Wednesday, 23 August, 2006

With Hard Tail and Rigid Fork

Posted in Biking at 2:40 pm by glpease


A couple weeks ago, I dragged my old Trek Antelope, “The Beast,” out of the mothballs, where it’s been since I crashed it into an unyielding tree. The tree was fine. My right arm and my bike did not fare so well, and we both turned out with scars to show for it. Since “The Crash,” I’ve been riding bikes with suspension forks, and never really gave much thought to the old Trek. But, something got into me, and I figured it was time to sort it out and put it right. Over the years I’d ridden it, it had evolved into something of a Frankenbike, so in addition to the necessary repairs, I wanted to unify the parts a bit.

After some serious clean-up, I replaced the very bent and very heavy steel handlebar with a nice, light aluminum one, fitted a pair of Rapid Fire shifters, replaced the brake levers, cantilevers, and front derailleur (the bent cage and loose pantograph of the original Exage piece of junk made it impossible to adjust properly). I trued the wheels, and shod the rims with a pair of Continental Town and Country tires that had been hanging around, literally, waiting for something to do.

A bit of lube and tune, and I was ready to take The Beast out for a test spin, though in its present form, all nice and shiny, with parts that actually match one another, I guess it no longer truly deserves that particular endearment. It’s been years since I was on a rigid bike. The efficiency is amazing, and the geometry of that old frame always pleased me. It’s quick and responsive, and accelerates with gusto – at least all the gusto I can muster. But, too soon, I discovered that the RockShox fork on my Mongoose had softened me up a bit, and had provided me with the comforting illusion that I’m a better rider than I really am. Rigid bikes are not so forgiving.

The stability of the bike is wonderful. Long, smooth travels on featureless and unwrinkled surfaces were a delight. It was when I got off the roads, and onto less civilized terrain that I started to miss the shocks, but only briefly. The first time I caught some air, visions of The Crash flooded my fluttering eyeballs. But, the the bike was stalwart, and I landed, perhaps a bit harshly, but without incident. By the third or fourth time some part of the bike was airborne, I was actually enjoying it. This is fun. This is what got me into mountain biking in the first place.

I’ll never be a downhill racer of any merit; I lack the bollocks for it. Before The Crash, I probably rode just a little closer to the edge, but something about a trip to the emergency room, a steel plate, eight screws, and weeks of recovery changed that. Maybe the surgeon screwed in a bit of good sense while he was at it. I’m a few years older, too; no longer the immortal twenty-something, and perhaps somewhat more responsible, though some would disagree, but certainly more aware of the fragility of the human skeleton. Still, riding the rigid bike was not just a blast from the past, but a blast in general terms.

The Contis are great tires on the road, and not bad off road, providing the ground is fairly solid. They track well over hardpack and some loose-over-hard conditions, but go a bit squirrelish when gravel acts like marbles. There’s this particular hill that’s pretty much gravel half way up. My ground-cutting knobbies on the Mongoose dig in like a D5 Cat, but the T&Cs just spin and slip. It’s not so bad in the front, but the back just don’t fly.

So, over the weekend, I picked up a Forte Versa Trak from Performance, and mounted it on the rear wheel. It’s a fantastic tire for its intended purpose, which is trail and road riding. The thing drives the blacktop quietly and smoothly, with plenty of grip, and it still has the teeth to get up that gravel hill with authority. It doesn’t quite inspire the confidence that a full-on XC tire does, but it’s a damn fair compromise, and maybe it’ll keep me sane. I’ll pick up another for the front, and put the Contis back on the peg.

This morning, thinking my Mongoose might be getting lonely, I went to take it out for a spin, only to find the front tire full of thorns from its last outing, and pancake flat, so I grabbed the Trek, and out I went. I’ll fix the tire later, but in the meantime, I’m having way too much fun on the old rigid Beast, though I did find myself, at one point, thinking about fitting a set of RockShox…



  1. George Dibos said,

    Ever tried the road thing, Greg? I spent years with a mountain bike before discovering the joys of pavement and the paceline. Fitted the way my head and body worked much better.

  2. glpease said,

    I was exclusively on road bikes for years. All through school, the bike was my primary mode of transit, and my weekend recreation. There’s something about the MTB, though, that appeals to me on many levels. It’s the workout, yes, and being in more natural surrounds, but the attention, the focus needed to control the bike over technically challenging terrain takes my mind to a different place. Besides, I don’t have all those pesky cars trying to run me off the road…

    I still like road biking, though the wide contact patch, brakes that actually work, and not having to worry about debris in the road blowing my tires off their rims keeps me on the MTB, these days, whether on roads or off. My road bike has gathered quite a bit of dust, I’m afraid.

    Besides, I can’t afford the fancy clothes the roadies wear.

  3. George Dibos said,

    10-4 on the been there, done that. Turns out what I craved was that “push to the edge of oxygen debt and stay there as long as possible” thing. Hard to do off road, so after a while just gave it up. (A 1989 Specialized StumpJumper still lives with me, though.)

    Come to think of it, being a lousy bike handler had something to do with it too. Born with a great engine (VO2 max in the 80’s), but not-so-great balance sorta nudges to toward the road… as in, you like best what you’re good at.

    Anyway, just checkin’. 🙂

  4. dee kellan said,

    I recently picked up an old trek antelope 830 too. Used to have one, back in 1992, and i used it on trails quite a bit until i discovered the joys of the Trek Singletrack 930. Always missed the Antelope after I sold it…

    Picked one up for cheap at a yard sale this morning. Can’t wait to restore it to something resembling its former glory. It’ll be my new Commuter once it’s up and running.

    Nice to see you also re-discovered the Joy of the Antelope. Nice post.

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