160mm…. San Andreas Mk II
22 Jun 2023
Reading Time: 5 minutes
After a long, cold, wet winter, and a shed that had not been touched since we moved in (meaning accessing the racked bikes was a Houdini act I could not be bothered with), I can say that as of this summer, I am officially back on the dirt; helped in no small part by a massive shed re-organisation. I am also not going to deny that the lad clicking with riding dirt in a big way has not been an additional driver, but as they say, one thing leads to another.
So to start things off on the right foot, I pulled out the trusty San Andreas (the original), which has always been my go to bike for singletrack. It’s such a mental thing to ride – silly low weight and old school geometry (well, almost as I’ve slackened the head to 68 degrees odd) that just delivers an insanely good time on the tight stuff. But after noticing the newly rebuilt Pace RC-41 forks were leaking after a few rides, I decided to rack it until winter, rather than try and find someone locally to rebuild them… again, and I’ll strip the bike down, send the forks back to the factory in the UK for a proper rebuild, and polish the frame – which it truly deserves.
That saw me switch to my second go to, the pre-production/prototype Zen II we had made before committing to full production spec. Like all of the Mountain Cycle frames we did, as one of the very last 26″ bikes ever to be made it’s an interesting beast, boasting ‘new school’ geometry but on 26″ wheels. In fact the geometry is near identical to the 27.5 Santa Cruz Bronson, so if you’ve read reviews about how good the Bronson was, you’ll know how good this bike is (and no, it was not a copy, we only found out the geometry was near identical after the fact!). The Zen II is just one of those fail safe rides – well behaved, light-ish, nimble enough, and comfy. And at 5.5″ of travel, can eat most things without too much bother. But on the rack next to it hung the big bike, the San Andreas Mk II. 6.6″ of super plush travel in a package set up to be just snappy enough for XC but squarely aimed at ‘trail’ riding…. in other words it will eat everything bar the gnarliest DH course. And even then, in the right hands…
It’s a bike that’s always goaded me into giving it more of a go than I had. But it’s big, overkill, and to be honest, the Zen II has always filled the hole nicely; I always thought riding it was just an exercise in excess. As a result, for a 2011 build, it’ had been ridden the sum total of 4 times and other than the annoying scratches it got from the removalist truck, for all intent and purpose it is NOS. And hanging there, next to the Zen, it goaded me EVERY. SINGLE. TIME I pulled the Zen off the rack until, finally, for shits and giggles I did the painful wheel shuffle (enter something here about the rarity of a 26″ 20mm front and 142x12mm rear) and gave it another go; you know, just for the hell of it.
And I did.
And let me tell you… I am glad I did.
There were only 56 of these frames made before Mountaincycle was shutdown once and for all
Taking it out on the same singletrack I had repeatedly taken it’s predecessor and the Zen, the ride, the trail, was a completely new experience. Despite thinking it’d be like riding through treacle, I can’t honestly say that I found pushing it any harder, despite the added heft and the 1×9 setup. What I did find was a bike that sat firmly planted with suspension that just absorbed… everything.
Riding the bike has opened up a new world and a new way of riding, one into which I have been not willing to step into with my, shall we call them, ‘old sckool’ prejudices (and yes, that’s despite having been in charge of designing the damn bike!). Yes, the bike is different, feels different, responds differently. But it’s a good different. No matter what you point it at, it’s planted, giving that assured feeling of ‘point me at it and I’ll eat it’. And while the bike is what I consider on the heavy end of the scale, hard not to be with a set of Marzocchi 55’s up front, that additional heft only adds to the ride quality rather than detracts from it; at speed the bike is a locomotive on rails with not an inch of nervousness; and on upwardly pointed singletrack, the suspension sails over most stuff, so as long as there is momentum, it will clear almost everything with minimal effort. And to me, that’s always been on light bikes, riding this big sled, with its 67.5 head angle, is a revelation. On fire trail climbs, it’s undeniable that the weight is there, but on a nine speed block spinning a 32T, I found myself pulling in people with 12spd dinner plate gearing without really trying too hard; I’m not going to win races and I certainly am not going to keep any racer boy on a 29er, but if I am the last to the top, it won’t be the bike that’s to blame! Overall, the Sanny II is such a joy to ride, it’s officially become my go to bike.
And if you’re remotely interested, and because some might say that the bikes are set up differently so will be different, all my bikes have an identical cockpit setup (it’s a physio/bike fit thing) – so same reach, pedal to saddle height, same bars, grips, post, saddle and pedals. Both have the exact same drivetrain. And both the Zen II and the San An II use a tuned version the same single pivot design (‘Turntable‘) , actuating the shock through a rocker on an eccentric arc, meaning both have a relatively similar rear end feel. But the difference that extra 25mm of travel makes (and the required geometry adjustments) from one bike to the other means that the ride goes to the next level, especially when combined with the slightly slacker angles.
I still have all the promo materials….!
Will the II replace the I? Never. They are two absolutely different bikes whose only similarity are the parts on them and that they are both 26″. If I want a fast, warp speed powered singletrack ride, then the original will always be the go to for all the reasons the II never will be. But If I want to do anything else, then the II is what I’ll be looking at from now on. I’m afraid the Zen might have just become the ’emergency bike’.
Which is all sorta cool… my two main rides are the legendary San Andreas Mk I – which I’ve been in love with since my first, and the Mk II, its predecessor and the one I actually designed. Talk about arriving back where you started!
See, an old dog can learn new tricks.
Copyright 2023 Gerard Thomas. All rights reserved.
I've run mtb events, distributed some legendary brands, ran my own cycling clothing brand, designed bikes and was a GM and head designer for a famous but sadly now extinct mtb marquee; and after 20 odd years I decided riding bikes was more fun than working with them.
Over that time though, I wrote (and some wrote for me) a lot of stuff about bikes, on blogs and the like. Some was good, some, well... not so much. Rather than loose it all when I shut everything down once and for all, I have kept some of my favourite, and more popular pieces here for... prosperity?
I also am working on new pieces as well...