We’ve been waiting more than a year to ride the Enduro 29. The delay has been partly a question of availability and crossed signals. There was a bit of apathy, too, because since the bike’s launch, a whole slew of new long-travel 29ers (including the BMC, the Niner, and Intense) have hit the market—and our garage.
But the wait’s been instructive: while we’ve been anticipating the Enduro 29, we’ve ridden back-to-back editions of the Enduro 26. During the 2013 test, riders were keen on the small-wheeled iteration of the bike. But last January, during trials for the 2014 bikes, most testers shrugged it off in favor of the longer-travel 29ers, which seem to have come into their own this year with tighter geometries, quicker handling, and feathery weights.
One reviewer—an ex-pro downhill racer and current bike shop owner—swore that he’d never again stock 26-inch wheels in his shop after he was repeatedly hung up by the Enduro 26’s small wheels in the rocky chunk on the trails around Tucson.
Such is the market right now. While long-travel 29ers were once considered ponderous and almost carnival-esque, they’re now gaining traction. (And, if the rumors are to believed, the Enduro 26 won’t be around much longer anyways as there are whispers of a tweener model in the works.)
That’s all to say that by the time the S-Works Enduro 29 (E29) arrived last week, our expectations were exceptionally high. (Especially after watching footage of Matt Hunter carving the perfect turn aboard this very bike.) But then it’s a $9,250 bicycle, which should put the bar about as high as you can reach.
And after two rides, we’re not disappointed.
Though a bike with 155mm (6.1 inches) of travel out back and 160mm (6.3 inches) up front is almost by definition all about slamming the descents, what has struck us most so far is the E29’s climbing manners.
Thanks to exceedingly short chainstays for a bike this size, surprisingly nimble geometry (including excellent standover), and an almost unbelievable 27.4-pound total weight, this bike ascends with the directness and ease of an escalator. That might verge into hyperbole, but—no joke—the acceleration when you step on the pedal is comparable to bikes two inches smaller and three pounds lighter, and the steering is so agile and accurate that we’ve yet to even consider front-end drift, even on the steepest, loosest pitches.
And of course the E29 absolutely shreds the downhill, too. That credit largely goes to the RockShox Pike fork, which balances firm and plush and long travel like nothing else currently on the market.
The rear end, with the Cane Creek Double Barrel shock, has taken a bit more fiddling to get used to and still doesn’t feel quite dialed. But so far it’s energetic and bottomless-feeling in the big stuff and gives the bike an overall playfulness. As we’ve said before, if they’re built right, 29ers can be just as quick and agile as bikes with 26-inch wheels. (Anyone who doubts that should take one-after-the-other runs on the E29 and several 26ers.) We’ve done it now, and we were both quicker and happier on the 29er.
The big complaint is sure to be the stratospheric price tag on the S-Works E29 (though realistically it’s in the same ballpark as every other high-end bike on the market). But there’s no denying the expense, which gets you a SRAM XX1 drivetrain, carbon Traverse SL wheels, and Specialized’s Command dropper seat post. (A note about that post: Though it gets lots of flack for its high-speed return rate, we don’t really perceive that as a problem and actually prefer this post to most other brands, which break down often. The Specialized is the only dropper we’ve ever owned that hasn’t failed, and that’s after three years of hard use.)
Don’t get me wrong. The E29 isn’t a perfect bike. The XO brakes are mushy and squawky and will hopefully be replaced in 2015 by either the new SRAM Guide brakes or anything by Shimano. Likewise, the Butcher tires are the cheapest, lightest model and both got sidewall cuts in short order. We realize bike companies stock gossamer tires at retail to keep the showroom models feeling lightweight on the floor. But on a bike this meaty, we’d prefer a little extra heft if it meant we’d get some sidewall protection. These are little niggles, but, as noted, at this price we expect almost perfection.
If you can’t justify almost $10,000 for a bike (and few can) the E29 comes in two additional specs: the Expert at $6,600 and the Comp at $3,500. Naturally, neither will be as light or spry as the S-Works version, but they will pack the same geometry, basic ride feel, and manners for much less capital.
And no matter which model you chose, judging by our rides so far, we’d be shocked if you didn’t ride away as a long-travel 29er convert.