Interbike 2004 – Outdoor Demo Day 2
The second day of Interbike’s Outdoor Demo proved to be substantially busier than the first, with loads of retailers taking the opportunity to try out the bikes they’ll be selling (or, just as usefully, the ones they won’t). Queues were commonplace at quite a few booths, while others sought to draw people to them with free food, free beer, music and so on.
We managed to trundle out on another five bikes today, although we’re afraid there’s still a paucity of hardtails. That’s something of a reflection of the bikes that are being shown, though – the vast majority of the bikes at the Demo are full-sussers, with some brands who make both leaving the hardtails at home.
Usual first-impressions-only disclaimers apply – we haven’t had enough time on any of these bikes to draw any conclusions. We’ll save those for full tests as the year goes on…
OK, the Adrenalin’s not actually a new bike. But it’s new to us and that what counts. Marcus Storck has been building these for nine years, though. Obviously there’s been the usual running changes and tweaks over the years but crucially if you bought one in 1995 you could fit parts from the current bike to it.
The suspension design is Storck’s version of the common not-quite-a-four-bar system. Common now, that is, but not all that common when Storck devised it. It’s a decent enough system when done right, but it’s at its best in shorter travel applications. Perhaps with this in mind, the Adrenalin sticks to 85mm travel at the rear but is designed to run 120mm forks up front.
The overall effect is somehow hardtail like, only more comfortable and with better travel. Plenty of oversized tubing, chunky forged linkages and bearings at all the pivots make for a stiff, solid ride. Storck bikes are legendary for build quality, and the Adrenalin is no exception. More surprisingly, it’s actually quite reasonably priced at 1,500 Euros for the frame. It’s also available in five sizes from 15 to 23in so there should be one to fit nearly everyone.
In a word: Unpretentious
While we were at the Storck booth, we couldn’t resist taking the flagship Organic for a spin. The all-carbon 120mm travel full susser looks amazing. Whether it looks good or bad is largely subjective, but its appearance will amaze either way.
Twenty-seven separate moulds are used to make each Organic, and despite the appearance of bulk it’s very light – just 2.2kg including the shock. The suspension design is a double-linkage virtual pivot-style arrangement, with the top link being a huge square carbon piece and the shock being tucked between the two links and offset to the left. Running an offset shock requires the bits that it’s attached to to be suitably stiff, and certainly it’s hard to detect any assymetry or wibbliness out on the trail.
The Organic pedals very well, but even if it didn’t it’s light enough to be sprightly. The suspension is designed to give the rear wheel an upwards and rearwards movement and to isolate chain tension effects, allowing Storck to run a hefty amount of sag for maximum terrain-following plushness. And it works, giving a very smooth ride indeed. It doesn’t come cheap, though, at 4,000 Euros frame only.
In a word: Smooth
Surly Karate Monkey
We’ve never been quite convinced by the idea of 29in wheeled mountain bikes. Yes, the 26in size is just a historical accident, inherited from bikes gone by, but (a) we’re used to it and (b) it works. Bigger wheels means longer bikes, less clearance and less agility.
Surly’s Karate Monkey very nearly converted us, though. A cranked seat tube allows a reasonably short back end without clearance issues and the geometry’s been steepened up to speed up the handling. After something of a high-tech bike diet, the rigid singlespeed setup of the demo bike immediately endeared itself to us, and out on the trails the whole idea started to make a whole lot of sense. Bigger wheels roll fast and go over bumps better, both good things on the loose and often rough Nevada trails.
Big wheels like to keep going the way they’re rolling, though, but again on the test trails this isn’t really a disadvantage – there’s lots of short ups and downs, most of the corners are fairly fast and momentum is a good thing. Plus it’s a spot-on singlespeed loop – tackling the trails on the Karate Monkey was a whole heap of fun.
It’s hard not to like a simple bike that reeled in a succession of state-of-the-art bouncy bikes with the alacrity that the Monkey did, but it’s a very condition-specific ride. If your trails require lots of rapid direction changes then sticking with normal sized wheels is probably the way forward. And if you’re extraordinarily tall, a 29in wheel bike will look a lot better than a 26in one. The Karate Monkey certainly has its place. Probably not in our shed, but maybe in yours.
In a word: Rollin’
Gary Fisher Cake 1 DLX
To be honest, we took this one out mainly to get a go on the new Maverick SC fork, the single-crown, 5in travel variant of the semi-legendary DUC. Attached to the fork was Fisher’s 5in travel trail bike platform, using carbon fibre stays with designed-in flex rather than a rear pivot and a tensioned strut (which probably isn’t technically a strut but we don’t know what else to call it) to transfer shock loads back to the seat tube and allow Fisher to make a lighter gauge downtube to reduce the overall weight.
Fans of ground clearance should definitely take a look at a Cake – this is a tall bike. According to the decals it uses Fisher’s long in the middle, short at the ends Genesis geometry, but judging by the length of the stem on the test bike we’re not totally convinced that that’s the case – it seemed to have a fairly conventional top tube/stem length balance. Not that we’re complaining, it steers fine.
Somehow the rear suspension never quite felt like it had five inches of travel. Sometimes that’s a good thing, but we came away feeling that the Cake hadn’t really given of it’s best. We expect that some shock fiddling (and a properly run-in shock) would improve matters considerably, although we’ve always found bikes of this design from the Trek empire a bit dead-feeling for reasons we’re hard-pressed to explain. We also suspect that there was more than a hint of the preproduction about the demo bikes – we’d be surprised if the end of the shock should actually hit the seat tube at full extension, for example.
And the fork? The jury’s still out – again, some more fiddling is required. The demo fork didn’t seem to match the plushness that we’re used to from its bigger brother, but like the back end, the newness of the unit can’t have helped. It’s good and stiff and has plenty of mud clearance, though. We look forward to trying one for long enough to let it mature…
In a word: Competent
Christini’s AWD is another new-to-us bike. It’s been developing for a few years and the system is also available in the US on the Jeep Rubicon. Given what it’s doing, Christini’s two-wheel-drive system is surprisingly elegant. A pair of gears at the back wheel transfers torque to a driveshaft inside the left-hand seatstay. At the top of the stay a pair of universal joints allow for the movement of the rear suspension while linking the seatstay driveshaft to another one inside the top tube. At the front of the bike, more gears inside the head tube turn the twistiness through ninety degrees and a driveshaft down the right-hand fork leg. Another pair of gears drives the front wheel via a freewheel mechanism. So whenever the back wheel’s spinning, whether you’re pedalling or coasting, the front wheel is being driven.
It’s hard to think of a better testing ground for this bike than the loose desert trails of the demo loops. There’s plenty of drifty sand, soft berms and loose rocks around the place and front-wheel washouts are far from unusual. The two wheel drive system makes a substantial difference in loose corners – rather than the front wheel tending to dig in sideways, because it’s being driven it tries to pull the bike out of the corner. And it works, being noticably more confidant on sketchy corners.
Climbing is the other obvious area where this should work well, and there’s a lot to be said for trying to haul a bike up a slope by the front wheel as well as pushing it from the back. It’s only as good as the amount of traction you’ve got, though, and on steeper pitches we found we had to get our weight further forward than usual to prevent the somewhat unusual experience of front-wheel spin uphill.
A bar-mounted lever lets you switch the 2WD on and off. Turning it off disengages the system at the back, so you’re not spinning a load of driveshafts around for no reason. There’s a noticeable bit of extra drag with the system engaged, although it’s not huge – you need to be riding on a smooth, firm surface switching it in and out to pick it up.
Inevitably, concerns will be raised about the longevity of the exposed gears, but Christini says that they should outlast chains and cassettes. They carry a two year guarantee and at $35 a pair, replacing them shouldn’t be too painful. The system obviously adds a fair bit of weight and complexity, but if the performance benefit is there that’s not necessarily a hindrance – full suspension adds a lot of weight and complexity and that seems to have taken over the world.
At this stage, we reckon that the main thing holding the Christini back is its suspension performance. The rear suspension isn’t a particularly cutting-edge design, but it does the job. The custom forks, though, don’t seem to be all that great, and when the system relies on the front wheel staying on the ground that’s not ideal. There’s a lot of potential here, though.
In a word: Promising