Sunday, 9 March 2014

Try Before You Buy

Tennis ball yellow curves contrasting with the stunning Bay Area view below. This is my ride. A carbon Bronson with Enve wheels and full XTR component set. This right here, is California dreamin’…. Except I’m not dreaming. Its all real and all mine (at least for one day.) Tam Bikes were putting on a Santa Cruz demo day so me and Simon decided to drop by early and score ourselves a couple of shiny new steeds to play with.

I do love the Nomad. Buying that bike was not only an investment in aluminium tubes and component pieces, but also an investment in me and my new hobby. It signaled the start of my passion for a sport that gives me unrivalled pleasure and physical (and mental) fitness. I owe that bike a debt of gratitude that I endeavor to pay back each week in blood, sweat and tears (of joy.. obviously.) But she’s getting a bit long in the tooth. And it’s a tank. A tank that has served me well and saved my arse many times, but I do crave something a bit lighter. Something that I can use to step my game (and speed) up a bit.  I’ve been thinking about the Bronson as next year’s birthday gift to myself so the chance to ride it before committing was not to be missed.

There are plenty of reviews out there and they all rave about the Bronson. I know it's good (on paper) and state of the art. Really, I just needed to feel a big enough difference to know it was worth retiring the trusty Nomad for. So I handed over my deets to the fella at Santa Cruz and set off for the test ride with an open mind and a grinning face. Given Tam Bike’s location, a quick grind up Railroad Grade to Eldridge seemed like the best option. Not too long of a ride but enough to put the bike through it's paces. I was also keen to see how the Bronson climbed given that it is much lighter than I’m used to, and it has the slightly larger wheels. Both factors seemed to make a difference. I still huffed and puffed my way up Mt Tam, but I consistently sat in a higher gear than usual. Progress felt faster than normal for the same amount of effort spent.

The descent down Eldridge was awesome. I started out a little reserved. The suspension wasn’t quite as plush as I'd like (I’d need to spend some time dialing it in) and the brakes were set up American style so I had to be mindful of not grabbing a fistful of front rotor in error. But the cockpit felt dialed so I started to pump the bike and put trust in those lovely big carbon wheels and let the thing fly! Like with the 29er Yeti I rode a while ago, I noticed the wheels had a slightly more pronounced giro effect and resisted quick changes of direction. Minimal, and not something to put me off as I felt I'd get it dialed and snappy after a few rides. But the acceleration was insane and once flowing, the ride suddenly became very supple. I’m sure I rode Eldridge much faster than previous efforts. I certainly felt smoother.

Once we hit the bottom section, where the trail smoothes out and turns into lovely whoop filled goodness, I discovered how well the Bronson flew. The back end naturally tucks underneath as you launch rollers which inspires a lot of confidence to hit the jumps with abandon. And for a light bike, the Bronson plants itself reassuringly once you hit terra firma. In fact, the back end overall felt really twitchy, in a good way. Like you can put it where you want it and manipulate the bike at will. Possibly something to explore and use to counter the slight cornering resistance I experienced with the bigger wheels.

So, in short. I feckin’ love the thing. It felt awesome. Enough like my current bike to know I'm not compromising anything, but different and better enough to justify the change. The bigger wheels felt a bit more resistant to leaning into corners, but not much. However the rolling speed felt great! And its so nimble... At times it felt like my Jackal. I could pick the thing up and put it anywhere. So next year's ride will be a carbon Bronson beast. In the meantime, I’ll eek out every last bit of pleasure from the Nomad until she’s ready to be put out to pasture (well, Craigslist classifieds.)