Friday, July 1, 2016

Bike Decision 2017: What Actually Happens When You Go Full Enduro?

I haven’t been inspired to write much since the TrailMix. It took me a full two weeks to physically and mentally recover from that experience, which was a lot longer than I had planned. Of course, the race itself took a lot more time and mental energy than I had planned. Now I’ve kinda sorta returned to climbing gravelly things on my hardtail, but not nearly at the level that I was in May. With only three weeks left until the Wilderness 101, and having not really met any of the milestones that I had planned along the way, I’m not feeling super confident. I guess after the TrailMix, I am feeling confident in my ability to choose an ugly finish over no finish, so I’m pretty sure I’ll find a way to gut it out one way or another. It just might not look the way I hoped it would when I set out on this journey.

With the march to the Wilderness 101 nearing its end, I’m thinking a lot about what I’ll do with my life no longer dedicated to climbing all the gravel all the time. In the short term, I realized that I’ve been in hard-driven, goal-oriented mode since December. I think it’s good to get into this mode sometimes, as it helps me push through barriers that I might not otherwise, but it’s also not sustainable forever. Once the W101’s over, I’m not going to take a rest week and jump into high-intensity intervals and full season of ‘cross as I'd originally planned. I’m just going to do whatever sounds fun for a while, even if it means an abbreviated and not particularly competitive ‘cross season. I probably won’t manage to show up in any sun-scorched corn fields by the end of August.

I think part of this is just plain ol’ burnout, and part is that I’m really wanting more time to really mountain bike, since training all spring and summer for a mostly gravel “mountain bike” race has kept me really enjoying the best of what Rothrock gnar has to offer. Along with that, I see a new gnar bike in my near future, and I don’t want to not ride it because of ‘cross.

 I’ve been wanting a slacker, more descending-capable bike for about a year with the thought of future enduro-racing pursuits. Of course, I tried a couple of enduro races on my Lust this year with basically no planning or practice, and they didn’t go so well. I think the more accurate saying should be “never go partial enduro”, so I skipped last weekend’s race to focus on W101 training. Next time I enduro, it will be when I’m ready to give it the attention it deserves.

The big question is what bike will I be riding when that happens? In their current state of evolution, MASS enduro races don’t require, or necessarily even favor, a “full enduro” bike. I think it’s more of a matter of a dropper post, a sub-70 degree head tube angle, and to putting in the time to know how to use both. In my first two enduro racing attempts, I really only had one of three on the list (a dropper that I wasn’t good at using). The new bike should be capable enough in MASS enduro races, but also still climb well enough to ride in the TrailMix and perhaps in next year’s Transylvania Epic.

I’ll admit that last year when Liv released the Intrigue SX that I was very, well, intrigued. It was a very pretty bike, and pedaled well enough in the short trial I took on one at Brown County last fall, but I couldn’t afford it at the time coz wedding and stuff. It's just as well, because as the year passed, it just never felt like it was *the* bike. Because Liv kind of pushed as it the pinnacle of their years of women’s mountain bike research, I held a little hope that 2017 would yield a carbon fiber version. This is based on the typical Giant pattern of tweaking new technology in aluminum versions before committing them to carbon. However, based on the fact that Liv has still not produced a carbon ‘cross bike for retail purchase, despite a Liv rider winning the women’s world championship every year since the brand was launched, I steeled myself for possible disappointment.

When I bought my Obsess in May, a friend joked about our love/hate relationship with the Liv brand. I summed it up by saying that the relationship is that I’m mad that they don’t give me more opportunities to hand them my money. Obviously I’m capable of straying when I have to (buying a Specialized fat bike), but despite occasionally missing the mark, they’re usually the brand most likely to deliver the things I want, in the prettiest colors, at the best price (partially because I’ve never not had a shop discount on Giant/Liv at any point during my cycling career). So like a lifelong fan of a losing sports team, each new bike release season starts with “maybe this will be our year”.

Anyway, after much research that I decided that I wanted a carbon fiber bike in the 130-140mm range both front and rear. If my dream of an Intrigue Advanced did not come true, I would go for a men’s Trance Advanced or a Juliana Furtado. Then I found out that for all its pretty color, the Furtado was 2-3 pounds heavier than a similarly-priced Trance, so I would definitely be sticking with Giant/Liv one way or another. The new 2017 editions were announced this week, and they yielded both excitement and confusion on my part.

The Trance Advanced has been bumped up to 150 front and 140 rear, and is even more trail-y than it was in the past. The only pictures released are of the highest level model, which I think is quite pretty, and makes me worry that they chose something ugly for the model that’s actually in my price range. (Edit: They totally did.)

Liv dropped some new #ladycarbon options, but an Intrigue was not among them. Instead the Lust and Intrigue had a baby, and as the bike media was way more excited about, Liv did, in fact, go full enduro. Considering that I take the Trance off the table and stick with #teamladycarbon, here are my choices:

The Pique is supposed to be an XC race bike and trail bike all rolled into one, with a pure 100mm race bike no longer offered. It’s 120mm in the rear with the option of a 140mm fork on the Pique Advanced SX model. That definitely sounds like the closest thing to a “do it all” model on either men’s or women’s side of the brand. However, something about the fact that “race” comes before “trail” in all the marketing languages makes me worry that was built more for "Indiana rock gardens" than actually rock gardens, and the "rowdy" 140mm option was an afterthought to fill a gap in the line. Can it get to the bottom of Wildcat better than my Lust? Probably. Can I take it to the bike park with my #babesinbaggies teammates? Probably not.

Then there is the Hail, a high-end carbon 160/160 enduro bike for women. My first thought was that I don’t need that much travel, and that it might be too heavy or bouncy for all-around riding. However, Frank has recently traded in his Anthem for a carbon 150/150 BMC Trail Fox, and he seems happy enough. The girl that won the TrailMix short course last year did it on a Roubion, so I guess enduro bikes can still be fast if you put a fast person on them. Liv keeps bragging on the Hail’s efficiency, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it doesn’t weigh that much more than my bottom-model aluminum Lust.

It will probably still be a few weeks before I can buy either, and I probably will end up buying the Pique Advanced SX. However, the Hail does have me asking the question, “What actually happens when you go full enduro?”


I just realized I wrote the whole post and didn't include a full list of all the travel options that Giant and Liv have announced this year:

160/160: Reign (M) or Hail (W)
150/140: Trance (M)
140/120: Pique SX (W)
130/110: Anthem SX (M)
120/120: Pique (W)
120/110: Anthem (M)

Theses are all 27.5 bikes (and at 5'4" all I care about), and word on 29ers is sparse. I'm also assuming they will still be offering their Glory full DH bike, but that it's just pretty well dialed and there won't be major changes.

As you can see, lots of choices are offered, it gets a little spread out in the middle range where I was originally planning to buy. The format of the XC, what we'll call the XXC bike at 120-130, and then a jump to the 150-160 seems to be the norm for a lot of companies this year.

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