There’s a bit of a debate whether the long travel 29er format really works for small riders, should the small size be 26″ and med and lrg be 29″? With the release of our Maxlight FF29 I was interested to see if we could make the small size feel and handle correctly in a fast trail riding situation. I’m a 5’6″ shorty, so I’m the ideal crash test dummy for the 15.5″ [39.5cm] version.
There is certainly a demand for a small size, hard tail, trail 29er frame and it works on the drawing board, so I ordered a small qty. with our first shipment to try out myself and with team riders. If we are happy with the way it rides, we will roll it out into full production.
The above [pre-ride] pic. shows the ‘Diamond Black’ FF29 with Reynolds XC29ER wheels, Marzocchi ‘Micro Ti 44′ 120mm travel fork, Schwalbe Nobby Nic and Racing Ralph 2.25′s, SRAM XO shifting, drive and braking, Easton ‘Haven’ 70mm stem, SDG ‘Duster’ saddle and lock-on grips. Bars are New Kinesis UK ‘Strut’ carbon, 750mm width/15mm rise. Post is Kinesis UK carbon. Weight is 24lbs [10.8kg].
It’s been raining, a lot. I grabbed a patch of good weather in between showers to escape to the woodland, at the top of the hills it was reasonably dry although pretty SlippySlidey. The further down you went, the more boggy it became and Racing Ralph ceased to be my friend, causing me to become more intimate with trees than I had planned.
Considering the mudfest conditions and 2.25 tyres, I was pleased with how clear the stays, er…stayed. I didn’t stop to clear the tyre once in my 1.5 hour ride.
First impressions were that the bike didn’t feel ‘big’ and I didn’t feel like I was perched on top, the 60mm BB drop and 95mm head tube help here, although it was instantly apparent that the bar was too ‘in my chest’ for good acceleration and climbing and too wide to thread the trees, as my trail of missing bark will testify.
The need for extra BB drop on a 29″ wheeled bike, to keep the height similar to a 26″, can make the bike feel like it needs to be ‘levered’ through quick changes of direction. I didn’t notice this effect with the FF29, although it may become more apparent in dryer conditions when limits can be pushed a little more [I'll report back on that one]. The head angle on these frames is reasonably steep, once again this is to keep the ‘trail’ dimension as close to a 26″ wheeled bike as possible and maintain the ‘direct handling’ feel of the Maxlight frames. For the sml. the head angle equates to about 70.5 with a 120mm fork. This certainly gives the bike a lively feel in tight fast trail conditions and I found myself really enjoying the down hill sections.
The forks are worth a mention, they feel very smooth and the quality of build is certainly up over previous forks I’ve used. 120mm of travel and 29″ wheels really allow you to hit the rough stuff with confidence and maintain your speed, the hardtail lets you punch back out again. I LIKE IT!
Because of my height, I have trouble lifting the front wheel on the med. size, but the shorter top tube on the sml. really makes a difference, manualing over logs and popping small airs was no problem. You can feel that the back end is longer than a 26″ bike though, so it does take a bit of getting used to.
The big wheels certainly feel smooth and you can get going frighteningly fast once you wind ‘em up. These Reynolds carbon wheels spin up pretty quick and I don’t think they really felt any slower to accelerate than a good alloy 26″ wheel. I zig-zagged up and down the valley, took in some fast wide tracks at the base and ended with a medium road climb back up to the car park, all in all a good test and good first impressions for the first ride.
On returning to work, I fitted a Kinesis UK ‘Strut’ carbon flat bar, cut down to 720 and it really transformed the acceleration and climbing, allowing me to get my arms straighter and get over the front of the bike more effectively. The 720 bar and 70mm stem seem to compliment each other really nicely, handling is direct but not twitchy.
My aim when designing the FF29 was to try and make a longer travel 29er handle like a 26″ trail bike, to take advantage of the added speed and control a 29″ wheel can give. I also wanted to feel ‘in’ the bike when riding, not perched up on top somewhere. The following pictures compare the 39.5cm Maxlight FF29 and my 42cm Maxlight XC3 back to back and help to show how the low BB and short head tube, coupled with a 0º rise stem and flat bar can make the dimensions very similar.
Bar height is where the challenge really lies with a small, long travel 29er. You can clearly see the difference in wheel and crown height here, [remember the XC3 is running a 100mm fork and the FF29 has a 120] but because of the 95mm head tube and stem and bar choice the difference has almost been cancelled out once you reach the bars. Fork crown clearance is no problem, due to the curved top section on the down tube. I have rolled the bar right forward because that is what feels best for me, rolling it back would bring it even closer to the XC3 bar height. Being able to get over the front with straight enough arms is really important for quick acceleration and powerful climbing.
People have asked me if poor toe clearance will be an issue on a small frame with big wheels and tyres, you can see that it really isn’t. OK, my shoes are UK 7.5, but this frame is for small people! My neighbour ‘Big Greg Coley’ has clipped in on this bike with his size 10′s and there is still plenty of clearance. The small size has a slightly slacker head angle that helps in this area too.
I think this bike really works and feels good with this set-up for a 5’6″ rider. Smaller than that and the main issue will be stack height and the ability to get over the front enough. With a 100mm fork, neg rise stem and flat bar I think it will work down to 5’4″ [but then, should you be on a 26"?] we will try it in ‘race mode’ with our KMP team rider ‘Wee Katy Winton‘ and feed back to you on that one. The geometry is here.
I’ll write some further impressions when I get to ride it in some drier conditions, but so far I’m pretty sure we will go to full production with the small FF29.