Published Somedays

Why I Almost Quit Mountain Biking: The Story of My Bikes

(updated: Mar 11, 2007)

I started mountain biking back in Texas around 1995 or so. My first bike was a Trek 930, which I still have today and mainly use for towing my son Will around in the bike trailer, running errands, and as a guest bike for whenever someone visits and wants a bike to ride. Correction: whenever someone visits and I drag them all over the trails on my bike.

My first mountain bike
My first mountain bike: A Trek 930 steel hardtail.

I bought an identical bike for my wife and it's still going strong as well. The only thing I really changed on the bike was adding a suspension fork. I rode this bike for years in the rough and tumble Hill Country including City Park in Austin, TX. No Suspension. And I loved it. After I moved back to Pittsburgh, PA my biking friends convinced my that I needed a new bike. So after two years I caved in and bought a Cannondale f900SX with the Lefty fork.


Cracknfail: Sorry, I don't care if it's "Made in the USA". These clowns went bankrupt for a reason.

The Cannondale was a disaster. It had disc brakes which were so bad they nearly killed me. Parts broke on the bike like they were made of plastic. I went through a frame because it was so out of alignment the wheel was eating through the dropouts. Luckily it was covered under warranty. The wheels were so bad that I needed to get them trued constantly and they flexed so much that when I cornered the rotors rubbed the pads and screeched. I flatted constantly, broke chains, and endo'd like I was heading for home base. I was very unhappy.

It turned out to be a critical decision point for me. On the one hand I was seriously considering quitting mountain biking altogether as a result of this experience. On the other, the bike had opened a new door for me. I could ride over stuff easier because of the suspension. And I believed suspension and disk brakes were only going to get better. I decided I just needed to find the right bike.

Enter Gary Fisher. I had had it with the Cannondale, and ebay was all the rage, so I decided to get rid of it on ebay. I didn't have any problem. I lost a few hundred bucks, but I got more than I expected and I didn't care anyway. I was just glad to be rid of it. I immediately went out and bought a Gary Fisher Sugar 2 at the local bike shop.


The sweet Gary Fisher Sugar.

This bike was amazing. Full suspension. Fast, cushy, it climbed awesome and at the same time I didn't endo on it like I did on the Cannondale. Eventually I put disk brakes on it because I loved how the brakes worked in wet, muddy conditions.

However, after about a year or so I found the bike's limitation. I was a big boy at the time and I broke it. This was a lightweight race frame and it was a little squirrelly under my 215lbs and my increasingly aggressive-riding nature. I also realized something else - that my steel hardtail could still descend better than my Gary Fisher. You see, there's something the bike industry lost when it moved to Aluminum as the standard material for bike frames. Steel absorbs shock and vibration much better than Aluminum. And I believe that a well-designed steel frame can beat most of the full-suspension XC designs out there hands down. I've seen it. A guy on a Jericho giving my Turner a run for it's money. It's just that the industry can sell more bikes by going to the latest and greatest thing. As a result steel frames have become very expensive. Expect to pay anywhere from $400 for a Kona Unit to $1400 for a Jericho Leadfoot.

Anyway, after Gary Fisher sent me a brand new top-of-the-line Sugar 1, I figured that I would probably break this frame as well, and now I had an opportunity to find something better suited to my riding style. I was never into racing. Too slow. I'm more of a brute strength kind of person who inadvertently rips the heads off bolts and strips screws. Anyway, I started going through the reviews on mtbr.com and the discussion forums and I don't know what it was, but I became stuck on this one particular brand: Turner. Maybe it was because I liked the way they looked or maybe it was the fanatical reviews, but I decided to do some more investigation because it seemed to good to be true - like the reviewers were paid by Turner or something. I wrote to several reviewers and posted a message or two online, and I was amazed at the number and quality of responses I received. They had similar stories to mine and often the very reason they ended up riding a Turner.

Despite the rave email responses I received I still found it difficult to believe that a bike could be this good. But then I called Turner to ask about sizing and type of ridng and other questions and guess who answered - none other than Dave Turner himself. If this guy was willing to take the time and effort to answer the phone, listen to me and answer my questions I must be dealing with a first rate company.

Then one day I was looking through the mtbr.com classifieds and I found a used Turner XCE. This was my chance. Turner bikes seemed to hold their value and they were expensive. But I took the plunge. I've never regretted it. This was an amazing bike. It's one of those bikes were you know the bike is better than you, and you realize you have a lot to learn, but there's a lot more you can do at the same time. Stuff you could never do before, like cleaning a technical climb or log crossing, or dropping down a steep rooty chute without going head-over-heels. Every word folks had said about Turner Bikes was true. Now people would write me asking about my Turner and I was the convert spreading the good word. Turner had saved me from quitting the sport.


The Turner XCE: My first Turner.

At the same time Turner ruined me for any other bike. As tempting as some of the new designs sound, such as VPP, I could never stray from the tried and true four-bar Horst link design with journal bearings that Dave Turner has used since the beginning and constantly refining to perfection. That was something else I learned from my Cannondale experience. They would radically change their designs every year and come up with some new bike that they would say was the ultimate. But then what happens next year? It's all marketing hooey. That and customer service. I know I'm eventually going to have problems riding the way I do. I can fix most stuff myself but when it comes to the frame, for as much as the frame costs I should get outstanding customer service - no fine print, no catches. Turner Bikes has probably the best customer service in the business, and the best I've ever dealt with in any business.

So when Turner came out with their new 5" travel trail bike, the 5-spot, I instantly contracted upgraditis and traded up, obtaining a frame from their first production run in late 2003, which I am still riding today. For me the bike strikes the best balance between climbing vs. descending. It's just an amazing feeling ride. And I'm not alone. From when I first began riding a Turner to now there has been a huge increase in the number of Turner converts. I see them popping up all over. And I'll bet most sales are due to word-of-mouth, because Turner does not advertise the way other bike companies do. They let their bikes speak for themselves. And I hope it stays that way.


Turner 5-spot: The Ultimate Trail Bike.

Besides my 5-spot and my Trek, I have two other bikes, both singlespeeds. I have a Kona Unit and a JensonUSA HT, which is actually a discontinued Santa Cruz Chamelion, the one that has the upside-down mount for the rear disk brake caliper. JensonUSA had them on their site for like a week for $250 before they were gone, and I don't know if it was because they sold out or something else. My guess is that word got out about what they really were, and Santa Cruz decided it wasn't good for them and bought the remaining inventory back. Who knows. I'm just happy to have gotten one thanks to the keen eyes of a friend of mine.


The Chameleon, uh, I mean JensonUSA HT5.0.

The Kona is a nice steel bike I run with a Surly rigid steel fork. I've taken this thing off of a four foot drop. It's not the fastest bike, but with a suspension fork I bet I could pass some folks on a downhill.


The Kona Unit taking a break from the Pittsburgh mud.

One of the nicest features of this bike is the way the dropouts work to set the chain tension. You set it once when you install a new chain or gear by loosening the bolts on either side, pulling the wheel back to set the proper chain tension, then tightening the bolts. Then you can use a quick release wheel if you so desire. The disk brake tabs are part of the sliding dropout so you don't ever need to mess with caliper alignment once you set it up. You can even get a dropout with a derailleur hanger should you decide you're better off with multiple gears. Simply ingenious.


The brilliant Kona Unit dropout design.

Well, that's about it for now. I'm sure the story will continue. Right now I'm trying to decide if there's a freeride bike in my future.

You know, I put up with a lot of shit just to be able to ride my bike, so it's all the more important to me when I can. I've met too many people who go through life missing out on some wonderful experiences under some pretense or excuse that's not going to matter squat in the end. Despite having careers, cars, houses, and more money than 99.99% of people in the rest of the world, some of these folks still have little going on behind the eyes. When that happens, you know what, you're already dead.

Peace,

Sir Bikes-a-lot


The wall o' luv keeps growing.


Update (4/13/05): new road bike.


The Trek Pilot 2.1. Click on the image for more info.


Update 2/8/06 -- Yes, the rumors are true. I have built a Turner RFX/6-Pack. Next to my 5-Spot, it is the best bike I've ever ridden. The 5-Spot is the best all-around trail bike ever, period. The 6-Pack is geared more toward all-mountain/freeriding and just devours the terrain, loves going downhill and launching off stuff. My friend watching me riding is this weekend said I'm like a totally different rider on this bike. It felt so smooth going off drops and jumps. Harder to climb than my 5-Spot but that's expected for a bike that's built at least 5lbs heavier and more FR geometry oriented.

The Turner 6-Pack (aka RFX) - a terrain mowing machine:



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