My Trek/Fisher Rig is the first complete bike I’ve bought in almost 20 years. I have generally bought frames to build up with components of my liking, but I was taken in by the fit and the sliding vertical dropouts of the Rig. I bought this bike in April of this year from Earl’s bike shop after selling some older bikes in their bike swap. I could have written a pretty good review of the bike earlier in the summer, but I thought it would be better to wait (especially considering that I hadn’t started this blog yet). I have somewhere close to 1000 miles on it and have ridden it in several races. Now that I have a full summer behind me, I can give a pretty comprehensive evaluation.
The Rig is the first 29er I’ve owned. It is also my first single-speed specific mountain bike. With that, I need to explain my frame of reference. I’ve been racing mountain bikes off and on since 1990. The bike I had previously was an 18 inch Supergo Access frame built up as a single-speed bike. It had a White Industries ENO eccentric rear hub and freewheel, Manitou 100mm fork, and 26×2.5 inch tires.
The Rig’s 17.5″ frame fits me perfectly. The effetive top tube length is just shy of 24 inches which gives me plenty of room to stretch out. This is great since I have short legs for my height (31 inch inseam and I’m 6ft. tall). The detailed specs can be found on Trek’s archive pages. The gear ratio is pretty much perfect at 32:18. The calculated gear-inch measure with 29 inch wheels works out to be pretty close to that of the 36:18 gearing I had with 26 inch wheels. Another thing that I really appreciate is that the frame is able to take a big fat tire in the chain stays quite well. I’ve been running a 2.3″ tire most of the summer and could probably squeeze in a 2.4″ without too much difficulty. The stock components are generally reasonable for a bike at this price, although, over time, I’ve made a few changes: Oury grips, Time ATAC Alium pedals, Avid BB7 brakes, Bontrager 29-4 rear tire, and Chris King bottom bracket.
When I first got this bike, I expected it to feel weird. I figured that the larger wheels would make the bike handle differently. Some of what I had heard was that they accelerate more slowly and that the handling is slowed down in tight, technical riding. On my first ride, I figured I would jump right in taking on a very tight, twisty, rooty single-track. Immediately, those expectations were proven false. As far as riding technical stuff goes, the bike handles just like my old 26 inch bike, only better. While the wheels are not especially lightweight, it did not feel sluggish. I was able to loft the front end over obstacles and easily flick it around in really tight situations. Fisher clearly got the frame geometry right for 29 inch wheels.
Since this is my first 29 inch wheeled bike, I was also anxious to see how much difference the wheel size would make. On my first ride, I did note that the rear end rolled over roots and rocks more easily than my 26 inch wheels – even though they had 2.5 inch tires. Considering the stock tire was this skinny little thing with minimal tread requiring higher pressure, this is impressive. The larger wheel made the rear end obviously less harsh than my previous bike. I soon replaced the rear tire with a 2.3 inch with some real tread. This allowed me to drop the tire pressure down from 32 to 23lbs. I have been able to climb and clean sections of trail with this bike that I have never been able to before. Cornering feels a bit better too; it’s hard to say if that is due to the larger wheels or the better fork up front. In general, the 29 inch wheel size has proven to be beneficial enough that I wouldn’t go back to 26 wheels by choice.
The other aspect of the bike that was an unexpected plus was the fork. The Fox fork is incredibly smooth. I rode a Manitou 100mm fork last year but this fork is noticeably better. Having over four inches of travel paired with a 29×2.2″ tire is more than a bit overkill but definitely confidence inspiring. I rarely feel like I’m in any danger of going over the bars, even on really steep root covered descents. Still, I often wonder how the bike would ride with a rigid fork. I actually prefer the handling and climbing quality of a rigid front end. I’m not too likely to find out since Fisher’s G2 geometry requires a fork with a larger offset than you can find on most aftermarket forks. Maybe someday I will play around with swapping forks out but certainly not in the near term.
The bike is not perfect though. There are a few issues that need to be mentioned. I have them listed below in ascending order of annoyance:
- The original chain broke about five minutes into my first ride. Thankfully, I was still on my driveway. Earl’s replaced it.
- The stock Bontrager grips were very thin. This is probably more a matter of personal preference, but I like thick, sticky grips. I put on a pair of Oury lock-on grips. Problem solved.
- As I mentioned before, the stock rear tire, a Bontrager 29-3, was nearly useless. The tire was very narrow (2.0 inches) and the tread pattern was thin. I rode the tire for several weeks before giving up on it entirely. It spins in mud. It’s too hard on rocks and roots. It slices into sand instead of floating on top. I replaced it with a Bontrager 29-4. The 2.3 inch tire has a much better tread for dealing with soft mud or sand and the larger volume makes the roots and rocks less jarring.
- Over the summer, I have broken several spokes, all of them while climbing. Using 15g spokes on the rear wheel – especially with disc brakes – probably wasn’t their best choice. My expectations from mass produced wheels has never been particularly high and these managed to stay well below my expectations. I will get new spokes and rebuild the wheels by hand this winter.
- The Avid Juicy 3 brakes are a corner that Trek chose to cut when setting the specs. for this bike. They work adequately but wouldn’t stay aligned very well. They squealed horrendously all the time – especially the rear disc. I tried endlessly to tweak the rotor to eliminate the noise but was never successful. I “upgraded” to a set of mechanical BB7s and got rid of most of the problems with these brakes. Reading several reviews on-line I learned that the brakes have a reputation for having problems with the seals, as well as being loud. Better off not to count on something with that reputation anyway.
- With the bottom bracket, we transition from preferences to real problems with this bike. The Truvativ GXP bottom bracket has been nothing but trouble. The original bottom bracket lasted about six weeks before it failed. I was riding the Rig to work to ride later in the day when I noticed that the cranks had a “bump” in them as they went around. Closer examination showed that the drive side bearings were loose. I spent $35 and replaced them. About a month later, I was racing in the 24 Hours of Great Glen when I lost my ability to pedal. The bottom bracket had frozen up tight. I managed to limp along to finish my lap and later had the bottom bracket replaced (again) for about $35. Two weeks later, I was racing at the Millstone Grind when I noticed that the drive side bearings had become sloppy again. I didn’t even have a hundred miles on this set of bearings. I ordered a Chris King bottom bracket this time since they have a five year warranty on their components. I figure even if it lasts me only one year I would be ahead financially over the GXP bottom brackets. Truvativ and/or SRAM should be ashamed to sell this bottom bracket. There is no excuse for quality this poor.
- The final problem with this bike is the sliding vertical dropouts and is the biggest problem of all. Initially, I found that I needed to adjust the rear end every couple of weeks. I attributed this to chain stretch. Over time, I have had to tighten up the chain tension more and more frequently. I have tightened the dropouts to excessive levels, and they still slip. I’d like to think that my legs are just so powerful that even Trek can’t design a dropout that can withstand my overwhelming force; unfortunately, I don’t think that is the case. I’ve also had issues with the rear wheel pulling right out of the dropouts on steep climbs but that may be an issue with the Bontrager skewers. What makes this worse is that the sliding dropouts are set with six (6) different bolts requiring 5 different wrenches. Poor design. Since the sliding dropouts are an essential part of the bike I consider this to be a major issue . Any other component could be replaced or upgraded without much hardship. With the dropouts, I’m stuck. Sadly, Trek didn’t learn their lesson, and the 2012 model Rig appears to use the exact same design.
If it were not for the sliding dropout problem, I would consider this to be a great bike. The fit and ride of the bike are excellent. The few components that were problematic have been replaced, and I would have no problem racing on it for a few more seasons in its current state. I have even considered converting the wheels over to tubeless. Unfortunately, the dropout problem is a show stopper. I’ve seen some mention of replacement hardware from Trek for the sliding dropouts; but given that this year’s model has the same configuration, I’m not optimistic about that being true.
As a result of the dropout problems, I’ve been doing a little shopping for a frame for next season. Right now, I’m leaning heavily towards a Vassago Jabberwocky – a nice, steel, single-speed specific frame with a great geometry. I’d love to get a titanium frame again, but that’s not going to happen right now.