The Gary Fisher Bikes Rumblefish II review found itself in a strange position recently due to two things that were unforeseen. #1: The model was nearly impossible to find on a dealer’s floor past the springtime because of lower production numbers overall due to the economy last year. (Many models from several companies fall under this category, by the way) Secondly, and most surprisingly, there is no Gary Fisher Bikes brand anymore! For more on that story, see the following links here and here.
So, where does that leave us? Actually, all the hullabaloo turns out to be no big deal in the end. The 2011 Rumblefish will appear with some refinements and different graphics, but what we are reviewing is largely the same bike. While we lament the fact that examples of this fine bike are hard, (or impossible), to find now, we know that the 2011 models are on the way, so we feel confident that the review will still be useful to those looking to buy this bike in the near future. With all that said, here is the final post on the 2010 Rumblefish II I have been riding for a few months now.
The Overall Package: The Rumblefish model line represents Gary Fisher, (now the Fisher Collection- by the way, wouldn’t the “Fisher Collective” have a better ring to it? Hmm….), take on a 29 inch wheeled trail bike. Something you’d ride all day on a mountain, go for a fun day ride with some buddies on, or just plunk around the back country with. It is heavily based on the HiFi cross country bike line with some important differences in head angle and shock distinguishing the Rumblefish from its more high strung sisters. The 2010 line up included two models which will expand to three for 2011. Our main skepticism with the Rumblefish going in was the 110mm rear travel figure which we saw as a bit short for the claims Fisher was making for the bike when it debuted.
Performance: How did the Rumblefish score as a trail bike? I think it did very well. Actually, I was quite surprised. Mainly due to the DRCV Fox damper the bike is fitted with. Although there are other worthy points, which I’ll get to in a minute, the DRCV makes the Rumblefish a Rumblefish. This damper is essentially a two stage shock that features two air chambers which act together to continue a very linear spring rate throughout the rear wheels travel as it absorbs the trail irregularities. It works amazingly well. That said, it is also amazingly frustrating to set up initially for those short of attention. Impatience will not suit the shock set up procedure, which for me covered two to three outings before I felt I had it dialed in to the sweet spot. Some may get it in much shorter time, but even at the demo I attended in September of 2009, it was apparent that the shock set up was a bit time consuming. The Fisher mechanic at the demo, who was well versed in the set up procedure, was taking upwards of a half an hour for each person to just get us in the ball park with set ups. Is it worth working out? Totally. This damper makes the bike come alive and ride like no other full suspension 29″er I have ridden with the exception of the Lenz Lunchbox prototype I rode at Interbike a few years ago. The suspension feels bottomless, and feels like far more than the 110mm figure suggests. I’ll get back to what that does for the ride, but there is more going on here.
The previous generation of HiFi bikes had great front triangle torsional stiffness, but were plagued by a flexy rear swing arm assembly that was noted for some failures by riders who owned them. (We never had any breakages with our ’08 Hi Fi tester, but it was flexy in the rear) Fisher engineers fixed the swing arm assembly by going to a one piece seat stay instead of the previous two piece unit, moved the rear pivot to be concentric with the rear axle, (ABP), lessening the lever arm that the rear wheel generates on the frame, and moved the main swing arm pivot rearwards slightly, which shortened the chain stay length, and stiffened the swing arm. Tire clearances were opened up a bit in the process as well. All these things made a dramatic improvement to the 2010 Hi Fi/Rumblefish line and I would put the rear suspension into the “Very Good” category in terms of rear end stiffness now.
Bonus: The ABP system, which originally appeared on Trek’s full suspension bikes, was brought over to the Fisher 29 inch full suspension line up for 2010. The idea is that applying the rear brake on a full suspension bike locks out the rear suspension, or what is termed as “brake jack” by riders. ABP puts the pivot of the rear swing arm/seat stay concentric with the rear axle, dramatically lessening the “brake jack” phenomenon. Let me tell you, Grannygear and I both agree that this is for real. Try braking hard with the rear brake going into a corner, and usually the bike will stutter, and start jumping sideways. Not the Rumblefish. Try as we might, we couldn’t get it to misbehave much, even when attempting to induce bad handling. So, ABP does what it is said to do for the brake/suspension performance, but let’s not forget about how it stiffens up that rear assembly as well, which I think is just as important on a 29″er. Look for the 2011 Rumblefish to have an increased diameter ABP pivot, which resembles a through axle as well as doing the brakes a favor. It should really give the rear end a feeling of greater stiffness laterally.
Finally, I want to get back to more on the DRCV damper and how it makes this bike rip. On a typical full suspension rig, when you compress the suspension into the apex of a corner, the suspension, (if it is air sprung) , will typically get into a portion of the travel that makes the air spring ramp up its spring curve. Right when you really do not necessarily want that to happen, you suddenly have a suspension that is too stiff to track the trail properly. The DRCV, with its linear spring rate, doesn’t ramp up. I find that this keeps the rear wheel planted better in the corners, allowing me to attack the corner more aggressively and go through the apex with more speed. I do this knowing that the DRCV will help keep that wheel tracking, and not bouncing around due to a stiff, rising spring rate, like other shocks sometimes will do. It is part of what makes the Rumblefish so fun to ride off road.
What it doesn’t do is give you the inches of travel necessary to do wilder stunts. like big drops, or crazy “B lines” on chunky trails, like a longer travel bike will allow, but in every other sense, the Rumblefish will do things much like a bike with much more travel will. However; it isn’t a bike with a sky high bottom bracket, or one that won’t climb out of the saddle. The Rumblefish kind of melds some of the “big bike” capability to the XC bike fit and feel in corners. A good mix for many riders, I think. It does have a bit of a slack steering feel to the front end, what with the slightly slacker head angle, but with the big offset on the reliable, solid Fox 120mm travel fork, (G2 = 51mm), it still gets around the tight corners and trees quite acceptably. Slow speed maneuvers are not met with a heavy, sluggish handle bar feel either. Another plus from the G2 geometry here.
Conclusions: The Rumblefish is a bit of a conundrum on paper. Trail bike promises with only 110mm rear travel. Yet, on the trail, the bike delivers a feeling of a suspension with much more travel than it has. The DRCV damper does what it is advertised to do, and the improvements to the rear swing arm design are a welcomed thing for this bike, (and the rest of the HiFi line as well). The front to rear balance feels good on this bike, and lateral stiffness is above average for bikes of this class. The bicycle climbs reasonably well out of the saddle, but don’t expect a XC-like snap here. Seated climbing is really good, and the suspension grips loose, rough, or soft trail contours with no issues. The limiting factors here are only your legs and tires. I loved the way the bike settled into corners and ripped through them at high speed.
So what isn’t to like? Well, for starters Fisher still could work on that tire clearance. It is better, but a true 2.4″er on a wide rim will be rubbing the stays. On a bike like this, wider tires on wider rims are going to have to be capable of being fitted. Hopefully Fisher Collective* engineers will be getting to that in a future iteration of the Rumblefish. For now, I would suspect most 2.4 inchers on 28mm rims might clear with minimal clearance. The travel at 110mm is excellent, and makes one wonder how more might be squeezed out of this sort of design. Of course, that will mean a higher bottom bracket height, and possibly a loss of cornering prowess, but perhaps a new model geared towards All Mountain use might be appealing to add to the line up with this design as its basis.
Finally, the DRCV is awesome, but it is a bit fussy to set up. If you don’t go strictly by the book and if you don’t have a patient, methodical countenance, the DRCV may prove to be a boat anchor more than a rear damper. Given the proper respect for the set up procedure though, the DRCV will reward you with an uncanny bottomless feeling rear suspension. Is that a negative or a positive for you? Each person will have to decide. I will only say that after I had the DRCV dialed in, it was a component I didn’t have to deal with much, if at all afterward. An occasional check on air pressure was all that was necessary.
I would recommend the Rumblefish highly to anyone looking for a trail bike with big wheels that gobbles up rough terrain, rails corners, and feels solid underneath you. Huckers and extreme chunk riders will probably still want more rear wheel travel, so this probably won’t fit your bill. Everyone else looking for a great performing trail bike should put the Fisher Collective* Rumblefish on their short list for 2011.
*Note: I know it is “The Fisher Collection by Trek”, but I’m campaigning for a shortened moniker here and I like “The Fisher Collective” better, okay?
Editor’s Note: Thanks to the former “Gary Fisher Bikes” brand and Travis Ott for all they did in helping us understand the Rumblefish and Hi Fi models. This bike was provided at no cost for review and we were not bribed nor paid for this review. We strove to give our honest thoughts and opinions throughout.