Biking in 2021 · g/ianguid/
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Biking in 2021

2021 has been a year of change for me, which also reflected on my bike riding abilities.

I can safely say this has been the year in which I had the most fun riding bikes!

I rode with friends on unknown-to-me trails, I one upped my mechanic skills and overall technique, and began appreciating gravel/road cycling as well.

The small enduro: a Transition Scout short review #

After joining Tendermint — now Ignite — given the generous new salary offer I decided it was time to invest in a proper full-suspension bike.

After playing with a demo unit at the 2020 edition of the Italian Bike Festival I was hooked.

Truth to be told I the Scout wasn’t my first choice, given the fact that I was searching for a trail bike more than an enduro one.

Incidentally during 2019 the industry went for more aggressive geometries and suspension platform, so what was once regarded as “big enduro” is now suiting the “trail” definition: all of the sudden Rocky Mountain, Ibis and Transition offerings looked more appealing.

Originally my brain settled for an Ibis Ripmo V2 — for which one of the Italian distributor would’ve given me an amazing price all things considered — but the wait was just disarming: ordering in March would’ve meant receiving the bike around August.

All things considered given the COVID-related supply chain issues this timeframe wasn’t that bad…

My search stopped when my luck began.

I re-considered the Transition Scout 2019, called the closest shop that carried them and got one of the last models in stock.

Funny story, I wanted the dark blue frame kit, but the suspensions kit they had in stock is for the sand-colored one: my bike is a two-tone beast!

So, how does it ride?

In one word: great.

This is the fastest, most stable bike I’ve ever ridden.

My mind still can’t fathom how the engineering department at Transition could come up with a bike that is this stable at speed.

Flow trail sections are a blast, bombing through rough rock gardens is incredibly confidence-inspiring.

On top of that this thing likes to pop off even the smallest ledge, so if you’ll ever want to play Slopestyle rider by jumping off big roots… you can!

It’s still an enduro bike — heck, a small enduro! — hence it’s not the quickest climber and will definitely not help you achieve KOM: it pedals fine.

I achieved 40KM rides, which included climbing to trail heads and descending.

To me, a good all-around mountain bike should behave exactly like this.

Let’s talk about the build kit.

I’m no suspension geek, but I can say I’ve been very well served by the Rockshox Super Deluxe Select+ shock and the Lyrik Select fork.

My riding style doesn’t need more than the provided 140MM/150MM of travel, and keeping it this low allows for a more playful riding experience — what I’ve been looking for from the beginning after all.

Braking and power transfer have been also provided by SRAM. While the NX Eagle transmission kit is fine, the Code R brakes were not.

Magura MT7 — credits:

Last August I went riding with a friend in Calabria in one of the trail systems used for the South Italy Enduro Championship: the rear brake was totaled at the end of the ride.

I’m not talking about slight loss of power due to heat here, there was almost no pressure on the brake at all, it was all squishy.

A quick Internet™️ search showed this is a common issue, and nobody is actually using Code R’s for hardcore riding.

Weird, considering this is a 4-piston kit.

Turns out Code RSC are good, while the R’s are just a less-powerful, cheaper version of those.

Since I want to actually slow down and have a good time on trails, I gave up and upgraded to a pair of Magura MT7 4 piston disc brakes: definitely worth the money.

Stan’s rims are frankly amazing, they’re still true to this day even after surviving numerous attempts at their life by yours truly, in the form of obnoxious cases on very dumb double gaps.

The Novatec hubs at which the Stan’s rims are laced to are all right, I’d love slightly more engagement points but frankly I can’t justify spending that money at this point in time.

Tires-wise, Maxxis offering didn’t disappoint in the slightest.

Assegai front, DHR II on the back means grip for days!

The DHR II doesn’t roll the fastest, so I recently got a Michelin Race’R Enduro Rear which accelerates slightly faster and should allow me to climb a little bit easier.

I also moved to a Ergon SM Pro Saddle and GA2 grips, which as expected helped a lot with the ergonomics and overall feel of the bike.

Strava 2021 stats

Progression: jumps, fast trails and tinkering fear #

This year I tried focusing more on leveling up my MTB riding skills.

I found a very nice spot blessed by the community at about 15-20 minutes of car ride from home, which hosts about 5 different trails with various features and mix-ups among them.

They feature drops and jumps that upon first inspection could seem a little bit lame, but once you get on the bike and actually try riding them you’ll understand that the trail is fast, so hitting those features quickly becomes a skill problem.

Luckily for me I was able to mix and match various bits of course and features to best suit my skill level.

A scary jump, which I conquered shortly after taking this pic

This inevitably led to some very close moments: I could see my skill ceiling approaching faster and faster.

They say consistency is key, and by applying this principle relentlessly I can now say I’m a better rider than last year.

I now stop in front of every new feature or weird trail section to check on them and form hypothesis on how I could ride them — usually if the feature is not too extreme I’ll end up clearing it in two or five tries!

On the other hand, I also noticed an increased sense of confidence: I know I’ll just need practice to get better, on-trail experience is key to practice, hence I need to ride and not think too much.

It’s a weird and sometimes hard balance to strike!

In a 40 minutes car ride I can also now reach a full-blown bike park, with a cement pump track and a pretty cool training track which contains a jump line!

It’s a paid access park, but to be honest I’m happy to support a local entity, fostering the next generation of riders.

Biking progression doesn’t only comes in terms of new KOM record s or new highest drop ever dropped, for me it also means being able to wrench on your own bikes.

I’ve been getting more and more familiar with bike maintenance and overall mechanic skills, like greasing suspension pivot points, swapping cables and chain for new ones or even derailleur adjustment.

In fact, I even installed the Magura MT7 kit on the Scout on my own!

I still had to rely on the local bike shop for stuff I’m not yet able to do like clipping brake lines and doing a full-system bleed, but I’m confident I’ll learn those skills soon enough.

Where’s all the adventure? #

One thing I missed for sure is the thrill of adventure.

When I got into mountain biking I expected long days in the saddle, exploring unknown unknowns in my surroundings.

Turns out you have to train a lot to be able to sustain that kind of riding because sooner or later you’ll encounter a breath-killing climb.

Adding to that, an enduro-focused bike is not exactly recommended to explore and generally riding days worth of mostly gravel paths and dirt.

So I did what every cyclist would’ve done and followed the N+1 rule : I bought a Surly Midnight Special.

My line of thought is: I want something I can ride everywhere, that is both fast on tarmac and on gravel, not excessively heavy and easy to repair.

There’s a pretty big enduro scene where I currently live, but:

  1. Reaching that kind of riding spots involves a car ride.
  2. Most of the times I just want to ride my bike in a straight line, listen to a podcast and relax.
  3. I want to reach distant places quicker, obtaining that kind of adventure I’m looking for.

An all-road bike allows me to swiftly go from dirt to city roads, potentially even do some bikepacking: perfect for 80% of the riding I do.

To spice up things a little bit, this year I’ll pick up Geocaching again — turns out the paid plan unlocks quite a lot of caches, and I generally like the idea of supporting such outdoor-oriented-yet-digital-focused company.

New gear #

Got some new spicy gear in 2021:

  • FOX SpeedFrame Pro helmet
  • POC Joint VPD 2.0 knee pads
  • Garmin Edge 530 computer and Varia RTL510 radar/light
  • Komoot and Trailforks subscriptions
  • Aftershokz Openrun, a gift from my SO

Safety gear comes first, so I decided to drop a pretty penny on components that actually guarantee some degree of protection: they’ve already seen some gnarly low-speed crashes.

The Garmin Edge 530, Komoot and Trailforks subscriptions kind of go hand in hand.

Komoot has been consistently good for me mapping-wise — although I know it’s still somewhat flaky in other countries — and their tour planner is in my opinion state-of-art technology.

Trailforks is a bonus in some way: it’s cheap, has much more enduro-oriented trails mapped out than Komoot and has better worldwide coverage if I’ll ever need to move or travel with my bike.

Both services have “apps” that run on the Edge 530, which allows you to explore and navigate trail systems pretty easily… Until they don’t.

Garmin has done a great job on the Edge 530 software, but the same can’t be said about their mobile apps: they’re slow, unresponsive and constantly disconnect from the bike computer for no apparent reason.

Garmin Varia RTL510 - credits:

I still prefer using a bike computer than attaching an expensive phone while riding downhill tracks, but those few defects really tone down the experience.

The Varia on the other hand has been impeccable.

I feel safer riding on roads with that thing looking out for cars in the background, I highly advice any road/gravel rider to get one: it’s precise, battery last a ton and will allow you to concentrate more on riding rather than constantly checking your behind.

Aftershokz Openrun bone-conducting headphones are kind of a game-changer as well: I can listen to podcasts or music while riding but still retain a sense of my surroundings.

Coupled with the Varia, they make up for a great duo.

Lessons learned #

  • Max performance is achieved through perfect bike fit.
  • Bike fitting is hard, it’s time to get a professional involved.
  • Bailing out of hard or hazardous features is no big deal, better safe than sorry.
  • Bikes are meant to be ridden, walking a section just because “the bike might get scratched” is nonsensical.
  • There is no shame in bringing a bike to your favorite shop after messing with it, the only way to learn is by experimenting.

2022 fleet and goals #

For 2022, those are the bikes that I will ride this year:

Transition Scout carbon, if it has dirt on it then it is living its best life!
Surly Midnight Special, the free-roam bike.

Goals this year are few but important:

  1. Ride at least 2000 km, across enduro/trail or gravel/road
  2. Achieve a metric century , regardless of climbing distance or time