Transition Bandit 29 Review

29er All Mountain Trail

If Kevin could have taken pictures this is what he would have taken; Darrin getting loose – courtesy of Transition Bikes

Normally I have the resources to grab a friend and talk them into going out and taking pics with me for reviews. The percentage of nights I was sleeping in my own bed and not traveling while I had the Bandit was somewhere between zero and eight. I prioritized ride time over anything else squeezing in whatever I could get during that period. So I unfortunately don’t have much outside of stock photos and some artistic awesomeness of my own as far as things to look at.

I agreed to put some ride time in on this bike because Lee thought it would be funny. I am the proto-typical downhiller/dirtjumper type who’s always talking smack about 29ers and the people who ride them so I agreed to the novelty. There were only two or three bikes being made that I’d even consider bothering with based on geometry numbers, and Transition’s Bandit 29er was one of them (Kona Satori and Specialized Stumpy EVO the others). Put simply, for me to plop my butt on ANY road bike misplaced in the woods it was going to have to have a bottom bracket lower than the axles and a short rear end. Chainstay measurements are relative when talking about road bikes but the Bandit looked reasonable to me. And to be honest, I just kind of trust Transition. They have one of the higher mustache rates of most small businesses in the US outside of Pawn shops and Hunting supply stores and most importantly, they have dirtjumps outside the office. There’s nothing that indicates a company’s dedication to their own sanity than some dirtjumps outside.

If Kevin could have taken videos of himself riding the Bandit 29er this is what he would have shot (he’s the rider in blue)

I rode the Bandit 29er pretty much exclusively for about a month and a half. I got lots of time in Tahoe and a little in Mammoth Lakes/June Lakes area where it’s a little less rocky but much more loose. The most striking and surprising thing by far any downhiller experiences when hopping on a well thought out 29er is exactly what I experienced. Yup. It’s a bike. It goes up. It goes down. Contrary to everyone telling me I’d be flying off trails out of corners and getting caught up in switchbacks, it just never happened. In fact I was immediately comfortable on the thing. It just fit. And with the ability to go super low with bottom bracket heights between big wheels, this bike had something a lot of people work hard to achieve…..a really planted feel. With your feet rotating a circle that has a center below the axles, there’s a stability and calmness offered that’s rarely found in most 26” wheeled trail bikes. This is mostly because the majority of people whining about hitting their feet on climbs tend to be pretty vocal. It can be done with smaller wheels, it just isn’t and people are too whiny about learning how to time their pedals on climbs and have no idea how much more stability can be achieved on the descents. But it can be done easier with bigger wheels because the effective contact patch of the bigger radius wheels achieves the same goals as all those short wheelbase Jeeps used off road. The less room there is for an obstacle to to reach between the wheels, the better effective clearance you’ll get. Here’s a highly technical diagram to illustrate this.

That’s good. And I really really like that about riding this bike. I pedaled up and over things a little more sloppily and could get away with it, and being literally between two gigantic wagon wheels instead of over them, made the bike really comfortable.

Now the reality check. Crappy tires are crappy tires. There’s no magic voodoo involved in a slightly bigger tire patch that makes a crappy tire work better. So when you go to look at buying some burly treads for big wheels and realize that they all look like shit made for bike paths, file that away somewhere in the back of your mind so you can spit a full beer in the face of tire manufacturers who absolutely refuse to make real tires for 29” wheeled bikes. That’s certainly what I did when I got tired of sliding way too far outside of turns on trails I ride weekly and would just flat out end up in the woods because the lame Maxxis Ardent treads have no place in high alpine desert riding after a weak winter. That’s not the “big wheels don’t turn” phenomenon I was warned about, there’s just no traction. It’s dusty here and those tires just suck. And the best part is, when I went to BUY some other tires for this bike, I realized that yes, in fact, every single 29” tire made these days would probably do well in the Tour de France on pavement. Don’t send me emails about some stupid WTB tire you have on your 29er. I looked at it. It doesn’t work. You just haven’t figured it out yet because either you ride a 29er and probably don’t go that fast, or you just ride somewhere that gets some semblance of moisture at some point in your life where tires don’t matter that much. The entire time I had this bike, I got really really comfortable on it, but just knew that I was riding sections of trails slower because there was just no traction to be had with these tires at the speed I was used to. That’s incredibly unfortunate but I do know that some of the more aggressive and extremely popular treads for 26” wheels are about to be embiggified™ for the road wheels. It only took 10 years for good frames and good tires to exist in this wheel size but hey, we’re almost there.

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  • gurzang says:

    Honest, and therefore much appreciated review. I especially enjoyed the part about tires.
    My chubby and knobby Nevegals 2.2 for sure make my BigTop feel heavy on the road (I prefer to pedal my way to the trails than drive), but once on the trail I´am really happy with them. Mountain bikes are meant to be abused, not to be ridden carefully so please give us fat knobby tires and strong wheels!!

  • Paul S. says:

    Nice review and this is one of the four 29ers I am considering for next spring. But I can’t agree with what you are saying about the variety of 29er tires. They are out there except obviously not in the DH category, but for every other type of riding for which 29ers excel, the current selection is way more than good enough.

  • Rusty says:

    Try the Hans Dampf 29er. Should be knobby enough for ya

    • KB says:

      That’s exactly the kind of ‘non-design’ I’m talking about that plagues 29″ tires. Knob vomit in no particular arrangement doesn’t make a good tread. It makes a self defeating tread.

      • Rusty says:

        I’ve been running the 26″ Hans Dampf on my 26″ covert for quite some time now and find them superior in many ways to the DHF’s I was running. The trails I ride have a lot of corners in rapid succession and I find the HD superior in transitioning from one side to the other.

        Not sure I understand your tire preferences, I’ve found the HD to be a tad better than the nevegal and the minion as an alrounder for enduro type riding. What tires aside from the minion and the high roller meet your criteria?

        • KB says:

          Despite Lee’s comments on the facebook page, I’m not actually that big of a fan of the HR2. It’s a good tire but the wimpy sideknobs get irritating once the tread gets a little worn. There are a few key things that make a good tire (in ANY type of dirt), the most important being enough space between their knobs to actually let them do what they’re supposed to do. Treads like the HD with knobs all over the place become something akin to a completely round semi-slick at speed. Turn your bike upside down and spin one of the wheels really fast. Stand at one end of your bike and look at the profile while it’s spinning. It’s totally round, with no room for dirt to get to the sideknobs and let them bite. That’s how your tire behaves at 25mph. There’s a reason that treads like the minion DHF are so popular…..that’s the biggest one.

          Treads like the HD work fine at low speeds where all those little knobs can get penetration. But at speed it’s a different story. And once they break loose it’s over, there’s very little controlling it. It’s so dry where I live all summer sliding through turns is a part of life. Being able to control that realm with a tire that drifts controllably is huge. If it rained here in the summer it would be much less of an issue. And if you don’t live somewhere dry and dusty it’s much less of an issue. But tires show their weaknesses pretty quickly in dust bowl conditions.

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