I’ll admit it. A Manitou? Really? Say it ain’t so! Well, if it has to be… but thankfully its performance shot my initial negative feelings dead. The Minute 29er (white – custom coloring for Norco on the Judan) offers Absolute damping technology, Platform control, rebound and preload adjustments. (Manitou Technology) The spring is a MARS hybrid coil/air spring that does actually provide the sence of bottomless travel. Very smooth at the end of the stroke. Once the fork broke in I was amazed at the smooth rebound and bottom out performance of the fork. No spiking issues, not hard bottom outs, and laterally it was surprisingly stiff. The Minute 29er on the Judan is made with 32mm stanchions and a 10mm standard QR axle. The Platform control on the right hand side is easy to adjust and stays put in place. It also works very well for locking out the fork on pavement or uphill ascents. Also I found it nice to adjust rebound on the fly. It isn’t really what it is for, but if I came up on a slow technical decent and I wanted to quickly slow the fork down, setting the Absolute damping to just past half way closed, was very helpful. I’m very impressed with this Manitou. It appears to be a great match for this bike.
The Avid Elixir 5 hydraulic brakes seems surprisingly bling for sub 2 thousand dollar single speed bike, and they certainly didn’t let me down. Offering a easy to access reach adjuster and comfortable and solid feeling lever, the Elixier 5 were surprisingly nice. If you have read my other reviews you’ll know I’m not really an Avid fan, but, after two good experiences with them on Norco products I may have to change my mind. The Elixirs offered good modulation ranging from just a little pressure to boarder line lock up. If I squeezed hard I could lock up the wheel for some trail eroding sliding. Always fun, never a sign of skill. But this is something a little easier to do than one would like on these loose over hard pack Southern California trails. I never experienced any fade on long descents, but I also never had the joy of riding the bike down any sustained 10 or more minute decent. The Elixir 5 actually made a good light weight DH brake on a day a friend rolled into town with some blown out old XTs. Trashed those suckers and put the Elixirs on and they were put to a test that I could have never have administered on a 29er. No problems.
Wheels & Tires
Here is where I think the bike, at least for my aggressive riding style, could use some beefing up. Normally the wheels and tires were fine. 29 tires put more tread on the ground and with the correct tire pressure they performed in almost all situations. Getting up loose sections of trail was easy enough, the rear held grip as long as it was weighted, and coming down other gnarly sections, control was maintained. I even bombed down a baby head littered man sized rut on this bike and there was very little flex in the wheel and fork. The stiffness and stable steering allows for a greater sense of control than I probably really have. Even over flat out and long sand patches the tires stayed afloat. But try to lean the bike over into a turn to rail it and you risk a wash out from the dinky little side knobs. I don’t like staying as erect as an English banker in a turn. The Continental Race King 2.1 does have favorable reviews from users on MTBR, but for me personally, I would like meatier side knobs for a bike that is so stable and fun to trail and rail.
Otherwise the Formula hubs ran fast once they broke in and I never felt I was wasting energy pedaling against the components. WTB Speeddisc AM 29er rims showed little flex to ever be an issue. From the reviews on this rim and wheelset it appears folks have been having issues with them staying in true. I didn’t find anything too out of true after several months of riding, but I also wasn’t taking drops to flat.
The WTB Silverado Comp with chromoly rails is awesome. It is a very comfortable saddle once you get in the right position. I rode this saddle most of the time without a chamois as well. I realize that saddles are a bit like gloves and helmets. What works for one person might not work for another, but this saddle is great. It is on my list for my next pedal bike. I loved the low profile and the speed like angles of the saddle that matched the thin chromoly tubing of the bike. It’s comfy and sexy.
The Judan 29er comes with something a little out of the norm in the drive train department. A Gates Carbon belt drive with a 48T front sprocket and a 28T rear sprocket. Whats the point of these belt drives you might wonder? In theory it should never wear out, the belt is made of the same quality as one that would go into your car and should last 100,000 miles. And it is said it can be made lighter than a chain and standard sprocket though I’ve not weigh similar sizes side by side. It also sheds mud easily, and should never break on you.
It is true – it sheds mud very easily. I found this out the first ride I had on the bike. Hoping the light rain would stay on the coastline we headed into the coastal mountain just east of Goleta, CA. Little did we know that was where the heavy rain was waiting for us. With in minutes the clay fire road went from tacky to treacherous. Wheels caked with mud, my 2.1 tires went to 3.0. It took a good 30 minutes plus scrubbing to get that red gunk off the bike. But during the whole hellish ride I could pedal. The mud that would get in the chain would be squished through the open tooth design of the sprocket and no problems were had.
All these things sound great, but, you’ll want to make sure the tensioner is as tight as it can possibly be. While in Vancouver powering up a hill, with the slight chromoly flex this way and that way as I mashed up a hill the belt popped, just like a chain, and boy was I in some serious man pain. But once recovered and re-tightened I had no more similar troubles.
And this is where an issue comes in for me in the tensioner design. I noticed between the time of the product launch and when I got the Judan in for review, there was some slight change to the tensioner design. Now the tension adjusted with an Allen key inside the thin threaded shaft. You can see in the photo below. Good idea, probably better than the last design, except this one came practically stripped from the factory. Tensioning the belt more was almost impossible. This didn’t lead to any belt popping off, but it did lead to the belt skipping when really putting some force into the drive train. It probably doesn’t help that I am 230lbs and the frame, being chromoly, slightly flexes as I move my legs side to side. I wouldn’t rule out a belt drive for a big guy, or any body size, just work with your Norco retailer to get the tension correct.
The FSA cranks and bottom bracket worked just fine over my review period.
Component Summary -
Overall the component spec’d on the Judan belt drive are solid. Being both price and performance conscience. I think the Judan shows that Norco can really put some careful thought into a fully packaged product that would need little after market tweaks. The components, coloring, and design, for the price point of less than $2k, rivals some of the pimped out bikes I’ve seen on forums.