I live and ride in Northeast Ohio, the geography here is mostly flat, the most technical stuff you can find is rocky river beds. The biggest riding I have is at Mohican State Park, its “small big-mountain.” Though I usually ride super twisty single track closer to home. The trails I have feature a nice mix of banked corners, jumps and drops, as well as a few elevated wood structures. I happen to have an opportunity to help with trail maintenance and I get a vote in what kind of trails get built.
I ride a 2016 Trek X-Cal in large, and I love it. I’ve shortened the stem to 35mm from 90mm and installed a dropper, as well as nice contact points and suitable tires. I like that the bike rides on rails and offers a ton of agility at lower speeds but also feels decent at high speed while going in a straight line with my weight shifted back. The bike still climbs like a goat even with a shorter stem.
What I don’t like is that the front end is very difficult to pick up, it stays planted most of the time and very responsive. This makes slow speed drops very intimidating and I shift my weight back hard and usually land hard on the rear, as the bike seems to favor rotating forward in the air and its hard to commit to a neutral position. It also makes steep, high speed corning a nightmare, as I have to choose between staying back and dealing with understeer or leaning forward and going OTB.
I would like something that is more playful at lower speeds, Ohio doesn’t offer very much straight downhill and the more speed you pick up, the shorter amount of time you actually have at speed. This means that most of the time you are pedaling pretty hard to keep the pace up and I would have more fun riding at a slower speed and popping off of features and flicking the bike around.
I’ve been looking at a Trek Roscoe and Salsa Timberjack, 120-130mm fork, I prefer 29ers for sweet sweet damping. As trails are rough and water damage is common. Either in size LG or upsizing to XL for a little bit of extra reach. I don’t know what will suit my needs best, any advice you can give is appreciated.
The problem with your X-Cal is that it has old-school XC geometry. XC geo bikes climb well but are lousy descenders and are twitchy everywhere else. You need a bike with modern progressive geometry and I also think that Hardtails are best with 29×2.6 tires. Check out these bikes.
These Hardtails would be my first choice.
Rocky Mountain Growler
These Hardtails don’t come with 2.6 tires but have modern geo.
Norco Torrent HT
I wouldn’t buy a 27.5 Hardtail unless I was shorter than about 5’5″ inches and I would still want 2.6 tires and not the wider Plus tires. The Salsa Timberjack/Rangefinder comes with 29×2.6 tires but the geo is a bit old school. However, they are pretty good bikes, if you buy a size-up and then put on a shorter stem.
Nate, I ride a 2019 RSD Middlechild and love the hell out of it. Any speed is choice handling… Wanna run 27.5 x anything up to 3.0, go for it. Wanna run 29 x 2.6 or perhaps 2.8. go for it. Frankly, the setup options are many from minus tires to plus… Geared, no worries, singlespeed, no worries! Sliding dropouts are standard. Geometry is spot on for play time on any terrain.
As for the bike you are on now, as Bike Nerd mentioned, geometry of that frame is not conducive to your activities. The front end feels like there’s a sack of concrete strapped to the bars making features seem daunting. That cannot be a good feeling.
Steel fun factory.
Being a singlespeed, fuel economy is measured in sandwiches per hour…
Ask the people who ride the same trails as you do. They can probably point you to what is in stock at the LBS too.
I am also from NEO. Sounds like you ride Hampton/East Rim or maybe Medina/Austin Badger. You may want to consider a full suspension to have a little more differentiation from your current bike. Then you will have the option to ride the hardtail for fitness or sketchiness.
When I ordered my new frame, I was about to pull the trigger on an On-One Big Dog (steel hard tail with modern geometry) but my wife said that is like your other bikes and convinced me to get a full suspension frame. She was not 100% correct because the geometry of the Big Dog is very different but she wasn’t all wrong either.
And while it is true that the downhills go by too quickly in NEO, the level of confidence on a FS with pretty good fork and shock is amazing compared to my old entry level hardtail. That said. I still haven’t broken my PMs on the Hampton Hills advanced downhill from 3 years ago, when I was training to go to Jakes Rocks.