Thursday, January 29, 2009

Sneak Peek of the Haro Sonix 650B

Despite all the buzz about 650B mountain bikes fluttering about the bike industry over the past year or so, it seems like many bike manufacturers have been a little slow on the uptake with getting complete 650B bikes to market. One of the benefits of being a small bike manufacturer like Haro is being able to produce cool niche bikes relatively quickly. We don’t have to run our ideas past layers and layers of corporate committees in order to get the green light. If we come up with an idea for a niche bike and think there’s a market for it, we more or less just start working on it.

Since our Beasley 650B hardtails have been so well received, it was pretty much a no-brainer to start developing a full-suspension bike that would specifically accommodate 650B wheels. It was also a no-brainer to base this new bike on our proprietary Virtual Link System that we use on our popular Sonix and Xeon full-suspension bikes. With 120mm of rear wheel travel, it made the most sense to add a 650B wheel-equipped bike into the Sonix series given the fact that there seems to be more demand for cross country trail bikes in the 4” to 5” travel range.

If you hit the fast forward button, a few months later we finally have our first batch of rideable prototypes of the Sonix 650B we’ll be introducing into our 2010 line. When we get prototypes in, it feels a lot like Christmas…we tear open the boxes and look at the treasures held within with wide-eyed wonderment. After we’ve had our fill of just looking at the frames, we build them up and hit the trails to begin testing…that’s the fun part!

This wasn’t my first rodeo aboard a 650B full-suspension bike. About a year and a half ago, we put a set of Velocity Blunt 650B wheels on a stock Xeon equipped with a Fox Talas fork and found that they fit…it was a close fit, but a fit nonetheless. I actually did a side-by-side test that compared the 650B-equipped Xeon to a standard 26” wheel Xeon and wrote about it here on my blog. What I found in that test was 650B wheels did everything that was promised they would do…and that was they would give you many of the same benefits a 29” wheel will give you without that “big bike” feeling.

The Sonix 650B is proving to offer that same level of performance I experienced in the Xeon test. It combines everything I really like about my 29er with the nimble handling characteristics of a 26” wheel. You might be asking, “Well, why not build a 29” wheel full-suspension bike?”. 29” wheel full suspension bikes handle sort of like a freight train…they rock on the descents but on tight switchbacks and on climbs, they feel as sluggish as a wet sponge. If you’ve ridden one, you know what I’m talking about.

The beauty of the Sonix 650B is the fact that it’s nimble and quick. It negotiates the tight stuff with ease and precision. In fact, I don’t even notice I’m on a bike with bigger wheels. Where the bigger wheels become evident and are a huge asset is on the climbs. It feels like the bike has endless traction. In fact, our MTB product manager, Patrick Crosby, commented that “having a 650B wheel and Virtual Link pedaling efficiency is like adding four wheel drive to your bike!”.
The larger 650B wheel size also rolls over trail obstacles like a monster truck rolls over a row of cars at the county fairgrounds. It’s pretty amazing to just sail through technical rocky sections that would usually bounce me around on my 26” wheel bikes. Pat said could really feel how the larger diameter wheel would just coast over roots and rocks that would normally swallow a standard wheel.

Another nice feature of the Sonix 650B is how easily the wheels spin up to speed. On a 29er, as much as I love them, it does take a little more effort to get the wheels rolling and up to speed. The Sonix 650B wheels spun up with little more effort than a 26” wheel.

I’m really looking forward to getting these bikes into production and into dealer’s stores, but that’s several months away. Realistically, we won’t see these in our warehouses until late summer or early fall. Good things come to those who wait…

Sunday, January 18, 2009

My sister-in-law kicks butt!

A month or so ago, my sister-in-law Jen asked me a question I never thought I would hear come out of her mouth: "Will you take me mountain biking?" I have to admit that I nearly fell on the floor. Given all of the bumps, bruises, flesh wounds, and broken bones my family has seen me get as a direct result of mountain biking, it's not every day that one of them will ask me to take them mountain biking to see what it's all about. And it's because of all my injuries that my brother's stern warning to me right after she asked me to take her riding went something like, "Please don't kill my wife!"

Of course I jumped at the chance to potentially convert another willing soul to the dark side of dirt. I wasn't really sure what to expect. Jen has been taking spin class for the past year or two, so I knew that physically she would be fine. What I was more worried about is how Jen would do riding over rocks, down hills, and up steep descents on the dirt. For those of you how have taken a noobie out on the trail for the first time, you know exactly what I'm talking about. It's a whole other ball game than spin class or cruising the neighborhood streets.

I decided to take Jen to Lake Hodges; it's a fairly mellow out-and-back trail with a variety of terrain. There were still a few little sections that would likely freak her out, but for the most part the trail is beginner friendly.

The day before our ride, I grabbed a Sonix Comp from my demo fleet at work so she'd have a nice, full-suspension bike that would make her first ride more comfortable and fun. We met at the trailhead in the morning and had a little pre-ride lesson about shifting, braking, body position, trail etiquette, and basic riding skills.

When it was clear she was catching on pretty quick, we took off towards the trail. The first 1/2 mile is pavement, so that was no problem. We hit the dirt, and I fully expected Jen's pace to slow as she negotiated the uneven terrain. She took to the dirt like a trooper and kept up just fine. About a mile or so up the trail, there was a stream crossing. I coached her about just keeping her momentum up and looking ahead as she crossed the stream. Again, I sort of expected to see her to slam on her brakes and walk across the stream on the rocks...but she sailed right through it. Right after the water crossing is a fairly steep hill strewn with baby-head rocks...she just motored right on through it all without blinking an eye. Wow, 2 miles in to the ride and I'm already impressed!

We kept cruising along and chatting away. The weather was just wonderful (about 85 degrees), so it was a perfect day for a ride. Ever since the hill we just climbed, the trail has been pretty flat but we had a little descent ahead. Nothing major, but for a new rider, it could be intimidating since there were a few little ruts in the trail. I looked back and Jen was cruising right along as if she had ridden the hill a dozen times before.

As we meandered around the lake, the trail eventually turned to singletrack. A few little ups and down, but really fun. As we approached a little rock/root section, I warned Jen that she might want to walk the section. But I also gave her a little coaching on how to negotiate the section if she wanted to try it. I rode rode down the section and looked back...and Jen rode the section like a champ! I was shocked...I have seen beginners eat it on this section ot get off and walk. Wow!

It was pretty clear that Jen was completely "getting" the whole mountain biking thing. On our way back after the turnaround point, we stopped at the rock section and I made her ride down it a few more times so I could take pictures. We took a slightly different way back to the trailhead that invloved a really steep hill that's not easy to climb. It straight up sucks...I have seen many experienced riders walk the entire thing. Jen made it halfway up the hill before getting bounced off line and having to put a foot down.

We definitely took the harder way back to the trailhead, and Jen rose to the occasion. At one point, as she just sailed down on off-camber descent with some ruts in it, I told her, "You don't even need my advice already know what to do!" It was really cool to see someone who have never ridden off-road before take to it so easily.

To make a long story short, we had a great time. Jen didn't crash one time and walked very few sections. She at least tried to ride everything before deciding that maybe it was a little too soon for such advanced terrain. I fully expected at least a couple of crashes...and possibly some scraped-up knees or elbows. But that never happened. I am so proud of her!

So is Jen hooked? I think so. I got a text message from her this morning asking if we can go riding again on February 1st before the Superbowl. She wants to meet at 8am...I can't remember the last time I was on my bike before 9am. But of course, I said yes. It's great to have a new riding partner!