Well, the dirt-loving virus that took hold of me when I bought my Salsa Vaya has completed its hijacking of my brain and legs: Yesterday, in a feverish haze no doubt brought on by too much time on single-track (or too many blows to the head falling off of single-track)...
...I purchased a mountain bike.
To be specific, a Salsa El Mariachi, with 29-inch wheels, a metallic-flaked dark charcoal and ruby-red paint job, classy components, tubeless-ready rims, and snappy WTB Bronson 2.2-inch tires.
I'm both thrilled and nervous. Will I like real mountain biking as much as I think? Did I give away that beautiful root-beer-brown Vaya in vain?
I managed a straight trade for the Vaya (also a Salsa), a bike that I am certainly grieving today. If I could have kept both, I surely would have. The Vaya is a solid, lovely bike, well-built to its purposes, but those main functions -- touring/commuting or gravel-grinding -- aren't things I can do enough of around here to justify keeping such a nice bike in the stable. My master plan includes a separate treasonous act: trading in my racy Cannondale for a slightly more comfortable but still-swift bike, which would handle both pavement and gravel, and be more forgiving of my middle-aged back on longer rides. At that point, I'll be able to do single-track and rougher fire roads/double-track on the 29er, and longer gravel and road rides on the road bike. (I sure wish I had the scratch to keep all the beauties that have passed through my clutches.)
Words can't describe my disorientation when I enter my garage and spy that broad-shouldered draft horse leaning against the wall. I'm used to a featherweight thoroughbred with wafer-thin tires. It's a weird thrill -- sort of like the day I bought my Ford Bronco when I moved to the mountains of New Mexico years ago, after having driven only economy cars to that point.
I'm really looking forward to taking the Mariachi out on the trails I've already mastered (and, especially, the ones I've almost mastered) on the Vaya, to experience the difference between riding dirt on a modestly-geared touring bike with cyclocross tires and drop handlebars, and on a wide-bar bike with monster-truck wheels, a classy suspension fork, and silky-smooth disc brakes.
I suspect some of you old (uh, I mean old-school) mountain bikers out there are cringing at the idea of a 293er, thinking "When I was starting out, the wheels were the size of a silver dollar, and you could have put Action Jackson on my saddle and he would have reached the pedals! Harrumph!" Well, have mercy on me. I'm a 47-year-old rank beginner to this discipline. I have the most grown-up job I've ever held, a terrific marriage, a new house, and kids in the not-too-distant future. To top it all off, it's not like I'm starting off with a bumper crop of athletic talent. In short, I need my energy and body intact at the end of the weekend. My impression has been that 29ers make mountain biking a little easier (or a lot, depending on who you ask), especially on the rooty, rocky, narrow trails of Olde New England.
Besides, this is a looker, with an outstanding reputation, and made by a small, still-funky company run by people who really ride and love bikes. What's more, the guy who sold me the Vaya was looking to get rid of the Mariachi right at the moment I was considering 29ers -- it was another one of those "right place, right time, right bike" deals I seem to have a knack for.
So rejoice for me. And then hook me up with some beginner's trails, because I can't seem to find any around here, and I'm tired of falling on my popo.