29+ Followup

I’ve put up a couple of posts about the Carver Gnarvester in the past.  I thought it might be a good time to follow that up with an update on my experiences and thoughts now that I have a full season under my belt on the 29+ rig.  I got my Gnarvester at the beginning of the mountain biking season in May.  Since then I’ve put almost 1500 miles on that bike and all but a handful of those miles were off-road.   It’s pretty easy to get excited about a new bike when it’s actually still new.  Having that same enthusiasm about the same bike several months later is more of an accomplishment.  If anything, my favorable opinion of the 29+ has grown even stronger.

It's all good.
It’s all good.

Here are some of my observations about 29+  in general, not specific to my Gnarvester:

Descending on steroids.  This one puzzled me at first since I’ve always been a lousy descender.  I’m genuinely faster on the descents with my fully rigid 29+ bike than I was on my race bike with a Fox 32 fork up front.  When playing around with Strava, I’ve racked up more personal records on the downhill segments in one season than I had accumulated before.  I’ve also found that I can comfortably keep pace with other riders on full suspension bikes.  I totally didn’t expect that to be the case.

Climbing is slightly slower.  It’s not something I ever felt on the trail but I could see it when looking at GPS data from my rides. If I were to put a measurement to it, I’d estimate that the loss is somewhere under 10%.  That’s not something I’d stay awake worrying about.  I would still run this bike as my race rig, if I were still racing.  I was not as strong this summer as previous years, so that may factor into the reduced speed.

It can be raced. (photo by someone else)
It can be raced. (photo by someone else)

The flats.  Riding flat terrain is probably the bike’s strongest point.  The extra traction in the corners makes tight and twisty single-track an amazing experience.  I’m able to lean into corners noticeably more than I could with 29×2.4″ tires.  Some reviews I’ve read claim that the bigger wheels are sluggish and slow handling.  I’m not sure what bikes those people have been riding, but it’s not a quality that I’ve been able to notice while actually riding my bike.  It certainly isn’t specific to the wheel size.

Mud and sand.  Obviously, with bigger tires you’d expect better performance on soft surfaces.  The bike definitely delivers in this area.  At 200lbs., I’m able to safely run 12psi. This gives me a relatively huge contact patch with the ground that allows the bike to float over soft ground.  Even beach sand is manageable.  Riding across lumpy soft grass fields doesn’t suck nearly as much energy out of my legs.  The only condition in which I’ve found it lacking is when riding greasy, slime-like mud.  In those conditions, the ability to slice down to the firm soil below is where you find an advantage.  With that one exception, I’d call this one a definite net positive.

Fun.  Ultimately, the 29+ platform isn’t about performance – at least not in my eyes.  I have no doubt that I could climb faster with a lighter bike with lighter wheels.  A full suspension bike might even give me better downhill control and higher speeds, if I were interested in that.  Much like my fat bike, the first word that comes to mind when I think about this bike is “fun.”   I finally have a bike that feels like it’s optimized for every situation from groomed single-track to bushwhacking along old tractor roads.  I think of it as my fat bike for the summer.


Global Fat Bike Day at Catamount

Global Fat Bike Day was the first in the Le Grand Fat Tour series of events.  The designated day for  Global Fat Bike Day around the world was on December 6, but that didn’t work out for things in the Burlington area.  On Friday, those in charge of such things decided that the forecasted rain wouldn’t go well with the event, so it was moved to Sunday.  Personally, I was looking forward to the war stories I could tell about going to a fat bike event held in a cold, early December rain.  There is a certain perverse joy I take in riding in such conditions.  Maybe I’m just weird, but it was a bit of disappointment.  On the other hand, I was glad to not be on the road Saturday morning.  I like driving in those conditions, but my concern is more about other drivers on the road.  You know, the folks who are responsible for the existence of anti-lock brakes, all season radials and ambiguous check engine lights.

Hitting the trails early in the day.
Hitting the trails early in the day. Photo by Isabelle Neault.

It did rain for the early part of the day on Saturday, so the date swap turned out to be a good thing.  The rain switched over to snow later in the day.  Somehow, the Catamount Family Center got enough snow to make things happen.  There were a couple of inches on the ground and no ice to be found on the trails.  Just a few miles down the road, the snow was little more than enough to make lawns look white.  I think they made the right call in shifting things ahead to Sunday.

Sunday was clear and surprisingly cold.  Of course, I arrived late, just like I do with nearly everything else.  Since there wasn’t really an official start time, there was no problem.  I was hoping to get out with the first group ride of the day, which was pedaling out as I pulled into the parking lot.  After getting my stuff together and registering, I took off on my own, with my nose already running.  I’m somewhat familiar with these trails from racing here back in the ’90s and I’ve always liked the riding  on the north side of the road.  It didn’t take very long before I connected with the group ride.  We rode some double track and even some moderately twisty single-track.  We even made first tracks on some trails that climbed the power line area.  The snow was just enough to make things interesting, but could easily be ridden.  Near the end of the ride, several of us broke off and continued a ride on our own.

Our morning group ride.
Our morning group ride.

That was great until I broke my chain while climbing a short, steep ledge trail.  Since I didn’t have a chain tool, I hoofed it back to the center.  By that time, it was close enough to noon that I decided it was time to hunt down some food.  First, I had to mooch a chain tool and shorten my chain so I could ride for the remainder of the day.  I lost the use of my big ring, but it was better than nothing.


By this time I was cold.  The clamminess from riding paired with the wind and temperatures in the teens was starting to get to me.  I grabbed a hot bowl of chili and stood by the fire for a while.  This helped a little, but I was still really cold.  Even sitting in my car for fifteen minutes eating some snacks didn’t really make any change.  I could not get warm.  The only solution was to get back out on the bike and start heating from the inside out.  That actually worked!

Warming up by the fire became a popular activity.  Photo by Isabelle Neault.
Warming up by the fire became a popular activity. Photo by Isabelle Neault.

There was an alley cat race sometime around mid-day, but I declined that so I could stand by the fire a little longer.  I did manage to get some time on a few demo bikes later in the day.  I love the idea of being able to test ride different bikes, but it’s not great for my personal contentment.  I really was happy with my bike until I tried the Specialized Fatboy.  Of course, it’s not really suffering to ride my Mukluk either.  I’ll note that experience down for future reference should I decide that I need to upgrade.

Demo bikes from various shops.
Demo bikes were available from various shops. Photo by Isabelle Neault.

The weather stayed beautiful for the entire day.  It was nice to ride the trails around Catamount without the intense suffering of a race.  While they don’t have massive mileage, the trials are actually quite well designed.  From what I understand, they are available for fat biking all winter long.

More single track. Photo by Isabelle Neault.


The event was pretty low key, but reasonably well attended considering the random weather and schedule changes.  Being the first event of the season and their first time around, I’m expecting that it will get even better in the future.  Now to look forward to Überwintern next month!

Last ride.
Last ride.