Now that the TIE Advanced X1 is out in the wild, it needed a proper test and in a way that I prefer to not, a long long suffer fest where it could be measured for performance. This bike is designed to be pedaled very hard and cover a lot of ground.
Philip Norman is a friend of mine that likes to do just that, long long rides. He regularly does 200 mile road rides and events. I’ve long term loaned him the Concorde frame to use on trail, an improvement to the old XC bikes he was used to, so he is used to some of my work. With an entry to the High Cascades 100, he had the need for an XC race bike and not a booming trail bike. I talked him into using the X1 after he did some preliminary tests to ensure it could work. Bend, OR is infamous on the west coast for it’s smooth and mild trails and this bike could really be in it’s element.
Phil is from England and thus, runs moto brake setup. An easy swap with the SRAM Guide RSC levers on the bike. For a little more speed, he changed the tires to Specialized Fast Trak Control 2Bliss Ready T5 (2.35″F/2.2″R) but did leave the CushCore inserts in place, an XC insert in the rear and a CX insert in the front. Basically, those were the mechanical changes other than a few fine fit adjustments. I had already changed the chainring from 40t to 38t for a little more fun on trail.
What follows is the ride report as he wrote it. There was some mishap and a bit of bonking. Otherwise, the bike was working as designed and worth consideration as a real crossover contender.
High Cascades 100
Let me start by saying I’m a horrible mountain biker. A cautious nature has allowed me to avoid developing much in the way of bike handling skills, and the only athletic ability I have to speak of is continuing to turn the pedals when it’s stopped being fun.
I’d signed up for the High Cascades back in 2019 but didn’t get to start. 2020 was a bust, so I was eager to get it done this year. The ‘right bike’ for a long XC race like the HC100 is (it may surprise you to hear) an XC race bike, and I’d sold mine the previous year. Race bikes are expensive, annoying to maintain, and crappy to ride on normal trail, so I didn’t bother to replace it. Now with a race looming I discovered that the lead time on new bikes is around a year. Bikes have changed shape a lot recently so buying second-hand wasn’t really an option, and in any case it’s a seller’s market and people are charging outrageous sums.
I’d kind of resigned myself to bringing my trail bike – a brilliant bike in its own way, but the wrong thing for this course. I knew from taking it round the Low Gap Hopper last year that I would be slow on the climbs, bored on the descents, and wrecked at the end. Worse, I’d know all the way round that I was working at a disadvantage.
Then Peter offered to let me test out his new all-road bike, the TIE Advanced X1. I took it out for a couple of laps at Tamarancho and smashed my previous hot lap times, both on my old race bike and Concorde. If I could manage moderate Marin trail, I figured I could probably manage some XC, although I was pretty apprehensive about how I’d feel after a hundred miles of smashing with no suspension. I put some suitably featherweight tyres on (I opted to retain the cores after a bit of thought), flipped the brakes, and snugged it down in the back of the van for the trip north.
4AM rolled round on race day and I said some bad words to my alarm clock. I was the only idiot in the general category without suspension (a couple of the oddballs on singlespeed were also fully rigid, because why not). A big bunch start on pavement was a lot of fun on the X1. The tiniest of kicks sent me floating over gaps as they occurred, and I was up towards the front of the pack by the time we hit dirt five miles later. It was a punchy climb on doubletrack, and the pack promptly slowed all the way down. I realized that I should have been even further forward. I picked my way through the optimists until people started getting hard to pass, then tucked in behind a guy who seemed about my speed.
Doubletrack gave way to singletrack and I started to feel like I was actually racing. I noticed the front wheel getting squirrelly in the corners and put it down to the lack of shock, so started backing off the power as I came into sharp turns. I gained half a dozen places and got passed a couple of times. Then out of the forest into a moderate climb on some open gravel road. I got on the gas and tucked in on the inner grips for the next few miles, grabbing a few more scalps, then sat on somebody’s wheel to the next aid station. The trail was amazing – flowing singletrack through high meadows full of lupins. I couldn’t believe how well things were going. I bounced the first aid station because I still had plenty of water, put a gel in for luck when the going got easy, and around mile 40, a volunteer told me I was sitting in 57th. That’s ridiculously good, for me – remember I’m horrible at this.
Then it all went south. I got too confident in the turns and washed out the front. I was fine and only lost a couple of places, but five miles later the adrenaline had run out and I was feeling weird. I stopped to grab a gel – I’m no good at eating while riding anything technical. Five more riders passed while I faffed, but 64th place is alright. I got back on the bike and immediately dropped the hose from my lumbar pack into my back wheel. Water sprayed everywhere, the bite valve and the retaining clip were somewhere on the trail, and a big pack was coming through. I watched helplessly as twenty riders sailed past, before picking the remains out of the moondust and jamming them back together. I got back on the trail short on water and pissed off with myself.
I grabbed water and a few gels at the next aid station but I was anxious to get going and didn’t want to stop to put any solid food in. There followed a very miserable climb on steep singletrack, and I bonked like I haven’t in a long time. I got hungry, then I got sleepy. For a couple of miles, more than anything I wanted to drop the bike and stretch out and take a nap. I knew the high point of the whole race was coming up and I tried to focus on that. The bike was doing great but I couldn’t push myself. I got passed once, twice, a dozen times. Then the hunger resurfaced and I began to fantasize about a very specific type of deli sandwich, the type where the cheap ham and processed cheese and pickles are layered so that sinking your teeth into it feels like biting your own tongue. I could taste the relish. I had forgotten that I was riding a bike. I hit a branch that was sticking out into the trail and crashed. I pulled off the trail and ate three gels. I knew I wasn’t going to do well. I figured I’d take the time to air down the front tyre to try to reign in the squirrelliness. The gels were kicking in and it was time to get going again.
Losing maybe 5psi up front made a huge difference – no more juddering in corners, and suddenly I had a lot more confidence. The last ten miles of climbing up to the high point were fun. I was riding little rock obstacles that people my speed were walking. I was being passed less and passing a bit more. Final aid station was just a mile or so short of the high point for the day and it had PBJ sandwiches. I put down as many as I dared, drank some coke and pickle juice, and got back on the trail. Once we hit the high point I knew it was basically downhill for twenty miles. So far the bike had been a huge help, but I was not confident the situation would persist.
I took the first few miles of singletrack descent cautiously, trying to preserve the brakes and my hands. Then, onto five miles of rutted-out fire road which was a pure giggle. I was fast! I slowed way down for a danger sign, only to discover the obstacle was that the road had log-steps at intervals to control erosion. Tyre tracks picked their way around them, but I felt good about hitting the little drops. I kept worrying that the next corner was going to offer something that would hurt me, but it worked out.
Mile 80 rolled around, I was tired and worried about something the pre-race email had called out, a flow trail called Tiddlywinks. Trail names work by inverse threat. A trail with a portentous name like Demon Fang is going to be a chill time on smooth dirt, but Barney the Dinosaur is going to make you cry real tears. The organizer had said dire things about ruptured spleens. And here I was hitting it, exhausted, on a road bike.
It speaks to how much I wanted to finish this race that I dropped in anyway. And it was… absolutely fine. So much so, in fact, that I absent-mindedly hit a double before remembering that my latitude for stuffing the landing was nonexistent and that winding my neck in might be a good idea if I liked its current shape. The washboards before every berm were painful, but the bike was sure-footed and honestly felt fun. I was being passed as I slowed to do the ride-arounds, but not too frequently. As we got the the next trail, a swoopy traverse, a guy who’d passed me on the flow trail bailed with less than ten miles to go. He said he just couldn’t face it.
I knew at that point that I was going to finish – I was tired and sweaty and I’d finished my water, but civilization was close and at least I was doing better than him. Five more miles of mostly-descent, passing and being passed by the same three riders, then, amazingly, onto pavement with five miles left to go. I checked in with my legs found they had something left, so I got down into sphinx pose and got stuck in. I felt a bit bad for the riders I passed, who’d ridden better than me on the dirt where it really counts, but I had the power left and the bike rewarded the effort.
Half a mile of dirt to the finish and I couldn’t quite catch the guy in front, then over the line at a shade over ten hours total. 118th overall, 47th by category – mid-pack in both cases. I’d lost fifty places on that climb, but only ten on the descent.
After I’d drunk my finish-line coke and swabbed myself down a bit with the complementary cold flannel, I thought about how I felt. My legs felt like they’d been for a bike ride. My hip was sore where I’d landed on it. But the rest of me was fine – even my hands, which are normally blistered and raw after that far on dirt, were completely fine. I’d barely lost any skin. I could have done it again the next day. Honestly, this bike is amazing.
Here’s the GPX track:
A huge thank you to Peter for his generosity in letting me race a new bike fresh from paint. Like I said when I first tried it out: I want one.