The Renovo Badash 29er wooden bike. Arguably the only wooden bike we have seen at Bike198 that actually looks like it can shred trail and Renovo sent one over for us to throw a leg over. These past few weeks…that is what I have done, so we need to take a look at how this unique bike performs on the trail. Does it ride as good as it looks?
Renovo is pretty unique. While other bike companies have gone the bamboo route, Renovo uses a series of hardwoods to build their bikes which include everything from time trial rigs to this 29er HT. This particular Badash 29er came out of the Red Stag series of frames made of New Zealand Radiata pine and hickory.
The craftsmanship is nothing short of amazing. The amount of work that goes into making sure this frame is as much of a work of art as it is a mountain bike is mind blowing. As soon as I took it out of the box, I knew it was something special. With a 5.5 pound frame weight and a $2,550 price tag, you would expect this to be a high end, boutique piece, but it over produces on the wow factor. From the way the wood is constructed and joined together to the internal cable routing, every inch of this frame is thought out and executed to perfection.
Honestly…it is almost annoying at times. You would think I pulled up to the trail in a bright orange Lamborghini Aventador the way other riders have to come up and see the bike. If you are going to ride one of these at the trail, get used to talking about it a lot.
The bike came spec’ed with SRAM X.9, Manitou fork and some Sun Ringle wheels. The SRAM X.9 package is rock solid and while the wheels are nothing to write home about…they would get the job done. The difficult part is the Manitou fork who’s performance can’t seem get into the 2000′s. The 20mm TA was good for my riding style but the action on the fork and the extreme annoyance of the 5 bolt process of the front axle makes me hate the fork.
Taking a look at the geometry, the Badash has a HT angle of 71 degrees. This falls right in line with most 29er hardtails in the industry, but with the supplied fork…we would measure this closer to the 70 to 69.5 degree end given the longer travel. This is noticeably slacker than more race inspired 29er hard tail frames that are closer to 71 to 72 degrees. While a shorter travel fork would help the tight handling of the bike, I believe this is the right setup as the 5.5 pound frame weight is going to keep this bike from ever being a light race inspired 29er. If you are not going to be a race bike, make the bike more capable on the downs without completely sacrificing the ups.
I wasn’t really sure what to think the first time I threw a leg over the Badash 29er. Was it going to ride like a steel frame? Was it still going to be stiff enough? My guess was that the wood would deaden small bumps making the bike vertically compliant but laterally stiff, but there was only one real way to tell…get it dirty.
My initial suspicions were correct. The wooden frame did a great job of softening stutter bumps in the trail. While the frame did not feel as dead as I thought it would, it behaved a little bit softer than steel. It was almost as if the hardwood was absorbing vibrations so I didn’t feel it in the saddle and grips. Normally this deadening comes at a price, but the bike did not feel loose either. The rear end tracked very well keeping traction through g-outs and off camber turns. The stiffness of the frame in hard load situations was there as much as a steel frame but not quite as much as aluminum. If I had to compare apples to apples…it was almost like a well built carbon frame from that aspect.
While the bike was not overly heavy, it was not as nimble on the climbing end as a typical light hardtail. The frame characteristics described above did a great job of keeping grip, but when you stand up to hammer…that lunging forward feeling wasn’t quite there. Honestly, I do not see anyone seriously racing this frame, so that is not as much of an issue. But, it is something to be prepared for as you hit the trail.
When you get headed downhill, the bike really comes alive for a 29er hardtail. I was able to take this bike off of drops, jumps and through technical downhills with ease. The vibration damping characteristics of the frame made it almost seem like there was an inch of rear wheel travel aiding during the run. Like I mentioned before, this did not come at the cost of lateral stiffness either. The bike tracked very well and was even comfortable in the air with flatter landings. This bike can really take a beating and I was not expecting that at all. Normally I hate running hardtails on DH runs but I slammed the seat down and shredded it. Was I as fast as my suspension bikes? No, but I wasn’t itching to get back to XC trail either.
Overall: The Renovo Badash 29er Wood Bike
This bike is obviously not for everyone. If you are looking for something truly unique that still can be pushed like a real mountain bike should, the Renovo Badash 29er is exactly that. As you can tell with my Wolfhound, I am a sucker for works of art that can also be ridden out on the trail. When you roll up with a Badash 29er, you get a lot of comments like “I wouldn’t even ride that it is so nice” and “Is that seriously made out of wood?!”. It truly is a unique piece of art that can take a beating on the trail. It will not be a race bike or a brillant climber, but it will be an incredibly fun bike that you can not see anywhere else.
Bikes are made to be ridden and I had a great time with the Badash 29er from Renovo during the period it graced our stable. It is truly the only wooden mountain bike I have ever ridden that I actually enjoyed riding as much as staring at it. The hardwoods do a great job of absorbing vibrations that rattle your teeth loose on aluminum frames and the bike is surprising capable on the downhills (as we had to record on video below as proof).
Back in December, we found out about a really cool wood bike company named Renovo Hardwood Bicycles. What originally caught our eye about these unique frames was not necessarily the fact they are made out of wood (that has been done before with bamboo), but that the 29er mountain bike and road frames actually looked like something we wanted to hammer on the road and trails.
Fast forward to now…Renovo Hardwood Bikes sent in their Badash 29er for review on Bike198. It is time to finally get one of these beauties out on the trail and it is beautiful.
Quite possibly the most unique bike to grace the Bike198 offices since the Wolfhound, the Renovo represents everything the bike industry isn’t right now…unique. In a market where plastic bikes rule all and everything is starting to look the same, Renovo produces a truly unique frame with incredible craftsmanship. We haven’t even gotten this frame dirty yet and it is hard not to just sit back and stare at it.
Where Renovo really sets themselves apart from other past wood bike manufacturers is their use of hardwoods. The Badash 29er is manufactured with the options out of the Appalachian series which consists of hickory, walnut, ash and maple in one or two series per frame for $2,550.00 MSRP. There is even a walnut center strip to add to the flare of the frame and beautiful internal cable routing. The dropouts are natural aluminum.
Once we posted up a picture of the frame on Facebook, there was some question on the durability of the frame itself as it is manufactured out of wood. Here is what Renovo has to say.
So, some time ago when we tested our road frames for impact resistance, we were pleased at how well they held up. Curious, we tested against butted frame tubes of aluminum, steel and titanium and were surprised that our frames, particularly hickory, withstood impact much better than the metal tubes. I confess we were a little smug about that, but failed to pick up on the implication that our frames would likely survive a fall onto rocks better than the other frame materials. Later testing showed our frames to be brutally strong; our lightest road frame failed at 2002 pounds, one ton, or twelve times the weight of the average rider. Putting 2 and 2 together (after a while), I finally recognized we probably had the makings of a seriously tough mountain frame.
So here are the pictures. We are looking forward to getting this bike out on the trail for some real abuse. At the very least…it should attract a lot of attention. To check out more about Renovo and their testing on the frames, head over to RenovoBikes.com.
Here is a quick video of the Badash in action from Renovo.
While at the SE Bike Expo this past weekend, I got a chance to throw a leg over the new 2012 Trek Superfly 100.
As many of you already know, the Trek Superfly 100 is a carry over from the Gary Fisher days. Trek brought the two brands together to essentially give them a Trek branded 29er lineup. They kept the Gary Fisher name by making it a collection, but you are basically getting the same bike as before with the Trek logo. Trek owned Gary Fisher anyway, so it really made sense from a branding point of view.
For 2012, the big change to the bike was the addition of the 142mm rear end with 12mm rear thru axle. This does a lot to stiffen up the rear end and unify the rear triangle with the front main frame. We are starting to see a lot of manufacturers go to this setup over the past couple of years. While it creates yet another variable (the 142mm rear hub width vs. conventional 135mm), anything that brings more rear end stiffness to full suspension mountain bikes is a welcomed bonus.
The bike still features the Trek Active Braking Pivot a RockShox Maxle thru axle system.
The color scheme also changed for 2012 to a raw carbon look (vs. the white previously) with bright blue accents. Personally, I am liking the darker color scheme Trek is using for their lineup this year. The Fuel EX and Remedy got the same treatment. Other than that, you get the same G2 geometry that you are used to out of the 29ers from Fisher and a host of Bontrager/Shimano components to round out the build. Weights for this Elite model (MSRP $5,249) are coming in around 26 pounds.
One thing to keep in mind with current Trek bikes, their sizing is a little bit different than you might be used to. I typically ride a large in just about all brands. On a 2012 Trek, I ride a 21.5 frame because it is an actual 19.5. When you go to test ride a Trek, try the one size up than you normally ride first.
The Trek Superfly 100 is a purpose built machine in all reality. While there will be a lot of enthusiast riders who buy this bike purely because they want a light 29er, the real purpose of this bike is to go fast on XC race courses and endurance events. During these events, all of your time that is made up to hit the podium is done on climbs…not the descents. So fast race machines have to be able to climb like a bat out of hell. They don’t really care how they descend…just get me to the top and do it quickly.
The Superfly 100 is built to do exactly that…climb. When you get into slight rises or long ascents, the bike seems to just pedal forward with enough suspension to gain traction without robbing you of precious energy. The Active Braking Pivot does a great job of preventing unwanted pedal bob while hammering up the climb and the geometry of the bike keeps the front end planted down while tracking straight. Basically, everything you would want the bike to do while climbing…just works.
That is where the love affair with the Superfly 100 stops…at least for me. Those same stable characteristics that make the Superfly 100 such a great climber are it’s downfall in tight/twisty singletrack and downhill. The suspension on the Superfly (at 25% sag) is really setup just to take enough of the edge off that you don’t get super beat up on XC races. You still feel just about every single part of the trail while you ride. It is not a plush setup even when you start to let air out of the 110mm rear travel frame.
That stability you feel in the climbing is also largely in part because of a long wheelbase on this bike. That same long wheel base makes the bike hard to maneuver between tight trees and switchbacks. It is more of a sweeping turner than a pinpoint direction changer. It takes more body english and throwing your weight forward on the bike to get it to spin around.
While headed downhill, the Active Braking Pivot works as advertised by keeping the suspension active under braking forces, but the bike just isn’t comfortable with the tires leaving the ground or bombing technical descents. However, I would expect this out of a bike that is essentially built to be a mountain goat.
Overall, the bike is great for what it is built to be…a light XC race/endurance bike that will make up time where it matters the most…on the climbs and flats. It pedals incredibly well and makes you feel like you are faster than you are when you are pointed skyward. Throw a little bit of money at this Elite (ok…maybe a lot of money) and you could have a 23 lbs. racing monster that will get you to the podium.
Those same characteristics that make this bike such a great racing thoroughbred make it a hard sell for enthusiast riders in my eyes. If you want to have the latest and greatest light full suspension mountain bike frame, then you are probably looking right at this offering from Trek. However, I think there is more fun to be had on several other bikes in the industry (especially for this price) if you are looking to maximize your fun on the trail and not just be the first one to the top of the climb. It is not going to be confidence inspiring going downhill unless you already have some serious skills.
For my purposes, I would look into this frame if I was going to race endurance events. For fast XC racing, I would probably look closer at the Niner Jet 9 RDO as it’s geometry will turn faster through tight sections of trail.
The Ellsworth Epiphany has been a long time staple in the Ellsworth lineup. Dubbed as their ultimate trail bike, the Epiphany got a host of upgrades with the SST.2 tubing addition that included a slightly lighter overall weight (by a 1/2 pound), curved tubes, asymmetric stays and more custom color options that even includes the rockers and bolts. The Epiphany still features Ellsworth’s ICT (Instant Center Tracking) suspension design which is essentially a faux bar system with strategic pivot placement.
For this review, we enlisted a friend of Bike198 and obsessed bike tester, Roger Philips, to build up the bike and let us know what he thinks. A man on a mission, Roger flies out to Outerbike, attends just about every demo day and rotates bikes in and out of garage as fast as we do in search for the ultimate trail bike. He also has extensive race experience and has traveled all over the world in pursuit of the perfect section of single track.
This bike was sent in as frame only…so let’s take a look at the build.
The Build: Ellsworth Epiphany SST.2
140mm rear wheel travel trail bike from Ellsworth Bicycles – Made in the USA
Frame Size: Medium at 6.2 lbs. with shock and seat collar
Let’s take a look at what Roger thought about the Ellsworth Epiphany on the trails in north Georgia.
Weight is 28 lbs even. It could be made lighter with regular grips, lighter saddle, tires and wheels. The black anodized finish looks great that doesn’t chip easily like many other manufacturers painted frames. Kudos to Ellsworth for sticking to a standard threaded bottom bracket. This greatly expands the options for usable cranks and allows you to avoid the short bearing life of the press in type. If the seat tube measured 30.9, it would also provide more options for a dropper post.
The ICT design delivers very efficient seated climbing. It floats over rocks and roots allowing the tires to maintain traction even when you remain in the saddle. Unless the trail is very steep and muddy, any rear tire will hook up. If you have the legs, you should be able to clean any climb on the Epiphany. The 140mm Revelation front fork does not wander, and the long top tube on a medium size frame allows plenty of room to shift your weight for optimal traction.
With a 140 Revelation RLT TI up front, this bike loves to fly down rocky rooty trails. The ICT suspension is one of, if not the plushest suspension designs today and floats over rough downhills. For a bike with 5.5” of rear travel, it doesn’t get much softer than this. It’s also quiet with very little chain slap. Braking late and hard into corners is easy since the suspension is always active.
With a 70 head angle, the Epiphany is more agile through tight singletrack than other bikes in its class. Normally, a steep head angle means it will be tricky on steep sections, but the long top tube and plush rear suspension keep you pointed straight. One downside that keeps the Epiphany from being the ultimate trailbike is its cornering. Whether riding tight or sweeping turns, the bike wants to push to the outside of the turn. It does not carve very well. Playing with the compression dampening on the fork helps, but in doing so you sacrifice some comfort. After playing with different stem lengths and handlebar rise, nothing turned it into a carving machine. When riding the Epiphany, my center of gravity feels higher than on other bikes in its class. Perhaps this contributes to the cause of this trait.
Just riding along:
The Epiphany devours technical trails. The ICT suspension eats up square edge hits and allows you to stay seated and power through rough sections. Rock gardens are easy since you have a plush rear to absorb everything and great (13.5”) BB clearance to avoid pedal strikes. Pedal strikes can big a huge issue on some other suspension designs. Sure, you can adapt your pedaling style, but in the heat of the moment on an unfamiliar trail, disaster can be one pedal strike away. Some test bikes have had a pedal dig in so hard that the next thing you know you are headed for a tree or over the bars. With the Epiphany, pedal strikes rarely occur.
East Coast vs Moab Riding
I had the opportunity to demo another Epiphany in Moab this fall. It was set up with a Fox Talas, XT components, and Ellsworth Wheels. The new Talas with Kashima coating performs similar to the Revelation on my East Coast bike, so the focus was on how the frame performs on different terrain. I had the bike for a week and rode a number of classic Moab trails including the Whole Enchilada. That trail starts at 11K in the high alpine and descends back down to 4K in the high desert. It has everything from leg burning climbs at altitude, to fast rocky descents with drops and ledges everywhere.
Typical Moab terrain:
Much of the climbing in Moab involves steep sections of trail with ledges thrown in to stop your momentum. With the Epiphany and its incredible rear traction, you just sit and spin up the climb while lofting the front wheel over any ledge in its path. You can then lunge forward and allow the plush ICT suspension to absorb the impact and continue on your way. I ran the Talas fully extended at 140mm for the climbs to avoid getting that feeling of plowing into the hill you get at the lower travel setting of 110mm. Even at 140, there was very little to no wandering of the front end.
Downhill in Moab, the Epiphany is in its element. All you do is sit back and let the bike fly! The plush suspension allows you to rocket down rough sections and launch drops at will. It’s stable and inspires confidence. You can use all of the braking power since there is no suspension induced locking of the rear wheel. The rear end tracks over everything.
While the tacky soil of Southeastern trails lends itself to carving on the bike, the loose rock over hardpack of Moab is not conducive to that type of bike handling. The Epiphany struggles with carving here on our Southern trails, but since you won’t be doing that on the dessert trails it is a non issue.
The Epiphany is one of the very best bikes available for the trails of Moab, Fruita, Gooseberry Mesa and the like. It can climb rutted out sections with ease and bomb the downhills, all while putting a big smile on your face.
Positives: Ellsworth Epiphany SST.2
Plush suspension that inspires confidence when gravity takes over
Impressive build quality of the frame
70 degree head angle makes for an agile climber
Fantastic pedaling efficiency while seated
Eats up technical trail
Negatives: Ellsworth Epiphany SST.2
Bike tends to plow to the outside on tight or high speed turns.
Standing while pedaling causes some suspension bob.
Ellsworth seatpost binder must be super tight to avoid post slippage.
Needs a 30.9 seatpost for more dropper post options
Weight is very good at 6.2 lbs, but needs to be in the mid to low 5 lb range to be competitive with a few of the other bikes in its class. Perhaps an Epiphany Carbon?
The Epiphany is very close to being the ultimate trail bike. It’s very plush, pedals great in the saddle, climbs steep, rough, rocky trails with ease, and is a great straight line descender. It also does not have any strange vices like unexplained chainsuck or tires rubbing the seat tube that some other brands exhibit. If only the front end were better planted in turns…then it would be perfect.
I was browsing through my Facebook timeline yesterday when an article on BikeRumor.com caught my eye.
14.37lb Scott Scale SL – With Pedals, Bottle Cage & Bar Ends!
When I clicked on the link…I was greeted with this…
His Scott Scale SL race bike registers at just 6.52kg (14.37lbs) complete with pedals, bottle cage, bar ends and Acros’ hydraulic shifting system.
Don’t get me wrong…I am an obsessed cyclist to the max. Hell…I even started a website just so I could dive into the craziness in my head even more. But, there comes a time when obsession is counter productive to actually riding.
Yes, a mountain bike can be too light.
In this case, the bike is actually so light that it doesn’t accomplish the main goal…being ride-able. I have ridden a lot of mountain bikes. At one point in time, I actually even had an 18 pound custom steel hard tail…and I hated every second of it.
Unlike with road bikes, when you lighten up a mountain bike to the extreme, you actually decrease the ride quality of the bike to such an extreme that the decreased ride characteristics actually overtake the benefits you get from the weight savings. In simplier terms…the bike rides like such crap on the trail (unless it is so groomed you could ride a road bike on it) that you end up fighting for traction more. In turn, you lose the efficiency that you thought you gained by going crazy light to begin with.
This doesn’t even take into consideration the amount of money it takes to get to this weight or the replacement cost of simple components. You also get to multiply out that you have basically made the bike fragile further increasing the need to only taking it out on super groomed trails…like forest service roads (which even the gravel can be extremely dangerous to those wheels).
So I ask…what is the point other than having a bike to show off in forums? I don’t see any. This bike is ridiculous and not in a good way. This is just another case of online weight weenie contests that have no real practical application. If you are interested in the specs…they are below. You will notice he even when with the insanely expensive hydraulic shifting…
For this rider, this bike is everything that mountain biking is supposed to not be.
Frame: SCOTT SCALE SL
Headset: TUNE BUBU custom made
Stem: AX LIGHTNESS custom air brush painted 100mm
Fork: DT Swiss XRC Twin shoot custom brushed
Handlebar: Schmolke SL 600mm custom brushed
Barends: SLB CUSstom 90g
Crank : THM Clavicula 42/32 Chainring: Carbon Ti
Cassette: SRAM XX 11-36
Chain: YBN TITAN
Seat:Parts od Passion
Seatpost: Schmolke TLO 400mm custom
Brake: Magura MT 8
Brakerotor: HOPE Race Edition
Derailleurs: Acros A GE
Bottle Cage: Tune
ALL Bolts and screws are made: Titan /ALU /bottecage carbon
Rims: AX Lightweight tubular brushed
Hubs: TUNE Princess SKYLINE
Hub: Tune Dezibel custom
Spokes: Sapin Superspoke carbon laminated
Just in to the Bike198 camp and next up for review is the Ellsworth Epiphany SST.2 frame in ago black. This 140mm (5.5″) rear travel mountain bike frame has been a staple of Ellsworth bikes for awhile and it is the flagship trail bike out of their range for that style of mountain biking.
As with all Ellsworth bikes, the Epiphany SST.2 gets their ICT (Instant Center Tracking) suspension design, but new to the Epiphany for this model year is the SST.2 tubing. The tubes are tapered, swaged and shaped to try to optimize strength and weight. This is also what gives the Epiphany its new, slightly curved top and down tubes look that is a change over the previous straight tube design. That brings this medium Epiphany down to 6.14 lbs. which is about 1/2 pound lighter than the previous generation.
One of the distinctive styles of Ellsworth frames are the long aluminum rockers through the ICT suspension design that end up being a large focal point of the frame. For 2011, Ellsworth now allows you to add custom color kits to make your frame unique that includes the rockers, head tube badge, derailleur hanger, bolts and seat tube collar. This particular frame is in the stock silver on black.
For suspension duties, you get the new Fox Racing Shox RP23 with the new Kashima coating adopted from their motocross program that provides for less stiction between the seals and shock shaft. While Ellsworth states that this rear shock is factory tuned, it does retain the ProPedal feature which used to be absent on Ellsworth frames.
To round out the frame, the Epiphany SST.2 features well structured welds and full US based fabrication and manufacturing as you can see on the asymmetrical, CNC machined chain stays.
All that is left now…
We need to build it up and get it dirty to see how the new SST.2 version of the classic Ellsworth Epiphany performs on the trail. Stay tuned for more…
For the better part of this year, the Bike198 offices have been riding the Niner M.C.R. 9 29er hard tail as part of a long term review. During this time, the Niner M.C.R. 9 has seen everything from casual rides at local trails with friends to all day epics and finally rounding the process off with a 4th place finish in the expert class of a local 6 hour event. The goal was to put this steel 29er hard tail frame through every single aspect of mountain biking we could imagine this bike seeing through it’s life. At the end of the day…how did the Niner M.C.R. 9 do in the mountains of north Georgia?
Specs and Info: Niner M.C.R. 9
The Niner M.C.R. 9 (short for Magic Carpet Ride) is a steel 29er hard trail frame from the crew at Niner Bikes. Niner is known throughout the industry for being 29er specialists and this frame is no different. Built up to be a purpose built, Reynolds 853 geared hard tail, the M.C.R. 9 is one of several hard tail offerings out of the Niner camp. With a MSRP around $849, the M.C.R. 9 comes in at the middle of the budget range for potential 29er hard tail buyers. It is more expensive than the budget options like Vassago but not quite into the 5 figure mark where you see some other boutique options.
Features of the Niner M.C.R. 9 frame:
A geared, steel hardtail for dirt connoisseurs
Custom drawn, 29er specific Reynolds 853 tubeset
angled toptube to maximize standover clearance
s-bend chainstays (fits 2.4 tires)
Niner’s proven hardtail 29er geometry
Optimized for 80 to 100mm suspension forks
Disc brake only
Breezer style forged dropouts with replaceable derailleur hanger
This particular M.C.R. 9 build came kitted out with some of the best the mountain bike industry has to offer.
This brought the overall bike weight without pedals to 25.72 pounds (as weighed with an Feedback Digital Alpine Scale). If you wanted to drop additional grams, the wheelset, tires, post and stem could gain you well over a pound with a different spec, but for a steel hard tail frame that wasn’t built with weight weenie measurements in mind…the Niner M.C.R. 9 does pretty well.
The Niner M.C.R. 9 is a geared specific frame (unless you go through the trouble of finding that perfect gear ratio). If you are looking for the same specs but with the ability to go single speed, Niner does offer the S.I.R. 9 which includes an eccentric bottom bracket with the same 853 Reynolds steel frame.
On The Trail: Niner M.C.R. 9 29er Hard Tail
As mentioned before, this Niner M.C.R. 9 saw a little bit of everything. From long days in the saddle with multiple FSR’s to race day, a steel 29er hard tail is expected to be able to take a wide variety of riding conditions…so let’s split them up and see how things went.
Casual Local Ride and JRA (Just Riding Around)
There are some days you just want to grab a bike and ride a local trail. If you are surrounded by XC trails like we are in the southeast, bringing your 30+ pound FS rig doesn’t always make sense. The Niner M.C.R. 9 ended up being the perfect grab and go bike for some of the tamer local trails. The 853 Reynolds steel provided a great platform that took the edge off rocks and roots just enough to save your back from long term abuse while still being quick enough to enjoy dropping the hammer.
But where Niner really gets things right…is in the geometry of the M.C.R. 9. The 71 degree head tube angle (fork at 100mm) and 17.5″ chain stay length made the M.C.R. 9 a capable climber that also handled very well in tight, twisty single track. While some 29er hard tails feel really long in the trees, the M.C.R. 9 is able to handle them quickly while feeling stable and balanced. Over longer climbs, the steel frame helped keep traction over more technical areas that might be bounced around more on aluminum or scandium. Niner also built in the ability to run a 2.4 rear tire added to the cushion factor. With high volume, low pressures and the steel frame…you almost feel like you have a little bit of rear wheel travel.
Long, All Day Rides
Where the Niner M.C.R 9 really performs its best is on long days. If your weekends consist of 30+ mile days in the saddle that are a mix of forest service roads, double track and single track, you will find that a steel hard tail 29er will become one of your go to rides. The M.C.R. 9′s geometry worked out incredibly well on longer, gradual climbs. Leg power went directly to the ground the steel frame did a great job of making gravel roads and double track rocks almost disappear.
On days where the squish of a full suspension bike would have been too much (even lighter ones than this build)…the Niner M.C.R. 9 does a great job of conserving rider energy for the long haul.
XC/Short Endurance Race Events
The last test of the M.C.R. 9 was a local 6 hour event that I ended up doing as a two man team. While the quick turning and stable climbing of the M.C.R. 9 made the bike do pretty well throughout the event, I felt like I really needed either an aluminum (or carbon) hard tail or a lighter full suspension rig. In fast, sprint oriented XC racing, the M.C.R. 9′s weight due to the steel frame really starts to come into play. It also doesn’t feel like it accelerates fast enough to hammer out of turns and attack steep climbs.
The reality is that the M.C.R. 9 was not built with the goal of being a fast XC race bike, but my guess is that many of these frames will end up seeing that duty at some point in time.
Conclusion: Niner M.C.R. 9 29er Hard Tail
The Niner M.C.R. 9 is a great balance of steel comfort and quick hard tail handling. For those that haven’t ridden a steal hard tail before, the quality of the metal really does take just a little bit of edge off that makes longer rides easier. The whole “steel is real” slogan really does have merit.
If you are looking for a bike that will be able to go all day long without abusing your body to the point you feel like you can’t walk the next day…a steel 29er hard tail like the M.C.R. 9 is your perfect balance. Hardcore racers are going to want to build up an aluminum frame that has quicker acceleration and the ability to go stupid light. The M.C.R. 9′s perfect rider is more of a recreational or endurance rider that is willing to give up a some weight for comfort.
Good: Niner M.C.R. 9 29er Hard Tail
High quality 853 Reynolds Steel that gives a great ride quality
Dialed 29er geometry that handles incredibly well
Median price point that matches the quality build and handling
Great customer service out of Niner Bikes
Bad: Niner M.C.R. 9 29er Hard Tail
Won’t work as a single speed unless you find that magic gear ratio
25+ pounds can be considered heavy by today’s XC bike standards. Racers should opt for the aluminum counterparts as the weight adds up.
If you want a steel hard tail 29er that has the boutique ride without the boutique price and have no interest in SS’ing it…the M.C.R. 9 is at the top of our list currently in this market. Check out NinerBikes.com or your local Niner dealer for more info.
This past weekend, I was able to throw a leg over the new 2012 Trek Fuel EX 9.8 and Remedy 9.8 carbon mountain bikes. Here is a quick review of what I thought about the bikes that was backed up by a local test riding fanatic.
2012 Trek Fuel EX 9.8
For 2012, the Trek Fuel EX (120mm of travel front and rear) gets several notable changes. The head tube angle is brought out slacker an additional 1 degree and you get the addition of the new Fox 32 Float with the new Trek DCRV air spring bringing their rear suspension valving technology to the front of the bike. The idea is to give the rider of the Fuel EX a more stable descender while not taking away from the pedaling and climbing ability that the buyers of the Fuel EX lineup love. The 9.8 is a full carbon version of the EX that is kitted out with Shimano’s latest 3×10 XT component group and XTR rear derailleur.
Thoughts on the 2012 Trek Fuel EX 9.8
The first thing you really notice about the Fuel EX 9.8 is its small bump compliance. While you ride, the smaller roots and rocks seem to disappear under the bike as the ABP (Active Braking Pivot) and DCRV rear shock go to work. Even over longer rock gardens at medium speed, the bike stays completely level while the suspension does its job. Trek has done a great job of dialing in this bike for that kind of riding.
While this year’s Trek Fuel EX is slightly plusher than the previous model, you still do ramp up some in the suspension curve as you use the bike’s 120mm of rear travel. The DCRV rear shock helps to keep it linear given the XC travel spec, but when you hit bigger drops and obstacles, you will prevent hard bottom out due to this slight ramping at the end of the stroke.
The DCRV Fox 32 Float is an improvement over the stock Fox. Fox front forks have been known to have a ramping curve and the DCRV valving does a great job at flattening that out and creating a more linear, plush fork. On some DCRV rear shocks, the bike actually feels like it has more usable travel than spec’ed. I was hoping this would translate to the front fork, but all it really did was make it as plush as the RockShox forks we have been testing as of late. While it doesn’t give us that “added travel” feel, it is an upgrade over the stock setup.
Overall the Fuel EX 9.8 from Trek fro 2012 is a solid trail bike for riders looking to keep a fast climber that is still trail riding capable. The slightly slacker head tube angle helped on steeper descents, but it also made the bike turn a little bit slower over last year’s model. This is a reasonable tradeoff in my opinion, but it will take some adjustment if you are used to the other setup. Where the Fuel EX 9.8 really shines is with its small bump compliance. Everything just seems to disappear under the bike when you are just pedaling along.
2012 Trek Remedy 9.8
Next, we threw a leg over the new 2012 Trek Remedy 9.8. Just like the Fuel EX 9.8, the new Remedy gets a 1 degree slacker head tube angle over last year and gets the new DCRV valving in its 150mm travel Fox 32 Float. Also like the Fuel EX 9.8, this all carbon Remedy is spec’ed out with the latest 3×10 Shimano XT lineup with the XTR rear derailleur. Overall weight was around 28 pounds from what we could see on the test rig and that is pretty light for a 150mm travel frame and fork.
Thoughts on the 2012 Trek Remedy 9.8
When you throw a leg over the Trek Remedy 9.8, it really feels like a bigger version of the Fuel. Although, some of that is probably mental as you can barely even tell a difference between the two when they are sitting side by side with the same component spec and color scheme. That is where most of the similarities end…
That same great small bump compliance that graced the Fuel EX is gone in the Remedy. With multiple runs over rock and root sections of trail, the Remedy didn’t keep that same flat bike, working suspension feeling…you get more feedback from the trail and the suspension setup is not as plush. After multiple air pressure changes in the tires and suspension, we still weren’t able to duplicate the plush Fuel EX feeling. The ride was harsh for a 150mm travel mountain bike.
The degree slacker head tube angle did help a little bit with downhill stability, but I felt it could have been let out even just a little bit more. This 150mm travel mountain bike is supposed to be the marriage between 140mm travel trail bikes and 160mm travel AM rigs…and it really just feels like a taller Fuel EX without the plushness. By slackening the HT out just a little bit more and bringing that small bump compliance back into the curve, the rider would feel like they were sitting in the bike instead of on top of it and it would be a more capable trail/AM setup. Maybe…if you throw a new Fox Talas 36 on the front…you could coerce this bike into that stance.
The build quality and overall looks of the bike are outstanding with well thought out cable routing for the seat post and components and I love the new black carbon/green color scheme. With the Remedy, I really just feel like Trek built a bike they knew they could sell instead of building this bike the way it really needs to be setup. This is an XC 150mm frame that I wouldn’t feel as comfortable on with big mountain runs. My guess is that most of the purchasers of this bike are riding more XC oriented type trails instead of ones that actually require 150mm of usable suspension travel.
(Note: From what I could tell on the Remedy test bike, it was in the 67.5 degree head tube angle setting. According to reports, the link is adjustable to lower the BB height 10mm and slacken the HT to 67 degrees)
Overall: The 2012 Trek Trail Bikes
Black is the new black for 2012. The new bikes from Trek are showing progression by continuing the trend of slacker geometry while keeping climbing abilities. The bike that really shines out of the lineup is the Fuel EX. That small bump absorption is fantastic and it creates a fast a flowy riding experience that translates very well onto more XC and trail type mountain bike trails.
The Remedy is supposed to be the bigger brother to the Fuel that is more capable for technical riding, but I just didn’t get that feeling out of the bike. The degree slacker head tube angle is a step in the right direction (67.5 degrees in the bikes current setting)…but I felt like 66.5 degres or even 66 degrees like the Stumpjumper EVO from Specialized (145mm of rear travel) would have really set this bike loose given a plusher suspension platform at 150mm of travel. If it was a 140mm travel mountain bike, the 67 degrees (adjustable to via link) would have probably fit in perfectly.
Hot on the heals of the new licorice black color scheme of the carbon Air 9, Niner Bikes releases the much anticipated Jet 9 RDO carbon full suspension 29er. When Niner released the Air 9 carbon, we knew the Jet 9 would eventually get the carbon treatment. It only seemed logical to bring the same technology to the 100mm full suspension platform. With bikes like the Santa Cruz Tallboy selling faster than demand, the market for lightweight, carbon 29er race bikes is one of the fastest growing in the industry.
From the looks of it, Niner Bikes really took their time with the Jet 9 carbon and released a bike that should keep the trademark Niner ride while providing a lighter platform for racers and XC enthusiasts. It is also arguably the best looking 29er full suspension bike released to date…especially in the black licorice color scheme.
Some specs on the new Niner Bikes Jet 9 RDO carbon 29er:
Carbon full suspension from the only 29er only mountain bike company
Patented CVA suspension is efficient in every chainring. You won’t find this design on other bikes.
100mm of race-ready rear suspension
Compatible with 100 – 120mm tapered forks
Custom valved Fox Float RP23 with Kashima coating
Custom forged suspension linkage and unique Niner suspension hardware
Next generation internal cable routing
Precise alloy hardware interfaces for brakes and derailleurs (direct mount front der)
The Niner Jet 9 RDO uses the same, newly patented CVA suspension (U.S. Patent No. 7,934,739) that can be found on the rest of the full suspension lineup from Niner Bikes. The frame also comes with Niner’s C5 warranty giving the carbon a full 5 years of warranty from the factory.
With custom forged linkage and proven design, the carbon frame of the Niner Jet 9 RDO also promises to be a very stiff setup for serious speed on the trail. At a retail of $2,599, the Jet 9 RDO is not going to be in everyone’s budget, but it will certainly be grabbing the eyes of everyone at the trailhead when one pulls through. It will be interesting to see how this bike rides in comparison to the regular aluminum Jet 9 that is still one of the fastest 29ers Bike198 has tested to date.
There have been rumors flying around the Santa Cruz camp with several spy shots hitting the web, but it is now official…Santa Cruz has 3 new bikes to add to their already impressive lineup.
Santa Cruz Highball
Probably the most anticipated addition to the Santa Cruz lineup is the 2.4 pound full carbon 29er hard tail frame. While this is not Santa Cruz’s first jump into hard tails (see the AM/DJ Chameleon), it is the first lightweight hard tail out of the Santa Cruz lineup geared towards the XC crowd…specifically racers looking for an ultralight, super stiff 29er frame. From what we have heard…this is going to be a HT frame that is aimed specifically at those riders, so racers that are huge Santa Cruz fans should be extremely happy.
Santa Cruz Tallboy AL
Building off of the massive success of the Santa Cruz Tallboy, SC has release an aluminum counterpart to the all carbon frame. For those of you that have been drooling over the carbon frame but didn’t have the $2,400+ to pony up for the carbon version…you will now have a much more affordable (in boutique bike terms) option to get rolling on the Tallboy frame design.
Santa Cruz Blur TRc
The new all carbon Blur TRc is Santa Cruz’s new look at the trail bike. With a frame weight of right at 5 pounds and 5 inches of rear wheel travel (between the XC and LT models), the new Blur TRc looks to mate XC rigs with slacker AM sleds. You get the same carbon layout as the Tallboy and similar VPP suspension setup.
The New Bikes From Santa Cruz
From what we can see, the new rides out of the Santa Cruz camp marks an expansion year for 2011. They are building off of their already stout carbon lineup by adding in two new bikes to the mix and looking to gain off of that popularity with an affordable option of a once carbon only bike. With the new 29er HT, they are really rounding out their entire mountain bike lineup by having a purpose built race rig all the way to a World Cup DH champion with the Santa Cruz V10.
It will be an exciting year for Santa Cruz and we can’t wait to see the bikes in person. You can expect to see these shipping to showroom floors around the beginning of April.
With the widespread adoption of the 29er mountain bike in manufacturing and the mountain bike community, the growing debate of 29er vs. traditional 26″ mountain bikes is getting hot amongst riding groups. If you are in the market to upgrade your current mountain bike or get into the sport, your options are wider than ever which is a good thing for the sport but can be debilitating when looking to purchase a new rig.
There is no “right answer” for every mountain biker, so let’s take a look at the 26″ vs. 29er mountain bike debate and see where it shakes out in my opinion. This topic is probably the most debated in the industry, so you will find that every rider has what they think is the right answer for you (typically what they bought).
The 29er Mountain Bike: What is the big deal?
Before we get into what will work best for you, let’s take a look at this larger wheel size and see how it affects the mountain bike in a general way.
What does a 29er do well?
Rolls over rocks and roots easier due to the wider circumference.
More distance covered per pedal revolution.
Higher air volume in tires smooth out ride.
The larger diameter wheels of the 29er mountain bike can create the sensation of having an 1″ more travel than the bike is spec’ed due to the larger air volume and larger contact patch with the ground. For this reason, it has become the go to size for much of the hard tail and shorter travel mountain bikes in the industry. The racing world has really embraced the larger wheels size for these benefits it brings to the trail.
What are the drawbacks of a 29er?
Large size equals larger weight.
Harder to maneuver in tight, twisty single track.
Longer travel (5.5″ and higher) 29ers feel REALLY big.
Sizing and geometry issues with smaller riders.
Larger radius needs stiff wheel build and fork to prevent deflection.
Just as with any big change, it is not all good news. While the true 29er zealots will probably tell you these things are not true, the reality is that you are adding bigger wheels to the mountain bike than traditional 26″, so there are going to be negative side affects that go along with the positive changes.
26″ vs. 29″ Wheels: Which is right for me?
When you are taking a look at the 26″ vs. 29er mountain bike, there are several personal questions you need to ask yourself as you make your decision. As with all things, there is no right answer that fits all people. How you ride your bike and how you want it to react is the most important factor when making this decision…not what your friend bought and says is the best.
So here is how I see it shake out…
How tall are you?
As the distance from your head to the ground increases, the 29er wheel size actually becomes more proportional to your size. Riders in the 6 foot and up crowd that are looking for a XC to light AM mountain bike should test ride a 29er just to see how they like it. You might find that it fits perfectly and you have finally found a bike that feels like it actually fits. Shorter riders in the 5’6″ range and lower will need to take a serious look at geometry and test ride different frames as they might find the bike feels too big or isn’t able to maneuver as well. I have known shorter riders that have loved the bigger wheel size, but that is typically in hard tail applications.
Taller Riders: Yes
Shorter Riders: Maybe
How much travel are you looking for?
While the argument that a 29er “adds an inch” of travel is almost true in theory, there is a big difference in 140mm forks and 160mm forks in mountain biking. The thicker stanchions and construction make a huge difference for riders looking to get into the more technical side of riding. If you are in the market for a 140mm or 160mm travel mountain bike, a 120″ travel 29er is not going to give you that same stiffness and confidence from a bike build and component standpoint. Also, as you move up in travel the bike feels bigger and when you add in the larger wheel diameter, that gets multiplied and can hold you back in slow tech and DH situations.
However, if you are looking at lighter 130mm to 140mm travel 26″ mountain bikes and you are taller, the 120mm travel 29er might be a great option. It will roll over technical rocks and roots on most single track easier and you will still be able to keep the overall bike weight under 30 pounds in most cases.
In the short travel and hard tail mountain bike market, the 29er mountain bike has almost completely taken over.
HT and 100mm travel and under: Yes
120mm to 130mm: Yes
160mm and up: No
What type of trails do you ride?
As mentioned before, 29er mountain bikes do take more to maneuver through tight single track. If all of your riding is filled with tight turns in trees, you will want to try out a 29er on your own local trails before making a decision. On the other side of the spectrum, if your trails are more open and rocky, the 29er wheel size can really excel and bring more speed as you can hit sections faster.
Do a lot of racing and forest service road riding? A 29er is almost a no brainer in those situations. If you don’t believe me…just try to keep up with a 29er rider on a FSR. This adds up with the shorter travel and hard tail mountain bike market.
Tight and twisty: Maybe
Open and rocky: Yes
Racing and FSR: Yes
What do I personally use? 29er or 26″?
When I spec out my personal mountain bikes given trail conditions, this is how everything lays out for me personally given my specs. I would describe my riding style as technical. I like to find the nasty lines possible and make them ridable at speed. For this reason, I typically like to ride mountain bikes with big forks and more travel, but I also like to dip into the XC and race side every now and then as I have a background in those applications. At 6’1″ tall, I fall into the taller side of the sizing spectrum in between large and x-large. To fit my need to find all tech riding, I am on large size mountain bikes to keep the bike easier to move in slow tech.
Singlespeed and Hard Tails: 29er
Short Travel Race Bikes (100mm and under): 29er
Trail bike (140mm and higher): 26 inch
As of right now, I have not found a 29er mountain bike that has been able to handle what I want to throw at a 140mm travel or higher mountain bike. It has not been agile enough and the 32mm stanchion forks mated with higher radius wheels are not built to withstand the abuse. Given the specs of 29ers, I do not see this changing for me as a rider.
On the shorter travel end, there are a lot of advantages of the larger wheel size that have made a couple of 29ers the fastest bikes I have ever ridden for those applications. I doubt if I will ever go back to 26″ wheels for anything under 100mm worth of travel.
What is the right bike for you?
As you take a look at all of these specs, you have to look inward at your body type and riding style to see which wheel size will be the best option for you. There is no right option for everyone and the 29er wheel size is not going to take over the mountain biking industry like a lot of the Kool-Aid drinkers are trying to say. The larger wheel diameter does have some serious advantages in certain situations, but it also does not work for others.
The best option…test ride your top 26″ candidate on your local trail and the top 29er candidate if they are available. If they aren’t, find the closest substitute. At the end of the day, you are the one making the investment in your mountain bike and you will be the one riding it…not everyone else that is trying to inject their opinion in your buying decision.
Diamondback Bicycles is one of those names that has been cemented in the mountain bike industry almost since the beginning. I can remember back in the early 90′s drooling over some of their offerings that graced the covers of industry rags everywhere. With their newer Knuckle Box suspension design, Diamondback Bicycles is looking to bring back that glory and offer bikes that appeal to beginners to experts alike with a solid suspension design.
The Diamondback Sortie Black is the top of the line 130mm travel xc/trail bike from DB. Equipped with the complete 3×10 Shimano XTR component group, the Sortie Black looks to capture the inner gear head while providing a capable platform for getting up and over your local hill.
The Diamondback Sortie Black by the Numbers
The Sortie mountain bike uses the same suspension setup as the previously reviewed Diamondback Mission. With a pivoting box in the lower section of the main triangle, the rear suspension rotates around the Knuckle pushing up on the Fox RP23 rear air shock. This is a unique angle on traditional four bar suspension models that keeps the weight of the rear lower towards the bottom bracket.
Component Spec Highlights
Sortie Trail 5″ 6061-T6 Weapons Grade Aluminum w/ Hydroformed Top Tube, Butted / Formed Down Tube / Seat stays, Under Arch Seat stay bridge, Knuckle Box Technology
The overall construction of the Sortie Black is great with even welds and a durable black anodized finish. I am actually partial to the “black” look of this frame with matching black components. It appeals to the clean, simplicity side of mountain biking without too much color or flare. There is just enough bend in the tubes to set this frame apart from typical straight tube frames without going overboard. It ends up being a nice touch that complements the overall look of the bike.
You can see the rest of the component spec and geometry numbers at Diamondback.com.
On The Trail: Diamondback Sortie Black
By the geometry numbers, we were expecting a really well handling mountain bike for tight and twisty single track…and that is exactly what we got. With the 70 degree head tube angle and 73 degree seat tube angle, the Sortie Black puts your body in attack mode making quick turns between trail obstacles and tight trail easy. When you combined that with the low center of gravity and bottom bracket height, you get a bike that just wants to keep on railing.
The Knuckle Box Suspension
Diamondback’s Knuckle Box suspension design does a great job of handling small bumps keeping the bike plush without robbing you of power transfer when you go to drop the hammer. Like most four bar suspension designs, you will probably want to flip the ProPedal on the RP23 for forest service roads, but for normal trail riding…the suspension stays control and provides a lot of grip. Even during long single track climbs, I never really felt the need to lock the rear end out…just point, climb and let the rear end provide the grip.
The asymmetrical stays and solid box design make the rear end incredibly stiff, but that comes at the price of weight as the bike tips the scales at over 28 pounds with the full XTR component group. As you can imagine, that weight is only going to go up as you move down the Sortie lineup. Since this is a 130mm travel platform, potential buyers of the Sortie Black are going to be more weight conscious than most…especially given this component group and price point. To be really competitive, Diamondback is going to have to find a way to get this bike down in the low 27′s to mid 26 pound range.
Gravity Assisted Riding On The Black
When things got pointed down, the Sortie Black did a great job of handling hard hits and smoothing out the smaller bumps. Square edge hits were handled incredibly well due to the stiffness of the rear end and the suspension design. More serious downhill riders (not dedicated DH…just more AM types) might feel the Sortie is too steep making it sketchier on steep tech, but that is not what this mountain bike was really built for. It can handle the rough terrain…just don’t expect to be hucking off of drops anytime soon with the steeper geometry angles.
On tight, twisty, rolling single track, the Sortie Black really shines. It is a blast to rail this bike around the corners as it barely loses any momentum as you look to the next tight switchback or S turn. If you live in an area like the southeast US where every trail is under tight tree cover, you will love the way this bike handles through the turns.
Overall: Diamondback Sortie Black
For our local trail systems, the Sortie Black was a great bike. It handled the tight, twisty trails with ease and pedaled well given the bike’s weight. However, for this price point and travel range, the bike is too heavy. On a long day of riding following fit riders on 26 to 27 pound mountain bikes in the same category, the weight starts to add up. If the Sortie weighed in at about 26.5 pounds, it would be a monster on the trail.
Diamondback is doing a great job with the Knuckle Box suspension design…with a little bit more performance tuning…it is going to be a bike to contend with.
Positives: Diamondback Sortie Black
Rails tight single track with ease
Stiff suspension design with a low center of gravity
Plush suspension platform that doesn’t rob you of climbing power
Great build quality
Negatives: Diamondback Sortie Black
Price – Given the component group…this is no surprise. The wheels retail for over a grand! (lowest price I could find was $5,500)
Weight – To really compete in this travel market and price point, it is going to have to go on a diet. Just by the numbers, this will be a deal killer for many riders.
If you are looking for a bike that performs great in the forest, the Diamondback Sortie is worth a look. Luckily, they have other models that are more budget centered, so check them out as well.