In wrapping up the Pioneer before a summer of ENDURO kicks back in, let’s take a break from talking about our feelings and instead go fully mechanical on it with a Bandito gear geek froth fest the likes never seen before on this blog. For many of you this will be disgustingly irrelevant and unlikely to enhance your relationship with Mountain Biking, so with that in mind we’ll leave the foreplay to a single lick across the face and just dive into the best part.
Let’s start with the hardware
I sort of already knew this, but it was reinforced to me at the Pioneer that the Bandito crowd is more than happy to float around in an ocean of same same mediocrity… Which is to say there is one brand, beginning with a large ‘S’, and model, beginning with ‘E’ that appears to dominate the middle management market:
Ok, so throw in some Giant Anthems, the odd cDale Scalpel here and there and a couple of Treks that were biding their time before they made their way back to the warranty department, but that was about it. Bone, who is essentially a walking spreadsheet, estimated that at least 70-80% of the entire field were on the same model of Merida in disguise. I’m still trying to work out if that’s boring, depressing, weird or just a reflection of what’s on offer in this genre of the game. I assume that a LOT of entrants also drove Toyota Highlanders, it’s that kind of template.
What the fuck Bandito’s? There are better options people!
As you can therefore imagine it was nice to be on something new, fucking hot and relatively unique in the scheme of things. After our week together on the Pioneer following our shotgun wedding, there is no question the Blur 3 is the naughty co-worker who comes back to your table at the work Christmas party with a tray of shots and somehow not only talks you into having two of them, but then encourages you later that evening to outline to the CEO why you think that “If you have to wank on about values cunt, then clearly you don’t have any“, all while never having a hair out of place or a moment of loss of composure themselves:
I’m not sure where to start with describing this bike, but I think it’s important that I do so without any reference to discipline, intended use, genre or category. Sorry marketing, no ‘down-country’ reach around tag here – I want to talk about this bike as a bike. If that sounds weird, I shall try and explain myself.
I totally get that it’s primarily designed and intended to be an XC bike, right? But for me, the experience with this machine is that it’s just simply a great bike, and that trying to pigeon/glory hole it or make it conform to a particular label is missing the point. Unlike a big burly ENDURO bike which says “This is the only shit I like to do” while passing you a small list, the Blur is like that person that wants to travel the world and do everything or anything that comes along. Granted, it won’t be awesome at all of it, but it is magnificent for most of it, which I think is the part that has surprised me the most.
I went in with some fairly heavy preconceptions, ranging from “It will be too fragile” to “It will be nervous as fuck on the downhills“, but unlike your Fox news watching Grandfather, it didn’t take me very long to realise just how misplaced my scepticism was. The Blur simply likes to go fast – I know that in theory all bikes like to do that, but in reality most like to go fast in certain conditions or places. Not so with the Blur, it just wants to go fast everywhere, almost in an impatient manner.
If riding a 160mm+ ENDURO like is like lazy drunken sex on the verge of passing out (I can see Herr Doktor nodding vigorously), then riding the Blur 3 is like sex while being mildly electrocuted, you know, not to the point of discomfort or possible death, but enough to know that Holy Fuck you’re alive!! It’s made me realise that the last 3 or 4 years of being ‘over-biked’ wasn’t as awesome as you think when you start to add coils, increase rotor size, tire width and slacken everything you can get your hands on. Getting on this rocket is highly invigorating to say the least.
Having said that, in my classic cunty style which makes Product Managers hate consumers, this build is technically more of a TR+ spec than full XC, with the 120mm Fox Stepcast 34 and Fox Transfer dropper post (because, why would you want to ride a bike without those aspects?), which fitted in nicely with my penchant for taking a bike designed for a specific task and fucking with it.
I still want to ride the bike more before I answer those “But what about the Tallboy 3?!” related questions which I know are tripping over themselves on your wet lips, but here’s my humble prediction about this bike, and ultimately why such comparison questions are about as useful as the Ethics Officer in the current White House:
I anticipate that the Blur 3 will become an SC classic, joining the likes the Heckler, first Tallboy (yes, the orange one), Nomad 3, first Carbon Stigmata and the VP Free as legends. It transcends being put into a category and ultimately the best way to sum it up is that it’s just a great bike with makes labels redundant.
Most common tech question so far: “Do you use the lock out and remote?“, to provide appropriate context, I was very anti this and even investigated how to take it off at the build stage… Extra cable aside, why the fuck would I want a grip shift activated lock out for something I wouldn’t use? Especially when it meant I couldn’t run my favourite old cunt grips. Proving again that Josh Kissner knows best, through gritted teeth I have to admit that I used the functionality a lot… An alarming amount even.
When you’re under the pump and looking for every possible advantage, this set up was golden to say the least. Smooth piece of trail? Tap the button and bang, that instant hit of lock out to help you get out of the saddle and stretch your back. Road sections? Bang, maximum efficiency. Given the suspension design doesn’t really need a lock out, some of this may be more mental placebo than actual performance enhancement, but I would say if you’re on the fence, run it for a month and I guarantee you won’t want to take it off. Definitely get the Gripshift version.
I know this isn’t a full review or doesn’t give you much to go on, but that will cum in due course obviously as I need to get the Blur onto some other terrain to get some different impressions and round things out. Based on my love for this machine as a bike, it’s no surprise I have been reaching for it the most when I go into the hanger before heading out for a ride… it’s tight, playful and addictive.
Now it’s onto the boring shit I’m afraid – Talking about random pieces of kit utilised for Bandito purposes.
Giro Aether Helmet
Attention Giro Synthe owners – It’s time to rejoice!! Essentially everything that probably fucked you off about your Synthe has been addressed in this newest lid:
- It’s back to a more normal ‘Giro’ head shape – If you know what that means, then you know…
- No more forehead golden showers into the eyes & glasses – Sweat management is next level, barely a drop down the face all week of the Pioneer, which included some extended climbing in late 20’s temp ranges, plus I sweat like a Fat Donny Campaign aide being interviewed by Muellersaurus. The lack of sweat in the grill possibly the best reason to get this helmet
- Ventilation game has been enhanced, not a coincidence given the above point, it’s basically like air con now in there
- It has MIPS Spherical, which sounds fancy AF and all you really need to know is that this will bring extra anxiety and complication to the question of “Is my helmet straight for this Gram banger?” I have zero intention of testing this functionality, but nice to know it’s there.
Key downside – Aside from the ‘WTF cunt’ price, stand by for your receding hairline to get sunburnt to fuck, the Aether lets the rays right in compared to its older sibling:
I wanked on about these so intensively that I started to make Maxxis supported athletes blush with how lazy they are with their product endorsements. Disclaimer – I paid close to full retail for these things, so this is legit praise.
My plan was to remove them in favour of the Ardent Race/Ikon combo as soon as we got to Alex and it dried out, but a missing bag situation and then general laziness meant I didn’t get it organised. I had it in my head they would be a disadvantage on the dry fast bike path sections or long climbs, but this never transpired.
The other unexpected element was that pretty much every single day we encountered mud, or slow boggy and generally suck ass terrain, at times when we least expected it. Every time we did, Bone and I would exchange knowing looks as the Forekasters tractored through yet another section which would have fisted Ikon’s. We know this as we could see such equipped people walking.
This tire is a sleeping tire in the Maxxis range for those of us drunk on the DHF/DHR brew. Summary: These are fucking awesome tires.
Shimano XC7 shoes
I was sort of keen on the flash blue XTR level shoes, but in the politest way Shimano suggested I was still too fat for those, plus that blue may cause you some wardrobe matching dramas, so the XC7 is perfect. As it’s essentially the XT level shoe, they basically say “I’m serious about this shit, but I’m not a show pony“, with a cunning mix of high end quality with heavy doses of keeping it real woven into them. As per usual, XT is all most riders ever need, unless you’re a mild show pony with inherent status anxiety.
Both Bone and I rocked these throughout the duration of build up and race and didn’t encounter any issues, so a worthy contender if you’re in the trail/Bandito shoe market. Standard multi-day race advice applies here – Make sure you arrive with your shoes in goldilocks mode: Nicely broken in, but not more than half worn out. And yes, may pay to double check you can comfortably walk in them unless you’re a total fucking beast.
They also have the Michelin sole, which is great for making you feel slightly fancy as it’s French, so excellent from a cycling perspective and it may also encourage you to get into a torturous relationship and make a weird movie about it.
A word about gearing
As you may recall from the ‘Meet the Blur‘ first look, I rocked the Franken-drivetrain all week, without a single issue. I’m talking about the Eagle 30T chainring, XTR chain, Garbaruk 50-10 cassette and XTR Rear D with the Garbaruk cage extender… There was much anxiety pre-race about whether or not the range firepower would be available to get through the week.
For the most part, shit was cool… But, I did have the nagging feeling that especially on the last 2 days I could have rocked a 28T perhaps for those big 1,000m+ vert climbs. The problem being however with those insane road racing style starts, there would have been a good chance I would have got reamed like a cunt with that set-up. I did have some moments where the 30-10 was under the pump, but then again I possibly may have raced the whole week differently knowing what I know now.
My advice is put a lot of mileage in working out the best ratio for you and ignore all other cunts – Much like suspension settings, it’s what works best for you. A 28T on the last 2 days would have made my tail fluffy, but at least I would have been able to keep on top of shit on the likes of Carricktown or Mt Michaels.
I had of course held out for the new Shimano XTR 51-10 set up, which I was sure would have been banger… But the only time that Bone got angry at me all week was when I invariably surfaced this topic 45 minutes into a climb where we were grinding in first gear the whole time… “Would be really good to have that X…” was instantly met with a North Korean style artillery barrage raining down highly scientific gear inch data points to reinforce that I was indeed the cunt who had received a reach around from the Shimano Marketing department, whom I assume is run by Ms Akira.
Final word for those that are Garbaruk curious, yes, it works very well and I had no issues, but it’s not quite as smoothly reassuring as the XT 46-11 cassette it replaced, which just gives you a slightly more refined performance. However, I would have been severely cunted with said XT cassette’s range, not to mention the extra weight (The G Banger is about 150g lighter), so this argument is ultimately somewhat arbitrary. Plus, you get to feel good about doing your bit to fight tyranny in the process:
Reliability wise, I have now racked up 1134km’s on the one cassette, across 2 chains, on the Tallboy & Blur, with at least 700km’s of that racing with no issues or signs of serious wear yet, so that would appear to be a solid endorsement.
My advice is to definitely run it with the Garbaruk Shimano extender cage, I think the stock XTR* would be way too under the pump to hit the 50 and for you to not spend the whole time shitting yourself, not sure about XT, but assume it would be the same. *I’m talking the actual XTR you can buy, not the new unicorn semen version with the magical leap frogging delivery date.
Word of caution – The Garbaruk has it’s own tool for removal from the free hub, so A) don’t lose it and B) make sure you pack it for away races as the chances of a mechanic having one? Zero.
The only gear fail was that XTR front brake, which was more of a precautionary replacement move and was ultimately warrantied by Shimano faster than you can mispronounce “This feels mildly dishonourable” in Japanese. It had started to make that weird death turkey warble which indicated some piston funkiness, and while it would have got through the week, I was of the mindset that it was best to leave nothing to chance given the investment made to that point.
I genuinely can’t think of anything else I would have changed gear or kit wise to be honest… Given my jacked up front end with the 120mm Stepcast, I did think about my stem set up as I was grinding up some 20%+ slopes for sustained periods of time, and that perhaps it would have been a good call to flat rise that shit, so with that in mind, watch this space on something I’m fucking about with post Pioneer (naturally):
I shall report back in due course on how that set up rolls, plus more thoughts on the B3 once we hit the 1,000km mark (currently floating around 530kms).
Next up, general Dirty musings about the Pioneer and some tips & tricks should you be feeling fucked in the head enough to want to hit it this year, entries are open after all. If I missed anything from your Bandito gear curious list, hit it in the comments section and I will do my best to dubiously inform you based on the week that was.