Saturday, March 19, 2011

L'ala Carte

I've been watching ebay and craigslist for a while -- looking for a Voodoo Bizango frameset or a Jamis Dragon Pro. I like these bikes because they are straight-up 26" hardtail bikes made with nice steel. I really like the Jamis, because it comes ready to roll, out of the box: Fox forks, hydraulic brakes, XT stuff. I kept hoping someone would unload a Dragon Pro that was a few years old with lots of life left.

Instead, I chanced upon this Salsa. It had nice bits (Raceface cranks, XT derailluers, Juicy Three brakes) and straight-up hardtail geometry with nice steel (OX Platinum). Out the door for $475. I found new 80mm Fox forks on ebay for $330. All up: not cheap, but a great value, considering the Jamis Pro retails for about $2500 and it's pretty much comparable.

The old 7-speed XT thumbshifters will index-shift 8 speeds.
It's true.
The best of all worlds: 8 speed, indexed, proper thumbies.
I took it for the inaugural ride this morning: the standard HD loop where I drop in at 25th Ave, go down Glen's Waterfall and to the tracks, then come back up "the easy way." I've done this loop a bunch on many different bikes, so it's easy to assess what I like about a given bike by riding this.

Here's what I dig about this bike:
  • Hello descending. I don't have suspension forks on any bike. I learned this morning that suspension does make a pretty huge difference in that department. I always enjoy descending these trails on any bike, but on this bike, I was able to roll out farther onto the flats due to the speed I gained on the hills. Any time you're descending it's fun. But this is more fun. I look forward to doing some other standard HD loops.
  • Climbing is not bad either. It's a different game on this bike. This bike doesn't want you to stand and grind, it wants you to sit and spin. And I found that following this rule pays off. I was able to climb all the hard little short steep twisty turny bits on this bike that I can do on my CX bike or the Rawland by standing and grinding.
  • One-finger braking. Again -- this is really related to descending. But with super high-zoot hydraulic brakes, you can hang on to the bars while braking with a single finger. Lovely.
  • More nimble than I thought. I was expecting to have trouble turning into tight corners and staying up -- both on the way down and the way up -- but by observing the "stay seated" rule on the way up, and by turning sharp on the way down, I hit all the same corners that I don't really have to think about on my steeper-front-ended bikes. So there.
  • The tires rule. I sprung for some Maxxis Aspen tires, which I think are perfect for the HD trails: they like hard pack, or maybe hard pack with a bit of sand. They're not crazy about mud. But neither am I. They roll great for 2.1" mountain bike tires. The flat part -- by the RR tracks -- from Polly Judd to the electrical station was super fast and easy. I think, because these tires rule, and that dang suspension just soaked up all the rocky turds. Crazy, man! I'm talking like a mountain biker!
Stuff I'm not sure about:
  • This whole flat bar thing. For descending, it rules. And for climbing, I think I'm kind of getting it. But I really prefer having my wrists oriented so that they are vertical. I'm going to stick with these bars for a while though. Many months.
  • That carbon post. Seems like a stupid place to have carbon. I may replace it with a Thudbuster, but the bike is pretty light -- by my standards.
  • The front disc caliper. Man. It seems way too close to the spokes. It's about 2mm away. I ran into Geoff, of Two Wheel fame, on the trails and inspected his caliper-to-spoke-distance (CSD), and found it to be the same. So that makes me feel better. But man, I'd rather it were like 5mm.

That's it. I'm looking forward to lots of trail riding on this bike.


Unknown said...

Awesome. The Ala Carte is a pretty sweet frame, a friend of mine in Phoenix had one and I found it very similar to my Unit only with gears. Same OX Platinum and same supple ride. Of course, I also own the big brother to this bike, the El Mariachi. Damn, I need to get out and ride...

Andy D. said...

Nice bike, I like your setup. Looks like a lot of fun to ride. Good job on using the Deore XTII thumb shifters; I have used mine for two decades now, with 7 and 8 speed cassettes without a problem. I'm astonished that other than the Paul Thumbies converter mounts for bar end shifters, there are no currently made high quality equivalents.

Unknown said...

John, how do you like it compared to the rough stuff/monstercross setup for offroad?

John Speare said...

Sean: a buddy of mine has an older (2003 or so?) El Mariachi, with the EBB. Sweet bike. I dig those.

BDD: thanks. I have those thumb shifters on my cargo bike too, but in friction mode. I had heard before that there was a "phantom" index shift for 8th gear, but I had forgotten that until I read about it yesterday. I think I'll index the cargo bike...

Ryan: this is all mountain bike. My guess is that I'd be good for 40 miles tops on this bike. (see handlebar comments in post), whereas the Rawland, shod with Quasi-motos is an all day dirt road/Nat'l Forest 'splorer. I've also done a dirt road century ride a couple times on the Rawland. There's no way I'd take this Ala Carte on such a ride.

alex wetmore said...

John: Sweet looking bike! It is very similar to the Kona that I just built up, which is also OX Plat. I find that On One Mary Bars aka Origin-8 Space Bars are the only ones that work for me on long distances. I think I could even do 50-60 miles on them.

Ryan: If you want to try out a mountain bike my older one is still assembled and your size. My neighbor is planning on buying the frame at some point, but it'll probably be assembled with my config for a couple more months (or at least until the end of May when John will be visiting me and borrowing it).

The mountain bike beats the Monster Cross when you get into steep descents with dropoffs and loose material and real singletrack type stuff. The monster cross beats the mountain bike on 50+ mile dirt road rides with fast loose dirt road descents. I'm glad to own both, and this is coming from a guy who's trying to keep my bike stable as lean as possible.

Dan O said...

Nice bike. To keep the flat bar, try some old school bar ends - short ones. They've fallen out of fashion in the mountain bike work, except for hard core XC racing.

I still run 'em however - it's like riding and climbing using the brake hoods on a road bike. Just feels right.

Willy said...

I agree with Dan O on the bar ends. Check your pics of my Breezer for details of my flat bar setup. Notice the curved bar ends, sooooo much more comfy than straight-ish ones, they feel a lot like drop bar lever hoods. I use them a lot for technical trail climbing as well as riding them hours on end doing stuff like the MC.

John Speare said...

Dan/Willy: Thanks for the ideas --

I really like the Willy bar-end-idea. I had forgotten about those. I'll give them a shot.

Good thing there's no hydraulic lever for drop bars (there's not, right?) or the Midges might find their way on this bike.