Buying a mountain bike is a complicated thing. There are many decisions you have to make. Many more than with a road bike. What kind of bike do you want? (Cross Country, All Mountain, Downhill, etc.) Shock system? (Rigid, hard tail, full suspension). Material (Steel, Al, Ti, Carbon). Gears? (Yes, no.) (Note: Some people ride singe speed mountain bikes. They are like big bmx bikes. Some people ride these bikes in Leadville. So not interested in that!). Tires (tubed, tubeless). Brakes? (rim or disk)
If you have never ridden a mountain bike its a little intimidating to go out and shop for one for the first time.
There I was last summer, spec’ing out my bike. I knew a couple of things. I am riding cross country (XC). I wanted a hard tail (suspension fork, rigid frame). I didn’t want a carbon frame (I saw the writing on the wall about crashing this particular bike and so I wanted something that would not break on impact!). From there the bike took shape.
Worm has a titanium frame. Super tough, pretty light, just enough flex to damp out some of the harshness of a hard tail. Worm’s frame was made in 1992 and sat, wrapped in its original packaging for almost 20 years, just waiting. But that meant that he was not set up for disk brakes (disk brakes are the norm in mtb’s now, but they were not in 1992. Disk brakes generally have better stopping power, especially when it is wet). So Worm had rim (or V-brakes). My LBS owner had a really nice set of wheels set up for V-brakes: Mavic rims and xtr hubs. That limited the choice of fork (you need an older school fork to put V-brakes on. They are not making many new forks for V-brakes these days.) And so Worm was born.
Worm and I have ridden over 1600 miles this summer. And we have gotten to know each other a little bit. He is comfortable to ride. His wheels roll well. And (as I have proved on more than 1 occasion) he can survive a crash. His back tire even survived a direct hit from a yellow lab running full speed with only a bent spoke (I have yellow lab hair from that spoke). In short, really like Worm. But now that I have learned a little more about mountain biking, the kind of mountain biking I am doing, and what I like, it was time for some adjustments.
The real big issue I had with Worm was the fork. I have a White Brother’s Magic Fork. Its an air based shock with a hydrolic damper. Sounds complicated, but its not too bad. You put air into the shock and that tells you how cushy (or in mtb terms “plush”) the fork is. The hydrolic damper limits how fast the fork can compress and return. What you would like in a fork is something that will compress when you hit an obstacle but not compress when you say stand up and ride hard up a hill (energy into the fork is energy lost to the peddles). My fork is a “set it and forget it” fork. Meaning that it should do this automatically. In general its pretty good. But its a little too soft when I stand and climb and a little too rigid when I hit bumps. And this was the one piece of Worm I wanted to upgrade after a season on the bike.
The problem with upgrading the fork comes back to the braking system. While I have been very happy with the rim brakes I have (Avid Black Ops, awesome V-Brakes if you need), there just are not good new V-brake compatible forks out there. You can get a used one off of Ebay, but you get what you get. And so I made the decision that I would change the front brake to a disk brake so that I could get a better fork. Off to the LBS.
I could have traded my front wheel for a new one that was ready for disk brakes, but then the front and back wheels would not have matched (remember its better to look good, then be good). Time for a new hub. Time to learn how to string a wheel.
I built Worm with the help of my LBS owner (he let me do it in his shop with his supervision). Last Saturday I went to the shop and restrung my wheel.
Start of new wheel. New hub, first couple of spokes.
It’s a 28 spoke wheel with a 3x cross pattern. I got the experience of building this wheel twice. We did it first with my old spokes and then realized they were too long (we had an idea this would happen, but wanted to make sure). Then we did it with the real sized spokes. The lacing part is pretty easy. You follow a pattern and lace up one side. Then flip over and lace the other side. The first spoke on the second side is the key. It needs to line up with a spoke on the first side or it will all get messed up. Then once you have the spokes laced you give them roughly the same tension and go to the truing stand.
From there its like truing any wheel (probably a little more out of round, but the same process). Left/right and round are progressively checked and fixed. Eventually you have a round wheel. One disk brake later and off you go.
Onto the fork. My LBS owner is listing my old fork for me on his Ebay site. I installed a Marzocchi Corsa SL fork. This fork is more adjustable than the White Brothers fork. It had a rebound adjustment and (what I really like best) a remote lock out. The lock out allows you to make the fork rigid when you want (when you are climbing) and plush when you want (when you are descending). This fork is also a little more plush (when not locked out) than my original fork, giving it a smoother ride when needed. And so after digging into my sock drawer for my mad money savings I present Worm V1.1:
I got the fork and brakes roughly adjusted last night. Hoping for a little single track this afternoon to give it a go.