RITCHEY P29″er -Short Term Test: by c_g

Thinking of my beginning in the sport of mountain biking in the late 80′s, the bikes by Tom Ritchey were objects to lust for. In the ’90′s, the increasingly popular aluminum frame seemed to finish off the era of high-quality steel frames and so Tom focused his energy on the improvement and production of bicycle components – the end of the legendary Ritchey steel bikes, as it seemed. Now, after many years, they are here again … and in 2012 the first time as an iconic 29″er!

The all new RITCHEY P29″er keeps a lot of the looks of the legendary P-series from the late 80s and early 90s. No doubt, this bike is a feast for the eyes – wonderfully delicate are those Ritchey Logic II steel tubes and the blue / white / red tricolor finish – just like the former team models – adds even further to the rich heritage.

The German distributor of RITCHEY, Cosmic Sports GmbH (www.cosmicsports.de) has offered us this one and only complete and rideable P29″er available in Europe for a quick test (of 2 weeks) and we gladly accepted. At the sight of this bike, I was instantly transported back to the pioneer days of mountain bike sports, to the times when such bikes were unattainable dreams for me – beautiful, outrageously expensive and very rare. But how would it be riding it? Would those delicate looking, minimal diameter tubes provide the stiffness, which is now expected from a high end mountain bike? How well will Tom’s interpretation of the 29″ers in handling work out for me? What would we find out?.

First a look at the frame details: Sure, there are the wonderful triple butted and heat treated RITCHEY Logic II tubes, but the frame is much more than meets the eye detects at first glance.

• There is an elaborately machined head tube with integrated head set (the first time I’ve seen this in a production steel frame). Optically and technically they are a treat. It holds only 1 1/8-inch steerer tubes, but does this with such style and in addition, at a low weight, that it is hard to be counted against the frame.
• The multi-clamped and countered slider dropouts allow for a geared, or a single speed design (as tested).
• The integrated seat post clamp – previously the most common type of post fixation, a rarity today – did provide such a nice transition to the slim seat post that it really made me wonder why today we only use separate seat post clamps. (I know why, but but still ;) )

With the original RITCHEY models of the P-series, they were adorned with the number indicating the total weight of the bike – but do not worry, the P29 does not weigh in at 29 pounds (the equivalent of 13.15 kilograms). As ridden with a Marzocchi Micro Ti 44 fork, Crank Brothers wheels, and all kinds of Ritchey components, the bike weighed just 22.5 lbs( or 10.2 kg). With a given weight of about 2 kg for the frame alone, the P29 is certainly not a weight-weenie racer as we understand it today, but a 100% style-conscious bike in any case. Interestingly, the design intent with the Ritchey P29″er is to be a stylish racer and performance-oriented 29″er. We shall see.

RIDING IMPRESSIONS: The very first impressions of the bike were very mixed – the reasons for this was a very narrow handlebar (580 mm ;) ), a very long stem (110mm) and an incredibly heavy single speed gearing (38/15) which simply don´t work out for where I ride. But since the P29″er comes as a frame only option anyway, I saw no issue with doing a few minor modifications were necessary to adapt the bike. It took a bit for me to tune and understand the MARZOCCHI fork (which is not too intuitive initially) and off I went.

After the first few pedal strokes it is clear that the P29″er is a bike worthy of carrying on the P series heritage: Remarkably stiff, very propulsive, and incredibly precise. How veteran Tom Ritchey has breathed these properties into the delicate tube set remains a mystery to me, but it shows that it is possible. No trace of flex, even under single- speed use. The Crank Brothers wheels, however, showed a bit more flexibility than desired. (Editor’s Note: This was also my feeling on the Crank Brothers wheel set on the Rockstar recently tested.) I found the seating position on the more stretched side, despite the rather short new stem stem (70 mm). In technical sections the P29″er was a true XC-racer and required some handling skills, but due to the great stiffness, control has always been very good. The handling leans towards the stable side, not only by the very long rear (447 mm chain stay in the shortest position) but also from the 70 ° steering angle. I found the bike to do well even in single speed use, but those riders, that prefer short rear ends should look elsewhere (maybe the BREEZER Lightning that Guitar Ted had in review recently).

The Marzocchi fork worked quite well and by the reasonable external tuning options allows for a wide range of riding characteristics, but somehow we would still prefer this bike with a rigid fork (a classic Ritchey Uni-crown 29″er fork unfortunately does not exist …. yet). Other components that left a positive impression were the very stiff and beautifully crafted THE HIVE Ethirteen XCX cranks and the very fast and good-natured RITCHEY Shield tires (first impressions only).

The P29″er is available as a frame only for € 899 – (as tested the bike costs a rather high end of € 3200. -).

QUICK TEST SUMMARY: The RITCHEY P29″er is a modern classic. The ride qualities are top notch and the sporty steel 29″er had me seriously impressed. By our quick impressions, the P29″er is best recommended for a classic bike lover and long-distance racer – where the very nice self-damping characteristics of the steel frame are positively felt and helps prevent premature fatigue effectively. For a XC bike it probably lacks some maneuverability … additionally, the XC guys likely are too concerned with weight to even consider a steel frame anymore.

The RITCHEY P29″er combines the ride and the handling of a modern 29″er steel frame with the flair and the look of the mountain bike pioneering days in such a well rounded manner, that I couldn’t help but fall in love with the bike. Thanks Tom for this modern retro racer.

Ride On