I've already done the full writeup on this bike and so I'll try to stick to the trails so to speak. But, in the interest of a quick catchup, I acquired this 92 Cunningham #14D back in May of this year and finally got it rebuilt in July. Since that time I've managed to log over 150 trail miles and really feel at home on the bike. Although it really didn't take long to realize that this is a very special bike!
In keeping up with traditions I did the first ride on some vintage tires, in this case a pair of Specialized Ground Control Extreme 2.5s which were the biggest and most bad-ass tires on the market back in the day. That first ride was really just a shakedown and I took it pretty easy to save the tires, still the bike made a strong impression.
A couple more rides and a brand new pair of Onza Canis later that first impression has morphed into a lasting and deep appreciation. This bike is really amazing!!!
The Cunningham is equally at home in tight, rocky singletrack as it is on a fast sweeping fire road. It is extremely versatile and aside from the fear of me screwing up and wrecking a one of a kind bike it really inspires confidence. Every part selected by Charlie to build one of his bikes performs its job with a single minded commitment to performance. Nothing is left to chance.
One of the traits of this bike that took a couple rides to sort out, but now feels like I've always known it is the ease with which weight balance and body movement has a huge, positive impact on handling. I feel like the cornering threshold is much deeper and my degree of confidence in pushing it is also boosted. I'm able to really put some extra lean into it during high speed cornering and really nail the ideal line. I have to give some credit here to the Onza tires, but I have them on a few other bikes in the fleet and haven't felt the same degree of confidence on those bikes, maybe maybe the Merlin or Bradbury. This reminds me that I need to get my Adroit rebuilt as I feel that bike would give the Ham a run for its money and I miss riding it! Tight and twisty sections including switchbacks and rock gardens are maybe not the place where the Cunningham excels above all, but nothing about it makes it feel weak in those circumstances. I find it relatively easy to handle steep approaches to obstacles like tree clearings, climbing out of stream beds and generally speaking picking the bike up and onto ledges. Bottom bracket clearance is ample, I find I rarely scrape the ground with the pedals and consequently don't worry about putting the front tire into tight ruts or rock outcrops.
Having just read the description of the Racer geometry in the Cunningham InfoPac the design intent and description of the bike is fresh in my mind. The one specific element that registered and rings true is the bike's climbing prowess. There are a few punchy climbs on my local trail that often require pushing out of the saddle and here the Ham really shines. Rear tire traction out of the saddle is fantastic and I can comfortably maneuver the bike through the obstacles and power through. Same goes for tight switchback climbs over loose terrain, I find it much easier to negotiate the tight turns without losing momentum and traction.
Even the simple things like the seatpost quick release feel special and work better than any Ringle or Shimano lever you've ever had the pleasure to struggle with.
One of the more common complaints about chainstay mounted roller cam brakes is that they are a mud magnet. Now, I don't really have to deal with mud much, but there are a few stream crossings and sand and gravel are commonplace on the trails I frequent. So, there is definitely ample opportunity to get some dirt and grime into the mechanism, however Charlie's simple mud guard helps minimize the impact of all that contamination onto the cam and the brakes never feel crunchy (unlike my previous Ham).
All in all this has quickly become my go to bike. Thus far there hasn't been a trail that I've thrown at it that really challenged the bike. I really feel a strong sense of satisfaction while out riding and can comfortably settle into a grove where many of the tasks that go into negotiating sections come naturally and without any significant effort, handling becomes effortless and allows me to focus on what is coming up and what I need to be doing. Really the bike becomes and extension of the rider and empowers you to do the best you can armed with the knowledge that the bike won't do anything stupid to jeopardize the process. Now I just have to get confident that I won't do something stupid to screw up the bike, that fear is more poignant on this bike than nearly every other bike in my fleet, maybe excluding the Storm Adroit which I never really ride. So, if nothing else it keeps me in check and ensures that both bike and rider live on to ride another day.