I knew it would happen sooner or later. The fact that I'm 6'3 and the 21,5" bikes I normally ride seem kind of small beneath me made this a logical progression. Yes, I now have a 29er. I got the first ride in the night before the first XC race this year at Hartland in Victoria. I went up there and prerode the course in the dark with my lights and tried to get a feel for the bike. Since then I've raced the bike twice and I've taken it on rides two other times. The bike is a Niner M.C.R. 9 Steel hardtail, with a Rock Shox Reba fork, Juicy Five Sl's, x7/x9 shifters and derailleurs, carbon bar and seatpost, and Dt Swiss 470 Sl wheels.
It's strange being back on a hardtail but just as I enjoy taking my old singlespeed, rigid Cannondale out for spins at the Dump this bike is also a blast. Sure enough, you can't go off any big drops and it's not exactly built for fast and rough downhill sections, but I'm surpriced at how comfortable I'm on the bike. It also forces you to be smooth, which I can definately use at times. Don't get me wrong, a hard tail will always beat you up a bit, but the Reynolds 853 steel helps out a lot. The big wheels also do help, and even though I have not experienced the "roll over anything" feeling that some 29ers talk about, I have noticed a difference on technical climbs and other bumpy sections. The big wheels come in handy on steep rock rolls as well, since the transfer from rock to ground is evened out a bit by the wheels. I wouldn't say it makes up for the 72 degree head tube angle, but the bike is surprisingly capable on rolls. The bike also climbs really well, something that you'd expect from a hard tail of this sort. It's not overly light though and I've read reviews where a seated climb in a low gear is recommended. I disagree with this. One of the things I've noticed riding a 29er, is the increased distance you can get out of a single pedal stroke, and this comes in handy on difficult climbs. So I like to climb in the middle ring and 1st. The only issue with that is tight uphill cornering, where you really have to keep in mind the added difficulty of getting those big wheels up to speed before you hit the next obstacle. This is the only time I get that feeling however, I can't say I notice it anywhere else. It's a joy to climb on the bike and the only thing that's holding me back on that front, at least as far as the bike is concerned, is the rear tire. It's a Specialized Fast Track, a tire that is definitely not designed for the greasy conditions we experience here on the west coast. So that will be one of my updates in the future. Another thing I'm considering is going to a wider bar for more stability at high speed. I'm currently running a Syncros Gain Carbon bar and it's not narrow at nearly 26" but I feel I could go a bit wider and gaining some leverage and stability. Another drawback is the Reba QR forks. Even though I've dialed in the suspension too my liking (running it way under the recommended psi ratings) the problem lies in the lack of stiffness in the forks themselves. I guess this has to do with the big wheels and is undoubtedly the reason for so many through axle 29er forks (mine is a 9mm q/r). I'll probably run this setup for this season, but I'll be looking to upgrade in the future. One other drawback is the wheels. they feel very light and so far have held true but I believe they in conjunction with the forks, are the cause of at least half of my already numerous crashes on the bike. They are not stiff enough to withstand tight cornering on steep downhill sections. The combination of a noodle of a fork and those wheels I've actually seen the wheel flexing towards me in a hard turn, before it locks up and then in a split second I end up sitting on my ass on the outside of the turn. This is not acceptable. It looks like the wheels are built up using light weight 1,8mm spokes, so for now I'll get my boss to lace them up on some heavy gauge 2mm spokes and see if there is a difference. If not, I'll put the forks up for sale. But overall, the bike is a blast and I'm sure I'll enjoy this one for a while to come.
A bike nut from Iceland, Halldor currently lives in Victoria B.C. in Canada. Halldor dabbles in photography and writing but pays for his bills by working in a bike shop. He's into most forms of biking, and revels in the culture and community of cyclists.