Black Mountain Shakedown Ride

So I finished building up my  carbon hardtail project and it was time to give it a shake down ride.

I decided to build it up as a geared bike vice a singlespeed.  The frame came from a China company that makes frames for other bike companies including some of the US bike brands.  I have not dug around to figure out what branded frame this is.  I got the frame shipped directly from China for just a little over $300.   I did not go particularly weight weenie on the components and a sizable portion of these came off my Intense Spider, which I stripped down to do some maintenance on it.    

Unbranded Carbon Hardtail frame from Hongfu-Bikes in China
Spinergy Xyclone Disk wheelset 
Intense System 2 .25 tire in rear and WTB 2.4 Muntano on the front  (both with 2.2-2.5 sized tubes)
Fox 100RLC (Pushed) Fork
XT Crankset, Front Derailuer, Shifters and Cassette
XTR Rear Derailuer (Old School) and disc brakes
Thompson Seatpost and Stem
Salsa Seatpost Clamp
Easton Monkeylite XC carbon handlebars
Sette Saddle 
Shimano MD620 SPD Pedals
Ohhh, had to through on the totally unncessary bling bling carbon fiber bottlecage.

So not exactly a full on weight-weenied rig, this bike is 24 lbs dead even.   Time to hit the trail.

One of my kids wanted me to take him and some his buds to the PQ skate park so I opted to hit up Black Mountain while they skated.   Black Mountain has a pretty good mix of enough stuff that would let me get a good feel for this setup.  I started with a climb up the service/fire road and as a expected a 24lb hardtail climbs well.   What I really like was how stiff the bike felt when I got out of the saddle and stomped on the pedals.    At the same time the bike seemed to take the edge off some of the rocky trail chatter.  I have not figured out yet wither there is some vertical compliance going on or wither it is carbon’s vibration damping properties at work I have been hearing about.   Either way the rig is a killer climbing machine that is also pretty comfortable.

On the fireroad climb, I came across this little rattler.   It is mighty late in the year for rattlers to be out, but I’m guessing the record heat earlier in the week had this little guy (about 18″) all confused.   After posing for his closeup, I steered him off the fireroad for his own benefit as you never know what level of dumbassness the next person to come by is going to have.

Back on the climb, things went well, and after a few minor adjustments things the bike was good and dialed.

Once up on top it was a very clear day with downtown San Diego and the Coronado Islands easily seen to the south.

It has been quite a long time since I had ridden over on the East Ridge area so from the peak I headed over that way.   There is a rather steep and rocky descent to get over there and I was quite pleased with how the bike handled through that area.  It is not full-suspension bike but it was precise in its steering and and felt solid when I pressed to play “chess” through some chunk.  There has been some trailwork going out here as well as some new signage.   I was really looking forward to checking out the Nighthawk trail which provides a link between the Miners Ridge Loop and the rest of the trails on the mountain.   After messing around on the east ridge, I grabbed a trail that took me down to Carmel Mountain Road.    After I that I got a chance to test the technical climbing aspects of the bike and the reduced weight certainly helped here.  The weight distribution also seemed to help keep the front end down.   The trails here can get pretty freaking steep so there was some hike-a-bike bits as well.

Once back up onto the East Ridge, I made my way over the Nighthawk trail.  This is a nicely built trail with plenty of rocky character to it.  Once over to Miner’s Ridge Loop, I decided to go clockwise since I could not remember the last time I went that way.    I finished off the dirt action wtih the Lilac Canyon trail and then did a pavement connect up the ball park were I started the ride.   Another good outting on a bike, made even better by playing on a new bike.   Incase you are wondering, this is not a replacement for my stolen 6.6, there is a big squishy bike in the works.

My Medium or Large Story

Okay I am the classic in-between sizes guy as I can fit on a medium or a large on most bikes. I spent a great deal of time this year figuring out wither a medium or a large Intense 6.6 was going to be the bike for me. The following rambling of words is most of the thought process I went through on figuring out which size frame to go with. I have been riding a medium Intense Spider since 2003 as my cross country bike. I have been riding a large 2005 Specialized Enduro Pro for a few years as my all-mountain rig as my main point of comparison. I would have to describe the riding I do with this bike as all-mountain stuff that has to deal with chunk, ledges and some occasional airtime in the 3 to 4 foot range. My bikes see very little shuttle action so they have to be climbable. First off let’s look at the geometry.

 

Aspect

Intense 6.6 Med

Intense 6.6 Large

05 Spec Enduro Pro

Top Tube

22.8”

23.8”

24.5”

Seat Tube

19”

21”

19” (Effective)

Stand Over

29”

29”

30.3”

Wheel Base

43.3”

44.3”

45.5”

Head Angle

68.5 deg

68.5 deg

68.5/69.5 deg

Seat Angle

73 deg

73 deg

68.5/69.5 deg

Chain Stay

17”

17”

16.7”

Bottom Bracket

13.75”

13.75”

13.7/14.2”

Okay lets get some of my geometry out of the way. I’m 5’11.5” with a 32.5” inseam and I weigh between 195 and 205 pounds on any given month depending on my riding and drinking regime. The burrito and pizza intake seems to most consistent part of nutrition plan.

The Previous All-Mountain Rig

I liked the 2005 Enduro Pro, it is a capable all-mountain bike with six inches of travel. The rear shock is a Progressive 5th Element and the front shock is a Fox 36 TALAS RC2. The bike comes with two rear shock mount carriages which allow you to vary the geometry of the bike slightly. One carriage provides a higher bottom braket and slightly steeper head angle than the other. I kept my Enduro setup with the higher bracket (14.2”) and steeper head angle (69.5 degrees). The main reason for this setup was that when I first got this bike I had a hell of a time trying to steer the bike with the low bottom bracket and 68.5 degree head angle carriage installed. I was coming from a zippy race/cross country oriented Intense Spider and had not developed the skills of handling a long slack bike. The steeper head angle carriage helped with that transition and I never bothered to try the bike with the other carriage installed after learning how to steer a long, slack bike.

I enjoyed the long wheel-base of the Enduro as it was quite stable at speed. At 45.5” it did make take some effort to navigate tight switchbacks and body English was required on the twisty stuff. The bike is not a light one as it was somewhere around mid-to-high 30s according the wheelset and tires I was using. It was a climbable bike but it was not a bike you could hammer up the hill, it was more that you would come to an agreement with the bike and it would beat you down over the course of a long day of riding. Additionally, the split seat tube design also limited how much you could adjust the saddle height. For me I had to compromise on the seatpost length to allow me to get the seatpost low enough for technical riding while extended enough for climbing. The end result was that the saddle when fully extended was about half and inch lower than what I would have like for optimal climbing. When lowered all the way I was forced to have just under two inches of post still sticking out.

The Medium 6.6
The Medium 6.6 that I first rode was built up extremely lightweight. XTR drivetrain (triple chainring) and brakes with Easton carbon bars and seat post. The wheels were Mavic Crossmax XLs with a set of Intense 2.25 System 4 cross country tires. The fork was a Manitou Nixon. The total weight on this setup was around 28-29 pounds. Needless to say this rig climbed extremely well. The term very “Spider-Like” came into my head on the first climb I hit with this bike. It was a bike you could hammer up the hill with. Once the bike turned downhill there was one thing perfectly clear, this was one extremely plush rig. However, the Nixon fork had only 145mm of travel which is a bit short as 160mm should be what you should be aiming for. The bike I had was one of the 6.6 prototype rigs that at the time of its buildup, the 160mm forks were not available. While the Nixon was super plush, between it and the wheelset, the frontend was quite a noodle when you get into the chunk. It was bad enough to cause a dip in my confidence in the chunk. I was spoiled with the Fox 36 TALAS RC2 that was on the Enduro. Compared to my Enduro Pro the cockpit of the Medium 6.6 felt cramped with the front wheel feeling a little too much underneath me. I felt more on top of the bike instead of down in the bike.

Okay so now it was time to change some things around. I virtually moved my entire component build off my Enduro an put them on the medium 6.6. The burly medium 6.6 now included XTR derailleurs, XT crankset with 2 rings and a bash guard. XT brakes, aluminum handlebars, 90mm 10 degree rise stem, Fox 36 TALAS RC2 fork, Spinergy Xyclone Enduro Wheelset with Kenda Kinetics 2.6 tires. I also used a laid back Thompson seatpost.

Boy what a difference this setup made.  With a longer and burlier fork combined with a stiffer wheelset and more purpose suited tires, this bike really came alive in the downhill chunk.   This build added some weight to the rig, but it was still lighter than my Enduro.   The laidback seatpost opened up the cockpit a bit but it still felt initially just slightly cramped. I quickly adapted to the feel.  The need for a laidback/angled post did however limit how far I could lower the saddle, being forced to leave about four inches of post sticking out of the seat tube.  For this medium this created what I call a minimum seat height (seat tube + exposed post) of 23 inches.   This was only minor concern as my Enduro used a split seat tube which also limited how far I could lower the saddle which created of a minimum seat height 22 inches.  

med shot

The shorter wheelbase (by 2.2 inches) of the Medium 6.6 was quite noticeable.  The 6.6 was quite spry on switchbacks and tight twisty singletrack considering the slacker geometry and travel.  There was little in the way of competition with the Enduro at this point.  The 6.6 thoroughly trounced the Enduro in this area. I did not expect this as my Enduro was setup with a one degree steeper head angle than the 6.6.  My thinking is the major difference was wheelbase.  The performance of the two bikes in the higher speed downhill stuff was different.  I have found that the longer travel bikes have a “wake-up” speed.  This is generally when the bike becomes lively and in its element.  The 6.6 was lively pretty much when you started turning the pedals.  The Enduro needed a bit more speed to become lively.  On the other end of the speed spectrum there is the stability aspect.  You can scream downhill on both of these bikes, but the Enduro felt just a touch more stable than the medium 6.6 when you approach “ludicris” speed.  I attribute this to the much longer wheelbase of the Enduro.

Decisions Decisions

At this point I had not decided wither I would get a medium or a large frame. The biggest difference between the medium and the large was the top tube and seat tube length.  That additional inch in the top tube would open up the cockpit area enough so that I would not have to use a laidback seatpost.  Eliminating the need for a laidback post would allow for the post to be lowered all the way down into the seat tube.  I had read quite a few posts where riders were concerned about the two inch longer seat tube of the large.  The concern being with ability to get behind and down on the bike when you get into the steep stuff and drops.  For me this ended up not being a concern.  The large frame and a straight post would allow for an effective minimum seat height of 21 inches.  This was over two inches lower than the medium 6.6 and an inch lower than the Enduro.  Another minor item dealing with the seatpost was that if I wanted to use a Gravity Dropper style seatpost at some point, it would have to deal with a cramped cockpit on a medium.   I was not interested in using a longer stem as that would move my weight too much forward on the bike.

 

There is a lot to be said to the adage of use the smallest size frame that you can fit on.   For me the high speed stability of the longer wheelbase and the ability to get the seat all the way down by using a straight post with the large frame won out over the medium frame.

 The New Rig  wider shot of bike 

So last week I got the new rig all build up and I am pretty stoked.   Here are the specs.

Large 6.6 in Red Works Finish

Fox RP23 rear shock

Fox 36 TALAS RC2

XT Crankset with Raceface bashguard

XT derailuers, cassette

XTR Brakeset

Thompson Elite Seatpost

 Titec Hellbent  Handlebar

 90mm Stem

 Cane Creek Double XC Flush Headset

 Intense Saddle

 Spinergy Xyclone Enduro Wheelset  (Normal wheelset)

 Spinergy Falline Wheelset (Downhilling wheelset)

 Kenda Kinetics Stick-E 2.6 tires

 

The rig comes in at 31.7 pounds.  

Another Closeup

 

I got in two rides over the weekend with the bike.  On Saturday I went out to a local trail that has some flowing yet tight singletracks as well as a couple of small stunts.  The bike handled really well and when I drop the TALAS fork down to the 130 travel, the bike became extremely snappy in whipping through the tight tree covered singletrack.   The term “Spider-Like” came back into my head again as this setting dropped the handlebars enough that my posture was very much like how I set on my XC rig.  I also used the 100 setting of the fork during some moderately steep and tight switch-backing climbs and this setup worked really well.   For the pressures on the shock and fork, I’m sure I don’t have them quite dialed in just yet, both being a little on the high side. It is generally thought that you need several rides to break in the shocks and forks so I was not concerned with the small bump compliance not being optimized yet.   I hit one of the features out there and caught about as much air as I would ever want to and I did not bottom the fork and just did on the RP23 shock.

 

 

Why the RP23 shock when you see so many with a DHX Air?   The medium 6.6 I rode had a DHX Air and while I got it dialed, it seemed like a lot of shock for the performance you get.  I had talked with some folks who prefer the RP23 (usually Pushed) over the DHX-Air so I thought I would give it a try.   If I can get the small bump compliance I want as well being able to handle 3-4 foot drops with my weight, then I will be happy.  Otherwise I may drop the coin for either a DHX-Coil (pushed) or a Cane Creek Double Barrel.  

 

 Closeup of bike

Needless to say the first outing with bike was a success.    The following day ended up being a 28 mile ride up in the San Bernardino Mountains which included some rocky and steep terrain along with some sections that allowed for the bike to let loose.  Boy did the bike shine here and there were plenty of occasions where the saddle was dumped all the way.  Since someone left their memory back at home, I have not pictures.  I had no problems with getting behind the bike as it at least once, I grinded my butt on the rear wheel.    The bike also felt really stable at ripping speed and was every bit as stable (if not more) as my stretched out Enduro.    Once again I was glad I went with the large frame with the longer wheelbase.   At the end of the day I was feeling tired from the 28 miles, some rough terrain, and a sizable amount of climbing but was not feeling beat up.   The 6.6 proved to be a great all-day rig.  I would be extremely hard pressed to take the Enduro on this ride as I would have been creamed from the weight and overall sluggishness it has on the climbs over the cross of the day.

 

 

So what it the point of all this rambling about medium versus large?  Well I figure there are other folks like me that are classic in-between sizes guys who have tossed around the pros and cons of each.  When the rubber hits the trail, it comes down to small preferences and trade-offs.   One thing is for certain the 6.6 is one kick ass all-mountain all-day bike and I am stoked to have one the stables.