29er+++

[Also posted on MTBVT.com]

For the record, I don’t readily embrace new wheel sizes.  It took me several years before I was willing to even consider getting a 29er.  I do feel that the 29″ wheel has some real, although subtle, advantages on a hard tail.  I’m not at all interested in the 650b wheel.  Keep that in mind as you read on.

At NEMBAfest, Carver had their prototype for the Gnarvester available to demo.  This is a bike built around the 29×3″ tire, similar to the Surly Krampus.   The idea here is that the bike has all “normal” parts aside from the frame that has the clearance to accomodate the wider rim and tire.  True fatbikes either have a wider bottom bracket and hubs, or use a bizarre offset in the wheel build to accommodate the much wider tires.   Since I was somewhat intrigued by the design, I figured I’d take it out for a test ride.
Not too fat, not skinny... just right!
Not too fat, not at all skinny… just right!

After swapping my pedals and handing over my driver’s license, credit card, blood sample and giving my mother’s maiden name, they let me take it out.    What were the results after riding around on it for half an hour?  The short answer: I couldn’t stop the stupid grinning when I brought it back.

The long answer: The ride was awesome!  The tread pattern on the Knard tires may not be the greatest design, but it doesn’t seem to matter as long as you can put down a 3″ wide contact patch.  With the tire pressure somewhere around 12psi, I rode over mud greased rocks and roots without flinching.  The traction was truly incredible.

Slimy roots and rocks.  No complaints here.
Slimy roots and rocks. No complaints here.

I then took it up The Shire, a soggy grass field climb, and was amazed at how well the tires handled the soft slime.  The bigger contact patch let the bike float on top of the soft surface as well as keeping traction.  I’m not sure it would make the fields at the Catamount Wednesday night races feel good, but certainly better than any two inch tire would feel while slicing down into the soupy mud.

The Shire.  Not fun with skinny, high pressure tires.  Not at all.
The Shire. Not fun with skinny, high pressure tires. Not at all.

I expected it to be slower like my fatbike, but somehow it manages not to feel that way at all.  I was able to rip up the pavement on the Burke toll road passing people like I normally would. Yes, I’m “that guy.”  I know it’s obnoxious, but that’s how I ride.

I finished my all too brief time on the bike by taking it down a rooty single track descent followed by one of the machine trails in the Burke bike park.  In pretty much every situation, the bike corners way better than my Jabber.  It took a little while to build up some confidence with it but I found myself leaning it over in the corners  considerably more than I would have dared with my own bike.  I can only imagine how far I could push it with more time to get used to that extra cornering power.  It’s like trail glue on the corners.

Honestly , I was riding the descent faster than I do on my race bike.  I found myself jumping the rollers on Rolly Grail and generally pushing the edge more than I would typically feel comfortable with.  All of this on a fully rigid bike!  I returned the bike covered in mud and spattered with sweat.  I really didn’t want to give it back at all.

Since the bike was just a prototype, I can’t say much about it specifically, other than to say that if I had this much fun on it now, I can hardly wait to get my hands on one once it is a finished product – especially if it were built up as a single-speed.  If I owned one I could see my other mountain bike getting a lot of neglect.

My only complaint is that I’d love to see more than one tire made available in the 29×3.0″ size because, right now, Surly is the only manufacturer and they only make one tire in this size.  I haven’t been that blow away by a bike in a long, long time.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
I want one.
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