Its been a really good 6 months.
Maybe that’s too much of a spoiler statement for this review? 🙂
I have put approximately 1000 miles on this bike and it has been amazing.
The bike I rode for 5.5 years before this bike was a Titus Motolite which morphed from 5 inch AM oriented rig to a 4 inch XC/endurance racing rig that I raced on in the 12 Hours of Temecula, June 2011. The Motolite was an excellent bike which railed corners like no other and was active in its travel all the time thanks to the FSR Horst Link suspension pivot design which Titus bought rights to from Specialized (there was even a FSR patent number sticker on the inside of the chainstay). I enjoyed the bike, but really wanted to try out the new 29er thing.
El Mariachi was brought in to add efficiency of a hardtail for climbing as well as all the added benefits of a 29er. I thought that it might be less comfortable over the longer endurance rides, but I was willing to take the gamble, plus, many recent 29er converts I knew said that there was some pseudo-suspension feel on a 29er hartail compared to one of the 26er variety. I knew some of these converts well and trusted their opinions. Looking back, I’m glad I did.
The first thing and most impressive thing about this bike has been its comfort. Comfort was something I was afraid would be lacking since it was a hardtail, albeit made of steel, that was bound to buck over rock gardens, send the vibrations of the trail straight through my bones, and make me fatigued much quicker than the Titus Motolite did with its obstacle-absorbing full suspension.
My fears were unfounded. Period. Yes, it bucks over rock gardens more and I have to choose my lines more carefully to avoid getting thrown off track, but I am much MORE comfortable than on the full suspension. Yes, you read that correctly. I am more comfortable, especially on long, fatiguing rides than I ever was on my full suspension. Why is that? I could speculate and mention all the attributes of steel, riding position, etc, etc, but that doesn’t really matter all that much. What matters is that it works…and works pretty well.
The second thing and almost as impressive is how well this bike climbs. I set it up single speed initially because I didn’t have any money for a new bike, but my wife and I discussed it and decided we would loan me the money needed to transfer my parts from the Titus so I could have a bike to ride and still be patient about selling the Titus frame so that we wouldn’t be desperate and lose out on hundreds of dollars. I was sick of spending hundreds on drivetrain and suspension parts and maintenance anyways, so I was ready to ride single speed (and rigid, but I will get to that in a minute), at least for a month or two until I could save up for some drivetrain parts that had worn out on the Titus. I was really excited to try single speeding again, it had been 5 years since I had ridden a single speed regularly and I remember it fondly. Back to El Mariachi, I really noticed how well this bike climbed. Even with it set up single speed and laying down lots of torque on the pedals when headed up steeper climbs, the flex of frame’s chain and seat stays wasn’t noticed at all. It is a great platform for building up a quick climbing 29er and I surprisingly got fast at climbing in a very short period of time. I was sore for a couple weeks at first, but yeah…I was finding myself very much in unbelief when I got KOMs on Strava.com for the tracks I had been taking on my rides throughout the last quarter of 2011.
“You aren’t just riding a single speed, but a RIGID single speed?! Why would you do that?!” I have gotten that series of questions/exclamations a few times in the last 6 months. Yeah, I have a rigid steel fork on a single speed 29er. So what, you wanna fight about it? 🙂 Going back to the idea of loaning myself the money to buy a frame to transfer my used parts and sell my old frame, I was lacking money for a suspension fork (and frankly was tired of suspension maintenance), so I decided to add on a rigid Salsa fork that is basically the exact axle to crown length the El Mariachi frame was designed around. It was $100 bucks. Easy enough to acquire and justify as a back up fork when I get the suspension fork. I was expecting it to be harsh and unbearable. The frame and fork combination is a thing of beauty though. Keep the speed below 13-15 mph and it can be harsh over really technical terrain, as you would expect. Right at about 13-15 mph though, you start to feel this subtle suppleness that is hard to describe. All I can say is that I can easily go faster, see more clearly because I am not getting rattled around as much, and its just more comfortable. Yes, it was really weird the first time. Balboa Park near downtown San Diego has one downhill run that I tested this on over and over again. Its truly amazing. I love this bike.