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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Review: Airborne Seeker Mountain Bike

Now that I've ridden my Airborne Seeker enough to approach one maintenance cycle, I feel like I can write a review of the bike and do it some justice.

The bike press and some cyclists talk about "catching air". Until I rode this bike, I never actually went fast enough up a ramp to experience it. It's a sublime experience: for one moment, you're completely weightless: a nudge from your body in any direction can move the entire bike. To be able to experience it, you need to trust your bike enough to go fast down an incline that ends in a ramp. It's a great feeling, and I never felt it on my 1993 Bridgestone MB-3.

It took me a while to get there. On my first few rides on the bike, I took every corner gingerly and with concern. The wheels felt big, but having experienced a good 29er, I had faith that as I got used to the bike that feeling would go away. Indeed it did: I'm now taking corners better than I did on my 26" MTB, and tackling pretty much the same obstacles I rode before. I still get a little freaked out on technical climbs, but when I remember that the big wheels roll very well over obstacles and relax, I pretty much roll over anything I can find on the bike.

Dialing in the suspension also made a huge difference: since I'm very light, I had to use the lowest number printed on the fork, and release air from the shocks. Even with the shock locked out the suspension still bobs a little as a result, but not in an annoying way. The 2x10 drive train has made me a convert: I think the 2x10/11 drive trains should be a standard on all future bikes, road or mountain. It's the way to go.

The brakes are said to be the weakest part of the Airborne Seeker. But I'm so light that I hardly put any stress on them. They do warp and occasionally make a zing-zing sound, especially when I hammer through muddy sections or otherwise tax them. But they've been surprisingly silent most of the time: the annoying sounds go away as soon as I ease up and they have not persisted. I will never put disc brakes on any road bikes, but on the mountain bike, I can see them as being potentially more reliable than V-brakes or cantilevers, as well as being easier to maintain.

Pardo once said, "Mountain Biking is the process of throwing your bike off a cliff very slowly --- with you on it, so there's no point anything that's too good." When I went bike shopping, I settled on the Airborne Seeker because its component selection (2x10 drive train, air shocks, gearing, and 29er wheels) could not be found from any other manufacturer under $1500. I was ready to buy it new from the factory, but they were out of stock so I bought mine for $730 shipped on eBay. I now realize that buying an Airborne Seeker is not "settling" by any means. I'd have a tough time finding a better bargain, and it's way more fun to ride than I expected. Even better, when I called up Airborne asking to buy a spare derailleur hanger, they immediately asked for my address and sent me one for free! For someone who bought a bike from eBay used, I did not expect that kind of treatment. I'll give them the thumbs up for customer service any day of the week.

If you can fit one (and find one in stock --- the factory said that they'll have them in stock sometime in spring), I cannot recommend them enough. This is one heck of a great bike. I'm sure other bikes are lighter, etc., but there's nothing else in this price range that comes even close.

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