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Ratio Rides: Jem’s Giant XTC

Welcome to our second Ratio Ride. Jem’s Giant XTC Advanced couldn’t really be a bigger contrast to Toby’s Foil. We’re sure you’ll agree it’s a totally wild bike, so it’s great to hear a bit more detail from Jem:

“I’m a bike mechanic and live in Rutland in the East Midlands, England. I have a very varied mix of riding in my local area, from the cycle track around Rutland Water to lots of off road bridleways. There’s some great road riding and a few MTB trails in local woodlands. I’ve been riding for as long as I can remember and I’ve been tinkering with bikes for just as long. I clearly recall building a BMX from the frame up when I was still in primary school!  In my teens and early twenties I raced some time-trials but now I just ride for fun. I ride this bike, a Giant TCR road bike, and a Nukeproof Reactor trail bike.

This bike started as just a Giant XTC carbon frame, Fox 32 100mm fork and a 27.5 wheelset. It was a garish mix of blue and neon green, so I resprayed it matte black and built it up as a cross-country bike – which is what the XTC is meant to be – and was running SRAM GX Eagle 12-speed gearing.  I rode it like that for a year and loved its light weight and responsiveness.

Then a friend suggested putting drop bars on it. This was an idea I had already considered, but filed in my head as being a little too unorthodox. He didn’t so much light the fire, but certainly poured a gallon of petrol on the idea!  

So then came the research into how best to make it a drop bar bike. Being a bike mechanic I have a good idea of what components will play nicely with each other. I thought that, short of fitting SRAM’s brilliant but expensive AXS electronic gears, I’d have to drop to 1×11 speed and lose the massive 500% gear range of Eagle. Then I stumbled across an article about Ratio Technology’s 1×12 Wide Upgrade Kit. It made the conversion to drop bars very simple. It’s cheaper and I could keep exactly the same drivetrain. I already had some spare drop bars, so all I had to buy was some SRAM Apex shifters with hydraulic brakes and the Ratio Technology kit.  Fitting the kit was straightforward and, with Ratio’s brilliant instruction videos on their website, took no time at all.

Riding the bike for the first time in its new guise I was struck by how well the Ratio kit shifts; it’s as good as a factory 11-speed shifter. Adding the extra gear doesn’t compromise the shift quality at all. It’s positive and slick, just as SRAM should be when set up properly. I was also astounded by how well the XC frame works as a drop bar bike. The geometry feels like it was made for it.

I’ve since changed the wheels to Hope Fortus 23 with Challenge 40c tubeless tyres, plus I’ve treated it to an XX1 chain and cassette. A larger 36t chainring brings the overall gear ratio up from the previous 32t, and I’ve added gold derailleur pulleys. I still have the 27.5 wheels with 2.25 XC tyres on, so I can swap wheels depending on where I’m riding and the conditions.

The Ratio Technology 1×12 Wide Upgrade Kit has enabled me to make this conversion extremely simple – just new shifters and their kit. The alternative would have involved a whole new 11 speed drivetrain and possibly some form of pull ratio converter, which are often inconsistent and feel like a bodge.  

This 12 speed kit looks and performs like factory components and allows me to keep all the advantages of SRAM Eagle. I’d have no hesitation in recommending the kit, but would advise watching the instruction videos on the Ratio Technology website so it’s fitted correctly. It’s not hard at all, but worth taking your time and following the steps in the videos methodically.

Unfortunately due to the Covid-19 restrictions we’ve had for the last year or so, I’ve not been able to do much riding with the Ratio kitted bike other than in my local area, though I am extremely fortunate the local area is great for riding bikes.

I love how this bike works great on the road, but also allows me to dive off onto tracks and trails.  I guess that’s why gravel bikes have become so popular in recent years. They open up far more places to ride than a dedicated road bike can.  

Once the restrictions are lifted, I plan on taking this bike to the Peaks, Lakes and the west coast of Scotland for some exploring.”

We can’t get enough of this build. The pressing question: when you have a bike like this, one that really is slap bang on the border between mountain bikes and gravel bikes, what’s the limiting factor? Is it simply that the narrower tyres can’t supply the cornering traction of a larger volume MTB tyre, or is it the handling compromise of a more aero drop bar? Jem says:

“In answer, I think it’s a combination of both: the tyres do have less grip than a MTB tyre in most conditions, but the pay-off is they roll really fast on smoother surfaces. The smaller volume tyres can’t absorb larger rocks and roots like a large volume MTB tyre can, so the bike tends to buck around more. It’s better with the 27.5×2.25 tyres on my other wheelset, but my 29er trail bike with 2.5 inch tyres is much faster and confidence inspiring on proper rough stuff. 

I think the handlebars also make it less capable on rougher trails. Wide MTB bars and a short stem give you so much leverage over where the front wheel is pointing. Having the bars kick when you hit the side of a rock or root is much more pronounced with the drop bars. Another limiting factor is my lack of skill; I’m certainly not John Tomac!”

Many thanks to Jem for his Ratio Rides submission. If you’re interested in being featured, just contact us.