The 2011 Raleigh XXIX (say “29”) could convince mountain bikers to take the plunge on a lot of different concepts: twenty-nine inch wheels, single-speed gearing and the belt drive.
Belt it out of the Park
Let’s talk about the last one first, because the belt drive really makes the XXIX (which has an MSRP of $1,100) stand out from the crowd of singlespeed bikes. The Gates Carbon Drive belt is a motorcycle-style belt that replaces the chain. Gates touts benefits like light weight, reduced noise, strength and no messy grease as its benefits. It’s perfectly suited to singlespeed bikes like the XXIX since internally geared hubs really haven’t been perfected. Since it’s a solid loop, bike makers need to make a removable port in the frame to install the belt – or replace it should it wear out. As far as I know, the XXIX has a lower price than any production belt drive-equipped bike. I’d seen it before on higher-end brands like Spot Bikes, but this will give riders on a budget the chance to have a belt drive.
Bigger Wheels, Bigger Fun?
The lure of the belt drive could get riders skeptical of the 29-inch wheel to take the plunge. I’m not 29er naysayer, nor am I a convert – I view it largely as the bike industry trying to stay relevant with something new. I admit the 29-inch wheel has some advantages over the typical 26-inch wheel: It rolls smoothly over obstacles and maintains its momentum better. But it’s also heavier and weaker: That’s just the way physics works – bigger circles are weaker circles. I also find the 29-inch wheel to be less agile in tight, steep switchbacks – circumstances when precision handling is more essential than rolling over stuff. The XXIX, though, could mollify my concerns. It seems like a perfect bike for more rolling desert trails. It would be an absolute juggernaut on some of my local rides like the Pemberton Trail and the Pima & Dynamite network.
Fewer Gears for a Pure Ride
Then there’s the whole singlespeed idea. My one-gear experience is limited to a ghetto singlespeed I created from my old Nuke Proof steel frame. It’s festooned with outdated brakes and a gimpy old Rock Shox Judy Race – yet the little blue singlespeed absolutely flies in the flats and does surprisingly well on many climbs. The XXIX would surely blow it out of the water, considering that its components are made to operate with one gear rather than being jury rigged. There’s an efficiency and calm about a singlespeed bike, and you’ll be surprised how fast you can ride on one.
What Else is Good in XXIX Life?
I also love the industrial clear-coat-over-steel finish. The Avid BB-5 mechanical disc brakes are low-maintenance, high-quality stoppers. The frame is steel, which takes the sting out of the lack of suspension and will happily withstand a beating. I’m also a big fan of the Geax Saguaro tires.
All around, it looks like a great package. I’ll be watching for any local bike shop that’s renting them so I can check it out first hand.