Jeez this mountain biking can be great fun.
I sometimes ponder why I love it so much, mostly on the days when I’m struggling, hurting and dropping off the back of a group ride.
I think part of it is how early in life I can remember riding bicycles – I’ve only had a longer connection to my parents. Probably the earliest distinct pedalling memory is lapping the block on on my ‘brand-new’ second-hand birthday present when I was six-years old.
I folded the front and went splat on a gravel corner that day and took some bark off. Some things don’t change.
The last few months I’ve been falling back in love with riding all over again, getting back into the swing of things as I tried to figure out just what Giant I wanted to trade the Trance Advanced 1 on.
Don’t get me wrong, the blue bomber and I will always share the 2018 BC Bike Race, but over the next 12 months training for the 2020 edition will be on less aggressive trails.
So, I was after something with a bit less suspension travel and a bit more - what’s the right description? – pedalling speed. Hey, I need every bit of help I can get!
The cheerful crew at Bicycles Superstore in Mornington let me have a crack at the new-for-2019 Trance 29er 1. Aluxx frame, 130mm of travel up-front and 115mm at the rear, rolling on 29-inch – er, der - Giant TRX composite wheels. Sounded about right.
The first hit-out was at Silvan in the Yarra Ranges, a set of trails with steep ups and steep and tricky downs. Undoubtedly the best trail of the lot was Bottletops, a cascading rocky run with mud and tree roots thrown in for good measure. The Trance gobbled it all up. Yum.
Then it was a trial run of the new Cascades trail from Lake Mountain to the outskirts of Marysville. This is supposed to be a descending trail, but there were some tough climbs along its 22km length that’s for sure.
The highlight was undoubtedly a squiggly, steep, bermed descent that seemed to go on forever. I could hear the hoots and hollers of other riders echoing all down the mountainside. When the trail reopens in October get up – or down – there.
Finally, I grabbed the chance to ride an old favourite, the rocky Stockyards side of the You Yangs. Cressy and Boulder were despatched and then came Trav’s Black Diamond. The Trance really came into its own here. It had enough travel to deal with the lumpy stuff, but enough zing to get back up the little pinches. I even cleared the three-part rocky climb toward the end. It was the bike, naturally.
And yet; and yet I yearned for something faster… and so I settled on the Giant Anthem Advanced Pro 29er 1. Carbon-fibre frame and wheelset, 100mm of front and 90mm of rear travel, Beudiful! Just add a KS Lev Integra dropper and my preferred Ergon grips and away we go again.
It’s too fast for me I know. It’s like giving Lewis Hamilton’s F1 car to a taxi driver, but Jeez it’s so good, I just love its responsiveness and speed.
Our first serious test was the Bendigo MTB club’s Golden Triangle 50km Shorty in late April. Now ‘Shorty’ is only an appropriate term because the other choices were 100km or 100 miles. I gave up 100km races years ago as a cruel joke on flabby people such as myself. Fifty is hard enough.
Having no idea how I would stack up in my first race since the BCBR last July, I lined up at the rear and then pottered through the first 10km or so in a long conga line on the singletrack.
But then I started picking people off as they flagged. At 30km I realised I was feeling pretty fresh, at 40km I was still hanging in there and really enjoying the flow of the course, even coping with the pinchy climbs.
I crossed the line in 3:05, riding 52.5km at a 17km/h average according to Strava. I was 15th out of 28 finishers in Master 5/6 and just behind halfway overall.
OK, nothing sensational considering the class winner was 35 minutes ahead of me, but it was my fastest ever 50km time, took eight minutes off my time in this race last year and as a bonus I didn’t spend half an hour lying down with heat exhaustion afterwards – like I did last year.
And it was my 56th birthday. All bloody good really … and still feeling like a six-year old!
The bike? It was simply unbelievable. Almost all my time improvement came from its straight-line and cornering speed. I doubt much of it came from me, I don’t think I am as fit as I was this time last year.
But I reckon I soon will be. I can’t resist riding this bike it just keeps calling to me from the garage. ‘Let’s go pump out a quick 30-40km around Red Hill, you know you want to…’
And I do, can’t help myself, just too much fun.