Eighteen months ago, one of the larger American bike manufacturers told me that 29ers couldn’t be practically engineered with more than five inches (125mm) of travel. The thought was that the geometry tweaks it would take to make such a bike work would too drastically compromise the ride characteristics and handling.
Fast-forward a year and a half and a handful of 140mm-travel 29ers are seeing good success in the market while several manufacturers are set to push into the 150mm realm for 2014.
The BMC Trailfox is the first six-inch 29er we received this year, and it’s a heck of a specimen. The full carbon frame gets 150mm of rear travel courtesy of the company’s proprietary dual-pivot design. The top-spec model we’re riding is hung with Shimano XTR trail components and rolls on DT Swiss XRC 1350 Spline wheels, which weigh in at a shocking sub-three pounds thanks to pricey carbon rims.
The bike makes excellent use of a Fox 34 Talas fork, with the toggle between 120mm and 150mm providing both excellent climbing and plush descending. Our size large tips the scales at just 27.4 pounds, though that diminutive figure comes at a high price: $12,000 to be exact. Fortunately, the Trailfox will come in six different builds, including the aluminum TF03 for $4,000.
It’s worth remembering that BMC entered the 29er game just two years ago, and we said their first entry presaged “good things to come." The Trailfox looks to deliver on that promise. I rode the TF01 over 100 miles in and around Phoenix over the last four days, and I couldn’t find much to complain about. It slams through rough and rocky descents like a supercharged Humvee but, thanks to the feathery wheels and droppable fork, climbs as well as any 120mm bike I’ve tried.
It was as agile as a mountain goat on slow-going, obstacle-hopping trails, though I did find myself knocking my cranks frequently, likely because of the lower bottom bracket. Still, on all of the rides we did, I never found myself reaching for the superlight XC race bike I’d packed along as an option, which is a solid testament to just how deft a bike BMC has created.
It will be interesting to see in the next months how the Trailfox compares against the likes of the Specialized Enduro and the Niner WFO. But one thing seems certain: it’s simply not true that 29ers can’t go big.