a concern and both of those things factored into my responses. Riding for myself is a different story tho and holding on for dear life is a big part of what makes thing fun. But in my case it’s done under some sense of control with some decent trail skills to back it up and it's not completely out of control by someone who’s just learning to ride.

I also did not say that some “skills can only be learned on a hardtail” – that’s completely fabricated bs on your part. Same as the suggestion of “holding on for dear life.” If you go back and look at what I wrote and the context of it, it’s geared towards the idea that new riders will learn better trail skills on a HT  because a FS bike is going to masking or covering up their mistakes and giving them less feedback. That’s why I think a newer rider (who will be riding slower on easier trails) is going to get better trail feedback or a sense of what’s happening on the trail – even on a fully rigid bike. It's also why I think they'll pick up trail skills faster. For example locking up the rear on a HT is way different than on a FS. Riding a HT helps you learn to be smoother. 

When I ride my hardtail the line choices are different and the way I work the bike with the trail is different – I’m engaged differently with the trail. On a FS bike I know I can take gnarlier lines, cheat lines and faster lines because I know the suspension is going to suck up a lot of the ugliness that I would feel on the HT. It’s not that I think one is more fun than the other - that’s a question I can’t answer - but I do know that both styles of riding are fun, just different types of fun. You say that you “don't really ride any different on HT vs FS” but also say that on “the HT I am forced to always pretty much completely soak up big rear wheel hits or risk breaking things." Well, that’s riding differently. My guess would be that if you adjusted your riding style on the HT a bit more then you might not have to work so hard to soak up big rear wheel hits and might even enjoy the ride a bit more. Or maybe not, I don’t know, but there’s only one way to find out.

At the end of the day for a rider on a lower budget (as seems to be the case in the article) more often than not they are going to be able to get a better bike by going the HT route than the FS route. A quick look at used (or new) bike prices will tell you that. A bike in better shape is probably going to be less headache and easier to use on the trail, and maybe even be more fun to ride (gasp!) because of it. IMHO a new rider shouldn’t be flying hell bent on personal destruction down the trail. A responsible friend would hopefully take the time to spend an hour or so teaching their newbie friend the basics of trail skills before they even get into any trail riding. In fact, the teacher may not even be riding that day, just walking alongside their student/friend, watching what they are doing and correcting as they go. There’s a big gap between what I’m thinking with helping a friend get into the sport and what you described earlier. Finally, a good afterthought is that if the friend just doesn’t get hooked on mtb'ing then they haven’t spent extra money on an FS bike and they can easily turn the HT into a city bike or gravel cruiser if they do want to get outside and pedal a bike around. I don't think I can explain things any further than that, but if you have a question feel free to ask.

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just6979
Justin White
3 months, 2 weeks ago
0

"On a FS bike I know I can take gnarlier lines, cheat lines and faster lines because I know the suspension is going to suck up a lot of the ugliness that I would feel on the HT."

YOU know that, but a beginner doesn't. If they accidentally take the wrong line, and they WILL, it's part of learning, then that ugliness is more likely to hurt them or the bike if they're on a hardtail. Full-sus is more forgiving, and a big part of learning is making mistakes with minimal consequences and trying again.

"it’s geared towards the idea that new riders will learn better trail skills on a HT"

You said it again. Better, different, it's semantics. "Better" skills are different, or they wouldn't be better, and different skills are "better" for different situations. Anyway, the steeper learning curve of a hardtail doesn't mean everyone will magically learn skills faster or "better", instead it usually more people will get frustrated as they make minimal progress and eventually give up.

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syncro
Mark
3 months, 2 weeks ago
0

dude, please don't quote me out of context. it's ignorant.

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MTB_THETOWN
MTB_THETOWN
3 months, 2 weeks ago
0

Hardtails are a great recommendation to someone who just wants a "bike" since it's good for everything from riding tow paths with the kids, to commuting and riding trails. If someone wants to actually mountain bike, I typically recommend a full suspension since they will have more fun and be more likely to stick with it.

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