I came across a magazine article online a couple of weeks ago that had a 2018 review of the latest and greatest mountain bikes for the upcoming year. Surprisingly the piece came with a disclaimer: our new bike reviews do not include hardtails of any kind because they are simple machines, do not vary much from model to model, so it was unnecessary to cover them. As I read this my face began to turn red and beads of sweat began to drip down my neck. I thrust my hands toward the sky and shouted “NO” they can’t do this to us. As a loyal hardtail rider, I was offended by this blatant exclusion. How could they cast aside hardtails like a cheap polyester suit? I felt as if I had but punched in the gut, well not really, but this exclusion certainly got my panties in a bunch.
A couple of years ago I acquired a 26-inch full suspension mountain bike with all the bells and whistles: carbon frame, 120 mm fork in the front and 4 inches of travel in the rear. The weight was acceptable at 27 pounds for a xc/all mountain bike. Previous to this I had been riding a 26-inch carbon hardtail. So it was an immense change for me switching to a full suspension bike. It necessitated a few of rides to adjust to my new steed, but I indeed discover that my downhill skills began to accelerate. I could fly down fireroads with ease and attack rocky terrain more surefooted. The bike felt stable on the downhills due to the relaxed geometry yet with outstanding downhill handling came the realization that this bike was not nimble uphill, especially crucial in an area with immense amounts of climbing. It was difficult to shift to the front of the saddle when climbing steep hills, causing me to struggle to keep a proper climbing position. My uphill times went down and furthermore on flat terrain; the bike felt sluggish and plodding, not light and frisky. I was naturally disappointed because I was hoping the bike would deliver the goods, but it did not. In my quest for the ultimate machine, I tested 29er hardtails, 27.5 hardtails, and umpteen other full suspension bikes but ultimately returning to 26-inch hardtail was to be my path but finding one was a whole another story!
I set out on a quest to find a new 26-inch ht, but this was not an easy task. Perusing through local bike shops, I could not locate a single 26-inch ht anywhere in the store until I noticed one towards the rear of the store tucked behind the mechanics counter, a very swoon-worthy bike hanging from a bike stand. I remarked that it was a sweet bike and the mechanic stated that a customer had dropped it off for a tuneup. Well, what do you know, another 26-inch ht rider within the vicinity of my local trails? Maybe we would run into each on the trail at some point, eyeball each others bike and realize that we are a part of a small but hardcore group of crazy 26-inch hardtail riders. During my local bike shop search, I discovered one 26 inch hardtail, but it was already owned by another rider. So I continued my hunt, scouring online bike shops with no luck. If there was a 26-inch hardtail frame listed, it was some rejected size that no one wanted at a heavily discounted price. It would a be a screaming deal if I were 7 feet tall!
My search for the ever scarce 26-inch ht was becoming a frustrating experience. Did the fabled 26-inch ht still exist or had it indeed become extinct. I felt like I was on the lookout for the elusive Bigfoot, you know it exists, but you just can’t prove it. To say that I was having no luck in securing a bike was an understatement. That is until I was told by a friend that she knew of a small US bike builder that still produced 26-inch hardtail frames by special order. Finally a promising lead and with a few emails back and forth, I was able to secure a 26-inch hardtail built to my specifications. Wow, they do exist if you know how to look for them. For a while there I was expecting to see Bigfoot come riding out of the forest on a 26-inch ht. Now that would be awesome!
A 26-inch ht rider like myself could be regarded as a misfit in the world of mountain biking and be labeled a cyclist that refuses to keep up the with the technological advances of current mountain bikes, but these are not proper descriptions. A 26-inch ht rider is a big proponent of avoiding unnecessary trendy gadgets or gizmo’s that are very expensive, add unnecessary weight and become outdated after one season and therefore must be replaced the following year to keep up the ever-changing bike world. We adorn our hardtails with all of the necessary up-to-date mountain bike components: long travel forks 120mm or longer, disk brakes, the newest in tire technology, carbon handlebars, stems and dropper seatposts. All essential equipment to keep up with today’s discriminating mountain biker.