Tuesday, July 28, 2009

First Review of the Paradox

Jay says – So big thanks to Kurt for giving us this awesome review. I posted it in its entirety both the good bad and the ugly.

Its pretty thorough initial feedback and I’m sure we’ll get more as the weeks and months go by and Kurt gets more comfortable on the bike.

Anyway enjoy the read!!

INTRO

“Dude you’re frame just showed up! It reminds me of a Trans Am or Firebird from the IMG_0170 seventies! It’s the coolest looking Banshee I’ve ever seen!” came the voice of Barry, master mechanic at Hardcore Bikes, on the other end of the line!

For the rest of the day, I couldn’t focus on anything, but getting to the shop and getting my new Paradox built up. Finally, the frame I’ve been waiting for months had arrived! Now for the hard part; to get everything installed and working properly in time for the 24 Hours of Adrenaline in Canmore, Alberta, Canada. Only 16 hours remained before we had to be on the road and still needed to do the following: pack clothes and camping gear, set up the truck-bike rack, pick up a trailer and team-mates and their gear, sleep and eat two meals.

THE BUILD

I picked up most of my parts quite a while ago. They’d been sitting in my living room waiting for the frame looking quite lonely for a few months. A few or the parts were left out, thinking I’d have some warning to pick them up before the frame arrived. But, I had to make a quick buy in the end. Parts were selected for a light weight XC/AM build. I’m a burly guy and wasn’t willing to compromise durability or performance for weight savings. I chose parts that would last and stand the abuse, but were still reasonably light in weight.

IMG_0201First of all, I’m 6’5”, approx 215 lbs

Frame: Banshee Paradox, XL, sliver and orange

Fork: Rock Shox Reba Team 29r, with 20 mm Maxle Light

Wheels: Mavic A719 rims, laced to Chris King hubs with straight gauge DT Swiss spokes and brass nipples (hand-built by myself)

Tires: Schwalbe Little Albert 2.1

Brakes: Avid Juicy 7 which were in desperate need of a bleed. One of those winter projects I’d meant to get to months ago. Seven inch rotor in the front and six inch rotor in the rear

Headset: Chris King, pewter

Stem: 100 mm loaner from Hardcore Bikes (probably go with Thomson once I get the length finalized)

Bar: Chromag Fubar OS, Zero Rise, 10° sweep, 710 mm width

Grips: Oury (orange)IMG_0206

Seatpost: no-name, supplied with frame

Saddle: Chromag Lynx – Ti rail

Cranks: RaceFace Atlas 175 mm – 22/34/44

Cassette: Shimano XT 11x34

Pedals: Crank Bros Acid

Rear Der: Sram X7

Front Der: Shimano Deore

Shifters: Sram X9

Chain: Shimano XT with Sram quick link

Weight: Not sure yet, have to get to a shop to use a scale. But definitely sub 30 lbs

Comments on Build

After installing the front derailleur and rear wheel, I was very glad I'd gone with 2.1” tires.IMG_0257 Clearance between the arm of the front derailleur and knobs of the 2.1’s was minimal. I knew that the dish of my rear wheel was slightly toward the drive-side. I’d planned to ride the wheel a bit before correcting it, since I knew things would change as the spokes were loaded. However, due to the minimal clearance, I had to adjust the dish to be dead on right then and there. Luckily for me, I still had my buddy’s dishing tool – thanks Trevor!

Jay and I talked about the clearance issue a little. He knows which derailleurs allow the most clearance so maybe check the blog later on for a suggestion. There must be better options available than the old one I had sitting around.

The big DH bar might seem like overkill – and it was. I love my Chromag riser bar on my free-ride bike, so I knew the hand positioning would work for me, albeit a little wide. Also, it’s quite a bit heavier than an XC/AM spec bar would be. But, I’m heavy so the extra heft seemed excusable. I’d planned to trim the bar a little once I’d determined ideal hand positioning. After a weekend of riding, I’m quite happy with the full on 710 length. I still may trim it a bit, but it certainly works for the time being.

IMG_0259 The seatpost which came with the frame was nice and light. The tightening mechanism is the same as those found on Thomson’s, which is very easily adjusted. The seat-tube / seat-post interface was way over greased though. No matter how tight I clamped the collar, the saddle still twisted on me when wheeling worse than Chubby Checker.

Barry cut the steerer-tube for me a little, but we decided to leave some extra length to be able to adjust bar positioning. I still need to pick up some clear 3M tape to protect the tope tube from the brake levers. When the bar spins more than 90° either way, the brake levers hit the top tube. I’d rather have some torn up looking tape than chip the finish. I ended up putting stickers on my Scirocco when this happened. Speaking of 3M tape, I should put some on the top of the drive-side chain-stay too to protect it from the bouncing chain. In the mean-time I wrapped it with piece of tube, but I prefer the sexy look of the bare stay.

FIRST RIDE

A few pots of tea (was avoiding beer immediately before the race) and some U.K. Subs IMG_0259 albums later and she was finally complete at 1:30 am. I snapped a few photos and was out to make sure the brakes braked and the shifters shifted. I ripped around the block a few times then down the big hill in front of my apartment and back up.

The first thing I thought to myself was: “Man, this is what Ron Jeremy must feel like when he uses a Magnum; finally, something that fits!”

(Editors note: Consider deleting the porn star reference, since the blog is a family show. Seriously though, that’s what popped into my mind. Did I mention it was 1:30?) editor noted but doesn’t care - jay

The bike truly felt like a natural fit for me. My positioning felt how other average-sized riders look on their XC bikes. Whenever I ride 26” wheeled XC bikes, I always feel a little awkward and gangly – kind of like when a big dude gets into a tight little sports car and slides the seat all the way back and leans it down a little. It’s a workable position, but not ideal. With the Paradox, it seemed like the cockpit and positioning were truly designed for us Clydesdales. Now, it was time to sleep fast in preparation for the next big day. Seriously though, who can sleep when they’re dying to ride their fresh ride? I should have known better.

I gotta say, that orange and polished finish look amazing. I received a lot of comments on it in Canmore. My girlfriend was right though (as usual), I have to ditch the orange Oury’s. They grip really well, but the colour just doesn’t work. They cheapen the look of the whole bike. I’d stick with black here fellas. But at this point in the night, I was more concerned with functionality than aesthetics.

RACE REPORTIMG_0256

The race course at the Canmore Nordic Center was 18 km long and consisted of a mix of technical single-track and fire roads. I’m not sure about the total elevation gain, but there was certainly a lot of climbing and descending. Most of the single track was quite rough and technical. A few sections were fast and flowey, but overall the course definitely favored a lean full-suspension bike. It was still doable on hardtail, but the vast majority of riders were on fullies. The fire rides were wide open and generally smooth, with a few loose rocky sections – ideal for passing other riders. I’d estimate fire roads to make up less than 20% of the course. It’s a tough estimate though, since the percentage of time you spend on roads is much less than the percentage of the distance of the course (since you can ride faster on fire roads than on single track).

The course itself was much more fun than last year, and more challenging. But, the course marking and flagging certainly left something to be desired. On my first lap I ended up taking a wrong turn, due to following a rider who was on the course but not actually racing. After the fact, I found out that the arrows marked near the lodge were for XC skiers, not the race itself. How misleading! - a can of black spray paint could have fixed that issue. That misadventure wasn’t too bad though - I doubt it added that much time to my lap, less than five minutes for sure. I still managed to pull in a 1:04 time despite the wrong turn, and that was in the sweltering heat and sun.

My second lap was at night. I really should have bought myself some proper lights. However, IMG_0265 there wasn’t any cash left in the Paradox budget, so I had to make due with my AAA powered bar and helmet mounted LED lights. Due to my lighting situation I ended up riding at a pace which would not have allowed me to react in time if something unforeseen such as a log came up along the trail. But what the hell, that’s the joy of night racing!

As I passed a rider on an open fire road, he looked sideways at me, thereby blinding me with his light. We missed a turn together and ended up several kilometers too far down the fire road. Once we hit a drainage ditch that we didn’t recognize we knew we’d made a mistake. I middle-ringed it back up the fire road to where we’d missed the turn and saw the minimal tape, which blocked off 4 feet of the fire road, fluttering in the breeze about 3 inches off the ground. After digesting my anger into leg pumping fury, I hammered out the rest of the course and pulled in a 1:15. Most riders will agree that the night lap is by far the most enjoyable. Temperatures are quite comfortable and it’s a really unique experience, especially if the moon is out. I really enjoyed this lap.

After a brief rest and some cheerios the next morning, we figured that there would in fact be time for me to take a third lap. At this point I was enjoying myself, but admittedly a little bummed about the detours on my first two laps. I’ve never been an overtly competitive person, but I do like to focus personal improvement and I really wanted to know what time I was capable of without making any mistakes. So, I jumped at the chance for the third lap, stripped the lights, cleaned and lubed the chain and checked all the bolts. At 10:52 Scott blasted through the finish line and handed be the baton. If I came in one second after 12 noon, my lap wouldn’t count – that left one hour and 8 minutes to reel one in. Loaded with energy drinks and gels I began my lap. Despite the light-headedness that comes from lack of sleep and physical exertion I felt strangely comfortable and confident. It must have been the overcast skies and cooler temperatures on Sunday morning. The cowbells and cheering crowd on the finishing downhill really got me going. I big-ringed it and hammered on in. I finished the lap with no wrong turns and pulled in a solid 1:02. Finally, I was happy knowing what I was capable of. I went back to the finish line to cheer on the riders who I’d just passed. A tear came to my eye as one guy came in at 12:00:07, meaning his lap didn’t count – after all that hard work.

Our team came in 10th place out of 52 or 56 corporate teams. Not bad for a couple of engineers and scientists. We had a variety of riders on our team – some veterans and some newer riders. Amazingly no one had a mechanical, not even one flat tire! And no one got hurt. Unfortunately a rider on another team had a sever crash during the night lap. The marshals blocked off the course while they removed him on a back-board. Word was he broke his neck. I certainly hope he’s okay.

Results and split times aren’t posted yet but I think 1:02 was a really solid time. I heard (but haven’t confirmed) that the fastest lap time was put in by an Australian solo rider of 54 or 56 minutes. Our 8 person team pulled in 18 laps. The winning solo rider pulled in 22 laps. I honestly do not understand how something like that is physically possible. I’m more and more amazed by solo riders every year. You guys truly are freaks of nature. Man you must work hard!

IMPRESSION OF BIKE (finally what everyone’s been waiting for)

After my pre-lap on Friday night, some Metallica lyrics came to mind: “burning hot, loose and clean”, because that’s exactly how I felt on the Paradox.

First of all, is the fit. As I mentioned above, it just felt right. On the Paradox, my body was in a position that felt ideal for putting the power down and maneuvering the bike in tight spots. I’ve been commuting on a Surly Cross-Check for a few years now so the larger wheel size was familiar and welcome. The body positioning was comfortable for climbing and descending alike. My usual climbing strategy on a 26” wheeled bike involves getting my chin in front of the bar, elbows tight and low, shimmying up in the saddle and powering in a half-standing/ half-sitting position. On the Paradox, I leaned forward a bit and got my nose down, but didn’t find it necessary to corn-hole myself with the nose of the saddle. Descending inspired a lot of confidence in me. I felt comfortable to just let the bike blast through baby-head rock and rooty sections, occasionally putting it back on track (it is a hard-tail after-all). I think the 68.5° head angle is to thank for this. I doubt you’d find something that aggressive on any comparable 29rs. The Moots I researched had a 71° head angle and much longer chain-stays.

After a lap on the race course, I could feel that I’d been working my abs and core more with this bike than with a 26” wheeled bike. That must come down to body positioning. I don’t know much about muscle groups, but it seems intuitive that using a wider variety of muscles groups for any sport results in greater efficiency.

The thing I liked most about this bike was how well it pumped through rough stuff. I felt IMG_0266 kind of like a BMX rider. I found myself getting the bike up to speed, they staying off the brakes and flowing it through the gnarly sections. It bunny-hopped really well and the rear wheel lifted with ease when I wanted it to. Both wheels rolled over gouges in the trail that would usually cause a 26” wheeled bike to hesitate or stutter. I could still feel the obstacles, and was aware of what I was riding through, but it really didn’t throw me off at all.

With the lightweight build, this bike was very snappy and accelerated well. I was a little concerned that the larger diameter wheels wouldn’t accelerate as well and would have a longer “spin-up time” than 26 inch wheels. To be perfectly honest, they seemed to accelerate quicker than my 26 inch full suspension. I know it’s not fare to compare to a 6.7” travel, 38 lb SX Trail. But in the SX Trail’s defense, it’s the best pedaling free-ride bike I’ve ever ridden (note: I have never ridden a Rampant, Wildcard, Rune or Scythe before, so they may well be even better). So, the wheel acceleration comparison may be more valid than it may seem at first.

Side note to new riders who don’t know about wheel acceleration: Two things effect how quickly and easily a wheel accelerates; it’s weight, and the distribution of that weight. Together these things form the “moment of inertia”. Weight further away from the hub gives the wheel a greater moment of inertia. So, if wheel A and wheel B have the same weight, but wheel B’s weight is distributed further away from the hub, it will have a greater moment of inertia and won’t accelerate angularly as fast as wheel A, for the same toque. So, when stomping on the pedals you angularly accelerate the wheels, and linearly accelerate the whole bike. It’s a complicated thing. Keith can explain it much better than I can.

Anyway, although the Paradox wheel set is lighter than my 26 inch set, I thought it might feel more sluggish. Not so! Even though the weight is distributed further away from the hub they still feel faster due to the lighter weight. Apparently the benefit of lighter weight outweighs the draw-back of the further-away weight distribution.

I was a little unsure of the 2.1 inch tires. They looked awfully lean for the race course. I rode with the same degree of reckless abandon I ride any mountain bike and the tires felt just fine. There must be some merit to the larger contact patch theory. I ran them at 34 psi and they cornered well on fast open roads, even with loose material present. I could feel them slip a little, but the slip was controlled. It was the kind of thing you could predict and adjust with your lean. Some tires just slip out entirely all at once – a recipe for disaster.

The size of the bike was noticeable in really tight single track climbs with switch-backs. It felt longer and a little more awkward than a 26 inch wheeled bike, but on the positive side, it also felt more stable and less precarious. That may sound like a contradiction, so I’ll explain a little better. Although you could take a tighter corner on a 26er, there is less room for error. If you misjudged your wheel path a little or got deflected, or unbalanced, you’d blow the corner. The Paradox did require a little more thought to choosing your wheel path, but it felt stable. So if you misjudged your line or got deflected, there was more opportunity to correct: it was more forgiving of mistakes. You just have to thread the trail a little more.

Frame Construction

As would be expected of a Banshee, this sucker is laterally stiff. I can’t remember if it has the ribbed chainstays like the Scirocco. Keith or Jay, can you comment on this? I didn’t notice the vertical harsh-ness that I’d sometimes experienced with my ‘05 Scirocco (which has a straight seat-stay yoke). In addition to the curved seat-stays which allow for a little vertical compliance of the rear end, the larger wheels roll over obstabcles more smoothly than a 26er would.

The gusset on the top of the top-tube and seat-tube is a nice touch. I got comments on that. I also like the look of the head-tube/down-tube gusset – just like the Scirocco of old. The top-tube has a sexy shape and the drop-outs would allow the use of Fun Bolts on a Chris King hub. When I dropped my chain (due to derailleur mis-adjustment), the ISCG 05 tabs held it close to the small ring. In fact, I was able to shift it back onto the small ring without stopping!

The Reba felt great. I ran it at 140 psi (both positive and negative chambers). I’ll likely drop the pressure in the negative spring a bit, just to see what happens. It was responsive and supple over small bumps, and felt better than my Talas 36, which is in desperate need of a service. It took the mid-range and larger hits as well as you would expect a all-mountain fork to. The spring rate seemed to ramp up towards the end of the travel, and I’m not sure I was using all available travel. That might to be due running too high of a pressure. I’ll mess with that more and see what happens. The fork chassis felt as stiff as other 20 mm forks I’ve ridden and I didn’t notice any deflection or flex. I’ve always been biased towards Fox, but if this fork keeps running this well with minimal maintenance, I’ll be a very happy camper.

Changes to Build

As mentioned, I’ll change out the grips for aesthetic reasons later on. I’m not a big fashion follower, so it may be a while. The 710 mm bar felt quite confident and I see no reason to cut it just yet. If I find it too wide for Edmonton riding, she’ll get cut. Does anyone know of a similar, but lighter bar around?

I think I’ll end up leaving room for about 8 mm of spacers between the stem and headset and run either a 5° or 0° rise stem. At this time, I think I’d be happy sticking with a 100 mm length.

Grievances

I know it’s best to end on a positive not, but I already mentioned the good things. The only thing that concerned me with this frame is the front derailleur and tire clearance as I mentioned before. Check with Jay before your purchase, and keep your receipt in case you need to exchange for a different tire or derailleur. I wonder if an E type derailleur would have more clearance? Perhaps Shimano’s 2x9 SLX system would result in different derailleur arm positioning?

Jay says - http://bansheebikes.blogspot.com/2008/11/paradox-update.html we have tried the biggest tire we could find and can confirm X9 works, 2010 X7, pre 2010 X7 if you don’t run the fatest tire or if you do you don’t mind cutting off the downpull arm, and Saint. I’m sure tho Shimano makes a couple more and i’m looking into it

The top of the seat-stay yoke is a little wide. I presume the boys designed it this way in the name of lateral stiffness. When coasting around camp with my outside leg fully extended and held tight against the frame, I could feel the width of the yoke against my leg. However, I’d already raced three laps before I noticed, so clearly it’s not an issue while actually riding the bike.

Check your seat-post for excess grease. Mine came greased really well; so well in fact that the post dropped about 5 cm during my first lap. After that I wiped most of the grease off and tightened the clamp down ever more. I had thought it plenty tight the first time.

Conclusion

If mountain bikes were off-road vehicles, the Paradox would have handling characteristics similar to a burly rally car and the toughness of an old Land Cruiser. It tracks well, goes fast, accelerates well and handles rough stuff with ease. It’s capable of most terrain you could tackle on anything smaller than a huge jacked up monster truck.

I look forward to riding this bike on Edmonton single track in the next few weeks and on the Seven Summits trail in August. I know a few other guy’s with 29rs, so I’ll try to arrange a trade and share their opinions with you.

Thanks to Mark and Barry at Hardcore Bikes for ordering parts for me and receiving and prepping the frame. Thanks to Keith and Jay for getting me a frame to test in the first place. Thanks to Dalen at Trident Sports for shipping it out to me in time for the 24 Hours of Adrenaline.

Hey Keith, please tell me there are plans for a VF4B version of the Paradox? You’ve got a winner here with this geometry. A full suspension version would be unreal!

Links:

Hardcore Bikes (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada)

twenty4sports

Peace,

Kurt

4 comments:

megalow maniac said...

Thanks for this very detailed review!! I'm now even more confident that I made the best choice in ordering this particular frame. As it shows, a fully isn't always necessary which is why the Paradox will be replacing my Niner RIP. I'm 6,5" myself so your review is particulary helpful - I'm glad I have a X.9 FD laying around :-)

Enjoy your Paradox,
Andreas

Keith Scott said...

Nice review Kurt, nothing like a baptism of fire for a new frame!

Yes there is a FS 29er in the works, it is a while off yet, but should blow everything else out of the water, just think 5" travel, 17.2" chianstays, sround 13.5" BB height, latterally stiff and VF4B efficient!

It is still really only a rough design so far, but I'll be working on it hard over the coming months.

as for other things... haha, you did a pretty good job of the angular intertia part, but just remember that more angular intertia = more angular momentum one up to speed. (spokey dokes can be your friend after all!! haha)

And yes, the paradox like all of our other bikes has internally ribber chain and seat stays.

Thanks Kurt, enjoy exploring!

Jay MacNeil said...

Megalow,
One of the things i'm most happy about is how the XL size turned out.
It looks normal... alot of XL sizes look really weird but this one doesn't look freaky... so thats something i'm pretty stoked on.

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