It’s been an interesting few months here at RATG headquarters.
At one point, I had the Madone, the Moots, the Vaya, the Trek Fuel, the Beargrease, the Big Dummy, the Brompton, the Tandem, a singlespeed mountain bike, and the Trek 770, all cohabiting in the garage.
The Trek 770 departed because I felt I had garnered as much as could be garnered from that experience. The singlespeed departed because I don’t really remember why. But for a long time, the balance of the bikes were all there.
I’ve done a lot of reevaluating of priorities–how much time I spend in the saddle, how much resources I am willing to allocate to bikes, how much I need to and want to allocate to other things in my life. I came back to loving riding because of riding, not because of the need to get in my 4th ride of the week to make some training plan–and that’s been good. But I also came back to a little realism about my bike needs and wants.
I really like having a good roadbike–for solo rides, for group rides, for gorgeous summer days on back country blacktop, for heartbreaking sprints and lung-crushing pulls in the wind. Here in IL, that means skinny tires (23-28c), aggressive riding position, rim brakes.
I really like having a (dare I say it) “gravel bike” or “mixed surface bike”–for gravel, limestone, grass, b-roads, winter/bad weather riding, and all-road adventures. It’s also nice to be able to throw on a rack and some panniers for longer-duration adventures.
And I really have come to enjoy mountain biking in the spring/summer/fall. So that’s three bikes that I’d really like to have.
You may observe the notable absence of fat bikes on the list. True. So here’s the deal–the past few years have not been fatbike friendly in IL. Really, I’m not sure IL is such a great fatbike state. Yes–you can ride fat bikes anywhere, any time. Duly noted. They are fun. But we don’t have dunes in my area (and if I’m traveling, I’d prefer to find single track)…so that leaves snow. In 1-3 inches of snow, candidly, a strong rider on a mountain bike with 2″ tires can keep up with fat bikes on non-marathon rides. The 2-3 hour group rides we do here? Not a problem. With my cold weather hand and foot circulation issues, I’m not signing up for 200 mile fatbike expeditions, anyhow. In 6+ inches of snow, fat bikes get hung up unless it’s total powder or there are groomed tracks (and in total powder, again, aggressive 2″ tires can do a world of wonder). So there’s a very narrow range where fat bikes are a necessity for the type of riding I do. That is not a general indictment of fat bikes–they’re awesome for a lot of things. But as I came down to defending my bike choices, the fattie didn’t have a lot speaking for it.
I’ve spent some time on 3.8″ tires. I’ve spent a ton of time on 4″, 4.7″ and 5″ tires. I feel pretty confident in saying that in any kind of dense or wet snow, when you get deeper than 5″ of sustained snow, a fatbike isn’t going to do much without grooming…even at low single-digit, tubeless tire pressures.
I’ve also seen the wonderful things that studded tires can do in shallower snow, on icey rivers, and on dicey roads. And so, I came to make some choices.
The Madone stays in the garage–it’s about as nice as road bikes come, and I’m very happy to have it. Sure, it has a inexplicable chip in the paint on the drive side chainstay, but it’s a wonderful bike.
The Moots meets all of my all-road criteria (though I wish it would fit more than a 35c in the rear). And it’s my Moots.
Everything else ended up going. (Except the tandem, because tandem).
The Big Dummy, which used to be my daughter’s favorite for going on daddy-daughter rides was relegated to a dusty corner of the garage once she mastered two wheels. It’s more fun riding alongside her, and seeing her progress, than it is to pull her around…and I don’t live close enough to town to make grocery store runs realistic.
The Brompton, which is such an amazing bike and piece of idiosyncratic piece of technology, came into my life with great expectations. But my commutes are too far to reasonably Brompton, and when I have meetings at different locations, they too are typically too far spread to make it possible to use. That, and I’m a sweater. Even an easy lunch run on the Brompton would have me returning to the office a bit too soggy in July.
The Fuel–I love that bike–was just a bit obscene sitting in my garage. I decided I didn’t want that much capital tied up in one bike, even though it is an amazing, ultimate, fantastic machine. Nothing wrong with the bike at all–just the concept of that much money sitting on two wheels that only have one purpose.
The Beargrease. A bike I loved and hated. I loved it for snow biking. I loved it for lazy trolls on gravel roads. I loved it for how light it was, despite its looks. I loved it for the ride quality. I hated it when I tried to take it on single track, as the expedition-worthy geometry lead to school-bus handling. I hated it for the memories of spending untold hours on it freezing my ass off, training for races that I wouldn’t complete. I hated it for the memories of hours spent in the saddle with friends that have moved on, or that have also reevaluated their priorities. I loved the bike, but decided it didn’t meet the criteria for staying in the garage.
And the Vaya. My dear, sweet Vaya. The first real bike I ever owned, and the first bike that was built up from a frame, with a mix of hand-selected components. The Vaya was a vision. I walked into this shop I was just starting to know, and talked about wanting to build a bike for gravel and all roads out there. With a ti frame, because it lasts forever. And then the carbon fork, and the handbuilt wheels, and the sweetpost, and this and that. The moments of glory and personal satisfaction that the Vaya gave me–the moments of utter suffering. Finishing the Gravel Metric one year and not remembering anything from the turn on Gurler until I awoke in a cold shower in the basement of NCC.
But I didn’t get the Vaya out for gravel rides now–it was always too clean, and the Moots is faster and more comfortable. And I didn’t get it out for the road–there’s the Madone. I got it out for casual rides with my daughter–a purpose that could easily be accomplished by any other bike in the garage. And I came to accept that I didn’t need to have the Vaya to keep the experiences I had on it. I don’t need a trophy on the wall, or a dusty bike on a shelf, to remind me of what I’ve done and where I’ve been. It isn’t the one that got away. I sold it and haven’t looked back. I loved it, I used it to its fullest potential, and now it lives in a home that loves it as much as I do. I’ll never again have another bike like the Vaya, just as I’ll never again have the same experiences I had on it. But the new bikes, and the new experiences–they can be just as good.
So then there’s this hole in my equations here, for something mountain bike like. And I started looking and looking and looking. I didn’t want Shimano or Trek, because I really do mean what I type. I didn’t want Specialized because–oh come on now. We’re not doing that again. From my time on a lot of different bikes, I wanted slack-ish handling, full-suspension, 120-ish MM of travel, good compliance without pedal bob, a 34mm fork, a 1x drivetrain, stealth dropper post routing for a cable-actuated dropper….and a 29er format. I’ve ridden 27.5, and understand the benefits, but for a rider who is still learning technical skills, 29 gives a ‘roll over stuff’ ability that 27.5 can’t touch.
So then I was thinking about it, and thinking that I wanted to get some studded tires for the 29er, so I could use it in the winter, too.
And then I thought about it, and remembered that there are 29er bikes that can also wear 3-3.5″ 27.5+ tires.
And then I thought about a 29er with a set of winter 27.5+ tires running plus-sized, studded tires. My heart found bliss. My head found a Horsethief.
Fox 34 fork with 130mm up front, 120mm in rear. Sram 1×11 drivetrain and brakes. The split pivot wünder suspension. Stealth routing. Carbon frame, aluminum stays. Nice component spec. All the good things…and boost spacing front and rear, with easy clearance for 27.5+ tires up to 3″ (and candidly, based on the look in the frame, maybe 3.5″). Remember that just about 5 years ago, 3.8″ tires were the fattest fatties on planet fat, and we were all mind-blown when the 4.7″ big fat larry was released. A Horsethief checked all the boxes.
And it checked one box not yet mentioned–it’s a Salsa. It feels really good coming home to Salsa. It’s a company I believe in and want to support. It’s a company still focused on riders and experiences, rather than profiteering.
So the herd was culled, and only three remained. The Madone, the Moots, and that new steed in the corner: the Horsethief. He’s unknown still–his mettle untested. But I have a feeling that he’s going to be a good one.