Big wheel keeps on turnin'
By James Huang in Durango, Colorado
More Bontrager gear can
The seat stays adopt a
…and the tops are neatly
Multiple seat tube slots
The bridgeless chain stays
The rear dropout and disc
mount are a single unit
Brown runs a Manitou Minute
29er fork up front
Trek Bicycle Corporation has often erred on the side of caution when
it came to its mountain bike line so when it debuted its 69er singlespeed
at the 2006 Sea Otter Classic, many were caught off guard. However,
that bike's introduction didn't exactly signal a sudden willingness
to adopt largely unproven ideas; rather, it was the passionate support
of the platform by a few key figures that finally forced company head
John Burke to relent and agree to bring the concept to market.
Spearheading the idea internally was Travis Brown, a former pro mountain
bike racer who is now heavily involved in product development for the
Wisconsin-based firm. "When I started doing a lot of work in product
development and started testing [Gary] Fisher product, I started riding
the big wheel stuff on the Fisher platform quite a bit," he said. "There're
obviously some distinct characteristics of the different size wheel,
some of which I really liked. And there were some characteristics that
I couldn't quite get used to."
One of those characteristics was the increased effort required to lift
the front end on a 29er, which Brown terms the 'manualability' or 'boostability'.
"There are things about the 26" wheel that we were really attached to
in a lot of conditions. We had speculated that maybe it's chain stay
length or a whole bunch of different things," Brown surmised. "I think
it's actually just the distance from the axle to the ground and how
much easier that lever is to pivot up on than a 29" wheel."
According to Brown (and other 69er supporters), the combination of
a 29" front wheel and standard 26" rear offers a number of advantages
that neither wheel size can completely offer on its own, namely the
ability to steamroll trail obstacles up front without sacrificing the
smaller wheel's nimble handing characteristics in more technical terrain.
In addition, Brown claims the 69er platform is lighter and stiffer
than a full-blown 29er and it's also easier to provide better mud clearance
at the back end. Even so, he admits that even the 69er has its drawbacks.
"It doesn't have the suppleness of a 29" wheel so there are some things
you give up. But for racing and general trail riding, that's what I
think is the best for my riding style. I still ride 29" wheels on a
lot of stuff and I still ride 26" wheels on a lot of stuff but I think
the inherent handling packages on the 29" front and 26" rear has enough
attributes that I think it's going to grow a lot."
Indeed, Trek has since expanded the original 69er model to include
geared hardtails and even full-suspension models. Brown's personal geared
hardtail is actually one of the initial prototypes that was fully welded
in-house but otherwise uses stock 21.5" geometry and tubing. The build
kit also consists of mostly off-the-shelf items, including the SRAM
X.0 and Shimano XT/XTR drivetrain, Bontrager Race X Lite 26" rear and
29" wheels wrapped with Bontrager tires, Avid Juicy Carbon hydraulic
disc brakes and Crankbrothers Candy 4ti pedals. Front suspension is
provided by an 80mm-travel Manitou Minute 29 fork.
A few items clearly stand out of Brown's rig, though, namely the previous-generation
XTR M960 crankset. Only this is no standard XTR crankset as its bottom
bracket spindle has been cut in the middle, shortened and then re-welded
to decrease the pedal stance width. In addition, the handlebar is a
generously backswept and exceptionally wide Salsa Pro Moto flat model
capped off with ESI's surprisingly light-yet-comfy silicone foam rubber
Total weight on Brown's hardtail is a respectably light, if not completely
feathery, 10.7kg (23.6lb). While there are a number of full-suspension
machines that rival (or even better) that figure, it could be argued
that few, if any, of those can truly rival the absolute pedaling efficiency
and direct feel of the rigid rear end. Conversely, the larger front
wheel provides handling capabilities that most 26" hardtails can only
When put in that context, most people's gut reaction to the mismatched
wheel sizes might not be entirely justified. In fact, Brown and the
rest of the 69er crowd might just be on to something here.
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