Something about this bike that makes me a happy, friendly rider. I realize it as I greet a mountain biker headed the opposite way. Every time I ride this thing, I get so chipper that I’d say "hello" to a rattlesnake.
It’s more than "New Bike Syndrome." I’ve had plenty of new mountain bikes, and there’s something different here.
Maybe it’s the Gates Carbon Drive; I’ve wanted to try one for years. I salivated when I first saw the Raleigh XXIX with its belt drive. And hey! Wouldn’t you know it? That’s pretty much what I’m riding. I found a Raleigh XXIX stripped of all its parts at a local shop. They also had its belt drive bits lying about; I took those home, too (and ordered a new fork – more on that later).
Seven rides into life as a belt-drive singlespeeder, and I’ve had no problems. Haven’t touched a shop rag or a bottle of lube. Every bit of power I put to the pedals goes to the rear wheel. In just more than a month, I see a difference in my abilities.
And that belt drive. Many a mountain biker scoffs about it: "Is it really that hard to maintain a chain?" No. It’s not. But any extra work is a barrier – a barrier that can make it easier to say "You know, I’m tired and don’t feel like getting my bike ready. I’ll ride tomorrow." Maybe that never happens to you. But it does to me. And the belt drive is, as Forrest Gump says, one less thing. It’s also light and reliable, though the rider bears some responsibility for dialing it in right. By the way, you don’t have to be a mountain biker to ride a belt drive – they’re popular with the commuting crowd, too.
Hmm, what else about this bike makes me such a cheery nutjob? The X-Fusion Slide 29 RL2 suspension fork. I love the Fox FLOAT on my Santa Cruz Superlight. But those things are expensive! For about $400, the Slide 29 does everything my FLOAT does. And even something it can’t – it locks out.
On the trail, the Slide 29 works hard. Square-edged hits make it hiss a bit. But it steers where I point it. It makes short work of stuff in the trail. It didn’t cost me an arm and a leg.
So we have a steel hardtail belt drive with a cool fork. Oh, and it’s a 29er, a novelty for me. If you’re a 26er holdout and expect me to say the Raleigh XXIX handles like a porker, sorry. It just doesn’t. And it rips through fast corners. The combination of hardtail and singlespeed pairs well with the 29er wheel; the big wheels softer the ride and preserve your precious momentum. I’m still not convinced 29er wheels are a must for every mountain bike (or mountain biker), though.
Speaking of wheels, I ordered some WTB Frequency i23 rims built on SRAM 9.0 hubs and added a Stan’s tubeless conversion. The wheels seem durable, but the Stan’s wheelset on my Santa Cruz Superlight spoils me. The bearings roll like nothing else, and the SRAM hubs don’t compete. The WTB Frequency i23 rims, though, look like they can take a flogging from a heavy-riding mountain biker. So far, they have.
Other bits: A gold Chris King NoThreadSet. An old set of Hayes Nine hydraulic disc brakes. A Shimano SLX crank, Answer carbon handlebar, Thomson seatpost and an excellent WTB Vigo saddle. Some people complained that the Raleigh XXIX looks goofy with its World War II graphics. Hmph. Maybe it’s because I grew up watching Black Sheep Squadron, but I like it.
There’s really only one thing I’d change: the top tube. I’m 6’2 with a 34-inch inseam. When I stand over the top tube of the XL frame, there’s flesh-to-metal contact (feel free to chuckle and infer whatever you wish). Raleigh could make a nifty bend in the top tube like my XL Santa Cruz Superlight. Boom. Problem solved.
Chris King headset aside, there’s nothing fancy here -- but each part is an upgrade from a regular Raleigh XXIX. It all adds up to a bike that’s one big chunk of fun to ride.