The Geometry Spectrum

In recent years bike geometry has become a big talking point among riders.

Longer reach, slacker head-angle, steeper seat tube, longer wheel base and the perpetual argument about if chainstays should be growing or shrinking. These are but a few of the aspects that make-up a good balanced frame design. But the numbers tend to be discussed in isolation from one another by riders when contrasting and comparing geometry tables. That being said, the more experienced (generally speaking) a rider is, the more of the geo-chart they take into account when making bike choices. However, the conversation rarely expands into how one element affects the other, and that is truly the crux of the matter.

But regardless of how informed the general biking public is to the finer points of frame design, the trend is that geometry is getting slacker, longer and lower.

The first thing we have to accept, is that there is no single magic set of numbers, no magic bullet, there is no such thing as “perfect geometry“. Geometry gives a set of characteristics and a certain feel to a frame (not withstanding the suspension platform if applicable). It will bias a frame to be better suited for certain types of riding and certain types of terrain. Whilst sharing the share same DNA, we can all agree that XC race bikes are different from DH rigs.

Whilst the “Enduro Bike” did start life as a beefed up trail bike, it has become a identifiable niche within the market and one where geometry is arguably, king.

It is also a perfect balancing act, If you change one thing you have to change it all, you cannot simple extend one aspect in isolation. A bike designer once described it to me as spinning plates.

For example if you extend the top tube and thus the reach, that will move the riders weight forwards and this may imbalance the ride.  So a designer may choose to shorten the chainstays to account for that shift in the riders weight. If they don’t, then the back end may become unweighted more easily and be prone to breaking traction.

Now if we take the view that the best riding position is central on the bike (and ignore the impact differing wheel sizes have to the equation). Then we can make some objective observations on how frame geometry has evolved over the last 10 or so years.

To illustrate this, I will track the evolution of a fairly critical and influential bike, the Specialized Enduro. Whilst the “Enduro Bike” did start life as a beefed up trail bike, it has become a identifiable niche within the market and one where geometry is arguably, king.

But I thought the top tube and thus the reach, was meant to be getting longer as well?

Now lets have a look at some key figures, the headliners if you will.

  • Head Angle
  • Top Tube Length
  • Wheel Base
  • Chainstay length

The trend has been for the head angle to slacken, the wheel base and reach to grow and the chainstays to be kept as short (or as static) as possible.

year Head Angle Top Tube Length Wheel Base Chainstay Length
2005 68º 623 mm 1156 mm 424 mm
2009 67° 620 mm 1177 mm 421 mm
2010 66.5° 620 mm 1185 mm 419 mm
2014 66.5° 617 mm 1183 mm 419 mm
2017 65.5° 604 mm 1201 mm 425 mm

All of these sizes are taken from large size frames.

So whats actually going on here?

The head angle is consistently getting slacker and the wheelbase is getting incrementally longer. But I thought the top tube and thus the reach, was meant to be getting longer as well?

The wheelbase is being extended in two ways, by throwing the front wheel forwards from slackening the HA and latterly by extending the chainstays. But if we look closely, the reach is actually contracting, in a size large, it shrinks 7mm from 2010 to the current year model.

Specialized has a secret sauce in the Enduro, and people like it.

But if longer and slacker leads to a more stable and therefore, faster platform then why are the big S shrinking the reach of their race happy Enduro? Why not go all in and extend the top tube and the reach aswell? In my mind it comes down to two things, the elusive “ride feel” and the rider that they are selling this bike to.

Geometry gives a certain feel, some riders prefer a bike that is not to long as a shorter bike feels more “playful“. Specialized has a secret sauce in the Enduro, and people like it. They don’t want to move the position of the riders weight on the bike as that will change that feel. But riders have also drunk deep of the Enduro cool aid, so Spesh needs to not only make a bike that still feels like an Enduro, but also appears to be following the trend of longer slacker bikes being better without changing the taste of the secret sauce.

The second point that I feel is pertinent is the market that they are selling the bike to, or more accurately how broad that spectrum of riders is. A bike that is genuinely longer and slacker, regardless of what the chainstays or top tube are doing on paper, will appear to be very different to what has gone before. It will also feel different, and that will put some riders off.

Now there is no getting around it, if you are designing a race specific bike that is built around 160mm of travel, then you will probably come up with some more aggressive numbers than what the Enduro has. But the vast majority of riders don’t need a race specific bike, they would find it harsh and beyond what they were used to. So when your objective is to sell as many bikes as possible, which approach do you take?

Now this is by no means an attack on the abilities of this very capable bike or the riders who choose them. Change is generally slow and usually has interim steps, hybrids before full electric cars for example.

but when looking at geo tables and comparing bikes that are on the market, maybe compare them to previous iterations as well, to get a sense of how a frame has been evolving to see whether it is indeed the frame for you.

Rewarded

No good deed goes unrewarded, so the saying goes.

Some people would warn against emotional attachment to objects, they would say that a bike is simply a tool that serves a function, versatile it may be it is still a just a utilitarian object. I am not one of those people, having spent the long hours together I know not only the characters and capabilities of my bikes but their names also.

Sven the bike 2

Sven Specialized hardrock fat creations before stravaiging 1

Sven is a Specialized Hardrock, he is not a flashy frame, nor a poorly conceived one. he is part of a long line that through gradual refinement and evolution has led to him being a compliant, comfortable, fast and adaptable frame. If we borrowed language from the drug world he would be a “gateway bike”, easy to ride, forgiving to beginners but fast and surprisingly capable once you’ve gotten to know him.

Hardrocks are usually considered a beginners entry level bike, they have a special place in many peoples hearts as they introduced them to riding. I rode mountain bikes as a teenager, but after a long break when I discovered gin and other distractions at university Sven reminded me of what I didn’t know I had missed.

I wanted a Hardrock that was unique, the build has been a continuous project which has left no component stock. I liked the colour and graphics but the paint was a little tired and my tastes in colourways has matured. A respray was the answer.

I spoke about Fat Creations in a previous post, having had some email conversations with Ali at Fat Creations I started the tricky process of designing my own colour and graphics package.

ruling out everything from murdered out stealth to candy apple red I settled on a petrol blue and teal colourway in metallic pearl paint.

With the RAL codes confirmed I parceled Sven up and confused the local post office with the size of the box and waited impatiently for Christmas.

Needless to say, Ali did a stunning job the photo’s honestly don’t do it justice as the depth of paint and metallic finish really sing in natural light. All that is left to do is to build him back up, get some nice finishing touches and take the time to service and build the best bike he can be.

Shed time
Shed time

Sven the bike 7


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Got Soul

Going fast on a bike, or in my case, moderately fast requires a few key elements including but not limited to confidence on and in the bike.

If your confidence in the bike is shaken either through potential mechanical, the something not feeling right or the dreaded rattle of something that is definitely not right. This for me usually results in the end of any pace during that particular ride, the off feeling or rattle claws at my confidence until its probably best to just head for home and call it a day.

Or the slightly harder to quantify feeling of confidence on the bike, confidence on the bike only comes from time spent on the saddle. Some bikes take a little longer to bond with than others but once you truly know a bike you can achieve performance beyond what the spec sheet tells you.

A bike like this moves not under you but as part of you.

Some believe that the tools of the craftsman take on some of the knowledge of the owner, the well used hammer helping to guide the hand of the novice, transferring its tactile knowledge born of experience.

When you truly know your bike it feels like this, the bike guiding you as much as you pilot it, the shared experiences and time together bonding you together as brothers of the trail.

Sven Specialized Hardrock 10 under the ben race prepped

Sven is my bike, he is that sort of bike, we have spent the time, the miles, the metres climbed together. Some people name their bikes, Sven told me his but only after time together on the trails.

He has taught me most of what I know about riding bikes, he has taught me the joy of the trail, the elation of the climb, the thrill of the descent and the deep darkness of bonking. His build has been a running project for most of our years together, 3x 2x 1x, 8, 9 and 10 he has been through them all.

Raleigh Max Ogre 15 USA design, where it started

In my youth I rode bikes in the woods but I was oblivious to the growth and evolution of the sport, I simply hurtled down chutes on my rigid Raleigh MAX Ogre. I knew the bike, I knew what the brakes would and mostly wouldn’t do but I did not know what cycling could really mean.

Sven was the bike that brought me back into the sport, he taught me what it was, what it had become and he showed me what it could mean to me and for that he should be cherished.

I want to thank him for the gift.

Fat Creations is a custom painter who specializes in bicycle frames working with 100% paint, no decals or vinyl, his work is fantastic with a flawless finish. A Custom respray is a fitting thank you for a friend this loyal, he is one of a kind and deserves to look that way. It is all a bit of a love letter really.

Thanks for the ride and the adventures to come.


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Tour De Ben Nevis 2014

No Fuss’s Tour De Ben Nevis is one of those events that makes first timers question why they entered.

But this is no bucket list race that you simply tick off and move on from, it gets under your skin. Once raced and short term memory loss helps you to forget the lactic acid and oxygen debt, you are left only with the memory of a real adventure. Of a truly wild route, with some spectacular scenery and the nagging mistakes you made that you know you can improve on, next time.

Any bike is both the perfect bike and totally the wrong bike for this race. A XC whippet will get you so far (pretty far in fact), but a 140-160mm enduro weapon will get you further on some of the special stages. Your final place is based on points earned from each stage so bike choice and tactics play a big part of your day. Are you racing some stages and winching the distance, or racing the distance and losing time on the gravity stages?

Tough call.

Ready for the off Tour De Ben Nevis 2014 Race Fort William

This was the second time I had entered the Tour, I had ramped up my training with gym work and a lot more long distance training rides on natural and rugged terrain. I was feeling fit and the bike was riding well.

The previous year it had rained for a prolonged period in the run up and it showered throughout the day. This brought on certain challenges but kept the temperature and the dust down, the wet conditions made the loose land rover tracks a good bit firmer and easier to climb on. This time the sun shone down with the mercury hovering in the low twenties, the trails were bone dry and some key climbs were loose and dusty.

Pipe band Tour De Ben NEvis 2013

The race always starts with an atmosphere that is unique to the tour, the sense of pent up tension is palpable as the racers follow a Pipe band down Fort William High street in a rolling start. Reaching the start line the race breaks with the contenders going full gas up the road climb that helps to thin the pack out. The race is self seeding, so you quickly discover how optimistic or unrealistic your performance expectations were.

You gain height fast during the first few kilometres, climbing the road out of Fort William towards the West Highland Way the pack naturally thins out. Upon reaching the end of the tarmac, the long, loose and rocky road begins, the races rhythm changes and the work truly begins.

The undulating trail is flanked by some jaw dropping scenery that helps to distract from the fact that you are still climbing. The usual bottleneck at the start of the first of the special stage gives you a nice break and a chance to refuel and taking in the view. You clock out once you get there so the queue doesn’t affect your overall time, its not far off of one third of the race route, but you would be a fool to think the rest will be straight forward, that was the easy bit!

Start of Stage 2 Tour De Ben Nevis 2014

This stage is a descent from the WHW down into Kinlochleven, it starts on open hillside and is rough, rocky and loose with the kind of water bars that would stop a small tank.

It is a trail that will bite you hard in the tubes if ridden clumsily and requires your A game to take at race pace. Having brought my A game the previous year and still flatted hard I was determined for a clean, if not a competitively paced run.

Tour De Ben Nevis 2014 Race Stage 2 Kinlochleven descent
A uncharacteristically mellower turn

Dropping through the rocks and keeping it light on the rear wheel I was passing fellow XCers with tyres around there feet as they had been bitten by the trail. A tyre change on the stage could be considered a tactical error as the clock is still counting, last year I shouldered the bike and ran the remainder of the stage, another tactical error as it was a waste of energy when the stage (and arguably your race) was already done.

On meeting the tree line the trail mellows, slightly, with a wet roots and rock adding to the mix with grippy wet loam in the damper turns with a final sprint down a shaley rut.

Dibbing out I was instantly hit with cramp in my hands and calves, this would a recurring feature of the rest of the race. The hands eased up with some ibuprofen  to keep it at bay. My legs were another story, fives minutes of crippled crouching and I was able to straighten my legs enough to get back on the bike, it was going to be a long day.

Tour De Ben Nevis 2014 2 Scotland

I think preferred doing it in last years rain.

The next stage was the first climbing stage of the day and one many riders will be familiar with, the long haul out of Mamore Lodge up to Loch Eilde Mor is a 3.5km thigh burner with 135m vertical gain. Easy, knuckle down and grind it out, or so you would hope. The unseasonal heat had turned the land rover track into a morass of bone dry sand and pea sized stones that robbed you of all traction and momentum,  having to keep changing your cadence so you wouldn’t dig into the trail meant the burn was pretty fierce. All under the blazing sun that still showed no sign of remembering it was the end of September, in Scotland. I think preferred doing it in last years rain.

Not far after the end of the stage was the river crossing and the fabled hike-a-bike climbing stage, at least the dry weather was on our side for the river crossing. The previous year it was thigh high this year you could ride straight across, well, almost.

The Goat track that forces you to shoulder your bike goes 250m up a narrow rutted peat bog between Meall a’ Bhuirich and Meall Mor in a mere 2.7km, before a sprawling delta of slab and rock take you down to the bothy and the second feed station. When saturated with a fortnights worth of rain the previous year it felt like a full on rout. Curtains of rain washed over muddied and broken riders who were sinking into mud and peat, this year, who know what we would find.

sportograf-54750256

The Indian summer had dried the bog all the deepest pools and was a quick scarper up the stair like ledges of turf and stone. The cramp was never far behind as the acid build up caused me the hunker down on more than one occasion. Cresting the many false peaks it was starting to look like something you could ride down rather than climb up. letting the bike run and using the trail, the decent from the saddle was a total blast of natural terrain. Line options were abundant with some sneaky dead ends to catch you out, it rewarded heads up and looking long down the trail.

Reaching the bothy, the barbeque was in full flow, quickly feeding up and changing socks it was a short spin to the 5.5km of unbroken descent on fast and rough Landrover tracks down the other side. Back into the respite of the forest after a day without shade, the relief from the heat was soon tempered by yet more cramp followed soon after by the slow, creeping, hollow feeling of being on the edge of bonking (ahem).

slow, creeping, hollow, feeling of being on the edge of bonking (ahem)

For cyclists that have never properly bonked, it is a feeling of near desperation and helplessness that makes you want to lie down by the side of the trail, and to wait for the woodland creatures to finish you off. Your body has run out of fuel and has nothing left to give.

Once you’ve bonked its too late, you cant get back to feeling fresh and recovering on the ride, the best you can hope for is a limp home. Eating like mad and pleading with the velo gods that I could eat enough, fast enough, to arrest the bonk and get enough steam to get me home. I tried to block out the knowledge that another special stage was at the end of the forest slog.

Crossing  the classic Puggy Line at the Nevis Range the noise and fury of the SDA downhill race roared over head as we Tour De Benners quietly made our way underneath the track.

Making the final push to the top of the stage four, it was a mix tape of brilliant trails linked together with a punishing fire road sprint. Starting With Blue crane and bomb hole then on to Nessie before dibbing out.

Tour De Ben Nevis 2014 Stage 4 Nevis Range Race

The final push is through to Torlundy and onto Fort William, the race actually ends before you reach the main road to keep riders safe and not racing on the roads. That said the group that had built up at the end of the course couldn’t help but slowly build into a sprint to the finish.

Totally smashed and grinning from ear to ear, it was time to collect the timings and make plans for next time.

Tour De Ben Nevis 2014 Race Route Enduro