[Also published at MTBVT.com]
When I first saw Carver‘s Gnarvester frame at NEMBAfest last year, it immediately piqued my interest. I loved the way the bike looked and I really liked the large, high volume tires. Since they had the bike available for demo, I was able to take it out for a spin. My wife knew by the look on my face when I returned that I was going to want one of these frames myself. My enthusiasm for this bike may have seemed a little out of proportion at the time, but, now that I’ve been able to really put the bike through its paces, I feel it was justified.
The Gnarvester is Carver’s “29+” frame. Before delving too deeply into the specifics of the bike, the 29+ platform needs a little explanation. First, this is not a fat bike – it rides pretty much like you’d expect any other 29er rig to ride. It will not perform like a true fat bike would in snow, nor is it sluggish like a fat bike. The bigger tires are no substitution for suspension, although they do absorb small chatter pretty well. Really, 29+ is nothing more than a 29er frame with the clearance for 3″ tires on wide (50mm) rims. The bike is otherwise composed of all “normal” parts. That said, the bigger tires do make a big difference. It has all the advantages that originally got people interested in 29er bikes – better traction due to the bigger contact patch, better cornering, smoother rolling over roots, etc. – only more so in every way. Surly’s choice in naming the platform “29+” was more accurate than I had originally realized – it’s like putting a 29er on steroids.
- Ample clearance for 29×3″ tires with 50mm rims.
- Well constructed titanium frame at a surprisingly affordable price.
- Sliding dropouts allowing the use of almost any axle setup.
- Chainstay that can be “broken” for use with a belt drive.
- Tapered head tube accommodating most fork steerer tubes.
The bike was built up with a SRAM X9 1×10 drivetrain, Velocity Dually rims and Surly Knards in the tread department. I opted to use a Krampus fork due to my personal bias toward steel forks. Carver’s carbon fork would be a great performance upgrade as well as improving aesthetics. I even put in some ti water bottle bolts to keep things light and strong.
The overall impression that this bike gives would best be described as “playful.” The geometry and light weight makes for a ride that just wants to be whipped around, bunny hopped and man-handled in tight single-track. Shortly after getting acclimated to the new bike, I found myself actually jumping some of the small sets of doubles around Kingdom Trails. This is not my typical behavior if you ask anyone that has ridden with me much. Even with the dropouts positioned in the middle of the range of the sliders, the front end of this bike lofts easily over obstacles.
When climbing or descending, the bike handles very well. Nothing of note other than a stable, reliable, neutral feel – which is a good thing. The big traction in the back makes soft, steep terrain much more manageable. With a derailleur setup, you could tune the back end of the bike using the sliders to change the handling characteristics a little. So far, I haven’t found any need for this.
With these big, fat tires you might expect the handling to be on the sluggish end of the spectrum. So far, that hasn’t been a noticeable trait. It may technically require more effort to bring the bike up to speed due to the greater rotating mass, but I’ve never been able to feel it while out on the trail. What I did notice was that this bike corners like a cat on a carpet. The bigger contact patch paired with the bike’s geometry inspire confidence to lean the bike further than you’d expect. I love taking this thing through tight, flowy single-track, like Riverwood at Kingdom Trails – it feels like I’m playing a video game. The handling is also quick enough that it can maneuver through slow technical riding just as readily.
On previous titanium bikes I’ve owned, I was able to get some serious flex out of the bottom bracket under load. Not with this frame. It maintains most of the classic springy feel that titanium is known for without having the drivetrain turn into a wet noodle. The bottom bracket area remains quite stiff. The shaped tubing makes a big difference in this area, as well as looking really cool. The other thing worth mentioning is that the quality of the welds and overall construction and finish of the frame is easily on par with what I’ve seen from more expensive frames.
There are a few down-sides to consider with the 29+ platform, and, therefore, with this frame. At this moment, there is only one 29×3″ tire actually on the market as far as I have been able to determine: the Surly Knard. Fortunately, it’s a decent all around tire. According to on-line rumors, there are some others on the horizon, but they’re not here yet. The other major concern is the lack of suspension options, if that’s your desire. The Cannondale Lefty can work with a 3″ tire, but the clearance is rather tight from what I’ve read. There is also the MRP Stage fork which seems to have just enough room for the wider tires. Of course, there’s nothing stopping you from putting some normal 29er rims and 2″ tires on this bike, but you’d be missing out on the real benefits that the frame has to offer.
Overall, this is just a flat-out fun bike to ride. The big rubber allows you to more smoothy roll over roots and rocks. It is light and nimble enough that I wouldn’t shy away from racing on it, even with the big rims and 3 inch rubber. I’ve loved riding over stream beds and any technical terrain as the bike just seems to handle anything I throw at it. It is an awesome bike for trail exploring, bushwhacking and would be great for mountain bike packing if it had braze-ons for mounting a rack.
Carver will be at NEMBAfest again this summer. Hopefully, they’ll have a Gnarvester available for demo, because this bike is worth the effort to get out and try one out for yourself. But be careful; you might end up hooked on it before you have to return it.
- Innovation: 2/2
- Function: 2/2
- Aestheitcs: 2/2
- Features: 2/2
- Quality/Price: 2/2
- Overall Rating: 10/10
- Titanium’s magical ability to be both strong and light at the same time.
- Awesome handling.
- Big tires allow for great traction
- Plenty of mud clearance
- Sliding dropouts give many options for the drivetrain (derailleur, single speed, internally geared hub).
- The chainstay has the ability to run a belt drive.
- At $1399, it’s still not a trivial expense
- Limited tire choice if you want to take advantage of the bike’s full potential.
- The tapered headtube looks slightly silly with a 1-1/8″ fork.
- Lack of braze-ons if you do want to load it down for bike packing
- No front derailleur option at this time
- Very few options for front suspension.
- Clearance for 29+ wheel/tire setups
- 3.8 pounds in medium size
- ZS44/ZS56 tapered head tube
- Brushed Finish with Bead Blasted Logo
- Standard mtb hub spacing
- 73mm BB shell
- Sliding dropouts – any axle type can be accommodated
- 31.6mm seatpost
- No front derailleur capability