Sunday, April 18, 2010

Giant XTC1 29er review.

Ok, I am no MTB technical guru. Thats my disclaimer. I have however ridden bikes for most of my life and mountain bikes for the last 13 years. I have dabbled in everything from downhill to 24 hour racing. Thats a fair breadth of experience I reckon.
I guess the best, most positive and strongest endorsement for the XTC 1 is that after only a 20 kilometer shake down ride I rode this bike nearly 600 kilometers through some very challenging terrain and over some monster climbs and descents. And survived. The geometry of the bike suits long hauls and with some very minor adjustments to bar height and seat height it was very comfortable and felt natural. I was quite impressed with the mix of XT and SLX gearing as it worked flawlessly over the week of hard racing with only some small adjustments to deal with new cables. Not bad considering that on one day alone there was 6 creek crossings where we ended up drenched and the bikes where submersed on one or two occasions. There were a couple of issues though that did detract from the overall performance. The brakes sucked. No other way to put it. Not only did they grab badly when hot but they howled like a banshee. Spencer said he knew when I had fallen off on the one stack I had because he didn't hear my brakes for a couple of minutes. They were that bad. I changed pads, sprayed them with Swisstop and messed with alignment all to no avail. I suppose the positive is that at an RRP of $2399 you have room to move and change out the brakes at the shop. I didn't like the saddle much either but that is a personal thing and really I should have changed it out for my own saddle before deciding to ride 600 km on it. Dumb, really dumb.
I am quite happy with the Fox F29 fork and was very happy with the 15mm through axle as it was easy to use and very positive when tightened off. I do feel the Giant handled better than my Fisher with tighter and more responsive turning however whether this was due to the head angle or the 15mm axle and tapered steerer is open for debate. In singletrack the bike felt confident and grounded considering how little I had ridden it before the race. The Beechworth singletrack is rocky and very technical but I only felt that I had pushed to far on a couple of occasions and I think mainly because I was flying! I would recommend that if your intended use for the XTC is as a trail bike that you stick some slightly more aggressive rubber on with a bigger bag than the 1.9 Kenda Karma's that are supplied. Having said that, if it's an entry level racer you seek then just get out and thrash the thing. The Karma's will be fine. I ended up using 2.1 Maxxis Crossmarks mainly because I use them as an all round tyre here so stayed with the devil I knew.
My only other small gripe was the lack of a second bottle mount. Thats it. End of story. Yeah you can spend a bomb getting a boutique branded, custom specced bike and you will get what you pay for. With the Giant though you get MORE than you pay for. As a base the frame and fork are great and if like me you are on a budget the spec is very adequate and the price is hard to beat. chuck on some new brakes, bend the wheels beyond (good luck) saving and whack some lighter ones on and you have a rocket ship.
Go out and thrash it.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Single track, single minded, singular joy. Stages 6 and 7, Terra Australis 2010.

No more numbers, no more elevation gains and losses, no more explanations of the route and how hard it was. You all get that. This was hard. I'm a stubborn SOB and at times I wanted to cry and curl up into a ball and rock. You all get that.
So what is it that made these two stages awesome and totally worth the pain? Single track. Beechworth's flowing, rocky, twisty goodness. It ended the stage on day 6 and started day 7. There is a fantastic mix of tight and twisty trail with real rock drops and roll overs and then the open, fast ribbons that weave through the trees and allow you to go so fast that it all becomes a blur and drops you into that special world where only the bike and you matter. This place should be visited by all mountain bikers once in their life.
I personally think that there is magical properties that exude from single track offering increased strength and concentration much like spinach does for Popeye or the elixir does for Asterix. Once your wheels hit it then all the encumberances of fatigue drop away to let the dogs off the chain to go chase that fun, no matter what. After feeling like death warmed up for the start of day 6 and continuing to feel that way most of the way around the course we were dropped into the first taste of Beechworth single track and it was like someone had just mainlined a double espresso into my veins and booted me in the arse with a size ten. Zip, gone, see ya later! We passed some of the riders who had been killing us on the long gravel roads like the were standing still. Stomp, stomp , stomp. All the way to the finish line.
Day 7, well it started with some new single track. I got a flat only about 20 minutes into the ride and watched as all the other teams went past me. I just calmly fixed it with the knowledge that te further ahead they got, the clearer the trails would be for me. I had been held up quite a bit on the early sections so was intent on enjoying this experience even if I had to wait an hour for the course to clear. Spencer had gone off the front when I got caught up but he called me and was happy to wait too. That clear single track was a real lure for us both.
Once I caught up to Spencer the trails didn't stay clear for long. We were bombing it! It really showed me how much time we could have made up if there was more technical single track on the other days. We ride it all the time and it showed as the pair of us carved a path through the other teams back to around the 2 thirds mark of the pack. Yep, we really could ride our bikes in this single track stuff. Real mountain biking. We talked and joked about it all the way to the finish line.
There is nothing much left to say about the race. The final two days were a fitting end to the race and the elation at crossing the line on Saturday is indescribable. There was a lot of congratulations and pats on the back, lots of cheering as teams crossed the line and a general feeling of comaraderie amongst the racers and support crew alike.
My final feeling as I crossed the line? Pride. Pride in Spencer for getting up after being knocked down and finishing every other stage. Pride in how we had carried ourselves as a team and as competitors. Pride in myself for taking that first step over a cup of coffee months ago, saying I would train and be ready for the start line, and most importantly pride in finishing.

Thanks again to Russ Baker for the kind use of the image. Onya Russ!

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Terra top ten.

While I finish up the last of the race reports I thought I would just lighten the mood a bit and throw in a top ten. It's what all the TV stations do when they don't have anything else to program so why can't I. So here it is.
Graham's Terra Australis Top Ten. (In some kind of order...)
10. Greens pancake mix. The breakfast of champions.
9. Rockin it to dub and reggae all the way to Mount Beauty on the way down.
8. Steak at the Victoria Hotel in Goondi on the way home. Just awesome.
7. Spectacular scenery every day for seven days. Everywhere you looked it was another post card view and it just kept getting better.
6. Beechworth single track. If you ride it, you'll know......
5. Beechworth Brewery after Beechworth single track. What better way to exaggerate how good you were in the single track than with a couple of fantastic hand made brews and some good friends. Yeah, we were pretty cool.
4. The Giant XTC1 29er. It performed fantastically well. Not bad for a bike that retails for $2300.
3. Lucas's Paw Paw ointment. My butt thanks you. Lets leave it at that.
2.Finishline Events and all the other competitors. Amazing people, an amazing event, an amazing experience.
1. Spencer. He was crazy enough to say yes. We are even still mates!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Hump Day.

Stage 5. Bright to Beechworth. 92.5km, 2297m alt gain, 1924m alt loss.
I was feeling pretty good about todays stage as I rolled up to the start line. The day before had been a massive hurdle and I felt I had cleared it and was now on the downhill run. The only problem with that was that noone had told the organisers of the race!
While physically I was in good shape mentally it was hard to get up for the start and to want to attack the first part of the course. I guess that a 14km climb up Mount Porepunkah will do that to you though. You heard right, 14km up. Granted this climb was at a very manageable 8% or so it was still long and had a couple of evil little pinches to throw the rhythm and max out the heart rate. I felt pretty settled after a couple of K's of turning the legs over but was having real issues just setting my head right. There was heaps of adrenaline and a healthy dose of fear for the day before but there was a very real sense of anti climax for this stage which made the ride feel like a chore.
Once we were over the first climb it was a very fast, fun descent down into the valley and a nice cruisey traverse across to the next feed stop. Vegemite and nutella sangers were consumed and we were on our way again. The fires in the boiler room had been re lit. I could smell the finish line. The tempo on the climbs went up and the descents became eye watering plunges into the valleys.  
There was a very real feeling that this was the final hurdle in a week full of hurdles. I knew I could eat up the final two days in my sleep and wow did that put a rocket up my arse! As the 85km mark ticked over we knew we had climbed the last hill for the day. It was all down hill to the line now. Big dog engaged, attack formation and let 'er rip! The run to the line was blisteringly quick and we only took the foot of the gas as we entered the university grounds where the finish line was. We were joking and pinning along and then I heard it.
Click, click, buzz. Gears changing and wheels winding up to speed. I looked back and there were 2 guys coming up fast. I yelled at Spence to gas it. He looked at me and shrugged. "Go, fuck ya!" So he did and after 5 days of racing and being at the back of the field we sprinted. We had no chance of catching the 2 guys in the general classification, no chance of improving our overall position but I was sick of being beaten over the line. It was the single most futile effort I have ever undertaken but it felt good. We smoked them. As we crossed the line I was cackling and hollering like I had won a stage of the Tour de France. We slapped the hands of the guys in the sprint and laughed some more. Great finish to the day.
Beer O'clock........