Well we’re well in to October now so I’m well overdue another post. This time I thought I’d treat you to a quick review of the 3 (now 4) bikes I brought out here.
Before I go on, I best mention that I’m still doing this in the garden, wearing shorts and a t shirt. Sorry.
I brought 3 bikes with me, a Genesis Core hardtail, a Nicolai Helius AC and a Nicolai Helius AM. However a few weeks ago I bought a Transition TR250 from a friend of mine and had it shipped out. All are on flat pedals. DMR Vaults on the HT, Answer on the rest…
I bought this bike from Head for the Hills in Dorking a year ago as a winter bike. As with all my bikes, it’s been viciously upgraded. The whole drivetrain was upgraded with SRAM X9 2×10 cranks with Shimano XT other bits, Thomson stem, Easton carbon bars. For the trip I put on a a chunky Specialized Purgatory front tyre which works really well. I’m running tubes on this bike (the other 3 are tubeless on Mavic wheels).
The bike’s mainly been used for just zipping around town and road rides when the thumb was mashed. But I’ve hired it out a few times, and fellow guide Tom’s brother rode it for a week out on the trails and loved it. I’m not sure my 47 year old ass, loaded with an 8kg backpack would thank me for riding the rocky trails here for a whole day.
Modifications since I’ve been here: I finally gave up on the crappy 2011 SLX brakes and I ordered 2012 XT brakes from CRC. Why would you fit any other brake?
Verdict: The bike is now pretty much perfect. It’s slackish head angle and 120mm coil fork (with 20mm axle!) make it a very playful bike and it loves a bit of urban fun. Alfie rode it hard on the big boys’ trails when he was out here and it didn’t fail to deliver smiles. Pinch punctures aside… The wheels are a bit heavy, but that’s no bad thing out here.
Nicolai Helius AC (2010)
My oldest bike and probably my favourite. This has been the goto bike while I’ve been here and it’s covered by far the most miles. It’s a 140mm bike (140mm/32mm Fox Float fork, 146mm rear travel – RP23) and this is enough for most of the trails out here until it starts to get a bit more hardcore.
It ‘only’ has a ‘small’ headtube, a 15mm front axle and a standard QR rear axle, so it can feel a bit flexy in the rock gardens, but the light weight (28lb) and Crossmax ST wheels pay dividends on the climbs. It’s super nimble in the singletrack, the faster and twistier the better. It really loves it. Easton Haven bars and a matching 70mm stem give great control. I fitted a Reverb post (100mm) just before coming out. A Godsend. Recommended.
I’m running 2×9 with a bash ring as I don’t want a scar on my calf to add to my injuries. 24/36 front chainrings.
Modifications since I’ve been here: I quickly swapped out the 32 tooth cassette for a 34 to get me up the steeper climbs. Once I’d worn the Nobby Nics out (2.10″) I replaced then with Fat Alberts. A larger volume tyre but still light. The bike is now less of a handful on the technical rocky ups & downs. These tyres seem to really like a lower pressure – around 25 PSI. The Hope X2 brakes need a service, but that can wait till the end of the season.
Verdict: Faultless. If I was buying one now for riding here, I’d spec a bolt thru rear axle and tapered headtube, and maybe a 34mm stanchioned fork. But would it lose its spirit?
Nicolai Helius AM (2011)
2011 model, also bought from Head for the Hills in Dorking (who have also been great at getting spares and a DH bike out to me). The bike was originally a Lapierre Spicy 916, but I transplanted the frame. Since then several parts have been upgraded, but the wheels (Crossmax SX), brakes (Formula R1), transmission (XT/XTR) remain.
This should in theory be the ideal bike for the Basque trails. Beefy 36mm fork with 20mm axle, superstiff frame, renowned Nicolai (copied by Specialized) 4 bar suspension, top end components, DHX 5.0 shock. It’s no that much heavier than the AC at 32-33 pounds. But I nearly always choose to ride the AC unless it’s all downhill, or really rocky. The bike just never really seems to feel as alive as the AC. Recently I have started really playing with the shock and fork pressures and settings and things are starting to head in the right direction. I have even now read the the full guidance instructions for the shock (which I should have done a long time ago) and now I think I understand how it should all work – I hope to fine tune things on the next few rides and get the bike to deliver what it should have been for the last year.
It’s not a bad bike – it’s great on super rocky descents where you can really pick a line and the bike will follow it. It’s just not as good as it could be. Easton Haven bars again, but this time with a 55mm stem. R1 brakes deliver stopping power in spades (especially with a 203mm front disc!). Bolt through rear axle and 1.5″ taper headset add more stiffness, and the rear just tracks with seemingly zero deviation.
Modifications since I’ve been here: I finally killed the Crank Bros Joplin dropper post early on. Awkward landing off a drop all but snapped the saddle off. Finally got the excuse I needed to buy another 100mm Reverb. I finally killed the 160mm TALAS fork a month ago. Dropped it on a rock. Finally got the excuse I needed to get a new Float 160mm with FIT and Kashima. A vast improvement and one of the reasons the bike felt dead before. But need to suss out all the various knobs on the fork – too many!
I also fitted a Bontrager FR3 tyre to the rear – I did have FR4s front and back. They’re very grippy but also very knobbly and heavy. The FR3 is a bit lighter but has a flat centre section which rolls far quicker – making the bike easier to climb on (another step in the right direction).
Verdict: Must try harder. Once the suspension is sussed, this bike will be awesome
Ahem! I seem to have acquired a downhill bike! I have been thinking about getting one for a while, since I have been riding at local DH spots in the UK. We’re also planning a trip to Molini next month, but I could never really justify the cost. Until I noticed my friend Alex’s almost brand new TR250 for sale on Pinkbike.com. He’d bought it for Rogate but needed to sell it. It’s such a beautiful and well specced bike that I couldn’t resist, especially at that price.
A deal was done and the superb Roger at Head for the Hills (who had no connection with the bike) agreed to box it up and arrange shipment.
I’ve only ridden it for one day, but I think it’s probably my most memorable day’s riding here! The bike is so SO FAST, and just flies over everything! Big steep rock garden? Just let off the brakes, point and shoot – just focus on the other side and you are there… Slight kicker? Just flick the bike up and it flies way further than you thought possible. Probably cos you’re going so much faster… The 180mm coil sprung front and rear feels super plush but super responsive. The chassis feels like a tank – no hint of flex anywhere, whatever I rode over.
I was actually giggling out loud as I rode down Jaizkibel – both sides.
It’s not a full on DH rig – it’s a mini DH/bike park/freeride bike, so is a bit shorter and less slack with ‘only 180mm travel’, but I doubt I’ll need anything more serious than this. The bike is amazingly specced. XTR brakes, XTR mech, Deemax wheels, Thomson stem and post, Saint cranks, Spank 777mm bars. No upgrades required.
Having said that – for reasons I won’t go into – after the test ride I had to ride back from the guests’ B&B in Spain to Doug’s place in France where I’d left my van – on the bike. I have now ordered a ‘proper’ cassette and a QR seatpost clamp, to allow me to pedal it on the flat and uphills! It’s only got a 24T cassette at the moment, which is fine when heading down, but not great for the odd intermediate climb between plummets. The bike rides remarkably well on the road!