3 Perfect Central Oregon Bicycles: 2016 Edition
Bicycles just keep getting better! Central Oregon’s terrain and riding style suits certain types of road and mountain bikes, and the new models on the market just keep improving. Not only lighter weight, but more forgiving geometry, a smoother and more controlled ride, and overall simply more capable machines that will keep you out on the trail or road longer and having even more fun. In this edition, we review 5 recently released models for 2016; discuss their pros and cons, who they are built for, and how it relates to Central Oregon riding specifically.
COD was made for the precise Top Fuel 9.8 SL
1) 2016 Trek Top Fuel 9.8 SL: Trek’s new race bike and fastest trail bike has been re-introduced, with all new technology and geometry. Bikes are getting slacker and with a lower bottom bracket, and the new Top Fuel is no exception. The bike has been completely overhauled: the chainstays are incredibly short, and wheelbase is only 111mm in a size 17.5, which is shorter than most 27.5’s. Forget the cumbersome 29’er of yore, those with huge wheelbases and the nimbleness of a space shuttle. Riding the Top Fuel will show you that a 29er can be as nimble as any 27.5 wheel on the market, while still maintaining all of the advantages of the 29er sized tire. Those advantages are key in Central Oregon: 25% more tire contact area (for the dusty, loose summer trails): easier to create and hold momentum on our flowing, higher speed trails; more confident cornering; and the ability to just roll over and through any obstacle on the trail. The Top Fuel rides more like a short-travel trail bike: very forgiving, snappy, nimble, easy to handle. My first ride on the new model was on the optional, very rocky and sometimes tough to clean sections of COD, and the bike just cruised over every rock pile and techy section: it flows impeccably and is very, very responsive. It’s a great every day bike for local trails: it has enough travel when you need it, a huge forgiving sweet spot for a fairly skilled rider, yet all the snap and power of a race bike. If there is a downside of the Top Fuel, it will be on aggressive descents at speed: you will go through race-tuned 100mm of travel pretty quickly.
The 9.8 is an exceptional value, being under 25lbs and with a full X1 drivetrain. What’s new with the Top Fuel besides the geometry? The biggest buzz is around the new Boost 148/110 wheel for 29ers: wider hubs and offset cranks create a wheel with zero offset: the flex inherent to the offset 29er wheel of years past has disappeared. Up front, the hub width has increased to 110mm, creating a bracing angle that adds a lot of stiffness to the wheel; another plus is that it allows the use of a 27.5+ tire, up to 2.8” in size. The Boost changes, along with the new-school geometry, produce a bike that is perhaps unmatched in terms of speed and fun factor on our Central Oregon network. With that said, the Top Fuel accept a dropper post, and for even more fun, you could swap out a 120mm Pike for the 100mm SID fork. That would truly give you a shorter travel flickable trail weapon that could crush anything locally.
Trek Fuel EX 9.8 29: keeping with the Boost 148/110 theme, the Boost wheel size adaptation to the 29er platform has truly transformed the handling of 29ers. The shorter chainstays available due to this design really bridges the gap between more nimble, but lower grip and momentum 27.5’s, and the old crop of 29ers (pre Boost). The Fuel EX 29 is trek’s do-everything trail bike. For those who don’t place a premium on speed, yet don’t need a “rowdy” bike and want something that can handle any local trail; this is likely the best bike on the market today. 120mm of travel front and rear, with 130mm available on some models (the Fuel EX 9), adjustable Mino-link geometry (slacker or steeper head tube at the swap of a link), really makes this the jack of all trades bike. Light enough for a race bike, burly enough for steep, extended rough descents, it’s the best selling bike in Central Oregon for a reason. In comparison to the Top Fuel, the head tube is a bit slacker, it has not only more travel (120 vs 100mm), but the suspension is different: not race tuned, it is the RE:aktiv shock which dials out pedaling and G-out forces, but stays open to absorb the trail. The suspension feels much softer on the trail, more comfort, more forgiving, but not as snappy or fast as the Top Fuel. With that said, it is a VERY fast bike; plenty of fast people are racing the 9.8 or 9.8 as their race-day weapon, and tackling Central Oregon’s most aggressive trails on the same bike Monday morning. The wheelbase grows by 3.5cm (114.5cm) over the Top Fuel, giving the rider more stability on steep descents. It’s still much shorter than the typical 117-119mm wheelbase that was common on the last generation of 29er trail bikes. The sweet spot on this bike is huge: it’s the perfect blend of snappy, responsive fast, flowing trail bike, and more relaxed feel that can attack steep, rocky descents. The Top Fuel 9 gives the rider a longer travel 130mm fork, for a bit more relaxed head angle and bike even more at home on the roughest terrain.
On the trail, the bike is simply superb: flick it and it changes direction in an instant. Pedaling almost feels like a hardtail, until you hit a bump. At that point, the suspension fully absorbs the terrain, no matter how big; it feels very plush for a 120mm bike. Again, geometry is spot-on for our local riding; not too aggressive of a head tube angle, but not slack and ponderous on climbs and faster singletrack. Central Oregon riding tends to be faster, lots of flow, both up and down, and an ideal bike for local terrain is one that has a high fun factor on twisty singletrack, both going up and down, yet can handle the couple of steeper, rougher descents we have, such as Funner. With how quick, how nimble, the Fuel EX 29er feels, it makes you think that 27.5 wheels are more or less obsolete for shorter travel applications on the trails we ride. A short travel 27.5 is only marginally more nimble, and gives up a lot of speed and traction.
If you are buying one bike to do “everything” in Central Oregon, you owe the Fuel EX 29 a hard look. Most everyone at Village Bike and Ski currently rides or owns one.
Tackling singletrack on the Synpase Carbon Disc road bike
Cannondale Synapse Carbon Disc: introduced as a 2015 model, the Synapse Disc Carbon takes the do-everything road bike platform to another level. There is a lot “frame flex suspension” designed into the frame: it feels very stiff laterally, but the frame will move vertically over an inch when bumps or other terrain is encountered. It almost feels like a softtail mountain bike! The fork has similar capabilities: Cannondale has this design so dialed, and they learned so much from building the Synapse Carbon, that they now are incorporating that technology into the new Scalpel SI for 2017. The new Scalpel incorporates 100mm of rear wheel travel, with no pivots: it’s all accomplished via vertical frame carbon frame flex, much the same as how a Boeing Dreamliner 787 used carbon in the wings for specific flex characteristics and an infinite fatigue life. Another huge benefit of the Synapse Carbon is the ability to run up to 32mm width tires: this gives the rider a lot of options for back road gravel and dirt riding. 32mm slicks have a lot of comfort and control on rougher unpaved roads: this is truly a go-anywhere bike with unparalleled comfort for a road platform.
Riding it recently, I was on the Synapse Carbon Hi-mod Ultegra Disc platform. 16.5 lbs: Cannondale’s top of the line Hi-Mod Synpase frameset, along with a full Shimano Ultegra disc platform and Cannondale’s C-Zero carbon wheels. Cannondale Hollowgram SI cranks rounded out the bike. I did a solid 60-mile ride: from SW Bend, out past Shevlin Park, Tyler, down to Sizemore road, which is a solid 5 miles of gravel, then onto forest service roads south of Sisters. Tires were stock 28c Schwalbe One models, set up at 75psi.
The first sensation I noticed was the utter smoothness of the platform. The bike literally felt as if I were riding on a layer of smooth carpet over the road, or as if I were on an airport tarmac. Any chip seal, road cracks, frost heaves: they simply were not felt underneath. Handing-wise, the Synapse Carbon Disc is the perfect blend of performance and comfort. It could be raced, and would be perfect in a gravel event, but also has more relaxed geometry, a bit taller head tube, and longer wheelbase that is perfect for comfort and stability over the long haul. Descending at speed down Johnson Market and then Tyler Road, the bike had a composure and stability that is nearly unmatched by any road bike I have been on. Once I hit the gravel rollers of Sizemore, the smoothness of the frame was even more apparent: I had great control and could feel the road, all while knowing what my tires were doing underneath me. The wider rubber gave me cornering confidence in the slightly loose gravel and dirt. The ride was magic-carpet smooth, stability on the fast downhill again was impressive, and every pedal stroke seemed to go right into the bottom bracket: there is no power-robbing lateral flex on the Synpase Carbon. It is the most fun I have had riding the gravel of Sizemore, a road I know well. Later in the ride, I hit some forest service roads: partially gravel pumice, partially dirt, not well maintained, and even then, the bike tracked well, was predictable, and extremely smooth. Those forest service roads could have used wider tires however: 32’s are much more suited to unmaintained roads and “adventure” riding. I even hit a couple of miles of the Peterson Ridge singletrack, just for fun, picking my way around rocks and carving up the corners. Maybe not what the Synapse was designed for, but hey, it handled it. Of course, I was enjoying the world-class Ultegra disc groupset here: Shimano simply makes the best disc brakes in the business, and it shows here.
The Synapse Carbon is truly a spectacular bike, supremely capable in most any condition you are likely to see on a road bike. Comfort and stability is nearly unmatched, all while putting the power down at nearly the level of a pure race machine.