I am a lawyer. Thus, I am a low-down scumsucking dirty dog who profits from the misfortunes of others. So when Francis went down a bit over a week ago, I spent a minute on sympathy for him and his family. After shaking that unfamiliar emotion off, I started calculating: how could I profit from his crash? The answer was easy. By borrowing one of his bikes, of course!
The BMC had the taint of injury. Plus, it was pretty similar to my own main ride. Bustamove was riding the Retrotec. That left only one choice: the Niner Sir Nine, dubbed Kermit. Here is a description of my first ride on it, plus a half-assed bike review.
Kermit was a severe departure for me. It is a rigid bike, where I ride full suspension. It’s got 29 inch wheels, where I’ve only ridden 26 inches. It is a SS, where I’m an avowed SS-hater and have never ever been seen standing up to pedal in my life. It has handlebars that are approximately six feet wide, where I’m used to a tiny little narrow flat bar. Worst of all, its bright green paint clashed with my bright orange jersey.
So last night I showed up for a group Norcal ride at Saratoga Gap. The Gap is a pretty mellow trail, perfect for an after work ride, or for the maiden voyage on a new bike. The planned route was a bit over ten miles with a little more than 1400’ of climbing. It starts out with rolling singletrack, has an up-and-down fireroad section, a loop of more singletrack, then you return on the same fireroad and singletrack sections with which you started. It’s mostly smooth, but there are a few roots and rocks, some right at switchbacks, that throw a few challenges in.
At first I found the ride unpleasant. The size small frame felt cramped (I’m 5’9”, on the edge of heights Niner says fits this size). On the first climb, I wanted to downshift. On the first downhill I wanted to release the fork lockout lever. I wondered if I would survive the ride. I wondered how soon I’d have to get off and walk up the climbs. I wondered how long the wheels would survive as I heedlessly rolled over the largest rocks rather than picking a line between them.
Things picked up quickly, though. I started keeping my arms looser, which absorbed the bumps. My legs started getting used to standing and climbing. The wide handlebars provided great leverage which made going uphill much easier. I got used to the size of the frame. I started picking my lines with more care. That led me to realize how well the bike handles, and how precise the steering is. With the rigid fork and big wheel I felt in total control. I started having fun.
Then I got a horrible sharp pain in my belly. Then a horrible fluttering sensation. Aaaarg! There was a wasp somehow trapped in my shirt. It was stinging me! I pulled over and tried to get it out of my shirt, kill it, or otherwise just stop it from stinging. I always seem to get stung when I’m cycling. The last time it happened, a wasp flew in my mouth as I went downhill and stung me repeatedly. I couldn’t talk right for a week. Anyway, I got the wasp out of my jersey and kept riding.
I was getting more and more used to the bike. On a fast and flowy downhill section I gained enough confidence in the bike to catch back up to some of the other riders. I was really getting used to how much springiness the bike and its big wheels have. Then we hit the steepest descent of the ride.
This was fun, and I let the bike go pretty fast. Then I noticed I was really coming up on the rear wheel of the rider in front of me. I squeezed the brakes harder, which just resulted in the levers going to the bar. The stink of burning brake pads reached my nose. This did not make me happy. I had to go off trail to come to a stop. After dousing the rotors, calipers, and hubs with water to cool them off (they made a satisfying hissing sound, with an accompanying cloud of steam) I continued to the bottom of the hill.
Most of the climbing of the ride was still in front of me, and while I was getting more comfortable with the “stand up and work hard” climbing technique required on a SS versus my normal “downshift to granny and go slowly” plan, I was still a bit nervous that I might not have the strength to make it. The steepish uphills on the fireroad climbs were much better than I thought, and weren’t really a problem. I was slow, but I’m always slow. There were a couple of uphill root and rock steps in the last mile of singletrack. I didn’t know how I’d handle them with the higher gears and lack of suspension.
I hit the roots with momentum and went right up, no problem. I was surprised how easy it was. I’d flubbed these roots the prior week when on my FS. Then I hit a tricky rocky uphill switchback, where it would be much harder to maintain momentum. I actually got the bike up the bigger rocks, but stalled out immediately and my tired legs didn’t have enough power to keep the bike moving so I had to put a foot down.
The last little climb nearly killed me. My legs were toast, my lungs were burning, and I very much did not enjoy this part. I was very happy to hit the final short downhill, although I noticed that because my arms had been working so hard on the uphill I had a harder time handling the bumps on the way down.
So my review of the bike is that it was lots of fun, even for a suspension-and-gears-loving person who had never before ridden anything like it. I had hoped riding it would kill my urge to get one, but it instead made me want one all the more. It rolled over stuff I didn’t think it would, it handled great, and was much springier than any rigid has a right to be. I have to try to size medium to see if it fits me better than the size small. I don’t think I’d enjoy it if things were much rockier, and I don’t see myself giving up my FS rig any time soon, but it is a really fun change of pace.
Here are some possible drawbacks to this bike that may lead to you not wanting it:
-The bike’s color may clash with your jersey.
-You might get stung by a wasp, or maybe a bee, while riding this bike.
-You might be too fat (probably about 70 lbs heavier than the bike’s owner
), which could make the brakes overheat and not work.
-Your legs could be too weak, making your rides less pleasant towards the end.
If none of those things bother you, I highly recommend trying one out. I had a blast.
Thanks for the loaner, Francis! Heal up quickly!
Pics attached are of Francis on the bike in May, and one of Fast Eddy (much closer to my size and weight) on the bike showing some fun tire deformation. No pics from last night’s ride.