A retraction, tyres and an old school attitude to gears… in that order

20 Feb 2021

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Firstly, a retraction.

At the start of the year I fitted Answer’s Haven’s to the test Zen II to see what all the fuss was about. At the time I was evaluating them as an option for Mountain Cycle’s ‘special build’ bikes, after all, these things were all the rave it seemed, so if they were that good we had to give them a whirl.

After putting them on the bike though, my elation turned to confusion as it seemed they were to softest wheels known to man. Bank the bike into a mild corner and the back ‘wheel’ sprung around like some sort of sprung thing. WTF? Was it the bike? I tried numerous things to work out what was going on and eventually came to the conclusion that the wheel was just not great. Off they came and on went another set and there was an improvement.

Well, after a bout of tyre woes, I finally got off my duff and put a set of Conti’s back on the bike. I love Conti tyres and the way, for me, they are the most predictable tyre in pretty much all conditions. The Haven’s had been on the rack (along with a bunch of other wheels) and their blingness cried out to me. So I decided to fit the new Conti’s to them and give them another go; I have been running the carbon Haven’s on my ‘road’ bike and can not speak highly enough of them, so I had to try the Al. versions one last time to see if I was just missing something.

Well, I’m sorry Answer, I was wrong. Really wrong.

You see it was not Haven’s that were the issue but the tyres themselves. With the Conti’s on, the wheels performed without flaw. I set them up with std fit wire beaded tyres combined with Stan’s goop, so they are stupidly light. On my ride yesterday, on of my best in a while, we were riding quick enough to have both the front and back wheels step out and the wheels did not flinch. Not once. The wheels accelerated and banked like some sort of mad race machines and generally were just super planted.

Simply put, the overall stiffness of the frame and wheels combo had maxed out the tyres the bike had been running on.

Considering the stiffness and the weight savings, I now think it’s hard to go past the Al. Haven’s. The carbon versions are lighter again and just as, if not more stiff… and are pure bike porn, but if the Al’s are as far as your budget will go (the carbon’s are insanely costly), then I have to say you’d be hard pressed going past them.

So tyres. As mentioned before I am a Conti man. Have been for years. Why? Simply, to me they not only provide superior grip but more importantly, are amazingly predictable. I like this immensely about them and has seen me coming back to them time and time again. For me, if a wheel breaks loose I like knowing that if I let them (ie. don’t do something dumb), the tyres will snap up grip again. Conti proved they still have the chop in this department as yesterday saw the wheels step out more than once and each time by letting the bike do its thing, saw the tyres simply and quickly bite back into the dirt. With all the previous tyres I had been running, stepping out meant holding on and wondering if I was going to eat it or not.

Tyres are a hugely personal thing but finding the right tyre for the way you ride is probably one of the most important aspects to bike set up. Big fat tyres mean nothing if they do not support you for the way you ride (and often are a compensation for being crap to begin with) and in my case, I can run a slightly smaller Conti (they are smaller generally in anyway) at a higher pressure, hence be a faster tyre, all because I simply know that they are gong to do what I want them to do, in the way I expect. That’s a big deal and makes a ride far more enjoyable as I can worry about all the other things, rather than waste a few dollar’s* wondering if my rubber’s going to hold to the dirt.

There has also been much hoopla amongst rider’s in regards to this 10 speed thing. It seems the media and industry, ie. those that don’t really have to pay for their gear, have made up the mind’s of riders for them already, but in the real world, where real people spent proper money on nice 9spd set ups, there is still much debate. Naturally, riding a test bike, it has (had) a 2×10 set up on it but prior to that I was running a 1×9 and had found it to be best combo to ride where I ride, which is mostly twisting and unrelenting single track.

This move came over time as a natural progression from a 2×9 XC set up, to a Rohloff (ie. SS with gears!), as I became less and less interested in fooling with gears and the like. Further more, as my interest in being a big ring XC grinder gave way to only wanting to ride areas that put silly expressions of fun on my face, I found the need for anything more than a 38T up the front was a waste of time, as these sorts of areas rarely, if ever, have a section long enough to fully wind out a 42 or a 44.

With the test bike I had been playing with the 2×10 set up to see how it worked, only to finally realise that the big ring was still a waste of time; plus I had to deal with a front mech AND a shifter pod. Daft. So a few weeks back I stripped all that off and put a 38T only on the cranks… which led to the ride of woe (I had been running a 36 in 1×9 mode). Even with the 36 block out back, pushing that gearing through our regular haunt was just a ride of pain. While I am not super strong right now, I am not unfit either, riding road miles on a 44T only has seen to that, but that 38 ring simply nailed me. The entire ride was spent on the top half of the cassette, only to totally run out of gears on the steep pinch climbs.

Old school attitudes die hard. After 26 years on a bike, I still held to the notion that small rings were for whimps; I can’t even remember the last time I had a granny ring on a bike. I also held to that old school thought that if you could not push it, you weren’t riding enough. Yea, yea, I know. With the 1x set up, that thinking was slowly eroding to the point that last week I succumbed and took of the 38 and put on a 30. Yep, a 30. I mean, I just did not have another 6 months to wait until I got strong enough to grind out the 38, and really, was that fun?

My reasoning was pretty simple, rather than ride and spend the whole time on the upper half of the block, with a 30 I would find myself in the lower half most of the time and still have the upper few for when things got really rude. And for once, my reasoning was right!

Yesterday’s ride was too much fun. The 30 has ended up being the perfect match for me and as I suspected, I spent most of the ride somewhere in the middle of the block with room either side to wind it out on the short fast bits (where by the time you hit speed you are already on the anchors) or for the sharp climbs. Not once did I find myself wanting more or less gears and if anything the ride was actually quicker than with taller gearing – that is what I call a ‘Goldilox moment’.

I can say now that if anything, this 2×10 thing has heralded in a new era of gearing but not in the way that I think was originally thought about. A 1×10 setup is a totally viable option for what I consider the majority of riders out there, if some of them can get over the big ring ego thing. If I find myself getting majorly stronger, a step up to a 32 or 33 might be acceptable but if yesterday’s ride was anything to go by, the 30 for me is pretty much the sweet spot. Ponder it and give it a go if you need to upgrade/update, I think you’ll like it.



*Read Keith Code’s books on Sport-bike riding as well as his book on MTB riding to find out about the $10 theory.


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...

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