Probably worth clarifying a couple things right off the bat here. There’s a post barely socially distanced from this one declaiming that writing about bikes was so over. Behind that are few more throwing shade on the need or indeed want for any new bikes.
And yet here we are. Well I am for sure, can’t speak for the rest of you. If you’re still here then I can offer both excuses and lies.* Let’s do neither and pretend we’ve been overtaken by events. Yet I see that raised eyebrow and accusing finger pointing at the ‘best hardtail I’ve ever owned‘.
Hmm okay but let’s not dwell on the past. The future is right here. I accept it’s hinterland evo. Another steel frame, a similar niche manufacturer, a confusion of wheel sizes, a slackness of angles, a lowering of stance. The future appears to be nothing more than new colours and pointless tweaking.
Well there’s that. But we can also celebrate the differences. It’s heavier for a start so we’re already winning. Slacker at the front, steeper at the back. All of which demands a longer fork, sadly missing a similar upgrade to the organic suspension out back.
Summary is if the old bike didn’t hold me back, this one won’t either. And it’s marketed as enduro. So again, winning. Not different enough to prevent a components heist on the Cotic** to harvest almost every component- so turning a frame into something rideable.
Second hand 29er wheels and a raid of Matt’s parts bin finished the build. And regardless of the stupidity, let’s all enjoy the end result. That’s one pretty bike.
Best go ride it then. This side of the hill has me reaching for my full suss. It’s steeper, rockier and a whole lot nastier to the west side. Still new bike and all that so best just get on with it. An hour in from Ross and we’ve established it’s a better road bike than one of those FS’s, and whatever hardtail skills I honed over last winter are long gone.
Riding the first proper trail has me running out of excuses. If not blood, which is surprising considering the volume being pumped out of my calf. Flat pedals and shit technique inevitably ends with hard pins lacerating soft flesh. On the upside it’ll match the other side similarly tattooed in Finale last year.
Other than the bleeding, it’s all going surprisingly badly. A long forked, slack-angled hardtail only works if you ride it over the front. Which suits my 90s technique of hanging off the back when the going gets steep not at all. A tentative prod of the bars, while hanging out behind the saddle, emits no directional change at all. Hello Tree, can we be friends?
Time to get a grip. Winch myself over the stem, throw some body English at the next corner and remember how bikes pivot from the back wheel. I’ve always rated myself as an average rider, but I’ll fight refuseniks spreading false gospel decrying quick turning bikes and 64 degree head angles.
This thing rails. I’m embarrassed to write that but it really does. In a way the Solaris didn’t. Not with me on it anyway. It has a calmness more suited to a short travel full suss. It drags grip from the perfect dirt, rotating the world around a sticky 2.6 front tyre.
Three minutes into my first proper trail and we’re faced with the somewhat over-marketed ‘double drop‘. It’s not that big and it certainly isn’t very clever, but fucking it up has all sorts of splattery consequences on the fireroad 20 feet below you.
I’ve ridden it on a HT once. It didn’t go well. But the Bardino is so stupidly good, I passenger’d my way down there with barely a kick in the arse. New school geometry works brilliantly if you commit to the front half of the bike. Right now I’m getting it, come mud and slop, maybe things will be different.
Today tho this thing is so fast. I loved the Solaris on 27.5 chubbies but they would just hold this bike back. I spend the rest of the ride failing to fall off all sorts of lairy ledges. Close calls for sure but too much fun to stop. Or even slow down. I’m not sure why this is, but it’s something different from every hardtail I’ve ridden before. And there’s been a few.
Ah another raised eyebrow. New bike thing you mutter. Maybe there’s something in that, but a second ride in the dark did nothing to dispel the feeling of over-confidence. It looks like a hardtail but it rides like something else. Except when you back off at which point the whole pointlessness of 160mm travel difference between front and back smacks you up the arse.
Still not lacking that commitment we finished our ride on the notorious ‘Bunker‘ trail. Steep, rocky, relentless. In the dark with full leaf cover, it’s riding in nature’s cathedral. There’s a beauty to that displaced by the rather less spiritual act of staying upright.
While I’ve ridden it many times I’ve never ridden it in the dark. Or on a hardtail. And of all those times, I’ve never felt quite like I did riding it last night. It should have been scary, but instead it was joyful. It made my realise there is stuff still to be ticked off, things to be done, reasons to keep pushing.
Raising the bar? Maybe not. But I can pretend. For a little while longer.
* John Mason is your touchstone here ‘When you’re good at making excuses, it’s hard to excel at anything else‘. Sure, but let’s all acknowledge it’s a skill of sorts.
** it isn’t being sold. Rebuilding a lighter version for Jess has already started. I could never sell that bike.