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Interbike 2006: Y29

Not to diminish the Fox marketing department proclaiming 2007 as ‘The Year of the Fox’, but our Interbike experience found good evidence that it’s the year of the 29er and red ano in the mountain bike industry. Irony (and mystery) of course is that Fox hasn’t jumped on this growing niche as of yet. As the marketshare leader for suspension forks, you’d think they would be leading the charge for a 29er fork. That’s certainly not the case at this point, and for the moment, Rock Shox has the market seemingly cornered with the Reba 29 family. Whispers at the show indicated that 2008 might truly be ‘The Year of the Fox’ for the cult of the 29.

As Dave Turner leans against an empty bar that was once a home for Turner demo bikes in Bootleg Canyon, he matter-of-factly quips, ‘I just want to quit my job, and ride more.’ Don’t we all, Dave? Thankfully for us, Dave is not independently wealthy, nor has he hit the lottery, and for the moment, he has to continue making some amazing bikes to support his addiction.

2007 proves to be no different, with the introduction of the Turner Sultan 29er, and the redesigned Turner RFX, Turner Five Spot, and Turner Highline models. Due in December, the Sultan was a highlight of Dirt Demo, balancing the speed of 29 inch wheels with the nimble and versatile qualities of its brethren, the Turner Flux. Sporting the same 4′ of travel and very similar geometry, the Sultan also leaves all options open for tire selection, including the 29 x 2.55,WTB Weirwolf LT, expected in the upcoming months.

The Turner Five Spot received a boost in travel to 140mm (5.5′) to better balance fork travel. This is achieved via a redesigned rocker and rear swingarm, the latter of which is shared by the RFX. A gorgeous Matte Dark Red or Black Ano will be stock for the Spot. The Turner RFX went on a serious diet and was completely redesigned in an effort to become a better all-around trailbike, receiving a geometry tweak and a new rear swingarm (same as the Five Spot). The medium tips the scales at just over 7.1 pounds. Because of these changes, we’ll be parting ways with our existing Five Spot and RFX demo fleet (as complete bikes). If you’re interested, drop us a line. We’ve currently got one in each size in each model.

Arguably the most technologically advanced company in the bike industry by virtue of their Isogrid and Exogrid technologies, Titus unveiled their handsome new six-inch bike at Dirt Demo. While it still uses the Horst Link, the Titus El Guapo is a departure from the traditional strut style suspension design employed on the Racer X and Moto Lite models. It instead mates the rear swingarm to the downtube of the front triangle, providing the room and leverage to achieve the six inches of travel with tire clearance. Our demo had Kenda 2.5′s with room to spare, and the incredible new Rock Shox Lyrik U-Turn. The Lyrik proved to be a great complement for The Man -- buttery smooth, with the easiest travel adjust ever. Simply twist the dial on the left leg, push the fork down, and you’ve dialed it down to 115mm. Dial it back, push the fork down and you’re at 160mm. Rock Shox Pearl 3.1 got the nod as the stock rear shock on the Titus El Guapo as well. The Titus crew did loads of testing and unanimously decided that its performance was better than the others. As noted above, we were impressed with the ride.

We were also hoping to throw a leg over the new Titus Racer X Carbon, but it barely made it out of production for the show. We did get to have a look at it inside the Expo, but we’re still lusting for a ride ….

At long last, Titus will release an aluminum Racer X 29er. It rides much like the Ti version we know and love, just a touch less compliant. A price tag at $1,895 helped us get over that in a hurry. We expect our first shipment in January.

Just before Interbike we received our first shipment of the Intense Spider 29er. It was only size medium, but they rolled out the door almost as fast as they came in. So, at dirt demo, we capitalized on our second opportunity to get some quality trail time and found it to be a superb race bike -- faster, but a touch less plush than its Spider XVP brother. And, the top tube is a bit longer and the head angle a bit steeper, contributing to its quick handling characteristics. On the larger sizes, this makes for a dream fit for the big guys.

Many of the frames in the Intense booth (and many others) were equipped with the wheels we fell in love with at Sea Otter, Industry Nine. Industry Nine wheels grab your attention with the vivid anodized color offerings, customizable to the ‘nth’ degree, but the bling factor is only a fraction of the story. This reinvention of the wheel uses a one-piece machined aluminum spoke with a pronounced thread and tool flats, doing away with the traditional j-bend and strengthening the two weakest spots on a standard spoke. The beautifully machined aluminum hub utilizes 6 precision pawls to achieve engagement in just 3 degrees. Industry Nine will lace their proprietary hubs and spokes to almost any rim on the planet. The resulting wheelset is super-stiff, responsive and beautiful. And, the weights are competitive, if not better, than many of the more traditional choices. Options for Ultralight, XC, Enduro, Freeride, Singlespeed, and 29er exist, and can accommodate almost any axle with the appropriate conversion kit. You’ll see ‘em here soon.

One of the best looking bikes we saw was the digitized camo frames in Intense’s booth -- the 6.6 was a traditional camo, and a 5.5 EVP sported a desert camo. When asked if either would be available as a finish option for 2007, Intense representatives indicated that costs would be prohibitive. One can’t help but drool at the thought of a digitized camo Intense Socom. A camo-less version of the Socom is due to debut in the coming weeks.

While camo is cool, there’s nothing cooler than supporting a great cause -- Ellsworth has announced their Project Pink campaign which gives $50 to nationally recognized cancer research charities for every purchase of an Ellsworth bicycle finished in a special pink anodization. While the anodization can be applied to any frame without an upcharge, there will be a wait of about a month. Cancer survivors will also have the option (at no cost) to have the word ‘Survivor’ laser etched in the top tube.

Ellsworth plans to re-introduce the hardtail Enlightenment which took the year off in 2006. Ellsworth was careful to neither refer to the frame as a hardtail nor a softtail, but a flextail as the former aluminum monostay has been replaced it with carbon, highlighted by magnesium dropouts. At the time of purchase you may specify either geared, or single speed dropouts. Additional dropouts will be available as an aftermarket purchase, but they will be pricey due to the beautiful magnesium machine work.

And, two new frames were debuted: the full suspension 29er inspired by the Truth, Ellsworth Evolve, and Ellsworth Elightenment 29, a 29er version of the flextail. While the Enlightenment 29 is still in pre-production, we had the opportunity to mount the Evolve in the dust bowl that was dirt demo. The rocket-of-a-bike mimicked the Truth’s responsiveness, and the handling was spot on.

While we didn’t have the opportunity to lay eyes on it, Ellsworth will also release the TiRuth in ’07, a Titanium version of the Truth. And, a carbon MTB wheelset featuring a proprietary machined hub will be available as well.

We were very disappointed that Ventana wasn’t at Dirt Demo as they have a number of exciting new frames we were hoping to ride. The gorgeous Ventana El Ciclón is a 5” trail bike with a striking resemblance to the legendary El Salt. Geometry has been tweaked to suit 140mm forks, including a smaller headtube and slacker head angle. Gorgeous tapered and swaged oval-to-round tubes highlight the Ventana El Terremoto 6.0, a burly 6” travel all-mountain machine. La Bruja returns after a brief hiatus, mating the X-brace design to a 7” platform to create a monster freeride bike. It can be had with either a 1-1/8′ or 1-1/2′ headtube.

Sherwood Gibson of Ventana has been consumed with 29ers since building his first, El Capitán, about 18 months ago. Now, Ventana has five 29er models in their arsenal, seemingly covering every possible need. As expected, we saw El Patrón, a lightweight, race-ready, 3” travel 29er sporting a Fox RP23 shock. But, the big surprise was El Ray, a 29er spawned from the successful 4′ travel El Capitán. It sheds the X brace design, to make a lighter weight version, finished for the show just last week.

With the release of all the new 29er models, you can take comfort in the fact that the component manufacturers are taking note, and responding. We saw 29er versions of the Kenda Nevegal (29 x 2.2), Kenda Small Block 8 (29 x 2.1), and Kenda Karma (29 x 2.2 and 29 x 1.9) tires. We expect each to be available before the end of the year. Kenda will also release a UST version (for 26 inch wheels) of the popular Small Block 8 tires in 26 x 2.1 and 26 x 1.95.

DT Swiss has a few tricks up their sleeve as well. A 7.1d 29er rim will be released in the next month or so -- this rim had previously only been available with a rim braking surface. We’ve long been a fan of the reliable and lightweight DT rims, so this is sure to be a hit with the 29er market. DT will also release the 4.2d rim for 26 inch wheels. The rim is a revision to their very successful 4.1d -- it’s about 1.5mm wider, and slightly lighter.

DT Swiss 240s hubs have been a staple lightweight hub for the XC crowd for years defined by its ultra-precision and its simplicity. But DT has chosen to press ahead with the benefit of new technology nevertheless, and with this comes the new DT 190 Ceramic hub. The 190 Ceramic is simply a 240s hub outfitted with ceramic cartridge bearings. Ceramic bearings are very hard and very round and they take a nice bite out of mechanical drag which is the best thing you can do to make yourself ride faster for a given power output.

Fox Riders Co. always has some great looking duds, and this year is no different. However, this year they’ve delved into the trail helmet market with the Fox Flux, one of the more comfortable (and stylish) helmets we’ve ever donned.

A new find for us, courtesy of our friends at 661, was Royal Racing clothing. Royal Racing is a company that was started by the infamous Steve Peat and compadre, Nick Bayliss. While the aesthetic of the line grabs you instantly, it’s the technical detail, functional sensibility and quality that will sell you. Their line spans baggies, jackets, jerseys, t-shirts and more. Needless to say, we came away extremely impressed.

We’re big fans of Formula Disc Brakes -- that’s no secret. Why? Because they’re the perfect combination of power, modulation and lightweight, and we get incredible support from Chris and the guys at Formula USA. First rate. These guys all ride and have engineering backgrounds, which fuels their passion for both the product and creativity. As they are running buddies with the guys across town at Soulcraft, they had fun with a recent commuter bike project. Be sure to notice the internal cable routing.