If you came up to me and asked, “What was the best day of your Solvang trip?”, the answer would fly out of my mouth:
How often do you get to:
- Ride a carbon fiber, full suspension, race 29er…
- On a closed, private course…
- Full of hero dirt and varied terrain…
- In January, in 72 degree weather…
- In California…
- With a great friend.
If your answer to that is “not very often”, then you understand why Day 2 was awesome.
If your answer is, “like every day, brah”, then I hate you. I seriously hate you.
Out of all of the mountain bikes I sampled, my favorite, hands down, was the Superfly.
100mm front/rear travel, 15M thru-axle up front, 12×142 rear end. Carbon frame. Fox CTD technology (described ad nauseum here). XT drivetrain and brakes with 38/26 chainrings and 11-36 cassette. Bontrager Race Lite aluminum wheels (tubeless ready, but not set up tubeless). Bontrager cockpit and saddle.
23.75 pounds according to Bike Rumor.
My bike had 2.0″ Bontrager 29-1 tires. (They were on the skinny side as 2.0s).
Carbon bars and stem, XT components.
Another nice rubber chainstay protector.
Another Active Brake Pivot rear end.
Some really beautiful carbon work.
OCLV carbon mountain frame, with removable downtube guard.
[Admiral Ackbar] It’s a Trek [/Admiral Ackbar]
Dueling North Central Cyclery Superflys.
So…how’d it ride?
Climbing in Climb mode, it rode like a rigid–as you might expect. Relatively light and with light tires, it climbed well.
In Descend mode, it did great on the downhills–it was composed and confidence-inspiring. Having learned to modulate the brakes to avoid brake-induced fork dive while in descend, I had a great time going downhill.
The ride quality was fantastic. I was very pleased with the valving of the fork and shock in Trail, and found that unlike the Rumblefish, the Superfly was not nearly as prone to climbing hop when not locked out. You could climb in Trail mode, without difficulty. The nice thing about climbing in Trail mode was that the suspension remained active…so if you were climbing a rough or rutted path, you would have suspension to suck it up and keep the rear wheel firmly driving against the terra firma (or terra not-firma, as the case may be). The frame is stiff. There is no palpable play or movement of the front end or the rear triangle…it goes where you point it.
The geometry was also great–I was immediately comfortable and confident with the handling. How confidence inspiring? I linked my first double on the Superfly. First ever.
Component spec was very good. The Shimano XT drivetrain was flawless–you couldn’t screw it up–and the Shadow Plus feature worked as advertised, even over ‘bigger’ drops.
Complaints? A few minor ones:
1. The Bontrager 29-1 tires roll fast, and are light. For pure XC use, they’re great for many conditions, I’m sure. That said, they were not confidence inspiring in the corners. Coming from more aggressive 2.3″ tires on the Rumblefish I rode that day, going down to the 2.0s was a bit scary in the corners. The 29-1 has a tread very similar (identical?) to the Bontrager G1 tires I run on the Big Dummy. That should tell you something. It rolls fast, but I was not pleased with the width and relatively unaggressive tread in the dirt. That’s an easy fix, but I’d highly recommend getting away from these tires. Of note, the stock build is 2.2″ 29-1 tires…that extra width might help a little bit. Frankly, the 2″ tires were not the right pick for the bike–it was a bit scary in the loose areas. (Chad’s Superfly had 2.3″, meatier Bontragers on it, and while that may seem incongruous with the bike, they were the right choice for these trails).
2. The bike came stock with a Bontrager carbon-fiber seatpost…a nice touch. I would not expect a dropper seatpost on an XC bike like this. However, when I picked a frame that felt comfortable to me, I found that the minimum insertion on the seatpost was such that I couldn’t get the saddle up high enough. Accordingly, right out of the box, I would need to replace the seatpost with something longer…and I’m not an abnormally long-legged guy. The seatpost seemed too short for the bike…and that was the correct (stock build) seatpost.
The big question for me was how would it compare to the Superfish sitting at home. The answer: favorably, but not awe-inspiring.
The CTD shock was a nice touch, and I really liked how it rode. I liked it enough that I’d consider updating the shock on my Spearfish to CTD (and I note that the 2013 build is a CTD shock).
In all honesty, I couldn’t tell the difference between 80mm of rear travel on the Spearfish and 100mm of rear travel on the Superfly. That extra 20mm is nice on paper, and I used every millimeter of it on the trail, but I never felt like I was at an advantage having an extra 20mm of travel.
I’ll write about SRAM versus Shimano mountain drivetrain and brakes another day. Suffice it to say that the Shimano compares favorably.
My Spearfish has been on a diet for a while, but comparing stock build to stock build, the Spearfish is likely a few pounds heavier (maybe 3?). Comparing my upgraded Spearfish to the Superfly, there’s less than a pound difference at the latest build. (Details on that will be forthcoming too).
If I was in the market for a mountain bike today, I would consider both the Spearfish and the Superfly. The Superfly retails for a street price of about $5,300. The Spearfish 1 retails for around $3,800. If I was buying, I’d have to throw a new carbon seatpost at the Superfly, so let’s say there’s a $1,600 difference. That $1,600 nets you 20mm of extra rear suspension travel, a carbon frame, 3 pounds of weight savings, and a great bike. (Comparing rotating mass to rotating mass, between the stock build of the 2 bikes, it’s clear that the rotating mass is pretty much identical–the Salsa-spec’d Stan’s wheels may be a tad bit lighter. So the weight difference is pretty much all in the frame).
For me, facing that decision, I’d get the Spearfish. I can’t say that there was something so exceptional about the Superfly that it made me wish I had one in my garage. Granted, my Superfish is a pretty extraordinary bike, but at the end of the day, after riding a fleet of drool-worthy bikes, you know what my biggest thought was?
I wish I had my Spearfish here to ride.
If I had a wad of cash burning a hole in my pocket and a need for a 29er, what I’d probably do is get a Spearfish, convert it to 1×10, throw some carbon ENVEs on it…well, you get the picture.
Retrogrouch self-contradiction moment: I love carbon fiber and all things light. I run carbon wheels at low pressures off road, without any problems. I run carbon bars and stems. I love carbon. I’m still not sure what I think about carbon mountain bike frames. It is almost certainly because I don’t have much experience with them, but they scare me a bit. Hearing the sound of a big rock getting thrown by a tire and hitting the rear triangle is disconcerting. And if I wiped out on the Superfly hard, I’m not sure how I’d feel. I know–that contradicts much of what I write on here, striving for lighter and more carbon-y. But it’s true, for me…and perhaps it colors my view. To contradict myself again, if Salsa dropped a press release about a new carbon Spearfish, I’d be interested.
The Superfly is an amazing bike. Fast, confidence inspiring. Nicely spec’d. Beautiful. Fast. Fast. Fast. It just so happens that I’m comparing it to what might be the ideal mountain bike for my use–a Spearfish that I love dearly. And so while I’m very glad to say that my Trek Madone meets my road bike needs better than a Salsa Colossal would, I’m equally glad to say that my Spearfish is, for me, a better bike than the Superfly. For whatever reason, I didn’t connect with the Superfly in the same way that I do with the Spearfish. It was a great bike, and I’m thrilled to have ridden it, but I haven’t been lusting after it every day since I rode it, in the way that I lusted after a Spearfish after riding them in Arizona last year. It’s not that I have anything against the Superfly or Trek–it’s an amazing bike with a ton of technology (and frankly, I’m quite interested in the hardtail Superfly…and really, really interested to see what they do with their carbon-framed cross bikes in 2014), but the Superfly faced a big challenge going up against my Spearfish.