The autumn months have always been my favorite time of year. When I was in high school and college, fall meant the snow would soon fly. As a Nordic ski racer, that meant I got to spend hours upon hours rollerskiing along asphalt paths through the yellow meadows and brightly colored woods of Minnesota. Eventually, I burned out of the skiing scene and discovered cyclocross. I raced my heart out each autumn for five years, traveling all over the country in search of muddy thrills, prize money, and UCI points. It seemed like I usually ended up racing around some frozen circuit and just missing out on points and anything more than an Andrew Jackson. But I loved every painful, lung-searing minute of it.
For the past few years, I’ve found myself on trails in the fall instead, puttering around at my own pace and content with the racing done earlier in the year. It’s a time to investigate routes that I never got around to exploring earlier in the year and to play on techy trails that are not particularly conducive to 'training' per se. It’s a time to chase glowing aspen stands and racing the setting sun as it disappears earlier each day. And it’s a time that I’m a bit sad to see end when the first big snowfall of the year blankets my playground in a still, silent shroud of white.
This fall, just like the last one, I’ve found myself riding my Horsethief more and more of the time. Some of the rides are slow and lazy on mellow trails, a few aim to tackle the steepest, longest, roughest descents around, and others take me to the slowest, most technical slickrock riding I’ve ever seen (which happens to be right here in Prescott, Arizona). Last fall I spent a week riding the same hairy 2,500-foot descent every day, wearing all the armor I have, and figuring out what the capabilities of this bike really were. I found both the extent of traction the 2.4” tires could muster on my lines, what five inches of travel allows me to do on a 29er, and the point at which the commonsense switch in my brain flips and relays a message saying I probably shouldn’t push my luck any further.
Those were all great things for me to learn. But what I’ve been slower to wrap my head around is the idea that a 29-pound bike can be fun to pedal around all the time. Initially, my weight-conscious mind fixated on how many pounds heavier it was than what I was used to riding. But slowly, I’ve realized that’s the least important of the differences between this and my other bikes. Sure, there’s no way I could keep up with hammers on their XC bikes on moderate trails. And I’m not going to set any records climbing up my horrendously steep driveway. But when the trails get really technical, the Horsethief is in its element, whether it’s going up or down. The biggest surprise I've found with this bike is that I can climb virtually anything I point it up, no matter how loose. The climbing traction with aggressive 2.4” tires is unparalleled by anything besides a fatbike. This might not be a big deal for some people, but for all the riding I do on old mine roads, techy granite slickrock, and washed out and forgotten trails, it sure is nice to be able to pedal up rather than hike.
I’ve also noticed that the added weight of bikepacking gear on this bike is much less noticeable than when I strap loaded bags onto my race bikes. The result? Huge climbing traction, big grins on descents, a cushy ride all around, and a general recipe for a fun trip.
And guess what? It’s 4:13 pm on a Thursday as I write this. I’m done teaching for the day, I’ve got my lights, and my Horsethief has been patiently sitting in my office next to my desk all day. It’s time to go searching for some chunk on which to play.