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If I had Known Then, What I know Now – Mountain Biking at 50

This article is the second in the “Mountain Biking at 50” series.

In March, when I bought my current bike, I didn’t want to spend a fortune because I didn’t know if I’d want to ride the same type of trails that I did 30 years ago or do something else. But now, I’m approaching 50 and want to get back into the sport. So, how does a mid-lifer do such a thing?

Just, Go, Ride

First, just get a bike and go ride – no, not from your local discount retailer – from a bike shop. You don’t need to spend a fortune, just talk with the people at the store and let them know you’re not looking to spend a fortune, you just want something that will hold up while you figure out what you do and do not like about the setup. You’re generally safe with offerings from key brands like Cannondale, Specialized, Trek, et al.

I bought a $400 Cannondale Catalyst 3 for my return to riding and while I have learned what I want in my next bike, I haven’t been disappointed in my purchase. It’s been 5 months and nothing has broken or let me down, but, without spending a fortune, I have figured out what I want to do and what equipment will make that more enjoyable. I know I can get a good full suspension mountain bike under 1000 and have the experience I want.

Next, just go ride. The MTB Project (mtbproject.com) makes it easy to find trails in your area. Find a beginner loop and get comfortable, then move up to more challenging terrain and longer rides as your skills and fitness progress. 

So, with all that, what have I learned? Well, here’s the bike that started it all:

2018 Cannondale Catalyst 3 Specifications

Frame Catalyst, SmartForm C3 Alloy, 1-1/8 head tube, rack and fender mounts, 27.5″
Fork SR Suntour M3030, Coil – 75mm travel
Crankset Prowheel, 42/34/24 3-speed
Btm Bracket Sealed Bearing BSA, square taper
Frnt Shifter/Brake Shimano Easy Fire EF41, 3×7
Rear Shifter/Brake Shimano Easy Fire EF41, 3×7
Frnt Derailleur Shimano Tourney, 31.8 clamp
Rear Derailleur Shimano Tourney
Rear Cassette Shimano Tourney TZ, MF-TZ500-7 // 14-16-18-20-22-24-34
Brakes Tektro cable-actuated disc, 160/160mm
Front Hub Formula QR
Rear Hub Formula QR 32H
Wheel Size 27.5 inches
Rims WTB Sx19 32H
Front Tire Freedom Transition Sport 27.5 x 2.25″
Rear Tire Freedom Transition Sport 27.5 x 2.25″
Handlebar Cannondale Riser, 6061 Alloy, 25mm rise, 8° sweep, 6° rise, 700mm
Stem Cannondale Alloy, 1-1/8″, 28.6, 8°
Seat Post Cannondale Alloy, 27.2 x 350mm
Saddle Cannondale Stage 2
Pedals Cannondale Platform
Chain KMC Z51, 7-speed
Weight 32 lb 8 oz.
Chain Original Part

It wasn’t expensive, but it was built to last and taught me what I want in my next bike.

The most important thing I learned is that I like cross-country racing. That requires a certain bike geometry, setup and regimen. From my first months of training, here is what I’ve learned.

What would I want in my next bike:

First, a simpler crankset – the front set of gears on the bike. I eventually want to get to a single-chainring setup, but for now, my climbing ability, fitness level and extra weight require some extra gears on the low side so I’ll opt for a 2 chainring crankset and a 9 or 10 ring cassette on the back which will give me 18 or 20 gears and a little more granny on the granny gear than a single chainring would.

I also learned how far front suspension has come since I last rode. The Catalyst has adjustable coil-based front fork shocks. These work fine, but are heavier than their air-based brethren and the compression force is linear along the entire travel whereas air shocks are more progressive. Having ridden a few friends bikes with air shocks, the front just felt more lively. Air shocks also give you the ability to change the spring rate by adding tokens and/or pressure to the air chamber. With coils, you can pre-load the spring by pre-compressing it a bit, but that doesn’t change the compression curve, only where you start in that curve.

Third, is wheel size. I do like how agile the 27.5″ wheels on the Catalyst feel when on technical stuff, but, having ridden my son’s 29″ bike, prefer the better roll-over and speed of the bigger wheelset. The increased gyroscopic effect of the larger wheels also make the bike feel more stable.

Lastly, better brakes. I want hydraulic brakes and a bigger front disc – 180mm or so. Hydraulics weren’t a thing 30 years ago but I want them on the next bike. Much less effort in heavy braking and no cable-stretching to adjust out.

Drive Train 2×9 or 2×10 convertible to 1x at later time
Forks Air 100mm
Brakes Hydro 180mm front, 160 rear
Wheels 29″
Tires 2.35 front/ 2.20 or 2.25 rear

What bike will fill this? That’s hard to tell right now, but I am looking at Cannondale’s 2019 Trail 7, 2020 Trail 5 and the 2019 Specialized Rockhopper Expert.

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Rich Mitchell

Rich Mitchell is the editor-in-chief of Conservative Daily News and the president of Bald Eagle Media, LLC. His posts may contain opinions that are his own and are not necessarily shared by Bald Eagle Media, CDN, staff or .. much of anyone else. Find him on twitter, facebook and

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