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Old School Meets New Wave: The Turner Czar

I am Old School, but not Old Fashioned.

I ride a carbon fiber road bike but I still use mechanical shifters.  My mountain bike is a full suspension rig with 26 inch wheels.  I use a Garmin but do not have a Strava account.  I wear a helmet and sunglasses on every ride.  White socks are for road rides; black socks are for mountain biking.

My favorite beach hat says “Old Guys Rule” on it and I’m OK with that.  I am not what the techies call an ‘early adopter.’  I still have an iPhone 4.  I look at every new cycling-related gadget with squinty-eyed suspicion — especially the gadgets that claim to forever change the way I ride.  Yeah, right.

You see, I’ve lived through so many cycling fads that I’ve stopped keeping track of old fads from the 80′s and 90′s that have come back into style (and then gone out again).  Oval chainrings?  Used them back in 1989.  Garishly-colored anodized bike parts?  Had several on my bike back in 1995.  Fluorescent yellow and green jerseys and shorts?  Wore them on every group ride back in 1993.  Helmets with no vents?  Had one back in 2001.  I guess it’s like most things in life — if you live long enough, eventually everything comes back around.  That means that at some point in the near future the mullet will come back into style.  Yay.

Like any modern sport, cycling is constantly pushing the envelope of what is technologically feasible — always with the dual goals of maximizing athlete performance and corporate profits. Recent advances in industrial design, mechanical and chemical engineering, computer science, textiles, and food science have led to an explosion of cycling-related products from the inane (Park Tools’ pizza cutter) to the ubiquitous (Garmin Barfly).  But, every so often there’s a new technology or product that  has a huge and lasting impact on the sport of cycling.  One such example is the 29er.

What started as a funky design modification from a bunch of garage tinkerers in the mountain bike scene several years ago has become the dominant hardtail and full suspension rig of off-road cycling today.  This year, every bike manufacturer has several 29er models in their mountain bike line.  The 29er has become so popular that there are a number of companies that only sell 29er models.  Soon, the venerable 26-inch wheeled mountain bike will be a thing of the past.  The result is that Old School guys like me will become Old Fashioned.  That’s not going to happen to me.  Not yet.

With all this churning in the back of my mind, I swung a leg over the Turner Czar test ride bike, clipped in, and pedaled towards the Chesebro Canyon trailhead.

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Why choose a Turner bike to experience my maiden 29er test ride?  Being an Old School guy, I knew Turner’s name from the early days of competitive mountain bike racing.  I knew Dave Turner and Horst Leitner were considered the fathers of modern mountain bike suspension.  I knew that Turner Bikes was founded and still run by Dave with a singular vision guiding his namesake company: build the best full suspension mountain bikes.  No flashy colors, no useless doodads, no shoddy workmanship. Quality. Dependability. Durability.  Back when I was racing mountain bikes in 1990s, I had seen Dave Turner at several of the big races and even talked with him about his bikes.  What I took away from each conversation was that this guy knew what he was talking about.  No bull.  No marketing shlock.  No nonsense.  So, as I pedaled the Turner Czar down the first narrow singletrack, I figured that if there was anyone who was going to show me what a full suspension 29er could do, it would be Dave.

A Comfortable Ride

After a few miles of rolling fire roads and tight singletrack, I had my first ‘Czar moment’ — this bike was comfortable!  I’m a tall, thin guy with long arms, long legs, and a short torso, so I need a bike with a long virtual top tube and a seat post that can be set very high.  I also like a slightly longer-than-normally-spec’d stem to give me a lower, more stretched-out position on the bike.  My Czar test bike was a large, so I probably could have used an XL.  But, even being a bit more upright than I preferred, the ride was smooth. Plus, Vince Gest and my friends at JRA Bikes & Brew tuned the suspension for me so the fork and shock were set to my weight and riding style.  So, I enjoyed the Czar’s DW-Link rear working in concert with the Rock Shox SID fork.

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I had always heard from my friends who were 29er converts that the larger diameter wheels allowed them to roll over obstacles and maintain their momentum where a 26-inch wheel would have been deflected or stopped.  This was so true.  Plus, my Czar test bike came equipped with ENVE carbon 29-inch wheels and tubeless Maxxis tires.  These full carbon hoops — built with with front and rear thru-axles — were solid performers in a wide variety of trail conditions.  In deep moondust, they tracked through uphill and downhill corners with no slippage, deflection, of stalling.  On rapid fire road descents, they kept the bike steady so that steering was more body english than pointing the front wheel.  The wheels glided over stutter bumps with very little vibration transmittal to my hands or feet. When climbing narrow, rutted singletrack and extremely steep fire roads (20+% grade), the wheels kept the bike glued to the ground.

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Despite the large frame size and larger diameter wheels, the bike handled well in corners.  I enjoyed the bike’s tight turning radius on switchback trails.  I noticed that Turner brought the rear wheel as close to the seat tube as possible.  By shortening the Czar’s wheelbase, the bike was able to negotiate steep, narrow, and tight trails without requiring the rider to unclip or dab.

Light and Lean

Speaking of climbing, on my ascent up Palo Comado Canyon fire road, I had my second ‘Czar moment’ — this bike was light!  As a roadie and former XC racer, I tend to be a bit on the obsessive side when it comes to bike weight.  I ride with one water bottle, no frame pump, and no Camelbak.  I had expected the Czar with it’s larger wheels and beefy carbon frame to be a bit heavier than my current XC full suspension 26er. I was wrong.  Not only was the bike sinfully light, it was also surprising stiff.  As soon as I put foot to pedal, I noticed how all my pedaling energy was put into moving the bike forward.  There was no pedalling-induced play in the suspension and riding at a tempo pace produced no torsional compliance in the wheels.  Turner has done something remarkable with the carbon fiber in the Czar’s frame — the result is a light, stiff ride well-suited for XC racing and all-day marathon mountain biking forays.  The Czar is truly an XC racer’s dream — light, stiff, and comfortable, too!  The bike did respond with some suspension movement when executing dynamic out-of-the-saddle moves while climbing, but the wheels always held firm and did not flex.

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While negotiating a section of tight, twisty singletrack along the China Flat trail, I had my third ‘Czar moment’ — this bike was for minimalists!  The SRAM XX1 1x11Type 2 singlespeed drivetrain with its 30-tooth chainring and 10-42 cassette provided almost all the gearing options an XC racer would need, including the option of changing to a 32-tooth or 34-tooth chainring for the pedal mashers and quadzillas out there.  The simplicity of having one SRAM XX1 trigger shifter on the handlebar was a most welcome advancement.  Since it’s hard for me to chew gum and tie my shoes at the same time, I thoroughly appreciated allocating only one hand to manage the shifting. Tweaking the suspension was just as easy.  The on-the-fly adjustment options for the Rock Shox SID RTC3 fork and Fox Float CTD Factory Kashima rear shock were just enough to give riders the ability to dial-in the suspension for varying trail conditions without forcing them to remember numbers of dial or lever clicks to the left or right while pedaling, watching the trail, taking a swig from the Camelbak, peeling the wrapper off that energy bar, adjusting the angle of their helmet-mounted GoPro, and looking for competitors.

Improvements?

Clearly, Turner has created a svelte but stalwart XC/Marathon race rig in the Czar.  With its comfortable ride, light weight, and minimalist set-up, the bike is race-ready right out of the box.  Like most of my XC racer brothers and sisters, there are always things  we would add/change/remove from a factory-spec’d bike to customize the fit and performance to our own personal preferences.  Here are a few things I would change:

1. Handlebar width — The Czar came with a freakishly-wide 0-degree rise ENVE carbon handlebar.  The bike handled so well and required very little steering that the wide bar felt like overkill.  For me, the bar could have been narrower by 3-6 centimeters.

2. Access to suspension adjustment/lockout — During the test ride, there were several instances where I wanted to get out of the saddle and use the rolling inertia of the 29-inch wheels to power over an obstacle or accelerate up a climb.  In situations like this, taking your hand off the bar to reach down and flick a lever on the shock or twist a dial on the crown of the fork is a risky undertaking.  I wanted to be able to lock out the fork or shock without taking a hand off the handlebar.  A handlebar-mounted fork/shock adjustment/lockout button would be a worthy addition to the Czar’s set-up.

3. Quieter wheels — While the ENVE wheels were solid performers — as well as being sinfully light and super stiff — they were loud when freewheeling.  The pawls in the freehub body are so loud when coasting that you don’t need a bell to let people know you are coming around a corner.  In fact, at times it sounded like I was riding with a swarm of angry bees around me.  I don’t mind a little noise from wheel while coasting, but the noise from the ENVE wheels was just plain outrageous.

4. Longer stem — Most XC/Marathon racers like a less upright, more aggressive position on the bike.  Rather than set the seat farther back over the rear wheel, a slightly longer stem would put the rider in a lower body position over the bike.  The longer stem would also help prevent the front wheel from popping up during steep climbs.

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Time for a new bike?

Yes, I think it’s time for a new mountain bike. I was so impressed with the Turner Czar that I came away from the test ride not wanting to go back to my XC carbon full suspension 26er.  During a ride on my 26er two days later, I was constantly comparing my bike’s performance to the ride on the Czar.  Yeah, that’s a bad sign. Well, Mr. Turner, you’ve made this Old School guy a big fan of the New Wave.  Thank you very much!

 

About The Author

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Aaron Hanson (a.k.a The Cap’n) is manager of the Southern California Colavita Regional Amateur Team.  A 25-year veteran of the sport and lifestyle of cycling, Aaron has raced both road and mountain bikes, advocated for bicycle transportation funding and facilities at the city, county, state, and federal levels, planned and facilitated numerous bicycle events, and helped several municipalities and counties create viable bikeway master plans.

Aaron has been honored by IMBA, CORBA, Clif Bar, the City of Los Angeles, the County of Ventura, the City of Simi Valley, the United States House of Representatives, and the United States Senate for his bicycle advocacy work.  He has even won a bike race or two.

Aaron can be contacted via e-mail at: bikinguy@sbcglobal.net

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