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Buyer’s guide to mountain bike groupsets

Groupsets are the collections of parts that makes up a bike’s gearing and braking. This comprises the shifters, crankset, front and rear derailleurs, chain, rear cassette and brakes.

Just like our buyer’s guide to road bike groupsets, this guide is designed to explain the components of a groupset, and the different options offered by the two main manufacturers:?Shimano and?SRAM.

Where its more common to see complete groupsets on a road bike, the multiple extra tiers in mountain bike components mean bike brands usually mix and match parts from various groups, and in some cases, different brands too.

Because of the wildly varying prices and mix-matched groupsets of hardtail and dual suspension bikes, we’ve decided to leave out estimated price ranges for this guide. With that in mind, it’s worth pointing out that a mountain bike is a technical product and we don’t recommend choosing a bike based on its drivetrain components and/or groupset. Rather, use this as a guide to help educate yourself on the key differences between the groups.

Components of a groupset

Crankset

There are three types of front crankset found on mountain bikes. Commonly, the type of crankset fitted will depend on the bike’s designed use, pricepoint and even wheel size, with bigger wheeled bikes (such as 29ers) often having lower gearing available.

The first is the triple – the old classic. It consists of three front rings, the largest often being a 42- or 44-tooth outer ring. The middle ring is usually a 32 or 34 and the smallest, inside ring, is often a 22- or 24-tooth. This setup offers the largest range of gears, but there is some noticeable cross-over of available gear ratios.

The second type of crankset and, and one’s that common on modern mountain bikes, is a double. This uses a smaller inner ring (24- to 28-tooth) to allow for a lighter bottom gear to make climbing steeper slopes easier, while the larger outside cog offers a gear that’s generally well-suited to faster riding, this is usually between a 36- and 42-tooth size. It’s lighter than a triple and offers a better angle for the chain in order to use all the gears. A double features less gear ratio cross-over compared to a triple.

There’s also a more recent trend toward a simpler setup, with just a single ring of the front. This was already popular in gravity-based mountain biking such as a downhill, where large gear ranges aren’t needed and chain security (that is, no dropped chains) is more important, but the trend has expanded and now even some cross-country bikes use a single chainring. This is generally between a 30- and 38-tooth chainring size and is matched to a larger gear range in the rear. By removing the front derailleur and relevant shifter, a single-ring setup (often referred to as 1x or ‘one by’), offers a greatly simplified, lighter setup.

The crankset spins on bottom bracket bearings that are housed or threaded into the bicycle frame. Bottom brackets are available in a staggering array of configurations – you might find our?complete guide to bottom brackets?useful.

Cassettes

Cassettes come in a huge range of sizes and speeds. Like the crankset, cassette choice is often determined by the bike’s intended riding style and price.

Aside from for downhill riders, who often use road bike cassettes, most mountain bikes favour a cassette with a wide spread of gears to make climbing easier. The most commonly found ratio range on standard bikes is an 11- to 32-, 34- or 36-tooth count.

Generally speaking, the large 36-tooth cassettes are reserved for 10-speed drivetrains; the 32 and 34t setups more commonly appear on 8- and 9-speed drivetrains respectively.

Recently, SRAM has released an 11-speed cassette designed to work specifically with single-chainring cranksets. This provides massive gear ranges – the smallest cog is a 10-tooth and the largest is a dinner-plate sized 42.

Chains

The groupset brand and number of gears dictate the chain. The more expensive chains often have smoother, more durable and corrosion-resistant coatings than their cheaper counterparts.

Additionally, some more expensive chains have the pins and plates drilled to remove weight. A chain is a wear item though, and is cheap to replace, so the one included with a bike isn’t worth stressing about.

Derailleurs

Derailleurs are the components that move the chain between rings at the front and across the gears of the rear cassette. Each brand offers its own design, but the principle is generally the same, with a cable connected to the shifters doing the pulling.

There’s an exception to this – Shimano now offers electronically-actuated derailleurs at the top level, XTR Di2.

Shifters

Mountain bike gears are changed using gear levers that sit next to the brake levers at the handlebar. Each company offers its own design, and while they all shift gears, they each have a particular way of doing it.

Current shifter types: left is shimano's rapidfire trigger system, in the middle is sram's trigger shifter, and on the right is sram's grip shift :

There’s three common shift options these days, one from Shimano and two from SRAM.

By far the most common is Shimano’s RapidFire – a design that uses two levers, one on top of the other.

Push the larger (bottom) thumb lever away from you on Shimano and the rear mech shifts the chain upwards on the cassette (to a lighter gear). When the smaller, inner lever is pulled with either your index finger or pushed with your thumb (it can go either direction), the chain is shipped down the cassette (to a harder gear). RapidFire is designed to allow multiple upshifts at one time, so the further you push the larger thumb lever, the more gears you’ll shift (to a maximum of three).

The left-hand shifter operates the front derailleur. The larger thumb lever moves the chain onto the larger chainring, the small lever moves it to the smaller ring. Cheaper Shimano shifters, such as those below Alivio offer a slightly simpler setup, in which the small lever only works by pulling it towards you with your index finger.?

SRAM offers two systems, trigger and Grip Shift. The trigger system is the more common, and features two thumb levers that sit in a similar position and work in a similar way to Shimano’s RapidFire. Where RapidFire gives you the option to use your index finger, SRAM’s triggers are operated by pushing of the thumb only.

The other system from SRAM is Grip Shift which has lost mainstream popularity over recent years, but still holds a loyal following in cross-country racing where multiple shifts without moving your hands are considered benefits. Grip Shift is a handlebar grip (or throttle) that twists in either direction to change the gears.

Brakes

Over a decade ago, brakes were simple items – cable-operated rim brakes were the common option, but now they’re a rare sight, kept for the very cheapest machines. Most mountain bikes now feature disc brakes, in either mechanical or hydraulic (fluid-based, like a car or motorbike) formats. Mechanical disc brakes are found at the entry-level, while hydraulic discs area staple on any enthusiast or performance-level mountain bike.

Disc brakes place a rotor (a disc rotor) at the wheel’s hub, with a brake caliper that clamps onto this rotor. There are many benefits to disc brakes on mountain bikes, such as improved stopping power (especially when wet), improved brake control (modulation), less maintenance and no issues with buckled or worn rims.

While most groupsets do offer brakes, it’s common for mountain bikes to have brakes that don’t match the rest of the groupset. This is occasionally done because of price or the perceived ‘best option’ from the brands.

Price vs benefits

Like most components, groupsets vary in price a great deal. So what benefits do the more expensive groupsets bring?

Weight?

Keith?Bontrager?famously once said of bicycle parts: “Strong.?Light.?Cheap. Pick two.” A lighter bike will always accelerate, climb and brake better than a heavier one, but without giving up strength, something has to give. Whether you’re looking at groupsets,?wheels?or even complete bikes, reduced weight is often the major contributor to increased cost.

Generally with mountain groupsets, the more you spend, the lighter they get. Often the performance of the groupset plateaus at the second tier, with reduced weight being the reason for the extra expense. For example, the difference between Shimano’s top two tiers, XT and XTR, is around 230g (excluding brakes), while the difference between SRAM’s top-range XX1 and second-tier XO1 single-ring options is closer to just 30g (excluding brakes).

These weight differences are the result of more expensive materials and refined, or more time-consuming, manufacturing processes. In addition to further machining, hole-drilling and high precision, more expensive components often use materials such as carbon fibre, titanium, lightweight aluminium and ceramic bearings to achieve the pinnacle in low weight.

Durability

If you’re spending more money on a groupset, you’d expect it to outlast a cheaper option. Durability does improve with price, but our experience is that durability also plateaus at the second-tier options, and in some ways, actually starts to decline at the very most expensive option.?

The more expensive technical components are built with greater precision, refinement and materials that lend themselves to greater longevity. This is apparent in derailleurs and shifters, where the cheaper options will develop play and slop overtime, whereas better parts often remain like new.?

Wear items, such as cassettes and chainrings, however, are often the reverse of this. Cheaper options are made of heavier, but more durable steels, while the more expensive versions are made with lighter, but softer, aluminium and titanium metals.

Performance

In addition to the benefits of reduced weight, more expensive groupsets find other ways of increasing performance. Most noticeably, higher priced options provide a smoother, more precise and quicker shift between gears. This includes reduced effort at the lever, something that becomes apparent once you’ve been on the bike for a few hours. It’s an area where electronic gears are going to set a new benchmark; ultimate precision and speed at the simple push of a button.

Another performance example is increased crankset stiffness to provide crisper shifting and more efficient power transfer from the pedals to the rear wheel. This is achieved with more complex designs and materials that increase strength and stiffness, but don’t add weight.?

Braking raises an entire new list of benefits as prices goes up. Simply put, the more expensive brakes are stronger, offer better feel and control, stop you with less hand force required and will be more consistent when used for long periods of time.

Additional features

Besides offering extra gears, it’s common for the more expensive groupsets to offer additional features, however subtle they may be. An example of this is the tool-free adjustable brake lever position on Shimano’s SLX, XT and XTR.

Both shimano and sram offer clutch-style rear derailleurs, these greatly reduce chain slap noise and the risk of dropped chains through rough terrain:

Both Shimano and SRAM offer clutch-equipped derailleurs – look for these on any performance-level bike

Clutch-equipped rear derailleurs, such as Shadow Plus from Shimano or Type-2 from SRAM, are another example. The clutch offers enhanced control of the chain, keeping the drivetrain quieter and with less chance of a dropped chain over rough terrain. ?

In reverse of this, gear indicators are a feature often lost as the groupset price increases. The theory being that more experienced riders use gears based on ‘feel’ and don’t need numbers or indicators to help them.

Discipline-focused options

With mountain biking spanning so many individual disciplines, it shouldn’t be too surprising to find that what works perfectly for climbing steep hills in cross-country may not be ideal for descending cliff faces in downhill.

This is why discipline -specific groupsets now exist for the more extreme riding styles. We’ll cover these below in the individual brand hierarchies.

The major brands and their groupset hierarchies

On the trails there are two major brands making these parts, the first, biggest and most widely used is Shimano, the second is SRAM.

Shimano

Japan’s Shimano offers the widest range of groupsets for mountain biking.

The range starts with the most budget?Tourney, which is usually found on kids’ and entry-level bikes. While it’s included in the mountain bike groupsets, we don’t consider Tourney to be off-road worthy outside of occasional and light use. Tourney is a 6- or 7-speed system (six or seven gears at the rear) combined with a triple crankset.

Next is?Altus, which is sold as a 7-, 8- or even 9-speed system. No matter how many gears are featured out back, this group is always supplied with a triple crankset.

Acera follows, and starts to introduce corrosion-resistant materials such as stainless steel on certain components.

Shimano alivio gets a total revamp for 2015. the 9-speed groupset offers hydraulic disc brakes, multiple gearing options and a lighter/more durable crank design. we're already seeing this dirt-ready group on some base-level dual suspension bikes:

For 2015, Shimano Alivio is looking like a respectable entry option in regular off-road riding

Shimano Alivio sits just above Acera and introduces a few performance features such as RapidFire Plus shifters with push/pull trigger action. Like Acera, this 9-speed group is available with a triple ring crankset only. We consider Alivio Shimano’s starting point if you’re seeking a focused mountain bike.

Next in line is Shimano?Deore, widely considered to be the Japanese company’s first performance-ready off-road groupset. It’s 10-speed and shares many of the designs and technology of the higher priced groupsets. Deore is offered in both double- and triple-crankset options and also spells the introduction to the clutch-style rear derailleur.

Long considered the workhorse group in Shimano’s mountain offerings, SLX is a third-tier offering from the Japenese giant. Generally speaking, SLX offers many of the features and function as the upper-end XT, but at a higher weight and marginally lower shift quality.

Just as shimano 105 is the workhorse of road groupsets, slx is the same to shimano's mountain bike groupsets. slx offers nearly all the features seen in shimano xt, but cheaper materials mean it carries some additional weight and a marginally slower shift:

The workhorse of Shimano’s mountain line-up, SLX is arguably the best value option

The first of the discipline-specific groups, Zee, is Shimano’s entry-level gravity groupset, a cheaper version of Saint (see below). Available only with a single-chainring crankset, Zee is designed for fast and rough downhill riding. It’s built heavier (and sturdier) than the similarly-priced SLX offering.

Shimano?XT?sits one below the professional-level XTR. This 10-speed group has nearly all the top-end design features as the range topping XTR and offers all the performance most riders will ever need, but at a weight penalty compared to XTR. XT is available with either double- or triple-ring cranksets.

Saint is shimano's top-level downhill focused groupset. built with professional downhill racing and extreme freeride in mind :

Shimano Zee and Saint are both designed for gravity-focused downhill and freeride type riding

Sitting as a top-level offering for those who race downhill is Saint. Saint, like Zee, is gravity-focused groupset that is built incredibly strong to handle the abuse of freeride, downhill and other extreme forms of mountain biking. Only offered with a single-ring crankset, Saint also has additional chain retention features.?

XTR?is the pinnacle of Shimano’s range and is often used for racing purposes. For 2015, it offers 11-speed gearing with either single-, double- or triple-crankset configurations. XTR combines top-end design with lightweight materials such as high-grade alloys, carbon fibre, and titanium. It’s common for XTR to offer features that no other groupset level receives, such as multi-shift release when downshifting.

XTR is split into two separate groupset offerings – Race and Trail, with the brakes, rear derailleur and crankset options being the difference. Race is all about absolute weight savings, where features such as tool-free brake lever adjust and Ice-Tech brake cooling fins are removed in favour of saved grams. Trail is the more ‘everyday’ and feature-packed option, where a few additional grams get you greater brake power, adjustability and even chain retention.

Shimano also offers XTR in its latest electronically-operated?Di2 design. This system does away with traditional cables in favour of a system that’s actuated by motor driven mechs powered by a battery, which can either be frame mounted or hidden within the seatpost, seat tube or steerer tube. The advantage of the electronic system is consistent gear shifts and very low maintenance. Another perk of the XTR Di2 is sequential shifting, in that both front and rear derailleurs are operated with a single control, and the system decides whether to shift at the front or rear for the next closest jump.

The downsides are mainly the cost, but there’s also a minor weight penalty and remembering to occasionally recharge the battery.

The Di2 groupsets shares the same crankset, cassette, chain and brakes of the respective mechanical groupset.

Shimano’s groupsets are designed to work with each other (providing they share the same number of gears), so for example, you can easily upgrade Deore with a mix of SLX and XT parts.

SRAM

SRAM’s mountain groupset range is split into two, with single-chainring groupsets (with a ‘1’ featured in the name) separate to the double and triple options. Currently SRAM’s highly popular single-ring options are only for performance-level bikes. Like Shimano, SRAM offers a discipline-specific option too, in the form of X01 DH.

While SRAM’s recent success story is its dedicated single-chainring groupsets, the brand was and still is a strong advocate of double chainring setups over triples. SRAM calls this 2X10.

Another detail to be aware of with SRAM is trickle-down technology. The cheaper components from SRAM are often the same as more expensive options from a few years prior. As well as to this reuse of technology, it’s common for SRAM groups to be very close in function, with material changes accounting for the weight differences. An example of this is that X9, XO and XX SRAM 10-speed shifters all feature identical internal parts.

SRAM’s mountain groups kick off with X3, a 7-speed gear system with technology that’s trickled down from the top. It’s comparable to Shimano Altus in price.

X4 is next in the line-up with 9-speed shifting. Compared to X3, the X4 components feature more metal for better durability. X4 isn’t offered as a complete groupset, and so it’s common to find SRAM X4 parts mixed with those from other brands.

X5 is sram's first full groupset and it's a high-value option for those seeking 10-speed gearing. sram introduces its 2x10 gearing at this level :

SRAM X5 is the entry point into 2×10 shifting

X5 is the first official groupset in SRAM’s line-up. This groupset is popular with bike brands as it offers upper-level features such as a double-chainring crank and 10-speed gearing.

X7 is a 10-speed group, and like Shimano’s Deore, is SRAM’s first groupset that can handle regular and proper off-road use.

Sharing many design and internal features as the top-level offerings, SRAM X9 is a popular choice on mid-priced bikes. A 2×10 groupset, X9 features plenty of alloy, giving it a substantially lower price compared to X0.

X1 is sram's new budget single-ring groupset. it shares much of the performance and features as xo1 and even xx1, but less carbon fibre and more aluminium means a higher weight:

It’s going to become a popular choice for 2015 – SRAM X1 is a new lower-priced single-ring option for all forms of mountain biking from cross-country riding to enduro racing

The entry-level into SRAM’s single-chainring groupsets is X1. X1 is an 11-speed groupset that will only work with a single chainring, afforded by the massive 10-42t cassette. Introduced for 2015, X1 offers nearly all the same features as X01 and XX1 but at a higher weight.

Long considered as SRAM’s best option if you don’t race, X0 is a 2×10 groupset that introduces carbon fibre for weight savings, among a few other small features.

Arguably the most popular single chainring groupset on the market, X01 offers all the features of X1, but more expensive materials and manufacturing processes substantially reduce weight.

X01 DH is a purpose-built groupset for downhill racing and is available as either a 7- or 10-speed setup.

SRAM XX1 is the groupset that kicked off the whole single-chainring phenomenon. It remains as SRAM’s pinnacle off-road groupset and is popular among everyone from gravity-seeking enduro riders to gram-counting cross-country racers. With approximately 30g separating X01 and XX1, it’s mainly for those who just want the best.

Sitting as a cross-country race specific groupset, XX is SRAM’s pro-level 2X10 offering. Since the release of XX1, XX isn’t used or seen as often.

Mountain bike groupsets by cost and discipline:

SRAM and Shimano groupsets by cost and discipine


Bianchi Ethanol 27.1 review

This is Bianchi’s first proper year designing 650b bikes. From a first glance at the Ethanol’s geometry tables, it’s as if the maker hasn’t really adjusted anything to allow for the larger wheels.

Frame and equipment: gorgeous foundations

The head angle is 71 degrees and the seat angle is 73.5 degrees – numbers you find on 26in cross-country bikes. The bottom bracket height is racer boy-low, however, which means a BB drop (how low the crank axle lies below the wheel axles) of 50mm.

The frame has obviously been tweaked from Bianchi’s previous 26in-wheeled carbon hardtails to accommodate the larger wheel, but it hasn’t changed drastically. The maker clearly wants to stick with its tried and true racy geometry.

The bottom bracket sits low, which helps the 650b machine handle differently to a 26in bike:

The bottom bracket sits low, which helps the 650b machine handle differently to a 26in bike

The tapered head tube is nicely short for maximum stiffness. Bianchi’s considerable experience with carbon road frames reveals itself here: the flowing lines somehow making the head tube/down tube/top tube junction an exquisite exercise in elegance, even as it creates great strength.

The plain round seat tube is almost a letdown aesthetically when you compare it with the sculpted arrangements running alongside it. It’s surprising that Bianchi doesn’t spec a direct-mount front mech – the cheap Acera is a traditional band-clamp design.

The BSA bottom bracket shell is thrillingly huge and contains an FSA MegaExo Integrated bottom bracket, while the twin-ring (39/27T) cranks are FSA Comet Compact 386 MegaExos.

The down tube is a real piece of work, and a great example of what can be done with carbon. It flows out of the head tube, becomes square then morphs to a more voluminous trapezoid – until it reaches the underside, and pretty much fills the whole width of the bottom bracket shell. It looks (and rides) extremely stiff in this area, yet the frame weighs just 1370g. It would take some special work to make a frame as stiff and light as this out of any other material.

The flattened top tube and dipped-tipped seatstays give the appearance of softening the ride, but it’s hard to tell if it’s just that – an appearance. They give the frame a lovely aesthetic, at least, which is never a bad thing.

The more significant aspect is that the ample standover leaves a lengthy amount of seatpost sticking above the frame, and said post is a skinny 27.2mm. This is where a genuine amount of welcome comfort emanates from.

Skinny seatpost helps provide some comfort when aboard the stiff carbon fibre ethanol:

Skinny seatpost helps provide some comfort when aboard the stiff carbon-framed Ethanol

The finishing kit has clearly been chosen to meet the price, which is entirely acceptable. You can always upgrade stuff in the shop if you have the cash, and while the RockShox 30 Gold TK Solo Air 120mm fork is a little flexy – especially on this super-stiff frame – it performs decently enough when run hard and with lots of rebound damping.

Ride and handling: small is beautiful

During the test, a common query was why anyone would want a racy hardtail that wasn’t a 29er. Big wheels are generally faster for the riding this bike is suited to – what’s the point of a 650b carbon hardtail?

It took a couple of rides for it to dawn on us. This isn’t just a race bike; it’s a lovely hardtail. Don’t be fooled by its roadie brand and too-long stem. It’s versatile.

The generous BB drop – more than a 26in wheel can accomodate – makes the Ethanol handle differently to a 26er. You feel very ‘inside’ the bike. Even though the ride is still on the twitchy side for riders used to slacker (68 degree or less) head angles, our testers felt secure and confident on steep and technical trails we pointed them down. (Some did, however, swap the 100mm stem for a more modern, trail-friendly 70mm.)

Despite claims that it’s less racy than Bianchi’s other hardtails, the Ethanol is still a very stiff frame. Its fat down tube and deep chainstays combine to make a mighty fine platform for ragging the thing around under shaven-legged power.

Tapered head tube is nice and short to aid frame stiffness:

Tapered head tube is nice and short to aid frame stiffness

The slight but noticeable increase in traction and buzz-soaking that comes with 650b wheels is welcome on short blast rides and extended days out on the trails. We didn’t particularly get along with the Hutchinson Cobra 2.1in tyres during our wintery test period, mainly because the semi-slick-middle tread was sketchy under damp braking. They’re well worth keeping for drier times, however.

All in all, this is a fast and responsive bike that reminds us what it’s like to ride a smaller-than-29in wheel on a carbon hardtail.

Gone is the seductive steamrollering and carving-cruising attitude of big hoops: the 650b Ethanol is much more of an involved and close-up experience. Some would say it’s sketchier and slower – it almost certainly is – but it sure is brilliant fun.

We rather like that Bianchi places emphasis on offering a truly great frame and leaving it to you to replace and upgrade parts as you go. The prime candidates are its agricultural Shimano M445 brakes and chunky wheels, but with a stiff, light and undeniably stylish frame at its heart, the Ethanol is a bike worth keeping, riding and upgrading for years.

This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.








Tern’s Josh Hon to speak on SXSW transit panel

AUSTIN, TX (BRAIN) — Tern Bicycles founder Josh Hon has been selected as an expert for a panel discussion on urban transportation at next month’s South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Conference.

Trail Tech: Exploring 29+

In this installment of Trail Tech we’re going to explore an emerging tyre size that is slowly gaining traction, though not to the same extent as fat bikes or 650B (27.5in) mountain bikes. The new 29+ size refers to 29in tyres that are 3in wide and offer some of the benefits of fat bikes in more manageable package for general mountain bike use.

In some ways, the arguments for and against 29+ mimic those of 650B — big but not as cumbersome as 4in and 5in-wide 26in fat bikes tyres. At the same time, the larger diameter negates some of the weight savings, and a 3in contact patch lacks the same float as the massive 5in contact patch of the largest fat bike treads.

Like 650B, some folks think 29+ is the best of both — giving the rider some of the float and traction of a fat bike in a less-cumbersome package. Others see it as the worst of both — it lacks the float of a fat bike and handles like a very long 29er, which it is.

A brief history of 29+

Surly doesn’t get nearly enough credit for being an industry innovator. It may stick to hardtails constructed from 4130 chromoly tubing, but it’s been quite influential in shaping the types of mountain bikes we ride. The company introduced the Karate Monkey, one of the first production 29er framesets, in 2002. Surly also helped to mainstream fat bikes with the introduction of the Pugsley in 2005. The Krampus, introduced in 2012, continues this trend. (We reviewed the Krampus in 2012 and came away impressed with the bike’s ability clobber singletrack while still handling like a mountain bike.)

Introduced in 2012, the surly krampus is designed around 3in-wide 29er tires:

The Krampus was the first of two 29+ models developed by Surly

The company essentially created a new mountain bike niche when it introduced the Krampus along with the 50mm-wide Rabbit Hole rims and 3in-wide Knard tyres to complete the 29+ ensemble.

But why?

“Not to be?flippant, but why not?” said Surly’s marketing manager Tyler Stilwill.

“We saw what was gained from riding fat bikes, and we saw their drawbacks,” Stilwill said. “We love the 29er platform and Surly?has?always been about getting the biggest wheel into a frame that we can. Until the Krampus, 29ers maxed out at 2.5in, not nearly as wide as the 2.75/2.85in tyres that were out there for 26ers. Granted, not many folks made frames that would fit tyres that wide, but we did (and do). We’re not out to?capture?some kind of market share; we’re reaching for a ride quality that we haven’t yet found.”

Pros and cons of 29+

Stilwill notes that fat bikes were originally designed to conquer terrain that was otherwise unrideable to traditional mountain bikes: snow and sand.

While 29+ can take the edge of rough terrain, they lack the float over snow and sand that fat bikes are known for:

While 29+ can take the edge off rough terrain, the tyres lack the float and massive traction of fat bikes in snow and sand

“The 29+?platform wasn’t built for those conditions; 3in tyres just don’t do as well as fat bike tyres,” said Stilwill. “Bottom line is that 29+ doesn’t perform as well as fat bikes in?the?conditions that fat bikes were truly designed for. On?singletrack?and for?bushwhacking, in ‘normal’ conditions 29+ is faster.”

While they’re not as fat, as 26in fat bike tyres, the larger outside diameter of 29+ tyres exacerbates fitting issues associated with big wheels and shorter riders. If you don’t feel comfortable on a 29er, making the tyres even larger is not going to work to your benefit.

On the plus side, while 3in-wide 29er tyres don’t have the massive float of a fat bike, they don’t come with the same set of engineering hurdles, either.

The Krampus, for example, uses the traditional 100mm front and 135mm rear dropout spacing and takes a 73mm threaded bottom bracket. This makes it easy for folks with a stockpile of older mountain bike components to transfer them over to a 29+ frameset.

Additionally, one can — with just a few millimeters of clearance to spare — run a 29+ tire with a suspension fork.

Last but certainly not least, for recreational trail riders looking for an affordable, low-maintenance, one-bike quiver, 29+ may make a lot of sense. The tyres take the edge off small to medium bumps and diminish the need for an expensive suspension fork.

“Very few people would ever choose to have full-fat as their only mountain bike. I can see 29+ being a much more viable option to be that sole MTB in the shed,” said Sam Alison, owner of Singular Cycles, a small UK-based company that is in the midst of developing its own 29+ model, the Rooster.

Where will 29+ go from here?

Much like the early days of the 29in wheelsize, 29+ is becoming very popular with custom frame builders, and as in the early days of 29ers, the lack of production options increases the demand for 29+ with frame builders.

Curtis inglis won 'best mountain bike' at nahbs in 2013 for his 29+ retrotec:

At the 2013 North American Handmade Bicycle Show the award for ‘Best Mountain Bike’ went to a 29+ bike built by Curtis Inglis. Inglis notes that 29+ orders are pouring in and that he just built one for himself.

The size also faces some of the same challenges as 29in wheels did a decade ago, specifically, a lack of component options, i.e., tire choices.

“The main cons are weight, tire and availability and fitting them in to existing frames and forks. But those are the exact same things we were saying about 29ers 12 years ago. I remember when we only had the WTB Nano Raptor, so it’s reminiscent of those times,” said Alison.

Fat 29in tyres on extra wide rims may be gaining a foothold with custom builders and a handful of smaller brands, but will it ever gain widespread acceptance?

“It’s hard for me not to believe that?these bikes will gain?widespread?acceptance. How is more versatility a bad thing? I?only have my experience and the experience of the other folks in the brand. It is by far my favorite trail bike of all time,” said Stilwill.

While Alison sees the benefits of fat 29in wheels, he also fears that this 29+ might be “a size too far.”

“I’m a bit concerned that it may just end up being one option too many among a plethora of available tire sizes,” Alison said. “That would be a real shame because I think it offers a lot more advantages than some others.”

What do you think? Does 29+ make sense for where and how you ride? Leave a comment below.


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Trail Tech: Exploring 29+

In this installment of Trail Tech we’re going to explore an emerging tyre size that is slowly gaining traction, though not to the same extent as fat bikes or 650B (27.5in) mountain bikes. The new 29+ size refers to 29in tyres that are 3in wide and offer some of the benefits of fat bikes in more manageable package for general mountain bike use.

In some ways, the arguments for and against 29+ mimic those of 650B — big but not as cumbersome as 4in and 5in-wide 26in fat bikes tyres. At the same time, the larger diameter negates some of the weight savings, and a 3in contact patch lacks the same float as the massive 5in contact patch of the largest fat bike treads.

Like 650B, some folks think 29+ is the best of both — giving the rider some of the float and traction of a fat bike in a less-cumbersome package. Others see it as the worst of both — it lacks the float of a fat bike and handles like a very long 29er, which it is.

A brief history of 29+

Surly doesn’t get nearly enough credit for being an industry innovator. It may stick to hardtails constructed from 4130 chromoly tubing, but it’s been quite influential in shaping the types of mountain bikes we ride. The company introduced the Karate Monkey, one of the first production 29er framesets, in 2002. Surly also helped to mainstream fat bikes with the introduction of the Pugsley in 2005. The Krampus, introduced in 2012, continues this trend. (We reviewed the Krampus in 2012 and came away impressed with the bike’s ability clobber singletrack while still handling like a mountain bike.)

Introduced in 2012, the surly krampus is designed around 3in-wide 29er tires:

The Krampus was the first of two 29+ models developed by Surly

The company essentially created a new mountain bike niche when it introduced the Krampus along with the 50mm-wide Rabbit Hole rims and 3in-wide Knard tyres to complete the 29+ ensemble.

But why?

“Not to be?flippant, but why not?” said Surly’s marketing manager Tyler Stilwill.

“We saw what was gained from riding fat bikes, and we saw their drawbacks,” Stilwill said. “We love the 29er platform and Surly?has?always been about getting the biggest wheel into a frame that we can. Until the Krampus, 29ers maxed out at 2.5in, not nearly as wide as the 2.75/2.85in tyres that were out there for 26ers. Granted, not many folks made frames that would fit tyres that wide, but we did (and do). We’re not out to?capture?some kind of market share; we’re reaching for a ride quality that we haven’t yet found.”

Pros and cons of 29+

Stilwill notes that fat bikes were originally designed to conquer terrain that was otherwise unrideable to traditional mountain bikes: snow and sand.

While 29+ can take the edge of rough terrain, they lack the float over snow and sand that fat bikes are known for:

While 29+ can take the edge off rough terrain, the tyres lack the float and massive traction of fat bikes in snow and sand

“The 29+?platform wasn’t built for those conditions; 3in tyres just don’t do as well as fat bike tyres,” said Stilwill. “Bottom line is that 29+ doesn’t perform as well as fat bikes in?the?conditions that fat bikes were truly designed for. On?singletrack?and for?bushwhacking, in ‘normal’ conditions 29+ is faster.”

While they’re not as fat, as 26in fat bike tyres, the larger outside diameter of 29+ tyres exacerbates fitting issues associated with big wheels and shorter riders. If you don’t feel comfortable on a 29er, making the tyres even larger is not going to work to your benefit.

On the plus side, while 3in-wide 29er tyres don’t have the massive float of a fat bike, they don’t come with the same set of engineering hurdles, either.

The Krampus, for example, uses the traditional 100mm front and 135mm rear dropout spacing and takes a 73mm threaded bottom bracket. This makes it easy for folks with a stockpile of older mountain bike components to transfer them over to a 29+ frameset.

Additionally, one can — with just a few millimeters of clearance to spare — run a 29+ tire with a suspension fork.

Last but certainly not least, for recreational trail riders looking for an affordable, low-maintenance, one-bike quiver, 29+ may make a lot of sense. The tyres take the edge off small to medium bumps and diminish the need for an expensive suspension fork.

“Very few people would ever choose to have full-fat as their only mountain bike. I can see 29+ being a much more viable option to be that sole MTB in the shed,” said Sam Alison, owner of Singular Cycles, a small UK-based company that is in the midst of developing its own 29+ model, the Rooster.

Where will 29+ go from here?

Much like the early days of the 29in wheelsize, 29+ is becoming very popular with custom frame builders, and as in the early days of 29ers, the lack of production options increases the demand for 29+ with frame builders.

Curtis inglis won 'best mountain bike' at nahbs in 2013 for his 29+ retrotec:

At the 2013 North American Handmade Bicycle Show the award for ‘Best Mountain Bike’ went to a 29+ bike built by Curtis Inglis. Inglis notes that 29+ orders are pouring in and that he just built one for himself.

The size also faces some of the same challenges as 29in wheels did a decade ago, specifically, a lack of component options, i.e., tire choices.

“The main cons are weight, tire and availability and fitting them in to existing frames and forks. But those are the exact same things we were saying about 29ers 12 years ago. I remember when we only had the WTB Nano Raptor, so it’s reminiscent of those times,” said Alison.

Fat 29in tyres on extra wide rims may be gaining a foothold with custom builders and a handful of smaller brands, but will it ever gain widespread acceptance?

“It’s hard for me not to believe that?these bikes will gain?widespread?acceptance. How is more versatility a bad thing? I?only have my experience and the experience of the other folks in the brand. It is by far my favorite trail bike of all time,” said Stilwill.

While Alison sees the benefits of fat 29in wheels, he also fears that this 29+ might be “a size too far.”

“I’m a bit concerned that it may just end up being one option too many among a plethora of available tire sizes,” Alison said. “That would be a real shame because I think it offers a lot more advantages than some others.”

What do you think? Does 29+ make sense for where and how you ride? Leave a comment below.


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Trail Tech: Exploring 29+

In this installment of Trail Tech we’re going to explore an emerging tyre size that is slowly gaining traction, though not to the same extent as fat bikes or 650B (27.5in) mountain bikes. The new 29+ size refers to 29in tyres that are 3in wide and offer some of the benefits of fat bikes in more manageable package for general mountain bike use.

In some ways, the arguments for and against 29+ mimic those of 650B — big but not as cumbersome as 4in and 5in-wide 26in fat bikes tyres. At the same time, the larger diameter negates some of the weight savings, and a 3in contact patch lacks the same float as the massive 5in contact patch of the largest fat bike treads.

Like 650B, some folks think 29+ is the best of both — giving the rider some of the float and traction of a fat bike in a less-cumbersome package. Others see it as the worst of both — it lacks the float of a fat bike and handles like a very long 29er, which it is.

A brief history of 29+

Surly doesn’t get nearly enough credit for being an industry innovator. It may stick to hardtails constructed from 4130 chromoly tubing, but it’s been quite influential in shaping the types of mountain bikes we ride. The company introduced the Karate Monkey, one of the first production 29er framesets, in 2002. Surly also helped to mainstream fat bikes with the introduction of the Pugsley in 2005. The Krampus, introduced in 2012, continues this trend. (We reviewed the Krampus in 2012 and came away impressed with the bike’s ability clobber singletrack while still handling like a mountain bike.)

Introduced in 2012, the surly krampus is designed around 3in-wide 29er tires:

The Krampus was the first of two 29+ models developed by Surly

The company essentially created a new mountain bike niche when it introduced the Krampus along with the 50mm-wide Rabbit Hole rims and 3in-wide Knard tyres to complete the 29+ ensemble.

But why?

“Not to be?flippant, but why not?” said Surly’s marketing manager Tyler Stilwill.

“We saw what was gained from riding fat bikes, and we saw their drawbacks,” Stilwill said. “We love the 29er platform and Surly?has?always been about getting the biggest wheel into a frame that we can. Until the Krampus, 29ers maxed out at 2.5in, not nearly as wide as the 2.75/2.85in tyres that were out there for 26ers. Granted, not many folks made frames that would fit tyres that wide, but we did (and do). We’re not out to?capture?some kind of market share; we’re reaching for a ride quality that we haven’t yet found.”

Pros and cons of 29+

Stilwill notes that fat bikes were originally designed to conquer terrain that was otherwise unrideable to traditional mountain bikes: snow and sand.

While 29+ can take the edge of rough terrain, they lack the float over snow and sand that fat bikes are known for:

While 29+ can take the edge off rough terrain, the tyres lack the float and massive traction of fat bikes in snow and sand

“The 29+?platform wasn’t built for those conditions; 3in tyres just don’t do as well as fat bike tyres,” said Stilwill. “Bottom line is that 29+ doesn’t perform as well as fat bikes in?the?conditions that fat bikes were truly designed for. On?singletrack?and for?bushwhacking, in ‘normal’ conditions 29+ is faster.”

While they’re not as fat, as 26in fat bike tyres, the larger outside diameter of 29+ tyres exacerbates fitting issues associated with big wheels and shorter riders. If you don’t feel comfortable on a 29er, making the tyres even larger is not going to work to your benefit.

On the plus side, while 3in-wide 29er tyres don’t have the massive float of a fat bike, they don’t come with the same set of engineering hurdles, either.

The Krampus, for example, uses the traditional 100mm front and 135mm rear dropout spacing and takes a 73mm threaded bottom bracket. This makes it easy for folks with a stockpile of older mountain bike components to transfer them over to a 29+ frameset.

Additionally, one can — with just a few millimeters of clearance to spare — run a 29+ tire with a suspension fork.

Last but certainly not least, for recreational trail riders looking for an affordable, low-maintenance, one-bike quiver, 29+ may make a lot of sense. The tyres take the edge off small to medium bumps and diminish the need for an expensive suspension fork.

“Very few people would ever choose to have full-fat as their only mountain bike. I can see 29+ being a much more viable option to be that sole MTB in the shed,” said Sam Alison, owner of Singular Cycles, a small UK-based company that is in the midst of developing its own 29+ model, the Rooster.

Where will 29+ go from here?

Much like the early days of the 29in wheelsize, 29+ is becoming very popular with custom frame builders, and as in the early days of 29ers, the lack of production options increases the demand for 29+ with frame builders.

Curtis inglis won 'best mountain bike' at nahbs in 2013 for his 29+ retrotec:

At the 2013 North American Handmade Bicycle Show the award for ‘Best Mountain Bike’ went to a 29+ bike built by Curtis Inglis. Inglis notes that 29+ orders are pouring in and that he just built one for himself.

The size also faces some of the same challenges as 29in wheels did a decade ago, specifically, a lack of component options, i.e., tire choices.

“The main cons are weight, tire and availability and fitting them in to existing frames and forks. But those are the exact same things we were saying about 29ers 12 years ago. I remember when we only had the WTB Nano Raptor, so it’s reminiscent of those times,” said Alison.

Fat 29in tyres on extra wide rims may be gaining a foothold with custom builders and a handful of smaller brands, but will it ever gain widespread acceptance?

“It’s hard for me not to believe that?these bikes will gain?widespread?acceptance. How is more versatility a bad thing? I?only have my experience and the experience of the other folks in the brand. It is by far my favorite trail bike of all time,” said Stilwill.

While Alison sees the benefits of fat 29in wheels, he also fears that this 29+ might be “a size too far.”

“I’m a bit concerned that it may just end up being one option too many among a plethora of available tire sizes,” Alison said. “That would be a real shame because I think it offers a lot more advantages than some others.”

What do you think? Does 29+ make sense for where and how you ride? Leave a comment below.


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From the mag: Bottom bracket designs evolve to quiet the creak

APTOS, CA (BRAIN) — There may be a sliver of light at the end of the tunnel for retailers frustrated with creaky, plastic-y, non-serviceable OEM bottom brackets in $8,000 bikes.

Thule sponsors GoPro Mountain Games bike events

SEYMOUR, CT (BRAIN) — Thule will be a presenting sponsor for the cross-country mountain bike race and the road time trial at June’s GoPro Mountain Games in Vail, Colorado. The event was called the Teva Mountain Games in prior editions. “The GoPro Mountain Games are a unique sponsorship opportunity as most of the racers need a multi-purpose rack to safely transport their bikes, kayaks, paddleboards and gear