I recently took my Cannondale M800 Beast of the East out for a ride with some guys at Glendale. The Beast is a early 90s 26 inch rigid mountain bike with cantilever brakes. The guys I was riding with were on modern 29er full suspension bikes, good full suspension bikes. Gear in mountain biking can be cost prohibitive, mountain bikes are so expensive and so easy to break that the sport can feel like a money pit. Even when it was new the entire Beast cost less then many of the forks that people ride these days. Can a person ride a old, cheap, lowtech bike and still have an enjoyable time?
It’s always interesting to ride with different people and see other styles, especially in mountain biking. The general population views mountain biking from an X-games perspective, they see us bombing down hills, shredding dirt, going airborne at every opportunity and just generally “tricking” our way down the trails. It’s the way we’ve always been shown on TV. There are people who only ride mountain bikes for that kind of adrenaline rush even here in Southern Illinois, but I’ve never ridden with them, not my thing.
My usual riding group has a certain style, you’re not likely to see the back wheel ever come off the ground, and the front only when required. Downhills are ridden very cautiously and uphills are powered up since almost everyone is on single speed and has no other option. Screwed up, gnarled up, trail sections are attempted since we encounter them so often. Usually everyone is on rigid bikes, it’s no frills XC at its finest.
The group at Glendale had a similar, though different style. Their was some occasional bunny hopping going on, downhills were bombed, uphills were ridden briskly but spun up with low gears. The ride was quick and the trails were mostly fast. It’s a much more all mountain or enduro style of riding.
I was able to stay with the ride and have an enjoyable time on the ancient Beast, but I couldn’t stay with them in the downhills. The 29er full suspension bikes are so much faster downhill that I slipped back on all the downhills, especially the technical ones. The super narrow, 90s style flat bar is less than confidence inspiring. Some of this could also be blamed on rider skill, these guys were just good at bombing downhills.
Climbing was a different story. I had just thrown on a new set of wheels, which I stuck a road bike cassette on, still the 3 ringer crank gives me a low enough gear for most climbing. I found out on the first climb that the lower gears on the cassette weren’t working, either because of chain/cassette wear mismatch, or some tuning that needs to be performed. My climbing was compromised from chain jumping, but I was still able to hang with the guys on the climbs. The rigid frame, and narrow bars with bar ends really shine when climbing, especially out of the saddle.
There is no doubt that in a capable pilots hand the Beast could have been just as fast downhill as the full suspension 29ers, but the amount of skill and lack of self preservation required to do that is far beyond me. Fortunately for me the downhills at Glendale are short, had we been riding on trails with long downhill sections, which you’re not really going to find around here, those guys would have left me far behind.
I’ll just conclude by saying that you don’t need a high dollar wonder bike to have a good time. You’ll probably have a better time on one, sure, but ride what you’ve got.