I got out for a couple hours on the ‘bike-which-contains-Knards’ (for lack of a better bike name) at lunch yesterday, and so did a bunch of other riders. The weather was and is just nuts here — to ride in shorts and short sleeves in the 68 degree temps in late February…? Earliest singletrack I’ve had in over 20 years. I rode the regular local loop – Foresthill Divide from Driver’s Flat counter clockwise to the Connector, Culvert to the road, then Squaw Flat back to the Divide. It was SUCH a different experience than the snow ride on Sunday. It’s mostly a smooth singletrack loop with some ‘trail features’ on Culvert to mix it up. (Culvert is the local shuttle run, and it’s legal! I’s supported by the local trails group FATRAC and the Auburn State Rec Area.) Fewer rocky spots now that Culvert has been groomed a bit but no matter, dirt erodes so if you really want rocks just wait. Culvert is the Sugar Mag of Auburn for you Ned and Boulder readers – a big re-do on the trail and some hate it and some love it. There’s a nice log jump on it (did it), a couple of bigger man-made gap jumps (didn’t do them yet), and some really huge berm turns.
Anyways, back to the task at hand…Knards on dirt.
Remember when you first jumped on a 29er after riding on a ‘regular’ 26er for years? Well that is what it felt like to be on this bike for the first time at speed with the Knards and Rabbit Holes. I had to re-learn not to blow through corners, the gyroscopic force feels greater than a normal 29er. Must be the bigger effective wheel size and heavier rims and tires? I had to use more brake, or so it seemed, since once it got up to speed and it feels like it accelerates faster than a normal 29er on the downhills. You feel like you’re barreling down stuff without even pedaling.
It accelerates into and out of the turns. This one is the thing that really got me, you FEEL it in your bones. It’s the same thing that’s going on with the other things I mentioned, but this is the one you notice first because it’s the reason you blow through turns and need to be ready for it or use more brake. It’s a creepy (in a fun way) feeling, and once you get used to how you need to manhandle the bike a bit more…it rocks. I found myself leaning the bars over more into the turns apex, laying it down more since the low pressure in the tires could easily handle it without washing out. I don’t think you could wash the front tire out if you tried unless you went over the bars immediately afterwards.
Tire pressure. I am running tubes for now since I don’t trust the sidewalls of the 120tpi tires yet. I started out with 10psi front/15psi rear. After the first braking bumps on the trail I stopped and let out more air. I lowered them to 9psi front/12psi rear. I rode with 8psi front/10psi rear for a bit but it had a bit more of that self-steering effect that Fatbikes get at low pressure so I raised it to 9 again in front and felt better. Set up this way, I was able to smooth out the washboards/braking bumps and smaller rocks but don’t fold the tire bead as much as you’d think on cross-sloped slow techy spots or corners. The traction and connection to the ground is pretty amazing from the sheer size of the tires but the low pressure mostly. On snow I wasn’t much below these tire pressures which made me realize I’d be fine going lower on snow for more flotation.
It definitely has a rigid hardtail “suspension” feel because of the low pressure and fat tires and rims. But I can tell people are going to want suspension forks for this tire size just like with fatbikes. I’ve seen Lefty’s already set up for Knards online. I can see it more with 29-plus bikes than with Fatbikes since the 29-plus bikes are really rail-able mountain bikes compared to fatbikes. You don’t feel the sluggishness of the tires like you do with a fatbike and don’t get any of the self-steering of the tires at low pressure (ok, maybe a tiny bit). You don’t get that tractor sound as much on pavement. You don’t get nearly as much of that boingy bouncy tire thing at higher tire pressures like you do with fatbikes (and by ‘higher’ i mean 15psi). You still get some of that ATV-go-over-anything-feel with the 29-plus but you also can manual off stuff, wheelie, jump and whip around the bike more than you can fatbikes since it’s really still a mountain bike and not meant to float on sand and snow…even though I personally think it will do that pretty well too. I hope someone comes out with more tire choices, up to a 3.2 or 3.4″. The 3.2 would be nearing the max for all-mountain bike riding IMO, and the 3.4″ would be a great snow tire with a comparable contact patch to a 26 x 3.7″ Endomorph. I hope they come out with more tread patterns. The Knards are a good dry conditions tire and can hang since you can run such low pressure, but they still can slip out while standing on steep climbs or while braking hard in turns, so having the choice of a larger knob profile in a rear tire would be great.
I’m not getting rid of my normal 29er bike, but it’s going to be a battle each time I look at them and think…ok CHOOSE! I’ll likely race my regular 29er even thought it’s not much lighter with a suspension fork, but I can see running the 29-plus as a singlespeed year round and for certain races. I’d choose the 29-plus instead of my full fat for packed snow rides and races where the course has been groomed (not sure there are any Fatbike races in CA yet?). I think that it’s just one of those things…yep, you need yet ANOTHER bike. Ok, not need but you definitely will want one after riding it for 5 minutes. The 29-plus class is not going to take over the popularity of 29ers in my opinion, but it may take out some of the umph that fatbiking has right now. We’ll see…