XC options
I was wondering if you could help? I am 18 and weigh just over nine stone and am looking at building my own XC race bike. I am unsure though what frame type to go for: full-suspension, soft-tail or hardtail. What would be the best option for someone of my weight? Also, what would be the lightest frame I could get — carbon or titanium?
Euan Duff, email

Let’s work backwards here and answer the first question last. If low weight’s is the ultimate prize then there are certain frames that very little can compete with, such as the Scott Scale or something from German ‘carbon-meister’ Stork. Titanium frames cannot compete on weight terms, but will offer a slightly more comfortable ride. It may also be worth checking out some scandium frames, such as Salsa’s Bandito, as these are also super-light.
What all such lightweight machines will have in common is race-specific geometry. Which is fine if racing is all you will be doing. For more trail-oriented riding, where speed is not as important as enjoyment, a more all-round machine may be in order. A high quality trail frame such as a Specialized Stumpjumper or Trek 8500 would still build into a light, race-able rig, but will be a little less nervous on more challenging trails.
If this is the route you choose, then a lightweight full-sus rig with 90-100mm of travel may also be an idea. Giant’s highly-praised Anthem Gas is a great example of the short-travel XC race rigs available. These end up being surprisingly adept at fast riding on technical trails.
Beginners may find the steep angles, short travel and forward weight bias a challenge, but experienced riders can still wring plenty of fun from such a taut chassis. The suspension rig will offer better traction but will be slightly heavier. On technical trails, it will even climb better than a hardtail, whose wheels will skip about on the rocks and roots.
It boils down to priorities. Pure low mass: carbon or scandium hardtail; comfort: titanium hard tail or suspension; trail riding and racing: titanium or aluminium hardtail or full-sus rig.

Rack your brains

I have recently bought a Specialized Rockhopper and have since been regularly buying your magazine to gain advice and tips about good products and techniques. I also take great interest in the different routes that you provide each month in the hope of one day getting round to riding them.
I have just got back from a trip to Cornwall, and took my bike on the back of my car in the hope of finding the odd trail or two. Unfortunately, as a result it now sports a few scratches. I am hoping that you will be able to give me some advice, as I would like to get out to some more trails. I am aware that I should be thinking about using the train due to my carbon footprint and all that, but where I live there are not the best rail links. So what are the best types of car racks, or methods of attaching bikes safely, without having to trade in my car for a van or pick-up truck.
Any tips about what I should do to the scratches would also be greatly appreciated. Keep up the good work.
David Lambert , Newbury

Any style of rack can damage the bike’s paintwork if used in a slapdash fashion. You should be able to see where the bike is likely to rub before setting off on your journey, and a few pieces of rag or pipe-lagging around the offending areas should prevent any excessive damage to the bike’s finish.
Also, make sure that if you are using a boot, towball or rear-mounted rack then security is paramount. Bikes that sway or rock on the carrier will move around a lot as you cruise the motorway at warp 10. These small movements can take the frame to bare metal in a single journey. We have had the best luck using old tubes as ties. There are no ends to fly off (like bungees) and they are readily available!
Roof-rack carriers come in a variety of designs. Some use the forks and rear wheel to secure the bike to the rack. These have the least damage-inducing contact between frame and rack but require extra parts for the front wheel, or space inside the motor. Some people fit roof racks with a supporting arm; more secure and simpler to use, especially after a dirty ride where a spare wheel in the car isn’t welcome.
As for the scratches, if they’re surface only, some T-cut or similar paint restorer would be worth a try. Any deeper, just polish out the worst and get used to the battle scars.

Keep it light

Hi guys; last winter I stumped up the cash and bought some expensive lights. On your recommendation I chose Light and Motion ARCs, and they are great. It’s like daylight!
The wet summer put me off doing too many events, and as such, the lights haven’t really seen a great deal of use since February. I have been on a couple of rides though, and the battery doesn’t seem to hold its charge too well.
So, am I going to have to bite the bullet and blow a load more cash on a new battery, or is there any way I can recondition the battery to get it back to full charge. Also, is there anything I can do to reduce the likelihood of this happening again?
Cheers in advance folks.
Drew Peacock, email

You’re quite right to be worried about the money already spent, and to be worried about protecting your investment in the future.
Thankfully, the Light and Motion ARCs (and most high-end lights) use a Li-Ion battery and these are not subject to ‘memory issues’ that plague other battery cells with differing chemical make-up. Where problems do occur, however, are with the battery gauges in these batteries. The integral ‘fuel gauge’ is often based on voltage rather than gaseous discharge, and this can trick the charger into only partially re-charging the battery — even when fully empty — leaving you with short run times despite having a supposedly fully-charged battery
There is a way around the problem, a simple full discharge and recharge cycle should reset the fuel gauge, and allow the charger to totally fill the cells.
Other problems concern storage: cells should not be stored empty for any length of time, nor fully charged. If fully charged and left unused, the batteries actually lose some of their total capacity. It can be as much as five per cent per month.
The ideal state for long-term storage is around 40 per cent charged and kept cool. Surprisingly, the fridge (at around 5°C) is a good place for long-term storage. The batteries should not be kept warm when not in use, and should never
be allowed to get excessively hot — that includes leaving them in a car on a sunny day.
Storing the batteries at — or just below — half-charge in a cool place will maximise lifespan, and topping up regularly rather than letting them die totally is the best method of charging. However, to keep the fuel-gauge accurate, a deep discharge is a good idea every 30 charge-cycles. Hopefully this will help you, and anyone else whose splashed the cash on high-end illumination, to maximise your investment.