Gary Fisher 29er
Price: Not available yet but don’t expect a bargain
Frame: “Platinum series” custom butted aluminium
Fork: Marzocchi 2002 ‘Marathon’ fork, 29” version
Stop: Avid SD2.0
Go: XTR, Bontrager Race Lite cranks
Wheels: Bontrager Race Lite 29” IRC Notos 29” tyres
Trim: Bontrager stem, 620mm flat bar, seatpost. Selle Italia saddle
Coming soon from: Gary Fisher UK 01908 282626Test logbook
Round and round the lovely Red Bull race course at Sandwell Park. Including everyone’s favourite hard packed spine busting rutted bits, the infamous root of doom, and the even more legendary plasticine field.The Reason
Gary has it that he’s been wanting to build a monster wheeled wagon since getting beaten up in the rock runs of ‘Crested Butte’ back in 1967. Big wheels roll better over the ground and a longer (because the tyre curves at a shallower angle) contact patch should give better traction. Those with a memory for the curiosities of bike design will recall similar big wheel bikes being made by GT (and their budget satellite Mt Shasta) and Diamond Back in 1991, but they didn’t re-appear for 1992. Mr Fisher reckons they failed because the only useable off road (not centre ridge) tyres available for them where skinny 700 x 45c Smoke Lite treads.
Anyway they’ve finally let him try and prove his point with a production bike, but they’ve managed to talk him down to a 29” compromise rather than the 36” wheelers he still wants to try. Well he is tall…….The Rig
The bike itself is a resizing of a conventional high quality custom butted aluminium race frame. Gussets where expected, little CNC chainstay bridge at the back, and as small amount of upsizing as they could manage to shoehorn the rear wheel in with just a few mm clearance on the seat tube.
Gary’s “Genesis” short ended, long centred geometry is theoretically present, though as we’ll see the effect of the wheels negates it’s normal super agile feel. Geometry has also been tweaked to drop the bottom bracket and centre of gravity back down low.
Up front we were delighted to see the new lightweight short travel ‘Marathon’ fork from the kings of plush, Marzocchi, but a quick ride round the paddock and tinker with pressures did not bode well.
The wheels themselves are enlarged versions of Bontrager’s pimpy Race Lite set up, with long narrow guage spokes laced onto custom extruded 29” rims. Wrapped round the outside are custom 29 x 2.00” IRC Notos tyres, though Gary assured us there would be more variety available shortly from WTB and Michelin.The Ride
With the little frame slung between the wheels like a hammock and the fat carcass IRC tyres bike feels odd from the moment you set off. Actually it doesn’t feel odd, it feels like a heavy tyred bike with a very stiff headset. As the wheels are larger the tyres are not only larger but the leverage means they’re noticeably harder to accelerate. The heavier wheels also exert more gyroscopic force once they’re turning which makes the bike harder to steer even at low speeds.
You’re probably not convinced yet are you…
However things got considerably better once you got it moving. With wheels up to speed we did notice a slightly smoother ride over braking ruts and hard baked plough and tractor scars, which eased us past other hardtail riders jolting up the first climb. Bigger wheeled momentum also carried us through stutter bumps and irregular root sections faster than standard wheel size hardtails.
Once the bike was travelling fast enough to be leaned rather than steered through corners, the low centre of gravity that had us catching cranks regularly combined with the big wheel stability to let us carve the bike into big sweepers faster than most plush suspension bikes we were chasing. Some of the climbing dusty off camber turns even managed to convince us that extra tyre contact really was making a difference as we repeatedly carved our way past people as they slithered out on the far edge of the corner.
The only drawback was if you didn’t plot the right curve into the corner in the first place there was no tweaking the bars to re-align yourself. You just had to either run wide and keep momentum or grab a handful of brake to kick the rear end out and then wind the wheel up to speed again.
The place the bikes really shone were the smooth singletrack, gravel path or tarmac sections where you could spin the sharp end of the big ring with ease, definitely faster than normal wheel sizes, which did a lot for our predatory racing urges once we’d learned to swing it through the singletrack.
Oh we nearly forgot the forks. To be honest that’s what we were trying to do all race too. Massive initial stiction never faded, making them essentially rigid for most of the race. When we did clout something they were just suddenly blowing through all their short 65mm travel and back to a horrific clanging top out whatever we did with the pressure or 3 position damping switch. Marzocchi forks are usually lovely, but we would have torn forks these apart on a £200 bike, so we’ll just have to hope they rushed so hard to get the special long legged 29ers ready that something very vital was missed out of the internals (like the compression damping for a start!).Verdict:
In a world where nearly all bikes feel pretty much the same, the 29er makes a refreshing change. Wind up the big ring, and the beast is a flying machine. Rolling noticeably smoother over everything in it’s path and with hugely confident flat out cornering. Doing anything that means you have to accelerate or decelerate isn’t good though, with a noticeable lag under braking or power and a definite reluctance to turn into sharp stuff.
You also have to say that the large wheel rollover is obviously nowhere near as plush or efficient as a full suspension or even softail bike, and the weights won’t be too different either. Sure you get used to it, and the cornering traction may even be improved in some instances but the 29er is no technical trail rig. There’s then a whole bunch of tyre choice, rim choice, spoke availability issues to deal with if you actually owned one long term.
The Fisher was certainly interesting to ride and is a great choice for riders who want to sweep majestically across the savannah’s and ‘marathon courses’ of this world, but we really can’t see it re-inventing the wheel for normal riders.