I'm not sure exactly when or how it happened. Just a few short months ago I was totally convinced that my little silver Anthem was all the bike I needed, unless of course, I won the lottery and replaced it with a similar carbon-fiber dream. However, at some point in the season that I started to feel like my bike was a little too heavy and inefficient. Sure, I could have been projecting my true feelings about myself or it could just be the two year itch, but I began to think about getting the Anthem a friend. A hard-tail friend.
Then came Velonew's proclamation that the 26-inch hard-tail is dead. Because I believe everything I read and jump on every cycling-related bandwagon possible, I knew I had to heed their advice like my entire bike-racing future depended on it.
Included in the article is Adam Craig's sweet, sweet Anthem-X SL, which Giant is not producing in my size. I realize that it may be a smart business decision on their part, as the respective markets of mountain bike racers under 5'6" and mountain bike racers who can afford $8000 bike are both relatively small. I'm sure the number of riders who fit both of those categories is tiny, but it's disappointing to know that I can't get one, even if I do win the lottery. Perhaps for one-meellion dollars they would make one in my size.
However, included in the great proclamation is the fact that 29'ers are not just for tall people. Thank goodness that us shorties (or slightly below average-ies of the female gender) aren't going to be stuck riding around on dead bikes, right?
Okay, so all of this aside, I still don't know the exact root of my 29'er craving. I think it may have begun with a fantasy of getting a new Ellsworth carbon-fiber hard-tail, with the pretty paisley paint-job that is on the Velo-Bella pro 'cross team's bikes. At one point, it was indicated that the color scheme would be available for other Ellsworth models, but that does not seem to be the case. Regardless, I got to check out a demo bike at the Cincinnati UCI weekend, and the smallest size is still way too big and it's more expensive than I was expecting. What can I say? I'm spoiled to unsurpassed value offered in Giant's non-$8000 bikes.
I was about to resign myself to getting the Anthem some nicer wheels and calling it good, but just a few days later I found myself in Pisgah and participating in various 29'er related talk to with Arkansas peeps. Specifically, Todd, of OC lantern-rouge lead out train fame and a fellow Jason Hillimire coaching client, broached the subject while we were washing bikes after one of the stages. He said, "I'm going to tell you what Jason isn't telling you: you need to switch to big wheels."
I suspect that if I'd ever asked Jason his opinion on the size of my wheels, he would have shared that information, but mostly he's concerned about the fact my wheels still have tubes in them, regardless of size. I've only had two off-road flats four years of mountain biking, so I'm kind of old-school in my attachment to tubes. I'm sort of superstitious about not messing with a good thing, even if it means a little more weight and a few more psi's. I'm sure I'll get over it some day, just not right now.
Despite coming home and trying to dismiss the events of mid-October 2009, I began compulsively looking up 29'er specs. Giant's smallest size was listed at as 16-inches, and I normally ride a 14.5. However, with some research I discovered that none of the brands I looked at make anything smaller than 15.5. Combined with the fairly frequent comments of "so and so rides a 29'er and she's shorter than you", I inspected the Giant geometry a bit more closely. Turns out that aside from the seat tube length, the Small 29'er was very similar to my current bike, but the front triangle could actually hold a water bottle. Score!!!
Anyway, Adam brought home a demo bike from an Bicycle Garage Indianapolis where a couple of his friends work (BikeSmith's doesn't have demo bikes), and I got to ride it around the neighborhood a bit. The proportions looked silly, and the un-shortened handlebars were awkward, but it felt good and that nice pedal=instant forward motion feeling I've hear people talk about but never really experienced. I even caught myself standing to accelerate up the hill behind my house and realized that I was experiencing zero bounce.
So I'm saving up my dollars in hopes of getting the pretty white Alliance (part carbon/part aluminum) model listed above. I think it will look awesome with pink Jagwire cable housing (Adam's favorite bike-pimping accessory) and one of the white Fizik Vitesse saddles with the pink thigh pads. To sweeten the deal, it comes with special wheels that are designed to run 20 psi, even with the darned old tubes. Corner well and not get flats? I'm there.
I'm hoping it will make the gravel sections of the Ouachita Challenge a lot more pleasant, and I only wish I could have it for Friday's Gravel Grovel.