How it happened:
At Interbike 2006 there was genuine enthusiasm for these new big-wheeled machines. During the past few years 29 inch wheeled bikes have established their place, largely in the form of hardtail and singlespeed bikes. Fairly quickly, the idea of full-suspension 29er bikes began to gather steam; the premier bike builders in the country poured their creativity and engineering into this new platform.
With just a few phone calls, the test was set in motion. Every manufacturer was excited that MTBR was going to do a bike shootout. This was going to be a fun challenge for MTBR. We are ‘User Reviews’ and we’re only getting started with ‘Editorial Reviews.’ But why not? It will be fun regardless! To mix things up, we invited 6 local riders to come test with us. There were only a few requirements. One requirement was that they fit the medium-size bikes we had. Also, the riders needed to ride and write fairly well. The most important condition was that they needed to smile a lot! None of the test crew were paid or given instructions on what to say or what not to say. To give the reader context, we’ve included a short biography on each rider to better understand their riding style and preferences.
The testing grounds:
We live around San Jose, CA. The best trails are in Santa Cruz and we went there. The trails are loamy, buff singletrack as you can see in the photos. We found some steep, obstacle strewn descents and some fire road climbs.
These bikes with big wheels can really take a lot rougher trails. So when reading these reviews, keep in mind that we pushed their singletracking abilities but only scratched the surface of their rough trail abilities.
We rode for 5 hours and switched bikes every hour. After every bike switch riders jotted down their impressions on a notepad. Shock pressures and saddle positions were adjusted. In addition, each rider got to take home a bike or two for a week for some further testing. As the ringleader of this test I personally had the opportunity to ride each bike at least three times on a variety of trails.
All the bikes were equipped with Panaracer Rampage tires. Although the tires are in extremely short supply at the moment, Jeff Zell of Panaracer sent us everything he had at a moment’s notice. We were thrilled with the development and production of these tires as the Panaracer Rampage is the perfect match for most of these bikes. The lack of big 29er tires was holding back the development and adoption of full suspension bikes. But with the arrival of this tire in late 2006 these bikes have proper rubber, and then some.
The tires were a bit of overkill for the smooth singletrack of Santa Cruz. This is a tire that can tolerate the abuse of rocky Downieville or Arizona trails. However, it worked out perfectly as we were able to the test rear tire clearance of these frames. Even more importantly, during the test in slick conditions with wet logs, everyone had the best rubber beneath them. We had ample traction and everyone had safe rides on unfamiliar bikes and tough conditions. We set all tire pressures to 30 psi.
What about pedals? One innovative feature of this product test is we wanted to have one ride where we could swap bikes. We wanted to try several bikes on the same trail on the same day. A key element is having the same reliable pedal on all bikes that the riders could use with confidence. The answer was Crank Brothers Candy SL! Five of the seven test riders already use this pedal and thus have the proper cleats on their shoes. One email to Christina of Crank Brothers and she made it happen with only two days notice. During the test pedals were a non-issue. They just worked flawlessly. Even the two riders who used Candy SLs for the first time had no problems whatsoever.
For tubes, WTB supplied all the bikes with WTB Thin 29er tubes. 29er tubes are not so common these days and it’s not easy finding a good quality one. Luckily, WTB is supplying the market with a tube that’s perfect for the application. It’s nice and supple and only weighs 204 grams. They’re easy to mount and we had absolutely no problems with them during our testing.
For out testing, Ultimate Support supplied us with the Pro-Elite bike stand in Rasta colors. There was a lot of assembling and tuning during the shootout. We had to assemble all the bikes and we had to change all the tires and some of the handlebars. Well things were kept sane in the garage with this stand. The tool tray kept everything within easy reach. Also, the best feature of the stand is its one click release mechanism. Even with the bike firmly clamped, it takes just one press of a button to release the bike. Presto!