Monday, June 11, 2007

Reflections on a Taifun

I've put a few hundred kms on the Taifun so I thought I would share my observations. First off I should say that I had a lot of high expectations about Challenge bikes and at the same time some people warned me that they had some significant flaws. So I didn't go into this with an entirely open mind. Frankly I wanted to prove the nay sayers wrong and hoped to be totally blown away by the Taifun. Well the funny thing is I ended up with precisely the experience that my internet research indicated I would. The Taifun is an awesome bike with a few significant flaws.

The Good

On the positive side it is a cool looking bent that handles like a jet plane. Stable when you want it to be and responsive when you are ready to challenge [pun intended] yourself. It is a bit difficult to accurately describe the feel of this bike other than to say it is very fun and very sporty.

I really like the seat position - it is low and laid back, but since the BB is quite high [9" higher than the seat] the position feels a lot more "closed" than my Volae. This seems to contribute to the excellent climbing prowess of this bike. Although it is quite heavy and has small wheels I am able to climb faster and with less effort than my Volae. The lumbar curve of the seat didn't agree with me, but the two small pieces of foam shown in the pic above completely solved the problem. I also added a Volae seat pad wedge to the top of the seat bringing my shoulders slightly more forward.

Downhill it is very fast and being so low to the ground my sense of speed is heightened. It is so low that I can stay clipped in at lights and just drop a hand to the ground to stay balanced. Putting both feet flat on the ground is no problem making the Taifun a breeze to ride in stop and go traffic - although visibility is of some concern. On the flats it is also a quick ride as long as you don't hit really rough pavement where the small 406 wheels slow down a lot.

Transporting the Taifun is easy due to its small size. It rolls right into the back of my pick up and I just bungee it upright to the side of the bed, leaving tons of room for more gear or other bikes. By comparison my Volae lays down taking up pretty much the whole truck bed and doesn't leave room for another bike.

I have rec'd more positive comments on this bike, while riding, than any other I own. Kids and adults just dig it - cool.

The Bad

On the negative side this is one FAT bike and I don't mean that in the cool urban way. It is heavy - every piece that I picked up was like a rock - the wheels, the boom, the frame, the seat and the controls. I can certainly see why Challenge went to the SL and SL2 model bents - their E series bikes are pigs. That is really too bad because a 24lb Taifun would be a rocket. They do make a Hurricane SL that looks nice, but the BB is 2" lower compared to the seat. I'm not 100%, but I think that 2" might hurt my climbing on the Hurricane [although it didn't hurt Ben's performance] compared to the Taifun, but I need to try a Hurricane to be sure!

The Challenge chain management system is half genius and half crap-tastic. The power side idler under the seat is a nice design and works well. The return side idler just above the fork is crap. It isn't wide enough to let the chain run freely so you always have some rubbing and the position is too close to the chain rings. Because it is so close you can't get the chain running quietly on both chain rings. In my case the chain lines up nicely on the small ring, but when you shift to the big ring all you get is a lot of noise and chain rub - forget about it if you wanted to run a triple. If they want to mount the idler so close to the chain rings they need to use a design that can float side to side to accommodate the chain line moving on the chain rings. What really puzzles me about this setup is that the power side chain runs next to the fork in a chain tube. If you are going to have one part of the chain run low next to the fork why bother to go to all the trouble of raising the return side chain??? When I feel motivated my solution will be to remove the return side idler completely and just run the return side chain next to the fork in a chain tube. Much simpler & quieter. I'll have to see if the lower chain and tire interfere with each other enough to be a problem.

I'm on the fence about the "preying hamster" bars. It is a novel change from the "superman" position I'm used to and for short rides it seems acceptable. On a 3hr ride this weekend I started to feel a twinge in my left shoulder. Not enough to be a problem and since this is my first longish ride it might not happen again. I am going to ride for 4hrs+ Friday and Saturday in the mtns if it doesn't end up raining. That will be a good test of the ergonomics of the Taifun. I do like the folding steerer and I don't seem to miss being able to pull on the bars a bit when climbing.

I'm also ambivalent about the rear suspension. I can definitely feel it working, but the overall ride is not what I'd call plush. I'd like to try a rigid Taifun with some 1.5" x 20" Marathon Racers. I suspect I'd prefer a light rigid Taifun, but it is doubtful I'll ever get a chance to try such a beast. On the other hand the suspension doesn't seem to eat up any energy when sprinting or climbing aggressively.

Finally mounting luggage and tools on this bike is quite a bit more difficult than my Volae. Not really a Challenge issue as much as it is an issue for any low bike. It isn't a show stopper, you can do what you need to, but it will just take a little more thought and care than it would with a high racer.

The Ugly

So what is my overall opinion of this bike? I'm really enjoying riding this bent and I'd give it a B with the stock chain management and an A- once I make my modifications. Unfortunately to get an A+ you'd need to lose 10lbs+ off this bike and I guess that is pretty much called a Fujin SL! The most impressive thing to me about this bike is how well I can climb on it. I'm going to try out a lighter bent with a closed seating position and see how I do on that. If it turns out well I will likely have to move to a different rando bent.

I guess the most telling statement I can make is that if I had to get rid of my Volae Expedition or the Taifun - I'd keep the Taifun.

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