Monday, July 28, 2014

Kestrel MX-Z Ride Report

Finally managed to find a little free time and took the MX-Z out for a quick spin up the Gabrielino trail in the Arroy Seco. For the record I have never ridden a carbon fiber hardtail, nor have I spent much time on an elevated chainstay bike. So, I really didn't know what to expect. From what I heard about CF bikes I was anticipating a dead feeling, uninspiring ride. It certainly wasn't that, but I'm not really sure what it was either.

I also have to admit I wasn't really confident in the wheels and especially the 20+ year old Porc front tire, so I approached the first bit of the ride with a bit of caution. The front end felt loose, and the bike just didn't want to turn in. However after a little while I figured that I wasn't going to have a blowout and the knobs on the Porc weren't all going to fall off, so I felt comfortable opening up the taps a bit. Also, pressing down the bars during cornering might have helped. Things got better from here. The Gabrielino trail is an out and back and the first leg of the trail is up a slight incline with rocky sections and dips for stream crossings. Everything was fine, except when things got slow through the rough sections. I felt like I had to just plow through as opposed to being able to pick a line. Speed was key, and finesse was tough to find.

The second half of the trail is all downhill, but you need to keep pedaling. It seemed like a different bike when the speed bumped up. This time the twisty sections were straight up fun, the rocky portions seemed simple and jumping the pedals to climb back out of the stream crossing was predictable and felt very solid. Seems speed is the key to unlocking this bike's potential.

Once I got comfortable and pushed a little bit harder the bike seemed to snap in line. The front wheel ended up where I wanted it, and the rear tracked predictably. It should come as no surprise that it's a sure footed climber in and out of the saddle. The shorter chainstay means that more of your weight is over the rear wheel, hence better traction.

This fork... I just don't know. It wasn't bad, but then again it wasn't all that good. I remember asking about this fork vs the Manitou one back in the day and the owner of my LBS telling me that the RS-1 would soak up the big hits and not really react very well to the small ones. While the Manitou would do much of the opposite. Well, I prefer the M1 for majority of situation. This fork while looking really-really awesome, just wasn't doing it for me out on the trails.

I find that whenever I review a bike I feel compelled to compare it to other bikes and find an analog for the ride characteristics. I must say that this bike rides like nothing else I have ever ridden. Now that might be the obvious conclusion since by most standards I haven't ridden that many bikes. However, I have ridden a few. The Kestrel felt stiff like an Aluminum bike, but not quite as harsh. It was solid like a steel bike, but not as compliant and sadly heavier. It just plain didn't feel like Titanium at all.

All in all this is definitely a bike I'd take the time to get to know a little bit better. One ride doesn't quite do it justice. But it definitely wasn't love at first sight either... well, at least not from the ride perspective. In the aesthetic department this bike says all the right things!!!

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