In 2011, 29ers finally caught on across the board, with every major manufacturer getting into the big-wheel market. This coming season, not only is there going to be a proliferation of models as brands fill out their ranges, but there is also a move toward bigger-travel, trail-oriented 29ers. Whereas previously the majority of 29ers were either hardtails or cross-country rigs, as wheel and frames weights decrease, suspensions get refined, and a broader range of parts become available, a new crop of 120mm 29ers (that's five inches) are coming to market. Ibis's long-awaited Ripley, which trades the Mojo's linkage for a pair of eccentrics with bushings, is a prime example. And a few companies are going bigger still: Trek is rumored to be working on a 140mm Roscoe 29er. Here are a few of the most compelling full-suspension 29ers we saw at Interbike.
BMC Speedfox SF29 At "only" 100mm of travel front and rear, this bike is more cross country than trail bike, but it typifies the near-total shift that has taken place toward 29ers. Because Europeans have been slow to adopt big wheels, European brands' have been glacially slow getting on board. The fact that companies like BMC have jumped in with multiple 29er models this year is a sign of the total big-wheeled ascendency. This hydroformed aluminum bike borrows the company's APS suspension from it's successful Speedfox and Fourstroke lines and will come in two specs, Shimano SLX ($,2500) and SRAM XO ($4,500).
Diamondback Sortie Black 29er Though Diamondback had a line of hardtail 29ers aimed at the neophyte in past years, the company is taking aim at a more sophisticated audience with its new 120mm Sortie 29er line, especially this top-shelf Black edition. The aluminum frame has longish seat stays (455mm), a short top tube, and a fairly slack head tube angle (69.5 degrees), which should make for a somewhat upright, solid-steering rig. The distinctive Knuckle Box suspension is the faux-bar variety that the company uses on many of its full-suspension bikes. With a Shimano XTR build, Easton's nice EA90 cross-country wheels, lots of carbon bits throughout, and through-axles front and rear, the Sortie Black ($6,500) should be a svelte, go-fast rig that makes short work of technical descents. The Sortie will sell in three additional models, with pricing as low as $2,600.
Rocky Mountain Element This Canadian company has been a holdout in the 29er market, in large part because the park-style riding in their backyard test ground at Whistler doesn't really lend itself to the longer wheelbases and endurance-oriented ride qualities that have been pervasive in early iterations of big wheel bikes. With the Element line of 29ers, which borrows heavily from the 2011 redesign of the 26 platform, Rocky says they've built a big-wheeled bike that's both a highly efficient pedaler and as agile and playful as a 26er. The beautifully sculpted aluminum frame comes in five sizes and three spec levels, the 100mm 930 ($2,600), the 950 ($3,300), which uses a three-stage 0-90-120 RockShox Monarch shock, and the racier 100mm 970 ($4,300). The omission of a top-end 990 model hints that a carbon version could be in the offing for 2013.
Salsa Horsethief Not only has Salsa beefed up the 80mm 29er Spearfish, one of our favorite bikes in 2011, with three different spec levels for this coming season, but the Minnesota-based retailer has also pumped up the platform to create the bigger-travel Horsethief. With no pivot point at the seat and chain stay junction, it's a unique and simple design for a bike with 120mm of travel. And the extremely short stem and compatibility with a 140mm fork suggest this bike is made for aggressive downhill riding. Best of all, the Horsethief will continue Salsa's budget-minded pricing policy, with frames selling for $1,400 and complete bikes going for $2,950.
Specialized Stumpjumper FSR 29er Though Specialized offered the trail-oriented Stumpy FSR in alloy models last year, they are upping the ante for 2012 with a full range of carbon frames, including a high-zoot full carbon S-Works model ($9,900), and the Expert ($5,800) and Comp ($4,100) editions, which pair a carbon main triangle to an alloy rear end. Weights are said to be in the 24 to 26 pound range, which is impressive for a 130mm bike. Command seatposts come stock, and the rear Fox/Specialized brain shock has a clever new AutoSag function that requires you to overfill the shock by 50 psi or more and then automatically dumps the excess air to find your perfect sag.
Yeti SB-95 Having debuted its radical new suspension, called Switch Technology, on the 26-inch 150mm SB-66 earlier this year, Yeti is now bringing the platform to big wheels. The 120mm SB-95 suspension is designed around an eccentric pivot that reverses direction mid-stroke to control chainstay length while still providing plush, active travel. The frame is quite slack, with a 68.5-degree tapered head tube, and will come in three spec levels ranging from $3,500 up to $6,150 for an XTR build. Given Yeti's prowess at big-hit bikes and the rave reviews the SB-66 has been getting, the SB-95 promises to be a capable all-mountain 29er.