Meet Tomasz - he’s looking for a hard tail 29er. First, some background. He started out on a 29er hard tail, but it was really more of a riding-around-the-neighborhood kind of bike. That didn’t stop Tomasz from taking it on the local trail. The first time out, while trying to make it up a steep bank, he fell over backwards and down about 6 feet, flat on his back. Broke his helmet. He was hooked. Not one for half measures, the next week he showed up to ride on a slightly used Specialized Enduro he bought from the racer at the local bike shop. He affectionately calls it his "tank".
He lives in South Texas and, really, an Enduro is way way too much of a All Mountain, long travel type bike for where he rides (we’ll overlook the fact that it isn’t a 29er). He had a blast on it in the north Georgia mountains, but, even there, it is probably overkill, considering the climbs and relative smoothness of most of the trails.
Tomasz is hard on equipment. He looks for every jump and drop and he hits them as hard and fast as he can. He has broken so many spokes, he bought a back up set of wheels so he would not be out of action for repairs. The thing is, even though all logic says the Enduro is a ridiculous bike for South Texas riding, in a funny way, it suits his gonzo personality. Maybe having a “tank” is not such a bad thing for some people!
Now, however the bounce of the suspension and weight on climbs has made Tomasz think he’d like something lighter and more efficient. He is thinking 29er hard tail so that he has something completely different from the Enduro. A 29er hardtail XC bike sounds like the logical choice. However, he is more comfortable having his weight further back on the bike and he wants to be able to do light stunt work - drops of 4 feet or more on the local skills course.
Two issues come to mind immediately. First, he is afraid of breaking the frame or 29” wheels on something “lightweight” and XC oriented. As far as the frame goes, this is a valid concern - an a XC bike will survive a couple of drops with a talented rider, but repeated hard charging, jumps and dropping is inviting disaster, as most XC frames are designed with light weight in mind. While 29er wheels are certainly strong, doing big drops on a hard tail makes rim selection critical.
The other problem with XC oriented bikes is that the geometry is all wrong for what Tomasz wants to do. The geometry of an XC bike is designed to keep the front end down on steep climbs. In my opinion, shorter stays and geometry that is meant to pull up easily are vital for aggressive, stunt/tech, and drop type riding.
So, take XC bikes off the list. Really then, he is looking for a hard tail, Trail bike - something with relaxed geometry that can take a beating. Well, hard tail Trail bikes are somewhat hard to come by. Most folks head towards full suspension when they think Trail bike. What is the argument for a hard tail, Trail bike? No rear suspension to worry about and more responsive on smoother surfaces, like dirt jumps and wooden stunts. Plus, hard tails are cheaper.
While there are not too many choices, several hard tail, Trail oriented bikes do come to mind. The Canfield Yelli Screamy ($650 frame), Canfield Nimble9 ($650 frame), and the Banshee Paradox ($599 frame). The Yelli Screamy and Paradox both have slack angles (69 degree head angles) and short chain stays (16.7 -16.8 inch), so they should handle well and inspire confidence when descending. The Nimble9 adds a different wrinkle with a steel frame and the ability to run as a single speed. The Sinister Simon Bar would also be worth a look, although the head angle is steeper than that of the others listed.
Tomasz could run these bikes with a solid wheel set and a 120mm fork on pretty much anything. They are built burly, so they can stand up to extra abuse. That said, for most riders, doing more than a 5 foot drop on a hard tail is probably asking a bit much (both of bike and rider). If Tomasz can keep his aerial stunts to 4 feet and under, or just tech riding in general, this gets a a lot easier. Once you start doing big drops, you really need more specialized equipment. To keep equipment replacement costs down, Tomasz should probably stick with the Enduro for stuff that is super gnarly. By switching out the tires, he can make the hard tail bike feel more XC and less All Mountain depending on his mood and the terrain.
Fork options: Fox 34 or Marzocchi 44 ATA fork. The Marzocchi is really is nice for the money. I am riding it now and I almost prefer it to my Fox. It is burly, stiff, and plush. It also is very effective at using its travel. It does sacrifice a little on small bump sensitivity, but for a retail cost of around $400, it is the best I have ridden by a long shot and it will be strong enough to hold up to what Tomasz has in mind.
Wheels: I would do Stan’s Flow rims at least, laced 3X, with a solid Hub. Think Hope, Hadley, DT 440Fr. Also, the rear wheel would be best with a 12x142 set up. Unfortunately, 29er hartails, up to this point, do not come with over-sized axles. Look into a 10mm rear axle conversion for the above mentioned hubs. The extra security of a closed drop out and a over-sized axle is huge. Plus, it aids in stiffening the rear wheel up (a 135x12 is fine as well) but until there is a frame that has these features, a 10mm axle is the next best option. Also, add a Dt -rws skewer if you decide on the DT hubs. The spokes, should probably be a 14/15 gauge DT with Brass Nipples. This is the minimum I would use for a hand built set of wheels. Other than that, I would look at a wheel set like something from Halo or Azonic, who makes a heavy duty 29er wheels. These last two choices are less expensive and they come with the caveat that we have no personal experience with them.
Other Important Parts: Look at a short stem, think 70 mm with a wide down hill rated bar to make sure your weight stays back, your handling stays tight, and your cockpit is fairly short to allow you to apply rearward weight changes easily. Last, a dropper post of your choice. Think 5 inch drop. Get that seat out of the way!
Other than wheels and fork, Tomasz can pick and choose components based on budget and personal preference. Check out our Diminishing Returns #2 article for more specific recommendations on component selection.
It can't be stressed enough that, within reason, skill is more important than equipment. Start small and develop technique, so you can ride safely and within your ability. In addition, build your bike with parts designed for the type of riding you intend to do. Still, even with all these factors considered, all parts will fail eventually. Wear protective gear and inspect your equipment frequently. Last, send pictures to 29erOnline !