Saturday, August 6, 2011

29er or no 29er?

Thanks to Skookum and to Colby, Giant Rep, I had the chance to demo one of those so called 29er this week. I have to say I was quite excited to have the chance to make up my own mind on a potential new toy of choice? So what better then a test drive to get to the bottom of things? I was trying very hard not to let other people’s opinion change my own before even mounting the large metal horse…My first thought as I rode it home from the shop was, “Wow, this is a lot of bike!”

Ride #1: I decided to go for a mix of trails that I really like and that I know well just to see the difference in the handling. The trails of choice were Richard’s liquor, Logging road to MacPherson Parking Lot, Stimulus there and back, Black forest to TNT, Root Canal & Berm Donor to Tantrum… a bit of everything!

Ride #2: You can’t find out if it races well until you race with it! I rode the Toonie Race with the 29er, which was a perfect course for it with a mix of logging road climbs, none technical but sustain climbs and a fast descent through TNT & Root Canal. It was interesting to see the difference in feeling!

Here’s what I was mainly looking for during both rides:

-How well it would react in mellow none technical climbs and even flat terrain?

-How it felt going up steep longer climbs on more technical terrain?

-How it would react in the many undulating Revy Trails?

-How well we can pump the bike and be playful with it?

-How it reacts in tight switch-backs up and down?

First Impressions

On ride #1, I was like a kid on Christmas day! I could not wait for the end of the workday so I could go out & play!!! I had a lot of fun testing the bike but it certainly not took too long to notice quite the difference. The 29er X2 I tried was a 4” travel bike as well as is the one I currently ride. That being said, it felt to me like there was more suspension to it. Just more play absorption wise and more forgiveness to it that my Giant Anthem X2.

The geometry took a bit to get use too with a shorter head tube and a slightly shorter stem. Also, a few times during the rides, I would bump the bottom bracket, which is lower then on 26” bikes.

Climbing on logging Road: If you like powering through climbs instead then spinning at a faster RMP , this is a bike for you. I felt like once you got the momentum and the leg strength to push in the climbs, the bike was moving quite well. On steeper & longer steady climb, this is definitively more of a workout! With the different geometry of the bike, I found myself quite a bit more forward, nose right over the handle bar in order to finish the steep climbs. Off the saddle, the frame geometry do allow for great energy transfer and great grip and easy to recover from slipping on rocks .

Climbing on technical: I felt that even if coming with a great momentum into a technical climb, it was hard to carry it through. Normally, you would lower the gears and spin your way through. I felt like the wheels of the 29er were getting stopped easier on the obstacles making it harder to carry speed and harder overall.

Flat Logging Road: Oh, you can go fast on those. With the 3 rings in the front and the 10 gears in the back, once you are on your way, there’s nothing to stop you!

Flat Technical: If the front makes it, the rear will follow very well whether it’s slightly up or slightly down. I found it was easy to move the wheels around quickly enough to avoid obstacles & roots. Even if bigger, the bike is easy to swing around.

Descending Logging Road: As for flat logging roads, you can travel at quite impressive speed on this bike. It’s just a matter of knowing the limit of the narrow tires when cornering at high speed on loose gravel.

Descending Technical Trails: I was actually quite surprise how the bike felt while descending. It is more forgiven then my Giant Anthem and almost felt like a 5” travel bike. It is certainly less nervous then a 26” 4” travel bike which is a big positive. One thing, just make sure you stay behind those big wheels because if you happen to go too far forward for whatever reason, it is pretty hard to pull it back. I can’t imagine going over the handle bar with a 29er. It would be a long scary slow motion fall!

Switchback Climbs: I was surprise there too as I thought those tight corners would be hard to negotiate. It was quite easy to swing the bike around and push through curves and even lean into them. That being said, I think unconsciously, I was probably picking a wider line then usual but it worked just fine! I can see that it would be harder to keep a more direct line through tight “switchies”.

Switchback Descents: This would take some getting use to for me. I was trying to corner the bike as usual and felt a bit hesitant to let it fully go especially where corners were leading to technical terrain. I found myself having to slowdown before the curves way more the usual and taking more time to accelerate while getting out of them.

Pumping and Playing: I was a bit disappointed with the pumping and pushing, as I love to do it in order to generate speed and get over things effortless. I felt the bike was a bit more sluggish and would not respond as well and as fast as the Anthem for example. It’s also harder to play with the bike, as it seems like it wants to go forward and stay upright most of the time.

On saddle versus off saddle: In addition to the previous comment, I personally like to ride off the saddle when wanting to feel light on the pedals while going through flatter to descending technical terrain. On the 29er, I felt like it was a bit of a waste of energy and was on the saddle more then usual. I would not feel efficient being up on the pedals, which carried the feeling of travelling at lesser speed.

Like I said, I usually ride a Giant Anthem X2 which I LOVE. It’s only a 4”travel duel suspension but I find it perfect for the majority of the cross country trails here and around BC. I use to ride a Giant Transe X1 for the longest time and loved it as well. Only when I started racing did I pick the Anthem. So my background and with it my opinion is probably quite different then a freerider or someone who has been loving their 6” travel bike. In my opinion, this is a great option if you are riding a bit of everything and would like a bike that is quite light and agile. For my own liking, I would probably stick with the 26” and consider buying a 29er as a second bike for less technical rides and races. Even if I had a great time on it, I feel like it was quite a bit more work for the reward. But that’s just me. I think with different background, people may have very different opinions. I would be very interested to hear what people think so please feel free to leave your comments!

See you On the Trails!

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