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2012 Moots Psychlo X RSL — Ride Notes (Test Bike)
I had a one-day opportunity to ride the Moots Psychlo X RSL (thanks to Palo Alto Bicycles), so I took the Psychlo X RSL out for a 3+ hour ride covering 5600 vertical feet of ascent, and 32 miles of steep road and trail, roughly half and half of each.
I rode the Psychlo X RSL up and down steep dirt trails (Alpine dirt, El Monte open space to Black Mountain) and roads (Alpine paved, Montebello Rd). Those roads are on the San Francisco peninsula.
Test bike configuration
The 56cm Psychlo X RSL came configured with:
- Moots titanium seat post.
- Moots titanium stem.
- SRAM Red drivetrain with 11-25 cassette and 46 X 39 chainrings. This combination is very challenging where I ride— inappropriate really, but the test bike was setup for cyclocross racing, which would not have such conditions.
- Wide profile cantilever brakes (racers love them for mud clearance and weight, but they are truly awful compared to disc brakes or road-bike brakes). These brakes slow you down slowly, they are not really for stopping!
Update Nov 25, 2011: I had a chance to try mini V brakes on another brand cyclocross bike and I am persuaded that they solve the braking issue perfectly well, offering far better superior braking performance than cantilever brakes.
- Mavic Ksyrium SL aluminum wheels with Challenge Grifo 32 tubular tires.
- Shimano XT pedals.
The above is an appropriate racing setup, where one does not have to brake hard, and a spare bike might be waiting in the pits (e.g. for a flatted tubular tire). It’s not so ideal for general purpose use off-road far from aid.
With the above, including pedals, the bike weighed in at 17.7 pounds, 4 pounds less than my Moots MootoX RSL mountain bike. Going lighter in a significant way would require carbon fiber wheels, an expensive investment to grind up during messy winter riding, and with reduced braking performance too.
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How I’d configure my own bike
The above is not how I would configure the bike for my local steep trails and roads; the drivetrain is inappropriately geared. I’m a very strong rider, and on my test ride it took all my strength to grind up some steep dirt sections with the 36 ring on the 25 cog (easiest combination). The changes I’d make to my Pyschlo X RSL would be:
- A hand-built 28-spoke clincher wheelset with some Stan’s NoTubes sealant in the tubes. Breaking a spoke on such wheels does not mean a walk home, unlike the Mavic Ksyriums. And that’s a big deal in some places I might ride, with no help for many miles.
- Mini V brakes.
- Shimano XTR 11-36 rear cassette with Shimano DuraAce 50 X 34 front crankset.
- Carbon fiber seat post and Ritchey aluminum stem, to save weight.
- Shimano XTR pedals.
Remember, these notes are from one ride. I do have extensive road bike and mountain bike experience, and that is my frame of reference.
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Handling on dirt and pavement
I was impressed with how well the Psychlo X RSL handled— remember, this was my very first ride on a cyclocross bike of any kind, yet I was able to stay on line on the trails with ease because the bike is so responsive, and so well-behaved. The bike simply felt great.
Ditto for descending on the road; the Psychlo X RSL handles really well— I immediately felt at ease, and had no trouble descending quite fast, given the big low-pressure tires. It also felt very efficient while climbing both on and off road, within the limits of the tire pressure of course.
I think a big part of the handling performance is the very strong frame with its oversized bottom bracket and head tube— no flex in the bottom bracket and a rock solid front-end. I would say that 95% of the “give” is in the tires, which is dependent on tire pressure. The bike itself is incredible stable.
I loved the way the Psychlo X RSL rolled up and over shallow depressions and the like, it felt really reponsive and the tires soaked up any small stuff.
Putting power into this bike is rewarding.
Grabbing the bar hoods for a vigorous sprint, the Psychlo X RSL leaps ahead, within the limits of whatever tire pressures allow (tire squish). I’d say that the stiffness issue is a 100% non-issue, since the tires are what offer most of the slop. I did not detect any frame flex or instability from pedaling or bumps— this is one rock-solid frame. It seems that one would need to mount a stiff road-bike wheelset with high-pressure tires on the Psychlo X RSL to explore its limits of stiffness.
That said, I’d say that my Moots MootoX RSL hardtail gives up very little to the Pyschlo X RSL when the front fork is locked-out and similar tire pressures are used. The MootoX RSL is 4 pounds heavier, but other than that, I don’t feel that it is any slower under power, assuming 40 PSI in the Furious Freds. The downside of the MootoX RSL is lack of top-end gearing; on the road one runs out of gears quickly (38 X 26 crankset).
One aspect that surprised me: hand comfort was better than with my Moots MootoX RSL mountain bike with its suspension fork. I attribute the comfort difference to the hand position on the brake/shifter hoods, which is well leveraged on the Psychlo X RSL, and thus apparently more kind to hands than a mountain bar, even though I use the relatively comfortable Moots Ti bar on my mountain bikes. Perhaps the rubber brake hoods also play a role, as well as the handlebar itself, and its bar tape. As well, the angled hand position on the brake hoods allows more of the hand to take the load and at a more natural hand position, as compared to a mountain bike bar.
As far as the bike itself, what also surprised me was the moderate difference in comfort there was on many trail conditions versus my Moots MootoX RSL mountain bike. Certainly on rutted ground the Psychlo X RSL was not nearly as comfortable (no front suspension), but on lumpy ground with those tubular tires, the comfort was surprisingly good, and not that far off the MootoX RSL, especially when standing up and making good use of the hand position on the brake hoods.
I attribute a good part of the comfort to the Moots titanium frame and its geometry and tube selection. It’s clear to me that the Moots ride quality is there with the Psychlo X RSL, and shares similar ride characteristics to my three Moots mountain bikes.
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The mud-clearing wide profile cantilever brakes are awful compared to mountain or road brakes, though I understand that’s what cyclocross riders want and for mud clearance. Those brakes had no stopping power on steep hills, and screeched like crazy coming down Montebello’s 8-10% grade section. Being “calibrated” for my road and mountain bikes, I left the road and trail a few times with too much speed that the brakes could not deal with.
The cantilever brakes take the fun out of descending steep stuff, since one has to use the brakes much more to keep speed moderate (or fly over a steep hillside). So I would consider using mini V brakes for more braking power, but to be clear: I do not race cyclocross, and I dislike riding in mud, so for me this would be fine, since my priority would be stopping power.
I took a strong dislike to SRAM Red shifters with their counter intuitive unidirectional shifting. I rapidly adjusted, but when tired or not paying attention, the idea that grabbing for another gear can go the wrong direction due to not quite the right force... well, that is not acceptable to me.
I am a big Shimano DI2 fan for my road bike and I also enjoy Shimano XTR shifters on my mountain bikes. SRAM Red seems like a compromise to me that is not worth it for this caliber of bike, unless one needs to shave off that 1/4 pound and a small fraction of the total bike price (silly in context). Definitely not worth the compromise.