What's with Short Travel 29ers?
Its no secret that there is a fresh segment in the mountain bike industry with the new breed of capable short travel bikes. As bikes have gotten longer and slacker pretty quickly over the last few years we are seeing short travel 29ers adopting this trend advertising more capability on the downs with time crushing speeds on the climbs.
As a confessed over biker I had been put off by anything with less than 160mm rear travel. From easy afternoon trail rides to black diamond chunk, you could throw a rock and hit 4 guys riding these bigger travel bikes. As I have been logging more miles I got curious what it would be like pedaling a bike up hill that wasn't 36lbs and a complete bob fest (a bit of exaggeration). One of the fist short travel 29ers we reviewed was the 2020 Marin Rift Zone 3. Looking at that bike having 125mm of rear travel and slacked out geo I was sold and brought it home. I instantly found that this bike was hitting the technical trails a lot better than I had thought. Though I found that the RZ3 was very capable on the descents but wasn't the rocket up the hills that I had expected so back to bigger bikes I went.
Then the 2021 round of reviews rolled out and here were several of these short travel 29ers with the promise of zip, pop, and capability on the downs. So with reluctance I pulled the trigger on the YT Izzo Pro Race. This bike seemed to straddle the XC and Trail bike categories with its sub 30lb weight and aggressive geo numbers (for a short travel bike). Well that is were the love affair began. My local trails, while offering great variety, were getting a little stale since I had been riding them 2-3 times a week for the past several years. The Izzo brought a new prespective and a bit of fresh air to something I was so familiar with. Where I would normally drop my heels and take the straightest and rockiest line, the Izzo turned out to be a bike that had me playing around more on the trail. With it's light weight and ability to change direction with ease, I found a new freshness to these trails I am so familiar with. I quickly found out that straight lining that rock garden wasn't going to end well so instead I was slashing around obstacles or just popping over them all together.
What I was really after in this bike was endurance. My normal "XC" ride was either an 11 mile loop or sometimes I'd lengthen it to 15 miles. With the Izzo on several back to back weeks I was doubling up these loops hitting 23-25mile rides in one trip. Now this is what I was after. This was a ride I had always wanted to do but never really "wanted" to do on a 160mm enduro bike. The most surprising part is I wasn't dying on the climbs. Efficient and supportive in the technical climbs and capable enough for a straight lining brute of a rider on the downs.
These new bikes have been coined "down-country" bikes due to their ability to hit the downhills well and be kind of cross-country in nature. I will say call them whatever you want but I am a big fan. Being not in the best shape any bike that will allow me to log more miles and not needing a babysitter on the technical downs is a win. So much so that we are bringing in 2 more short travel 29ers and looking forward to brining you reviews and a mini shootout.