Archive for June, 2008

WTB '08 29"er Tires: Stout Update

June 30, 2008

We’re getting back to the WTB heavy hitter, the Stout 29″er tire. As I have said before, this is the most agressive, heaviest tire in the 29″er ranks and it puts this tire in a class all its own because of this.

WTB Stout on a Salsa

I was soooo hoping I would have had a chance by now to have these on a full suspension 29″er, but the one we did have in wouldn’t accept the Stout in the back. That left me to testing with hardtails for the duration, which isn’t all bad, but again- I feel this tire is a great pairing with a longer travel full suspension rig, of which, admittedly, there are not a whole lot of out there…….yet!

That said, I have not found that the Stout disappoints when the going gets tough, treacherous, or brutal. I know, in fact, that I haven’t begun to test the limits of this tire here in the Mid West. I figure that it would take a Rocky Mountain chunk ride to reach this tires breaking point.

So, where does that leave us? Well, I believe that in a search for ultimate tractability, your stop is here at the Stout, but for most of the riding around here, this tire is simply overkill. It is “over qualified” for most of what I have available around here. If you can get by the weight though, I have a good feeling about this tire as a front for a rigid single speed set up. If you want to keep things all WTB, maybe go with an Exi Wolf or Weir Wolf out back. Big, low pressure grip and cush out front in more rough conditions would be home on that sort of arrangement. In fact, that is what I am going to try soon.

Stay tuned for more on the WTB Vulpine next….

Ventana El Bastardo : Photos

June 30, 2008

The El Bastardo was built up this past weekend.   Here are some photos of the build, a few parts need to be swapped out before it is exactly what I want.  Once I have that hammered out I will put out the complete specifications and weight.

The frame started at 6.2 lbs for frame and shock.  Right now it is sitting at 30 lbs even.

A Couple Of Interesting New Models

June 26, 2008

Recently Twenty Nine Inches has learned of a couple of new 2009 29″ers that are pretty interesting for completely different reasons.

First up we have GT Bicycles and their new “Zaskar 9r” hardtail. (You can get a sneak peek of it here) The venerable model, which has seen more variations and has been around about as long as David Bowie, is now set to be a big wheeler. The bike will be offered in a mostly XT spec with a Fox fork up front. Of course it has the Triple Triangle frame design, which has been GT’s signature since the mid eighties. Look for more on this bike as we can get the information.

Next up, at the complete opposite end of the spectrum, is SE Racing’s new “Big Ripper” 29″er. As the name suggests, it has some similarities to SE Racing’s classic PK Ripper from the 1980’s BMX scene. You will see a big wheel version of the Landing Gear fork, sans front brake, linear pull brake out back, track ends, a BMX style two piece block stem, cruiser bars, and a top tube protector. Essentially it is a big wheeled BMX bike for big kids. (Like say…!) Again, we’ll bring you more as we get the info.

Gary Fisher Hi Fi Deluxe 29"er: Final Review

June 24, 2008

It has been since last November that we have had the Gary Fisher Hi Fi Deluxe around here and now it is time to lay down my final thoughts on this 4 inch travel trail bike.

Hi Fi Deluxe

This bike is loaded with features and I have detailed out a few of them over the updates that I have done. Before I get into my final thoughts, I wanted to tick off the major features that impressed me most about the Hi Fi Deluxe 29″er.

G2 Geometry: Much has been said and written about this new development in 29″er geometry. Much has been misunderstood about it. I will keep it brief and say this: It does what it was intended to do. It gives you slow speed stability. It gives you a “less heavy”, snappier feel during turns. It retains high speed handling traits that were present with the original Genesis geometry. Will it be right for you? That’s a tougher question. Read the thoughts at the end for my take.

Fox Fork: It wasn’t all that long ago that you could find a thread on a 29″er forum at about anytime that said something to the effect of “Give me a Fox 29″er fork!” Well, they finally came out with a model and it is of typical Fox quality. (Read: High quality) It performed well, and became an “invisible” component for the most part. Some may have an issue with the amount of travel they are getting out of their Fox F-29’s, but I never had any problems obtaining the full 100mm if I set the shock to what I would call a “middle setting” in terms of air spring pressure for my weight. The rear Fox Float RP2 was as steady as a rock performance-wise. I never could really tell much difference between open and closed in regards to the Pro Pedal feature though. Not that it mattered. It worked great as it was.

Rhythm Wheels: The wheel set on the Hi Fi Deluxe is from the new Rhythm model line from Bontrager, (of course) and it was a really great performing wheel set for me. If only I could have gotten my hands on those dratted Tubeless Ready rim strips that were never available during our test period. Besides that niggle, I was pleased with these wheels.

Final Thoughts: The Hi Fi Deluxe is a great package and can tackle about any sort of trail condition you can throw it’s way short of big drops and that sort of trickery. It is more of a XC/Trail kind of rig, one that you might choose for your next all day mountain/trail/woods ride or for your next 12/24 hour attempt. It smooths out trail chatter nicely, doesn’t bob much, and has traction for the climbs in spades. In fact, that is its strong suit, climbing. At least to my mind. Sit down and grind away in your chosen gear. The Hi Fi will still be willing to roll when you run out of legs and lungs.

Niggles? Besides the unavailable Rhythm rim strips which prevented me from properly turning those hoops into tubeless ready wheels, I did notice a couple of things. First, the rear swing arm is somewhat narrow, reducing choices for rear rubber to something 2.3″ or less with any hope for mud clearance. I found that to be something of a surprise for a rig touted as a trail bike. I would like to see Fisher increase this clearance for at least 2.5 inch meats. As it is, there are several tires that one can fit into the bike, so it’s not a “deal killer”, but perhaps a bit of an oddity in this bikes category. There was some amount of torsional flex in the chassis. I detected something when hitting an off camber with my front wheel which would seem to push it ever so slightly off track from the back wheel. I would say it is a swingarm issue, since the front triangle was pretty stout torsionally in my testing. This problem exacerbates itself with a wheel set that is flexy, so be careful if you switch out wheels. I actually got tire rub with one set I own that is a bit flexy laterally. I would recommend a handbuilt set with a higher tension, or stick with the excellent Rhythm wheels. Finally, the front end was a bit harder to loft than some other 29″er full suspension bikes I have ridden. This might be solved by slightly modifying the rider position, although I felt I was already pretty upright on this bike.

In the end, the Hi Fi wins me over with its great suspension, great spec, and bang for the buck. G2 Geometry is great for most situations. I absolutely loved it in slow speed, technical manuverings. It got to be a handful during extended technical descents, where if your attention waned a bit from the task at hand, the bike was a bit unforgiving. I’m speaking of something long, rocky, and fast. G2 demands that you “get up on the wheel” or pay the consequences in those situations. Otherwise G2 worked great in every other situation I encountered.

The Hi Fi line is a winner. I would hope to see Gary Fisher Bikes continue to evolutionize this platform. With bigger 29″er rubber on the horizon, I would hope to see an improvement in tire clearance in the rear. Perhaps a spec change to a 120mm thru-axle shock would help with the higher speed nervousness in descending. As a first year effort though, you can count on the Hi Fi Deluxe to be a great performer out of the box in most trail situations. I would recommend it as a great Trail/XC 29″er.

This is the final installment on the Gary Fisher Bikes Hi Fi Deluxe. Thanks to Gary Fisher Bikes for the opportunity to test and review this rig.

Ventana El Bastardo: A Preview

June 23, 2008

Months ago at the National Handmade Bicycle Show a 5″ full suspension bike was shown at Kirk Pacenti’s booth. The bike was named the El Bastardo being produced by Ventana USA. The thoughts and look of this bike excited me. THIS was what 650b was for. Teeter totters, 65 mile grinds in the mountains and big fat tires.

Last week took in a white El Bastardo which we will be building up in the next couple weeks. The frame was upgraded a bit from stock to quad bearings and a better Fox Float RP23. The build will include white Velocity Blunts, X-Fusion fork and a number of white parts, because white is the new pink.

The looks and beefy structure of the frame is apparent in the photos.  I have not weighed it in yet but that will be something to consider.

Continental Mountain King 2.4" Tire: Final Review

June 22, 2008

After several months and having ridden the Continental Mountain King in various conditions and on all types of terrain, I am ready to lay down my final verdict on this 29″er fatty.

Measuring the Mountain Kings growth

As I have mentioned in the past, the Mountain King showed a mysterious capability to “grow” slightly through our testing period. I didn’t notice that this had any negative effects on the casing, nor did it impact the performance of this tread, but it was there and measurable.

In recent testing, I searched out hard, dry surfaces to ride on. The Mountain King had not seen hard dry surfaces since my El Paso trip which was a rocky loose sort of affair. This time I found some dry hardpack and even a bit of sand.

The Final pic....

I thought that the Mountain King was nearly flawless in these sort of conditions. Leaning the bike over showed me that there was no drama here. I could hear the knobs scrub a bit, but really, I couldn’t feel it in the handling. Climbing was great. I could go up as long as I had leg and lung to do so. On some really loose, rocky, shale-like conditions, the Mountain King clawed through and got me up top with nary a spin of its triangular knobs noticeable.

I had heard from other Mountain King users that this tire wasn’t their favorite for hardpack, but I can’t concur with that analysis. For a trail tire, (read not a race-“go fast” tire) the Mountain King is hard to beat. It has reasonably good rolling resistance, great grip, and works well in just about anything but severe mud, where I found that it packed up a bit more than I would have liked. In hard pack, I thought it worked really well, albeit it may not be the fastest tread for these conditions. The wee bit of sand I got into was promising, as I felt that the Mountain King wanted to float over it and not cut down into the sand, as other 29″er tires I have tried sometimes do.

My experiences with the Mountain King have all been positive with very little negative to say about this tire. I ran my samples tubeless for the entire test period at pressures mostly in the sub-30 psi range. (The last ride I had them set at 30psi rear/27 psi front) The tire was flawless set up tubeless on Stan’s Flow rims with no burping and very little leak down noticed over several days time. I used Stan’s No tubes sealant in these tires. The wear over the testing period was normal. I also used these tires on commutes including pavement, so the wear I noticed did include that. Pretty good news for those of you who ride to your trail heads on pavement.

My final take on the Continental Mountain King is that it makes a great trail tire for all around use. It gives up nothing to most tires on the market with the exception of “specialty tires” designed explicitly for hardpack, racing, or other specific use. Even then, the Mountain King holds its own and isn’t a liability. If you could only own one set of 29″er tires, you could do a whole lot worse than the Mountain Kings. They are cleared for tubeless use with sealant by the manufacturer, (a giant plus) and are reasonably light. The roundish casing is really comfortable and conforms to terrain well. The grip is outstanding. The cornering is stable and predictable. I highly recommend these as a great choice for trail bikes and full suspension 29″ers that will see epic, all day duty.

This concludes the test/review on the Continental Mountain King 2.4 inch tires. Thanks to Continental Tires and Highway 2 distributors for making this possible for us to do.

Is It Time To Lay The Triple Crank To Rest?

June 19, 2008

If you follow bicycle technology at all, especially road cycling technology, you probably know by now about the intentions of Campagnolo to bring three eleven speed gruppos to market for next year. To add to this, it also has been rumored for awhile now that component maker FSA is in development of a 11 speed road and mountain bike gruppo. What could this mean for mountain bikers and 29″er folks in particular?

Double mountain bike spider and rings

Besides the obvious technical difficulties in making an eleven speed drivetrain a possibility, it remains to be seen what gearing choices might be offered which might bring the need for a triple crankset into question. Given that rear cogs exist that are as big as 38 teeth, it is not out of the realm of possibility that an eleven speed mountain cassette could include such a large rear cog and still go down to 12 teeth on the high end. Would we still need a triple crank set?

It is possible that such an arrangement could be pulled off. It might even be a desirable thing to do from the standpoint of chainline, a possible widening of the overlock dimensions for rear wheels, and from an overall drivetrain weight perspective. With nearly the same gear spread it wouldn’t hurt most mountain bikers either. If eleven speed mountain bike cassettes do appear, it doesn’t make any sense to have them and not ditch one of the front chain rings.

From a purely 29″er perspective, it may be a toss up. Several folks in the mountainous West will still want the ‘granny” anyway. Even losing a little bit of the low end will not be acceptable. So, perhaps this idea should be panned.

Of course, none of this even begins to touch upon drive train longevity, chain strength, or keeping those big rear gears from folding over under major pedaling pressures from mountain biking. It doesn’t even touch upon whether we even need such a drive train and if mountain bikers will accept it or not. It is just an observation that I make in case we do see this come to light. Secrectly, (or not so!) I hope it doesn’t happen. In reality I think it will go to ten speed first, again- not that any body is asking for that!

However, even at nine speeds the professionals and a lot of enthusiasts are ditching a ring off the front of their cranksets. Free riders, all mountain riders, and of course, down hillers, have realized this is a great way to go for years already.

Don’t even start with single speeding!

The triple crank set is perhaps a choice that may need to be looked at a little harder and just maybe, it might become the odd choice instead of the norm.

Salsa "Sol Sessions": The Big Mama

June 17, 2008

Salsa Cycles has been working on this new full suspension platform for quite some time and now……here it is!

The new model!

The Big Mama is a four inch travel suspension platform with several important features which I’ll get into a bit later. First off, I was able to get a chance to ride this bike on Sunday at the local Murphy-Hanrahan trail system. It is a great buff, fast, tight and twisty single track loop. I was able to put in 16 miles on the new rig and I will say, it was a very satisfying ride.

My observations of 29 inch wheeled full suspension bikes is that most of them are compromises of what I like in a 29″er. They seem to be good at some things, but have lost certain handling characteristics, aesthetic characteristics, or structural characteristics in the translation from hard tail to full suspension. There are few that seem to have it dialed and look good doing it. Is the Big Mama in that rarefied air? Let’s take a look.

New graphics

I have ridden a lot of full suspension bikes and the first thing one should determine is “what type” of full suspension are we talking about. Salsa head honch, Jason Boucher, says this is first and foremost an “all day trail bike”. Taking that into consideration as I rode it, I could then discern if it fit into my expectations for such a bike. I would say that such a bike should be maneuverable, respond to pedaling input in a positive way, (read “like a hard tail”), be stiff laterally, and have overall handling that is easy to navigate when the rider is tired. It should also do what the best trail bike full suspension should do, that is, keep the rider fresh and keep the wheels in contact with the ground. Finally, it should be fun and look cool. (Hey! I like my rigs to look good!)

one piece forged linkage

The heart of the Big Mama is it’s detailed suspension and frame fittings. Things like the one piece forged link, (pictured above) help keep things tracking correctly. The hidden part here is the Enduro brand bearings used at all pivot points. The drive side of the swing arm is even fitted with two bearings, while the non-drive side has the traditional single bearing, which helps keep the swing arm pivot stiff and resist twisting forces from the pedaling input of a rider. Did it work? Well, all I can say is that I never once felt anything close to flex in the bottom bracket area. The huge bottom bracket forging, which includes the swing arm pivot, no doubt helps in this area. In fact, that swing arm felt pretty stout too. The reason why was evident……

rear drop out area

……Notice something missing? Yep! No pivot. Salsa Cycles designed the suspension with no rear drop out pivot, not because they think the rear pivot idea wasn’t any good, it just rode better than the designs that had rear pivots in their testing. So, to get around the pivot and have it ride well, Salsa designers went to the toolbox and pulled out their experiences with the Dos Niner. The soft tail classic has chain stays designed to flex up to an inch and survive trail abuse over the long haul. The flattened Scandium enhanced structure makes a return here on the Big Mama in the seat stays and only has to flex a whopping 5mm throughout the stroke of the shock. Salsa claims it helps reduce starting shock pressures needed and with the custom tuned Fox RP2, it helps achieve full travel from the damper. Did it work? Well, with the shock set to the open position on my test ride the Big Mama rode with small bump sensitivity and didn’t feel like it ramped up or stiffened in any way towards the end of it’s travel. It just reacted to bumps with no drama and made me forget all about suspension. That’s what a good suspension design should do, become invisible.

shaped down tube

head tube/down tube junction

Salsa Cycles tried to maximize the weld areas on the bike and to reduce the places that required welding on the Big Mama. To do this they utilized special forged frame fittings, like the drop outs and the bottom bracket area. They also shaped the Scandium tubes, which were all specially designed by Salsa, to help combat flex where riders don’t want it. Check out that down tube/ bottom bracket junction, pictured above, or that down tube/ head tube weld area. There is some serious manipulation of tubes going on with the Big Mama. Did it work? Well, one of my biggest pet peeves about 29″ers is that many of them exhibit a torsional twist in the front triangle which leads to a vague steering feel and in bad cases a total disconnect between tracking of the rear and front wheels. I can say that I felt the Big Mama tracking a good straight line and that it didn’t feel like it had any significant torsional flex in the front end. yeah, I’d say all that tube shaping and weld area work was worth it.

swingarm clearances

Of course, this being an all day trail bike sort of rig, it would only make sense that you would be able to run big meats and still have some clearance around the tire for mud and trail debris. Salsa engineers made sure that you will be able to mount up a 2.5″ wide tire on a 35mm wide rim and have that clearance. I’ll have to take their word on that, as the samples I rode and saw all had Nevegals on them, but to my eye, it looks like a sure fit. That swing arm forging also helps solidify things laterally too. Nicely done!

Post mounts!

Salsa’s design goals for this project were to have reliability, durability, and attention to detail. In that vein, they chose to fit the Big Mama with post mount type fittings for the rear disc brake. This is in keeping with the move by fork makers who have gone to post mounts and should give the Big Mama better braking performance given that the brake caliper is now mounted to a sturdy forged bit directly welded to the frame.

A few notes on my ride that I have not mentioned: The Big Mama was easy to wheelie, and was nimble feeling with a slight nod to the stable side of the handling spectrum. When I rode the production prototype, I had no idea about the “numbers”, since they were kept from me. I found out only later that the head angle is 71 degrees and that the Fox fork has 46mm of off set here. With this combination, I felt the Big Mama felt calm and collected on hairy fast descents through the tight single track. Climbing didn’t require any extra attention to the front end other than that I had to weight the front a bit more or I could wheelie at will. Something that could be cured if I wanted to with positioning tweaks, but frankly, I liked it this way. The bike cornered really well and what impressed me most was its ability to carve around a really tight corner with stability. This rig should help you clean switchbacks that have given you fits on other big wheelers.

The Big Mama will also be available as I got to ride it with Fox suspension, Race Face stem and seat post, and a good helping of Shimano XT parts including the brakes, hubs, and drive train. Salsa bits round out the package which will be topped off with a WTB saddle. Frame sets will include the Fox RP2 and a Salsa Flip-Lock seat collar. Look for the frame sets to become available in September with a suggested MSRP of $1435-$1500. The complete Big Mama bikes will come in January of ’09 and will be MSRP at about $3800-$4000. (One note, the bike pictured here has the black Fox shock, which is the color for the ’09 120mm travel F-29. The complete bike will actually be spec’ed with the 100mm travel fork and was white in our hand outs) Go to Salsa Cycles and check out the specs and information on the Big Mama. I also should mention that the very similar 26″er model, the El Kaboing, will also be available and was presented at the press release as well.

In conclusion, I felt that Salsa Cycles has done their homework and applied solutions with elegance and effectiveness to the problem of making a great 29″er trail bike. Have they come up with something that fits my definition of a 29″er trail bike? If the 16 miles I got to ride it is any indication, I would say that the Big Mama is well on it’s way to filling that rare place in my mind. Will it work for you? I know that there will be those who won’t like it, but my guess is that the Big Mama will be a very popular rig with a lot of 29″er freaks. If the design fulfills the goals that Salsa Cycles set for it, and it gives every indication that it will, I would go as far as to say that this will be its best selling 29″er rig. Time will tell on that, but for now, this bike is high on my list of full suspension 29″ers.

Edit 6-22-08: Salsa Cycles Jason Boucher has informed me that the Fox F-29 will indeed be black as shown on the pics above. He especially spec’ed a black fork. It is still the 100mm travel fork. Sorry for the confusion this may have caused.

Salsa Cycles "Sol Sessions" Exclusive Coverage

June 16, 2008

Twenty Nine Inches is proud to be bringing you exclusive coverage of the Salsa “Sol Sessions” from Bloomington, Minnesota. Sol Sessions is Salsa’s press release and ride camp for it’s new 29″er model and a 26″er bike. (Of course, we’ll be focused on the big wheeler!)

Tomorrow you can expect to see images of the new bike, specs, and some commentary regarding this totally new platform from Salsa Cycles. Also, Salsa Cycles will be updating it’s web site with all the information from the press release tonight on Tuesday. Since much of the technical data will be there, Twenty Nine Inches will be bringing you a special report exclusive to this site. I can’t wait to spill the beans on the story I have, but it will be worth waiting to see.

Check back here tomorrow for the scoop……..

Did 650b Kill GoClipless?

June 15, 2008

There are a view staple blogs in the cycling industry. Many have come in fighting strong and then gone silently into the night. A great example of this is was a cool guy in DC writing about bikes. He often went to interbike, talked about music and just down to earth BIKES! Then he decided to open his mouth about 650b. Why it should be killed before it began. He wasn’t very opened minded about it all and look where it got him. His blog hasn’t been updated since Interbike.

What have we learned here?  Don’t talk too much smack.