You read that right - and I have been known to get my bikes dirty from time to time by taking them off pavement. In fact, I grew up mountain biking in the foothills of Boise, Idaho and still tend to ride my road bikes more like a MTB. I guess that's why I love my 'cross bike so much!
So enough about me - on to the bikes!
There were a bunch of new and improved mountain bikes this year from both Trek and Fisher. There was way too much going on to fully absorb and report on here. Both lines got changes and upgrades almost from the bottom-up. Trek's aluminum hardtails are probably the part that received the least changes - but still got a styling upgrade. Considering that the 6000- and 8000-series bikes got new hydro-formed frames last year, I can accept the lack of technical upgrades. And, the new styling shows that Trek is making an effort to take their now "Best in Class" bikes and make them look like it; rather than just relying on their technical reputation.
Full suspension had a lot of new stuff to offer though, with all-new models in the Session, Remedy, Fuel EX, and Top Fuel platforms.
Trek has continued to invest in the ABP (Active Braking Pivot) system that they introduced on the Fuel EX last year; extending it to all of their full-suspension bikes and to the Fisher line (more on that later). The Full-Floater lower shock mount sees more action too.
I got to ride the Top Fuel 9.9 SSL on a quick lap around some trails and found it - as advertised - a full-on race bike. Which I loved! As a guy who has racked-up most of his trail miles on a hardtail with a 63mm travel fork I like the slot-car handling of the shorter-travel bikes and tend to get lulled to sleep a little by a bike with more than about 5 inches of travel. The Top Fuel had enough travel for my faster; more finesse-oriented riding style without being so rigid that you're bouncing around on the bigger rocks. It was light, fast, and quick and did everything I asked of it without being overly twitchy. Now, don't get me wrong - it's a thoroughbred racer and certainly requires a little more attention than a "trail" bike like the Fuel EX; but the Top Fuel was predictable in it's reaction to my input.
I did have a gripe though. I didn't care for the Rock Shox SID Race fork. Admittedly; SRAM's technical assistants (SRAM and Fox Racing both had teams present for adjustments) did not set up the fork for me - so it may not have been optimized. But I just didn't like it's behaviour. Hard to explain really - it just felt kind of flexy and slow to respond. For context - just about every time I've ventured off-road in the last two years; I've been piloting something with a Fox fork; so maybe I've just become accustomed to the feel - but if I end up with a Top Fuel (and the Top Fuel 9 is really tempting...), I'll end up putting a Fox F100 on it. Just my preference.
Otherwise, the bike was awesome. ABP kept the rear wheel in contact with the trail under hard, fast braking and the Full-Floater pivot let me use the full travel of the rear shock without ever feeling it bottom-out. And, I'm now sold on 2x9 MTB drivetrains. I will probably do that on my next bike. One note though - the Race XXX Lite carbon wheels were not on the demo bikes. My guess was that they just weren't ready yet in those quantities (There were about 20 Top Fuel 9.9's available for demo). The Race X Lite's on the bike performed flawlessly.
The Roscoe was the bike everyone was talking about. And for good reason - it's an absolute kick to ride! With my background, 5" is a lot of travel - in fact the 4" Top Fuel had enough travel for me for just about any trail. But, for a "trail" to "all-mountain" bike - the Roscoe is well executed. It's light and quick enough for fast, tight, roller-coaster type trails with enough travel and brawn for big rocks, big drops, and big logs. For those of you still reading from Nashville - this bike was built to Hamilton Creek!
The new Fox DRCV shock is incredible and I feel it delivers on all of it's big promises. I never felt like I was blowing through all of the bike's travel and bottoming out and the rear end never felt like the compression was ramping up. But, when I returned to the factory after hitting every big rock on the trail (and a few of the stunts which Trek has built) the o-ring on the shock indicated that I had used nearly every millimeter of the bike's travel! Yet it never once felt soft or squishy like 5" bikes have felt to me before. Coupled with the ABP system, the rear wheel stayed firmly planted on the ground and always under control. The Roscoe is a 5" bike that an XC nerd like myself would buy.
This is the bike I came back most excited about. It's twitchy and can't wait to hit the trail - and do it faster than last time! The travel, like the Top Fuel was the perfect amount for my riding style and used Fox suspension front and back - much to my liking. Not much more to say about this bike - other than I LOVE IT!
The Procalibur is a bike that will not likely see application of the ABP system in the future because the added weight would not offer any noticeable benefit to the path of the rear wheel and the braking action.
The Superfly was my second most favorite bike next to the ProCal. After riding this, I'm ready to get a 29er; and will probably get a Paragon in the near future. The big wheels rolled so fast ( I had no trouble dropping my riding partners who were on full-suss bikes) and ate up the bumps better than a 26" hardtail. It still behaved like a hardtail - bucking a little over bigger bumps, rocks, or limbs; but stay out of the saddle and it's no worry.
I discovered that the trick to quickening up a 29er's handling and perceived sluggish cornering - something which may be well known to veteran 29" riders - is to brake a little harder on the front wheel than you're accustomed to. At first the bike felt a little like driving an 18 wheeler on a rally course. Then, once I started braking harder on the front wheel than I might normally, slowing that big front wheel down a little more and reducing it's inertia the handling came in line and I really loved it. The bike handled hills nicely and was ready to respond whenever you punched the pedals. I loved the Fox fork, of course (blah, blah, blah...yawn...what else is new).
MTB's look great for '09 and I'd say that Trek (and therefore Fisher too) are well on their way to leaving their lack-luster MTB reputation behind.