Posts Tagged ‘Big Mama’

Big Wheeled Ballyhoo: Trail Report/Big Mama Update

September 1, 2009

I was happy to get out and check over the site for the Big Wheeled Ballyhoo for a short period recently. This place is amazing. Okay, let’s imagine for a minute that Nebraska is something other than what most folks think. (In other words, not flat!) Yeah, yeah, I know. You don’t believe it. Nebraska is boring. Well, if you think so after this post, you’re just being stubborn! Check this out……….

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Western Nebraska is “Big Country” in a good way!

One thing that most folks don’t realize is that the “interstate”, (I-80), is built to use the path of least resistance through Nebraska, just like the railways used, and the wagon trains before that: Right along the Platte River valley. (“Platte” means “flat” in French) Get away from the Platte valley, and you’ll find a much different Nebraska than you ever thought of.

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Down hills are tough, steep, and fast at Potter’s Pasture.

That’s what we have found at Potter’s Pasture, an amazing landscape that is at once beautiful and surprising in its unique makeup. Potter’s Pasture is just what the name implies: a grazing land for cattle which roam freely about the approximately 1600 acres of ground here. The cattle do a unique and cool thing to the land. they make “cow paths”, yes, but because of the nature of the soil, these paths evolve into ruts in many places. These can swallow a rider whole in spots. Kind of like riding in narrow trenches, only at really steep angles!

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The cows create challenging trails that make riding a ton of fun out here.

The nature of the cow’s trails are such that you have barely enough room to keep your pedals, handle bars, and at times, your shoulders from contacting the trail. It is like a 3D single track: At once narrow in a lateral plane and a vertical one. But that isn’t the whole story here. Not by a long shot. Climbs are long, gradual, steep, and you are definitely going to need a granny ring here. Many times there are step ups created by roots, and technical moves are called for quite often. The down hills range from fast, wide open, rippin’ types to switch backed, slow speed, tree lined, and exposed. The way a trail you are on changes is fun in this way, because one downhill can have all the aforementioned traits in one run!

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Negotiating some rooty step downs.

The soil is a “loess” type. Very silty, fine, and tires get a great bite in it. Knobby tires with good traction are recommended here. I also found that a dual suspension rig was really the ticket to ride, but we had fellows on hard tails on our ride that were having a blast, and even single speed rigs have a place at Potter’s. I chose a Big Mama, which I have reviewed for this site. There were also two other Big Mama bikes on this ride as well. All were set up differently, but this bike was a perfect platform to base a ride of Potter’s Pasture on.

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Chad and MG piloting there Big Mama rigs through some Potter’s pasture goodness.

The full suspension 29″er rig is tailor made for Potter’s Pasture with its rooty, step down, and technical descents. The way the Big Mama handles this is awesome and climbing is where I thought the Big Mama was really tops here. The traction necessary to step up over roots, and dig in on the steepest sections was quite evident. I think lots of rigs are capable at down hill runs, but the nimble handling and climbing abilities of the Big Mama were really the thing that impressed me. All three of us cleaned really tough climbs and we were told afterward that we were “walking away” from the other bikes being ridden in the group on the ups. Pretty impressive.

In my opinion, I have always thought Salsa Cycles philosophy on the Big Mama was a perfect fit for a remote, back country type ride. Potter’s Pasture bore that out for me in spades. It is a reliable, fun, capable handling rig that I never thought was holding me back. Even set up with the 120mm travel Reba Team fork, which jacks the bottom bracket height far beyond what Salsa designers intended, this bicycle was really sharp. Maybe a tad bit tippy in a couple of really tight switchbacks, but doable all the same. In the 100mm setting, the bike would definitely be even better, and my riding companions bore that out for me. (Both having 100mm travel forks on their Big Mamas).

So, that’s the report on the site of the 2009 Big Wheeled Ballyhoo and a bit of a Big Mama update. Check out the event if you can, or if you are ever in the area, it is worth a side trip to Potter’s Pasture to taste the “big country” of western Nebraska.

All Photos- Credit: Kyle Vincent

Salsa Cycles Big Mama: Final Review

August 17, 2009

The Salsa Cycles Big Mama is the companies first stab at a big wheeled full suspension rig, (if you don’t count the soft tailed Dos Niner), and is squarely aimed at the trail category with its four inches of suspension travel in the rear. Here is my final thoughts on the bike after riding Big Mamas off and on for over a year now.

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I have had the unique opportunity to ride the Big Mama set up in entirely different ways on two different frames. The production version frame shown here is set up with a Reba Team at 120mm travel and I have also spent significant time on one of Salsa’s pre-production samples set up with Fox forks at 100 and 120mm travel. I have ridden Big Mama’s in varied terrain ranging from quite rocky and slippery, to tight and technical. Buff single track to rooty trails with steep, punchy climbs. The Big Mama has been satisfying in most every way, but as with any bicycle, there are a few nits.

First of all, the issue with intermittent chain suck. I will tell you that I took every precaution against it happening,(lubed chain, good parts in decent condition), but I found that a certain quirk of the frame design makes an occasional chain jam a problem. The Big Mama has a massive forged bottom bracket/main pivot piece that leaves little room between it and a 32 tooth middle chain ring. If the suspension is cycled just right, and the rear derailluer kicks the chain up just so, it will jam between the forging and the chain wheel. This happened twice to me during my testing. Fortunately, in my years of experience, if I feel any resistance to pedal pressure that is odd, I don’t pedal through it, but if you do, it may make your day come to a screeching halt. Obviously a few different drive train choices will eliminate that issue, but if you run a standard crank set up, (mine is an LX 42/32/22) then you may want to be aware of this potential problem.

The only other minor nit was that the powder coat gets marred kind of easily by the cable housings, and there are several places that this happens at on a Big Mama. I used some clear tape to ward off the onset of unsightly marks. Too bad there isn’t some way to avoid this, but it is only a minor complaint. Otherwise the powder coat has been pretty durable on this sample.

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Handling And Performance: As I have stated in previous updates, I have run the Big Mama most of the time as seen above, with the Rock Shox Reba Team 120mm travel fork with the Maxle Lite 20mm through axle. This set up yielded a higher bottom bracket, and slightly slacker angles. I didn’t feel it hurt the performance of the Big Mama at all. A more “XC” approach does give the Big Mama more of a hard tail feel when you mash the pedals, but the snappiness still is there with the slightly slacker set up. An XC set up also makes the Big Mama turn a bit quicker, but I could pilot the Big Mama around the tight twisties just fine, and the stiff chassis was a big reason why. With all the forged bits and the Maxle, the Big Mama is going where you point it. Slow speed technical maneuvers are not shaky, or vague feeling. I only detected the slightest bit of flex at very intermittent times from this bike. Overall, I would rate the chassis quite highly against many other bikes.

Suspension Performance: The Big Mama is unique in that it does not have a rear pivot near the rear wheel axle. Instead, it relies on some amount of seat stay flex, much like a Dos Niner’s chain stays flex, to allow for the suspension to operate. I never noticed anything odd about this set up. My only nits with the suspension is that it seemed a bit overwhelmed in terms of rebound in situations where several medium sized trail obstacles were hit while seated in quick succession. Things such as smaller branches/roots in the 3-5 inch diameter range, or when several depressions in the trail surface were hit in a row. The suspension seemed bouncy at times in these situations, but this was a rare occurrence. Probably something a good suspension mod could take care of for a particular rider. Otherwise I would say that the Big Mama has a good range of adjustability, damps the trail chatter really well, yet retains a “connectedness” that some designs wipe out with the trail you are riding on. This is more a personal preference thing, perhaps, so take it with a grain of salt. I happen to like the feedback I get from the trail, so I am okay with the Big Mama’s ride in that sense.

I found that in big hits the Big Mama has a bit of a ramp up in compression at the very end of the stroke, but it isn’t a bad thing. It isn’t a “bottomless” feeling stroke though either. Again, not bad, just different. Depending on your personal likes, the Big Mama can absorb small trail chatter very well. I found the stock setting for my weight worked well in this sense. The suspension seems to be really active even on climbs, which I found to be a great asset in getting me up and over some steeps I haven’t been able to conquer on any of my other rigs. Granny ring climbing is fine, slow speed mashing is a bit of a bob inducer, but not bad if you are seated. Quite acceptable actually. Standing and climbing taxes the design the most, but switch the ProPedal over and it takes much of the bob out and it feels very hard tail like, especially when locking out the fork in combination with the ProPedal.

I had no issues with getting all the travel on the biggest hits. Overall, a very good performing suspension design, with a tilt towards the stiffer, more trail feedback sort of feel than some other designs. Downhills were a piece of cake, and the Big Mama cornered through fast turns and rolled over obstacles in its path with aplomb.

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Conclusions: The Salsa Cycles Big Mama is a bike that bridges the gap from XC to All Mountain. As I was exploring its intended purpose as an “all day trail bike”, I couldn’t really find any holes in the design. My nits are all minor and could be easily addressed. The suspension performs in a well mannered way with the rider being able to feel the trail, yet not get bitten by it. It isn’t the “magic carpet”, “buttery feeling”, or “bottomless” suspension feel other bikes may possess. But it does have a snappy feel when it is time to motor, it climbs steeps like it has tank tracks, and can bomb a downhill just fine, thank you very much.

The chassis is solid, very rigid laterally, and as Salsa intended, it seems to be very durable and trustworthy. It is light where it can be without sacrificing this, and I appreciate that from a design intended to be ridden all day, most anywhere. As I found out, it can be successfully set up in a few rather different ways, so riders can build up the frame option into a more personalized tool to satisfy more closely their intentions. It isn’t an All Mountain chunk rig, and it isn’t an all out full suspension XC rig. However; if the Big Mama is used as your “go to”, every day trail bike, I don’t think you can do a whole lot better in the four inch travel 29″er full suspension category.

Thanks to Salsa Cycles for supplying the frame for review.

Salsa Cycles Big Mama: Mid Term

July 13, 2009

It has been too long since I have posted about the Salsa Cycles Big Mama, but now that I have gotten in some more time with it I can now post this “Mid Term” report. My “First Impressions” of the Big Mama set up as a more aggressive trail rig are here.

julytesting09 091Here is the Big Mama with the latest set up.

I have been tweaking out the set up on the Big Mama over the last few months and here are some of the changes I have implemented: Swapped out to a Salsa Shaft seat post, swapped out the grips to the new Ergon GA-1 grips in white, swapped out to Quad Dime XC brakes in white with new Quad rotors coming soon, and finally, I have been running Specialized’s The Captain 2.2 inch tires on the Gordo rims.

The trails have been sloppy and wet for the most part over the duration of the test period. (As evidenced by the mud on the tires and the rest of the bike here.) This made for some sketchy moments in certain areas, but I was feeling secure on the sure footed suspension the Big Mama and the Rock Shox Reba Team have going on. The Fox damper and the Reba get along quite well on the Big Mama and I was happy to find that getting a balanced feel was easy front to rear. I was also pleased to find that I could dial in a very plush, almost disconnected to the trail feel to a more tactile feel with very smooth suspension action without a mushy sensation, or wallowing through the travel at all. In fact, I have been dialing in a bit more firmness into the rear suspension of late, which is a personal preference of mine. All in all a good, tunable platform that should provide most trail riders with something they will find comfortable using. As for the ProPedal switch, I never use it and leave it on the open setting all the time.

julytesting09 095The Fox damper works well with the Reba Team fork set at 120mm travel up front.

The Big Mama impresses me most by its lateral rigidity and solid feel. I have not had the pleasure of riding every full suspension bike out there, but I can say I’ve ridden some good ones. The Lenz Lunchbox, the Niner R.I.P. 9, and a short stint on a Pivot 429 come to mind. The Salsa Cycles Big Mama rides in the same league as these fine rigs in my opinion. Certainly it is very different than those bikes, but it has that level of refinement and high performance that those frames also exhibit. The seven forged frame parts and the overall design certainly add up to a solid performing rig no matter what you want to compare this bike to.

julytesting09 096One Enduro bearing on the left, two on the right. What does that equal? No flex!

I thought it might be fun to revisit a quote from my first report on the Big Mama just over a year ago:

I have ridden a lot of full suspension bikes and the first thing one should determine is “what type” of full suspension are we talking about. Salsa head honch, Jason Boucher, says this is first and foremost an “all day trail bike”. Taking that into consideration as I rode it, I could then discern if it fit into my expectations for such a bike. I would say that such a bike should be maneuverable, respond to pedaling input in a positive way, (read “like a hard tail”), be stiff laterally, and have overall handling that is easy to navigate when the rider is tired. It should also do what the best trail bike full suspension should do, that is, keep the rider fresh and keep the wheels in contact with the ground. Finally, it should be fun and look cool.

Okay! That was a lot of expectations loaded on to this bike right out of the gate. While I still am on my way to finalizing this review, here is what I have to say so far concerning the above. Is the Big Mama an “all day trail bike”? I will not hold back and wait till the end for this and say “Yes“. You could find a suspension setting that would work for almost any trail setting that isn’t full of big drops, huge stunts, or death defying down hills. The Big Mama is going to be great at doing some “all mountain” stuff, but it will be a better rig for all day “trail” rides that require the rider be fresh at the end of the day as possible. I guess everybody has their “definitions”, but here’s the bottom line: I’d take this into the back country any day and ride all day as long as the trails are not going to require me to dress like a hockey player. (Not that there is anything wrong with that, I just use that to illustrate a point.)

julytesting09 098Salsa promises a through axle compatible drop out will be available for the rear in the future.

I will also state for the record that the Big Mama looks good……to my eyes. I like the swoopy lines and the details that make this bike easy on the eye. I have seen a few peoples Big Mama set ups and I can honestly say I think they all look really cool. Sure, it doesn’t matter when you are in the middle of nowhere riding the Big Mama, but it doesn’t hurt either!

julytesting09 099Smart cable routing help make the Big Mama easy on the eyes, and function well.

As for the other early expectations, I will hold off judgment for the time being. Stay tuned as I wrap up the testing on The Big Mama in a month or so.