Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Albuquerque off road

My brother's giant Surly Ogre, and my Stumpjumper FSR, perhaps slightly-too-small for its rider.
The weekend before last, we made a quick trip down to New Mexico for a niece's fifth birthday party. While there, my brother Chris and I snuck out to do a little riding in the foothills to the East of town. Needless to say, it was a lot of fun.

My bike for the trip was my 2006 Stumpjumper FSR. I still haven't decided whether I'll keep it, so I thought that it might be a good opportunity for further evaluation. Plus, it was a lot easier to fit in the van than the Pugsley. I made sure I was equipped with tools, tubes and water, but somehow overlooked until too late that there would likely be any number of things along the trail to make pincushions of the tires. The Stumpjumper has non-slimed, standard-tubed tires. I decided to tempt fate anyway.

The dam at the trailhead.
Cholla: beautiful but barbed. 
Prickly pear in bloom.
The day of the ride was uncharacteristically overcast, which was quite welcome to me as I wasn't ready to plunge into hardcore heat just yet. We started with a few miles worth of easy climbing, peppered with a few breaks to look at flora and fauna. As anticipated, there was no shortage of several kinds of cacti, but to my relief, none of the dreaded goat head thorns seemed to be around. Provided a rider pays attention, cactus is not too difficult to avoid, but an area strewn with goatheads is much more problematic.

Embedded rock gardens to keep things lively.
Lots of rollers, but trending unmistakably upward.
The trail surface was varied between gravelly, rocky, and sandy, and the views were great. There was also quite a bit of fauna to see among the flora, though some required a keen eye to see. The terrain rolled by and after an hour or so of climbing with a few small descents sprinkled in, we made it to the apex of our route.
A bull snake sunning itself on the trail. 
The area has a vast network of well-marked trails, some of which are part of the Albuquerque Parks system and others of the U.S. Forest Service.
I found these concrete waffles to be an ingenious tool to mitigate erosion and maintain trail integrity.  
My brother often runs these trails, though I can't help but think of knobby tires when I see views like this. 
On my Stumpjumper, the descent was fast and swoopy; pure dust in the teeth fun. I was halfway down before I remembered to switch the rear shock from the stiffer "ProPedal" setting to the luxurious "Open" setting. With the shock in "Open", the bike makes me feel nearly invincible, in a fun but potentially dangerous way. If I had a bike like this in my pre mortality-conscious days of 20 years ago, I would have really been able to get myself in a lot of trouble. As it is now, I get to glimpse blinding speed and superhero status with the foresight to pull back before it is too late.
One of the few places on the way back down that I had to stop and wait for Chris to tell me which way to go.
Difficult to see with my lousy phone cam pic, but there's a lizard in the lower right third of this photo.
A view of town below.
We took a few minutes to mess around on a concrete drainage ditch with slanted sides. 
As kids on BMX bikes 30 years ago, we would have been all over this thing. As 40-something old guys, we were a bit more measured, but still had some fun.
In the end, I made it through the ride without getting a flat, but I also became convinced that tubeless tires are the way to go. I would have spent a bit more time having fun and a bit less thinking about the needles everywhere. Overall, the Stumpjumper performed flawlessly, and has further muddied my opinion as to whether to keep it.

On the positive, it is a well-engineered superbike (at least for 7 years ago, which is new enough for me) that I picked up on the cheap; something of which I would/could never buy the full-priced new equivalent. As a full-suspension bike, it really can do some things that I have to acknowledge a rigid bike can't. It is incredibly fast and fun to ride.

On the negative, it's a size large, which is borderline too small for me, and I remain convinced that a 29er is better proportioned for my height. As a full-suspension bike, it also has the hassles of shock and pivot maintenance. Though I've owned suspension before, there's a reason I gravitate back toward rigid. But it is cheap and fun.

So, I remain undecided, and will probably keep it for further evaluation, for at least the time being. That is, unless some fervent (size large) reader out there wants to make an offer I can't refuse to take it off my hands. Perhaps its parts will someday make their way to a 29er frame, for which I'll sell the Stumpy and Fox fork to finance.

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