Pedal Damn It is my new mantra. In these crazy times where we are all trying to stay safe and riding solo that is what is getting me through this. The woods have always been an escape for me and the mountain bike is what has always transported me to places where I could let go of what ever was bothering me. My love of mountain biking has had many ups and downs. Literally. Moving from the SF Bay Area to the Boston area could not have been more different as far as mountain biking. SF/Marin is the birthplace of mountain biking. When I was out West I got to ride with a lot of the people who pioneered the sport-Joe Breeze, Scot Nicol, Tom Ritchey, Jacquie Phelan. I got to be friends with a bunch of them. I was married on Mt Tam. Mountain biking out west involves riding up a mountain. I know that sounds simple enough but if you ride in New England you rarely are riding a mountain. You are riding in the woods and on rocks and roots. Woods biking or rock biking doesn't have the same ring to it as "Mountain biking" Mountain biking is elegant. It is like surfing or snowboarding. It just sounds cool.
My initial foray into east coast mountain biking was predictably challenging. A 26" hardtail built to shred fire roads and buff Singletrack is not going to work so great in tight twisty trails with axe head rocks strewn across them. I struggled to say the least. Then I discovered the 29er! Big wheels changed my whole perspective. I could roll over stuff! They made riding in the woods fun! It made dropping down rocks or hopping over downed logs a blast. I swore by that hardtail 29er for years. My friends would tell me I needed full suspension but I would just shake my head and say I don't want to ride a pogo stick or I don't need all that travel...I clearly had never ridden a modern full suspension bike! I find it pretty funny that the thing that finally got me to believe in the potential of full suspension bikes was helping with a high school mountain bike team called the Wild Ones. One ride with the coaches and it became very clear to be able to stay with these kids I would need to get a full suspension bike.
But honestly I still wasn't sold. It is hard to teach an old dog new tricks. My brain certainly could comprehend how much better the bike would be descending but I thought it would be slow climbing and on fast swoopy trails. My good friend Eric at Chainline Cycles has been a huge evangelist for Niner bikes. So when it came time to jump into the world of FS mtn bikes Eric and Niner were the easy choice. I told him I wanted a bike that would be on the cross country side but still fun. He suggested the RKT. I went with the RKT 9 RDO built with a 3-start Shimano XT group. A 120 fork makes a lot of sense where I ride. We joke that the woods around where I ride are the mother of axe head rocks. And it is true. It is a rarity to be riding a trail that does not include bone jarring rocks or roots. I am a bit of a bike snob or diva if you will. My previous 29ers have been custom steel bikes built by one of the best builders in New England. I have always gone with a mix of Shimano XTR/XT and have been on NEXT carbon wheels for about 3 years. I wasn't sure what a stock build like this would be like.
Honestly, I would not change a thing. The XT group is fantastic. The DT wheels have been great. The only thing I changed out where going with Maxxis Forecasters in a 2.3 and using Ergon grips. I will add a dropper post in the near future and have been considering adding a lockout lever for the fork and rear shock. But honestly the build is perfect for the type of riding I do. My first ride on the bike was an eye opener. The one area that blew me away was just how well it handled tight twisty trails at speed. My biggest issue with my hardtail was that my back would kill me after about an hour riding roots. The RKT is literally a rocket when it comes to blasting through rooted turns at speed. I now see why the best cross country racers are on full suspension bikes. I was not only going faster over terrain I have ridden for ten years but it was smoother and wait for it...my back didn't hurt! Why did it take me so long to go full suspension? It has been such fun riding this bike. It is opening up the lines I can ride and making me a much better rider. Another subtle thing I have noticed is I am able to ride skinny planks with confidence. Wood bridges and skinnies are my kryptonite. I literally crash off them all the time. The RKT is so much more stable than my old 29er that I almost don't even think about riding skinnies anymore. I just point and shoot. The bike just tracks so well.
While I bought the bike thinking of racing this summer it is the most fun trail bike I have ever owned. I keep thinking of rides and races I have done in the past and wished I had ridden or raced them on this bike. Pats Peak and 24 Hours of Great Glen come to mind. This bike would be sick at Great Glen. It climbs so well and just shreds on rocks and downhills. Huge thanks to Eric for setting it up and to Niner for building such a rad bike!