Ritchey P29It has been a long time since I was on a simple steel hardtail 29er.  I have owned a few, most of them set up as a single speed, but that was a few bikes ago now.  So when an opportunity came along to get on a 2015 version of the Ritchey P29 I jumped at it.  And I am glad I did, because it was a refresher course on how good steel still is, even in this day and age of carbon madness.

Tom Ritchey knows his way around steel tubes and how to refine them and assemble them in such a way that it makes for a modern version of what we ‘old timers’ all used to ride at one time or another. From the Ritchey website:

The return of the legendary Ritchey Mountain Bike. Tom Ritchey applied decades of racing, designing and building steel mountain bikes into the p-29er.

Like any Ritchey, this bike is born to go fast without sacrificing comfort or durability. Heat-treated, triple-butted Ritchey logic II tubing in our own unique butting profiles results in a frame that balances rough trail compliance with sprint-winning stiffness.

The 29er-specific geometry was defined by the best way we know: countless hours of saddle time under Tom Ritchey, world Cup legend Thomas frischknect and other racers. The result: nimble handling that captures the benefits of the big wheels, stable but not sluggish, equally at home on all-day epics or tight, technical singletrack race courses.

  • NEW FOR 2015: Lighter and simpler vertical dropout design

  • NEW FOR 2015: Ritchey forged-and-machined 1.5″ tapered head tube

  • Sizes: S (15”), M (17”), L (19”), XL (21”)

  • Weight: 2,150g (Size: L/19”)

  • Fork: designed for use with 100mm travel forks

    MSRP is $899.95

Ritchey P29Ritchey P29Ritchey P29

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DSC07268DSC07279Ritchey P29

This bike is out of the demo fleet, so the build is what Ritchey wanted it to be and it is a decent and simple build, very nice but not extravagant.  It is a 21″ frame (XL) that we have here, and that fits my lanky frame very well, giving me a 25″/635mm effective top tube.

The wheels are the new WCS Trail 29 and they are wrapped with a 2.2″ version of the Z Max Evolution tire front and rear (with tubes installed).  The seat post is a WCS alloy Trail model with a unique side by side twin bolt rail clamp and the saddle is a WCS Zeromax..  It does have the new WCS Carbon Bullmoose bar, a high tech version of the original, classic one piece stem and bar combo, which I imagine was steel back then and now is nicely moulded carbon.  Ritchey foam grips are the WCS Ergo True Grip, only 36g a pair not including the bar plugs.

The fork is a Rock Shox SID with a Motion Control DNA damper and, oddly enough, a 9mm standard dropout, although the front hub was a 15mm thruaxle.  Making those two standards talk to each other is a neat adapter that converts the hub to work with the QR fork.  I am not sure why this was all spec’d this way, but demo bikes often are a bit eclectic.

The brakes are TRP Quadiem 4 piston hydros with 160mm rotors front and rear.

Drivetrain is SRAM XO1 with a 30T front ring.

Ritchey P29

I seem to recall that the old Ritchey ‘P’ bikes in the 26″ wheeled days were called P-23 and P-21 and those names referred to the weight of the bikes.  That may be fuzzy remembering on my part, but if so, P-29 is not the weight of this version.  I weighed it with tiny little Ritchey WCS Paradigm Pro pedals at 25lbs even.

At this point in time, Ritchey only sells frames and components like seatposts, stems, wheels, etc, but not complete bikes.  And since this came to me assembled,  I cannot confirm the weight of this frame.  But my experience with a recent Road Logic frame from Ritchey confirmed that the claimed weights are likely accurate. You will have to work very hard to find a lighter production steel frame than Ritchey offers, especially for the MSRP of $899.95.  Most steel frames are over 5lbs, even in a med.  My wife’s steel Niner SIR9 frame in the smallest size was over 5lbs.  And it is not just light for steel, but gracefully so.  It is a good looking bike.  I love the head tube, not just a 44mm section of tubing stuck on comparatively skinny frame tubes. That can look clunky.  The forged and machined tapered head tube is a nice piece of work and something you may not get even for twice the cost in a full custom bike.  It is, this P29, with its slender profile and semi compact geo, a breath of fresh air in a world of fattish carbon shapes.

I rode this only a few times as we had to get this bike back sooner than normal, but I got a good feel for it.  I rode it on typical local trails and fireroads in our hashed summer conditions and even took it on a bikepacking S24O.

Here we go.  Pedaling out on trail for the first ride, I have a few miles of pavement and gravel road to get to the trail head.  Frankly, so far the Ritchey feels like nothing special.  Not bad, mind you, just not remarkable.  The alloy seat post is just so-so for compliance, but the saddle is really quite nice, both in shape and in ‘give’ on the trail.  I had set the tires up with around 23-24 PSI and on the wide-ish internal rims, the 2.2 tires had a nice profile and volume.  Sitting in the saddle and pedaling hard while looking down at the rear end of the frame shows hardly any flex at all in the BB rearwards.

The first steep climb, about a 10 minute grind, shows a very competent ascender, but at 25lbs it is not spanking that hillclimb.  I am also liking the overall vibe of the handling as I move up to the top of the hill.  It has a very calm, easy feeling to it.  I begin to remember why steel is good that way and the moderate 70° head tube angle is a decent middle ground.  Standing and pedaling results in a nice surge forward.

So far so good, but nothing special.

But then I headed down into a fast and narrow singletrack that is littered with baby head rocks and small ruts.  The Ritchey P-29 came to life and I remembered that fine feeling of steel as I enjoyed a lovely, springy, pingy, ripping ride over all the trail chatter.  Oh boy…that was fun.  And the rest of the singletrack was like that; the chassis moving a bit with the blows, shucking and jiving in a cool way.  Carbon is not like that.  It is great too, but in a different way.  Steel does feel alive, if that can be true of any bike.

IMG_3267The next ride was an overnighter as I had some Blackburn products to try out.  I loaded up and set out on a 3 hour ride to get to my camp for the night, a local mountain peak in the nearby forest.  To get there required a good deal of climbing on pavement and even more climbing on some totally thrashed fireroad that had been thumped pretty good by recent storms.  Here, for me at least, the Ritchey reached it’s zenith.  Between the night of and the morning after, over 5 hours of riding across a big mix of surfaces, and when I was not trying to impress Strava, the P-29 was a fabulous companion.  The calm handling, the sweet ride, the practical and simple hardtail design…I could have spent all day on it and never felt like I was stressed.

I spent a couple more times on it before packing it back up, just the typical local apres work rides.

Some thoughts on the bike as a whole, the parts individually, and steel as a bike frame material:

  • 25lbs only feels heavy when you are used to riding 21lb carbon bikes like the recent Scott Scale HMX and that build was pretty pricey.  But I am a bit surprised it is not lighter, although one could pull some weight out of the wheels and tires.  It’s pretty hard to do better than XO1 though, so its not going to get too much lighter overall.
  • The vibe of the bike could be a classic XC race bike, and it certainly would not be a big hindrance, but really carbon or aluminum is king for short duration races.  But for the cost of the P29, typically half of what a high end carbon frame would be, this thing would be killer for endurance rides and races where the calm handling and smooth ride would be welcome as the long day got longer.  And for all round MTB’ing and bikepacking and just kicking around, it is perfect.
  • The TRP brakes barely worked when I got the bike as in ‘no matter how hard I pull I am not slowing down’.  I assume some contamination as a rotor clean and pad sanding brought them back into service.  However they felt unrefined and had a very firm/hard lever effort. I cannot be too dogmatic though as this set of brakes may have been un-typical.
  • The carbon WCS Bullmoose bars were a mixed bag.  At $300.00 and 280+ grams, they are a bit cheaper than a separate high end carbon stem and bar from Ritchey but also a bit heavier.  What they do have is amazing compliance.  These would be great on a rigid bike for that reason alone.  But you better like them the way they are as you cannot change them without replacing the whole package.  For instance, bar rotation.  I like the bar rotated so the back sweep is aligned with my wrists/arms.  On the Bullmoose bar, the sweep is set flat and level.  Not one ride went by when I did not want to twist the bars ‘up’ when I first got on and my wrists ached slightly after each ride (I have crappy wrists though).
  • The wheels were quite nice, being 1675g a set and 25mm wide internal.  The inner wall is sealed as well so tubeless should be easy.  I never felt like they were holding me back in any way, but I never rode this bike in a truly aggressive manner either.
  • The tires…hmmm…not sure about them.  Back in the day I ran a couple of sets of Z Max tires.  I remember liking them OK enough and that was what I was thinking until I did that bikepacking trip.  The trail was full of ruts and loose rock overburden.  If there was a rut running slightly diagonal or parallel to my direction of travel, that rear tire would slide right down into the bottom every time….zzzzZZZZUUUttt.  Not fun.  And both front and rear tires would ping easily off course when hitting the loose rocks that the rains had exposed.  In the end I came to not trust them and I also remembered why I did not like them much back in the old days…I had the same results with the original tires in ruts and off camber sections, but I had forgotten that.
  • I never used the WCS pedals.  I use SPD pedals and cleats and I found that I could clip in fine and I could clip out fine…sort of.  It would release then the cleat would hang up and not cleanly separate from the pedal for just about a second longer than I expected.  No thanks.  Maybe it was my cleats or my shoes.  Not sure.
  • Steel.  Nice steel.  Man that is a sweet ride, really.  Out of the saddle efforts were solid and snappy.  Only hard efforts/sprints showed a bit of wrap up but that bar was so flexy it was hard to say how much was due to that.  But it is heavy when you compare it to carbon and only slightly heavier in this case to alu or Ti.  Steel also transmits vibration where carbon damps it right on out.  One section of trail is really hashed from use and the best way to get through it is to stay off the brakes and roll with it, floating quickly as possible over the junk.  I remember doing that on the Scott Scale HMX, and although it was a bit brusk, it also was very planted feeling.  In contrast, the steel was more lively but harder to drive straight through on line.  Almost too pingy.  Sometimes the deadness of carbon has bennies.  But if I was really set on being fast and feeling fast and I had Strava tatted on my lower lip…I would buy carbon.  Duh.  Could a guy (or gal for that matter) on this Ritchey steal my KOM from me and my fancy plastic bike?  Oh yes.  The motor is the message.  In the end you need to ride what you like.  I appreciate carbon but I really like steel.
  • I do kind of understand why they decided to drop the singlespeed capability of the new P29.  SS riding is not the cool thing anymore.  But it would make a great one.  Too bad.

Final words:  The new Ritchey P29 is elegant, simple, and timeless;  A modern take on the steel 29er that provides that special ride of steel in a plastic moulded world.

Ritchey P29

Note: The Ritchey bicycle shown here was sent for test/review at no charge to Twenty Nine Inches. We are not being paid nor bribed for this review and we will strive to give our honest thoughts and opinions throughout.

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