When we at Twenty Nine Inches found out we were going to be testing the 2011 XXIX from Raleigh, we also found out we were going to be testing two of them. One went to Grannygear out in SoCal and one to me here in the Mid-West. After the “Out Of The Box” post, we split up the Mid-term reports. Grannygear’s can be read here and mine here.

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The 2011 XXIX in stock garb

Grannygear’s Final Thoughts: Well, since the mid-term on the Raleigh XXIX, nothing has really changed my impressions overall. The XXIX remains what it is – a stable, smooth riding (except for the stock, steel fork), capable and simple single speed bike that is unique in that it uses the Gates Carbon Drive rather than a chain. Nothing has failed on it, although, especially in stock form, there is little to go wrong as long as the belt drive is not a problem (and that has been solid overall). The split shell eccentric bottom bracket (EBB) has been quiet and has not slipped. The wheels, cranks and house brand Avenir parts have been solid enough for the duration of the test.

I let a couple of bigger, younger guys ride it to see what they thought. None of them had any real single speed experience. The first rider, a college age, 190lb racer type, went out on the XXIX and set a new record for a local loop he often rides. The next ‘guest rider’ was an over 200lb, very strong 29″er rider who usually rides an XL, V1, Turner Sultan. He liked it enough to buy a used, two year old XXIX from a mutual friend. He had one instance of what may have been a tooth jump by the belt, but could have been a free hub pawl looking for a home. He was not sure, but I rode with him on a very demanding 20 mile loop that had some very steep climbs and he had no issues with the belt on that ride. That, in my opinion, was a good sign.


Here are some thoughts that Tony had after some time on the XXIX:

“* I really liked this bike for two reasons: 1. The SS mentality of less is more and 2. The actual bike ride enjoyment itself. With respect to the first one ,and since this is my first SS chariot, I’m sold on the life. There is a lot to argue for given the simplicity that this belt drive SS affords. No chain lube, no derailleur adjustment, just clip in and go.
* With that being said, on to my specific thoughts on the Raleigh XXIX. I had always heard, and usually by those that had been doing this for a while, a certain fondness for steel framed bikes. I thought maybe it had something to do with remembering their childhood, things just aren’t as durable as they used to be, yadayadayada…but I get it now. It really does ride completely different when compared to the newer high efficiency lower weight aluminum’s/carbons/scandium’s. It actually flexes and it does it subtly in just the right areas.
* The first negative is me needing to learn to spin fast without looking like a Mexican jumping bean on the saddle! The second negative is the obvious increased weight of the steel frame. Although this was lighter than my FS, it was not as light as many other HT SS’s and thus warrants a minor deduction. The last of the negatives would be the belt drive…this made me fairly nervous riding solo as I didn’t want to venture too far from home base for fear I would snap this foreign device and be left with a long walk home. The obvious solution is carry an additional belt along with any tools needed to tighten the belt in the field.
* Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed riding this bike and ended up agreeing to buy a friend’s older version of an XXIX (for a great price I might add!). I think it is the perfect bike for me to continue training on and certainly offers its own personality and characteristics unique to anything I have ridden in the past.”

Kevin, another young and very fit guy rode the XXIX next. He is a new rider, just getting into his second season on mountain bikes. At 6’3” and around 200 lbs of solid muscle, he loved the XXIX, having a blast on what was his first SS and his first 29er too. On one ride, he was asking me where he could buy one. In fact, he even raced as part of a 12-hour, 5 man team effort on it when his FS 26er frame cracked after less than a year of use. However, I would point out the obvious…he had never ridden another SS OR 29er, so he had little to compare it too. But, the other point to that is that the XXIX is good enough to impress even young and strong riders.

So what do I think? Well, the XXIX is well placed to provide a ticket to ride a Gates Carbon Drive bike with little cash outlay. I will discuss my thoughts on the belt drive separate from the XXIX as a whole, so that is all I will say for now about the belt part of it. How is it as a bicycle and, more importantly, how is it as a single speed trail bike?

I think that it would make a fine bike is you are on a budget, do not need gears or a suspension fork, and do not make performance a very high priority, like racing, instant response, etc. If the Gates belt is a plus to ya, then add that in as a big factor. As a pure single speed…well, there it falls a bit short as far as I am concerned. I am put off by the long chain stays. They require you to be very good with weight shifts in order to keep the rear tire hooked up and driving and the overall feel when you are fighting to re-gain momentum can be described as lazy. With the lower front end and increased offset of the Rock Shox Recon TK Gold, it turns pretty well but never will be looked to as a dense woods/tight trail performer.

xxixtest 011So what is it good for? Well, let us say you want one bike that needs to be simple and will be multi purpose. Perhaps it is your commuter, townie, errand, trail/dirt-road bike and the clean running belt is a plus along with simple parts like mechanical brakes and a solid fork. The steel frame will ride well and should last. The long wheelbase matters little and would be good with panniers or a rack. Weight is not a concern for you.

Or perhaps your interest in the single speed is just as a cruiser; a fun, different strokes thing that gets you away from your full suspension or racy hard tail bikes. You like long rides and appreciate stability and a relaxed feel overall and would likely not be lining up to race any time soon, although you do have that 75 mile endurance ride in mind this spring. You keep it stock except for a lighter set of tires and mount up the fattest front rubber you can find to offset the rigid fork. Maybe you will add some better tubeless wheels next year or even a used suspension fork for that longer ride.

Make sense? I once heard someone say that a weed is just a plant out of place. That said, keeping the XXIX in the right perspective reveals a unique bike that just may be what you want to pedal. It is a bold step for Raleigh in spec’ing the Gates Carbon Drive and time will tell how it is received.

Guitar Ted’s Thoughts:

My time on the Gates Belt driven XXIX was one of constant component refinement. So, from my view, the XXIX as it comes out of the box isn’t quite my cup-o-tea. First off, the fidgeting with the “belt line”, (which should be a running change fix and newer versions shouldn’t have this issue), the ultra-rigid fork, and the tires all either required adjustment, or replacement to really bring out the best in the bike. As I say, the belt issue should be getting taken care of, and tires, well those are always a personal preference item. Although at around a 1000 grams each, I wouldn’t know of too many folks that would prefer the stock shoes on the XXIX! However; that fork. Oh my! I do like my rigid forks, but Raleigh simply overbuilt this unit to the point of no give, and I can not bear to ride it. On went the Manitou Tower Expert, and all was much, much better.

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As for other specifics, I concur with Grannygear on things like the long chain stays, (didn’t like them), and that makes it hard to like this as a single speed mountain bike. (Where climbing steeps is concerned.) I also felt that the handling package, as delivered, was lazy feeling, and did not inspire me. The change to the Manitou Tower Expert livened up the handling with its greater offset to the point that I began to like the XXIX a lot more.

The belt drive? Well, there was one major niggling issue that was discovered near the end of the test. It had to do with the rear belt cog. I was going to swap out the stock 10mm width belt for the Gates supplied 12mm belt. This gave me the chance to investigate the belt cog on the rear wheel. I was also curious about that free hub body that was getting progressively noisier. What I discovered was disappointing.

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The cog wouldn’t come off. I had to use a chain whip and a dead blow hammer to loosen it up to the point I could pull it off, and what you see above is the result. The steel free hub body had notched the base of the Gates cog causing it to stick on the free hub body. I was concerned since I hadn’t had the bike all that long, and this damage is not something I could ignore. Another thing to note is that due to the cog’s unique offset, it can not simply be reversed. Bummer. I would need to get a new cog to take care of the problem correctly. (Editor’s Note: Grannygear also reported this same issue with the cog base after checking into it upon hearing of my issues.)

Other than this, as Grannygear indicates, we’ll look very closely at the Gates Belt and its ramifications on design in an upcoming post, so stay tuned for our thoughts on that facet of the XXIX.

My conclusions are that this is a great way to dive into a Gates Belt drive set up at a reasonable price, and that would even be more attractive if you have some spare tires and a suspension fork to throw at it. However; the stock rigid fork is just all wrong on the bike. Too rigid with too little offset. As a pure, single speed climbing machine, it falls very short. The apparent short life span of the spline interface of the Gates cog is a concern, as well. I would stick with something like Grannygear alludes to in his thoughts on the bike: A spare machine just to kick back and have fun on, or to use as your commuter, or possibly a single speed touring rig. Is the XXIX a “weed”, or a “plant out of place”? I can see where it could be something great in the right place, but there are a few things about it out of the box that need “weeding out” to get it there.

Twenty Nine Inches received these bikes for testing and review at no charge. We are not being paid, nor bribed for this review. We will give our honest thoughts throughout.