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.

 

Carver Gnarvester Review

[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
The Gnarvester. It even looks fun when standing still.

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.

"My, Grandma, what big tires you have..."
“My, Grandma, what big tires you have…”

Features

  • 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.

Verdict

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.

With these plus size wheels, it just wants to roll over everything.
With these plus size wheels, it just wants to roll over everything.

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.

The bike made me do it.
The bike made me do it.

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.

It corners great, with or without berms.
It corners great, with or without berms.

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.

Plenty of room for muddy 3″ tires.
Plenty of room for muddy 3″ tires.

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.

The sliding dropouts let you run with gears, as a single-speed or even a belt drive.
The sliding dropouts let you run with gears, as a single-speed or even a belt drive.

Rating:

  • Innovation: 2/2
  • Function: 2/2
  • Aestheitcs: 2/2
  • Features: 2/2
  • Quality/Price: 2/2
  • Overall Rating: 10/10

Pros:

  • 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.

Cons:

  • 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.
Sliding dropout with disc mount.
Sliding dropout with disc mount.

Specs:

  • 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

 

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.