Lael’s Baja Divide FKT Bike: Specialized Fuse 29

Nicholas Carman1 7

You know all those new 27.5+ bikes? They are all just 29ers in waiting. Lael customized her Specialized Fuse with new 29×2.6” Nobby Nic tires for her Baja Divide FKT attempt. Keep your eyes open for more 2.6-2.8” tires for 29” wheels in the next year.

Lael began riding a Specialized Fuse Pro last summer. She got it the day before setting off on the Colorado Trail. She had been riding a road bike all summer, the Specialized Ruby which she rode from Alaska to Oregon and raced in the Trans Am Bike Race, and subsequently used on a number of short tours. With the exception of a month of fatbiking in the spring, she had not been on a mountain bike since riding the Advocate Cycles Hayduke in Baja during the winter of 2015-16 when we researched and rode the Baja Divide.

However, the Fuse was a familiar bike as it is similar to the Hayduke, with some minor differences. Most notably the Fuse features a lighter aluminum frame. Frame geometry falls within the same range in most respects, including the 120mm Reba fork that was stock on both bikes. However, our initial iteration of the Fuse saw some customization, including a 130mm Pike fork and an aggressive Dirt Wizard tire up front. The bike worked well, and while the Pike fork was much appreciated, I think a 120mm fork would have served just as well if not better during much of the climbing that is found on the CT. Undoubtedly, when Lael sent the bike downhill her riding was more confident and inspired than before, best compared to how she rode on the Specialized Era, which is the only full-suspension bike she has ever spent time riding. Lael rode the Fuse in this format for the remainder of the year along the first half of the Colorado Trail and over a series of high passes to Grand Junction; from Las Vegas to Lake Tahoe along the new Reno-Vegas route; from the Tahoe Rim Trail to the Bay Area and south to San Diego; and  finally, in Baja for two weeks.

Returning to San Diego, we reconfigured the bike for touring the Baja Divide. There, we installed a Lauf Trail Racer Boost suspension fork— a short travel carbon fiber leaf spring fork. We swapped tires to Schwalbe 27.5×3.0″ Rocket Ron (R) and Schwalbe Nobby Nic (F) on new Roval Traverse Fattie SL carbon wheels which feature a nice 38mm internal width. These wheels strike a nice balance between width and weight for this category. Lael has ridden rim widths ranging from 30mm internal diameter to 45mm internal with 3.0” tires and has a strong opinions about rim width. Basically, she hated riding on narrow rims with big tires. Only a small center contact patch was engaged, sideknobs almost never touch the dirt, and the center of the tire wore rapidly. The i45 WTB Scraper that she rode on the Hayduke was very well suited to riding the Baja Divide. Tire volume is maximized, and tire sidewalls are well supported at low pressure. The 38mm internal width of the Roval wheels may have been her favorite all around rim— no doubt because it was made of carbon— but the width does well to provide a useful profile for both traction and flotation, while providing a slightly rounded profile that rolls nicely on narrow singletrack as well. In short, 38-45mm internal rim widths see to be best for 3.0” tires from our experience.

The 38mm rim width in particular would be perfect with the new range of  27.5×2.8” tires which are now available. For instance, Maxxis is making their famed DHF and DHR II tires in 27.5×2.8”, Specialized has a Butcher and a Slaughter in this size, Schwalbe does both Nobby Nic and Rocket Ron in 2.8”, and if you must have tan sidewalls Onza is making a nice looking 2.85” tire. On full suspension trail bikes, we will continue to see 2.8” and 2.8” tires in place of 3.0”. Most likely, 27.5×3.0” will remain most common on hardtails. But something is missing from this conversation— 29” wheels.

In the past year, riders and the industry have fallen in love with 27.5+ wheels. I enjoy riding that size and know how successful it has been in the bike shop setting, especially for new riders or anyone looking to get off the beaten path, so I consider this to be a positive and informative trend, but 29” wheels have been forgotten in the past year. The last time there was any great excitement about 29” wheels, the leading concepts were 2.0-2.2” XC tires, 2.2-2.5” trail tires, and the 3.0” plus tires. It is my opinion that true 29 plus wheels are too big for most riders, and most rides. I don’t expect 29×3.0″ to grow considerably. Bikes like the Trek Stache and Salsa Woodsmoke do well to make a 29+ bike feel a little less like a boat, and the new Salsa Deadwood SUS brings some extra attention to the wheels size in a full-suspension platform, but 2.6-2.8” tires are the future of 29+, or “large-volume 29” tires” as I like to call them. As such, I was extremely excited to see a 29×2.6” Schwalbe Nobby Nic at Interbike this past fall, and I just learned at NAHBS that Terrene is releasing a 29×2.8” tire this summer. I might have ridden that size in Baja this winter if the tires had been ready in time. They weren’t, and instead I finally put some miles on 27.5+ wheels on my Meriwether.

When Lael decided she wanted to do a fast timed ride on the Baja Divide, I presented a large-volume 29” tire as an option. Although 27.5+ felt more confident over sandy sections and large cobblestone chunk, I recall my 29” wheels feeling faster. The rollover argument that has always accompanied 29” wheels is still valid, I believe. I’ve notice Lael getting hung up on obstacles on 27.5+ wheels, where I think a slightly larger wheel would help. But was I remembering correctly? Are 29” wheels faster, and is rollover really that important? After much deliberation, we decided to rebuild the Fuse with wide 29” rims and 2.6” Nobby Nics.

Our parents visited us in southern Baja after touring the Baja Divide this winter, bringing most of the supplies needed to rebuild the bike. The challenge of organizing parts to be shipped to Alaska and New York was far greater than the actual build process, and in the end we dipped into San Diego for a day to pick up a new suspension fork from Cal Coast Bicycles, who were able to get final build parts for us in a day. They have been super supportive of the Baja Divide since our initial rides last season, and they built Lavanya’s Advocate Cycles Seldom Seen this winter. Working in our friend Cale’s workshop, we finalized Lael’s bike build. Almost everything here is exactly as we would have wanted it. I did have an SP dynamo hub for the build but couldn’t get a 28H carbon rim in time, so I bought a 32H SON hub from The Bicycle Shop in Anchorage and laced it to my well used 29” Light Bicycle rim, which features the same dimension as the Roval Traverse Fattie SL 29 carbon wheel used in the rear. Also, the bivy that Lael brought is a thin silnylon VBL, meant to be used inside a sleeping bag to increase warmth. We couldn’t find the other Mont-Bell bivy in Alaska– or at least the friend we had looking for it couldn’t find it— so we grabbed this one instead. Definitely not the best choice, as nights were cold for Lael in northern Baja.

Aside from the wheel and tire size, the other outstanding features of this bike are the light system with the new Sinewave Cycles dynamo light, the 100mm SID fork with the new Charger damper, and the Cirrus Cycles BodyFloat suspension seatpost. Lael also found her favorite cheap Cannondale saddle in a take-off bin at a bike shop in La Paz. This is the same saddle she toured on for many years and used to ride the Tour Divide twice in one summer, so we know it works.

Follow Lael’s Baja Divide FKT attempt on Trackleaders.com, she is 10 days into her ride and only 200 miles from the finish!

———-

Frame: Specialized Fuse, M4 Alloy

Fork: RockShox SID RLC 27.5+/29, 100mm, 51mm offset

Tires: Schwalbe 29×2.6” Snakeskin, Trailstar, TL Easy

Rear wheel: Roval Traverse SL Fattie 148 (30mm internal carbon rim, DT Swiss ratchet freehub, DT Swiss Revolution spokes, 3x)

Front hub: SON28 110mm 32H dynamo hub

Front rim: Light Bicycle carbon, 30mm internal

Front spokes: DT Competition, black alloy nipples, 3x

Stem: Specialized XC 40mm

Handlebar: Specialized carbon, 3/4” rise, cut to about 700mm

Grips: Ergon GP-2 with short bar ends

Seatpost: Cirrus Cycles BodyFloat, purple spring upper and black spring lower

Saddle: Cannondale take-off

Brakes: Guide RSC

Rotors: 160mm SRAM Centerline

Crank: SRAM S-2200 carbon, 30mm spindle

Chainring: Wolftooth 32T elliptical direct mount Drop Stop ring

Pedals: Shimano XTR Race

Bottom bracket: SRAM PF30

Shifter: SRAM GX1

Rear derailleur: SRAM XO1

Cassette: SRAM 1195

Chain: SRAM X1

Luggage: Revelate Designs custom Ranger framebag, oversize Jerry Can, Mag Tank, Viscacha seatpack, Feed Bag

Lights: Sinewave Cycles dynamo light with USB charging and battery input mode, 2x Black Diamond Icon Poler (helmet/handlebar), NiteRider battery taillight

Battery: Anker 10,000mAh battery for backup power to dynamo light at low speeds and while stopped, also for phone charging if needed

Accessories: King Cage top cap water bottle mount, 2x Specialized Rib Cage, 2x Specialized Purist water bottles, Specialized wireless computer, Garmin eTrex 20, ESI handlebar tape on bare section of bars, Stan’s Race Sealant, alloy tubeless valves

Clothing: Nike Pro 3” compression shorts (size XL for comfort), cotton tank top with custom Mexican embroidery patch, Patagonia merino long sleeve top, Patagonia merino bottoms, Patagonia Barely bra, Smartwool PhD lightweight socks, Patagonia midweight socks, REI down vest, Patagonia M10 shell, knit hat purchased in Tecate

Cycling equipment: Specialized Ambush helmet, S-Works XC shoes, Specialized Grail fingerless gloves

Sleeping: reflective windshield sunshade trimmed to size, Etowah silnylon bivy, purchased cheap sweatpants and plastic trash bag on route

Tools, etc.: Crank Brothers M17 multi-tool, Lezyne HP road pump, 2 oz. Stan’s sealant, Presta-Shrader valve adapter, Genuine Innovations tire plugs and tool, curved needle and thread, tube and patch kit, 11sp chain link, DumontTech Lite chain lube

Other: 6L MSR DromLite bladder, toothbrush and toothpaste, sunglasses, sunscreen, Revelate Designs Peso Pouch, 8000 pesos 

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16 thoughts on “Lael’s Baja Divide FKT Bike: Specialized Fuse 29

  1. 2.6- THE FUTURE. So certain. It will be nice to have another option.

    29+ probably won’t grow anymore, and it doesn’t need to- there’s a full range of tires now, and it’s awesome. And on the boat handling, I wish we could get past the “this wheel size handles this way” thing. Geometry and rider position are way more important to how a bike rides. 30.5″ tall wheels don’t make a 29+ handle like a boat, the super long chainstays those bikes need (if you don’t want to do elevated stays and stuff like that) do. My Walt with giant wheels is snappier handling than a lot of 27.5 minus bikes I’ve ridden. And I still can’t stand the self-steer and weird cornering of a squared off tire on 40mm wide rim. Side knobs didn’t touch the dirt on a 30mm internal? You mean while riding in a straight line? I’m sure they did in a corner.

    I agree that big wheels are too big for some people, but some rides?. Not if your goal is covering ground (XC), more is more when it comes to roll over. Jumpy flow trails, big wheels are a detriment.

    The Dirt Wizards are pretty much a 2.8 in the casing, I always missed a full size 3.0 tire when I rode them. But anyway, sure is nice that there are so many different rubbers for different preferences.

    • You’re right, in 29″ wheels 2.6″ tires is here, 2.8″ is coming, 3.0″ has been around and is well supported. Geometry and rider position are greatly important to how these bikes ride, as are the materials used in frames, wheels, tires. Naturally, personal preference is the most important thing here and there isn’t a way for us to quantify that something will or will not work for another person. However, since both of us ride more than most people and think a lot about the available technology, I’m keen to share my thoughts.

      I do think that 29+ (3.0″ tires) are too big for some riders, and some rides. I’m not prohibiting a person from riding an X-Small ECR or from taking 29+ to tight singletrack or the pump track, but those are both clear examples of the limitation of the wheel (and not only the wheel, but of the physical design limits to the bike). In the same way, I know you were skeptical about those who rode 20″ wheels on the Baja Divide which means we can agree that wheels do have properties which are unique to the wheel, independent of geometry and rider position.

      Your Waltworks 29+ frame is the current exception to the rule of 29+ bikes that ride like boats, along with the Stache and the Woodsmoke. The Stache is the one I would ride if I was to grab a 29+ bike off the shelf.

      Plus tires on 30mm internal rims don’t make sense to me. I’ve ridden it, Lael has ridden it, and I wouldn’t select it. It works, but it is not ideal and does not maximize the 3.0″ tire (and I’m not isolating floatation here). Since these are not pure fatbike conditions we are talking about, wider is not always better. That’s why I suggest the 38mm internal rim as a good all-around. The i45 Scraper is good when flotation is important, but WTB also has an i40 rim, which might be better for all around riding. I think that the side knobs of a Dirt Wizard on a narrow rim do not touch the ground until you are at the limits of traction (as lateral forces are greatest), such as when leaning in a corner or on a substantial off-camber section. The wear patterns on Lael’s Ground Control and Dirt Wizard both support this, the center is bald and the side knobs have almost no perceptible wear. A 40mm internal rim with a 3.0″ tires is consistent with the rim/tire ratio found in most mountain bikes these days, so I’m not sure how square profiles and self-steer are happening on a 40mm rim for you.

      The other obvious debate is about wheel weight and inertia. Big wheels weigh more, all things being equal, and the inertia is greater. That is a benefit in some kinds of riding, not in others. We’re blessed by tubeless ready rims and tires, as well as carbon rims and other innovations that make wheels lighter and better. A Rabbit Hole rim with tubes and Knard tires was apparently just enough of a good thing to give this concept traction, but the future of 29+ would be dim if that was our only option. A modern i45 Scraper with a 1000g 29+ tubeless tire is a great improvement. Still, any 2.8″ tire will be lighter, and it will feel lighter due the the slight decrease in diameter than it’s equivalent 3.0″ tire. It isn’t a big difference, but that’s the nature of most of these discussion–small differences and incremental improvements.

      As for personal preference, I’m very excited about 2.6″ and 2.8″ tires in 29 inches. I loved my 2.4″ Ardent and 2.5″ Minion DHF combination of 30mm internal rims. I’ve often through, even before these were available concepts, that if I could add a few mm in both the rim and the tire I might be happier. For me, bigger and bigger and bigger is not better and that fine line is reached somewhere short of 29+. I guess we’ll know more when we get the chance to ride these new sizes.

      • Thanks for your thoughts on this Nick. This is really useful information. I ride a Trek Stache, and I love it. My only complaint is the tire width. The 3″ wide tires work well on most of the terrain I encounter in Arizona where I live, but they tend to make the bike a little too slow for my liking when I’m on flat and smooth sections of a trail. It’s good to know that there are options. What are thoughts on running a 2.6 or 2.8 tire on my Mulefut 50mm rims?

        • Trek Stache is a rad bike. I’m not sure 2.6″ tires on 50mm rims is the solution, although 2.8″ tires might be okay. With either off these sizes the tire will be a little flatter and less tall, not a huge change with the 2.8″, but it is something to think about. Note, 2.6″ look a little anemic next to 29×3.0″, although is dwarfs a normal 2.2″ tires. I think something around 33-35mm internal rim widths would be ideal for 2.6″ tires, 35-40mm for 2.8″.

          • Good to know! I’ll keep this information for when I’m ready to buy a new set of tires. It might be a while yet. I may as well save up for a new set of wheels while I’m at it. Thanks again!

      • Guess we’re all just a bunch of rim width evangelists huh?

        I think Stan’s has nailed it with their Wide Right scheme- 29 internal for 2.4 to 2.8s, 32 internal for 2.5 to 3.0, and 35 internal for 2.8 to 3.0. Keeps the tire round, side knobs only dig in while cornering (which I guess you guys see as a downside), rolls the sidewall in to protect it from cuts, and keeps the wheels lighter. Having ridden the same bike with 30 internal and 40 internal rims, narrow is my preference. Since we’ve both tried the same things and come to different conclusions, I guess there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

        Sure, different wheel sizes have different characteristics, and a 20″ wheel is kind of an extreme example when we’re talking about mountain bikes. I just mean that people get confused by these blanket statements like “29+ bikes handle like boats” or “26” wheels are more maneuverable.” They’re just not accurate- when there are bikes like the Stache, which handle great with big wheels, and bikes like the Long Haul Trucker, which handles like a boat, even though it has 26″ wheels.

        But if you don’t have to compromise geometry or fit (which in my opinion is a bike with a cs length more than 420 or 430 and a head angle steeper than 69), I don’t think there’s a downside to a 30″ wheel over a 28″ wheel for xc riding. There are durable 900 gram 29+ tires (like the Ranger and Chupacabra), so there’s not much of a weight penalty either.

        For short people, like my tiny wife (5′ 2″), big wheels don’t work too great. She had terrible toe overlap on her XS ECR, no room at all for a seat bag, and couldn’t move her weight around those giant wheels. I think the cutoff is probably around 5’6″ for a 29+.

        I love 30″ wheels on tight singletrack. They don’t fall into 29″ holes.

        I don’t agree that nice handling big wheel bikes are the exception at this point. Trek and Salsa are the two biggest brands making 29+, and they’re making good ones. The new Krampus has better geometry than the old version, and that was a decent riding bike. The Deadwood probably will ride like dead wood. It’s a long, long squishy thing.

        I might really like a 2.8 in the back. No desire to go to one up front, but that’s probably mostly because I don’t ride with a squishy fork.

        Aight, I that’s all the nerdy nitpicking I got. And I’m terribly sad that I never got your thoughts on huarache sandals.

  2. Great post Nick,
    recently I’ve been riding a Salsa Timberjack and for now Iam loving the 27+ combo, specially for short technical rides, Iam really looking forward to take it on a longer ride w/ bags, hopefully the CT this summer… I totally see what you mean, 29 with wide tires its just so damn good! …
    How are you liking the XT-1?… pics look good,
    what lenses are you carrying?
    I also wanted to ask you how do you see riding a section of the Baja Divide in Tykepacking mode? which section you recon could be best to do with trailers and with kids?

    Cheers man, and best wishes to you and Lael

  3. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by being an almost 6′ tall person on a Trek Stache but 29+ has been amazing for me. That bike is rediculously nimble and responsive, but that frame is pretty rediculous haha.

    I do agree that 29 plus isn’t a great fit for smaller riders though and I am also pretty excited about these new 2.6′ tires. 2.8 sounds great as well but aren’t 2.8 tires already part of the midfat family? I didn’t think that they were anything new. I also agree that 29 x 2.6 will have benefits over 27.5 plus tires. It’s a common claim that 27.5 plus is the same diameter as 29 but they just aren’t so these new developments are exciting.

    Have you measured those Schwalbes? I’m curious how wide they actually are.

    Also I’ve noticed Lael has been riding on clipless lately. Is this a recent change or does she switch back and forth depending on the route?

    • Clearance on the aluminum Fuse is good, probably 5-8mm from the tallest side knobs to the chainstay, plenty of room to the seatstay. We did move the cable that runs on the inside of the drive side chainstay to make a little extra room, especially because we expected some clay/mud along some part of Lael’s ride. I routed it under the top tube and along the seatstay.

        • Fork clearance with the SID 27.5+/29 Boost is good, tightest clearance is from the top of the tire to the arch, probably 10-12mm. This is similar to what I have experienced with my 2.5″ Minion DHF on a standard 29″ Pike.

          The 100mm fork happened for two reasons.

          1) We really wanted a lightweight and highly reactive fork, the SID has always been an excellent fork and the newest model features a Charger damper, borrowed from the Pike. We’ve both ridden and enjoyed the Pike, but this fork is up to 500g lighter than Pike/Ohlins/Fox offerings with 34-36mm stanchions. If you have the money, the SID World Cup would shave almost 200g more!

          2) We knew the 29×2.6″ wheels would raise the bike and the BB height. But this wasn’t a concern so much as an opportunity. By switching from the stock 120mm fork to a 100mm fork, the headtube angle steepened by about 2degrees (from about 67.5 to 69.5) which brings it close to most XC bikes. The BB also came down just a bit, bringing the BB height into normal range. The numbers on the Fuse in this configuration are very similar to the Specialized Epic HT, which is their performance XC model. With 2.6″ tires, this is more of a monster-truck XC bike.

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