Once everyone finished their post lunch espresso it was time to pick up our bikes and head to the gondola. Despite being on brand new pedals, borrowed gear and Vans, opposed to my usual FiveTens, I instantly felt comfortable on the bike. The cobblestone road was no match however for the Alpine terrain we’d soon be encountering.
As per usual at these sort of junkets: comfort, time and jet lag are always on the mind. We stepped out of the gondola and were met with rocky, barren mountainsides and a rugged singletrack that quickly pointed down hill. It was definitely a place where I’d opt to pack a 160mm bike. Either way, we were here now and after all, Juskaitis did promise a thorough couple of days of “mountain biking” and all the types of terrain that entails. Touché.
The rocky introduction soon turned into wide open grassy cow paths where speeds exceeded 30mph. Even at speed on barely visible trails the Trance 29 felt comfortable and planted. Kevin Dana had suggested that this little bike had the composure and attitude of a big bike and I would have to agree. With a 462mm reach 1,196mm wheelbase and 66.5 degree head tube angle, my size large test bike felt much bigger than I expected.
We soon entered some incredibly rocky singletrack where boulders jutted out of the grassy earth as if they were trying to grab any part of your body or bike possible and fling you to the ground. The low gradient would make a big bike feel slow, but the ruggedness would gobble a weak bike up. We pushed our Trance 29’s through the rocky field at varying paces but it looked like everyone came out the other end surprised and in one piece. Impressive for a bike I would have considered too XC for me just a few years ago.
The rock field intersected the famed Gavia Pass and we dropped (quite literally) off the other side into a steep, serpentine section of singletrack that seemed to never end! Aside from my SRAM brakes fading away, I couldn’t believe the terrain our group was tackling on such a short travel bike. These weren’t thoughts I was having on the trail however, but now that I’m back home, it’s pretty damned impressive!
On the trail I was consumed with the scenery, the steepness of the terrain, how much fun I was having, how naked my knees felt without knee pads, and most importantly, trying to keep my new Vans shoes free of mud and cow dung. Thoughts I could only be having on a bike that was doing its job, and doing it well.
As we dropped lower into the valley the trails got steeper and rootier. Soon we were in the woods and charging corners into nice soil with G-outs and undulations that truly put the bike to its limits. The trails down low easily could entertain riders on full-blown DH rigs. It was here I noticed that nothing can replace travel when you really need it but geometry can get you pretty dang close. Over the sharp rocks, roots and G-outs, I did feel the travel reach the end of its usefulness, however beyond the feedback in my feet telling me there was no more squish, I couldn’t tell the bike was out of its element. Composure, confidence and a willingness to send it were all I got out of the bike.