Since I last wrote about (stolen) bikes my friend Phil (from T-P 2010) convinced me to get a bike which I would have never thought of buying; a short-travel, full-suspension Norco with 29” wheels. The price was very reasonable too, which I think was essential for my decision.
I have had this Norco since March 2014, and rode it everywhere; from banal cross-country loops to gnarly rocky trails in Finale Ligure (my preferred training playground). It was a blast, and since then I have had only positive thoughts for big wheelers. After a while, I began pushing the bike to its limits and I was considering to upgrade fork and shock but it sounded like one of those stupid upgrades where I had to spend more than what the bike was worth to have truly significant changes.
One year had gone by, and by May 2015 I had to momentarily put mountain bikes aside as Giulia and I started considering the opportunity to move to Norway for work; we thought it was good for our daughter Valentina as well as for ourselves (fresh air and all that).
I said I had to put biking aside but really — it was only for a few hours that I put biking aside in my thoughts, and next thing that popped up in my mind was that I had a perfect excuse to sell the Norco and get a new bike.
So here I was, slowly getting acquainted with the idea that a custom German bike with crazy geometry and an even crazier name could be the right one for me. Over the summer the plan began to take shape, and on the second weekend of October I boarded a plane to the UK where I was picked up by Phil, driven to his house where a brand new Nicolai Mojo Geometron was waiting for me.
I know that “Geometron” sounds like something straight out of a comic book, but there is nothing remotely cartoonish about these bikes. Chris Porter, geometry and suspension guru, owner of Mojo Suspension (UK Fox distributor), has been modifying and then building bikes in collaboration with the German frame builder Nicolai for quite some time now, in relentless pursuit of his ideal of perfect bike geometry. After lots of one-off frames that he personally tested against the clock (he’s raced DH and enduro so he knows one or two things about speed), he finally settled during 2015 on some numbers, and had Nicolai build the first batch of 25 frames, all matte black, sized Long, Longer and Longest (that must give you an idea for the most striking feature of these bikes).
Little aside: my bike must be #24 of the original twenty-five.
These frames are matched to custom tuned Fox fork and shocks, and that is really where the magic comes from, in matching the radical geometry of these bikes with finely tuned suspensions. I have an intuitive grasp of engineering concepts so I can appreciate the ideas and guiding principles behind these bikes; however, I’m doing you a favor by redirecting to the reviews that have been published4; I would also recommend to read Chris’s thoughts3.
Once again it was Phil who was instrumental in my decision; he has been following a similar path to Chris in the past 3 years, striving to build his definitive mountain bike. When Phil first tested a Geometron he was simply struck by how good this bike was, quickly changed his mind about going the solo route (i.e., building bikes with custom geometry based on his own ideas) and was among the first to buy a frame from Mojo. He then told me that this bike, a 160-170mm travel bike with 62 degrees head angle, was quite simply an excellent cross-country1 bike in addition to being an incredibly effective trail-smashing-monster.
One things I have learnt about Phil over the years, is that he is the most consistent and reliable source for everything about bikes. Which is to say, he not only is able to explain logically why things work, but also that his mindset regarding bikes and mountain biking in general is pretty much in tune with my own taste; I still have in mind how good was his previous custom Nicolai when I rode it in Finale Ligure, I trusted his recommendation to try the Norco 29” and thanks to him I have had an excellent (and cheap) ride that has been an enormous source of fun in the past year and a half.
When he said that the Geometron was “the one”, I really thought on it for what must have been ten minutes max, then placed the order blind, without even testing the bike.
So here I was, flying Norwegian Airlines to Manchester where Phil came to pick me up. I hadn’t been riding for a while so I was eager but also a little anxious to get back riding a bike on the trails. Luckily Phil was able to spice up the trip back to Hinckley where he lives, by entering a roundabout way too fast; the rear-wheel slide was huge but his counter-steer was fast enough to avoid making a mess. And here I was thinking that modern Porsches were tamed animals compared to the tail-happy beasts of the 70s and 80s.
We then spent the entire weekend at the Forest of Dean, where I once again rediscovered something that I somehow forgot in all these years2; that is, a certain friendly energetic vibe you can feel where there’s other people that enjoy simple things like riding a bike downhill. And that is a vibe that I rarely experience back home in Italy; maybe it’s a certain english way to approach this kind of activity that I like — t-shirts as opposed to pro-racer jerseys, mums and kids and girls with all level of skills riding for fun as opposed to mostly men looking with utter disdain at the “others”. Or maybe it’s just me, enjoying the anonimity of riding in a place where surely I won’t ride ever again.
Anyway, when we arrived at the Cannop trail centre car park it was unexpectedly sunny (remember: it was November, and it was the UK!) and Chris Porter was there waiting for us. He checked the sag on my bike, watched me for a couple of minutes then we were off for the short climb to the start of the downhill trails. It was all a bit greasy and wet but nothing too sketchy; it was however very sketchy the day after when we left the trail centre and we adventured through some trails that were Chris’s favourites.
The bike felt very strange in the car park; it was definitely not a normal bike, there was almost a disconnect between handlebars and front wheel that left me a bit puzzled (it still does a few months in! especially after riding every day my very twitchy rigid 29er). But once you leave the flats and start climbing all fears of vagueness disappear; strange but true, even with this absurdly slack head angle, the bike felt good at climbing — and at the end of the first day it also felt very very good at descending.
The climbing part is actually very interesting; yes the Geometron is clearly not a sprinty carbon bike (remember the 180mm Fox up front, the massive aluminum tubes, etc); however being so long and slack it really does help when climbing steep, technical trails (think switchbacks and loose gravel). You ever felt the need to move your body around just to keep the front wheel down and simultaneously loading the rear wheel so it doesn’t lose traction? You know that exhausting game where you are on the tip of the saddle, just hovering on it trying to keep the rear tyre loaded while pushing down on the bars? Well on this bike you kind of rely on the massive wheelbase and the incredible traction so you can just hammer on the pedals without too much thinking (or moving around).
And what about the good part, the going downhill part? Well this is where things gets interesting, but if you have read pinkbike’s review and the asinine comments left by too many keyboard warriors, you may understand how hesitant I am to tell you this story. There’s also the part of me that keeps saying that I am not too qualified to talk about it, being the average rider that I am — but hey I did invest a considerable amount of money on this bike (plus this one you’re reading is my blog), so a little something needs to be written.
I will say right now that despite having had this bike from last October I haven’t still used it on my favourite trails, nor I have used it too much, period; reason is that here in Norway where I’m living at the moment there aren’t big mountains (as in Italy) or a good system of trails (as in the UK). So I am still waiting to hop on a plane when spring comes and spend a good three-four days of riding somewhere where the trails are technical, long and possibly rocky and dry. That’s when I will finally get the hang of this bike. So far, I have had only glimpses of how glorious the riding will be — but those glimpses have been enough to keep my head spinning with anticipation.
During that first weekend I just got comfortable on the bike and I could sense the enormous amount of traction despite the terrain conditions that were, well can we say “british”? On the second day, instead of doing again laps on safe confines of the Cannop trail centre we followed Chris on “his” trails (at the beginning of another one he also casually mentioned that that was one of Steve Jones’5 favourites); those were raw and technical, something I would enjoy only after weeks of scouting and repeated runs. Being able to ride them in conditions that even my Brits companions kept on defining crazy muddy is a testimony of the confidence that the Geometron instils.
What is really interesting is to realize how little the length of the bike impacts on the enjoyment on the trails; yes, even tight, switch-backy trails where every keyboard warrior would surely object that this bike can’t possibly turn at all. Guess what — it does! And it does by forcing you to adopt the right position and technique, i.e. loading the front tyre always and everywhere and let the rear slide around; and when you do so the whole action is so rewarding that you really feel like a hero (one of the comments I have heard is that this bike makes you feel a little bit like Marc Marquez).
But once again, I will need to spend more time on the bike. A word of warning: if things go like they should, I will never write something else on my Nicolai Mojo Geometron. I was digging in my archives and realized that once I start enjoying a bike (e.g., Ducati 999S, Norco Shinobi) I never write anything about it because I’m too busy riding the thing.
For all the lycra-clad bikers out there — don’t get hung on the words “cross-country” I am using here, it’s got nothing to do with the aberration of power-metered bicycles looping around fireroads that are somehow fun only for those that enjoy the physical challenge of it all. ↩
Back in the years 2000-2004 I used to race my motorbike in local races (Club and Superclub) at circuits like Mallory Park, Cadwell Park, Snetterton. It was glorious, disappointing, humbling and exciting at the same time. And what I remember very vividly is the feeling of being a bit lost in the paddock, alone with my rented van and my road-legal Honda 600; there were entire families (clans!) supporting with equal passion boys who wanted to be champions as well as older men racing for fun. I could see little fuss, little money, but shitloads of passion — and that was a good thing that I still hold dear in my heart. ↩