Though many companies are rushing to the 27.5 standard, BMC’s new trail 29er proves that big wheels are still the best choice for many riders.
Like many European brands, BMC was late to the 29er table. Once they threw the weight of their fastidious engineering department behind the wheel size, however, they nailed it, and last year’s Trailfox TF01 was one of the most cutting-edge long-travel 29ers on the market.
For 2015, rather than rush forward to the 27.5-inch standard as many U.S. companies are doing this season, BMC has taken what they learned with the TF01 and applied it to a more all-around machine. The new Speedfox SF01 29, with slightly less travel and weight, is a more versatile machine than the Trailfox that should appeal to an even broader set of riders.
This all-carbon trail 29er looks like a streamlined iteration of the TF01, with just 130mm (5.1 inches) travel front and rear, a Fox 32 Float CTD fork as opposed to the bigger bike’s 34 Float, and a slimmed-down swing-arm and linkage. The frame has the same distinctive angular forms, and the internal cable routings are better placed for less kinking and hassle in setup. The design still relies on a relatively long top tube and short chain stays (435mm), and the head tube angle is a moderate 68.5 degrees.
It all adds up to a stable, stretched-out ride feel that’s as comfy cruising as the TF01, though the wheelbase here is shorter, so the bike feels quicker and more nimble. Those short chain stays make for chipper pedal response, and given the bike’s trim weight of just 26.3 pounds, it climbs more like an XC machine than its trail bike label suggests. Unlike smaller-wheeled five-inch bikes, which can be a bit underpowered in rougher terrain, the SF01’s 29-inch wheels feel bigger and more forgiving than the travel suggests. Having said that, the suspension is firmer and more efficient than it is plush, so the bike will appeal to those with a penchant for climbing.
The bottom bracket here is just as low as the TF01, too, which yields excellent stability on descents but also caused a few testers to complain about pedal strikes while climbing. The only other niggle was with the long (by today’s standards), 70mm stem—most riders found the handling quicker and bike easier to manage with a 50mm stem or shorter.
Really, though, there weren’t many complaints with the SF01. Most everyone who rode it felt it was a nicely balanced trail bike for almost any type of terrain. Even proponents of smaller wheels admitted that they felt immediately comfortable on the bike. It is less forgiving than its big brother, the Trailfox, but it’s also lighter and more lively, thus more appropriate for everyday riding, unless you live somewhere exceedingly rough or prefer chunky terrain.
We loved the performance of last year’s Trailfox but had a difficult time recommending it given its off-the-charts price tag. For 2015, BMC has reduced prices across its mountain bike field—the top-spec TF01 sells for $9,000 this year versus $12,000 in 2014—which brings the company’s bikes inline with the market. As such, this year’s Speedfox SF01 stacks up well against the competition both in performance and value.
The bike comes in three models: the full carbon SF01 that we tested; the SF02, which pairs a carbon front end to an alloy rear; and the full aluminum SF03. Prices range from $9,000 for an SF01 with Shimano XTR down to $2,700 for a Deore-equipped SF03. Our tester was hung with SRAM XX1, aluminum DT Swiss wheels, and a Rockshox dropper post, and sells for $7,000.