Friday, 14 June 2013

Midlife Crisis

The midlife crisis is supposedly a stage we are prone to traverse when the inevitability of our own demise looms large.   That is, realization sinks in that the immortal highs of the first half of our lives are distant memories and we are awakened to the unflinching downslope of the second half.  At least that’s the theory. 

Perhaps I’ve survived a few of these already.  One of my pivotal early climbing experiences was a truly nail-biting and life-sapping near meltdown on a climb even called “Midlife Crisis” at the County (grade 21), back when I was in my teens (ahh, the days when I could still climb my own age).  I have been informed that exhibit B was clearly the acquisition of my “sports car”, although I’m not quite sure the beat-up paddock-heap in question – 1.8 L of unbridled mazda hatchback flotsam, which I picked up for the princely sum of $4.5K – quite qualifies.  In any case the generic full midlife monty also requires a divorce and the acquisition of overly young blond things to adorn the passenger seat of a far more expensive motor. 

But maybe there is something to it after all if mountain bike purchases are anything to go by.  After all, the whole sport (much like rock climbing) is a totally contrived pleasure, with little of the day-to-day practicality afforded by the road bike format.  My first off-road machine was acquired in early 2007, an entry level mid-travel Stumpjumper dually, and my introduction to the pleasures of wheeled bush exploration.  How had this art form eluded me all these years?  Acquisition of the top-notch Anthem dually in early 2010 pushed me into the category of one who has paid more for the bike than for the car that transports it.  Such abandon perhaps goes in three year cycles as I confess to having just recently succumbed to itchy feet and made yet another purchase.

After talking up the 29er format for a long time I’ve finally bitten the handlebars and joined the big wheel throng.  When I first started reading of the advantages of bigger wheels, the go-to frame was clearly the Gary Fisher Superfly, a beautiful sculpture in carbon that was clearly out of my league.  GK stumbled on one going cheap in Europe and snapped it up essentially blind but for my recommendation (well, I like to think I had some influence).  I’ve since been (not so) quietly envious of his steed, as evidenced by dissing it at every opportunity, although my animosity was perhaps buoyed by GF’s acquisition by Trek.  Petty, I know.

The issue of what to prepare as bike number 2 for the next 24 solo venture has been a constant distraction.  I picked up an essentially identical but more modern version of my Anthem frame and fork with a view to having an identical second bike in the pits, but this in itself seems extravagant – replicating a similarly spec’d yet out-of-vogue 26er just for one race, knowing full well I wanted to have a splash in the 29er pool next year anyway.  That’s a big ask in the pockets department.  Seeing Mr McDonald (the heir apparent) run a 29er hardtail for a large chunk of 24nationals inspired me to at least have a look at what 29er hardtails were out there.  I’m still shy of the 29er dually simply due to the issue of weight, and the inverse cost of its minimalisation.

A week ago I stumbled upon an add in the CORC classifieds for a 2012 superfly that was the race bike for a certain Mr McConnell, who is credentialed enough to be racing for the Trek Factory Racing Team this year, and only weeks ago picked up his first UCI world cup XC win, the first by an Aussie since Cadel.  Information as to exactly how used “near-new” equated to was vague, but the price tag was beyond reasonable to the point that a trip down to the ACT was factored into our long weekend plans.  Hence, after a good hit out on the M7 on Sunday morn the mudge and I swapped thin bikes for fat bikes and headed for the ACT, getting there just as the sun (and warmth) retired for the day.  GK, as an owner of the 2009 vintage, was kind enough to also venture south and provide an approving nod re the purchase.  I knew within seconds that I would take it, with the assurance from its custodian that it really had only been ridden a handful of times, including XCO nationals in Feb of this year, where it had to settle for second.  Longevity is difficult to fake on an mtb – its just the nature of the sport.  Near new frame, un-ridden new fork and wheelset, nearly full XTR throughout with carbon bar and post, and my cheapest mountain bike to date!  Right place, right time.  right price.  Just lucky I suppose.

The following morning we breakfasted on warm delicacies at Dobinsons then headed to Kowen’s for a couple of 25 km loops, although the chill air made extrication from the car somewhat of a challenge.  But the trails were in great nick, and the bike was simply sublime, in spite of running tubes and slightly higher pressures than would be the norm.  After the initial shock of realizing there is a reason hard tails are so named, I just had a ball bonding with the new toy.  I can’t say at this point how much quicker this bike is than my Anthem dually, but it certainly felt like the format is faster, more stable at speed and in the rough (although not much of this at Kowen’s) and not nearly as hard to steer as I feared. 

I felt like a 6 year old again – just so much fun.  Maybe this is part of the allure of wild spending that often accompanies the MLC – a nostalgic re-acquaintance with childlike simplicities of the past.  A re-awakening to the concept of something just being fun, so easily forgotten in all the seriousness of adulthood.  In any case it will be interesting to give it a whirl in the odd 7 hr event and get an idea of whether it will be a suitable daylight steed for the 24 in October.