25/10/11: Ridden and Rated - Trek X-Caliber 29er
At Head for the Hills, we’ve long been fans of 29” wheeled mountain bikes, and have been very successful with Singular Swift frames and custom builds over the years.
Now, with the Trek/Gary Fisher collaboration going from strength to strength, we’ve decided to extend our fleet of 29ers and make them more accessible. With Trek offering a broad range, starting with the Wahoo, priced at £450, all the way up to the race spec Superfly Pro Carbon at £5000, there's a 29er hardtail to suit every budget and rider.
To accommodate this shift towards bigger wheeled bikes, we now offer the Trek/Gary Fisher X-Caliber as a demo ride. The X-Caliber is mid-way in Trek’s 29er hardtail range and retails at a very sensible £1100. For the money, you get a Rock Shox Recon air sprung fork, Avid Elixir brakeset, SRAM X7 10-speed gearing and one of the most comfortable and nimble hardtail frames available.
I took the X-Caliber for an extended test ride recently, in the glorious late September weather. It was a great day to head out on a long cross country ride. From the shop, I headed straight for Leith Hill, and meandered over the North Downs range through Holmbury Hill, Pitch Hill and eventually Winterfold. Along the way, I visited a huge variety of our Surrey trails, from short downhills, technical singletrack, XC tracks and lung-busting, thigh popping climbs in between.
The X-Caliber felt tight and confident on almost every type of trail. Only on the steepest roll-ins did the bike feel as though I was start to exceed it’s limits, but to put that comment in perspective, those were areas I would normally ride on long travel hardtail or suspension bike, so I wouldn’t consider that a criticism.
On the climbs, the X-Caliber was fast and energetic, and I never considered reaching for the granny ring. With the larger wheels, each crank rotation translates to slightly a greater distance covered in comparison to 26”, so climbs feel shorter than when ridden on a smaller wheeled bike. 29ers also benefit in the tyre department by virtue of a larger 'footprint.' This means a lower tread profile tyre can be used, reducing resistance in a straight line or climb, but giving improved traction in corners owing to a greater contact patch.
Once at the top, the tight handling of the X-Caliber came into play and I quickly forgot that I was riding a 29er. Again, the larger wheels feel smoother over obstacles and it almost felt like riding a short travel full-suspension 26er. Larger wheels also hold their speed better in comparison to 26", so there's less effort involved in maintaining momentum, which leaves more energy in reserve as the ride gets longer.
I quickly became confident enough in the frame’s geometry that I headed for ever more demanding trails, trying to push the limits of the X-Caliber. Even on jumpy downhill trails, again, ones I would normally ride on my suspension bike, the X-Caliber excelled. So much so that I began to question how much use my 26" suspension bike will get in the future*.
Eventually, I turned and headed back over the same range of hills, touring as many of the trails that I’d missed out on my westbound journey as I could, until eventually I was back at the shop, exhausted.
One of the key, stand out factors of the X-Caliber, and this will be true of every bike in the range, was that I didn’t feel like I was riding a bigger bike. The Gary Fisher G2 geometry ensures that the handling and body positioning over the frame are incredibly similar to 26” bikes, so you get all of the benefits of a larger wheel with none of the compromises of older style 29ers.
The Trek/Gary Fisher 29ers really are the future of XC mountain biking, and with such a solid range of models available from Trek, a 29er should be on everybody’s wish list of test bikes, regardless of your riding style. And if you still prefer your rear end sprung, we will soon add the Superfly 100 Al Elite to our list of demo bikes (review coming as soon as the bike arrives in store).
*(Don't worry, I'll still be out on the DH bike on uplift days but I believe it's only a matter of time until we see a 29er DH rig!!)
Gary Fisher Collection 29er hardtail range
Also tested - Shimano SPD pedals:
OK, so I'm a bit behind the times on this one but I thought it worth mentioning, I've finally tried out a pair of SPD's! Wow, what a difference that made!! With my feet connected solidly to the pedals, I actually had a bit more confidence riding a hardtail on rocky or rooty trails, knowing that my foot wouldn't get blown off a pedal. Even in loose corners, I felt 100% confident, so yes, I will be using them more regularly in the future.
you haven't tried an SPD style pedal, find a mate with similar shoe size,
nick theirs for a ride and we'll happily set you up with a test pair of
pedals. The benefits are enormous.
Four reasons to ride 29er...
A bigger wheel holds its momentum better. So you stay rolling over rough stuff and maintain your speed through the corners
Increased wheel size decreases the angle of attack. That means bigger wheels make obstacles seem smaller.
On a 29er, your centre of gravity is lower relative to the front axle, resulting in a more stable feeling as you sit deeper in the cockpit.
29" tyre has a longer contact patch, improving climbing and
cornering, and helps the bike float over soft terrain such as sand.