I have only ever tested a handful of 29ers. I generally found them to be more stable, aggressive on technical downhills with laid out geometry that felt race focused. While that sense of balance and control left a positive impression, I have never been able to afford such a beast. However, I will get to race one. Bicycles International of Venice and Luksha Reconstruction noticed my recent boost in name recognition, mostly due to the popularity of my book Twisted Trails. Then I told them about my ambitious racing schedule so they decided to sponsor me for the 2015 season. What I needed most was a bike good enough for cross country racing and gravel grinders. It didn't have to be a world beater but it had to stand a step above my now beat up Trek Four Series. Admittedly, that would be an easy task.
"What kind of bikes do you see at the races?" asked Jason Luksha, owner of Luksha Reconstruction. While the trends have been fluctuating over the years between 26, 27.5 and 29, I have mostly seen 29ers at recent events. My guess is that the big spenders are usually on top of the trend line so the rest of us grab whatever wheel size has recently trickled down to a reasonable price range. One company taking advantage of that trickle is Raleigh.
Raleigh is one of the oldest bike companies in the world. They started in the late 1880's making motorcycles and three wheelers in cooperation with Reliant. They got their name because their shop sat on Raleigh Street in Nottingham, England. Yes, that Nottingham, the one legendary for its connection to Sherwood Forrest. Insert Robin Hood joke here. They tweaked bicycle designs for a hundred years before the Huffy Corporation purchased the rights in 1982. That is when Raleigh USA started pumping out mass produced bikes in the states. This is when most Americans got their hands on one. However, the company's stability fell into question as ownership changed hands several times over the next 30 years. During those decades their bikes and reputation dwindled.
It was most recently purchased by the Dutch group Accell who also owns Lapierre and Ghost bicycle brands. Accell focuses exclusively on bicycle manufacturing. Their expertise has put Raleigh back on the shelves with a higher level of quality and more availability. What does this mean for the average cyclist? It means Raleigh is making a comeback and they have something to prove.
Now let's talk about my race bike. The 2014 Raleigh Talus Sport is a mid level XC focused ride meant to capitalize on a stretched geometry that centers between 29 inch wheels. The bike shop put on some generic 2.25 tires adequate to the task coupled with an excellent WTB Pure V saddle while the Wellgo Magnesium pedals are my own. All three were more appropriate than the parts that came stock. After the swaps there are still some solid components on this beast.
I say beast because that is what it feels like. My Trek 4300 has a 19.5 inch top tube, very big. The Talus makes it look like a medium. This 29er is tall, long, beefy and yet it is almost 10 pounds lighter at about 24pds. It has a 6061 Aluminum frame, Suntour XCT 100mm fork and Shimano Acera gears. Nothing particularly special until you need to halt. Promax Decipher Hydro brakes with 160mm discs demonstrate a serious commitment towards stopping power. Plus you get an FSA headset with 680 or 700mm wide handlebars for definitive handling.
My first ride was a real test of this bike's capabilities. Another highlight of my new sponsorship deal is that I'm helping with the monthly group rides as part of the Bicycles International MTB Recon Team. We meet up once a month and travel to a trail system for a day of riding, food and beer. The first meeting was in Alva just outside of Fort Myers. Alva is home to the Caloosahatchee park maintained by the Mudcutters Trail Group.
I won't even attempt to remember all of the trail names in part because I was going too fast to read the signs. While the group had riders of all skill levels, I wanted to push this beast and so stayed near the front keeping pace with the rapid riders. Alva has a little bit of everything - flat hardpack with sudden rollovers, banked berms and tricky roots with the occasional sharp corner. The brief section known as The Far East is a must for any serious shredder, it is also where I had the most fun.
The Raleigh was ready for the task. I had little trouble keeping up, all the while making minor adjustments to compensate for the size of the bike. I leaned less in the turns, shifted quickly on the sudden uphills and held true on the off camber roll downs. The brakes were fantastic, no slippage. We rode the entire park, end to the end, and never once did the bike slide, bounce off line or even clip a tree. When you consider that this was my first time on these trails, you have to call that a solid performance. You could give credit to the rider but I'm quite sure my Trek would have struggled mightily on these obstacles whereas the Talus generally ate them up.
The next test for this Hulking monster was my own local CX practice course. This mile long ride contains soft dirt, sharp sandy corners, deliberate swerving sections and foot high logs. The goal is to ride an all out sprint for a full lap then take a break and go again. Lap after lap strengthens your legs, lungs and confidence. On my CXSS it would take about 9 minutes to complete a circuit but today was a revelation in speed.
I got in about 7.5 miles worth of warm-up which included some small hill repeats before attempting the CX course. Once out on the loop I was blazing through the trails and grass. My worries about it being too wide to pass between the barriers was unfounded. I had to dig in a little to cut tight the quicksand like corners but it never lost traction. The deeper dirt dragged down my pace but staying in a low gear I spun like a madman creating compressed lines. I clocked each lap and saw a progression of effort as the Hulk managed to finish in a record time of 7 minutes flat.
While I can't give you a full breakdown of the bike until I race it (Coming soon), I can tell you a few things that are noteworthy. First, the brakes are awesome. Congrats to Promax on this design. The Decipher's are quick and reliable with easy to grab levers. During one ride there was young kid on steel bike coming at me around a blind curve. I saw him at the last second, tapped my rear brake and power skidded out of the way, avoiding a possible crash. Second, the Altus/Acera gear set is merely acceptable. It clicks up easily one gear at a time but requires a firmer push to downshift which usually drops a few gears at a time. This is a perfectly reasonable compromise considering that the bike usually retails for about one thousand dollars.
The Raleigh Talus 29er Sport appears to have the makings of an all around race/trail bike but without the crazy price. There is more for me to learn when I take it to the races so return to this blog for upcoming stories. In the meantime you might want to take another look at what Raleigh has to offer. Visit their website to see the full line or if you live in Southwest Florida swing by the shop.
Update: I took the Talus to the 2015 Florida Cup / XC Championships. The shifting worked well enough and the large tires did eat up the terrain but I started to notice little flaws. The fork lacks a sweet spot. Either it bottoms out too easy or firms up to strictly. I'll keep toying with it but you can't expect much from a spring loaded fork. Also, I struggled on sharp corners again. This might be a matter of getting used to the geometry, further racing will answer that question. This was only the first test and in many ways it was inconclusive.