Thursday, May 14th, 2009

MTB: In Search of the Perfect Bike

Update: After the searches described below, check out what I bought in the end.

My List:

  • Ibis Mojo
  • Specialized Safire FSR Expert Carbon
  • Yeti 575
  • Santa Cruz Blur LTc (current favorite)
  • Pivot Mach 5
  • Turner 5.Spot DW (have not tried)
  • Trek Fuel Ex 9.8 (have not tried)
  • Titus Moto lite
  • Giant ’10 Trance X Full Carbon (have not tried)

I have a small Specialized Stumpjumper (maybe ’05 model). When we bought it two years ago, we didn’t know if I would ever get into mountain biking (I was only taking a break from rock climbing due to a broken finger), so Erik found this bike used for me on Craigslist. For the same price, it would provide a better riding experience than a new bike of lower quality. He was right, and the bike served me very well during the last year when I rode extensively. However, the bike is getting old. Actually, now the drive train is completely shot and it skips all the time. (Update: I’ve gotten the drive train replaced, so I can take my time to find the perfect bike.) I’m not sure what is the travel in the fork (update: just found out it says “100RL”) or in the shock, but I probably don’t get more than 3″ anyway, so it feels bouncy. I would like to get a bike with 5″ travel. However, being a climber in the core, I want my bike to climb well. My search for the perfect bike has begun. Following are the bikes that I’m considering. I’ll update this post as I get to test ride them.  It might be a long journey because it is very hard for me to find a demo bike of my size that I can take out riding on some real dirt trails.

Ibis Mojo in my mind, and many would agree, is the sexiest looking bike on the trails. I can’t tell you how many people I know own one and love it. I remember test riding one last year in October and loving the experience. The bike felt very stable and smooth going downhill. Climbing? Oh, there were a couple of very short steep climbs that I could not get on my own bike, and I was able to clear them on the Mojo. That totally wow’ed me. Although ever since then, I have long conquered those two sections on my own bike, I still believed that there was magic in Ibis Mojo.  So, when I started thinking about buying a new bike seriously, I thought Ibis Mojo would be the answer, but I just wanted to try a couple of other bikes just to confirm that, and it would make me feel that I had made a diligent decision. The Bike Works at Half Moon Bay was very kind to let me demo an Ibis Mojo small (’08 model I think with XT kit). It’s as beautiful as expected. However, it felt heavy. At 27 lbs, it felt heavy in my hand and it felt heavy when I was climbing. It might not be the weight, but how the bike was setup, and I knew I could upgrade many components to get a lighter build, so I tried not to let that bother me. It was still stable when I rode downhill; however, I noticed a couple of times that there was some front dive going on. Okay, that might be in how the fork was set up. Then, the stand over height. It is very high with a small Ibis Mojo, much higher than my current bike. It’s not a good feeling that every time, I stand over the bike and the top tube is right there where I can feel it. The horizontal distance between the two peddles also felt wide as if the bike was meant for someone with much wider hips.  Over all, it offered me a plush ride and tracks its line very well on steep climbs, but it did not wow me as much as last time.  I guess, now I really should try out other bikes to look for the perfect one.

Update on May 14, 2009: The more I think about it, the more I suspect it was a Medium Mojo that I demo’ed from the Bike Works. I looked all over for the size sticker on that bike when I had it and couldn’t find any. I just cannot believe a small Mojo would feel that tall. I need to find a small Mojo to try out again.

Update on Oct 27, 2009: All three of us, Derek, Erik and I, rode an Ibis Mojo at the Passion Trail Demo day. We all felt that Ibis Mojo was a little twitchy compared to other bikes we demoed. I’m officially crossing this bike out now.

In April, Mike’s Bikes organized a Bike Demo day at Skeggs. It was a beautiful day, so I went and met up with my friend Jeanne. I test rode a Specialized Safire Expert (non-carbon) medium. For some reason, I felt a bit cramped on the bike; however, it did not seem to affect my riding. I was pleasantly surprised to see how stable it felt going down Steam Donkey, and it climbed well too. It seemed to absorb bumps very well. At times, I was shocked how it rolled over stuff that I did not think it would. At the time of typing, there was a $1600 combined discount offered by a bike shop, but Erik reminded me that I was not buying a bike for its discount and I should take my time and find one bike that I would feel happy about riding for a decade. Point taken.

BTW, on the same demo day, I rode a Cannondale Rize One (carbon). Being Cannondale, it was a lefty, and that was the first I got on one. It was a very nice ride too, but because I still liked the experience on that Specialized Safire better, I am not going to pursue this option further.

Update on May 14, 2009: I rode one at Santa Teresa Park during Tail Head Cyclery’s bike demo last weekend. I felt that this bike fit me the best. However, my friend Jeanne thought it felt slower than other bikes; in other words, it sticks to its line so well that it is not as easy to make sudden manuvers. She is a lot more experienced in riding than I am, and when I see in data sheet (bottom) that it has a longer wheel base than other bikes, it explains Jeanne’s observation. I guess that could be a concern. Another one is it’s a 120mm travel bike. I don’t know if in the long run, I would prefer a longer travel bike (e.g. 140mm). However, what impressed me was when I took a corner fast coming down hill and ended up hitting straight to a rock extruding on the side of the trail that was hidden in the grass, I thought for sure the bike would stop cold, but it rode right over it very smoothly.

Domo Schedule

I admit I did not know much about Pivot and had not heard that much about it until recently. However, once I started looking into it, I found more and more arguments in favor of it. For example, the man behind Pivot now, Chris Cocalis, founded Titus. Erik, riding a Titus Switchblade, is a big fan of his innovations. I also heard comments about how well this bike climbs. In the beginning, I had a hard time finding one of my size to demo, but Chris from Roaring Mouse in the city heard my frustration and offered to build me one so I can test it out. I’m anxiously waiting for the bike to be complete.

Update on May 14, 2009: I rented the bike that Chris put together for me and took it to Santa Terasa Park last Saturday where Tail Head Cyclery was having a bike demo. I rode it back to back with a few other bikes. How did I feel? It is a sweet ride — light weight (Chris built the ultralite version — $6000+) at 26.5lb and does feel light on the climbs. However, in general, it did not stand out. I had nothing negative to say about the bike, but in the meantime, there was not really any specific thing that won me over.

Update on June 7, 2009: This is a nice bike, but I’ll pass it because I think I’ll like a carbon frame better.

I don’t know much about this bike except that Erik says I should try it out. But where and when?

Update on May 14, 2009: Santa Cruz showed up on Saturday at Santa Terasa Park. Unfortunately, they did not have ’09 Blur LT small, so I got on a Blur LTc Medium. One thing I can say is those guys got their demo bikes dialed — their bike was the smoothest and quietest one I rode that day, and Erik and our friend agreed. As a matter of fact, the Blur LT was both their favorite of the day after having ridden half a dozen bikes. Oh, I only wish I could find a small I could try out.

Update on June 6, 2009: I demoed a small Blur LT2 at Saratoga Gap. In the beginning, the bike geometry felt weird — I was sitting really upright, but I grew used to it. Then I started liking the bike. It felt very smooth when I pedaled out of the saddle. The carbon version is supposed to be out late June. I look forward to getting on one of those.

Update on Oct 27, 2009: I had demoed the Blur LTc three times so far including one long ride (24mi) at Henry Coe and it’s absolutely my current favorite (see my post here and here). Our friend Derek also considers this bike THE bike after he rode it back to back with an Ibis Mojo and a Specialized Enduro. The pedal efficiency on this bike stands out. And it’s very stable going downhill which really inspires confidence for me.

I heard good things about Trek Fuel. Not set on 9.8 yet, but the main challenge is to find one I can take on the trails.

Demo schedule (note: May 17 at Whiskeytown. Many that’s far. Is it worth the drive?)

I know two guys (bike shop employees or close affiliates) own a Tuner 5. Spot and love them. I was told that before I make my decision, I should at least try one. But even the biggest Turner dealer in the area does not carry a small!

I already said that Erik was fond of Titus. He suggested I try a Titus Moto Lite. I’ll see if I can make it to the demo day.

Demo Schedule (Note: May 16 and 17)

Update on May 14, 2009: Chris at Roaring Mouse kindly let me checkout a Moto Lite when I got the Pivot bike from him. Riding back to back, I knew that Moto Lite was not the bike for me. It did not feel as nimble as the other bike and did not climb as well as others. Crossed out.

I almost was not going to consider this bike. However, when we showed up at Santa Teresa Park, Yeti van was there. Their local reps Aby and Areo (spells?) were a very fun couple to talk to and they are very knowledgeable as well. My friend Jeanne got on a XS and she loved it so much that she made the deposit on the spot.  I did not get a chance to get on one, but hopefully, I’ll be able to when the bike shop arranges Ibis Mojo S and Yeti 575 XS for Jeanne to ride back to back.  Since Jeanne is such an experienced rider, she knows what she is talking about. I have to check it out. But of course I know, I need to find the one that I feel the most comfortable with.

Update on June 7, 2009: After riding Yeti and Ibis Mojo back to back, Jeanne decided to go with Mojo. I tried them both, but I was too stretched out on the Small Yeti that I did not have a very positive experience with it. I didn’t get enough time on the XS Yeti. But I like it that Mojo is lighter for the same configuration, so I’ll probably cross Yeti off of my list now.

I don’t think this bike is out in production yet. But I have read really good things about this bike. The frame is significantly lighter than a few others including my current favorite, Blur LTc. I’ll see if I can find one to demo.


*sigh* why can’t someone else decide for me? That’ll make my life so much easier.  Okay, I was just kidding. I’m having a lot of fun in this process.

P.S. I must thank Erik for his patience on this journey. For example, this weekend, we were planning to go rock climbing at Pinnacles, which he had longed for for a long time but could not go due to weekend on call schedules, but we ended up staying in town because I got a demo bike on Saturday and I had to return on Sunday. I could see that more weekends like this might come. I’ll make it up for you some day, honey.


I put following table together for my own references. I hope someone else finds it helpful too.

10 Responses

  1. Rebeccaon 11 May 2009 at 12:55 pm

    ohh…nice post but really?/? 😛

  2. mudwormon 12 May 2009 at 11:03 am

    Em. Really!

  3. Marcon 20 May 2009 at 4:30 pm


    Good to see you doing your homework. If its any concilation, I went through this myself a year plus back but nowhere near this level of detail. My choice included Ibis, Specialized, and Yeti. I eventually went with the ASR SL and LOVE the damn this. Of course I then promptly went out and had a custom single speed built up so it’s not ridden as much as it could be. :mrgreen:

  4. Rob Loveon 08 Dec 2009 at 6:27 pm


    just stumbled across this in a random web search for trance x advSL 2010.

    i have been doing a similiar search… background info about me:
    1. ride an xl frame
    2. just sold a maverick durance with Duc32
    3. live on the front range of Colorado, but ride all over the west.
    4. like ripping descents, but also climb and XC race the same bike
    5. briefly rode a talas36 on the maverick, and it was the best headtube/ steering setup for all-around riding

    my search has included many of the bikes you list here, but the conclusion is the trance x ADVsl. Buy the SL0, sell the fork, wheels, drivetrain, and seatpost. Replace that stuff with a FoxFloat36 w/ travel reduced to 130mm, sram xx drivetrain, mavic x-max sx wheels, and a crank bros joplin post. this will result in an efficient climbing bike that will weigh in at 26.5lb in an XL, and will be able to slay any superD race and all the long descents out west. also, the headtube will be adjustable by internally adjusting the fork travel. This will mean a slightly slacker headtube (68deg) but not as slack as, say, a new Spec. Enduro.

    rock on.

  5. mudwormon 09 Dec 2009 at 8:55 pm

    Hi Rob, thanks for the info. Wow, you sure have gotten your bike dialed! That’s a nice looking bike. I’d love to ride one someday.

  6. Cynthiaon 22 Apr 2010 at 7:35 pm

    Wow. I can’t believe you were able to demo so many bikes, and had the patience to do so. What did you end up getting? It’s 2010, so this is an old blog, but I’m very curious now after all this research that you did.

  7. Cynthiaon 22 Apr 2010 at 7:37 pm

    Ooops! Just found the link to what you bought—-

  8. mudwormon 24 Apr 2010 at 12:25 pm

    Bike testing is fun! And you get to meet a lot of people in the industry. I feel a little at loss now that my bike searching has come to an end, for now. 🙂

  9. mudwormon 24 Apr 2010 at 12:26 pm

    I’ll post the link here just in case it’s not clear to others either:

  10. 24 Jun 2010 at 1:31 am

    Mountain bikes – How to set up a mountain bike…

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