Let me tell you a little tale of a 27.5 Plus bike rider who began to pine a bit for the good old days of 29ers. He was ready to get back to the wheels and tires he knew and loved. He was ready to get back to what he believed would be a faster rolling bike for bigger days. He was not done with Plus though. Quite the contrary. But he was ready for what he remembered it being like on a true 29″ wheel and normal tire. But he also a bit in doubt of himself. Was this all romance and puffery? Were the good old days really that good?
Once upon a time….
It had been quite a few months since I had ridden anything off road besides a 27.5 Plus tire. I had begun to wonder, “Would I be faster on a somewhat lighter and somewhat lesser travel 29er?” There were rides in my head that I really did not see as fit for the 6 Fattie, mostly bigger loops with sections of smoother fireroad and even some pavement. That is likely true. The 6 Fattie is hardly anything other than a true trailbike.
So I began to fantasize a bit about how I needed another bike to fill that gap. A 29er of course. Full suspension, but not too much of it. Maybe a bit lighter. But slack too, not too racy. A faster, capable climber. My mind was feeding my imagination on how it would be better than the 6 Fattie…faster on the rolling dirt roads we have here and sharper on the trails too. I could keep the27.5 Plus 6 Fattie for heavier trail days and exploring rides, etc. Yep. Good plan. So I began some virtual shopping with a short list of suspects and I started riding what models I could to rekindle the flame of that old romance.
I got a quick spin on the Niner JET9 in the new guise. Pass on that. There was the Santa Cruz Tall Boy 3 but finding one in my size was hard to do and a recent Factory Demo close to me was a complete bust…never got on a bike. The whole Demo Truck experience needs to be rethought but that is another thing entirely.
One bike that kept coming up was the Pivot 429 series: The Trail and the SL. Reviews were glowing. I was intrigued. So when Pivot came around with the Demo truck I had a chance to ride both a 429 Trail and a 429 SL on my home trails. Yay! I would be once again on a 29er which would undoubtably feel faster on the smoother roads and maybe even sharper and quicker on the trail sections too. Right? My credit card was warmed up and ready.
Pedaling out on the Pivot 429 Trail, a bike with similar geometry to the 27.5 Plus 6 Fattie but with a bit less travel F/R, and at just a slightly lesser weight, I was ready to be impressed. DW link. All carbon. Light wheels. Top end bike.
I rode up a nearly flat dirt road with some sand and light rocks on it. I was expecting it to match my imagination and you know what? Not really. Nope. Now I am not a human Strava machine but I would bet my soiled chamois that I was not one bit faster on that bike over the 6 Fattie. Huh! With my imagined expectations in a tailspin, I turned to some tight and twisty singletrack. It was really fun on that 429 Trail, it being a bit sharper handling perhaps, but also rougher riding too. Bumpier for sure. Well…so I gained hardly anything over the 6 Fattie but lost some too. It was not nearly enough gain for what I would spend to get there.
So I was thinking maybe I was on the wrong bike. Let’s try the lighter, faster 429 SL XC bike instead. Maybe I was just barking up the wrong 29″ tall tree? Now then, the SL was fast feeling for sure. Very nice. Stiffer frame too, over the Trail 429. But the steeper angles and overall vibe is not what I would put up with. Nope. I am too used to slacker front/shorter rear/shorter stem bikes now. Not going backwards.
So there I was. My expectations were not met and the credit card was put away. Could there be some improvements over the 6 Fattie in some existing bike, like the Santa Cruz TB3 with Plus tires? Quite possibly. But notice the “Plus tires” part?
The next ride out on the 6 Fattie confirmed my feelings. I could not see a good enough reason to go back to 29×2.3 tires on any trail bike, especially at the cost I was considering. If somebody gave me one? Sure. But if I am writing the check?
Romance is not all it used to be.
I have been cycling off road long enough now to have seen three revolutionary changes and lots of more subtle evolutionary changes. The three biggies that I am singling out are, IMO, what made and are now making the biggest differences in how we ride bikes off-road.
- 29″ wheels and tires
- Plus wheels and tires
I remember being at Mammoth Mountain in the late 80s, IIRC, or maaaybe the very early 90s, and seeing Paul Turner at the NORBA Worlds which were being held there. He encouraged riders astride his new front suspension fork to ride into a small curb and not pull up the front end. ‘Ba—looop’! Big ‘aha’ moment.
I remember my first ride on a steel 29er, a singlespeed in this case, how even on that poorly handling beast of a bike the 29″ wheels were like rolling marvels of momentum and traction. Another ‘aha’ moment.
Then there was my first experience on a 27.5 Plus bike at Park City, Utah, courtesy of Scott Bikes. Third ‘aha’ moment.
Each one of those things were real game changers, even if it did take quite a long time to get both suspension and 29″ wheels dialed in and refined to where they are today. I think suspension is the king of the heap in the biggest thing ever for MTBs, but we were all blissfully ignorant to be riding on those tiny little 26″ wheels until 29ers came along bringing big improvements in traction, cornering, and overall roll-a-bility, especially for larger/taller riders. Unless you were really tiny or a downhill maniac, you were very likely shopping for a 29er as the next bike.
And that is where Plus has us now. The poofy, sort-of fat tires are real game changers and I bet a whole lot of folks are once again asking that question about what their next bike should be and, more specifically, should it be Plus? Of course the answer to that is much like the ‘Should I buy a 29er or not?” question. The answer is, maybe. I mean not everyone liked 29ers and that is OK. When normal 27.5 came out I was totally underwhelmed by it, but it was, for many, the sweet middle ground they were looking for.
And Plus will be the same way. You will need to try it and see. For me and for the terrain I ride in, it is much like the 29″ wheel in that there are and will always be some drawbacks to it. And I know it will be evolving and being refined as things progress. But the benefits are outweighing the drawbacks enough that I am no longer shopping for another trail bike with big wheels, although I do think something like the Tall Boy 3 with 2.8″ Plus tires would be an amazing bike for where I live.
What would I be looking for if anything were to fill that gap I am seeing in the quiver? Well, I would like to give 29+ another shot as a hardtail for bikepacking and such. Maybe something in Ti to keep the weight down and the ride quality up. And I could always run pure 29er tires on it too. Not sure though, and right now nothing on the market interests me. We shall see.
In regards to the 6 Fattie I do have some closing thoughts on a bike that I very much enjoy riding.
- All the parts are working fine…brakes, dropper post, fork, etc. With the bar/stem changes I made for fit and the chi-chi carbon Roval wheels, it’s a peach really. I cannot imagine any true trail ride where I would not grab the 6 Fattie without hesitation.
- I have reduced the pedal strikes by slowly adjusting the SAG in the rear shock to less and less, likely at 25% now, at the most. This is not what many riders would accept as it is likely beginning to encroach on the rear suspension travel, but it is fine for me. I still would like to see the BB up a bit but it is no longer carrying the dread factor it once was.
- I do wish it was shorter in wheelbase. I know that it is just a result of all the dimensions, but I do see why Ibis bikes touts the shorter bikes approach. Once you get over 1200mms in wheel span, it just begins to subtly change things. However I would not want a shorter TT length as the 65mm stem is just right. So the only thing left are the seat tube angle and headtube angle, along with fork offset to make that number shrink. I wonder how the bike would be with a 1/2 degree HT angle change to just a bit steeper, but only in the XL frame? Disaster? Magic number result? Dunno and I am not likely to find out either. But the edge of the knife gets slightly duller once the wheelbase crosses 1200mm, or at least that has been my experience in the new genre of trailbikes like the 6 Fattie.
Other than that, I am pretty happy with it for now and that is where I leave it. What might change my mind? How about 29×2.8″ Or 29×2.6″ What would that be like? Would that be an even better middle ground? We may never know.
Note: The products shown here were purchased at a discount 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.