Another bike added to the collection.During the early part of 2011, the basement of the house here was a busy scene. A home made bicycle rack and repair stand adorned with shop light, a bike water bottle holder screwed to the side to hold frosty beverages while wrenching away and a new Craftsman roll away tool chest containing bike parts and tools. Also bins of other bike parts crowded another corner of the basement, a work bench topped with an iPod speaker dock and desk lamp and the "old" Trek 820 on the bike trainer. A space heater placed under the home made rack helped warm things up a little during those long dark winter days and nights.
The Giant Trance X and the Specialized Rockhopper had both been on this rack previously, the Rockhopper being built from scratch on it. The Rockhopper had been a pawn shop find that created an obsession with building up mountain bikes and dialing them in just right for both the mountain and the paved trail. It was in dire straights when I found it from the pawn shop at that time.
After building up the Rockhopper and really seeing how a scratch built bike could be made into something both a thing of beauty and perform well, the desire to find another project kept clawing away at me. At first it was hard to justify getting yet another bike, so I contemplated reasoning for a week or so after the Rockhopper build. What it ended up boiling down to were two things. One, building bikes was addictive and I needed to satisfy that urge. Two, probably the more important, was to have a spare bike for family and friends to use when a group ride was planned.
Ultimately both reasons have proven true at the time of the writing of this article. Both my Dad and my brother in law have used the bike a couple times, and the bike has been dedicated as the "winter beater bike." When I built up the Rockhopper, it's designation was for that purpose, however after getting that bike dialed in just right and spending more money on it's components, it now sits in the secluded warmth of my downstairs office, next to the Trance on a stand during the winter. Also the sentimental attachment to the Rockhopper being my first build with my kids keeps me from taking it out in the winter elements.
Aquiring the bike.I found after the Rockhopper build that I spent a lot of time rummaging through various pawn shops around town during my lunch break at work. During the winter season of 2011 there weren't many bikes on display at these places. Often I'd ask if they had anything stored away, most of the shop owners claimed they didn't. Some did, and would take me in the back room to check out the bikes. Most of them were old chromoly beaters, looking ready to fall apart from corrosion and neglect. There were a few decent aluminum frame bikes here and there, though some of these shops wanted way too much money for them. Some even were priced higher than retail when they were sold new! I had to make it clear to some of these places that the pricing was off in a bad way. I passed on many of these when the shop employee would try and give me a deal on one of them.
One day at a shop I hadn't yet ventured to in Murray let me check out their inventory in the back room. They actually had a good amount of bikes back there, likely half the back room had rows of them. I saw one that stood out over all of them, a brilliant silver Specialized Hardrock Sport. My jaw literally dropped when I first saw it, the silver paint almost seemed like chrome in the low light of that back room. When the employee pulled it off the rack I was further intrigued, the bike was in really great condition. Minimal scratches, no dents or dings in the frameset, and it was clean. It featured what I was looking for: a 19 inch medium/large frame, 1.18" steer tube, and an IS disc mount on the rear dropout. The bike had all of the factory components in place which were working in decent order, even the Shimano v-brakes and derailluers worked well. I then checked out the price, close to $350.00. The employee noticed me back away a little when looking at the price tag. Pretty much immediately he intervened, explaining that the bike had been in their inventory for a while and needed to go.
We walked up to the front counter. After offers being thrown back and forth with each other in typical pawn shop fashion, I settled on a $200 price tag for the bike. After handing over the cash, I rolled it out the front door and into the back of the truck.
The first mods.A few days after the bike joined the others in the basement, I went through the parts I had to spare which would improve some things here and there. An Avid Juicy Seven front and rear brake setup. My spare Mavic wheelset donning Shimano Deore XT hubs from the Giant. Spare Hayes 203mm rotors and adapters. The WTB saddle from the Giant. Also from the Giant, the Truvativ Stylo 175mm crankset, 44-32-22t. A RaceFace 110 mm stem and Specialized riser handlebars also were tossed into the parts pile destined for the Hardrock.
I got these parts and methodically began changing out the lesser components on the Hardrock. First the crankset. The original Specialized square tapered crank and bottom bracket were removed, and the Stylo crank with it's external bearing bottom bracket went on. At that point I left the rest of the drive train alone as it was a decent 8 speed setup at the time, featuring Shimano Acera mechanicals.
Next came the brakes. The v-brakes and bosses were removed. I installed the Avid Juicy's, using adapters on the top tube braze-ons to fit the hydraulic line for the rear. I installed the calipers on the vacant disc mounts with the spare 203 adapters. Then, I took off the original wheels and tires, setting them aside. My Mavic wheelset, wrapped with brand new Panaracer Fire FR 2.4's went on, with the Hayes 203 rotors bolted to the hubs. After the initial caliper adjustment, they were good to go.
I swapped out the original handlebars and stem, and seat while I was at it. Once getting this done, the bike looked great and seemed to be getting there.
Several days later I was able to ride the bike a little around the neighborhood, did a few more adjustments here and there, then it sat in the storage rack in the basement for a few more weeks.
At this point I had decided to do a full restoration on my old 1994 Trek 820, which had been used on the bike trainer. Not wanting to be without bike on the trainer, I took the rear Panaracer tire off, swapped it with the WTB slick tire, and on the trainer it went for a month while the Trek went through it's complete restoration and buildup. Once that project was done, the Hardrock came off the trainer, got it's wider tire remounted and the fresh Trek was again bolted to the trainer.
The bike again sat for a few weeks until my Dad used it with me and my kids of a Parkway Trail ride. It was his first time getting on a bike again in over 15 years, though he had fun. He did comment to me after the ride that something on the front end was making noise. With the season starting up hitting the trails of the Wasatch with the other two bikes, I shrugged this off. Then the bike sat there... for almost seven months, without seeing the light of day.
Seven months later, the problems present themselves.After hammering down on the Wasatch Trail system through the summer of 2011 with my Trance and riding the Rockhopper mainly on the paved trail system, the days started getting shorter. Temps dropped, and bad weather patterns started emerging. The brutal fact that winter was coming was making itself evident. Also during the 2011 season and spending so much saddle time on the bikes, I had gotten very used to the Trance's geometry and how efficient it was. The Rockhopper had several components changed out to replicate the Trance, nearly identical almost, sans it not being a full suspension bike. I felt so used to the other two bikes that when I finally dusted off the Hardrock preparing for a nice ride on the Parkway trail during a rainstorm, it felt vastly different from the other two. So much in fact that it was almost uncomfortable. And the bike was heavy, probably in the ball park of 34 lbs. The gearing didn't match up with the other two as well.
I had assigned the Hardrock as the winter beater bike. With all of the summer riding and attempting to maintain a level of fitness that I wanted, winter riding was very much needed. At the same time every time I hopped on the bike it felt too different. I realized that things were going to have to change on it, both to make it perform better, feel better, and have it be more rideable through varying terrain. I didn't want to spend a lot of money on the bike due to it's status. Fortunately this all started happening at the end of the season and after, most all of the local bike shops and online sellers were clearing out the mountain bike gear for 2011, getting ready for the fresh 2012 inventory. I've found that by stalking certain shops and sites online that great deals can be had for good components at close out pricing.
The perpetual two month rebuild.The bike started getting some attention. One of the first things I noticed that my Dad had mentioned in April was the noise from the front end. This turned out to be two things: The Hayes rotor had been bent out of true somehow, rubbing on the pads in the caliper. Second, the super wide Panaracer tires were rubbing on the fork crown. I ended up ordering some Alligator 203mm serrated discs, which matched those on the Rockhopper and have proven to be reliable. I used a large end nipper tool to shave back those grossly long knobs on the outer carcass of the tires, front and rear. Once the discs arrived in the mail, I bolted them to the Crank Brothers champagne wheelset I had stored away, mounted the Panaracers and installed them on the bike. After a couple rides during lunch on the Parkway Trail, which ended up being the norm for testing these upgrades, a slight improvement was noticed, but not by a long shot.
The gearing was still off. I found a discounted SRAM X-7 9 speed setup online, shifters and front and rear derailluers. I had a spare SRAM PG-970 chain leftover. I also ordered a PG-950 cassette for the bike, 11-34T. Once they arrived they were installed and dialed in with new cable housing and ferrules. Quite an improvement! Now this heavy girl could climb. Still though, the geometry was way off. I found my favorite Sunline components online and on close out from hucknroll.com, which also happens to have a retail storefront located about 20 minutes from my house here in Salt Lake. I picked up the same gray stem and seatpost from them that are also installed on the Trance and Rockhopper. These helped the bike look a little better, slightly lighter, though other big changes still were needed. I found a spare 31.8 clamp handlebar in the parts bin with a higher rise and bolted it on. A little improvement, but not much.
With these mods I took the bike on the View Benchmark run. The bike climbed decently up Corner Canyon road, and on much of the higher parts of the run. The larger Panaracer tires helped float over a lot of the loose gravel and sand, much like the Maxxis Minion DHF 2.5 tires on the Giant. However the long crank arms and unfamiliar cockpit on the front end made climbing the tech a bit more difficult. Also the fact that I was riding through wet slushy snow and portions of heavy clay mud didn't improve anything either. I still hit up the summit area, though the descent was muddy hell! I had thought about going down the paved Traverse ridge road and riding through Draper to get back to the truck at Orson. In the end I foolishly went back to the Haddington cutoff section and started through the mud. Within a hundred feet the wheels stopped turning due to a huge accumulation of wet clay mud on the fork and the frame. I ended up shouldering the bike, which weighed probably close to 5 lbs heavier with all the mud on it, slipping and sliding on foot in that mud, all the way down to the gravel Corner Canyon road below. I was able to get rid of some of the mud at the Ghost Falls trailhead and ride down the lower Corner Canyon road. During the latter portion of the ride another big problem presented itself: the stock RST fork had about 1 inch of suspension travel. Once I gained speed down the road, riddled with ruts, loose gravel and some washed out portions, the bike soon turned into a jackhammer with wheels! By the time I got back to the truck I ended up having to shake my hands and arms to regain any sense of feeling. With all these obstacles on that ride, I still am grateful for the lessons learned from it, and I hit up the summit!
A little video action coming off the summit that day:
About a week after that ride, Hucknroll had a sale on my favorite handlebars, Loaded AMXC 711mm bars in silver, with a 15 degree rise. I bought and installed these, now the front end geometry was starting to get there. After a few more Parkway trail rides I noticed the improvement, though the WTB saddle seemed too wide still and the crankset made me feel like a gorilla riding down the trail. Soon thereafter I found a set of Specialized BG contour grips, again matching the other two bikes and installed them.
During this time I was checking out the local KSL.com classifieds and noticed someone selling a Rockshox Revelation dual air suspension fork for a great price. I made contact with the seller, and later that day had the fork in my possession. Also I managed to stop by HucknRoll and picked up a new PRO sealed cartridge bearing headset. I installed the fork and headset that evening. Whoa! The bike now stood about two inches taller in the front end! The bike was loaded into the work truck the next morning and made it's daily ride on the Parkway trail for a test run. The first several miles went great, then I rode through a section where tree roots have caused larger bumps in the asphalt. The fork seemed to bottom out with a loud thud, it only compressed about an inch! Later that evening after getting home, it was confirmed: there was something wrong with the fork.
I scoured online PDF manuals available from SRAM's website about the internals of the fork. Turns out this particular fork is one of the higher end suspension forks SRAM offered that year, retailing at that time for over $500 dollars. The next day I did my weekly climb of Mt. Olympus here along the Wasatch Front. Getting back to the trail head and in the truck I started calling a few bike shops close by seeing if they stocked the rebuild kit needed for the fork and shock oil. It turned out the closest shop to me had those items. I picked them up, headed home and racked the bike. With the help of my daughter Taylor, we disassembled the fork. Once pulling the fork lower off, oil spilled out on the concrete floor of the basement. I realized immediately that the lower damper seal on the right side had failed, leaking shock oil into the bottom of the fork, essentially causing it to hydrolock. After rebuilding the fork and filling the new fork oil to spec, it worked! I dialed in the rebound to my liking was very pleasantly surprised with how nice it felt. Smooth, tons of travel, probably close to 150mm. After cleaning up the mess from the oil spill, I installed a used 2010 Phenom saddle which happened to arrive in the mail that same day, an ebay purchase. Now the saddle matched the other two bikes as well.
Thanksgiving, and getting close to completion.The next morning, which happened to be Thanksgiving, I took the bike on the Porter Rockwell trail which contours the city of Draper. This is a paved trail very similar to the Parkway trail, though this one has small "micro hills" here and there to add a bit of variety. The bike felt vastly better! One problem remained: the damned 175mm Truvativ Crankset. While pedaling on this I felt the pedal strokes were way too wide! Over the summer of 2011 I had grown accustomed to the 170mm crankarm length of the FSA Afterburners on the Trance and Rockhopper. I've found for some reason that I like the slightly higher cadence with the 170mm crankarm length, can power up hills better, and ride longer. The 175mm crankarm length was really starting to bug after the geometry was so close at this point.
A week prior to Thanksgiving I had worked on a solution to the crank. I had found one on eBay, and purchased it hoping to have it soon for the install and completing the Hardrock Project. I got a call from the seller a couple days later, who claimed he couldn't find it and that it was lost. In disbelief I checked ebay again, and found plenty of the 2010 FSA Afterburner cranks, though with a BB30 spindle interface and not the MegaExo I needed. Frustrated, I looked at other options. I needed a 170mm crank, either MegaExo, Hollowtech II, or X-Type. Most of the cranks I found didn't appeal at all and were too pricey for this bike. A few more days went by, then I thought of another option. With the Trance X being the bike I use most during the summer season, I opted to upgrade the crank on it with a RaceFace Atlas all mountain crankset. I found a great deal on this crank, as it's average retail is over $300 dollars. Once getting my hands on the Atlas crank and bottom bracket, I pulled the tried and true FSA Afterburner off and installed the Atlas, which also happens to sport 170mm crankarms, and the same gearing, 44-32-22t. After that I pulled the Trance off the rack after dialing in the front derailluer, and racked the Hardrock. Off, hopefully forever, went the Truvativ Stylo. After becoming familiar with the FSA it went on quickly, torqued to spec, and dialed in that bike's front derailluer. Wow! The FSA really seemed to flow with the rest of the Hardrock from both a cosmetic and performance perspective. The bike was now ready for another ride.
The conclusion.The morning of November 26, 2011 the Hardrock got another 20 miles after being built up the way I wanted, and it performed great! Were it not for time constraints and being on-call at work I felt confident the ride could have been doubled or tripled in distance, the bike felt that comfortable to ride. The familiar geometry and cadence are there, and the weight of the bike has dropped down to about 31 pounds. Also, to me at least, it looks a hell of a lot better also. At this point I feel comfortable knowing that it can tackle the runs that I've hit through the summer season with ease. This project was also done within budget and not spending a fortune, either.
There is only one problem now. NO MORE BIKES TO MOD! :( Well, for now at least...