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What am I doing wrong?

I used to have an XC hardtail (71.5° HTA!) that was awesome for my old trails, but I moved to the mountains and found that I wasn't wild about sending it in Pisgah on 2.2s and a 100mm Stepcast 32 fork with no dropper. So I got a Santa Cruz Chameleon that was a bit slacker, could take more tire and a dropper...and hated it. Handling felt sluggish and just wasn't the poppy fun I was used to. I felt like I needed to take the FS lines because I couldn't really get around obstacles, so I just hit stuff and bent up my back wheel and took a beating myself in the process. A year in, I just wasn't having fun and sold it.

Now I'm having a bit of an existential crisis, I've always been a "hardtail guy". I love the simplicity. I love the light weight. But maybe my current trails just aren't suited for the type of bike I like? Would a sort of "modern XC bike" like an Epic hardtail give the steep terrain descending confidence and maintain the light, agile feel of a short wheelbase hardtail?
 

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Murica Man
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wait, why do you want an xc bike for your terrain? get a hardtail with a slacker hta(think <66 deg.), a 130/150mm travel fork, 27.5 (or 29ers, whatever you prefer) tires, and a dropper. after you rode it for a bit, check in and tell us how it's going.
 

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I have a new Specialize Chisel build I did, geometry almost exactly same as Epic. I slapped a 120 fork on mine. Even thou have not headed to NC mountains yet, I have on my other hardtails. But I have no doubt in my mind I would be fine, of course staying in the limits of a hardtail, having ridden on it for a while seeing its capability. One of my favorites in my stable now. Chisel frame is really light as well, 1400g and shorter wheelbase, so bike is snappy feeling. One other thing with things getting slacker, which slows things down. Even with the shorter stems, especially if you where used to narrow bars before, don't feel the need you have to say with the 780-800 they spec now. Cut down slowly to you find that sweet spot. I run mine with 2.4 front and 2.35 rear tires.
 

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since 4/10/2009
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What am I doing wrong?

I used to have an XC hardtail (71.5° HTA!) that was awesome for my old trails, but I moved to the mountains and found that I wasn't wild about sending it in Pisgah on 2.2s and a 100mm Stepcast 32 fork with no dropper. So I got a Santa Cruz Chameleon that was a bit slacker, could take more tire and a dropper...and hated it. Handling felt sluggish and just wasn't the poppy fun I was used to. I felt like I needed to take the FS lines because I couldn't really get around obstacles, so I just hit stuff and bent up my back wheel and took a beating myself in the process. A year in, I just wasn't having fun and sold it.

Now I'm having a bit of an existential crisis, I've always been a "hardtail guy". I love the simplicity. I love the light weight. But maybe my current trails just aren't suited for the type of bike I like? Would a sort of "modern XC bike" like an Epic hardtail give the steep terrain descending confidence and maintain the light, agile feel of a short wheelbase hardtail?
I ride Pisgah on a Guerrilla Gravity Pedalhead. It's a bit rowdier bike than the Chameleon, honestly. I have a blast with it in Pisgah for the most part.

I think you're encountering riding style, equipment, and possibly even skill-related hangups.

I had to adjust my riding style a bit to ride a rowdy HT in Pisgah. For one, it really pays off to get poppy off even little stuff to help float over the chattery chunk. Of course there are times you can't do that, so that's where you have to mitigate things in other ways. I'm using bigger 2.6" tires and a tire insert in the rear so I can keep my tire pressures a bit lower to absorb some of that chunky chatter but still protect my rims. Not a single rim ding in the nearly 2yrs I've been riding that bike out here.

Where skill comes into play is that you need to cut out as much of the rear-tire-smashing-into-things as much as possible. I've had to put more effort into floating my rear wheel over things and in some cases getting into high-ish speed bunny hops to avoid a square-edged rock (Spencer Gap is one trail in particular where I think about avoiding square edges leading up to the rock garden sections where you have some speed on the approach).

Riding style plays a role, too, because modern geometry bikes require you to get into the "driver's seat" so to speak and do things with intent and purpose. This is as opposed to assuming a defensive rearward position on the bike, which seems to be what old xc geometry forces you to do when things get particularly rowdy. So instead, INTENTIONALLY weight the front of the bike to maintain control. Really get deep into the range of motion when you're moving the bike around. Slacker trail bikes really like to be leaned into corners, and they'll come alive for you.
 

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Just to throw out a competing opinion, if you can demo some bikes, try some FS bikes. There are a handful of recent bikes that immediately come to mind that are light, a little more progressive without being over the top, and in that 120-ish rear travel range. It might turn out that they are exactly what you are looking for. Again, it would be best if you could demo, I would think some shops around Pisgah have maintained that option throughout COVID.
 

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Like mentioned it takes time to adapt to newer geo. Riders who have ridden old school XC bikes, especially on flat tight terrain, for that last decade(s) struggle with switching to modern bikes.

Also, you might actually prefer a modern full suspension over a hardtail. If you're used to weaving around most obstacles by carefully picking your way through then I could see that style not carrying over well to newer bikes. A full suspension might inspire you to ride over more stuff and be comfortable doing it.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
wait, why do you want an xc bike for your terrain? get a hardtail with a slacker hta(think <66 deg.), a 130/150mm travel fork, 27.5 (or 29ers, whatever you prefer) tires, and a dropper. after you rode it for a bit, check in and tell us how it's going.
My Chameleon had a 140mm fork and a ~66 degree head angle because of it, 2.4" tars and a 150mm Fox Transfer dropper on it.

I have a new Specialize Chisel build I did, geometry almost exactly same as Epic. I slapped a 120 fork on mine. Even thou have not headed to NC mountains yet, I have on my other hardtails. But I have no doubt in my mind I would be fine, of course staying in the limits of a hardtail, having ridden on it for a while seeing its capability. One of my favorites in my stable now. Chisel frame is really light as well, 1400g and shorter wheelbase, so bike is snappy feeling. One other thing with things getting slacker, which slows things down. Even with the shorter stems, especially if you where used to narrow bars before, don't feel the need you have to say with the 780-800 they spec now. Cut down slowly to you find that sweet spot. I run mine with 2.4 front and 2.35 rear tires.
The Chisel or Epic is a bike that I'dve bought already if I still lived in Raleigh, I'm a little nervous about having it as my only bike for WNC trail riding though, and nothing is in stock anyways, so the point is slightly moot. Anyone on this board shred their Chisel at Pisgah?

Like mentioned it takes time to adapt to newer geo. Riders who have ridden old school XC bikes, especially on flat tight terrain, for that last decade(s) struggle with switching to modern bikes.

Also, you might actually prefer a modern full suspension over a hardtail. If you're used to weaving around most obstacles by carefully picking your way through then I could see that style not carrying over well to newer bikes. A full suspension might inspire you to ride over more stuff and be comfortable doing it.
I had the Chameleon for over a year before I sold it. It wasn't necessarily that it wasn't capable, it just wasn't fun. Climbing sucked because it was heavy and wander-y, and descending sucked because it beat the **** out of me. Eventually I just started riding my gravel/cyclocross bike everywhere because even though descending on singletrack sucks with it, climbing is actually kinda fun. I'd like to start enjoying the descents again though.

With that said, it seems like a lot of people ride FS bikes in this area. I've owned a Santa Cruz Tallboy and an older Epic back when I lived in the flatlands and I just liked the hardtail more so I ditched those bikes, I'm wondering if I need one to have fun up here though. They're just sooo expensive. And heavy.
 

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modern bikes are quite long in reach and take some getting used to, and some adjustment to components to make them fit. there's a good chance the the SC Chameleon has more of an "in the bike" fit than your old bike. the actual fit between where your feet and your hands are is probably larger. you can reign this in with a shorter stem or a handlebar with more bend to it. I'd argue that many people are on bikes that are a bit too big for them for tradition and pride get in the way of riding a proper sized bike. a more compact bike is easier to control. the slack angles and low BB of most modern bikes should make it perfectly capable of delivering stable, confident performance over rough terrain, but setting the handlebar too high and too far away from your feet means the bike it fighting your for control.
 

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Disgruntled Peccary
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I agree it sounds like a positioning issue, ie leaning back like you used to have to on an older geometry. Especially since you're talking about a floating front end, and being beaten up on the downs.
 

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My Chameleon had a 140mm fork and a ~66 degree head angle because of it, 2.4" tars and a 150mm Fox Transfer dropper on it.



The Chisel or Epic is a bike that I'dve bought already if I still lived in Raleigh, I'm a little nervous about having it as my only bike for WNC trail riding though, and nothing is in stock anyways, so the point is slightly moot. Anyone on this board shred their Chisel at Pisgah?



I had the Chameleon for over a year before I sold it. It wasn't necessarily that it wasn't capable, it just wasn't fun. Climbing sucked because it was heavy and wander-y, and descending sucked because it beat the **** out of me. Eventually I just started riding my gravel/cyclocross bike everywhere because even though descending on singletrack sucks with it, climbing is actually kinda fun. I'd like to start enjoying the descents again though.

With that said, it seems like a lot of people ride FS bikes in this area. I've owned a Santa Cruz Tallboy and an older Epic back when I lived in the flatlands and I just liked the hardtail more so I ditched those bikes, I'm wondering if I need one to have fun up here though. They're just sooo expensive. And heavy.
If you really want to stay hardtail. Have you looked into the Canfield Nimble 9? It is a very good all around bike. Very nimble, as its name. I know 3 other people that have ridden there's all over Pisgah. I have one as well, but have only been to the Dupont side with mine. Thou I have ran mine down Beach Mountain, doh, and somehow survived! For the wandering, I believe really comes down getting your bar/stem combo right for how you want it to perform.

As Mack said, with these bikes getting so big, fit is probably even more key. Really look at the Geometry numbers, if you are a person that was always between sizes and sized up, this time maybe don't.

If you are limited to one bike, then maybe best to look at a FS. And yes demo as many you can. For really key getting the right FS if you really are particular what you know you like!

Also check out Hardtail Party on YouTube. He has a real good video about how riding a modern geo bike is different then the old geo. And reviews tons of hardtails.
 

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I agree it sounds like a positioning issue, ie leaning back like you used to have to on an older geometry. Especially since you're talking about a floating front end, and being beaten up on the downs.
That, in addition to the fact that slacker modern bikes just take more and different inputs to make them come alive.

I'm not having any trouble getting beaten up on my hardtail on these same trails. I was actually surprised how little of that sensation I get on this bike. I've definitely felt beaten up by bikes in the past, too. Like I've been thrown into a paint shaker. What I DO feel is that I get more of a workout in my upper body and in my core than I do on a FS bike because I'm having to use my body more.

Except for stuff that everybody gets beaten up on, like descending Pilot.
 

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Disgruntled Peccary
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Yea, that's just the initial things I noticed when I went from a more upright bike to a pretty slack one. Everything had to be relearned pretty much. I did find that I like a higher stack than I used to now, with the longer reach. It's weird, but it does help me get more on the bars, especially standing. I haven't ridden a chameleon, but I've heard enough about them that I don't think they should be too brutal (although, aluminum frames ride differently but that one I hear is pretty compliant).
 

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Discussion Starter #13
That, in addition to the fact that slacker modern bikes just take more and different inputs to make them come alive.

I'm not having any trouble getting beaten up on my hardtail on these same trails. I was actually surprised how little of that sensation I get on this bike. I've definitely felt beaten up by bikes in the past, too. Like I've been thrown into a paint shaker. What I DO feel is that I get more of a workout in my upper body and in my core than I do on a FS bike because I'm having to use my body more.

Except for stuff that everybody gets beaten up on, like descending Pilot.
I wonder if there's a way, through geometry, to increase steep descending confidence without making for a bike that requires so much input. I don't mind putting in a bunch of body english at the beginning of a ride, but 2 hours into a ride when its hot and humid out is a different story.
 

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Murica Man
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I wonder if there's a way, through geometry, to increase steep descending confidence without making for a bike that requires so much input. I don't mind putting in a bunch of body english at the beginning of a ride, but 2 hours into a ride when its hot and humid out is a different story.
it becomes natural once you do it enough
 

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I wonder if there's a way, through geometry, to increase steep descending confidence without making for a bike that requires so much input. I don't mind putting in a bunch of body english at the beginning of a ride, but 2 hours into a ride when its hot and humid out is a different story.
it's all about compromises.

increased descending confidence actually comes at the expense of quicker handling. these things are diametrically opposed to each other. make a bike quicker handling and you reduce descending confidence. Make a bike a more confident descender, and it's going to be less responsive.

Really the only way to handle this is through skill, technique, and fitness. Either you ride the quicker handling bike and you use your skill, technique, and fitness to adapt on the descents, or you ride the more confident descender and use your skill, technique, and fitness to adapt on the climbs.

Trying a variety of bikes can help you find the particular combination of those things that you prefer because they'll all hit a slightly different balance on those compromises. But every bike is going to be a compromise somewhere on those things.

It's also worth noting that the way most pisgah trails are structured, climbs are generally boring. there are some exceptions, but the way most people do it around here is they just "get through" the climbing part so they can enjoy the down. So if you're blowing yourself up at the start of a ride, it's no surprise that you don't have enough in the tank to enjoy the down.
 

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I'm a hardtail fan also. I like the zen nature of carefully picking lines, feeling more connected to the trail, and the complete attention required to ride a hardtail. Nothing wrong with full sus, and I'm well aware that full sus bikes go over more obstacles, and they go downhill faster. They just make me feel less connected to the trail. It's a different type of ride - personal preference. Anyway, I scored a used Epic and it's very lively. This was after trying full sus for a while and finding it too sluggish. I like a perky, quick, responsive bike, and the Epic fits the bill. I put some 2.4" maxxis "wide" tires on it. Still very responsive but the 2.4s take the edge off when trails get chattery, and they hold lines extremely well. There may well be full sus bikes with a quick feel, but I haven't ridden one yet. Rock on!
 

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Have you tried anything in between old school and the new bigger fork AM hardtails out there? I personally feel the same way. I have an RSD Middlechild frame sitting in my garage. I put a lot of miles on it, but at the end of the day just couldn't make myself love it. I figured that being a die hard hardtail SS guy it would be right up my alley. I think I must have spent too long on a rigid fork, and the 140mm just felt really unbalanced to me. I wasn't a fan.

I took all of the parts off of that bike and put them on an Esker Japhy frame. 120mm fork and the geo is much more balanced feeling. It's quickly turned into my favorite bike I have ever owned.

I will agree with a lot of others here though. If I lived in Pisgah I would probably jump to full suspension and keep the SS for lunch rides.
 

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I got a Santa Cruz Chameleon that was a bit slacker, could take more tire and a dropper...and hated it
27.5 or 29 wheels? I am on a fuse at 130mm front fork with 29 wheels and it absolutely rips. I don’t think I would feel the same if the wheels weren’t 29. This is my first slacked out, rowdy hardtail 29er after always having XC bikes and I can say it’s worth the hype. Just my two cents.

edit.. I did try the fuse with the fork at 140mm and didn’t like it. Went back to 130mm after one ride.
 

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A down country full-susser sounds like the tonic.

Something that still feels snappy but can charge a little harder in the gnar.

Evil Following, Transition Spur, Yeti SB115, YT Izzo, Santa Cruz Blur...

The list goes on and on

Sent from my HD1900 using Tapatalk
 

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This is an excellent discussion. I just gave my XC race rocket, a Gunnar Rockhound with 71.5 hta, to my son. Plus, have been doing less xc and more trail riding. Been researching hard tails with 66-68 hta. I knew that more modern geo would require me to change my riding style a bit and this thread and the Hardtail party video is giving me a much better idea of what new tricks this old dog needs to learn.
 
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