Getting A Grip

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s–oh, dear God, it’s some dirtbag on a Softride:

I know I’m not exactly tearing it up, but the sun hits that spot directly so it was actually super greasy and slippery on that turn, I swear.

But yes, as you know, my latest mission as the Classic Cycle Old Crap Test Pilot has been to ride this thing, and while many would consider it a punishment you can see here that I’m happy:

Really happy:

Know why?

Because I got rid of this:

And replaced it with this:

By the way, that torture device I removed from the bike is called the “Infinity Seat:”

And if there’s one thing I’ve learned by now it’s not to follow the science:

Anyway, as I mentioned previously, it was difficult to assess the Softride’s trademark beam since, in addition to being freakishly shaped, the Infinity seat is also really, really mushy, so I had no idea what was going on under me. Instead I was just sort of squirming around like I’d soiled my pants. At the same time, that horrible thing also sort of cups your ass like a child’s potty and doesn’t really let you change position while you’re riding, which is especially frustrating on a mountain bike.

With a normal saddle though I can tell what the beam is doing, and I’d say the swap alone eliminated at least 50% of what was wrong with the bike, maybe more:

Additionally, I moved the seat farther forward. According to Paul, back when Bob Roll raced a Softride, he was crashing a lot and so he moved the saddle forward in order to “lower the kinetic energy of the beam.” I figured if that was good enough for Bobke then it was good enough for me. It also brought me closer to the bars which meant I was actually able to take advantage of the frontal portion now and again while climbing, which helped keep that bucking front wheel down:

In any case, maybe it was “choking up” on the beam, or maybe it’s just the design, or maybe it’s my natural inclination as a rider of rigid bikes to get out of the saddle on rocky or rooty terrain, but I really didn’t find it annoyingly bouncy or catapulty at all, nor was the movement of it excessive or bothersome when riding in the saddle on pavement. If anything it felt like the sort of flex you get from a Brooks saddle or a “plus”-sized mountain bike tire…which is to say the Softride beam strikes me as a really roundabout (and ugly) way of, you know, achieving more or less the same effect you get from a Brooks saddle or a “plus”-sized mountain bike tire:

I’m sure it’s a different story when you’re going all-out over technical terrain as Bob Roll would have been; no doubt laying down massive power while seated is when you’d start to experience any potential diving board effect. But for a solitary doofus messing around on The Trails Behind The Mall it was just fine, while at the same time offering no real advantage over a well set-up rigid bike–though I suppose it could potentially save you from one of those steam hammer blows you sometimes get from your saddle if you’re not paying attention, you ride over a root or something, and your rear wheel pops up really quickly.

Anyway, with that awful saddle gone, everything still wrong with the bike is now located entirely in the cockpit:

[Look at this proud beast. It’s incredible nobody mistook it for a buck and tried to shoot it.]

The undamped stem is just fine if you’re riding around with your weight on the bars, and it’ll soften your landing after a bunny hop, but if you lift the front end up and over stuff it compresses and then snaps back swiftly, and the overall effect is like cocking an air rifle. So as soon as you start to get “rowdy” it’s a liability. The bars are good for climbing thanks to the various hand positions, but the flat portion is too narrow to give you good control, and together with the bend you kind of feel like your hands are trapped in there. And the shifters are still terrible:

Downshifting is kinda fun, because you pull the lever up, and it’s kind of like plucking on the string of an upright bass. Pushing the lever down is more awkward (though you can shift multiple cogs at once at least), and in addition to that the lever body is so chunky that when you move your hands inboard your knuckles practically get stuck in there:

Nevertheless, none of these problems are so bad that the bike isn’t still fun to ride. Like, if for some reason I could only ride this bike for a month, I’d be fine with that. (Not thrilled, but fine.) I’m sure changing a few parts on it would also make it even better in that underneath it all it’s basically just a snappy “old school” mountain bike, but I’m reluctant to tamper with the painstakingly curated “Poorly Executed Idea Bike” theme. For now, as long as that damn saddle’s gone that’s more than enough for me, and being able to swing my leg over the bike without getting my inner thigh caught on it is sheer luxury:

Clearly these quirky bikes have a way of–well, if not winning you over, at least stripping you of your inhibitions and your pretentiousness as it soaks up your insults and abuse with that shock-absorbing beam. Indeed, it’s no accident that one of the most famous mountain bikes of all time is a Softride:

I may even try to get a road model next;

[Via eBay]

Just kidding!

Really, I couldn’t be more kidding.

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