Except for riding our bikes, cursing this country’s climate and having an (occasional) beer 29rs were one of the other reoccurring topics during the last 24 months. Some have been diehard fans already for years riding their Gary Fishers and Niners, if possible single speed, others are calling it blaspheme and a marketing scam. Here at Comingthru we consider bikes like beers: taste/test them, if you like em get more if not move on to the next one or fall back to an old love. All this just to say we’ve been riding a carbon Cannondale Flash 3 29r for over a year now.
Despite an otherwise standard setup we went for a customized wheel set with ZTR Arch rims, Sun Ringlé hubs and a set of Racing Ralph 2.25s with Stan’s No Tubes sealant. The bike has a 2×10 SRAM crankset (39-26) with a 10 speed cassette at the back (11-36). Shifters and rear derailleur are 2012 Shimano XT and breaking power is provided by the Avid Elixir 9 (180/160) stoppers.
As to make a fair comparison I took the bike out for 2 rides together with my long time biking buddy riding a Specialized Epic 26″ 100 mm full suspension bike. Based upon past experiences I’m benchmarking against a 26″ aluminum hardtail and a Specialized Epic 26″ full suspension (100mm) in more or less the same price category. My first concern was the 2×10 crankset – would I be able to climb steep uphills round 20%? On a training ride yes, in the occasional marathon – where you try to compete against God knows what – after squeezing the legs for 4 hours it’s a NO. On the 2013 model Cannondale has switched to a 38-24 so I suppose I wasn’t the only one walking up those climbs….
On the single trails and descents the bike comfort in handling is provided by the carbon frame, the low pressure 2.25 tires and the Lefty fork. From my experience with carbon and alu road bikes I knew there is a difference in comfort. In short: the same applies for hardtail mtbikes. Riding the Racing Ralphs at only 2 bar pressure and with the advantage of the bigger wheels the 29r is noticeably more comfortable on trails and in descents than it’s 26″ counterpart. I have been a Fox forks fan my whole biking life, and still am, but I have to say the Lefty is in a league of it’s own. With “only” 90mm suspension, later expanded to 100mm, I never felt I was on the limit, even on the most technical parts with some minor drops. We are not talking descents in the Alps here of course but for the Ardennes terrain and forest trail this fork is an excellent pick.
Downsides? The traditional and general comments. Wheel stiffness when cutting sharp corners being the most obvious one. Also, but that’s more of a setup issue, the performance of the Racing Ralphs when it gets muddy. The good old Nobby Nics are still the better choice for muddy terrain.
The real difference? You ve guessed it: the bigger wheel size. Not only are you sitting “inside” the bike you also sit higher (bottom bracket hight) and have the feeling you are rolling over small obstacles without effort. I had no problems whatsoever with keeping up with my bike buddy (and the other way around) even on more technical ascents/descents. The 29r positions itself exactly where I thought it would fit: between a 26″ hard tail and a 26″ full suspension bike. The advantages over the latter being the rolling speed and, in comparison, a weight saving of around 1-1.5kgs. For touring and the occasional (Ardennes) marathon my future pick without a doubt.
rating: 4.5/5 stars
Conclusion: a good value for money bike for the (advanced) mtb enthusiast offering the real benefits, sorry for the haters, of a 29r. Light frame and good components topped off with an excellent fork.