Singletrack Adventures of Handmade Steel Mountain Bikes.
It’s a fact that there are few things in life that are more fun than riding a mountain bike. Maybe Charlie Sheen has figured it out, but I doubt I’ll ever make it that deep. And until I do, there’s mountain biking. Road biking’s great and all, the suffering, the freedom, the lycra, but ain’t nuthin like dropping into a tasty piece of singletrack. And one of the most beautiful parts of mountain biking is how diverse it can be. Single speeding. Fully suspended gravity riding. Hell, even a season of XC racing if you’re ambitious (or have a lot of free time). It always seems like just when I’m about bored with my bike or my local loop, something comes along that makes me weep for joy. Such was the case when I swung my leg over our latest model, the Paycheck.
The Paycheck has been in our minds since day 1. It’s the bike that was designed for the kind of riding we have in Oakridge (or most of OR for that matter) – big, long climbs, and long singletrack descents. So it would have more or less XC geometry. But a longer travel fork. And a slightly relaxed head tube angle. Room for big tires. Oh and it had to be sexy as hell. So when we threw all those requirements into the jig, out came what I am now calling the best bike in the world. Or BBITW.
I recently had a chance to spend some quality time on the BBITW, starting in Landgraaf, Holland. The word “Holland” doesn’t really inspire you to go get your mtb, I know. But Landgraaf is a special place, it’s down in the far, south-east corner of the country, really more Germany or Belgium than Netherlands. And it’s up and down singletrack all day long. It’s the best riding around here. The Paycheck tore it up. Steep loose climbs? Check. Flowy singletrack? Check. Gnar root-riddled climbs? Check. PAYcheck.
Yeah it was a pretty fantastic ride. But no real long, sustained climbs. For that, I would have to leave Benelux. So, I took the ferry over to Dover. Crashed at the sister’s place. And woke up the next morning to hit Afan Forest Park, in south Wales. Dark rain clouds hovered. Overnight rain had drenched the trails. 3hrs of singletrack awaited. It was going to be an excellent day.
But first, a word about British mountain biking. It’s jolly good! UK is the country with the mtb culture most like the US. Big dual-squishy bikes. Big tires. Steel single speeds. And singletrack. Lots and lots of singletrack. The British have this excellent scheme where they are trying to re-grow forests. And in a (wise) effort to make some money off these projects, they have built a network of over 50 (!!!) MTB-only trail centers across the country. Complete with marked trails of different difficulty levels, and usually some services like a bike shop and cafe. Brilliant! And since the country is small, you only ever have to drive a couple hours maximum to get to some sublime trail riding.
Yes, the British, despite their preference of warm, flat beer, or the fact that they eat beans for breakfast, have made trail-building an art form. Four-season riding with absolutely delicious trails that drain well and stand the test of time. Afan, one of the older trail centers, was no exception, and Paycheck was up for the challenge. So…off we went. I dropped the fork height and settled in for the climb. The Paycheck likes to climb. Even with the fork height at 140mm, it climbs just fine. But drop the fork and you feel a little bit like Julien Absalon. Then comes the good stuff. Open the fork back out, and just let the bike roll into the trail. The Paycheck loves to go fast, demands it. The faster, the better. We have a 90mm stem on there now, so it feels most comfortable at speed. Super accurate steering, it just goes where you want it to. This bike eats up anything you throw at it, almost as if it were a full suspension. And little drops and booters are taken in stride.
In short, it was an excellent ride. And with free bike wash to boot. But I had another day so I headed north of Birmingham to Cannock Chase – http://www.chasetrails.co.uk/. Another fantastic trail center, but this time totally dry and very different riding. Fewer big, edgy rocks, more flowy trails with berms and jumps at every opportunity. Like a little A-Line for trail bikes. The Paycheck was in its element. 3 hours whizzed by like a stroll in the park and left me with a huge grin on my face.
So what can I say, I’m in love with this bike. And I have to give it over to Todd who is going to be a guide for MTB Oregon – http://www.mtbikeoregon.com/ – one of the best events on the planet. Sad to lose my baby but happy to share the joy.
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