After buying and selling a few bikes to condense down the bike collection (shock/horror)somehow I’ve managed to find myself without a full susser for the first time in about 10 years! I’m keen to rectify this catastrophe asap but in the interim I found myself a bit short of a big bike for my stag weekend in the Lake District. As I’m sure you’ll know the lakes are brutally rocky and technical. With the prospect of the Dolly Wagon descent from the top of Helvelyn on Bank Holiday Monday I was reluctant to take my Trek hardtail up there.
Step in M Steel Cycles Demo fleet. I was keen to try out something bigger wheeled than my previous 26er full suss and the shop came up trumps with an Orange Five 650b with Fox 34’s. It was my first go on a ‘tweener’ sized bike and although sceptical about how much difference I would be able to tell from my 26er, I did begin to notice a difference over the course of the weekend. On the route plans were trails that I had previously done on both a 26er full suss and a 29er hardtail so if my memory served me right, I should have a good comparison between the three.
650b is here to stay. Some believe all mountain bikes will be either 650b or 29er in future which if the manufacturers have anything to do with it with the increasingly slim line of 26er bikes now on offer a fair indicator of things to come. Anyway, without getting in to that debate here are some thoughts on the Orange ‘tweener’…
The bike was built with a fairly burly setup and a good mix of components including the unbelievably excellent shimano slx brakes. The fox 34’s did their job absolutely fine although I probably should have fettled them a bit more prior to going out to get the most from them. In terms of ride and feel, at first I didn’t notice that much difference over my 26er, after all there isn’t that much difference in wheel size. However when I opened up the taps on the big fast sections I remembered feeling a little more shaken on a similarly specc’d 26er a few months earlier. Riding the Ullswater singletrack was where I noticed more of a difference with the bike not quiet getting as sucked in to the many rocky holes/minefields that the path offers up as compared with my 26er. On the steep stuff, well it didn’t quite feel as steep. Again not night and day but just that little bit better.
Now here’s where the interesting comparison comes. On the Ullswater singletrack I would say that I was nearly as happy on my Trek 29er as I was on the Orange due to the uppy/downy nature of the trail. I found that my 29er wheels even on a hard tail enabled me to roll through sections a bit easier. My super light Trek also made it easier on the climbs. However two days and 20pints later we hiked up Helvellyn to tackle the Dolly Wagon descent off the top, which for those who haven’t done it before is in my opinion one of if not the most technical rocky (but still rideable on a trail bike) descents in the UK. This is where the Five was in its element with the mix of the tweener wheels and plush travel eating up everything in its path. The only limitation was a slightly weary rider with golfers shoulder after some rather enthusiastic teeing off in Keswick town centre on the pub golf round!
The bike handled incredibly well on the massively technical terrain. The mix of long travel trail bike and the slightly bigger wheels over a 26er seemed to make all the rocks and drops smaller and not loads but a bit more manageable. That little bit of improvement for those looking for a new bike may well be the slight edge that pushes more people towards 650b. After all if you’re going to buy a new bike you’ll want to develop a new tyre mountain to go along with it anyway.
After wiping out 6 months of training in 3 nights of beer drinking it was good to at least have some amazing riding in between!
I’m really keen to now try a long travel 29er like the Specialized Stumpjumper as that sort of bike could be an even more lethal weapon on seat of the pants riding.
Thanks to Simon at the shop for sorting me out with bike for the weekend. If you’re interested in trying out one of M Steel Cycles Demo bike give the shop a call to arrange your ride.