Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Commitment and why I've never really given mountain bikes a shot.

Still struggling with motivation.  But today I worked at the shop, and I feel like it went well.  A tune up on an early 1980's MTB that had challenged me yesterday ended up coming together really nicely today.  It was an interesting machine-- TIG welded frame, but with Mountain Bikes branded Bullmoose bars, Shimano Deerhead parts (including cantilever brakes and moto-style brake levers that came with oversized cabling).  I had left it last night with the back brake cabled but not behaving correctly.  Today, I was able to get everything tuned up nicely, especially once I discovered that the brakes actually have a proper pinch bolt for the straddle cable where the cable runs through the pinch bolt rather than just being clamped under it.  And, applying all of my experience with cantilever brakes, I was really happy with how the brakes turned out.  Set the straddle cables just so, so that they produced a nice, light but firm feeling at the lever, and could lock up the wheels with just a light grip.  I definitely enjoyed the test rides around the parking lot.  The friction thumb shifters proved a little finicky with the narrow Deerhead front derailleur, but nothing that a little trimming couldn't take care of--the advantage of friction. And the shifters felt nice and light. 

The geometry of the bike definitely affirmed my current taste in slack seating position, despite its oft being written off as an early design flaw of MTB's; maybe there really was something to it, especially in Northern California?  It had a 69 or 70 degree seat tube angle, by my iffy Android app measurement.  Interesting today, because I was also reading about Jeff Jones' bikes this morning, and they seem to have some similarities, in thinking about rotating the riding farther back on the bike than the current road or XC-oriented MTB position.  And interesting that they were both focused on optimizing a rigid bike for off-road riding.  What are the connections between aggressive positioning and suspension? I know that more aggressive positions were starting to become common before suspension came in, but maybe they stayed around more thanks to the comfort compensations of suspension? 

In any case, I've been thinking a lot the past few days about MTB'ing, and I think it should be something to try.  Connected to my search for motivation and tiredness with the road rides around Sacramento, in general a loss of feeling adventure around road rides--even the century I did last month, or the rainy ride to the top of Mt. Tam the month before that.  I'm generally becoming more accepting of the idea that my enjoyment of bicycling isn't just about getting the machine right, it is about infrastructure, where I'm riding, and a sense of adventure that machine, landscape, and path together can create.  MTB riding, in some ways, is the epitome of adventure seeking, of matching a machine to the type of landscape and path that you are seeking.  It is about committing to certain types of rides, certain types of paths, and the associated commitment to a type of machine: XC races or 24 hours in large but bounded state parks with lightweight carbon hardtails.  Great divide rides on steel hardtail 29’ers.  Snow biking or the new "freeride" on bikes with 3.5”+ tires.  And of course, traditional freeriding, dirt jumping, and downhilling.  It is having exactly the right machine for the job, the job being certain trails and certain landscapes, being confident in that commitment. 

In the past, my approach to off-road riding has always focused around "all-rounder" type bicycles that would have some type of off-road capability but wouldn't be limited to that: mostly touring bikes, cyclocross setups, or fat-tired road bikes.  Of course, there is a natural limitation in the type of off-roading that you could do with such a machine; I always thought of it as a range; yes, you couldn't take it over really rocky terrain, and were limited to fire roads or smooth singletrack, but it's greater versatility on the road made up for that.  But thinking about the above commitment aspect of mountainbiking, in some ways you could read my aversion to mountainbiking as having to do with an inability to commit to the terrain that I was riding.  Moving between Berkeley, SF/Marin, Sacramento, I naturally gravitated towards "all-rounders" because they didn't involve a commitment to a place, to a type of riding attached to the specific places. 

Of course, the other thing here is the mediation of other modes of transportation, namely the car.  It becomes easier to commit to a certain bike and type of riding when, even if you don't have the trails close by, you know that they could be shuttled to with a motor vehicle.  This is something that I've never liked about MTB'ing; having my cycling roots in transportation, I've never liked having to drive to the beginning of rides, and I've done tons of riding on "boring" roads just to get to the interesting ones.  The same is doubly true of mountain biking; urban centers with easy access to full on mountain biking are few and far between, although an argument could be made that you might find many of them in the Bay Area, or Santa Cruz.  Even so, the farther you have to ride to the trailhead, the more, I think, you are going to gravitate towards rigid frames, middling tires size and tread, gearing, etc. 

But what if?  What if I did find a place where more technical singletrack was available to me?  Taking up MTB, to a certain extent, would involve committing to that place.  Am I buying a hardtail 29er or a downhill bike?  Do i live near ski lifts or in Santa Cruz?  To answer these questions, I think I do have to do a bit of shuttling, to try these terrains.  But thinking about bikes will also be thinking about terrains, about the places I live and ride.  And that'll be a difference. 

There is also a reflection of this in urban transportation.  Committing to bicycle transportation means committing to places.  What if were to commit more to a place, become more involved not just in the machines that I ride but the roads, bike lanes, and paths that I ride on?  To think of these commitments equally, as all involving my interface with the world. 

Where does the Quickbeam fit in? It will be the 700c fixed gear version of that MTB I was tuning up today; high quality, with all of the parts that I liked.  Event the seat position, hopefully, with the way-back post.  In some ways, it is my commitment to Sacramento (flat, everyday urban riding) even as I am leaving it.