After the San Juan Hut trip, I was mentally beaten so bad that I had no desire to ride anymore. I got home from the trip, parked the bike and didn’t even look at it. I didn’t even clean it when I got back. In fact, the bike sat for over a month before I even touched it and when I finally did, I broke two nipples carrying it outside for a wash. So it sat again until I could repair them.
I did some road bike training and the MS-150 in Columbia, MO, which helped me get back into riding mode. But then I took 2 weeks off for a vacation to Ireland, which did involve 10 miles one day on an old bike. But even when I got back, I wasn’t real big on getting back to the mountain bike. It was rough. I’ve never had the feeling of total failure like I did after the San Juan Trip.
My buddies talked me into a ride one day and I felt a little more confident around our local trails, so maybe the Epic Ride did help me more than I realized. I’ve now ridden the bike enough that I’m starting to fine tune things and discovering that choices I made before weren’t the best solution.
First example, Stans No-Tubes tubeless brew hasn’t lived up to its name. I’ve had one small puncture and it took probably a mile of riding and about 10lbs of lost air pressure before it sealed, and I always keep plenty of Stans in the wheels. I also discovered, while repairing the broken nipples, that my Stans had formed a giant ball of latex in one wheel and probably wouldn’t have sealed a thing anymore. Many of my riding buddies have had similar or worse problems with Stans and we’ve been looking for alternatives. One person has gone with the Orange Seal sealant but is waiting for a replacement tire before he puts it in both wheels, so I have no feedback from him on that. Our buddy in KC recommended it and says all the guys out there are running it now instead of Stans. I chose a different route, of course. I went with the Slime Pro sealant. Why? Because it’s WAY cheaper than Orange and it’s got plenty of good reviews out there. It may not be my last choice, but until I see some results from Orange, I’m not spending that kind of money on an unknown product.
Another lesson learned from the Epic Ride was how utterly kick ass the Shimano XT Trail brakes are. We had some pretty major descents on that ride and my brakes never overheated or faded and only started “screaming” towards the end of the ride. I purchased extra sintered pads but didn’t replace them because the existing pads had plenty of material on them. So I took some fine grade sandpaper and a flat surface and just scuffed off the “burnt” pad material and de-glazed the rotors and they were as good as new. I was tempted to replace the rotors with Ashima Ai2 rotors because of the huge weight and price difference, but decided I would wait until I really needed rotors and then try them.
The last change this time around was more of an experiment really. When I was building the bike I had no idea what size stem I would need so I just ordered a 100mm carbon stem at the same time as the other components. I knew this would only be a starting point but I haven’t thought much about it since the build was completed. My buddy from KC just finished a bad ass build of a 2014 Specialized Enduro 29er and when I test rode it, I noticed the steering was super twitchy. Way more than my bike. And one thing I didn’t like about mine was how slow the steering was when taking switchbacks and how I felt like I was always leaning forward on the bike and couldn’t get back off the saddle when needed. I also noticed my hands going numb all the time while riding, so bad that I would have to stop during rides. My buddy built his with a 70mm stem and after much research, I decided I needed to try a shorter one on my build too. My carbon stem was also heavier than most aluminum stems out there, so I ended up buying a 70mm and an 80mm Kalloy Uno stem off eBay for ~$30ea, shipped. And as an added bonus, they weighed about 60g less than my carbon stem!
This was the single greatest change I’ve done to the bike so far. I had to cut the steer tube down a bit because the new stem was shorter in the stack than the old one, but I noticed a difference immediately. I started with the 70mm and could tell a difference just riding it down the street about 100 yards. After the first ride on the trails, I was sold. I probably shouldn’t have picked the toughest trail in the area for my maiden voyage, but I’m glad I did because it gave me a good comparison to my past rides. The bike felt more nimble and responsive. I could throw the front end around when needed, get up over things easier, and take the downhills at speeds I’ve never done before. It was like a completely different bike! One thing I should point out, the old stem was a “3T” Chinese carbon 100mm and I had it installed in the raised position (pointing up relative to the steer tube) but the new 70mm stem is a 7deg drop and I installed it that way instead of raised. The cockpit was nothing like it used to be. My hands didn’t go numb and I could get back off the saddle finally. I was fast at last! It made so much of a difference that the guys I usually have problems catching up with were trying to catch ME on the downhills now. My buddy was tracking on Strava during the maiden voyage and posted it when we were done, without looking at the results. Our KC buddy text him and said, “Do you know you broke 16 personal records today? WTF were you doing?” and his reply was, “I have no idea, I was just trying to keep up with Steve.”
Yeah, that felt good.