January 12, 2022
Reading Time: 6 minutes
Mountain Cycle San Andreas Redux
[Images coming soon]
Well, that was an unexpectedly long gap between proverbial drinks, but here I am, finally writing the second installment about re-birthing the old girl. Looking back at how Part I ended, quite some years ago now, I am more than amused about my thinking at the time.
The San Andreas is a fucking singletrack rocket, that’s why.
Woah there Tex, let’s wind this back a bit to see how we went from ‘it needs a redesign’ to the aforementioned statement, shall we?
Suffice to say, a LOT has happened from the time I penned that first article to now. In fact, this article happened: ‘Old Skool Warbirds‘. Then almost ten, yes 10, years passed between that article and now. So yea, a lot’s happened.
The current San Andreas build racked in the garage started life a few years back, when I decided it was a shame to have it sit there as a frame collecting dust. Unlike the first build (a.k.a experiment) as a 6” platform , I decided to dial it right back to much more manageable 4” mid travel build which, incidentally, is much closer to the frame’s original intent. If you didn’t know, as many didn’t and still don’t, the original San Andreas was the first real trail bike, not the downhill monstrosity many (including Mountain Cycles itself) turned them into. As such, 3-4” of travel sits in its sweet spot. Anyway, I proceeded to collect bits and bobs for it but as a project, it spluttered along until earlier this year when, after moving back to the land of glorious singletrack, I pulled the finger out and finished it up.
The build is literally a 98% parts bin build. The only things I bought were ‘consumables’ and a post, which incidentally is shared across all the bikes (no dropper for me, I have a very specific set up as given to me by a physio, which demands a layback post on all my bikes). The rest of the bike I, or friends, had sitting in the corner or stashed away in parts drawers; which is completely insane when you look at the parts on the bike (and shows you the complete folly of the bike industry). Only the cranks are factory fresh, courtesy of my good friend in Praxis…
If you’re a purist, close your eyes for the next bit…. the one alteration made to the frame, yes, I chopped into it, was a modification to allow for a ‘modern’, longer stroke shock. Off the shelf, the San Andreas used a short travel, high ratio shock (3:1), a legacy from the elastomer unit the frame started off with back in the early 90’s. Unfortunately most air shocks today don’t cope well with the old school 3:1 ratio, lacking enough capacity in the chamber to be effective through their entire stroke. The few that may have a big enough cans, have a hard time fitting into the tight confines of the mounting position. Moving to a longer stroke unit means a larger can, resulting in the shock running a full 50-60 psi less than with the ‘correct’ sized unit and a very controlled feel through the stroke; the X-Fusion I had originally bought for it required it to be sitting at 300psi. And as I was moving the mounting position, with a bit of maths I also allowed for the bike to sit level at it’s sag point, meaning that the geometry remains ‘correct’ rather than slacking off under my fat arse (my arse is not really fat, thank you). Overall the chop shop job has been more than perfect, the rear end behaves far better than it ever did and is now a good match for the fork, delivering a very balanced feel front to back.
So, what’s it like to ride what is effectively a 30 year old frame, on ‘little wheels’, and a 1×9 drivetrain in today’s plastic world of bigger and more everything?
Now I can hear you think, ‘oh here it comes’… right?
And yea, I’d think the same if I not for the fact that I have other, newer and very capable bikes that I like very much. If this build was just not working I’d have nothing to loose, I’d take the really nice parts, stick them on the other bikes and call it a day. And say so right here.
But I certainly will not be doing that.
Remember “The San Andreas is a fucking singletrack rocket…”? Yea well… it’s true.
This is an old school bike, no two ways about it. The addition of longer (than originally intended) forks kick the front out a bit, slackening the head down to around 68 degrees, but it’s still steep and very short by today’s standards; it’s the sort of bike that would scare most new school riders used to riding long slack bikes. But on the trail, the faster it goes, the better it gets; and as it’s being propelled by a 34 x 11-36 9 speed drive train, there’s not a lot of room for backing off, so it goes quick, even when going slow. The short wheelbase matches the new, slightly relaxed, head angle perfectly and in the tight stuff, it’s like riding with ESP (not SRAM esp!!) – simply think about it, and it happens. The balance between front and rear is close to 50/50 – lofting the front wheel to go over steps or roots is effortless – a slight push on the pedals and lift of the bars and over it goes. Wind it up and you can shoot through tight singletrack corners like a whip, the setup responding instantly to small bar inputs, or pelvic movements, making quick trajectory corrections snappy. Sweepers are grin inducing fun.
The build helps. This is a top shelf setup, even by today’s standards and drips more carbon that thought I would care for on a mtb. But the result is a bike that, for a 4” dually, is stupidly light. When paired to the San Andreas’ legendary stiff chassis, you are graced with an insanely responsive setup. Now don’t get me wrong here, this is a very purpose driven machine. There’s no way in the world I’d take it to a downhill orientated venue, and if you mostly spend time grinding out long fire trails, there are far better options. But as a bike built to rip through singletrack and tight stuff, like my ‘local lunchtime ride’, then I doubt you will find better, even today.
Lastly, and let’s call this the world catching up with design vision, while many often relate single pivot bikes to being like pogo sticks while pedaling, well designed, high forward pivot bikes were designed for middle ring pedaling (back when people ran 3x up front); bikes like the San An pedaled very well in the ring most riders spent most of their time in. Today, with a 34T 1x setup, the drive train is in pretty much sweet spot nirvana… permanently. When combined with a modern shock, there is no bobbing at all and the bike pedals super efficiently while the suspension remains compliant to the terrain. Suck on that 20 pivot designs.
And though I am loath to say this, because I hate what Strava has done to cycling, the proof is in the Strava. It’s with amusement that when checking my last few rides dropped into my Stravahole account, I have been inadvertently doing second and third best times on a bunch of segments… without really trying. If we work to the idea that most riders out there are pushing newer 27.5 and 29” bikes, the fact that without putting any effort into it, this 30 year old weapon is still capable of punching out top three segment times says something I think a lot of gear freaks can, and should, take note of. As to whether or not I can get, intentionally or otherwise, 1st place on any of these segments might be more down to me than the bike – a fast dude on a fast spec 29er will be pretty hard, if not impossible, to catch on a 26″ rig… at least for me.
A bike like this is definitely not for everyone. I rode a San Andreas when it first came to market in the early 90’s, then again around from ’04-07, so I am very familiar with it. I today’s terms, I think the best way to describe it is to think of it of something like an original Ford GT40 or a moto from the 250/500cc two stroke era – they were machines built for speed. They will still go fast enough to scare you silly, and you really need to learn how to pilot them to get the most they have to offer. And while there might be newer, and there might be more broad spectrum capable, they are machines that are no way even close to being put out to pasture – they still possess the ability to spank silly those that are lesser.
The biggest pity about this bike? It’s that most riders today will never get the chance to know what old school bikes like this can deliver…
UPDATE Feb 2023:
I finally, after many years, pulled the successor of the San Andreas, the Mk II, off the rack to give it a good go. And what did I think?
After 20 odd years working in and around the cycling industry, for myself and others, 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...