I’ve had this conundrum swilling around my head for a while now, mulling it over and over in mid-ride quiet-mind moments, always somehow attached to the title of a Sinead O’Connor album from 1990 that I’ve never owned or listened to, an internal dialogue used to justify the position I find myself in. The battle of want over need, the illogical craving of the new and improved, when what we already have is more than good enough.
The story begins back in October of last year. Having successfully completed an interview and tour of the Santa Cruz HQ it was time to conclude the visit with the standard bike industry hand shake – the local ride out. No visit is complete without it, it’s the one true bike industry standard, and with the afternoon free, a blue sky and trails straight out of the door it would have been rude not to. Naturally this one included a chance to spin the pedals of a couple of Santa Cruz’s newer models – the Hightower and Juliana Roubion.
The Hightower is effectively the model introduced to replace the bike I’ve ridden for the past three years, the Tallboy LTc, so it’s little wonder that I immediately felt at home aboard one. It’s a nuanced improvement – everything is incrementally better than what I’m used to, whether gaining height as we head up to UCSC campus trails or pinning down local trail ‘Mailboxes’ trying to keep up with a local. Familiar, but better. Dammit.
It doesn’t take long to start to fall in love with this latest incarnation of capable 29er that I find myself chucking around. It encourages a bit of speed and razzing on the dry and dusty trails, and I’m more than happy to oblige. And so it begins – the inevitable day dreaming where you start the mental build notes of just what you’d strap to a frame if it was yours, if one found its way into your possession.
One ride in and I’m smitten. I’m riding along and mentally tweaking the components of an imaginary bike build, a bike that is bound to be better than the one I’ve brought along for the three weeks riding that we’re here for. I start to worry that it’s a thought process that’ll overshadow the rest of the trip, constantly comparing what could have been.
Day two finds us retracing the route of the day before, this time on our own bikes and the new-bike magic starts to diminish. I come to the realisation that what won me over the day before is the combination of a handful of marginal gains; that the existence of a new bike, adorned with new kit and new standards, fails to turn mine into a turkey (as some web commentators would have us believe). My Tallboy LTc manages the climbs, the drops, the high speed meadow singletrack with all the capability that I’ve grown to know and love.
Sure it’s subtly different to the new offering, but it still offers more performance than I’m ever likely to demand, or need. I know I’m incredibly lucky to own a bike of its caliber and I accept that’s largely thanks to help from friends in the industry. It’s a carbon superbike that I’d never have been able to justify otherwise. It’s a bike I was able to build to fit its purpose exactly as I wanted, every last component choice, no need for compromises.
It’s a bike that’s always offered no excuses to underperform, always reminded me it’s not about the bike by never offering an excuse to fail. A bike that’s spent three years showing how it can turn it’s hand to anything – XC, backcountry, enduro rides, without showing any weaknesses. It ticks the ‘light but capable’ box with ease weighing in at roughly the same weight as my first real mountain bike, but offering far more in terms of performance.
Pre-Boost, old linkages, 11 speed and all external cables and hoses. A bike now left behind by advances in design and components, but one that refuses to be any less relevant today.
The components give no excuses to upgrade, no reason to replace them. Suspension offering the same performance that it did on day one. I’ve never failed to be impressed with the drivetrain knowing I’ve deliberately abused it. Three years down the line it’s still running on original parts, a test to see how far modern gearing can be pushed that’s still ongoing. A drivetrain that has failed to fail or offer any hint of reduced performance, despite the lack of concessions to maintenance beyond a initial move to dry lube. A high end groupset that’s sucked up the years of wilful neglect and never skipped a gear change. Three years and only a gear cable replacement needed – a testament to the reliability of modern kit.
It’s a bike with a solid patina of use – three years of rides, road trips, shuttles and crashes all documented by scuffs, scrapes and missing chunks of the carbon top coat here and there. A history of good times all laid out in the rough round the edges and dog-eared appearance. A visual reminder of time and effort invested in adventures, time spent in the saddle going places, close scrapes narrowly avoided. We’ve been halfway round the world together, clocked up mile upon mile, and still there’s the promise to just keep going as long as I keep putting the effort in. I’ve no excuses to replace it just yet and, after all we’ve been through, I couldn’t part with it.
I recognise the position that I find myself in. I love my bike. I don’t need a new bike. I know I don’t need a new bike. I keep telling myself I don’t want a new bike.
So why do I still keep thinking of how I’d build up that particular new one?
Need versus want – the inescapable victory of the illogical over logic. I do not want what I haven’t got, a mantra I keep repeating in the hope it finally sticks. Except I do, I can’t help it, despite telling myself otherwise – I’m happy with what I’ve got, but there’s always space for something better. Marginal gains are still gains after all.
Big thanks to SRAM and Rockshox for the support.