Muddymoles mountain biking in the Surrey Hills and Mole Valley

The Evolution of Hardtail Bike design

Posted by DaveC | November 3, 2009 | 12 comments so far

I was reading the latest copy of STW the other day and an article about the Orange R8 got my heckles up.

I re-read the article a couple of days later and realised I’d misinterpreted the article but by then the seed had been sewn for this article. I’m going to start with the idea that the current VW Polo is as big if not bigger than a Mk1 VW Golf was. So the quantum jump in thinking there is that cars get bigger. Granted in the current economic and ecological climate things have gone in reverse but bear with me.

Hardtail design seems to have followed a similar trend and I present the Orange P7 as exhibit No.1 your Honour. Currently it’s up to coping with 140mm of fork travel up front. But it doesn’t seem that many years ago that Simon’s P7 was “extreme” with 100mm Marzocchi’s on it. Hell 100mm Marzocchi’s WERE extreme. So now Orange bring in the R8 to allow the “whippet” riders to have something more XC than “downhill”.

My question is do we really need all this travel, especially in the Surrey Hills?

Recently I ended up moving my bike selection around a bit, partly sparked by the bargain Intense Spider 29er frame but to make way for this my “hardcore” hardtail 456 frame had to go. Recently this is the bike that had seen least miles and I have to admit it was because I found it a bit of a handfull. The Spider with it’s 73/73 geometry is a nimble little beast and once I get over the Marin D2D experience I’m sure I’m going to love riding it again!

The reason I wasn’t riding the 456 was that the SS 29er was light and agile, the Orange 5 was the bike of choice for Swinley and Afan so the 456 just lacked the spark for me and I found it heavy and slow. I’m sure it’s in my mind, but the new Blue 456 never felt as good as the original THAT Blue version.

A few more changes and I ended up with an aluminium hardtail, an On-One ScandAL. Corrected for 80-100mm of travel I’m loving this around the Surrey Hills. It’s fitted with 100mm Reba Team forks and handles sharply, flies through single track and allows me to lead downhill most of the time as well. So what’s with all this 140mm to 160mm of travel?

I queried Brant Richards of Shedfire about it and he came up with these thoughts.

As far as I can see, some hardtails are evolving to use more componentry that perhaps was more originally intended for use on full suspension frames. Particularly long travel suspension forks, large tyres, even Maxle back ends in some cases.

These tougher components allow a faster/harder riding style which means new geometry requirements. Of course, in many cases, it’s the same trails we’re riding, but we’re doing it now at higher speed or with different lines.

I have had very much of a direction change on bike geometry, having spent several years riding largely rigid 29ers around Calderdale, and now exclusively riding long travel, large tyred 26in hardtails. I was even riding around with my saddle a good 2-3in below “normal”, with flappy knee/shin pads on yesterday, just pootling up stuff, then blasting down.

Brant Richards

Which makes sense to me. I recall when I got the first 456 with Maxle Pikes that I pretty much gave up worrying about flints and larger stones in the track ahead of me I just ploughed through. The bikes seemed to give me a lot of confidence. Having said that I’m not sure that 3 years on I don’t ride the same trails the same way now but with 40mm less travel. Confidence and Experience must have something to do with it, maybe it’s a learning phase.

Then again, having watched some of the videos of Brant riding round his local trails I have to say that it’s probably a notch up on the gravity scale from what we have round here. Given that the Ragley Blue Pig is probably the spiritual sucessor to the 456 I wonder how I’d find that round Holmbury or Pitch Hill, especially fitted with newer lighter forks? Maybe time will tell as I’m trying to convince Hotlines it would be good to get one reviewed round the Surrey Hills.

For now, for me I’m back on what is apparently an “XC Whippet” riding with bars that according to a comment in a popular forum “cause” me to ride badly! Long live the opposition to popular opinion!!

Filed under Mutterings, Trends in November 2009


About the author

Dave's been riding seriously since about 1997 and is one of the founding Molefathers — along with Matt and Mark — that came up with the idea of a MTB website for Mole Valley riders.

He's had several different bikes but it's now mainly 29ers in Dave's stable, apart from an Orange 5.

Current Bikes: Orange 5, Salsa Spearfish and Kona Big Unit

There are 12 comments on ‘The Evolution of Hardtail Bike design’

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  1. Matt says:

    Having put in over 2000 miles on my Five I remain convinced of the value of it as a mile munching North Downs machine. I’ve raced it, taken it to trail centres, done Swinley on it and covered a lot of XC miles on it and it’s always a joy.

    But my hardtail is purposely a contrast to it. I still run a 100mm travel Inbred because I’ve never been convinced of the need for more, these days in singlespeed guise to make the distinction more apparant. For me, having a completely different type of bike available makes my riding more interesting.

    If I had just one bike I’d struggle to decide between a geared up 100mm hardtail or the Five but I’m lucky to be able to have both. Others have a harder choice to make and perhaps for them a 140mm hardtail is the way to go as the best of both worlds?

    But certainly you can have a real blast on a nicely balanced 100mm travel bike.

    As for cars getting bigger, I think there’s an element of cars ‘growing’ with the needs of the driver. So a Polo driver can say ‘I’ve always had a Polo’ but the small runabout they had when they were 17 has become a practical small family car now they have kids. In the meantime, the manufacturers introduce a sub-brand underneath for the next generation.

    In the same way, Orange have kept their P7 brand and evolved it with the tastes (I don’t say needs) of P7 buyers. And introduced the R8 for riders with a different viewpoint.

  2. PIJ says:

    Must agree with you there regarding long travel bikes and the Surrey Hills. I built up a 90mm hardtail with flat bars – it’s light and flies around our singletrack. However, I also bought into the idea of a 140mm hardtail – essentially brainwashed by the magazines I guess. So much for thinking for myself! I took it out, and, well, quite frankly I struggled to find anywhere legally to ride the thing that would do it justice.

    My riding friends use £500, 100mm hardtails to no detriment to the ride at all – perhaps they are getting even more out of their machines as they have no hang-ups about components or whether their rigs are fashionable or not. They just ride, and it must be said ride fairly hard. And at £500 if the thing wears out in 2 years, what the heck? Just get another.

    I think there is room for a light 100mm front and back full susser around here though – I’ve noticed that on some climbs, and the rougher brick based BOAT’s, the hardtails suffer traction wise.

    But as I mentioned earlier, realism takes a fall when you are constantly hit by articles stating that 140mm, 150mm or even 160mm bikies are what you really, really need. Realistically we could all do these trails on fully rigid singlespeed bikes weighing in at 19lb or so. Look at what the top XC riders are achieving these days – thier courses now would have been considered extreme downhill a few years back. I saw one guy a few weeks ago [he must have been 70] riding a ladies fully rigid bike with slicks. He was wearing three jackets, one of which was a heavy yellow road workers variant. We were struggling for traction on our MTB’s, but he happily caught us up for a chat!

    I don’t think you can easily categorise bikes, riding styles or actual needs anymore. Everything is a blur, and you can always find people that can do stuff on basic bikes that others need extreme machines for.

  3. PIJ says:

    …just re-read my above post. Sorry about the waffle – I think what I was trying to say is that bikes are so capable now, and the components so good, that for 90% of what we do pretty much any MTB would suffice. A good rider on a £500 bike can make a bad rider on a £4k rig look silly.

    Personally I think a lot of the differences between bikes are simply down to tyre, handlebar and stem choices. Different tyres can make a hell of a diffence to a bike feel, and hence rider confidence.

    I quite like the fact that we all ride different rigs, and spend varying amounts on our bikes. Whilst I see the financial and ride merits in the cheaper bikes, and am constantly beaten by them out on the trails, I wouldn’t have one! A Mk 1 Mini 850 would get you around the world, but if somebody gave you a choice between the Mini and a Lamborghini, which would you go for?

  4. Dave says:

    Hi PIJ,

    Thanks for the input.

    I think the basic drive from manufacturers is based on what they can do and provide so the downhill rigs have sort of sucked the rest of the bikes with them in terms of travel.

    I agree with what you say about £500 bikes as well. In fact I’d go as hard as to say that they are great for really teaching you how to ride. When I first rode a Marin East Peak with 4″ of travel one of the first things I noticed what the traction benefits so I agree there as well.

    Also as my main hobby I’m happy to spend the cash on it as well so hence I have some nice bikes. Not sure I’d want a Lambo though…..maybe settle for an Elise ;o)

  5. PIJ says:

    OK, a Lambo was a bit extreme, and I have a soft spot for the Mini 850 so would be torn between the two! Allegro v Caterham 7 then? £300 Wiggle bike v. £7k Scott?

    Apart from travel, meeting people, helping the elderly and world peace, this is also my main hobby. I like the cheaper bikes for what they do [I used one to ride up Krafla in Iceland!], but they are not me now; been there, done that, move on. Most of us here can’t afford a Ferrari or classic Jensen Interceptor, but can afford some bike bling!! Whatever makes you happy.

  6. As well as all that, I’m looking at doing a fully rigid 29er too you know…

  7. tony says:

    Having the slightly older interpretation of the R8, the 2007 Clockwork, I agree that for Surrey a 100mm bike XC whippet is great for most trail and I really like the change between the hardtail and the full susser. 140mm full sussers are great but they can make you “take any line lazy” and want bigger/harder trails to get the challenge up. A hardtail can make the average Surrey Hill trail seem much more of a effort.

    However after riding a 60mm travel hardtail at Glentress a few years ago, there is a minimum level of travel and 60mm isn’t it.

  8. PIJ says:

    …I still run my original Clockwork on a set of Pace RC36’s around here [40,000 miles up and counting]. They’ve only got about 50mm of travel and have always coped well – as they did in Edinburgh one frozen winter. True you have to pick your line a bit more carefully, and you cannot barge into things, but I can keep up with most people on that bike even now – essentally by knowing the trails very well admittedly. I’d not suggest for a minute that we all go out and swop out our forks for some 800g carbon blades, but our Surrey Hills trails can be a little tame in parts one has to admit – especially around Reigate. And don’t forget that these hills have been here for a good few years in the same form, whereas MTB’ing is a recent phenomenon!

  9. Farcical says:

    Great article, and great responses!

    I ride an OnOne 456 with 140mm travel. The reason for buying it? It’s a great progression from a normal XC bike. The more I ride it (had it for 18 months now) the more it impresses. Why? It is incredibly versatile.

    It does XC very well, it does trail centres very well, it does long rides very well, it does heavy hitting stuff very well.

    I’ve built mine quite ‘standard’. XT drivetrain and brakes, (SLX would do the job just as well) and Mavic Crossride wheels. If I want fast XC/trail centre, I put light tyres on it, if I want bigger hitting stuff I put freeride/DH tyres on – simple change, massive difference in bike.

    Continental Mountain King Supersonics 2.2 or Maxxis Minions 2.35

    The 456 gives be the best of worlds, without compromise and at a good price. I don’t need to ride a XC bike I don’t have to have a full susser, it does both.

    I’m sure that the new Ragley range from Brant Richard’s will be equally impressive (my mate has just bought a Blue Pig, so we will see). To me, it makes a lot of sense!

    That is the great thing about the UK mountain biking scene, there is so much choice, for everyone, or you can have multiple bikes. I guess the most important thing is to go out, get muddy/sweaty/bloody and enjoy!!

    My 2p worth!!

  10. Muddymoles says:

    Ride report: Wednesday 5 November

    A winter night ride keeps everyone on their toes with mud, leaves and wet roots as far as you can see. Or not as the case may be.

  11. PIJ says:

    Can’t go wrong with either Continental or Maxxis can you? Both companies just seem to produce stuff that works in my humble [and Halfords seem to sell Maxxis at web prices so no bad thing]. Panaracer XC Pro I utterly dislike in anything other than deep goo – in the dry they give the impression of riding with your brakes on. Good for stamina though…

    I’m going to crack on with the 140mm build – you’ve spurned me on to get it done!

  12. Related: Ride report: Wednesday 5 November | Rides | Muddymoles: Mountain biking (MTB) in the Surrey Hills and Mole Valley

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