I finally had the time to see what this 29er thing is all about. After picking up the test bike from my LBS, I decided to do my local 10.5 mile workout loop on the bike. It's got plenty of climbing and plenty of downhilling. It also includes a little pavement riding.
I am 5'9" tall and about 165 pounds so I chose a size medium to test. It weighed in at 28.02 LBS with toe-clip platform pedals, reflectors and dork-disc.
I immediately noticed some differences. I felt taller on this bike. It also felt more powerful (than my 26er). It did not take any extra grunt to get it going...and boy, it wants to GO! My 26er weighs exactly 4.5 pounds less than the test bike and I could barely tell there was any extra weight on the 29er! Turning the cranks is really rewarding, you get the feel of more power from the same output compared to a 26er. On pavement it has a great feeling, smooth and solid. If this bike was lighter like my bike, I would probably buy a 29er in a heartbeat because I have to think it would be even better to ride, even though there was a few things that bothered me. Read on and you'll see...
On dirt, some of the differences were frustrating. It climbed steep stuff very well. I didn't feeling like I was working harder than I do with my 26er on climbs and that surprized me. I did however, run in one lower gear on the same climb as compared to with my 26er. For example, I climb steep stuff with my 26er in the 32 gear. On the 29er, I needed to use the 34 gear to get the same feeling.
Another thing on dirt is that you will be shifting alot more often. Subtle angle changes in climbing call for immediate gear changes in order to keep the same push going. I found myself with an underpowered feeling the moment the terrain began to level out in the slightest bit. Your shifters are going to get a workout on a 29er, LOL! I am use to keeping my 26er in one gear of the cassette for climbing and then mostly just shifting the front chainrings to change my power. I could not do this with the 29er and that bothered me.
On the the downhill bomb run, it was pretty squirrely for me. I think the added height and the rear tire (Spec S-WORKS Renegade) caught me off guard. I found the rear end sliding out on me in the turns which led to a more precise, slower downhill speed. Boo-hoo. Again, if this bike was spec'd like my 26er, it would have a different story.
I rode through ruts and over bumps as much as possible. I've heard that bigger wheels take these better. There was no noticable difference to me uphill or downhill over and through these obsticles.
The brakes (Avid Elixir R-SL) suck! Weak, noisy, no power when needed on super steep stuff when a rapid stop is in order. The new Phenom saddle is incredible! A drastic improvement over the last model. I liked it so much that I will probably buy one for my 26er. The Rockshox Reba fork performed well. The rear Fox Brain/shock worked well, too but I stopped 3 times to drop the setting on the brain to where it felt best. I ended up setting it 6 clicks back from full. I like some reaction from the rear suspension over bumps, 6 clicks back kept it locked out but allowed it to react over smallish "bumps" on the downhill blast.
Well, that's it. I think the "29ers are better suited big riders" is all wrong. I could easily get use to this ride with a few adjustments in my riding style and some high-end components. It was fun!!! Here's a few pics...I included my 26er in a few pics for a comparison in size between a 26er and a 29er.
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Thread: TEST: 2011 Epic 29er Comp