Nicolai Helius AC – Part Deux

Now in Alpine ready mode?

So, the initial build was ok but it needed some changes if I was going to take it to Morzine for a week. The 69degree head angle was fine with the Fox Talas 32s but the 32s were not enough for some of the brake bump rutted tracks out there and so I swapped them […]

Now in Alpine ready mode?

So, the initial build was ok but it needed some changes if I was going to take it to Morzine for a week. The 69degree head angle was fine with the Fox Talas 32s but the 32s were not enough for some of the brake bump rutted tracks out there and so I swapped them out for some Talas 36s. At full stretch they are 160mm, which is only 10mm more than the 32s but enough to slacken the bike a good degree when the rear pivot was set to it’s maximum travel position. The bars came off too and some slightly narrower (680mm) Crank Brothers Iodine bars went on. That and a BlackJack Sniper DH 20mm front wheel were about the extent of my Alpine changes.

Now I’d been riding it for a good couple of months in its shorter travel, more UK centric mode (not that 150mm of Fox 32 travel can really be claimed to be short) and so this was a good opportunity to gauge the differences between what I intended to be a good Alpine build and it’s more usual UK technical trail style setup.

Now even with the Boost Valve armed new Fox shock, climbing when in the full travel position (Remember this frame has four rear shock settings) is just about ok at best. There’s so much travel to be had in this mode that the excellent Fox shock just struggles to tame the rear end. Moving the rear shock position down a notch makes all the difference though and after some experimenting in all four positions the 3rd longest position was the one I opted for around our steep local trails. It climbed just fine with manageable levels of bob and in this position, especially with a long fork at the front, I never felt I’d run out of travel, even on bigger hits.

In Morzine though, I switched to the longest travel position and to hell with the seasick climbing feeling. Actually, I didn’t climb at all to be honest. That’s what lift passes are for.

Whether I ran this Nicolai in long or slightly more climb friendly shorter mode the one aspect of the ride that came through every time was the stiffness of the rear end. Those square sectioned stays may look rather too industrial to some (I rather like the mix of round and square) but the tracking of the rear end in even the sketchiest of rocky, rear wheel twanging moments was just excellent. Even when the braking bumps and rocks were taking the big Fox 36 forks beyond their limits at the front I never had to worry about where the rear was going – it was right there, tracking the steering of the front of the bike like a hardtail. This is no mean feat when you consider there are a fistful of pivots in there on this Four Bar bike. It certainly made a change from last year’s Yeti 575 that although a great bike it’s not for the features of the slightly twangy rear end that I miss it.

I narrowed the bars from 720mm to 680mm just prior to Morzine. The 720mm were just too wide for me but in retrospect 680 were a little too narrow for the Alps. Perfect for home though.

Now I’m back I’ve yet to put the Fox 32s back on, which are a much more appropriate fork for my general trail riding. But I had such a good time taking this bike as close to it’s limits as I could out in the Alps that I’ve kept the 36’s on there for now. The rear shock position will be dropping a notch but I think we’ll see how it gets on with its burlier front end for a while.

Now, on to the XT 10speed groupset I’ve been running…

A slightly odd choice of making it burly enough for a week of Alpine riding and yet having not only a triple chainset but 10speed at the back too. And as you would expect it was perhaps not the best choice. I lost my chain a lot. You really do need a chain device if you want to spend a week of lift assisted trail riding without frequent stops to put your chain back on – or worse. Three days in to the week and my chain not only came off but jammed itself down between the pivot and the granny ring. I had to remove the crank arm to release it. Ironically the gap it jammed down was exactly the right width to really chew up a 10 speed chain. A thicker 9 speed chain wouldn’t of fit and probably not jammed. I had a mangled link and had to repair the chain and run it shorter. Not a problem really since I had no plans to go near the big ring and a slightly shorter chain would help it to stay on the rings a little better. However, before the week was out I’d snapped it twice more – each in different places. Whether this was a result of the slightly twisted damage that I had to wrestle back in to alignment on the first mangle I will have to reserve judgement on. Needless to say though, a week of Alpine lift assisted riding is not the best place for a ten speed setup without a chain device.

Mark

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Long Termers

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