So you’re new to mountain biking and just bought a full suspension bike? Bad news. That rig is way too much bike for your skill and it won’t make you a better rider.
Editor’s Note: The Angry Singlespeeder is a collection of mercurial musings from contributing editor Kurt Gensheimer. In no way do his maniacal diatribes about all things bike oriented represent the opinions of Mtbr, RoadBikeReview, or any of their employees, contractors, janitorial staff, family members, household pets, or any other creature, living or dead. You can submit questions or comments to Kurt at firstname.lastname@example.org. And make sure to check out Kurt’s previous columns.
My very first mountain bike was a fully rigid Giant Rincon that I loved going “muddin’” with. Muddin’ was more about finding the biggest mud holes possible and trying to ride through them more than it was about actually mountain biking. Although my brother and I loved coming home covered head to toe in stinky Pennsylvania muck, my parents were none too pleased.
My first legitimate racing mountain bike was a pearlescent blue 1992 Diamond Back Axis made with True Temper OX II steel and full Shimano XT components, also fully rigid. As a sixteen year-old Pittsburgh kid, I cut my teeth – literally and figuratively – riding and racing that beloved Diamond Back all over the rocky, rooty, muddy and gnarly trails of Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Seven Springs, Moraine State Park, Canaan, Elkins, Babcock and Cooper’s Rock were just a few of the places that practically rattled the molars out of my skull and permanently welded my clenched, cramped and white-knuckled hands to the handlebars. Mountain biking in the early 1990s was as much a test of enduring self-inflicted physical abuse as it was a measure of one’s fitness.
Fed up with constantly feeling like I’d just been incessantly beaten over the head with a Bongo Bat, I begged and pleaded my parents for the hot, bling-bling fork of the day, a Manitou. My dad – who had no concept of or interest in mountain biking whatsoever – couldn’t grasp the concept of $350 for a glorified pogo stick with elastomers attached to a wheel and refused to help fund my first suspension fork purchase. Although I didn’t appreciate it at the time, refusing to help me get that Manitou was one of the best things pops did to build my skill as a mountain biker.
Riding a fully rigid bike forced me to learn how to ride a mountain bike properly. Picking clean lines and not allowing suspension to mask my errors were invaluable in building skill, and quickly. A couple years later I finally got a Manitou 2, which not only allowed me to take clean, safe lines faster, but also opened up doors for new lines that I could never before ride.
I have been asked numerous times by friends who are new to mountain biking what kind of bike they should get or what kind of bike would be right for their kid. My response is always the same – fully rigid. They look at me as if I have a gaping hole in the side of my head. Why in tarnation would they buy a fully rigid bike when there’s a slew of awesome 150mm travel full-suspension trail bikes that soak up bumps and make riding a pleasure?
Because those bikes won’t make you a better rider, they’ll only mask your numerous beginner shortcomings.
Who the hell wants to suffer the beatings that I took as a newcomer to the sport more than 20 years ago? Well, for one, if you’re serious about becoming a good rider who has exceptional technical skill, you’ll learn on a fully rigid bike. Not only will you understand how to read the trail and pick smart, smooth lines, but also as your skill builds and you eventually step up to front suspension or even full suspension, your likelihood of crashing will be significantly lower. The combination of good riding habits, clean lines, cornering skill and suspension will take your riding expertise to new levels.
Besides, fully rigid bikes these days are light years more stable, confident, comfortable and forgiving than the bone-jarring 26-inch rigid bikes of 20 years ago. For the past month I’ve been riding a Vassago VerHauen, a fully rigid, steel 29er singlespeed outfitted with a carbon seatpost, handlebars and Whisky Parts Co. fork along with big, fat tubeless tires. When it comes to mountain bikes, it doesn’t get any more stripped down and visceral than a fully rigid singlespeed. It’s the perfect skill-building tool.
With the front Maxxis 2.35-inch tire aired down to 20 psi, the VerHauen is incredibly smooth and comfortable, even on rocky descents. The combination of a steel frame with carbon components is like mixing chocolate and peanut butter in a bowl; the result is magical. Because of its plush and comfortable ride – especially for a fully rigid bike – the Vassago has quickly become my go-to whip for all but the rockiest of rides. The Vassago rewards me for taking smooth, clean lines and only slightly wraps me on the wrist when I take a dumbass line, whereas the Diamond Back would have sent me headlong into a ditch.
Sure, I can’t bomb downhill quite as fast and carelessly as I would like, but I can still keep up with and occasionally outrun many of my friends on full suspension bikes because the Vassago forces me to ride clean, smart and smooth. The greatest part about riding a fully rigid bike is when you park it and get on a full suspension rig. You feel like a cheetah unchained, but only if you’ve learned to ride a fully rigid bike first.
So whatever you want to call it – All-Mountain, Freeride or the new-fangled Enduro™ moniker – if you’re new to mountain biking and you bought a full-suspension rig, you bought too much bike too soon, boss. It’s like learning to drive a Formula One racecar before learning to drive a go-kart.
But there’s no problem money can’t fix. Just convince your significant other that in order to be a safer, better rider who will crash and injure yourself less, you need to go and pick up a fully rigid mountain bike.
The good news is that fully rigid mountain bikes like the Vassago cost a fraction of that full-sus wünderbike you just drained your bank account with. Besides, a rigid mountain bike is far cheaper than a visit to the ER after running out of talent trying to ride something well beyond your pay grade.