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Monday, July 23, 2012

Bike Review: Testing The Home Ground Advantage




It’s not often that you get to test ride a bike on the actual terrain where it was born. On a recent trip to San Francisco, I got a rare opportunity to do just that…






Test Ride Review: Marin Lagunitas

When visiting the storied city of San Francisco, it can be difficult to find any time not already allocated to being a hipster, visiting island prisons or standing in line at over-hyped diners for the chance to eat slightly better than average pancakes.


 Telling people that you are standing in line at Mama's is a common San Francisco pastime.

However, if you do manage to find some spare time, then a journey across the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin County is definitely a great way to unwind from the stress of the big city.

Marin County, California is widely regarded as one of the birthplaces of mountain biking, where a group of innovative young bike nerds including Gary Fisher, Joe Breeze, Charlie Kelly and Tom Ritchey first experimented with a new type of bike in the 1970s, designed specifically for riding down the unpaved fire roads that crisscross the rolling hills in this area.

Anyway, I’ll spare the history lesson, because if you want to find out more you can watch the 2006 film Klunkers: A Film About Mountain Bikes (http://www.klunkerz.com/) – you could probably also read a book about it, but I guess these have now become obsolete since Google decided to digitise every piece of printed material in the world. I’m pretty sure most libraries have now been turned in to cafes (with free wi-fi and charging stations) and it’s no fun trying to read all that (boring) text on your iPhone – unless you have this version.

Many mountain bike brands still around today got their start from this small group of enthusiasts and another brand popped up later on in 1986, called Marin Bikes. This brand is not all that common in Australia but does produce a decent range of bikes available in the USA. It was by sheer chance that myself and fellow Fitzroy Revolution rider, Maj, stumbled across a couple of Marin bike rentals during our short visit to San Francisco and we decided to take these bikes out for a test ride in their home territory, Marin County.

We each saddled up on a Marin Lagunitas and headed out from the Embarcadero precinct near the waterfront to put these bikes through their paces. The first test was the tourist route around the waterfront and over the Golden Gate Bridge. The bikes performed admirably on the sidewalks and bike lanes offering an incredibly comfortable ride quality with seemingly no compromise in speed.

As seen on the waterfront the Lagunitas offered a supremely comfortable viewing position (that inmates of Alcatrz Prison could only have dreamed of) but it was equally at home on the bike path, easily able to maintain pace with this moderately unmotivated pedestrian.

After just a short ride, the bike had already proved itself a very worthy cruiser, but we could sense that it still had a lot more to offer. Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge in thick fog and then descending down to Sausalito in bright sunshine proved no problem at all – The Marin Lagunitas was showing itself to be a great allround performer in all sorts of weather conditions.

Slicing through the thick fog on the Golden Gate Bridge proved almost effortless on the Lagunitas.

Now it was time to see what this bike could do on the unpaved road and as it turned out, where the sidewalk ended was where this bike really came in to its own.

No sidewalk? No problem for the Marin Lagunitas!

Grass and dirt were certainly no match for this Marin and it was with joyful expectation that we headed inland to the hills behind Sausalito to find out how it would perform on the fire road trails where the sport of mountain biking was born over 30 years ago. The setup on this bike was definitely quite ‘racy’ with a short travel 63mm fork and suspension seatpost handling the shock absorbing duties. This, combined with the 29” wheels and generous 24-speed drivetrain allowed this bike to climb the moderately steep and somewhat loose gravel trails with aplomb.

I must admit that we didn’t really have enough time to explore the full functionality of the bike and never actually worked out how to adjust the suspension forks from their apparent short-travel or ‘climb’ setting which seemed to limit the actual travel in the fork to somewhere between about zero and 2mm. Thankfully though, the generously padded saddle allowed for some respite from the not entirely smooth nature of the fire trail descents.

The flawless operation of the Shimano EZ-Fire 8-Speed shifters made finding the right gear a breeze and the clever integrated brake & shifter lever clamp allowed for a nice clean cockpit with plenty of free space available for the bell and handlebar-mounted utility pouch.

When we hit the downhill sections, my mind (and wheels) began to drift as I imagined those early pioneers of mountain biking hurtling down the same slightly rough trails on their customised steel frames with cruiser wheels and motorcycle brake levers. This definitely made me appreciate the stopping power of the generic V-Brakes and alloy rims supplied standard on this modern and updated machine.

 The Lagunitas made the moderately steep gravel descents feel more like a false flat on hardpack.

Handling in the single-track was also sensational and the ride could be dialled-right in with the premium adjustable-stem and quick-release seatpost clamp which also come standard on this model.

Maj testing the limits of the Marin Lagunitas on its home soil, the Marin County trails.

All in all this turned out to be one solid bike. Definitely at home in Marin County where it was born and bred, I would have no hesitation in taking this bike out of its comfort zone to tackle whatever road, track or trail other post codes (or zip codes) might have to offer.

 Even half a snake proved no match for the Marin Lagunitas!

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