Of course, to a real mountain biker, all this marketing mumbo-jumbo equates to squat. How does it ride? Well, I don’t know if it’s the magic of a 29er, but I will say that the Paketa was exceptionally smooth on even the rockiest downhills I encountered during a weeklong road trip across Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah. The difference between the Paketa and my Santa Cruz Chameleon was remarkable. Although at first these two bikes don’t seem similar, when you look at all the gussets, arches and other reinforcements used on the Paketa, it strikes a close resemblance to the Santa Cruz.
As a test of handling, I took both bikes on my local rocky and rutted technical playground; Bernardo Mountain in Escondido. Riding the Chameleon was like getting repeatedly pounded over the head by a drunken Whack-a-Mole ringer with a ball-peen hammer, whereas the Paketa was like getting lightly tapped on the shoulder by a 3-year old girl with a rubber mallet. It was smoother, faster and more stable than the Santa Cruz by a considerable amount, and the Fox Fit RLC fork was an added plush bonus.
Although the Paketa really opened my eyes to the downhill merits of 29ers, the way up was a bit of a different story. The first time on Bernardo, the Paketa felt like a lot of bike to hump uphill, especially in singlespeed guise. Although I eventually got used to the climbing dynamics of the Paketa, once I got back on the Chameleon, I instantly realized how much easier a 26er was to climb with. And for anyone considering a singlespeed 29er, make sure you get a fork with lockout. Although I’ve never had much trouble donkey punching a climb on a 26er singlespeed with no front lockout, having the lockout off with the Paketa made the difficulty of climbing even more pronounced.
Once the trail turned downhill, the Paketa descended light years faster with a gripload more control than the Santa Cruz. I was descending at or above the speed I would have on my 26er full-suspension Specialized. Just as I was reaching terminal velocity, a rapidly deflating rear tire brought me back to reality, proving that 29ers are no more resistant to pinch flats than 26ers.
An additional revelation to the vulnerability of 29er wheels came to me in Santa Fe, New Mexico, as I was riding the Dale Ball trail network. I came to a very tight, steep downhill switchback, which I probably would have made on a 26er, but the big wheels of the Paketa just couldn’t seem to make it around, and I flopped over at a near standstill. With nothing more than a bruised ego, I remounted to continue, but was flabbergasted to see the front WTB LaserDisc wheel completely bent.
After David Bell at Mellow Velo tried in vain to get the wheel straight again, I realized yet another weakness of big wheels – under-tensioned 29er wheels can fold like origami in the right conditions.
In the tight, technical singletrack of Utah’s Wasatch range, the Paketa was hard to handle. Quick accelerations to get up rock ledges were not happening, and the crank arms repeatedly clipped rocks due to the low bottom bracket design.
But once into some of the fun, fast, flowing singletracks around Durango, the Paketa was a pleasure. Drop-ins and G-outs enabled the Paketa’s big wheels to carry serious momentum into the uphills, and the exceptional damping characteristics of the magnesium frame made for hours of fatigue-free riding.
Gates Belt Drive System
Probably the most eye-catching element of the Paketa was its Gates belt drive system. Ten pedal strokes into my first ride, I knew the Gates system was legit as a singlespeed drivetrain. The utter silence and 100 percent maintenance free attributes already made the Gates system a winner. And although the same belt technology is used on 150 horsepower motorcycles, could it stand up to the much more ferocious, torque-nasty donkey punch climbing power of a mountain biker?
To find out, I took the Paketa to perhaps the most brutal place you can take a singlespeed – Slickrock Trail in Moab. The uphills are literally walls, where if you run out of gear or your strength succumbs to the pull of gravity, you’re rolling backwards down a 30-foot high rock face. Thankfully, Slickrock has more grip than Sylvester Stallone in Over the Top, so it makes the task a little easier, but not by much.
I tried everything in my power to make the Gates system skip and slip, but to no avail. The gear setup was the smallest gear inch ratio available from Gates, a 46:32 combo which equated to about 40 gear inches. I climbed all but 3 sections of the entire Slickrock loop, and the Gates system performed flawlessly.
As I rolled down the pavement back into town, crazy gearhead visions of retrofitting Gates belt drive systems on all my bikes started coming to me. The maintenance-free joy, twice the service life of a chain, over a half-pound lighter than chain driven systems; even the gears turning in my head were considering a switch over to belt drive. But there’s only one problem – in order to make the Gates system work, you either have to have a specially slotted frame or elevated chainstays.
The one area where we didn’t get to test the Paketa was in thick, nasty funkdafied mud. We wanted to see how the Gates belt drive system would handle such conditions, but were unable to find enough goop to give it a valid test. But by just looking at the design of the cogs and chainrings, which feature an open design which would appear to shed mud quite easily, our bet would be that the Gates system excels in muddy conditions. If any of you out there have firsthand experience with the Gates system in mud, please impart your wisdom.