I’ve put up a couple of posts about the Carver Gnarvester in the past. I thought it might be a good time to follow that up with an update on my experiences and thoughts now that I have a full season under my belt on the 29+ rig. I got my Gnarvester at the beginning of the mountain biking season in May. Since then I’ve put almost 1500 miles on that bike and all but a handful of those miles were off-road. It’s pretty easy to get excited about a new bike when it’s actually still new. Having that same enthusiasm about the same bike several months later is more of an accomplishment. If anything, my favorable opinion of the 29+ has grown even stronger.
Here are some of my observations about 29+ in general, not specific to my Gnarvester:
Descending on steroids. This one puzzled me at first since I’ve always been a lousy descender. I’m genuinely faster on the descents with my fully rigid 29+ bike than I was on my race bike with a Fox 32 fork up front. When playing around with Strava, I’ve racked up more personal records on the downhill segments in one season than I had accumulated before. I’ve also found that I can comfortably keep pace with other riders on full suspension bikes. I totally didn’t expect that to be the case.
Climbing is slightly slower. It’s not something I ever felt on the trail but I could see it when looking at GPS data from my rides. If I were to put a measurement to it, I’d estimate that the loss is somewhere under 10%. That’s not something I’d stay awake worrying about. I would still run this bike as my race rig, if I were still racing. I was not as strong this summer as previous years, so that may factor into the reduced speed.
The flats. Riding flat terrain is probably the bike’s strongest point. The extra traction in the corners makes tight and twisty single-track an amazing experience. I’m able to lean into corners noticeably more than I could with 29×2.4″ tires. Some reviews I’ve read claim that the bigger wheels are sluggish and slow handling. I’m not sure what bikes those people have been riding, but it’s not a quality that I’ve been able to notice while actually riding my bike. It certainly isn’t specific to the wheel size.
Mud and sand. Obviously, with bigger tires you’d expect better performance on soft surfaces. The bike definitely delivers in this area. At 200lbs., I’m able to safely run 12psi. This gives me a relatively huge contact patch with the ground that allows the bike to float over soft ground. Even beach sand is manageable. Riding across lumpy soft grass fields doesn’t suck nearly as much energy out of my legs. The only condition in which I’ve found it lacking is when riding greasy, slime-like mud. In those conditions, the ability to slice down to the firm soil below is where you find an advantage. With that one exception, I’d call this one a definite net positive.
Fun. Ultimately, the 29+ platform isn’t about performance – at least not in my eyes. I have no doubt that I could climb faster with a lighter bike with lighter wheels. A full suspension bike might even give me better downhill control and higher speeds, if I were interested in that. Much like my fat bike, the first word that comes to mind when I think about this bike is “fun.” I finally have a bike that feels like it’s optimized for every situation from groomed single-track to bushwhacking along old tractor roads. I think of it as my fat bike for the summer.