I was extremely resistant to any wheel size on my mountain bikes being any size other than 26 inch. It is the size I grew up on. All tires were 26 inches. That was it (unless you were younger, and required 24 inch wheels). Why bother with a wheel size that seems to do the job just fine? Everyone got along just fine with the wheel size. That was until Gary Fisher and Wilderness Trail Bikes (WTB) teamed up and started offering 29 inch wheels in their lineup. Everything changed. Within a few years, almost all major mountain bicycle brands offered products with 29 inch (29er) wheels in mind. And of course, 27.5 inch wheels came to market. Options.
When I Come Around
Many converts to the 29 inch wheel spoke of the seconds that they saved on each lap of a racecourse. They spoke of the ease…the greatness of the new age. Mountain biking was not mountain biking without the new wheel. I felt left behind in the dust. “Look at that guy with the 26er!” Sure, I am playing around. I am sure no one ever said that…at least I hope they did not. But even if they did. It is no matter. I was steadfast in my determination to stick with the 26er. I was so proud of myself. Sticking to my guns, indeed. Kicking it old school. I felt so old. Why change what works?
Progression of Change
And one day, I found myself rolling down a freshly created section of singletrack with a smile plastered across my bearded noggin. These 29er wheels are wonderful. What a stubborn person I had become. Change is okay after all! Life is full of changes. Perhaps I stuck stubbornly to the 26er in a last ditch effort to keep something the same. Are humans programmed to be stubborn as a means of survival?
It could be argued that riding my bike through the woods is by no means a matter of survival. After all, survival is about food, water, shelter and so on. But I argue this: what is the purpose of survival if fun and recreation is not seriously considered? Recreation is a means to and end for both physical and mental health, is it not? Perhaps health should be wrapped up into the discussion of survival.
Arguments aside, riding my new mountain bike has been a wonderful experience. Not too long ago, I thought that progression meant that I needed to ride faster, longer and harder. I thought I needed the rush of flying around the corner of smooth-as-silk singletrack. Though fun, I do not have the same appetite for speed as I used to. I have changed over the past few years to say the least.
I have changed. Progression in many ways is just that. Faster, harder, higher. At least this is what I see portrayed as progression online. I cannot say I have seen any content that encourages a mountain bike rider to slow down, and just enjoy the scenery. How can one truly enjoy the trees, shrubs birds and clouds above if you are ripping down the trail at a blazing speed (sure…cardio is nice though)? I cannot. I have progressed by regression. I have slowed down. I am no longer hellbent on speed. In fact, I am no longer ashamed as I walk my bike up a hill. No hurry. No one to impress.
The Schwinn Taff: My Adult Bike
I am stubborn about one thing for sure: I love me a Schwinn mountain bike. A means of survival? Hardly. But I am a fan none the less. I have a Schwinn tattoo which attests to my dedication to Schwinn bikes. The Schwinn Taff is certainly not my first mountain bike from the famed brand. It is however, my first adult Schwinn mountain bike. This bike represents me as I am. As I am in my life path.
I have come to understand that a person does not need to spend tons of cash on parts to have a well functioning bike. This is especially true of those that are riding to slow down, and wander into the woods…to become lost in the moment. If you are not hard on your bike, it will last much longer, cost less too! A win-win. There comes a point when cost no longer adds up to a better experience on the trail. My Taff cost me just enough.
I admit, with no regret, that I purchased the bike in its factory form from the local Walmart in Traverse City. The factory parts were a mixed bag. I still have the same wheels, front derailleur, bottom bracket, chain, freewheel, cable housings and seat. Everything else has been replaced with a new suspension fork (RockShox TK 30), rear derailleur (XTR), disc brakes (Avid BB-5’s), seat post, WTB headset, WAKE stem & handlebar, grips, shifters and brake levers. I also installed my beloved RaceFace crankset.
I cannot attest to how the bike rides in its stock factory form, but I am certain the upgrades I made have made a world of difference. I am very much satisfied with the end result: a bike to reflect my regression in the sport. It rides very smooth, stable and quietly. It is very predictable around corners, and rolls up and down hills with aplomb. Best of all though, the bike encourages me to slow down. I intended this to be the end result. Perfect. Simply put, I love it (maybe one day I will write a more in-depth piece on the bike itself). I have enjoyed getting to know my new creation.
As They Say…
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Wheel sizes change. Preferences and trends come and go. Life deals us many blows. We veer of track. In the end though, with a bit of determination and grit, we can find the path once more. And when we do, we may just discover that all this change we have no control over keeps us where we need to be (or prefer to be for that matter). In my case, a back injury, recovery (with the love and support of my incredible wife) and a new bike (with those 29er wheels I finally just had to give a try) led me to recall the fun of just exploring. It just took a bit of change to keep what was important to me the same. And that to me is progress.
Until next time, get outside and breathe.
*Feature image location: Brown Bridge Quiet Area*