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I’m definitely no Georgia Gould. In fact, I’d feel pretty special to not get dropped on a Slurpee run with her on the townies. But, somehow I got duped into racing the Mellow Johnny’s Classic on essentially the same bike she won on the day before, the Orbea Alma 29er.
Initial parking lot impression had me flip the inverted stem almost instantly, as the whole Euro-climber position is the last thing I feel comfortable on. The carbon Orbea flat bars were also very narrow, and with the taper of 31.8 bulge it left essentially no room to adjust brake levers and shifters, especially with a remote fork lock-out thrown into the mix. I ended up removing the lock-out to squeeze out a slightly better control position. Everything else felt pretty comfortable so I rolled out for a hot lap on the 8-mile XC course.
Upon lap completion I beelined it back to the trailer to swap out the ‘80s-style narrow stock bars with a pair of wider carbon low-rise XC bars off my personal bike. This allowed much better lever and shifter positioning, and in my opinion greatly improved both comfort and handling. There was also room for the remote lock-out again, but I left it off.
After working out these little cockpit details, this bike was a pleasure to race an XC course on. With our large weighing in at just over 23lbs, my only excuse for slugging up the climbs was Karaoke Apocalypse the night before (and morning-of if you want to get technical). The full carbon frame, complimented with a carbon post and carbon handlebars, was noticeably more comfortable than my aluminum 29er through the rough stuff. At the same time, out-of-saddle sprinting and climbing didn’t cause any noticeable flex, allowing what little wattage I have to transfer directly to the rear wheel.
Speaking of acceleration, the 439mm chain stays allowed for both excellent climbing and ease of getting around the tighter switchbacks, as well as making it easier to get the front wheel off the ground when needed, at least for a 29er.
As mentioned, handling was greatly improved by swapping the handlebars and flipping the stem, but the quick-release fork did make me miss my 15mm thru-axle, even with the Alma’s tapered steerer.
The new SRAM X0 2×10 worked great, and overall the bike was spec’d quite well. The most disappointing part of the Orbea Alma 29er was having to give it back at the end of the race and return to my heavy, harsh aluminum 29er back home. That, and I thought for sure that if Georgia won on it, it’d easily make up for my sheer lack of both talent and dedication, and catapult me to the top of the podium.