Seibold told me a couple weeks ago there was maybe a chance to ride some Moots demo bikes at Patapsco or maybe on the road, and he asked if I was interested. Long time readers know that the Moots Vamoots is on my list of dream bikes, so I jumped at the chance. Jon said the Moots rep would be in town on Tuesday, and he'd let me know details. We didn't know what the deal would be - Jon said just bring my pedals to work and be ready to roll. When I got the call Tuesday at 1:30 PM, telling me to meet the crew at Patapsco, I was on it like trouble on an NFL wideout.
When I met up with everybody at Rockburn Park, I was pleasantly surprised to meet Jon Cariveau, who had just made some big ripples at the Providence 'Cross Fest, taking (I believe) a 3d and a 1st in the Elite Masters races. He was driving a sprinter van with 20 Moots bikes hanging in the back, maybe $140k of handbuilt Ti masterpieces.
I wasn't sure what I'd be riding, and when Jon C asked what I normally liked riding, I told him, "Redline Monocog Flite - long, tall, hardtail 29'er, with a Reba fork." Jon wheeled out a geared Moots Mooto-X YBB and said, "here - you'll like this." The Mooto-X 29'er is Moots' big Cross Country rig. It's light, tall, and simple looking, buffed out Ti purposefulness. It had the YBB rear suspension on it, a pivotless semi-hardtail that relies on a short shock built into the wishbone atop the seatstays to provide an inch of suspension travel, flexing the chainstays a little bit due to the pivotless design. The Mooto-X also had a primo set of Reynolds carbon rims on it. Seibold said something about the bike having been the catalog photo shoot bike.
At this point, I was sportin' wood just about, and I asked Jon C if he was worried about the wheels. "No worries. Just ride it." Jon C is mercifully unaware of my reputation as the biggest destroyer of gear this side of Optimus Prime.
After getting the pedals, seats, stems and air pressure dialed in, we rolled out through Rockburn Branch and down toward Morning Glory. It was odd having gears... Nice, definitely easier to go fast in the flats. But weird. I'm not used to it and it made little climbs and the usual clumsy bits more difficult to think my way through, since I was busy keeping it in the optimal gear, and actually going slower. Not a bad thing... just not what I'm used to.
As we got up to speed, the only thing I didn't like is the front end was a little whippy and flexy, and somewhat light. I suspect this was because I hadn't gotten the shock fully dialed in - I like a bit of sag, stiff-ish compression damping, and a lot of rebound damping - a slow rebounding front end that tends to be stiff and a little slow to compress, focused on catching the big bumps and letting the tires handle the little bumps. Can't say why, it just suits my riding style and lets me ride faster. The front end was also real flexy - those rims were a bit too soft for me, and coupled with a regular quick release and a beautiful Ti stem, it just didn't provide the kind of stiffness I'm used to. I adapted by hunkering into the middle of the cockpit and trying to steer more with my ass and foot pressure on the pedals, and less with my hands.
After a little while, I quit worrying so much about the wheels. They were pretty stout, if flexy. The Mooto-X with an 80mm Rock Shox Reba handled like a dream. It was super responsive - not twitchy, just scalpel-like. The YBB was pretty dreamy too. The bike handled, basically, like a hardtail, with the YBB taking the edge off the sharpest bumps. I railed some rock sections that usually give me trouble. On the Redline, the rear would be kicking up and the seat hitting me in the butt. On the Moots, the kicking was reduced by an order of magnitude.
Climbing was also pretty damn amazing. I used the small chainring and the full range of casette gears to climb, and the middle chainring too. It was weird climbing slowly and spinning up hills I normally rail up, and it was also weird getting to sections that are normally hike-a-bike on the single, and slowly riding up them, the front wheel lifting off the ground with each pedal stroke.
We hit a bunch of trails up on top between Morning Glory and the Ridge Trail, and then dropped down one or the other (can't remember) into the valley. Jon C seemed pretty impressed with the trail system at Patapsco, and after we stopped for water we crossed the Swinging Bridge to go up Vineyard (my favorite climb at Patapsco), across the ridge, and down Soapstone. Then it was back over the river and up Cascade, which was a total leg burner. At this point, my legs were blown and I started to be a drag on the group, so I eased up a bit, used the gears, and saved some of my energy. The gears were nice here because the energy I saved went to propelling me at something approaching the group's speed back toward Rockburn Park.
The surprising thing was that the Mooto-X stuck to the trail like crazy. Despite the taut, not-quite twitchy handling, it turned better than its rider was capable of turning and did so in a very stable manner. I kept reflexively dropping a leg at corners, at places where I would normally skid my Redline around a turn, but the Moots just clung to the ground letting me go faster than I could have gone otherwise.
When we got back to the parking lot I was sad to have to turn the big bike over to Jon C. It was such a pleasant ride, and so nice to climb on, that my other bikes will suffer by the comparison. It also changed my philosophy on 29'er frames - it seems you can make a nimble handling 29'er. The thing felt uncannily like my old Kona Cinder Cone, a tiny, BMX-bike like rigid 26'er.
As we wrapped things up, I asked Jon about the reliability of the frames - I've heard about a lot of 29'er frames breaking on the downtube near the head tube, and noticed that a lot of hard riding 29'er fans stick to cheap frames, and they break a lot of frames but don't cry about having to replace them.
Jon explained the manufacturing process Moots uses, talked about their commitment to using top quality materials and his longstanding involvement in improving build quality. He also said magic words, telling us that Moots offers a lifetime warranty, and if the frame breaks, they are happy to throw it out, to recycle the titanium, and send the rider a new frame. Now this got me interested. While he was at it, he discussed custom fabrication to meet a particular rider's needs, asking me about my particular issues with frames and suggesting that if I go Moots, that I consider using large diameter frame tubes to get enough stiffness in the frame.
This demo ride put a bike on my radar I wasn't really considering. Shoot, $3200 for a basic frame, $3600 with the modified tubing (and then a choice between sliders, or an eccentric bottom bracket so I can roll single speed if I want) is a lot of money.
But the damn thing rode soooo nice, it was so responsive and smooth and predictable, and I know the front end flex would be fixed with oversized metal bars, a Thomson stem and a stiff wheelset. And the lifetime warranty is an insurance policy against the usual major frame problems a 29'er might get. Having seen a couple heavy, stout low dollar frames fail, I think a warranty is a necessity on a nice featherweight bike like this, unless you have money to burn.
The bottom line is that I'm strongly considering buying one of these badboys. I've ridden four or five other 29'ers, and the Mooto-X is in a whole 'nother league from those $400 - $1000 framed bikes. The bike was so nice to ride, and that warranty is gold, making it clear to me it would be worth the money... a fact I thought about as I pedaled this flyweight puncher up some huge climbs at Patapsco that I'd normally have to jog partway up, dragging my (now slow handling and piggish feeling 27 pound) bike up the hill.
I think Seibold has a few demo bikes in his shop that potential customers can ride. If you're curious about Moots, you should hit him up for a test ride. I wouldn't recommend buying one without trying it first, but if you decide to try one, be advised that it will feel really good and there is a strong possibility that you will be thinking about buying Moots by the time you're done riding it. The Mooto-X was that damn good.