Bike Test: The Foes B29

Big-wheel trailbikes are headlining every mountain bike brand’s 2010 lineup, so it should come as no surprise that Foes has a dual-suspension 29er this year. Foes’ B29 fits nicely on the more aggressive end of the 29er spectrum.

Foes makes no specific performance claims for the B29, because it is their only 29er and was designed as a trailbike. It is conceivable that, outfitted with carbon cockpit items and ultra-light wheels and tires, the B29 could campaign successfully in 24-hour events or local cross-country events, but its look, pedaling performance and handling are best suited for mainstream mountain biking?wherever Saturday’s ride takes you.

Aluminum is the stuff of Foes. They hydroform it, flare it, weld and machine it into beautiful and functional mountain bike artwork right here in the U.S. of A. B29 frames use a box-section aluminum gusset to reinforce the diminutive head tube, and it doubles as a shock mount. The dramatically lowered top tube helps minimize the tallish stature of the big-wheel bike, giving the B29 an excellent standover height.

The trademark single-pivot Foes swingarm is guided by a flex-arresting scissor link up top that captures the back side of the shock and uses an asymmetrical pivot yoke at the bottom bracket to keep the front derailleur clear of the suspension. Claimed weight for the frame is 6.2 pounds, and you can get one in small, medium or large.

Foes set up the B29 with a very modest component ensemble, framed around Shimano’s tubeless-ready XT 29er wheels and great-performing Schwalbe Racing Ralph tires. The drivetrain’s highlight is its Shimano 12-36 nine-speed cassette, a plus on any 29er because its lower gearing range makes up for the larger-diameter wheels. Finally, the Curnutt XTD air shock is striking in its size and finish.

Pedaling: The words “balanced,” “trustworthy” and “capable” best describe the B29’s handling on the trail. Anyone, 26er or 29er rider, can enjoy the B29. The Foes B29 delivers a pleasant ride. It rolls quietly and easily over smooth hardpack, pedals efficiently, and requires little effort to negotiate through, over and around technical terrain. The B29 extends Foes’ “ease the task of climbing, so you’ll enjoy the descents more” design philosophy into the realm of the 29er.

Climbing: At 28 pounds, climbing is not as zesty as racer-boys might like, but the B29 makes up for some of its heft by digging deeply for traction and steering straight as an arrow when faced with a serious ascent. As with any 29er, there is some extra rotational mass in those big wheels that requires a smoother pedal stroke when gutting out a climb or when accelerating quickly. The slight lag will punish athletes whose pedaling style resembles the start-stop-start-stop of a common garden lizard.

Those 29er pilots who have not had the pleasure of climbing with a 36-tooth rear cog should. Most climbing can be accomplished in the middle chainring?in fact, the lion’s share of our mileage was done in the middle ring. Climbing was simplified because the long wheelbase of the B29 (it has whopping, 18-inch chainstays) pins the front tire to the earth and makes it possible to choose the optimal pedaling posture?rather than searching for the best compromise to keep the front tire on the ground when the going gets steep.

Descending: As it turns out, the B29 rips the downhills. The fast-rolling 29er wheels and Schwalbe tires pick up a lot of speed in a short distance, so be ready to fly when you release the brakes. The Foes sticks to the ground in the corners, which encourages an aggressive lean around every bend. When the tires do let loose, the B29 retains its composure. Same goes for parallel ruts, where the Foes ignored their threats and rolled straight and true.

Braking: Stopping power was sufficient with the Shimano XTR disc brakes (six-inch rotors), and the B29’s rear end stayed quiet unless there were large braking bumps at the corner entries. When changing lines or dragging the brakes into turns, we rarely pushed the front tire?a good thing on any technical descent.

Keep the fork sag at 25 percent and set the rebound just strong enough so that you begin to notice it when you cycle the fork in the parking lot. Avoid all low-speed compression.

The B29’s Curnutt shock requires a bit more thought. Use the low-mounted Schrader valve to set the air spring at 25-percent sag. Then use the upper, side-facing air valve to set the desired amount of pedaling firmness (55 to 75 psi is a good starting point). Set the rebound with the red in-line dial at the rear of the shock using a little more resistance than you think is necessary. The nature of the Curnutt damper makes it feel like the shock has too much low-speed rebound and compression damping at rest, but once you get going, it wakes up and feels right.

Finally, use the large red dial to adjust the ending-stroke compression. Turn it in (clockwise), and the shock firms up at the end of its travel. If you jump a lot, or the shock feels right but you use up all of its stroke too easily, turn the dial in. If the O-ring indicator says that you aren’t using all of the shock travel, turn it out.

Our only concern with the Foes is repeated with many dual-suspension 29ers, and that is a small but noticeable measure of frame flex in the swingarm area. Land a jump off-angle or bang through a string of embedded rocks and you’ll notice the rear end wiggle as the giant 29er wheels impart their additional leverage upon the 29er’s long swingarm. Because this flex doesn’t hamper the B29’s technical performance, 29er fans may excuse it, but 26er pilots who are transitioning to 29ers will find that the B29’s slightly flexible tail takes some getting used to.

Made-in-U.S.A. buyers can add the Foes B29 to their wish list. It has the I-can-do-just-about-anything performance quality that makes it a long-lasting trailbike investment. Would we order ours differently? Yes. We wouldn’t outfit the expensive and capable handling frame with ordinary parts. We’d begin with lighter-weight wheels, go tubeless and then slim down its weight with some carbon parts. Making the B29 a peppier climber would turn this excellent descender into a top-of-the-food-chain trail predator.