Now, this is not going to be us telling you all the reasons your bike isn’t the right tool for the job and you won’t enjoy the ride if you’re not on “X” type of bike. In essence, the right kind of bike for the Sani2c is one with wheels and pedals. That may be over simplifying it but whether you’re on a brand spanking new marathon bike draped in XTR components and more carbon fibre than you know what to do with, or the trusty old steed that has seen you through thick and thin over the last decade, if you’re at the Sani2c with a bit of fitness and a good attitude it will be hard not to have a great time!
In this article, we are going to talk about what might be the ideal bike for most riders of the Sani2c. What should be the weapon of choice if you are in a position to acquire a new bike, if you maybe have a couple to choose from in your garage, or you’ve decided stage racing and marathons are your thing and you’ll want to invest in the right bike for that when you can down the line. What makes the newer bikes better than the old ones, do I go for XC or trail? What is “Downcountry”? We’ll have a look at all of those things. I’ll note as well that the focus will be on traditional bikes, not E-Bikes, as finding the right E-bike is a whole other subject!
If you have got your bike set and you’re just wanting to tweak the setup a bit, have a look at our previous post on how to set up your bike for the sani2c. Alright. Let’s get into it!
What bikes are most people riding? Well, probably a lot of Cannondale Scalpels, Specialized Epics, Scott Sparks etc, the kind of bikes you will expect to see the best XC and marathon racers in the world riding on at an XC World Cup or high profile marathon race, as well as the podium contenders at the Sani2C. Now, these bikes are designed to be as fast as possible for the best riders in the world, and this does mean that they will probably help you go faster too, on the roads and uphills at least.
They are not very concerned with being comfortable and stable for long and technical descents. They require a high level of skill and precision to do this, which is expected from the elite racers who pilot them. There is a trend in modern marathon bike design that is making the bikes more capable descenders, particularly as XCO courses get more challenging in this regard, so let’s talk about what makes modern bikes better.
You may have heard a lot of talk about mountain bike geometry over the last couple of years. There have been significant shifts recently in bike design around the angles of important performance affecting parts of the bike, such as the head tube, seat tube, and suspension layout. Now you don’t need to have a doctorate to understand enough of what is going on here to see what the benefits are. Let’s have quick look at a few of these factors.
Head Tube angles have gotten slacker, or more raked out, putting the front wheel further ahead of you and making the bike more stable. This was previously thought to compromise climbing performance but that is not as severe as once thought. This added stability on the descents makes for a safer and/or faster, more fun ride.
The seat tube angles of moderns bikes are getting steeper. This puts the rider over the pedals and less off the back of the bike for a more efficient climbing position. This has happened in conjunction with the popularity of dropper posts, allowing the seat to get out of the way when you don’t need it, and longer front ends of the bike looking for more room on the bike and stability for the rider.
Suspension advancements have been significant as well. Not just in the shocks and forks but particularly in the design of the bikes rear linkage. In simple terms, when designed in a certain way, the peddling forces that usually make the bike want to bob up and down can be cancelled out allowing you to leave your suspension unlocked while climbing and have more travel without paying the cost with inefficient peddling.
The right bike for you is going to depend on your riding preferences and ambitions. Are you looking to ride as fast as possible, weighting your socks and brake rotor bolts, not stopping to smell any roses until you land in Scottburgh? Well then a super light, modern marathon bike sounds like the right tool for your job but it is no longer the only bike that will get you through a 3 day+ stage race.
All these changes, as well as some others, have made bikes, from marathon to gravity focused bikes, more comfortable and efficient to climb, especially on rough terrain, as well as more stable and capable descenders. Now the KAP sani2c has quite a lot of the climbs and descents on which having traction, efficiency, and stability would certainly enhance the riding experience and thus we will move onto what kind of modern bike is going to be ideal for such a ride.
You may have seen a lot more ‘trail bikes’ around your local riding spots and stage races recently. These bikes with longer travel suspension, more relaxed angles and a bit of a tougher build are increasing in popularity around the world and now in South Africa because they are so fun to ride and are no longer a battle to get up a climb because of the aforementioned geometry advancements. Bike such as the Cannondale Habit, trek fuel EX, Specialized Stump Jumper, Pyga Stage Max, Santa Cruz Hightower come to mind.
These kinds of bikes are designed to efficiently get you to the top of any hill in a comfortable seating position and then allow you to let rip all the way down to the bottom with brilliant suspension and solid brakes to keep you in control. They will surely have a bit more weight to them than your XC bike but due to the new design trends, weight isn’t as much of a deciding factor on performance as it used to be. Outside of marathon riding, bikes such as these will open up new doors for you to explore and progress your riding at the popular trail parks that are expanding around the country. All that said, these kinds of trail bikes may still be a bit much for the marathon purists.
The sort of in-between of XC and trail bikes is a growing niche that is often referred to with the polarising “Downcountry” title. These short travel bikes are not far from high strung XC race bikes but will often come with a dropper post, 10 or 20mm more travel, shorter stems, and slightly more relaxed geometry. Bikes such as the Scalpel SE, Epic EVO, Pyga Stage, Trek Top Fuel and Santa Crux Tallboy may fall into this category. These modern bikes may be the perfect niche for a 3-day stage race with a healthy focus on good trails like the Sani2c. Great for people wanting to go fast on the climbs but not be uncomfortable and twitchy down the descents.
As I said, if you’ve got yourself a bicycle and the wheels are turning, it should get you through your 3 days of good times between the Southern Berg and the Umkomaas river mouth, but even more so are these modern bikes going to allow you to experience the joys of good trails and tough climbs!
Some food for thought there and hopefully helpful information to inform your bike choice or potential purchases in the future. Nothing beats a test ride when it comes to figuring out what bike is best for you. Whatever wheels you land yourself on come the event in May and beyond, have a good ride.