Not more than two weeks later, I bumped into Kent Eriksen and he too was touting this hybrid of the trusted 26-inch wheel and the trendy new 29er thang. My interest grew.
Really, it’s not entirely a new concept. Off road motorbikes have been built this way for many years (probably for the same reason). And If you can recall back to the mid 80’s (around when The Cars introduced Heartbeat City), Cannondale produced a funny looking rig with, I think, a 20” inch wheel in the rear and a 26” wheel in the front (correction: my friend Bob tells me it was a 24" rear wheel). Maybe they were just a few inches behind and 25 years ahead of their time.
My intrigue with the 69er concept stems from my mild indifference towards 29ers. It’s not that I don’t think they have a place. 29ers are certainly good on the right terrain and especially on longer rides where a steady pace is what you want. I just have never liked the sluggish steamroller feel on tight technical terrain. To me, they feel heavy, slow and sort of just blah on the trail; fast over the long haul but slow to get up to speed. I will say that 29ers roll over obstacles well. It’s sort of a matter of physics, not debatable.
So, when Travis and Kent started talking about how the benefits of the 29er are seen mostly in the front wheel and that keeping the rear wheel a 26” will allow the rider to enjoy benefits like faster acceleration, shorter chainstays (better traction), shorter wheelbase (better agility) and a stronger and lighter rear wheel, I was sold (in concept). Knowing Travis and his riding style, I’m pretty sure that when he evaluates a bike he’s looking at it through a racers eye: an eye that wants performance at speed, agility in the technical stuff, fast acceleration and no compromised when climbing.
Early in July, I finally got a chance to ride the Travis Brown inspired design Trek 69er. I have to admit I was a little bit giddy and my first impression may have been biased because I was enamored by the design of the bike. It’s just a good looking steed – root beer brown with a leather colored saddle, nice lines, a cool take on the wishbone style seatstay, great features like very well designed slider dropouts, a trick rear chain guard (to keep the chain from hoping off the cog) and of course, the custom 100mm matching Maverick DUC 32 fork with the 24mm thru-axle hub not only looks bad ass but it's light and it tracks like a Mclaren F1 crossed with Big Foot.
My giddy love affair carried me like a feather floating through my ride. I enjoyed every sweeping corner, whoop-dee-doo, technical rocky section and even a little air time in the right spots. I was just having so much damn fun. The 69er climbed well and I could certainly feel the smooth momentum generated by the 29” front wheel. The handling felt really solid and stable but it also felt quick and agile – just as described in theory.
An hour into my ride, my love struck eyes did begin to see more clearly and I managed to realize an initial complaint (does this sound familiar). A major problem is not with the design or ride, just with the bike line in general. The size run is too limited: 17.5”, 19.5” or 21.5”. I’m 5’10” with a 32” inseam (very much an average sized American male) and none of the sizes offered would fit me perfectly. I’d need an 18.5”. And what about people shorter than 5’7”? Hopefully for 2008, Trek finds the 69er worthy of a few more sizes.
Another potential setback for this bikes success is that it’s an aluminum frame. There are some folks out there (like me) who really avoid aluminum because it just beats the hell out of you. I’ll have to say though, it’s very responsive when you step on the gas and combined with the 29” wheel and the Maverick fork, the Trek 69er never felt too harsh to me. Aluminum tubing has come a long way since the Klein Rascal and perhaps Treks proprietary ZR 9000 Alpha laser mitered crazy high tech Aluminum Alloy is different. Maybe.
Some may say that you might as well go all the way and put 29” wheels on both ends to get all the benefits. I believe it depends on your needs – the 69er concept has a lot to offer as a fast race/recreational bike. Compared with the 17.5” Gary Fisher Caliber 29er, the 17.5” 69er’s wheelbase is 1.6cm shorter, the BB is 8mm lower and the TT is 9/10” shorter. Again, better agility and a more aggressive position on the bike. Interestingly, the 69er has a slightly more relaxed head tube angle at 69 deg. versus the 71.5 deg head tube on the Caliber 29er - making for a super stable ride while descending (it’s worth noting that the Maverick fork locks out in a compressed position, so when climbing with the fork locked out, the head tube angle will be closer to 70 deg and the front end won’t try to lift off the ground when your cranking in the saddle).
If you can find one (they are hard to come by) – that fits you (even less likely) – check it out. More later I hope…