Popped down to the Demo Series on the 26th. I hadn’t really got a firm idea of what I wanted to ride, other than a strange inexplicable compulsion to try a 29er.
We arrived later than planned, as per usual. First ride of the day was a Trek Fuel 8 WSD. My original plan was to go out on the 14.5 inch model, but once I was standing next to it both the Trek Chap and myself agreed that it was probably going to be far too small. So instead I ventured out on the 16.5 inch model, as the 15.5 wasn’t available. Given that the Fuel 8 WSD have the same geometry as the ‘men’s’ Fuel 8s, I had a sinking feeling that it was all going to go horribly wrong. When I tried it out for size, however, it didn’t seem too bad at all, and Trek Chap definitely earned bonus points for telling me that my legs weren’t that short and, as he set up the rear shock, that I was lighter than I claimed.
Setting off on it definitely felt a bit weird. Not bad, just… different. Despite it supposedly being a bigger frame than what I’m used to, I felt as if I was sat further forward than on the Professor, and a lot higher up. As I turned into the first section of Follow the Dog, it felt very, very strange.
Very, very strange quickly turned into very awesome. Last time I’d ridden a Trek Fuel two years ago I didn’t really get on with it – the brakes were honking (Hayes Soles), the gearing was terrible and it had annoying dual-platform pedals that always swung SPD side up when I wear flats. This time was an entirely different kettle of donkeys – the Fuel was perfectly set up, and although I initially felt a little odd on it, I quickly got used to it. Given that I’d not actually done much of Follow the Dog this year, I erred on the side of caution and left out the Steg, and instead headed to section eight in a rather roundabout fashion.
So, my first run through of section eight was on a strange bike after over four months of eating treacle pudding and playing World of Warcraft. First was the small matter of the fireroad hill, and the Fuel proved it was a nice little climber. Then onto section 8, and more awesomeness. Perhaps I’d been expecting to be so much worse after the treacle pudding fuelled winter, but I seemed to fly around. The Fuel seemed very stable around corners – on the Professor, I tend to lean into corners to the point of feeling that I’m starting to tip over, but on the Fuel I took the corners comfortably. I don’t know whether it was the bike or whether I was just having a particularly good day, but I felt exhilarated that I was riding confidently at a decent clip after so long. I’d planned to return the bike after section 8 as I didn’t want to push my luck, but I felt like pushing my luck anyway and did 9 and 10 as well.
I returned the Fuel with a big smile on my face. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Professor, I do, but it’s nice to know that there’s another bike that I clicked with so quickly. And Mr Toast has four bikes, and I only have two. Just saying! It also goes to show that:
a) Frame sizes can be pretty arbitary across different manufacturers, so don’t dismiss anything… or conversely, assume it’ll fit!
b) Just because you didn’t get on with a particular make or model one year doesn’t mean you should dismiss it forever more. Geometry changes, things get tweaked and altered, and your own riding style might evolve.
Before I could demo another bike, I had to pick up my friend who’s looking into getting a new bike. I was hoping she’d have a bit more success this time around – last time I took her to a Demo Day two years ago, she ended up riding a red route for the first time in her life on a carbon full suspension race bike (a Top Fuel, to be more specific). Not being used to singletrack, the lightness of carbon bikes or full suspension, coupled with truly terrible weather meant that she had a less than pleasurable experience, and has now sworn off full sussers as a result. So this time, I thought I’d get her on a nice, practical hardtail. Having ridden a very basic Giant mtb for eight years, mainly for road riding, she made a beeline for the Giant stand straight away. We ended up with…
Clown wheels! \o/ I’d thought I’d be trying out a Gary Fisher Superfly 29er, but they didn’t have the 15″ model available. So I joined my friend at the Giant stand AND still managed to sate my 29er curiosity with an Anthem 29er. The idea that there would be a full suspension 29er that I could actually ride was a stunning revelation… although the seatpost did have to be sawn down so I could get on the saddle. My friend also ended up on a 29er, a Giant XTC.
Determined not to make the same mistake as the previous demo day I’d taken my friend on, I took her around some of the green routes to let her get to used to the bike, before leading her down the old section 3 (which she’s ridden before). She was fine on the flat, but struggled a bit on the singletrack – again, not really surprising given that she’s not used to that sort of riding, and was on a completely bonkers bike. Again.
Because I’m a sadist (and also because I felt it’d be a fairer test of the Anthem) we then went on the first section of Follow the Dog. I was expecting riding a 29er to be a bit of a nightmare (but I still wanted to ride one, just because I believe hobbits should have the right to be niche too), but it wasn’t at all. The handling was surprisingly nimble, especially given I was expecting it to be something like riding a Penny Farthing, and on longer stretches it could fly over stuff. Bloody good fun. I’ve never really clicked with Giant bikes before, clearly they just needed massive wheels to match the name!
Alas, my friend wasn’t quite as enthusiastic about her dandy horse, and nature was calling to us both, so we returned the 29ers. Sadly by the time we hit the Specialized stand they’d stopped letting the bikes out, so no Epic test for me.
Overall an awesome day – it seemed to be a lot better organised than on previous years, with a decent choice in bikes for both Mr Toast (he tried a Trek Paragon, a Specialized Epic and a Carbon Stumpjumper) and myself. The guys on the Trek and Giant stands were fantastic – despite being incredibly busy the bikes were perfectly set up and they were happy to chat. Rather depressingly it’s been the first demo day where I’ve come out of it thinking I’d quite happily own both the bikes I’ve ridden, but alas, food and shelter sadly takes priority. I’ve come to the conclusion I need one of those stereotypical wives blokes on the Singletrack forum moan about – the ones who say, “Why do you need another bike? What’s wrong with the one you’ve got? You could get a car for that!” Plus even if I did get those bikes, I’d still want to keep the Professor and Cletus, so then we’d have eight bikes in the house. EIGHT. Is there a biking equivalent of a Crazy Cat Lady?
* Photo shamelessly robbed from Giant’s Facebook page. If you’re one of those Twittery types and can tear yourself away from Charlie Sheen, you can also get Demo Series information from @TheDemoSeries.