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Ginkelseheide

This morning, we went with the club on one of my favorite local routes, to the Ginkelseheide. It was a route I have often gone on by myself, so was nice to be able to share it with the group.  The weather was incredible as well, brilliant sunshine, not a cloud in the sky, but with pleasantly cool - especially compared to the sticky 33 degrees we had yesterday, before a thunderstorm freshened it up again. Yesterday's thunderstorm did mean that there was lots of water and mud on the ground, so we all arrived back looking like proper mountain bikers, all covered in grime. One of the nice things about that route is that it has quite a variety of different habitats; young fresh green broadleaf woodland, majestic stands of mature beech, open sandy areas and narrow tracks through heathland. The heathland is quite good for reptiles, with various snakes and lizards, and this morning a slow worm was basking in the sunshine, right across the path. Unfortunately the path was so narrow and winding at that point that it was not possible for us to avoid going over it.  Normally I like to think that as cyclists, we have a minimal impact on the environment (see here for more on that), but this was a salutary reminder that that is not always the case. But aside from that incident, we all had a great ride and arrived back in Wageningen tired, happy and muddy.

Ginkelseheide route

Here is the route we took (right-click to download).

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Review Cube Reaction Mountain bike

This is not a comparative review by a professional bike journalist where someone has had the pleasure or riding a dozen bikes with similar specifications and price range.  You can read that here (albeit in German), but if you don't want to pay €2 for that, I can tell you that this bike got the best score of all the ones they looked at. My comparison is going to be primarily with an 8-year-old fully from Trek, simply because that was my previous bike, as well as a smattering of impressions from various bikes leant and hired over the years. So in that sense, this is as much about what has changed (or not) in the past few years as any specific model.

Model

This review is about the 2015 version of the Cube Reaction mountain bike. The Reaction comes in eight different varieties, split by wheel size (29 inch and 27.5", 26"not being on offer), Aluminium (HPA) and carbon (GTC) frames and Pro, Race, SL and SLT with varying components fitted.  They all have Shimano XT for the drive train, with the main differences being in the forks and wheels - and therefore weight, though they are all about 11 kg with a difference of only plus or minus a few hundred grams, which no normal person will be able to feel on the trail. Incidentally, it always strikes me a bizarre that manufacturers quote both weights and prices of mountain bikes without pedals, like the bike will somehow work without pedals.

I have the Pro version of the Reaction, which means it has the possibility of 27.5 inch Fulcrum Red66 wheels which are slightly heavier than the Red 44 wheels on the SL version and forks from Manitou, rather than Fox.

Wheels

I spent ages reading articles about the merits of different wheel sizes. This one on bike radar explains the basic pros and cons clearly. 26" wheels are lighter and more manoeuvrable, 29" bikes are more stable and bounce over obstacles more easily.  I came to the conclusion that for someone my size (1.72 m), 27.5" (a.k.a. 650B) was the ideal compromise. The only problem was that I am left was a legacy of a shed full of 26" tyres of various types that will be enough to last my daughter's bike until the end of time and at least it is no problem to use 26" inner tubes on slightly larger wheels. So do 27.5 wheels feel different than 26"? If I'm paying attention, I can notice the difference.  Although the angle of attack is only less than 5 degrees different, I do notice that I can roll over branches that are just that bit bigger than on my old bike before needing to hop and going downhill there is a bit more stability.  Maybe there is slightly less manoeuvrability, but that is not really noticeable and the effects on acceleration can only be determined when comparing bikes with the same weight.

Forks and suspension

The largest difference between the 'Pro' and 'SL' versions of the Cube Reaction is the forks; Manitou Marvel TS Air versus Fox 32 float (both 100 mm). And €400. The Fox Float is a famously good fork. Is the €400 just for the name 'Fox', or is it really worth it? I must say, in the beginning, I was a bit doubtful. The Manitou did not seem to be doing much, despite fiddling with the amount of air in it. However, then I read in the manual that it doesn't start working properly until it has been ridden for 20 hours and soon after that I discovered that there was a rebound speed control hidden underneath one arm (as well as being not mentioned in the manual!) which was set to the extremely slow position. So it was not surprising that in the beginning, it did not seem to do much and indeed after a few hours, it began to get much more supple. It will probably take a bit more fiddling to get the air pressure and rebound just right for me, but I must say that it does a fine job of smoothing out the roots and rocks in the way. I'm happy I did not fork out (ha!) the extra cash. A carbon frame is supposed to filter out fine judder from the ground, and this one also seems to have a good compromise between stiffness and vibration absorption.

Of course, a huge difference between this bike and my old Trek is the lack of rear suspension. Together with the carbon frame, that means that it is 2 kg lighter, and quite a lot lighter in terms of euros as well. The main reason that I got a hardtail this time was that the fully gave a smoother ride, which (in retrospect) took some of the fun out of mountain biking (see here for more on that). When I got the Trek I was struck not only by how I could charge over impossible terrain like Deschampsia hummocks but also how I could get up steep sandy slopes that I could not manage before, because the back wheel stayed in contact with the ground.  So was a bit nervous about my decision, would the hardtail mean that I would be having problems in those places?  I guess what I hadn't fully realised was that the Trek was not only a good fully, but also in all-round terms better than the beginners' mountain bike that I had before it.  So it performed better in various situations not only because of its rear suspension, but also because it was better in all sorts of other ways. So far, my fears about the lack of traction of the Cube hard tail have proved unfounded and it has bounded all over the woods here in Holland and on holiday in Germany with no problems.

Handlebars

 Much more than the wheel size, the handlebars, with a massive 740 mm width, felt really strange at first to me.  Just getting it in and out of the shed without carving holes in the door as I scraped past was quite difficult. The door is not that narrow, but it must be said that there is a certain amount of junk the in shed which means it does not open all the way. Shortly after getting the bike, we went on holiday to the Eifel in Germany, which is a great area for mountain biking, with considerably more hills than round here (though it must be said, not many places have less hills than Holland). I took a hacksaw with me with the intention of sawing them off to a sensible length as soon as I had determined what that should be. The wisdom of the internet seemed to be that you should do a press-up, measuring the distance between your hands and that is how wide they should also be on the bike.  There seemed to be some logic in that, so despite not having done a press-up for years, if not decades, I made the measurement (with some help, I guess that is pretty much impossible on your own). To my great astonishment, the tape measure indicated that I only needed to take off 1 cm on each end.  Being naturally reluctant to take a saw to my brand new bike, I decided to see if I could get used to the new size, and to my great surprise that in fact happened. Even really narrow winding paths (like the delightful singletrack below) turned out to be wider than my shed door, and I avoided knocking into trees on all occasions. It was indeed quite comfortable to have my arms that far apart and maybe even helped with the steering.

 Narrow track

 The steering is certainly worth mentioning.  In mountain bike magazines they are always talking about how certain bikes just go the direction you point them.  I must admit, I never understood that phrase.  Of course, they do, that is the whole point of that bit you can turn. But now I understand and also realise that there is indeed not a good way of describing this.  I guess it is a combination of the wide handlebars, good headset, firm forks and great thick QR15 front axle, but indeed the steering is notably sharp and precise.  It does go where you point it.

Frame

 A lot of Cube bikes are painted with astonishingly garish colours, which would look more at home in a sandpit alongside a toddler's plastic bricks that in the woods.  I would not select a bike purely on its looks, but on the other hand, I also would not want a bike which looked dreadful.  Fortunately, this model has a more subtle combination of grey and white, which looks very good and some blue accents which add to the appearance without being too bright.

Cube Reaction

The cables for the gears are nicely integrated inside the frame, but the hydraulic 'cable' for the rear brake is attached to the outside of the down tube. The frame has a fairly upright geometry (compared to my old fully), placing the rider more over the handlebars, with a head tube angle of 70 degrees. I guess that means it is a bike more aimed at going up hills than doing anything too frightening in the way of rushing down across boulder gardens, and it is certainly so that it really flew up the steep hills on holiday, for instance managing a 1200 height meter ride without completely destroying me for the rest of the day.

Summary

Someone who has just invested several decades of his pocket money in a bright shiny new toy is hardly going to admit to anyone, least of all himself, if all did not come up to expectations, let alone write an entirely objective review. Nevertheless, I can genuinely say that the Cube Reaction really is a super-good bike.

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Decision time

The most popular trail near to Wageningen is the Posbank. It is a great trail, with lots of hills (by Dutch standards), beautiful woodlands and impressive heathland. Last weekend we went there with the club. It was perfect weather, sunny, little wind, not too hot.  As usual we split into groups so that everyone could go at the pace they were comfortable with. We had a great ride, coffee half way round and with spring-fresh green leaves coming out on the bilberry shrubs it was all looking lovely. If you read my blog last week, you will know that I had found out that nasty noise my bike was making was caused by a crack in the frame. So, whilst riding the trail, I was wondering about what its replacement would be.  What wheel size?  Hardtail or fully? Carbon or Aluminium?  What helped was that (with my bike being a potentially lethal weapon) I had borrowed my daughter's bike. That is a hardtail, but with a decent front fork.  Normally if I ride a hard tail it is a rental and not such brilliant quality, so this was a revelation. I discovered that at least some of the extra grip and so on that I thought came from my rear suspension was coming from the front fork. Of course in rough mountainous country a fully would still be useful, but when it comes to it on holiday the trails  I ride are also not so rocky. But above all, I had forgotten what an unbelievably great direct experience it is without the suspension removing all the effects of the surface of the trail.  So the new bike should be a hardtail, not a fully then. Another thing I paid attention to which bits of the trails I enjoyed.  It was not especially the bits where I could go fastest, but the twisty, winding, swoopy bits. So, not a 29" but a 26" (but no one makes those any more) or 27.5"wheels. And finally, my daughter's bike was definitely lighter than mine and that certainly helped the ride.  So a Carbon frame would be a good idea.

So that very afternoon I called in to my LBS to see what was possible. As it turned out, at least at first sight, less than I hoped. Apparently bike manufacturers have a very strange way of running their business.  Every year they bring out new models, which means that they either have to sell all the bikes they make in one year, or sell the remainder at a discount.  So to prevent that, they make less bikes than they can sell. Which means that at this time of the year, half the models (or model/size combinations) in the catalogue are not available anymore.  But although there were none left in the catalogue, the shop was super helpful and they managed to ask around and found what I was looking for in another shop. And you can see the result in the photo below.  A beautiful Cube 27.5 inch-wheeled, Carbon-framed hardtail.  It did great in my local woods and tomorrow we go to the Posbank to see how it does there...

For a review of the Posbank trail, see here.

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Ah, that's what the noise is

For quite some months now, my bike has been making strange creaking and cracking noises, especially if I bounce up and down a bit.  It has gradually been getting louder and I had been trying desperately to track it down.  Maybe the bottom bracket?  Still there after that needed replacing last year.  Perhaps the headset?  No, replacing it didn't help. The saddle or saddle pen?  Stand up and it still does it. Maybe it was in the rear suspension, but taking that out and carefully cleaning all the joints didn't help.  So finally I had a really good look today and the slightly raised scratch under the bottom bracket that I hadn't paid much attention to earlier was indeed a nasty crack that was actually quite scary when examined closely. So now the mystery is solved and it is just a matter of working out what to about it.

Strangely enough, the reason that I finally found this was that the bike was also otherwise misbehaving itself.  A couple of weeks ago, all of a sudden the rear brake lost pressure.  However, after leaving it overnight with the lever bound up, it seemed to recover nicely (as promised by the wisdom of the internet). Then last week I was out with the club and the rear brake completely lost pressure, dropping a pad in the process. I took it into my LBS and they bled it for me, so I was expecting no problems today.  However, after only a few minutes in the woods today, a pad fell out again.  After a bit of a search I found the pad and refitted it (astonishing patience of the others whilst they waited for me to faff around with it), but then it fell out again after only a short distance, the very next time I bounced over a root. So clearly a somewhat bigger problem than just a bit of air in the cable.

When mountain bikes are working properly they are wonderful machines, but not on days like today.

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Mad March Hares

There is a saying* that only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun. Judging by the complete absence of any other mountain bikers last Sunday, it is not only scorching summer sun but also large quantities of rain and wind that deters sane people. Especially towards the end of the afternoon, it was really quite impressively high work pedalling into the wind. It was not only the weather, the day before I had been out with the club and my energy reserves were still depleted from that. However, it was that or sitting drinking tea and making polite conversation the friends my wife was visiting, so storms and tiredness did not seem too bad. We were visiting Almelo, which is a town (officially a city) about an hour's drive northeast of Wageningen, in the province of Overijssel.  The route next to Amelo starts from the village of Wierden.  The landscape is quite flat and open, so the makers of the trail really had to do their best to make something of it. I had been forewarned by the reviews on the MTB routes site that there was quite a lot of asphalt, so that was not such a problem, but there was also a lot of narrow singletrack sandy paths snaking alongside fields and some really great pieces of small woodland with nice windy tracks made through them. The woodland was nearly all broad leaf, so the picture below is completely atypical, but that was the only moment when it stopped raining long enough to take a photo without destroying my phone. The singletrack was not really difficult or technical, but did require me to concentrate on my steering. What was difficult was the sand.  Probably in more normal weather conditions it would have been all right, but with with everything so incredibly wet, it was really hard going cycling through wet sand for a very high proportion of the route. And yes, I did see a March hare as it dashed across a field in front of me, and it did look at me like it thought I was mad.

MTB route Wierden

 

*From a song by Oscar Wilde

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New group for spring

This week it is the official start of spring, which this year has come together with a dramatic solar eclipse - not that we got to see it through the mist, but at least it gives me an excuse to post Danny McAskill's stunning photo (below). The other new event for spring is that the local club started a new mountain bike group.  Actually, they started last week, but then I was still riddled with flu so unable to join them, making today my first time.  They have had a mountain bike group for many years, but they claim to go through the woods at such a high average speed that it was clearly not aimed at non-competitive mountain bikers like myself. So it was with some anticipation that I joined the new group this morning to see what it would be like. It was great!  About 20 people turned up, so we split into two groups.  I joined the slower of the two on the grounds that I've still not 100% recovered from my flu and we had a great ride through the woods.  It was very sociable, I chatted to lots of friendly people as we went along and the speed was fine.  It would have helped if the weather had cooperated, we arrived back rather on the wet side, but if you think rain and mud are a problem then mountain biking may not be the best activity for you. Anyway, nice ride and I'll certainly be joining them again.

Danny McAskill Rides TheEclipse

© Rutger Pauw / Red Bull Content Pool

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