It was with no small amount of dismay that I found I had made some errors in judgement in planning a new MTB scoot for myself. It was not so much a problem of bad equipment choices that scuttled the ship, but rather some myopia on my part along with a frame sizing error.
You can read about that all here:
Project New Whip: What went wrong?
I had some time to think about this and how I wanted things to go on the second try. I had a few month’s time to gain perspective and that perspective gained was the biggest factor for change on what I can rightly call ‘Plan b’. So let’s unpack my thinking a bit and see if I get it right this time.
One thing was for sure: It would be built around 27+ tires. The rest was up for grabs. Let’s step into the WABAC machine for a second and back up a few months. Follow me, Sherman.
I had just completed a 3 hour ride on some difficult trails in Sedona, AZ, on the quite excellent Intense Primer 29er, a fine example of a modern 29er trailbike. It had carried me over the rocky, ledgy trails with grace and speed. I could have asked no more from it.
Back at Press Camp HQ, I grabbed another bike. The Intense ACV is a slightly bigger travel, slightly slacker bike than the Primer with much bigger tires…27.5×2.8 to be specific. Saddling up, I rode back out onto the trail with a great deal of interest.
The previous day I had been looking at the new ACV and thinking to myself, “Is this something I would own and ride?” It seemed a bit, well, a bit much with that 150mm fork and long, slack front end. I would have given it a go for the next day’s main ride but I was there to check out a new 29er…twentynineinches.com and all that. I rolled the new Primer 29er to my room for the night and that was that.
Now, fresh from a good sampling of the Primer on these trails, I was struck by how much better the ACV was. It was just better. It was easier to keep it on any line I chose, being deflected less by all the rocky-ness. It felt anything but long and clumsy. It was smoother. It was quite agile. It was more fun. Amazing.
And it got me thinking. How much fun do I want to have when I ride my MTB and what, if anything, do I have to give up in the process of chasing said “more fun”? And it was with these thoughts going through my head that I drove home with the test Primer 29er on the bike rack.
A few months later from that day, I will set a Strava KOM up a difficult singletrack climb at some decent altitude, a climb I had been doing regularly on a lighter, lesser travel 29er, and I will have done it on a bike very much like the ACV. Amazing. And the downhill on that same trail and with that bigger, heavier, ‘slower’ bike was so fun I giggled out loud.
Reflecting on Sporks, bigger travel, and duality.
The Spork as it relates to all things for all people who are eating…something…is kind of what we do when we say we want a one bike solution. And it is not a bad idea, that. It gets easy if you are willing to accept limitations, or I should say it gets easier to achieve that one bike solution the more you are willing to accept limitations, or maybe we should say compromises.
For some, their one bike solution is a rigid steel singlespeed. Well, OK. Lots of limitations there. Too many for me. And if you live for riding ladders nailed to trees in the North Shore and you have a Pink Bike tattoo on your calf (so it shows below your body armor), then your one bike solution might be made by Knolly. That is pretty easy to figure out.
The fat part of the bell curve is not either one of those things, but is a rider that mixes trail with XC, but not too much actual racing, and maybe a bike park trip here and there with his/her best buds/gals. And that is me. It is I? Anyway, that level of a one bike solution is a bit harder to nail. Where you are and the trails you ride can make that a moving target. That was my idea with the Horsethief. 130mm/120mm travel 29ers are amazingly versatile and the newer geometries make them even more so. That type of bike bike can be decently light, can pedal well, and still be pretty fun on more technical trails. Many run 27.5 Plus tires as well as 29″.
The flip side is that this bike type is not exceptionally light either (unless you write a big check) and I have yet to ride anything with over 120mms of travel that had the same response to earnest prodding as a pure XC FS bike. Close, but not really there. And, while they are likely better than the rider that is on them in any technical trail, they still are not quite as giggly-fun as a bigger, slacker trail bike when things get a bit blurry or steep.
“More travel is more fun”
So what if I go for a spoon and fork as separate utensils? No spork. Toss out the one bike to rule them all. Now we can focus on being better in one particular niche…slicing the pie a bit more narrowly, shall we say. What if I don’t care about using this bike for 40+ mile mixed surface loops with long climbs, the type of ride that is so common where I live?
What if I settle on two bikes? A light began to glow in the dim recesses of my mind. Plan b was taking shape.
1.the quality or condition of being dual.“the novel’s deep duality about human motive”
2.an instance of opposition or contrast between two concepts or two aspects of something; a dualism.“the photographs capitalize on the dualities of light and dark, stillness and movement”
There have been a lot of bikes coming out that are said to run both wheel sizes and do it well, so moving between 27.5+ and ‘normal’ 29″ is doable. Doable, but how practical? I don’t know and I really doubt that at this point in time anyone else does either. I think this will turn into ‘pure sized’ bikes at some point, at least for the most part. Note that at least one bike builder, Ibis, thinks that trying to do both wheel sizes in one bike is too much of a compromise. The new Ibis Mojo 3 was intended to be 27.5 only in both normal and Plus versions. But it is claimed to only run a 2.8″ rear, perhaps in part to the very short chainstays, so really, it is kind of Plus-Lite. But in any case, it is no big stretch from 27.5×2.4 or whatever to 27.5×2.8. Getting that same bike to work all the way up to 29″ would have resulted in a different bike altogether than the Mojo 3.
“This is the size that mountain bike tires should have been from the beginning.”
Richard Cunningham, Pink Bike.
I think Ibis may be right about a single purpose design. BB height is a lot of it. Yes, a 27.5″x3.0″ Plus tire on a wide rim is pretty close in height when compared to a nominal 29er (ignoring tire sag on the Plus tire), but I think 2.8″ is more likely to be the size longer travel Plus bikes gravitate to…maybe even 2.6 or 2.7 for Enduro use…but is that still a Plus tire at this point? Likely not.
Regardless of that, the smaller tire run on a wider rim, and with some kind of sidewall reinforcement to stiffen up things a bit…that is what I bet we will see aimed at the more aggressive trail or Enduro-Race focused rider. 27.5″x3.0″ will not go away, it’s too good for that, but will be more of the casual trail or adventure application. Just my thinking.
And with the present 27.5″x2.8″ tires…well that is already getting to be a much smaller diameter than 29″ and making that to be OK on one bike…flip chips notwithstanding…I am a bit skeptical. Another thing to consider. It would require you to retune how you ride the bike in subtle but obvious ways. Going from 29″ to 27.5+ feels pretty easy to get used to, but going back to 29er wheels from 27+ is VERY different. Everything feels slightly snappier but also sketchier. Dunno. I wanted to like this idea of swapping wheels to suit the day, but I am not so sure it will play out. Specialized seems to be going to the multi-wheel approach to the Stumpjumper, officially allowing that the 29er version will accept 27.5+ as well with only a bit lower BB result.
So if we forget about making one bike work for all things, we can have fewer compromises. If we factor in the potential for more fun on trail in a playful sense, then more travel (to a point at least) becomes more and more like a good thing. And if we do not plan on using anything other than one wheel size on either of the bikes, then that also keeps things more closely focused.
Plan b on my doorstep
When I was ready to write a check for this new direction, I gave a lot of thought to what bike options were on the table for me. I had some points to consider.
- I did not want to spend big. Not yet. I am still not sure this is all in all the direction I will go long term, so buying in to a very high end bike would not be a great idea, yet if I aim too low, it will be a tank. Finding that sweet spot might take some work. As well, I don’t think Plus bikes are really ‘there’ yet. Just look at the refining that 29er trail bikes have seen in the last two years. We have been at this for a while now with that bigger wheel size, so IMO it is unlikely any Plus bike we can buy now is as good as it will get.
- I could not ride it first, at least not on trail, so I would rely on people I knew that had ridden the bikes I was looking at as well as on reviews just like you readers typically do.
- If I were at least somewhat familiar with the brand or model from any past first hand experience, that would be valuable.
That all factored in, this is the result.
When the Specialized 6Fattie debuted, I did not pay too much attention. It had Plus wheels and more travel than I have ever owned in a bike (ok…only by 10mm in the fork, but still) and was that new slack and long approach. I thought it was pretty cool though. Then a buddy bought one to fit between his Fat Bike and his Enduro. He was stoked. Loved the bike.
A very well cultured MTB rider I know, and who’s opinion I trust, is a recent convert to 27+ (coming from 29ers) and rode a 6Fattie as a rental when away on vacation. He was very pleased and thought it was very good as an all-rounder trail bike.
After that, JeffJ got to ride one at a demo and proclaimed it to be great fun. Hmmm. So when I had that brief time on the Intense ACV in Sedona, it gave me some perspective on the 150mm/130mm 27+ feel and I loved it. It was not at all ponderous or clumsy. Hmmm again.
Internet research showed me a bike that was extremely well reviewed. It seemed like Specialized must have sent those things out for review by the gross, so reading about it from a wide range of reviewers was easy. There were a few things that I read over and over in most reviews.
- It feels surprisingly normal.
- It is not much slower if at all with those Plus tires.
- It was fun to ride. Really fun.
Those were strong recommendations. A spin around the local bike shop parking lot to confirm size and the only thing left was to decide on what level bike to request.
I have always thought that the Expert level of bikes in the Specialized line is the ‘sweet spot’, balancing out the demands of budget vs. performance pretty well. But I wondered if I could go one step lower, saving me over a grand in cash by looking at the Comp Carbon model. It is a $1000.00 difference over the Expert, with an MSRP for the Comp Carbon of $4000.00, $600 less than last year’s same model (by name at least). With the Comp carbon you are getting the FACT 9M carbon front end/alloy rear just like the Expert. The drivetrain is the same for the most part. You lose the Pike and get a Yari fork and the rear shock drops from an RT3 to an RT. Dropper posts are the same, tires, brakes, etc.
The wheels get heavier and cheaper on the Comp but I had a plan. The money I saved on the entire bike over the Expert I could put into a set of spankin’ wheels. Nothing perks up a bike like great wheels and if there is one thing that makes a Plus bike feel stodgy is a heavy set of wheels and tires. I really stressed about the rim width decision…how wide should they be for the best trail performance with a 3.0 tire? I decided to go with a conservative 29mm internal width rim. More about that later.
I read what I could about the Yari. There is not much out there on it where in comparison the Pike is legendary. Still, the Yari has a stiff 35mm chassis and has seen some tweaking by SRAM to improve its damping performance for 2017. It seemed like a very decent fork although it came with just less than a 1/2 pound weight hit over the Pike. I have no use for a lock out on the rear shock on a bike like this, so as long as the RT has a ‘trail’ setting to settle things down when climbing, I am OK with that. Did I take too big a performance hit with the lower end suspension items? Time will tell. No one wants to upgrade forks and shock right away as that would crush any initial savings with the cheaper bike.
Weighing the pluses and minuses, I pulled the trigger on the 2017 Carbon Comp 6Fattie. Here we go. The next post we will get into the changes I made and what that bought me in reduced weight and a better fit. And I have been riding it…yeah. Really fun bike. But what about that Strava KOM I mentioned earlier…an UPHILL KOM? More on that later as well as the final build pics and weight…still playing with stem and bar setup and I feel the need for green bits and pieces.
Note: The products shown here were provided at reduced cost to Twenty Nine Inches for test and review. We are not being paid, nor bribed for these reviews and we will strive to give our honest thoughts and opinions throughout.