Some of you remember Braap. Braap was built as an experiment – partially because I wanted to do some fully custom full suspension bikes for customers and needed to inflict a few on myself first (Braap is iteration #5), and partially because I wanted to see what 29+ wheels and full suspension would be like. I end up doing a lot of bikes like this for myself – bikes that I don’t objectively need, and sometimes even suspect I’ll hate – because I’m just a curious geek, basically.
It’s also helpful to have real-world saddle time on a lot of setups when a customer asks, so that I can actually give a reasonable answer instead of just making up some BS. Not that anyone in the bike industry would do that…
So I built BRAAP with fairly low expectations. I knew she’d be heavy (in this case, about 28 pounds, which isn’t that bad, but my previous FS bike was 24) and probably overkill for most of the XC trails in the neighborhood, but without enough travel (100mm) to really go hit the freeride terrain just to the south at the ski resorts. Overkill and… underkill (?) all at once. Another noble sacrifice on my part in the name of science.
Well, I have about a month and maybe 250 miles on Braap now, and I have done enough hard efforts on varied terrain to render a bit of a verdict: Braap is very, very awesome at everything I have done with her – not just fun, but also amazingly *fast*. I expected the former, not so much the latter. And I have non-scientific subjective experience to prove it to the world.
Many of you don’t use Strava and consider it the bane of our collective existence. Good for you, now get your dogs and small children out of my way before I run you down.
Just kidding. As a has-been ex-pro, I use it on almost every ride to try to make myself feel cool and competitive/motivated, and also because I can ride the same trails on different bikes and get some vague idea how they do without relying entirely on feel. It’s not a substitute for a power meter and a rigorous/analytical analysis if you’re trying to find the absolute fastest setup – but it’s enough to tell if something is terrible or amazing.
You’re probably getting tired of my verbosity, so here’s the bottom line: I am faster on basically every type of terrain on Braap than on my hardtail, my rigid singlespeed, or comparable 29″ wheeled FS bikes, all of which are much lighter and “racier”. My fitness is unchanged from the summer (SOP: drag kids to daycare, ride home, reverse, then drink too much beer in the evening), so it’s fair to say, at the least, that the bike does not suck.
Here’s a test ride I did a few days ago on my way to pick up the kids from daycare (yes, my commute to daycare is on singletrack, Park City rules). I went hard on 4 distinct sections of the ride, all of which are fairly popular, are directional or very low-traffic and safe to ride fast on, and have had numerous attempts by fast local pros (most segments here are part of the annual PCP2P race):
-A twisty and switchbacked rolling climb (RTS video: segment starts @~3:00) that gains 142 feet in 3/4 of a mile – very similar to the type of terrain you’d see in a short track race (at least the ones I’ve done) where there’s a lot of braking into and accelerating out of corners, but little/no technical features. Result: I was 20 seconds faster than my previous best time.
–A rough/rocky but not especially technical 400 foot descent (Rosebud’s video). Lots of offcamber loose rock, small ledges to jump, sand, and some tight switchbacks as well as very fast sections. Result: a little slower than another day that I also hit this trail with Braap, mainly due to a bad line choice/semi-wreck midway, but still ~20 seconds faster than on any other bike I’ve ridden.
–A rough and rubbly climb. This one isn’t crazy steep (5% for 1.5 miles) but has plenty of little steep spots and rough/loose stuff. It’s harder than it looks on paper, but not actually technical anywhere. I’ve never done this all-out, so no real comparison possible – but I certainly wasn’t going slow.
–A lift-served directional DH/freeride trail (Holly’s/Insurgent video from 2012 – trail has had quite a few berms and jumps added since, but this is the general idea) This 7% grade trail was rebuilt/routed in July but it’s been the site of a stage of the Canyons enduro race since then and had a couple thousand riders (just on Strava!) on it. I’ve ridden it a half-dozen times this summer on a variety of bikes and know it pretty well. It’s not modern DH with large gaps or drops, but it’s very similar to what DH race courses looked like in, say, the early 2000s – some sections where getting air is the fastest thing to do (but isn’t mandatory), plenty of rock gardens with fast/risky lines and go-arounds, some giant berms, ~10′ low-risk gap jumps, plenty of nasty brake bumps/whoops, and one 1/4 mile long flat section just to give the XC guys a little chance. It’s about as rough/gnarly as most folks would ever want to ride on an XC ride, but pretty tame by modern DH standards without any really big features. Result: 30+ seconds faster than my previous best time (and in the top 25 or so on a segment that has had several thousand attempts by racers and non-racers alike). In all honesty, lack of courage in some spots was what slowed me down, not the bike (some armor, a dropper, and a fullface would go a long way, especially when my legs were already jello from the hard effort climb segment immediately beforehand).
I’ve tried other stuff, too. Flow trails (Ant Farm video). Very steep climbs. Pure XC loops. Long lots-of-pedaling descents (Flying Dog video). I’m faster everywhere. We don’t have much available here that would qualify as low-speed (ie New England) tech riding, so I have no idea how it would do on that sort of trail. But overall, the 29+ setup has far exceeded my expectations. All that extra rubber is doing something for me, so I’ve gone from fence-sitting to full-on recommending plus tires to any and all who are interested.
Why is the setup so fast? In a word, big low pressure tires seem to manage to give excellent traction while simultaneously offering shockingly low rolling resistance – so you can carry great speed through corners and feel safe/in control, then roll back on the power and keep that speed, or accelerate. I have zero actual data to back this up, of course.
And yes, I’ll build up a hardtail that takes the same plus tires to do some testing on that, never fear. Stay tuned (probably until spring, winter is coming any day now here). If you’re a power meter company employee reading this – just think how much good press you’d get if you found me a scratch-n-dent setup to use for my “testing”!
A note about setups: I used exactly the same parts to build up BRAAP that I had on my 29″ wheel FS bike that I rode for all of 2014 and a bunch of this summer as well, with the exception of the headset (yes, including my 15 year old LX cranks) and of course, the tires. As luck would have it, though, I had Bontrager XR2 tires on the 29″ version, which are almost identical to the Chupacabras in terms of tread pattern and general casing/shape – just smaller. Is the comparison perfect? Absolutely not, but it’s as close as you can reasonably expect to get.