Rental bikes, love or hate them, we all need the convenience of them at sometime in our riding lives.
Rental bikes can be a lot of fun, they are like rental cars. Which as we all know, are the fastest cars around as the wear and tear of ragging them silly is not going to come back to bite you. But like all things there are good and bad examples of the breed.
Last year I rode a brilliant rental from Bothy Bikes in Aviemore. It was a well maintained, fast and well thought out bike with a good solid build and a sensible cockpit. Occasionally a rental is an opportunity to ride something different, a new bike (to you) on unfamiliar trails or a chance to try a 29er or a fat bike for example.
At the start of the year whilst visiting family in south Lanarkshire and close to Glentress I found myself with some time free, but without a bike. Alpine bikes do a rental service at GT, so it seemed a good opportunity to sample their rental fleet and get a new year spin in the legs. I thought another run on a 29er HT would be fun as the red and blue trails would suit a bike like the one I rode from Bothy bikes. Unfortunately, this was not like the bike from Bothy Bikes.
Collecting the bike at the Peel centre shop was an fast and easy process, however they had lost my pre-booking so I was charged £5 more for my hire. The bike was a Trek X-Caliber 7, the entry level model, with a build that did nothing to hide its price point.
Featured a 3 x 9 speed Acera drive train and Shimano M355 disc brakes, with 80mm of travel up front handled by a Rockshox XC30. The finishing kit was all Trek’s in house brand Bontrager and to be fair, was fairly solid. All this weighed in at a mighty 30/31 lbs so it was fair to say this was no feather weight cross country whippet.
Sadly, even though this was a large sized frame and the 2016 model, the cockpit was both long and narrow, with a 90mm stem and sub 700mm bars.
It became quickly apparent that things where not entirely well, this was not a healthy bike and it had had a very hard rental life. If you put down any power the chain would jump the rear cassette when in the middle of the block. Convenient. When the bike was lent to the right would drop gears and shift down and in a left turn it would shift up. And to top it off, the front brake was as useful as one of those plastic display puddings you get at a chain restaurant. Fully pulled to the bar, I could still pedal uphill.
It was a lazy diesel engine, and a heavy one at that
But I didn’t come here for the climb. Finally topping out at the familiar benches at the start of Spooky Wood, probably the most famous trail in Scotland after the Fort William WC track.
It was my turn to drop in, time to see if this 29er came to life when gravity was assisting. Handling like all the things you expect a middling 29er to be, slow to accelerate and was at its best when it was allowed to carry its momentum. Turns needing initiating earlier, but it was the heavy feel at the crank and the lack of any acceleration that was the most notable. It was a lazy diesel engine, and a heavy one at that.
However this was soon to be over shadowed by a far more uncomfortable sensation.
The tyres, I discovered, had at the very least 60psi in them, presumably to ensure they didn’t puncture. This meant every small stone was communicated to the fork with the tyres lacking composure on even the most groomed sections of trail. The most basic of basic forks, predictably, lacked any small bump sensitivity. So by half way down Super Gee I could feel my knuckles rattling apart. This bone shaker ride quality only got worse the fast you went and eventually I had to slow to walking pace as it was getting acutely painful.
With the ride comfort simulating acute arthritis, I opted to let as much air out the tyres that I dared and head back on blue trails, in hope of saving my hands from becoming useless claws for the rest of the day. While this took the edge of I was reminded of the tyres in every berm and gee out as the squired under the now lack of pressure.
Arriving back at the Peel centre I handed over my rental donkey to the shop mech, who asked how it was. “Rough” was about all I could muster in summery, along with “You might want to look at the front brake”.