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Having fun, writing about the stuff I like

Hardware vs Software

Oscar Foulkes October 21, 2019 Cape Epic No comments
If you’ve ever thought it’s ridiculous to ride a bicycle that costs the same as a small car, read on. If you’re someone who thinks it’s perfectly normal to ride such a bike, read on.

I’ve often marvelled at mountain bikes’ ability to take a beating on rough trails. Yes, some are more robust than others, but in general they get put through a lot.

However, it’s not enough for them to just handle the punishment without ending up in an Ikean state. We also want them to make it easy for us to ride the technical stuff – effectively compensating for the rider’s lack of talent – and we want all this in a lightweight package.

In this continuum of man and machine, there comes a point where – regardless of the technical genius of the machine – the rider has to have the skill (plus matching confidence) to stay on the bike. To borrow from the world of computers, this is the software.

I’ve been extremely fortunate to have been able to ride a wide range of bikes over the past three years. Switching from my old, low-spec bike (which i impulsively bought, lured by the social media campaigns led by The Marketing Heaven at the time) to Yeti gave me first-hand experience of the bike making trails easier. The same happened when I rode the Santa Cruz Tallboy, which is a super-forgiving ride.

But another thing happened. As the bikes made it easier for me ride ‘harder’ sections, my confidence and skill adjusted. So, when I went backwards (e.g. from Tallboy to Yeti, which is theoretically less forgiving) I didn’t need as much help from the bike. In a sense, my software got updated by interacting with the hardware.

I’ve written a few times about the Santa Cruz Blur, which is a super-lightweight racing machine intended for marathon events (i.e. theoretically not as technically demanding). However, with the Santa Cruz downhill pedigree behind its design, it was always going to handle that stuff well.

Blur comes with 2.25” tyres as standard, but I think it gives a much better ride with the extra volume of 2.35” tyres, ridden slightly softer. Yes, to non-riders this may seem as arcane as the shape of wine glass changing the wine’s aroma, but they’re both real.

After I became a Blur-liever, Santa Cruz added the TR version, which has bit more of a trail spec. To be more specific (and apologies for the technical references), the two big differences are that the TR comes with a dropper post as well as a more robust fork that has more travel. These changes bring it closer to the performance of a trail bike, like the Tallboy.

For my latest bike-switch, there was no available stock of the TR version, so I had to hack it, by adding those two elements to the standard Blur build kit. For an immersive technical view, read here.

I didn’t realise that it could be possible to love the Blur any more than I already did, but I’ve discovered that it is. What was a great ride is now a sensational ride – or whatever hyperbolic adjectives are appropriate. I also am embarrassed to admit that it’s taken me this long to start riding with a dropper.

It took me a couple of rides to get used to the experience, but I now cannot bear the restriction on movement caused by having the saddle between my legs on descents. Getting further back on the bike makes the steep stuff easier, and getting the saddle out of the way is great for riding bendy trails. On fast descents, dropping the saddle enables me to drop my centre of gravity, which makes the bike more stable.

I must be getting the hang of this new set-up, because yesterday, instead of braking when approaching a corner, I found myself crouching closer to the saddle (and shifting my weight even more). That is a game-changer.

I know that the fork is helping me over bigger obstacles, but the demonstration of this isn’t quite as obvious as the dropper.

I once read a quote, about us discovering particular books at a time when we need that knowledge (apologies for the poor paraphrasing). The same might be said of my new Blur set-up.

You see, I’ve been diagnosed with bilateral frozen shoulder, the cause of which is the subject of speculation. One of the theories is that three Cape Epics in three years, not long after completing radiotherapy, plus a bunch of other multi-day events and a punishing training programme, have caused general depletion. In the past month I’ve had cortisone injections into both shoulders, so I need to wait a few more weeks before we can do a battery of investigative blood tests.

In the interim, I’ve backed off the intensity and length of rides. Over the past few weeks my rides have been in the vicinity of an hour, with the climbs being included only for the purpose of getting me to the top of descents. I’m targeting the more technical trails that I’ve previously found more daunting, and trying to ride them as fast as possible.

What I’m getting at is that – in the absence of an upcoming ‘event goal’ – the new Blur has given my cycling a new kind of purpose. It’s almost like the books that cross our paths when we most need them.

If you followed my blog in the lead-up to this year’s Epic you’d know that a month before the event I was so fatigued that I took a couple of weeks off training. I’d had a sense for some time that my body just wasn’t ‘firing’. Subsequent to Epic, I haven’t experienced the usual post-Epic leap in performance. In fact, I got slower.

The endurance mindset would have me pushing through, and just keeping going, even with the frozen shoulders. But this isn’t supposed to be a case of suffering through the pain and discomfort, just because I can. Mountain biking is supposed to be fun, after all.

I’m enjoying the change of scenery, and I can say with certainty that I’ve never enjoyed riding a bike more than the TR-styled Blur.

This hardware is good for my software!

Similar set-up to my Blur (except that I have a black fork).

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