We've had some interesting feedback from around the wheelbuilding world regarding my previous post, and so now we know that we aren't alone in our joy. How fun.
Among my favorite cliches is "no equipment can MAKE you a better rider, although some very good equipment will enable you to ride a lot better." I recently had an experience that aligns quite well with this statement. It came about while testing tubeless cx tires, but is applicable to any sort of tire you want to ride.
Pictured is Upper Thames Street in Newport, RI. This is about 5 blocks from wheelbuilding HQ, and since I live nearby it's also convenient to just about any ride I might do. The terror of the road surface is a bit understated in this lovely photo, but what you've got is about .25 miles of some pretty messed up cobbles. Taken at speed on a road bike with fully inflated tires, you get severely scrambled on this piece, but I've been taking full speed rips down it at odd hours when there's no traffic. On cross tires with low pressure, sure you bottom out often enough but you can go as fast as you want in relative comfort. By low pressure, I mean 22 front and 25 rear.
I'm a well-known scaredy cat when it comes to combining what you might call "technical sections" with what you might call "speed." The biggest element of this is that when I feel like I'm getting bounced around, I'm certain my front wheel will wash out, I'll have an horrific low side, break my wrist and collarbone, lose my ability to build wheels, November will go bankrupt, and I'll die penniless and insane having eaten nothing but dry cat food for 30 years. Pretty heady stuff to take into a corner with you.
HOWEVER! the absence of stark terror felt when riding down Thames got me thinking, so I went to this piece of wooded trail where you make a turn around a tree while bouncing from root to root, in all likelihood washing your front wheel, having an horrific low side... you get the point. And with all the confidence I could muster I just aimed right at the roots and arced the turn as though it was smooth pavement and I was on a road bike. I nearly freaking wept. Choking back tears, I did a small loop incorporating this turn another 60 or so times. No wash outs, no low sides, no broken collarbones, no cat food, and no insanity. This being a bike business, there was some element of pennilessness, and who am I kidding I'm sort of insane, but still. This was a revelation of the highest order - when you aren't being bounced and battered, you can make your bike pretty much do whatever the hell you want it to do. You can even jump off of rocks.
I feel slight reticence in even relating this story, because I've never wanted to admit the terror that I've often faced in situations like this, even with perfectly setup equipment. It never MADE me a better rider, but now it's ALLOWED me to ride better. So that's why I've been all super horny about riding the cross bike lately.
Whatever kind of bikes and tires you ride, take a second to check out the element of suspension in your tires. It might lead to a really fun day on the bike.