The Comparison at Rocky Hill Ranch

4 Feb

Rocky Hill "Roller Coaster" - Look for the rider crashed in the logs

Rocky Hill “Roller Coaster” – Look for the rider crashed in the logs


The other day I had the opportunity to try out both of my MtBikes on the same trails on the same day. I went to Rocky Hill Ranch Mountain Bike Park. This privately owned park is open to the public for a reasonable $10 per rider donation/fee. The park is located in central Texas near Bastrop at Smithville TX.
I took the 2012 Trek X-Cal 29er and the 2007 Gary Fisher HiFi [modified](26”). These two bikes are the same weight, within a few ounces. The difference is not how the bikes ride. They both ride very good. They both are smooth and comfortable. I ride the 29er the most on the trails around home. The 29er is a little better for all around XC riding. As you will see I found the HiFi has some strengths also.

Waiting on slower riders

Waiting on slower riders


So with this prejudice in place I took both bikes with me for a day long riding with friends. I must admit there was an ulterior motive or three at work here. First was to settle in my mind what bike I like better. Second motive was to let some of the friends have a chance to ride the HiFi to see if they liked it. One of the friends is thinking of getting a new MtBike. He is leaning toward a Trek Superfly 29er. I was hoping he would want to try out this HiFi (F/S 26er) so he would have another bike experienced to reference to help him know what to buy. Third motive was that maybe someone out there riding would see it and fall in love with it and just have to offer to buy it.
I rode the first run on the X-Cal 29er. We did about eight miles. This ride was slow going and tight. See the first Strava map: http://app.strava.com/activities/38737703 We did have some novice riders with us for the first part. They were a good excuse for not going faster. They decided that they were struggling too much to keep up and that they were holding us up. We were happy to wait on them because we are firm believers in “no drop”. They insisted that we go ahead without them. This left us without an excuse for our slow pace. This being the first time any of us had ever ridden these trails, they were completely unknown. We were lost most of the time. Not the kind of lost that you can’t find your way home, but the kind of lost that you are not really sure where you are on the map. Having never been here we didn’t know what was coming up next. Working thru the switch backs and over the whoopee dos we made our way around the first lap of riding. The 29er wheels accepted the bumps and roots very well. On hard corners the front wheel traction would wash out a little. The Bonnie 29-1 expert in 29×2.2” rides good and works well at home in the true hard pack and rock. It is not the best in carving a sandy corner or as stable. I found I was working hard to keep up. I was thinking that I was having trouble because I’m older and my weight is up. On the long downhill access road heading toward the parking lot I was faster than all the other riders. This road is covered with loose river bed type gravel and sand. Traction is hard to come by in that surface. It is like riding on marbles. I was able to hit 29.5 mph.

In the pines

In the pines


After the first run we came back by the car to eat a light lunch and refill our water. Shed some layers of clothes. Then after a short rest we would be ready to go again. The plan was to have a hamburger for lunch. The park has a food stand, but it is only open in the season. We didn’t know this and were looking forward to a big juicy burger. We talked about it on the trail. How we wanted ours ordered medium rare with lettuce, onion, mayonnaise, tomato slices, and BACON. When we rolled up our hearts sank. A lass this is February and not in the season! No hamburgers today! No cold beer to wash it down. So we made do with a couple of cliff bars each and cold water.
Trail between the pines

Trail between the pines


The second run found me on the HiFi. Again like the first we did about eight miles. This time the pace was much better. The route the trail takes thru the woods was just as tight and twisted as the first. Now see the second Strava map: http://app.strava.com/activities/38752902 .This run I found myself being a little better at keeping up. Soon I realized that even being tired from the first ride we were averaging a better pace. Soon I noticed that my shoulders and upper arms were beginning to losing up. I realized that I had been man handling the other bike. I had been working hard to muscle the bike around. I didn’t have flow when riding it. On the HiFi there was flow to riding. The big knobby Kenda Nevegal Stick-E 26x 2.35” front tire would bite into the soft surface and carve the turns. The short ups and downs combined with hard switch back turns is what the quick handling of the HiFi was made for. Then we swung on to the access road heading downhill back toward the parking lot. Was I getting better on the loose surface? I was able to get up to 30.4 mph. At those speeds the bike dances and floats loosely over the surface. Going around curves the bike drifts around. You have to keep tight control all the time or it will get away from you and it would really hurt if you went down at that speed on gravel. I think the wider tires may have added to stability.
Steel Dinosaur

Steel Dinosaur


The short story of all this is that my opinions have changed. My understanding of how to use the bikes I have has grown. The X-Cal 29er is better suited to comfortable riding and it climbs well but it is not overly well suited to the really tight stuff with lots of ups and down. On the other hand the HiFi with it full suspension absorbs the hard root hits and the bottoms of the short steep descents. Its short wheel base and low center of gravity give it tight handling in sharp turns. I will have to keep trying both bikes on a variety of trails and surfaces to judge the merits of each bike better. Now I wouldn’t be as quick to sell the HiFi as when we started out.
Open trail at last

Open trail at last

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One Response to “The Comparison at Rocky Hill Ranch”

  1. Mario A. Riojas (@mariojas1) February 4, 2013 at 3:35 am #

    Nice summary of the ride! I’m jealous but I’m planning on riding with you guy’s the next time. In “hamburger” season of course!

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