So, I went up to Cannock this weekend for the Leisure Lakes demo day with a view to trying out a bunch of different bikes (and pick up a secondhand M9 at the same time ). I was quite surprised by how I found the ride, and thought it might be interesting to share. My main intention going into this was to have a look at trail bikes a bit smaller than my current Tracer 2, to try and reduce the number of bikes taking up house space. I also wanted to have a go on different wheel sizes - all my bikes have 26" wheels, so I wanted to see if I was missing out on anything...
Disclaimer: views are all my own, no offence is implied to anyone regardless of your biking orientation
Leisure Lakes had a good setup going on; loads of manufacturers with demo bikes (Santa Cruz, Whyte, Trek, Cube, Yeti, Lapierre, GT, Intense, Cannondale, Scott, Orange, Specialized) plus a few other bike-related companies. The test loop was about 20 mins long, and included a couple of really nice descents and then a horrible stupid climb home again.
First up was my bike: a normal-wheeled Intense Tracer 2 (medium), with Fox suspension front and rear plus 1x9 X0 gearing and a KS Lev.
Obviously since it's my bike it was great - nice and fast on the way down, but a little bit of kick over the jumps - maybe need to slow the rebound down a touch. I did run out of gears on the way back up though, and it's not a light bike. Oh and 2 minutes from home my rear wheel ate my mech - bugger!
Santa Cruz Bronson
I tested the medium, build with Pikes and a 1x11 XX1 drivetrain. First thought was it's a bit cramped - maybe should have tried the L. Pikes felt fine, pretty much the same as the Floats (36 RC2s) on my Tracer. XX1 was lovely - very nice to have the bailout gears at the top of the block.
The big thing for me that it was nice on the downhills, but not noticeably better than my Tracer. I was expecting to be able to feel at least a little difference from the wheel size, but nope! Nice bike though, but for the cost of upgrading (frame, forks, wheels) I'm not sure I'd bother.
Santa Cruz 5010
I got the large this time, built with Float 34s and XX1. Sizing was much better in the large, although maybe a touch stretched in the TT.
First obviously noticeable thing was in the first corner - the BB on this is LOW. I caught pedals 4-5 times on the way round the loop - not a huge problem, but I'd probably fit 165mm cranks if I was buying this.
The Floats were definitely not as good as the Pikes on the Bronson - mostly noticeable on the way down though, coming back up they were fine. The rear was surprisingly harsh compared to the Bronson - certainly more than I was expecting given it's only got 1" less travel. Maybe the shock tune was a bit off for me. Again, a good bike - but not significantly better than my Tracer.
Intense Carbine 27.5
Given the last two bikes, I wasn't expecting a world-changing experience here, but I kind of got one. The build on this bike was very different to the first two - triple chainset, Revelation forks, no dropper post, <700mm bars. And it was dreadful! The front end felt horrible on the way down, really difficult to keep confidence in the corners and rougher sections with this build.
I tried to focus on the frame as much as possible - the rear felt controlled on the rougher bits, and felt comfortable in the air. The problem was I kept coming back to the steering and front end stability, and it just wasn't there. I'd love to try this with a XX1 / Pike / 750mm bar setup to see what it could really do.
Intense Carbine 29
Given the number of bikes at the demo and that I'd never ridden a 29er, I wanted to confirm my suspicions that "I'm not tall enough for a 29er, they're some kind of weirdo niche wheel size" So a 29er carbon version of my current bike seemed like a good starting point! Thankfully this had a solid build kit - back to Pikes and XX1 - so I could concentrate on the bike properly.
First corner in and I was stunned. Every bike I'd ridden so far I'd been able to just point round and pedal out. With the Carbine I had to really jump on the brakes on the way into the corner - it's SO fast over rough stuff. That was the same story all the way down - this bike is incredible. The only minor niggle I had was nearly getting kicked off over a jump - as it turns out some pillock had wound the rebound all the way off the rear shock. A second run down with the rebound in the middle and the bike felt great in the air - nice and controlled and easy to handle.
I really cannot overstate how good this bike is. Switchbacks were a little cumbersome, but with the riding I do I rarely encounter any - so it's a worthwhile compromise. I'd like to get a full day's riding on a test bike and maybe hit some proper jumps, but the 30 minutes I spent on the Carbine were enough to convince me it'd probably be a worthwhile upgrade over my 26er.
Intense Spider 29 Comp
Last bike for the day and my legs were feeling it! Thankfully this had a decent build kit as well, so my last run was a good one. Just like the Carbine 29, the big wheels made this bike very fast. It gave a little away on the way down to the Carbine, but not a huge amount. Still felt nice and composed in the air and really rapid!
On the flats and the way back up it was marginally quicker than the Carbine 29. I don't think I could choose between the two for an all-day bike - the Carbine only weighs 1/3 of a pound more, and the descents are the fun bit - so it might be worth the small compromise on the way up...
What I missed
Sadly I ran out of time (and legs) by the end of the day. I really wanted to try a Yeti and the Specialized Stumpy / Enduro Evos, but didn't get the chance. It might also be worth pointing out here that Specialized didn't have any 26ers in their demo fleet - just 29ers.
TL;DR: 650b doesn't make a difference, 29ers are great