The loop at Oak Mountain is challenging and takes me four hours at a touring pace. It has elevation, rock, roots, water crossings and sections of fast logging roads for a complete experience. I rode the course on two consecutive days, allowing eight full hours in the saddle.
Here's a rundown on some of the essentials:
I have to give a shout out to the folks at Fox. Send an email and within half a day you get a professional response from their tech experts. I had checked in to see what air pressure they recommend for a take-it-easy rider like myself; they responded "we recommend setting up suspension using the sag method so that when sitting on the bike in your natural riding position the suspension should compress approximately 25%. This will provide an optimum spring setting no matter what bike you are on."
I checked the rear shock and it was carrying 150 psi. Since I haven't planned on cliff jumping anytime soon, I dialed it back to 120 psi for that marshmallow-like feel I aspired to. The front fork seemed plush as is, that checked in at 95 psi. Both front and rear offer a three way rebound setting; I put mine on "trail" and plan to leave it there.
The ride was exceptional. I'm now sitting about 90% of the time, allowing the rear suspension to soak up the small aberrations on the trail. It's a major change from the Gary Fisher 29er hardtail I had been riding; no more of the spine shots I used to take on the Oak Mountain ride. Diamondback markets its Knuckle Box suspension system, which is said to alleviate rear end "bob" when applying pedal strokes. I got into some technical uphill climbs and felt little, if any, loss of power to the ground. Seems that the Knuckle Box actually aids in wheelspin when pushing low gears on slippery terrain. The front end worked in unison with the rear and was confidence inspiring.
I'm not always invested when riding fast rough sections, but after a couple hours on the Sortie, I was OK with letting the bike work and soak up the rough stuff. Combining the big 29 inch wheels with a working suspension instills courage. At one point I came to transition bridge that had a curb high lip at the start. It took a bit of machismo, but I stayed seated and just plain hit it. The Sortie 1 simply crawled up and onto the bridge. Impressive.
The Shimano Deore shifting group is AOK. Wide, clean shifts and gears for every circumstance. I was hung up on the new 2 x 10 and now even 1 x 10 gear combos, but I must confess that the triple on my new Diamondback got used in a big way. I was down onto the tiny granny gear many times and needed the low ratios to get me up the rough stuff.
My big breakthrough was gaining prowess with the Shimano M445 hydraulic brakes. I got hurt big time testing a hydraulic brake bike a while back. I was convinced hydraulic stoppers were hair-trigger, dangerous and without feel and that wasn't the case. My brake experience offered a very light touch, one finger braking technique works great and it took only minutes to gain a feel for the brakes. Less squeeze produces less hand fatigue and that means a better overall experience during long rides.
Some reviews have noted a low ground clearance with the Sortie. I smashed the chain rings on a couple of rock step-ups, areas my hardtail used to clear.
Getting a good response from my test ride(s) was a barrier breaker for me. I have transitioned to new equipment that allows me to buy a few more years on the trails. I'm not fast, but consistent and steady. My rides are my own and woods touring is more my scene. Sure, there are plenty Johnny-go-fast riders on the trail, but they have their place and I have mine. I stopped to let one rider use my pump, then met another who told me he used to stop at each of seven bridges to rest...and now has progressed to stopping at only two. I said Happy Easter to hikers and stopped to help others make the right turns. My mountain bike MO is to go solo and make friends en route.
So many things in my life have become a gift. So as I packed up and drove away I can only say: Thank you Lord for letting me ride yet again another day.