Beginner bike for a non-enthusiast

ultraclyde

Observer
DaveInDenver is spot on. On a hardtail, you (normally) should just be able to tiptoe the ground if the seat height is right. If you can flat-foot on the ground and stay in the saddle it's too low. When you're riding and your foot is at the bottom of the pedal rotation your leg should be just barely bent - like 10-15 degrees. This feels precarious at first, but it optimizes your biomechanics for power and endurance, not to mention avoiding repetitive motion injuries. On the other side, if your hips are noticeably rocking back and forth at the bottom of the pedal stroke or your knee is locking out, the seat's too high.

I usually approach fit like this - Seat height adjustment first, then seat fore/aft (to get you KNOP mentioned earlier), then stem length/angle to adjust the reach and get my back in the right position, and then handle bar width to tune the turn in feel the way I like.

The best way to feel better about position and improve your balance initially is slow speed drills around the yard in the grass. Get in ready position on the bike and use the brakes/low gears to ride as slowly as you can. The aim should be to move the bike around under you to keep your balance until you can track stand without putting a foot down, and then ride off. This balance training will help you immensely on trail obstacles.
 

Airmapper

High-Tech Redneck
I thought some of you guys might be interested in an update. I've rode off pavement only a few times now. I'm enjoying it so far, but I've got quite a ways to go yet.

I had rode around a few 2-3 mile easy trails, one paved and the other singletrack, and I'm slow of course so I figured I'd try a sort of local trail that was closer to 6-7 miles and plan to just take it easy. I figured it would take longer but if I didn't push it I'd be fine. Well I didn't think I was trying all that hard, having a fine time, was doing well with the gentle hills and cautiously enjoying the downhill sections. It hit me hard about 4 miles in I bit off more than I wanted for the day. My stops to rest got more and more frequent and the duration I could tolerate pedaling got shorter and shorter. Funny thing is it was an overall fatigue not really any specific pain. I think that is a good sign my setup is decent. My back and neck hurt more as I went on, I'm going to say that is either poor posture or I'm not accustomed to the riding position, but what really got to me is I just ran out of steam.

I made it through my intended loop, but it was stubbornness and the fact by that point I just had to keep on to get back to the truck or else just hang out in the woods the rest of the day, not any kind of endurance. At that point it was shorter to press on than turn back.

I met a few guys at the traihead who struck up a bit of conversation, one asked me if he could borrow my pump (and I actually had one...) Well I got started ahead of them and later they caught up with me, no big surprise. I continued on my loop and I later found out they continued on to the other loop for like a combined 12 miles or some such and caught up with me yet again on their way back. They stopped to talk for a minute, I'm sure they knew it but I was like, yep I'm about to die. They were encouraging and said every ride would get better as I built up strength, I was sort of amazed at the ground they covered compared to mine in the same time.

I clipped my GoPro on my backpack strap, it's awful video I'm sure but you can see a bit of the trail and my slow riding. I trimmed most of it out, especially the parts where I was leaning on the bike panting. Fast forward to the end if it's too boring and there are a few short clips where I managed to get over some stupid easy trail features.

 

Airmapper

High-Tech Redneck
Not quite a year later, another update. I think I got the full on MTB bug.

One thing I did I probably should have documented a bit here was a 3 day bikepacking trip with friends in West Virginia on the Greenbrier River Trail. 80 miles of flat gravel I probably wasn't ready for but I made it. Two 30 mile days and a 20 mile day. No big deal for some, but for me it was significant. Looking back I packed way too much crap, ran too low tire pressure, and probably could have made several simple changes to make it easier, but it taught me a lot.

But as the weather turned this year and I got back to seriously riding, it quickly became evident the Cannondale and me just weren't made for each other. With trial and error and advice I had made it work, but as a result had raised my COG significantly. Climbs were problematic and any fast stuff was white knuckle because it was twitchy as hell. I was so uncomfortable on singletrack I had all but stopped riding anything but paved green way or rail trail type stuff, and definitely avoiding anything technical, rooty, or rocky. I put in about 100 miles in April and while putting in miles is fine, I didn't start out on this to become a roadie or pound pavement all the time, although I do enjoy rail trails and easy going rides also.

So a few weeks back I just doubled down and went for it, got a Trek Fuel EX 8, All Mountain full suspension. 23" frame, or a XXL. Really liked it's all rounder billing, because of my local riding options the conditions are all over the place so an All Mountain design seemed perfect. A lot of anguish went into deciding to go XL or XXL, but my experience with a XL Cannondale seemed to show I needed a larger bike, with a seat post overextended and cheezy handlebar extensions, I think I made the right move and have some space to work with in the cockpit now other than just go up, COG much lower, longer wheelbase so it climbs without trying to throw me off or just spin out. Confidence was immediate, was hitting small jumps and all the tech spots on the local trail within days. It still needs more dialing in, but I feel really good I'm in it's adjustment range.

I do think I'll miss a more XC design for the possibility of bikepacking, this bike is not set up as well for that, but if that becomes a desire more often I might want to get a gravel bike or true XC one day, who knows. I think the Cannondale is out, currently debating what I'll do with it, I like it and want to keep it for it's XC design, but it just doesn't fit so even on paved or gravel I'd still be more comfortable on my Fuel and just flip the switches to firm the suspension.

But anyway, for you guys who helped me, thanks again and your efforts were not in vain, I'm still riding and progressing my cycling in general. I've found it to compliment my truck based pursuits well and the whole camping out of a vehicle interest pairs perfectly with weekend trips to good riding areas which I'm looking forward to more of. So it doesn't feel like it's taking away from one interest, just adding to it.

515666
 

ultraclyde

Observer
I just saw this update - nice choice. My trail bike is Fuel EX8 from...2017 maybe? It's been a ton of fun, but you're right it's probably not the right tool for camping. But you can pick up a camping worthy bike a lot cheaper than a good dual suspension trail rig.
 
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