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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
When I think of what makes an off-the-showroom-floor bike into a Really Good Bike, I realize that there are so many variables and so many individual preferences and so many riding styles and other parameters (body height/weight/shape accommodations) that my mind boggles.

I recently lost the 20 lbs that I'd gradually gained over the past 10 years since I quit racing plus retired from work. The weight loss feels great (!) but since my bike has coil suspension front & rear, adjusting the suspension isn't as easy as letting a little air out. At some point during the 100 days it took me to lose those 20 pounds, riding the rugged trails that I ride and jumping and dropping, I realized my bike was no longer as compliant -- not as bad as a hardtail but certainly not the dialed-to-perfection fully suspended weapon it formerly was.

The bike hadn't changed. I had.

What if I'd never ridden this bike before or I'd rented it? Given the disparity of my new weight and the bike's firm spring, I can't say I would have loved this bike like I do if it was new to me or it belonged to someone else and I'd thrown a leg over it for a quick test ride. I might easily have concluded this brand's suspension was too harsh.

"I tried a (insert bike brand here.) Won't buy one of those -- don't like the suspension."

No. Rather, it simply wasn't set up properly.

But simple and easy aren't the same thing.

Spring rate is just one factor. Think of the myriad of variables.

People tell newbies to "demo a bunch of bikes" before deciding what they want. Good luck with that. They don't even know what they want. Besides, I have yet to see a rental/demo set up optimally for the user. (Not that one can demo in these days of COVID anyway.)

I digress.

Frame size. Wheel size. Frame geometry. Bike style (enduro, XC, etc.) Amount of travel. Spring rate/air psi. Crank length. This pedal, that pedal. Tire compound & tread design. Tire pressure (huge!) Compression damping. Rebound damping. Handlebar width. Etc, etc, etc. Haven't even mentioned all variables and so far we've just talked about the bike itself. How about torso length, height, weight, ape index, personal preferences (some of which are crazy) and how about the "you don't know what you don't know" stuff. Like brake lever angle.

Explanation on the last point: a woman I occasionally ride with just bought a new Ibis Mojo 4. Great bike, good rider, been riding at least 20 years. She asked for help to make her new bike fit like her old Giant so she brought both bikes over to the house. We took measurements & did the fitting (seat angle & height, stem length, bar height, blah blah) and she was blown away at how these minor adjustments affected the feel of her new bike -- greatly improved. Before she left I mentioned that her new bike's brake levers were nearly parallel with the ground and she might like them tilted down a little more in order to be more ergonomic. She said, "Oh, I think they're okay." She didn't know they were adjustable. Riding bikes 20 years... didn't know the brake levers could be adjusted to fit the rider's hand with a quick spin of an Allen wrench.

What are the odds of anybody new to the sport actually finding the IDEAL bike on the first shot?

Zero. Ain't gonna happen.

That's the bad news. But there's good news. There are lots of good bikes out there. And the more we ride, the more we learn. The more we know. Question everything. Adjust this & that. Try stuff. If it doesn't make it better, you can put it back. Study the hows & whys. Fine tune. It'll come, but it may take a long, long time.

Here's another truth about bike fit and riding skills: the longer we ride a certain bike, the more we adapt and the more "right" that bike will feel to us. If the fit of our old bike was wrong, we might think the new bike is the "wrong" one when actually it fits us better. We need to be aware -- and beware -- of what we allow our perceptions to make us believe. (In the case above, initially she didn't like her 2021 Mojo 4 as much as her 12ish year old Giant.)

I'll wrap this up. To deal with my new lighter body weight, I bought a used spring (50# lighter spring rate, thank you @stripes) and installed it on my bike. I want my ride to feel as good as it used to. But had I not known to make this change or if I'd just bought the bike used with the old, heavier spring, I might have simply accepted what was and gone my merry way down the trail believing that things were as good as they could get.

Like I said before, we don't know what we don't know. So. Many. Variables.
=sParty
 

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I think it is way too easy to get caught up with what you are buying rather than who you are buying from.

My brother in-law was in the bike industry for a long time. He worked in shops, raced DH at the world cup level, and went on to be the national DH coach for a couple of years; the guy knows bikes. A couple of years ago, before another opportunity came along, he was setting up a mobile shop that was going to specialize in the sale of high end bikes. The idea was that for a premium he would do several test sessions with you, helping you dial in your new bike. This is something a lot of race mechanics do in the off season to earn some extra cash.

That being said, I am finding the manufacture set-up guide lines tend to be pretty close nowadays. Usually they are a bit softer than my preference but they are in ball park.
 
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Out spokin'
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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
What took longer, changing your spring or writing your report ?
Excellent question. After watching this video on PUSH’s site, I figured it’d take me less than 10 minutes to change the spring. See how easy it looks in the vid?! But the spring adapter and lower spring retainer would simply NOT come apart — the tolerances are SO CLOSE and throughout the past 3 years of hard use, grit had worked its way between them. I must have spent 45 minutes trying to work those two pieces apart. I’ll bet this required nearly as much patience as you displayed while reading the diatribe I penned above. Maybe. Maybe not. Anyway once these two parts finally came apart, I discovered that I’d have to remove the lower shock mounting hardware in order to get the lower spring retainer off the shock body. Darren didn’t have to do that with the shock he’s holding in PUSH’s vid, but on my shock, I did. That took quite another while; luckily I have a press.

All in all the process took maybe an hour and a half.

You asked. 😊 Any other questions?
=sParty
 

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Get Down Do you
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Explanation on the last point: a woman I occasionally ride with just bought a new Ibis Mojo 4. Great bike, good rider, been riding at least 20 years. She asked for help to make her new bike fit like her old Giant so she brought both bikes over to the house. We took measurements & did the fitting (seat angle & height, stem length, bar height, blah blah) and she was blown away at how these minor adjustments affected the feel of her new bike -- greatly improved. Before she left I mentioned that her new bike's brake levers were nearly parallel with the ground and she might like them tilted down a little more in order to be more ergonomic. She said, "Oh, I think they're okay." She didn't know they were adjustable. Riding bikes 20 years... didn't know the brake levers could be adjusted to fit the rider's hand with a quick spin of an Allen wrench.

What are the odds of anybody new to the sport actually finding the IDEAL bike on the first shot?

I recently got a friend into MTB and she was exactly the same but that being said she did get instructions from the shop about what air pressure to put in fork/shock/tires. And she has stuck to them religiously. I know some of us like to rip on LBS and how bad they can be but a good one makes all the difference to a new rider and it's why often times we hear on here go to your local LBS talk to them ask what they can do for you and buy from them.

Also the more inexpensive the bike the fewer the adjustments. Her fork has rebound and that is it. So it's not too overwhelming for some of these new riders at least from that end of the spectrum.
I have tons of stories like these but as a community we need to offer assistance and recommend the good shops to the new riders.

I also know people who have ridden for years and they set it and forget it and never touch their suspension or settings ever and I have other friends who are like me and keep detailed notes and even spreadsheets to help understand differences with changes and gear. Some people will feel those differences and some wouldn't know the difference. I used to see it with people's cars all the time and look and say how can you drive your car and not check tire pressures or get your steering aligned and they happily drive along.
 

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That is a lot of words...

But...

Despite my old bike set-up, and being kinda behind the pedals, I feel like I adapted pretty well to the new steeper seat tube. And I once upon a time did try to slide my saddle all the way forward on my old bike (2008?) and the bike felt stupid. The steep seat tube angle thing seemed like a bad idea [then].

Tried super-low handlebars once. Seriously, I almost died.

Swapped forks on my fatbike - out with the Bluto, in with the Popeye (rigid). The rigid sits a tad lower than the sagged Bluto, but when I forgot to make the 3mm change to my stem spacers, I noticed immediately. 3mm!

Motorcycle - thought I had my fork dialed pretty well until I encountered conditions I'd never ridden before. Yikes! was I wrong. 2 clicks less of compression damping and it feels like a new bike.


It takes so long, and through so many experiences/iterations/permutations to develop the perception to filter (but never ignore) all the noise and focus on some of those details. That is a BIG portion of the mountain biking experience - a good one for me.

-F
 

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"Before she left I mentioned that her new bike's brake levers were nearly parallel with the ground and she might like them tilted down a little more in order to be more ergonomic. She said, "Oh, I think they're okay." She didn't know they were adjustable. Riding bikes 20 years... didn't know the brake levers could be adjusted to fit the rider's hand with a quick spin of an Allen wrench."

eh, one of the girls I ride with has been mountain biking 15 years and doesn't know what pressure she puts in her tires. She pumps them up until they feel hard.
 

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i've been riding full suspension bikes for 20 years now and i still don't know the first thing about setting up suspension. i have a riding partner that i've been riding with for so long that is a suspension wizard and he just tweaks the knobs and levers for me and i just ride it..
 

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I have been riding a long time and built up literally dozens of bikes for friends and supported two kids through years of downhill racing. A few years ago I was talking to a mobile shop owner that only does custom builds about what we buy for ourselves. We both do the same thing, buy what is a good price that fits.

Here is the dirty secret of modern bikes. At any given price point, setup is by far the largest variable in how they feel and ride. It doesn't matter what the brand of components are hanging of it. Spend more, get a bit more refinement, lose a little weight, get a slightly different feel, but the differences are minor. Most modern suspension designs perform substantially the same, and shock and fork tuning has a massive effect on feel.
 

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I think the recommendation to demo a lot of bikes still stands, especially for new riders. But maybe not for the reason that you assume in your post. Since they don't know what they don't know, trying out many different things (not necessarily right on top of each other, though) just adds reference. More data points. You have to do so with the huge asterisks that the suspension won't be dialed in for you (though you might get lucky) and that the fit components probably won't be your preference. BUT, what you can do is try them on for sizing's sake, and to start wrapping your head around some differences between bikes like wheel sizes, what components you might like better (or if you have a preference at all), how different frame geometries feel or how a 160mm bike might feel different from a 130mm bike on a given trail, or so on.

Big picture differences. Get the big picture items figured out before you buy. You generally can't do the fine tuning until after you buy, anyway. A lot of that fine tuning can definitely take a lot of time after the fact, too. Especially when there are new adjustments to learn, the new thing might be enormously different in how it behaves than the old thing. And maybe you do hire a professional to help you work through that, or you invest in some custom tuning or whatever.

I think it's important for people to understand that modern mountain bikes aren't buy-it-and-forget-it items. Old short travel bikes without much adjustment might have been close to that. But modern, longer travel bikes, especially full suspension bikes, NEED a period of time after the purchase where you focus on suspension setup. The basic adjustments the shop does before they roll the bike out the door for you MIGHT be in the ballpark, but they won't be exactly correct. Too many new riders, I think, don't even realize that they need to revisit these settings and mess with them a bit to see what they like best.
 

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A few years ago, I bought the wrong bike that was really the right bike. Yeah, that makes sense... Let me explain.

I was really set on a mid-travel trail bike and went to a demo event to try out as many in that class as I could. I rode a bunch of different bikes and one of them really stood out to me due to it fitting me just right and I really loved the suspension and geometry. So, I loved it so much that I placed an order.

I liked it a whole lot, but it seemed so capable that the travel and geometry were coming up short on the new steep and gnarly trails that I was riding. I was finding that the bike was holding me back from what I wanted to do and it was the "wrong" bike.

As it turns out though, it was the same frame as the company's longer travel 27.5 enduro bike. I checked through this site and discovered that I could remove a travel spacer from my shock to bring it up to the proper stroke length for the enduro bike. Also, I could open up the fork and extend the travel from 150 mm up to 170 mm. Boom! There it was!

Without spending a nickel*, I had the bike that I wanted and it's been working magnificently for me. It was, "the right bike" after these changes and perfectly fits my riding these days.

*Okay, I did oil changes on both the shock and fork when I did the travel extensions. It was part of the regular maintenance though.
 

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Some people just don't put hardly any effort into bike setup, maintenance, skill development, etc. I found out the other day that a buddy who's been riding for over 2 years didn't know which brake was the front and which was the rear. If someone has ridden for 20 years without learning the most basic things, it's really on them. How to adjust your brake lever position, saddle position, etc are all things I learned as a kid before I even started mountain biking.
 

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What are the odds of anybody new to the sport actually finding the IDEAL bike on the first shot?

Zero. Ain't gonna happen.
IMO, this is the real reason to start on an affordable hardtail. My first mountain bike was way too small, thankfully I only spent $1k and not $5k on the wrong bike.
 

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IMO, this is the real reason to start on an affordable hardtail.
Outside of pure budget constraints, I definitely agree. Since your first bike will never be "the" bike, you might as well take the opportunity to start building your frame of reference. Your 2nd bike probably won't be "the" bike, either, but you can at least take what you learned from the first one, apply it, and then do some more learning.

It's better than dropping $10k on something just because you have the money to do so, and then learning you hate something about that $10k bike.

And to be clear, I think this process is really more about learning about YOURSELF than it is about the bikes and their parts.
 

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My first custom frame and build totally spoiled me, took me ten yrs to get my next bike to handle as good as the first. Building a new bike now, but think it will handle just as well, knowing what I learned from the whole process.
 

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I'm taking up hiking. So much less work and $$.
 

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There are two kinds of riders. Those that don’t buy tools and shock pumps, and those that do.

The tool-less rider might not even be able to fix a flat on the trail or move his seat angle and brake lever angles after a crash. Sometimes they borrow a friends shock pump till he can’t find that guy when he needs them. They start the process of adjusting forks and shocks when they see their fast friends and ask why does my fork dive into a corner etc. Or they are Sparty’s friend and never questions why the levers are a certain way and doesn’t notice others are different. Maybe rigid SS is for them.

Then there is the amateur wrencher/fiddler. Like me I know the bike is a machine that needs tuning to the rider and even further to the track/terrain of the day. We pack multi-tool, shock pump, spare tube and brake pads. We have tire pressure gauges. We use shock tokens and even buy the tools to get the shock caps off. We play with stem spacers and may even write down dimensions for our custom fit. We know what rebound and compression does and when to tweak it on the trail. Has this gotten to complex for you yet? If not, you are not someone that can’t or won’t learn about their particular machines and personal needs. You might be someone that thinks a bike is just a toy, buy it and forget about it.

For me, I bought a brand new model pre-order. Couldn’t test ride it if I wanted to. It had modern geometry I’m not familiar with and had to take a chance based on the few reviews I could find. I had to buy hi-rise bars because the shop cut the steerer to short. Put my old seat on because that is what I’ve been on for 20 years, not going to change now. Immediately find shock tokens after trying many different pressures with my long time shock pump. Sure it was dialed to factory recommended settings when I picked it up. Changed the rebound and compression several times on my local ride. Changed again for each different trail I rode in Moab. Got some silicone lock on grips I like. Oh yeah, I changed the brake lever angle the moment I left the shop with the multi-tool in my pocket. Fiddled the tire pressures several times because 30mm internal width rims are new to me as are the 2.6mm tires. I come from 27mm 2.35 38# DH race mentality. So trail riding fatties is another thing to experiment with. If I ever stop tweaking and adjusting I’m static or dead.
 

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@Sparticus so true. I had my third mountain bike, a Trek 7800 hardtail for 6-7 years until the Rock Shox Mag 21 on it died. Not the internals, but the fork brace that was bolted on, and eventually those holes rounded, making the fork useless. All joyful 63mm of travel :) The shortest fork I could find to replace it was 80mm, throwing off the bike's geo, and I sold it.

Next, with the invention of full suspension bikes, I bounced around from hardtail to full suspension bike to hardtail to full suspension bikes. In that time, I had gained 60 lbs (a bad combo of meds), and needed a breast reduction, and a series of overweight and bad body position (hip issues, pulled a pec, back problems, neck problems, meniscus tear), it took me forever to find something to work. All the bad fit advice I had over the years did not help either. Nor did the fact my asthma was so bad in the Bay Area that I couldn't catch a break.

Now, fast forward to today: Down from my high weight by 20 lbs (thanks COVID, it was by 35 lbs), almost off all the meds, changed my diet for the better, got knee surgery 9 years ago, got a breast reduction 8 years ago, and started weight training in August. Moved to CO 5 years ago, where my lung capacity went from 40-50% to 90%. Found some bike parks that are fun, with no one to pressure me but myself. And Sparty is helping me with getting the rest of my weight off (40 lbs to go).

I've stopped playing musical bikes and thinned the herd down to two: a big travel bike that I mainly use for bike park use, and I'm getting my trail bike refined to where the geometry will work for me (it's default state has way too steep of a seat angle for my hips). I also like 27.5 wheels, and I'm happy with that at 5'5".

What made a huge difference for me more than anything wasn't just getting the geometry right, but getting the suspension right. I hated the way Fox and Rock Shox felt, and even with aftermarket tunes and parts it didn't help. I found a guy to do suspension tuning for me, and he turned me onto Ohlins. Now I not only know a lot more about what I like in the feel of suspension (a stiff spring, a lighter rebound tune, medium compression tunes), but what to look for when I adjust it. I used to be one of those set it and forget it types, but it's gotten to the point where I'll even adjust mine on the trail if it makes the ride better.

It also changed that I don't want to change my bikes all the time anymore. I want to keep mine. I want them settled for fits, and just go ride them and enjoy them until I break them. Last time I felt that was with that little trek hard tail.

I'm sure I'll end up with a pile of springs for my coil suspension bits. I'm sure I'll end up sending my squishers to my Shock Priest, who works magic with my rides. I know what midstroke support is--I know that the same bike can feel great or feel like total **** based on the suspension and tires alone. I know how to put a bike back together and reset the brakes :) That's new for me. I can also change handlebars, stems, and saddles. Still figuring out gears, and stuff involving liquid (brakes and suspension) goes to someone who knows what they're doing.

I'm also finding now that I'm not compressing my spine under heavy boobage, I like being a bit more stretched out. I ride a frame that's the equivalent of a medium, where that little Trek hardtail was an XS.

Keep in mind this journey is 30 years old. People today I'm not sure would take my route, or keep trying all the things until they find things that work for them, but I'm still growing and learning. And I didn't learn to fly until after moving to Colorado, in my mid-40s.

I love watching people getting into mountain biking at the older years too. Not just the kiddos, but the older kiddos. I hope this brings a smile to their face, but it's why they do need the correct setup.

Here's me from today's ride. Sharing the stoke :)
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