SCST Shootout

Full credit to a teammate for passing along this amazingly simple, yet bedeviling, formula for figuring out how many bikes you need:

 = n + 1

where,  = Arsenal of Bikes

n = number of bikes currently owned

Simple, right?  According to this formula, one’s arsenal of bikes is always ready for expansion.  But… at some point in time, one’s space in the garage, budget, or wife (or a combination of those three!) starts to constrain the “+1”.

So rather than focus on the “+1” (I know – I just lost readers… but bear with me), let’s focus on the “n” of the formula – the bikes in your garage  They’re not new – but they’re yours.  And oh how you’ve collected them.

The “n” does present a dilemma in that it forces an internal debate over which bike to ride.  Do I ride road or mountain?  If mountain, do I go with a full-suspension or hardtail?  29″ or 26″ (or 27.5″)?  Singlespeed or gears?  Steel or carbon?  Yes, these concerns fall into the category of first world problems, I admit, but dilemmas they do cause.

The other weekend, I decided not to choose.  Rather, I brought all the mountain bikes in my garage (except my steel 26″ singlespeed) out to the trail.  I figure if I have all these bike at my disposal, why not see which one is the fastest?  In a Natespin first, I present the:

San Clemente Singletrack (SCST) Shootout

The Course:  I decided on using the San Clemente singletrack (SCST) trail system as the testing grounds because I know the trails very well.  One variable removed.  I could also put together a short loop that combined technical tight singletrack with some fire-road so I could open up the lungs but stay fresh for each bike.  The first half of the 2.2 mile loop features the singletrack, which is somewhat lumpy, full of momentum-killing turns, and is lined with CA chaparral on both sides.  The fireroad was recently graded and was looser than normal but wide open so it was a chance to test overall speed.  

The Bikes:  I brought three bikes to the SCST Shooutout: two carbon cross-country 29″ bikes (a full-suspension & a hardtail) and an aluminum full-suspension 26″ trail bike.  I suppose the trail bike was used as a control – I was quite certain it wasn’t going to beat the XC bikes after racing it at the Bonelli Park Super D.  But there was only one way to be sure.

Shootout #1:  The Ninja (a.k.a. my carbon 29″ hardtail).  This is my race-bike.  It’s my preferred bike and I know exactly how it rides.  If Vegas made odds on this shootout and I was setting the odds, it would be the odds-on favorite of the field.  It’s the lightest bike with the lightest wheelset (my crankbrothers Cobalt 3 wheels) with the shortest wheelbase in the shootout – perfect for tossing around twisty singletrack.  After a 15 minute warmup and some trail recon, I decided to let ‘er rip.

Me and my Ninja.

Me and my Ninja.  My hardtail race bike.  22.5 lbs.  The bike I’m most familiar with and ride most often.

I attack the start of the SCST shootout course but am mindful of not going too hard so I can keep my efforts even over the entire shootout.  I’m feeling confident on the tight singletrack, pushing the corners, using all the bite of my Maxxis Ikon tires.  I feel quick out of the corners as this bike accelerates like a champ with my new crankbrothers hoops.  I exit the singletrack and stand up to hammer up the fireroad.  It’s a 0.8 mile hard effort back to the start of the loop as I look to shave time.  I finish the ride, check my heart-rate (it’s at a high but sustainable level for me), and spin for 5 minutes to cool down.  Back to the car for bike #2 and water.

Shootout #2:  After some water and shade, I hop on the Trek Superfly 100 Elite, on loan to our team by team sponsor Jax Bicycle Center.  The Superfly 100 is a 4″ full-suspension carbon kick-ass machine.  After building it up and spending some months on it, I’ve become familiar with its riding characteristics.

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Trek Superfly Elite 100, courtesy of Jax Bicycle Center.  This bike is like Skippy peanut butter:  smooth and creamy on the trail.

It’s meant to be ridden aggressively, but done so in a seated position, unlike the hardtail Ninja.  Having just come off the Ninja, I immediately notice the rear suspension.  The suspension setup on the Superfly is such that it takes the edge off bumps and larger drops while keeping the rear wheel active and engaged with the ground.  Unlike the Ninja right before it, where I lost traction in the rear on a bumpy section where I was out of saddle trying to gain or keep momentum, with the Superfly I was able to stay seated and on the power.   It felt slower in and out of corners due to the larger wheelbase and slightly slacker front-end but I did feel faster on straighter sections.  I also felt faster on the fire-road.  A fun shootout ride, and now time for bike #3.

Shootout #3:  My first proper mountain bike – my 2009 Trance.  An aluminum 5″ trail bike with 26″ wheels.  It’s certainly been upgraded from the stock 2009 condition with Shimano XT drivetrain and crankbrothers Iodine 2 wheels, but it isn’t purpose built for speed like the first two bikes.

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My Trance.  A 26″ trail bike up against its XC rivals.  Who likes an underdog story?

After some more water and a five minute rest, I hop onto the Trance.  I can feel more action beneath me.  The softer suspension, and more of it, is noticeable.  The smaller wheels, look different.  I’m so used to seeing the wagon wheels of 29ers.  But the small wheels do feel more nimble.  I can make quicker, smaller steering adjustments and the bike responds as there’s less wheel to fight.  The wheelbase is slightly more stretched out than the Ninja and is similar to the Superfly.  I feel agile – but I also feel slower.

I just can’t accelerate and get up to speed like the other two bikes.  My power isn’t being fully transmitted to the rear wheel – I suppose it’s the rear suspension absorbing some of the energy.  It’s quite noticeable after riding the other two bikes.  (Without this direct comparison, I’ve always been content with how it pedals.)  The 3×9 drivetrain is also to blame as I’m not as sure which gear to be in like I am with a 2×10 drivetrain.  I hit the fire-road and I open up the legs knowing the shootout is over.  The burlier Serfas tires also impede overall speed but damn if the grip isn’t good when leaning the bike into corners!

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SCST Shootout:  3 Bikes, 1 rider, 1 Afternoon, 3 Beers in waiting

SCST Shooutout Results:  My thought going into this, that the two XC bikes would be faster than my trail bike, was correct.  That’s not shocking.  But I was curious about which XC bike would be faster and if perceived quickness matched measured speed and time.  On the twistier sections of the course I felt faster on my Ninja.  On the bumpier sections and fire-road I felt faster on the Superfly.  The times:

Bike

SCST Shootout Loop

Singletrack Time

Fire-road Time

Superfly 100 Elite

9:37

6:59

2:26

The Ninja

9:49

7:04

2:30

Trance

10:27

7:33

2:42

In a slight surprise, the Superfly 100 is the victor!  I had faster times on both the twisty singletrack and fire-road with the Superfly than I did with my Ninja – despite feeling faster with the Ninja on the singletrack.  I guess perceived effort and feeling fast (e.g. out-of-the-saddle efforts) doesn’t always translate to speed.  With regards to the fire-road, I felt like I was going faster on the Superfly, but I also had the benefit of having one lap in the books so I knew where to carry speed (aka brake less) and my pacing.

In the end, I’m left with the knowledge that the Superfly 100 is one fast bike.  It simply does smooth out the choppiness of the trail.  This equates to maintaining speed through the chop while keeping the body fresher over the course of a ride.  A fresher body again equals more speed… or rather, a slower rate of decline of speed.  There’s the old adage of “horses for courses” but I feel I picked a pretty neutral course in regards to suspension-bias, and in this case the full suspension Superfly 100 came out on top.

That said, I do wonder if a faster second ride was more of a result of being properly warmed-up at race pace than it was the result of a bike.  While I did do an initial 15 minute warmup, it certainly wasn’t on par to my shootout efforts.  Perhaps a combination of not being fully warmed up, while subconsciously keeping energy in reserve, made my first shootout run on my Ninja a bit slower? I may just have to do this again, switching the order of the bikes.  Then I’ll know for sure which bike is faster, right?

Then again, I wonder if that “+1” bike is faster…

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Post SCST Shootout food & beer at Daphne’s!

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2 responses to “SCST Shootout

  1. Pingback: Hot Salsa MamaSSita | natespin·

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