Skill compensators and loss of the flow
Since the new Pegasus prototype arrived I have been riding it almost exclusively on all of my dirt jaunts. It’s fantastic, goes up fast, down fast, turns on a dime and feels lovely – ‘best mountain bike I’ve ever ridden’ I keep telling people – and it’s true. However it’s got 10 gears, a 120mm suspension fork with lockout and even a dropper post. In short, it’s a long way from the kind of thing people associate with me and the Singular brand – rigid steel singlespeeds, often with funky bars.
So this morning pulled out my old favourite, the Gryphon. Now this ticks all of the niche boxes listed above, with added bonus of a ridiculously fat front tyre, the new 29×3.0″ Surly Knard. I recently fitted a nice bulbous Racing Ralph 2.4 to the rear and installed a new suspension seatpost from the good folks at Ultimate Sports Engineering. So this should make for one smooth and comfy ride.
After the best part of a month of warm weather and sunshine, the past few days have seen a bit of rain. This made for just about perfect trail conditions, nice firm and fast trails with just enough of a damping down to eliminate dust and provide just the right amount of tacky grab – ego dirt – just lean it over and rail.
However despite these perfect conditions, I had no flow. I was overcooking every corner, bouncing off every root and generally riding like an ataxic triathlete. What was going on? I was tearing down these trails just a few days ago on my Ti wonder-bike. It was early, I headed out the door at 6.30, maybe I was just getting warmed up. Indeed as I goot going, things smoothed out a bit, but I still wasn’t feeling that comfortable.
‘I know what’s going on here’ I thought to myself, ‘springs and things have robbed my flow’. The forums are full of chatter about ‘skill compensators’, big bouncy bikes which allow technically inept riders to barrel over anything in their path. But could this also happen in reverse? Could riding a forgiving and inspiring bike make you forget how to ride around stuff? How to smoothly float over the roots and rocks ? How to carry momentum around that corner and into the little sharp rise? Yes, it seemed it could. A rigid singlespeed makes you do these things if you want to enjoy the ride, and it’s incredibly satisfying when you get it right. Yes, the Pegasus is faster – all else being equal. But over time it changes the way you ride – if you can always blast over stuff you may lose that ability to finesse it when you need it. If you can just click through the gears and spin up that nasty climb you may forget how to carry momentum through the sharp corner beforehand.
‘Modern’ bikes are great – suspension allows you to attack stuff with a vigour you’d struggle with on a rigid bike, gears allow you to get up stuff you simply can’t climb on a singlespeed. But they can also make you lazy and dull your skills, those hard earned subtle weight shifts, perfect applications of power, and smooth pedalling souplesse that make riding a rigid singlespeed such a joy – when you get it right!
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