Riding the Red Baron is an exercise in pure terror. When I’m not in fear for my life, I’m in dire agony. This bike is for stripped down, hardcore, black leather riding. Kill or be killed. Wartime.
I’ve had the chance to do three laps around Tamarancho and a run up Loma Alta (1,600 ft) and down Solstice. Basic groomer singletrack and some real high speed narrow trail. I got ‘comfortable’ with the bike. Those rides taught me a lot about the bike. Certainly, this bike isn’t intended to be a trail villain in terms of raw speed, more a blend of pavement and fire road with the ability to “ride” trail but killing it with style the whole way.
There are two things that have to be avoided when riding this bike; steep slippery descents and fast singletracks with dangerous cornering. I keep trying to ride the steep descents. It feels foolish. The wheel slides out and everything goes to hell. All Yeti man. Riding fast on singletrack is like playing chicken with the devil. How fast am I willing to go and gamble that I can make the corner and not hit a tree? What sudden surprises will I be able to react to in time? Changing velocity on this bike takes quite a while and panic stops will become panic crashes. Speed control is just very very slow and not much of a tool to use.
I did get a chance to run a pursuit race with an enduro-bro down from the picnic table on Tamarancho to Iron Springs Road. Top of Broken Dam through Alchemist. I got a couple of seconds head start. He gave chase. It was terrifying. It was futile. It was completely dangerous. I won. We ended with about the same gap as we started. He wasn’t the fastest doobie out there but he had all of the advantages a six inch enduro bike could bring. I found that the biggest issue here was the single speed gearing had me spun out in the straightaways. That may have saved my life but it gave him a big opening to get back time.
The Baron behind the Warbird. 2009 vs 2017. So much has changed….for the waaay better. What was rad 8 years ago is almost criminally negligent to use now. This relates back to my article on Forward Geometry.
This bike is very interesting. Definitely, it is something wildly different from a modern perspective.
- Lack of front brake: This is certainly the most terrifying part of this bike and what makes it so slow. Riding a bike off road without a front brake is pretty much the sketchiest thing ever (aside from no brakes). Worse, when trying to go fast in dry conditions one wheel of traction is overwhelmed. It slows everything down and limits what can be ridden and how. As the old saying goes, “bigger brakes make you faster”. No brakes make you seriously slow. The rear brake is overwhelmed completely when doing long pavement descents. It’s turns a dark shade of blue and is very sad. My whole way of entering and tracking a corner needs to change to ride this bike well. Tripoding is a requirement, aggressive steering input is critical, a whole new body position is where I’m really lacking. That’s going to take some time. I’m learning.
- Gearing 34-22: The gearing is pretty much spot on from a single speed perspective. I’m not a young hammer head so this 141 IOD gearing is feeling ok for now. I’m not looking at changing it. Still, singlespeeds suck. They hurt you up the hill and you’re spun out as soon as the fun starts. I’ve never been a fan but there are things to learn here. Getting up off the saddle and putting down some hurt is a technique that can be taken to any bike.
- It is too low: Yes. I was pushing it. I wonder how much of this is a translation issue from SPD vs flat pedals. The large platform flat pedals take up so much more room on the trail that what works ok in clipless is not ok with flats. I’m going to try the bike with SPD to study this more. For fire roads and smooth trail it’s fine as is but in real singletrack the height of the bottom bracket is just a bit too low and it can be an issue. There’s a bit of dragging where there shouldn’t be. 284mm is what the bike was built around. I think that 290-295mm would have been better in the end. It’s interesting how a full rigid bike is different than a bike with a front fork in this sense. For example, my Concorde bike was built with a (perfect) 295mm bottom bracket height and a 160mm fork sagged 30%. I figured that the 11mm difference would have worked out in the aggregate but it wasn’t the case.
- Chainstay length. It feels very very long here. I may need to look into giving up on 2×2 drive to change that. Ugh.
- Front tire: I took pictures with a Maxxis Aggressor 29×2.3″ EXO/TR tire on the bike. I love that tire for my normal trail bike. I changed it to a tire that was given to me a while back that had collected dust waiting for the right use, a Maxxis Minion DHF 29×2.5″ 3C/EXO/TR. More than anything, I wanted volume to give me some cushion up front. I will be trying another tire with a little more volume and smaller knobs to give the front end more feel. The WTB Ranger 29×3.0″.
- Fit: The body fit on this bike is great. It climbs well and feels good on the trial. I got that right. It just feels nice. The Concorde is a very aggressive high performance bike. It hurts to ride because it hurts to squeeze every bit out of a ride that can be squeezed. This bike is not for ultra high performance so I was able to relax the bike. Not so much as to make it pooky. Just enough to feel a bit relaxed.
- Handlebars: These 3″ rise bars seem to work well enough but a 15-30mm more width would be nice. More importantly for this bike, 3.50-3.75″ would be pretty sweet. I don’t like using so many spacers to get the grips right.
- Old bones. I’m old. Riding a full rigid bike is fucking hard on the body. Clenching on the downhills and straining up the climbs takes a toll. I did realize how amazing that I was even able to do this after I had been worried that an old wrist injury would end my cycling career. Still, this is better than any bike in it’s class.
I am still learning to ride this bike. It takes a lot of balls.
The question: Is this bike a failure?
No. Hell no! This bike is fucking rad. It is the bike it is. Tougher than me. Rougher than me. Old school, punk rock, and taking the girl home with it. Aside from a little pedal rub it’s a legitimate example of what a modern klunker bike can be.
Even more, it was proven to me with this bike that more than almost any other variable, geometry is the most important element of a frame. I would have no hope of riding this bike the way I did without the modern geometry that I used. Even riding my old Warbird on the street from around the corner where I took the above photo terrified me…because of the old fashioned and (now) terrible geometry. On street it’s terrifying. I can’t imagine riding that off road while the Baron gives me fire. Stripped of every advantage, the Baron feels and rides well. It goes up well and down…as fast as you dare. You can add fancy suspension, carbon rims, light grips, whatever you like. None of them will make up for shitty geometry. Lipstick don’t make a pig not a pig. With the release of the Ibis HD4 and Santa Cruz Nomad (adding to the Trek Slash and Transition Patrol) North American brands are finally making a careful leap into the modern era. Given that most small builders are ‘designing’ bikes from the 1980s, it will be a while before we see much going on here but from the top players in the market.
WTB is sending me a 29×3.0 Ranger tire for the front of the bike. The 2.5″ DHF will move to the rear. 29PLUS, who knew? This will give me a little more cush up front and in the rear.
I’m waiting on a couple tires for testing the bike on street and mixed dirt for my long commute to work. That generally sorts out what works and doesn’t. I’ll be able to see if the gearing that I chose for street, 38/18t, works for cutting across Marin and the city of San Francisco. It won’t be fun. I’ll be looking for where the compromises need to be and if settings are good.
Later, after I’m done making a new fork with a front brake mount, I can see if the limits with a front brake are the real value added that the bike needs. Then, a 5 speed GX drivetrain.
This little clip is nothing special. Just the only one from our rides. It was a first and only try on this section. I would get a lot more out of it with some sessioning.