NOTE: Today's post comes from guest blogger Jason Mahokey of XXC magazine. -ed
I have long been a fan of Titanium bike frames. About seven or so years ago, I had a Ti hardtail and loved it. But it had a flaw...it had little tiny 26-inch wheels and it eventually had to go. By that point, my wife and I had a son, different jobs, and a house purchase, so a Ti 29'er just wasn't in the cards for me.
Fast forward six years to 2010. This year with the help of the tax man and a nice refund, I was lucky enough to be able to get my hands on the Salsa El Mariachi Ti. I was super stoked to get this bike, and not just because I love the ride feel and durability of a Ti frame, but because the geometry that Salsa went with was darn close to the geometry of my (at the time) favorite bike the Dos Niner. And the geometry that was different, was better! Knowing that I was getting a sweet Ti frame that was going to fit great made my decision very easy.
I was lucky enough to get my order in early and took shipment of the frame back in April. Seeing the frame in person was amazing. The subdued graphics and lack of decals made it look super swank and classy.
After it was built up I had to wait on some parts and a wheel build until I got it where I wanted. Since I tend to do longer races and rides, my El Mariachi Ti is now built up with a mix of durable and lightweight components: Fox fork, Hope Pro II/Stans 355 wheels, X.0 shifters, Avid Juicy Ultimate disc brakes, XT crank and cassette, X9 rear derailleur, etc. And of course I have some items that are personal preferences at the contact points- like Ergon grips and a Fizik Nisene HP saddle. All in all a build I'm extremely happy with.
So how does it ride you ask? SMOOOOOOOTH! I really couldn't be happier. The frame is compliant, but not a noodle, and has a great snappy feeling on the trail. The term 'flickable' gets used a lot in mountain bike reviews, but darn it, I'm still going to use it here! Because the bike is indeed flickable! I have had three other 29ers and while I loved (and love) those frames, they just lacked that snappy feel coming out of corners and heading uphill. Part of this may come from my wheel build of course, as it's one of the lighter sets I've had. But I also believe much is due to the El Mariachi Ti, its weight and geometry, in particular its shorter chainstay length (17.71, size large).
My first real test for the frame came at the 9 Hours of Cranky Monkey race back in May. The race had a little bit of everything. From rocky climbs and descents to smooth and fast twisty singletrack. My gut told me to use my Dos Niner, but my heart told me to roll the EM Ti. And boy was I ever glad I did! The bike felt great the whole time and after 70+ miles, while I was of course darn tired, I never regretted my bike choice. Its light weight was great going uphill, and the compliant frame helped take the edge off a bit. No, not like a full-suspension or even a soft tail, but its efficiency made up for that and made it a joy to ride. Not to mention it looks swank! Did I mention that!?!
I have lots of plans for my El Mariachi Ti this summer. I'm even going to use it in the upcoming Hill Billy Roubaix race. HBR is a 70-mile race that is a mix of backwoods West Virginia pavement, gravel and dirt roads. Most folks will be rolling cyclocross bikes on. But I will be rolling the EM Ti with a rigid fork and some hybrid 'cross tires. While I don't see myself keeping up with the fast folks on 'cross bikes, I do see myself onboard a bike that I feel completely comfortable on for 70-plus miles of 'God-knows-what' roads.
Over the years I've often been asked or been sucked into web forum posts about what the best all-around or 'ultimate' bike for endurance racing would be. My answer has always been a Titanium 29er. Now I can honestly say that I believe that to be true. I'm looking forward to many miles with my El Mariachi Ti on everything from mountain rock gardens to tight singletrack, and pavement to miles of gravel and forest roads. - Jason Mahokey