Saturday, June 21, 2008

Testing one two...

Although at times it can be a bit over the top when the rest of my life is chaotic, most days I feel pretty fortunate to have frequent opportunities to evaluate prototype bike stuff. I divested myself of a few of my eval relationships the past few years in order to get things back to a more manageable level, and lately I've really, really been enjoying the process.

It's fascinating to be a part of the ground-up process on some of these parts/tires/suspension/frames, etc... because you get to start with a vision and move concurrently through protoyping, pre-production, testing/eval, tweaking, re-production, more eval and tweaking, then finally production. In some cases that process takes 2+ years start to finish. Patience is required and is far preferred to rushing then roundfiling a design and starting all over.

While much time is spent verbally sharing or emailing ideas and suggestions in both directions, it's necessary to actually ride the product in order to be able to discuss improvements. Currently the LunchBox has more pre-production or proto parts than it does production stuff, but its been that way for several months more-or-less untouched so last night I added a new variable: A fresh off the boat set of proto FR/DH tires. John swung by on his way home from work and picked up one of the samples to install on his Behemoth, then we met for a ride early AM today.

And what a fantastic ride it was.


When testing I prefer to ride solo so that I can pay attention to whatever it is that needs evaluating--at least for the first ride or two. Once I have a decent handle on the performance and a few of the variables it's fun to share the love and stick one of the proto parts onto someone else's bike to get their take on things. I'd ridden the new tires for ~3 hours last night on one of the better test tracks available on this planet, then John and I rode out and duplicated some of that loop this morning.

For normal human beings like us, climbing a 36lb pig isn't exactly "fun" per se, but there are so many things to enjoy (like gorgeous morning light on the way up) that the climbs go pretty fast and little blood is shed.


First few chunky moves off the top.




We stopped and chatted several times on the ride, mostly discussing the tires we were riding. This tire has a reasonable chance of being produced and shipped quickly, so our riding and discussion today focused on tread pattern, apparent casing durability, and tread compound. Precious little scientific terminology was bandied about--it was more along the lines of 'Holy shit--did you see THAT?!' or 'WOW--I can't believe I got away with that one!'

John biting off a bit more than he had bargained for.


A heady move that I don't care too much for. John snapped this one a bit early but you can clearly see the dark flat ledge that my front wheel is about to clear. The front wheel doesn't touch it but even if you 'ride light' the back slams pretty hard. On a normal (non-tire-testing) day I'd unweight the rear end as I slammed into it to keep from flatting or denting the rim.Today I sat back and kept my full weight planted on that sucker. Harsh noise and a minor dent but no flat. Time to start dropping the pressure. We'd both started at ~20psi but it was time to see how low we could go.

A hard rear wheel slam on this manual, followed by an off-camber hole that really torques the rear end of the bike around. On an XC bike this move is borderline painful (and is probably gonna take years off the life of the bike) but today, at ~10psi, it was disappointingly smooth.


I shot this one a touch late of John clearing some chunk, but I like the way you can see how packed up his rear shock is. Using all the travel.


Still hadn't been able to flat 'em despite several (deliberate) badly chosen lines. So we dropped the pressure even more--I didn't have a gauge with me but I guessed that I was at ~5 or 6psi at this point.


Very few people would want to run these pressures because the wheels become a lot harder to push and a lot less predictable even as traction goes through the roof. The tires just conform to every rock of any size and as long as you can keep the power on you *will* maintain traction.


Manualing/dropping to flat at stupid low pressures.


Our bikes are set up very different so we swapped for a bit to compare and note differences.


John noticing a little 'float' from the low pressure rubber on off-camber rock.


I noticed a mechanical issue on John's bike that required immediate attention. We were both impressed that he still had *one* chainring bolt hanging on, and that the other three only needed an average of 8 turns to snug 'em up.


Lots of dust on rock and kitty litter on hardpack on the local loops--pretty typical for summer. We were both impressed to the point of surprise at the lean angles we were able to achieve and the lack of drifting we experienced in these conditions.


My turn to use up all the travel.


The in-run to this one is slightly uphill, then you're pointed down when it comes time to manual off. In short, it's almost always a hard hit. John makes it look smooth anyway.


What goes up...


Must come down.


Sometimes again and again because it's such a fun one.


Back into the chunk.


Arcing it in prep for a fun descent.


Testing the tires' braking capabilities in ball bearings.




The ride was only ~2 hours long but we learned bunches about this personality of this particular tire and now have some solid feedback to offer to the manufacturer. I'm not big on working weekends but sometimes, like today, I'm willing to take one for the team to keep the process moving...

There are worse ways to spend a morning.

MC

P.S. I was wrong on the pressure I had settled on--when I got home and checked it with a gauge the rear tire pressure didn't register. I'm thinking it was more like 3-4psi...