23 July 2008

Buying a New Mountain Bike.

As I have mentioned in my previous post, I hadn't bought a new bike for myself since 1999. Everyone I have been riding with over the years was tooling around on a new Turner or Ellsworth or Trek. Everyone had at least 120mm of travel on the front and about 80mm on the rear while I was forced to set the pressure in my 80mm front and 40mm rear so high so I wouldn't bottom out on the smallest of bumps. Sure, these once were state of the art shocks, and sure there are still those out there riding hard tails, and sure there are still those who don't understand why anyone why anyone would put any suspension on a bike; but I was longing for a smoother experience. After all, just because riding a mountain bike is my main form of meditation doesn't mean that I have to be uncomfortable doing it.

So I set about doing some research. I had no idea what to buy beyond knowing that I wanted LOTS of travel in a light weight XC bike. There is just so much hype, and so much hype about the amount of hype. Most of the magazines aren't any help because they have been focusing on the 29ers or bikes that didn't fit my needs. Plus, it's definitely not like it was in 1999 where there were only a handful of major players to choose from and there wasn't the proliferation of blogs, websites, magazines, forums, etc. Also, currently the majority of the discounters only carry a few brands aimed at the mass market. While they may have a high-end bike or two at Performance, there's not much in the way of choice--with GT being about the best they have to offer. Some shops carry only one brand (e.g. Trek Superstore or Specialized boutique shops). And most of the other LBSs are spread out requiring long distances in the car just to visit and see what they have. So, bottom line--too much subjective information available to get a good idea of what to buy; not enough concentrated physical inventory in the proximity of where I live to get a hands-on experience.

So, I went to Google as my first stop. I entered "Top Rated Mountain Bikes". That didn't help too much, but it did point me to mtbr.com. Once there I found a page with a huge list of bikes that riders had rated. I started off with the criteria that I wanted a bike that had been rated by at least 30 people and that had an overall rating as close to 5.0 as possible. Given a rudimentary understanding of statistics, I recognized that a higher sample size (e.g. the number of people who had rated the bike), the better the confidence interval. In other words, more people rating a bike, the more realistic the rating value would be.

I looked at a few different bikes with lots of reviews, like the SC Blur LT, but I was under-impressed with the bike after reading what people where saying. I kind of stuck to just scanning the "Weakness" area because I figured that is where the real truth would be stated. I checked out a few more "well known" bikes and followed leads from one to another. I can't remember all the bikes I looked at now, but I read about 1000 different reviews.

One bike that I ran across while reading a review for a completely different bike really hit me. It was everything I was looking for: super light, 140mm travel front and rear, super sexy, over 70 reviews and a total rating of 4.92/5.0. The biggest weakness to the bike, according to a very large number of reviewers, was the rider's abilities. I decided to look deeper into this bike; the Ibis Mojo SL.

I searched the web for reviews by pros and magazines. Here's what BIKEmagic had to say about the ride: "We've ridden a lot of bikes, and while most of them are really rather good these days it's been a while since something actually blew us away. But that's exactly what the Mojo did. Whatever you think about the looks or the price, this is a stunning bike to ride. Somehow it manages to feel both light and stout, have both less and more travel than it actually does and combine high-speed stability with low-speed manouevrability." That's a pretty good endorsement. But then I came across another review, this time from one of the legends of MtB.

Here's what Brian Lopes had to say at bikemag.com, the web arm of Bike Magazine: "I'm thrilled to be riding what in my opinion is the best looking and best riding bike on the market. I personally tested numerous bikes and the Ibis Mojo has won hands down as the best all-around machine. Which was the main driver for my decision, shortly followed by the like-ability of the Ibis owners, their future products, heritage and long-term commitment and vision to make the ultimate working bikes in the market. To me it was a perfect fit."

So, the next step was to find one. I came to learn that the bike was available in two models, the Mojo and the Mojo SL. The SL, standing for "Super Lite" was available in three colors: clear, gray and brown. On the web sites, the clear carbon really struck my fancy, but apparently it does so for a lot of people because when I tracked down a dealer in San Diego, they didn't have a clear in my size. The gray just looked too much like primer coat and the brown looked absolutely ugly. Still, I decided to check out the bike in person anyway, even if I would have to wait for a frame to be ordered.

So, I drove to Cal Coast Bicycles in San Diego after work last Wednesday (the 23rd of July) to give the bike a test. They didn't have any Mojo SLs built, but I got to test out the Mojo. The bike felt good. I mean, it felt really good. Alex and Charlie convinced me that for my size, I needed the medium frame even though my old M4 was a large. At first, it was a bit awkward because the smaller size altered the way my body interacted with the bike, but after just a few minutes in the sadle, I felt like the bike and I were one. There wasn't much in the way of a real test of the bike; just jumping curbs and running on some dirt next to the freeway, but the experience was awesome.

I went back to the store, hopping another curb, and just as I rolled into the shop, the rear tire went flat. Nice! I had decided that I was going to get the bike. The question was, wait a week for a clear frame to come in or go with the gray or brown. The gray still looked like primer coat to me, but the brown was actually kind of sexy. It didn't look anything like the brown I saw on the web sites. I debated, brown now or clear in a week...Now won. Of course, "now" isn't "now" when all you have is a frame on a wall and a shop that needed to order some parts for the build kit. So, I made my order, swapping this part for that, getting exactly the bike I wanted. I wasn't terribly concerned with weight, even though I got an SL. I figure the platform pedals (Time Z Control), a Joplin R Seat Post, and Ergon GX2 grips with carbon bar ends. Most everything is from the XTR build kit. I got the Fox RP23 rear and the Float RLC front. I got an XT cassette because the number of XT cassettes I'd go through in a year was costing me serious bucks--I keep bending the 3rd chain ring because I use it for climbing a lot of times. Anyway, the end result, with all the changes and my bear-bell, light mount and HRM holder is 12.8kg (~28.2 lbs.) When it came time to pony up my credit card, I popped the question: I'm a member of the San Diego Mountain Bike Association and as such I am supposed to be entitled to a 10% discount. At first Alex said that he didn't think they could give the discount on these bikes since they were so new and in such high demand. For the amount of upgrades or cash we were talking about here, I figured it was in my interests to pursue it a step further. So, I asked him to ask Charlie (the owner). When he returned he asked me if I had my membership card (which of course I did) and rather than earning just over 6100 airline miles, I earned about 5500 miles. I hoped that there was a sliver of possibility that the bike would be ready by the next day (Thursday) for a ride with the San Diego Mountain Bike Association. Of course, my hopes were dashed because there wasn't time to order the missing build kit parts until the next morning, but on Friday, I got the call to come pick up my new sexy machine.

I must say that the experience at Cal Coast was very good. Of course, in my opinion, when you're laying down about $6K for a bike, the experience should be very good. Alex took the time to make certain that everything was set up correctly, that the shocks were just right, that everything worked, except...as I rolled out of the store it became very evident that no one had actually tested the drive-train, and the rear derailleur was all out of whack. They had it fixed in a jiffy and I tooled around a bit on the street before loading it onto the top of my vehicle. I was giddy. I wanted to ride. I wanted to show it off. I wanted to experience a trail with this new bike under me. It was almost like a sexual desire. But it was late. I didn't have time to ride that night and didn't have anyone to ride with. I needed to be someplace early on Saturday morning. I was chomping at the bit, but I'd need to wait until Sunday.

I'll cover the first ride in the next post.