Sixteen months ago I made a bet.
I’d been a bit of a serial bike swapper – and had taken some stick for it from my mates – with a bet being offered that I could go a year without buying a new bike.
There wasn’t anything riding on this wager apart from my own self-respect, and my pal Ian – with whom it was struck – was very sceptical that I’d be able to go the distance. I had no such doubts myself of course, and said something like “I’ll see your year and raise you six months”.
And the first year was easy to be honest. I was enjoying riding my full-sus 29er, having a lot of fun on my 180mm freeride bike and putting in a fair few miles on my road bike. I was too busy riding to hanker after any new bikes.
But the mistake I made, if you want to call it that, was trying other people’s new bikes out for size.
Being firmly medium sized, I’ve always ridden medium bikes – but I couldn’t help noticing that whenever I had a quick go on a friend’s new large bike that I liked the longer reach.
The straw that broke the camel’s back
And of course I’d been following Steve Jones’ wonderful obsession with bike sizing in Dirt mag for the last few years – but the straw that broke the camel’s back was a ride down a familiar greasy, rooty and twisty descent on my friend Mark’s large Capra back-to-back with my own bike.
Despite not having enough standover and suspension set up too firm for me, the extra length of the Capra felt mush more stable and composed over the awkward root sections – and my own bike felt quite twitchy by comparison.
Chatting at the time, I realised that I actually had the same length torso as him – but stumpy 30in legs which meant my ideal bike would be a large top tube on a medium or even small seat tube.
Doing a couple of enduro races on my own bike after this left me mildly frustrated that it might be holding me back a bit – and so I started hitting Google and studying geometry charts – realising that there are a few bike companies offering geometry perfectly suited to my body size.
I drew up a shortlist which contained the Giant Reign, Orbea Rallon, Transition Patrol, Canyon Strive and Vitus Sommet – and I might still have waited until the 18 months was up in January, but then I realised there were some amazing bargains on the Reign (which was always top of my list) to be had from our French friends.
30lbs of enduro weapon
And thus it was that this Monday I received a big old cardboard box containing 30-odd pounds of enduro weapon – losing my bet but getting bang up-to-date in bike geometry terms.
For the more geeky among you (you know who you are), the medium Reign has a 65 degree head angle (the same as my old Iron Horse Sunday!), a 73 degree seat angle, a 620mm effective top tube, 434mm chainstays and a reach of 444mm.
Oh, and I measured the bottom bracket height myself at about 323mm – so it’s long, it’s low in BB and top tube and it’s as slack as a freeride bike.
So I suppose you want to know how it rides?
Well after a frustratingly long time getting the drivetrain set up (I removed the stock stuff), I finally hit the trails yesterday afternoon for a long pre-arranged ride at Rivington with my old mate Scott – visiting from down south.
Pedaling on the tarmac of the car park at first, the first thing that struck me was that it was hard work – probably thanks to the Vertstar SuperGravity Magic Mary tyre I was rocking on the front wheel. For those of you unfamiliar with Schwalbe’s terminology that translates as “heavy and soft”.
It wasn’t so bad once we got onto the trails though, climbing happily enough for 20 minutes or so before the first downhill.
Rather than breaking it in gently we dropped straight into a steep, rutted natural descent which was followed by some big rocks, steps and bus stops.
Comfortable at speed
Surprisingly, despite feeling tentative at first, I didn’t have to think about the bike at all. It felt easy to ride and comfortable with picking up a bit of speed.
Another climb and traverse followed and then we were riding one of my favourite cheeky descents on the hill – a tight, twisty, woodland track that’s always fun but deceptively difficult to ride fast without overcooking one of the many corners.
Despite the greasy conditions, the Reign instantly felt fast down here – staying composed when I’d usually be getting squirrelly and feeling like it had much more to give if required.
It was also apparent on the chunkier sections that the Reign is a solid bike. There were none of the flexing sensations I’m used to on my other MTBs.
It was the same again on the rutted descent from Two Lads, which we tackled in low cloud and failing light – and again on a long, cheeky and techy riverside descent after that.
The only problem was that I was occasionally catching myself out with the speed I was carrying – so I wasn’t in the right shape for drops or getting over ambitious with wet off-camber root sections.
Now I did mention up there that I was riding with a soft compound Magic Mary – a great tyre for mixed conditions erring on the side of mud – and that will have added a lot of confidence. But by now I was fully sold on this longer front centre business.
Especially when I later realised that I’d inflated the front tyre much harder than usual on the compressor and forgotten to deflate to my preferred 20psi-ish. I’d never have got away with that on any of my existing bikes, whatever the tyre!
We finished up on the fast, rocky Ice Cream Run and some nearby steep woodland cheek and in both cases the Reign was great – galloping across the rocks and threading through the trees with equal ease.
I still need to fettle the rear shock a bit – I was running it slightly too soft and it might need an air spacer – but otherwise the bike is pretty much there I reckon.
Yeah I lost the bet, but it was really intended to stop me swapping bikes for no genuine reason. And having a bike that fits me right and goes faster is a damn good reason, eh?
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