Review: Specialized Enduro 29er vs 6Fattie
September 6th, 2017
September 6th, 2017
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The plus size tyre has become a common addition to the major mountain bike brand rosters over the last couple of years, sat somewhere in between your regular mountain bike tyre and the balloon-like fatties. Their place in the market though, has still not been firmly established. Are they a replacement for one or the other, or do they hold a unique purpose? The benefit of plus wheels is that they sport a wider rim that your ‘standard’ set up wouldn’t accommodate, with plus tyres typically sitting somewhere between 35mm and 50mm, they can adopt 29er forks and have benefitted heavily from the widespread introduction of boost hubs, providing a stiffer, wider and more stable base, which compliments the bike’s purpose.
The Test; 650b+ vs 29er:
In the past, a fair comparison has been hard for me to draw between a ‘regular’ tyre and plus sized, due to different bike set-ups and their target audiences. I also favour a decidedly hardy bike, which, prior to the Enduro was pretty scarce in a 650b+ variety. Hailing from the Lake District, and favouring the rockier lines, with often little (or no) tact, it takes a heavyweight, dual-plied enduro-style beast to keep me on the trails. This is why, in my quest for knowledge and love of riding new and different bikes, I was excited to see that Specialized had released an Enduro 29er that, as they put it “also lends itself to running 6Fattie wheels and tires (only a 7mm BB drop), in order to provide an aggressive, well-rounded ride.” It’d be rude not to test this theory.
I think this is a good place to point out, if you haven’t ventured near a 29er since the early days, the big wheeled counterpart has come a long, long way in recent years. No longer is the 29er solely the thing of XC whippets and people out for an easy ride. They have taken podiums in the Enduro World Series, and in the current season of the World Downhill Series they have been piloted by some of the biggest names in the sport. This wave of general acceptance of the wheel size has not only gone to show that it wasn’t simply a flash in the pan, but development has gone into making the 29er stiff, durable, and thoroughly all mountain, finally.
The Enduro seemingly ticked all the boxes. It’s long, low and slack; just how we like it, with a low bottom bracket, wide bars and big travel front and rear. As far as I was concerned, it was built for fun. Having the ability to take two wheel sizes was a mere bonus.
The Specialized Enduro; As a 29er
Getting used to the bike on a ‘regular’ tyre was the first port of call. I wanted to find out how the bike handled on a variety of terrain, up, down, faster, slower. Getting to grips with what the bike would let me get away with and how it would react at, what I felt, were its limits. I’ve got to say, once the bike was set up and tweaked, over a few runs on the local blast it came into its own. The Enduro was solid and confident on the climbs, through the mud covered rocks and roots, and once turned around at the top of the trail, seat dropped, shocks ready for action, it really woke up. Fighting all stereotypes, the Enduro 29er was agile and lively on the steep and twisty sections of the trail, and it really opens up in the open, as to be expected, lapping up the fast flat-out sections, rolling over the majority of the terrain with barely any direction from the pilot; I was just hanging on for the ride. With confidence and stoke at a high, I decided to get stuck into the slightly bigger lines at higher speeds, purposely leaving the ground, and the Enduro continued to impress!
After the initial shakedown and set up, I rode the bike all over, from big mountain, technical descents, twisty woodland loam and hard packed trail centre tracks. As promised from Specialized, the Enduro 29er proved to be a highly capable bike across the board. The big wheels have increased grip over a 650b or 26er due to their increased footprint in contact with the ground, this provides you with more confidence with straight-line descending, and even braking and climbing, and when you lean it in for a corner you feel as if you can let the bike go. The long low and slack standard geometry formula of recent times matches well with my aggressive riding style and, combined with those wheels, I was left thoroughly enjoying the stable, fast and nimble 29er set up on the Enduro.
The Specialised Enduro; As a 6Fattie
Onwards and outwards, to the 3” Specialized Purgatory, with Grid casing, mounted on the 30mm internal diameter Traverse SL Fattie Carbon wheelset. This draws attention to another size and spec that has drastically changed over the last couple of years. Whilst for years, people have been running internal rim measurements between 18 and 23mm it is now not at all uncommon to see internal measurements at 30mm. While this can play merry hell with your tyre profile on a more conventional 2.4mm tyre, for example, it is the perfect home for a 3” tyre.
The 29er had been set up tubeless, so for a fair analysis I set up the plus tyres the same and took it to the same trails, but I had been warned prior to putting them on that, firstly, I would expect to run way lower pressures in the plus tyres for them to really perform, but also that the exact pressures, plus or minus only a couple of psi, could completely change the ride, so I headed out to the local woods armed with my trusty pump. After a good mix of riding and faffing with pressures I arrived at what I thought seemed like a good balance for the trails at hand, little did I know this battle would become an on-going feud.
Down at the woods the bike continued to climb flawlessly, the 3” tyres have a lower profile tread to counteract the drag of the bigger surface area, but this didn’t seem to hinder it as its generous proportions gripped whatever was under us and towed me up the hill. Turning the bike around at the top of the hill, and with a little apprehension, I dropped in again. On the tight and twisty first section of the trail the plus tyres felt fun and playful at slow speeds, bounding easily from side to side on the bold round tyre profile, but I began to come unstuck when the corners became more aggressive; on the 29er i was able to push into the corner and find a positive edge to hold the bike, but on the 6Fattie the tyres felt a little vague and untrustworthy when it came to finding ‘that point’ that you rely on to get you round the corner. Back into the bottom open section of the trail and the bike sat back up, felt stable and yet again I was hanging onto the Enduro for the ride, as before.
The initial shakedown of the plus tyres had shown me a couple of instances where they had caught me off guard, mainly in the corners, but for the most part they had been fun, and I hadn't noticed any particular extra rolling resistance or lack of ability from the bike, so I pushed it on to the bigger lines, as I had done with the 29er, and that’s when the real differences became apparent.
The plus tyres performed significantly differently to the standard tyre on the 29er wheelset. At slower speeds the plus tyres of the 6Fattie were playful and the bike as a whole felt stable, but when it got slow and technical the lack of momentum proved difficult and the bike became quite an effort to manoeuvre, and sometimes the physical size of the tyre wouldn’t even fit through the rocks. That being said, riding rocks and rough track when up to speed were a personal favourite with the plus tyre on. When the going got rough, at a moderate pace, the plus tyre brought all the advantages of the 29er, simply rolling over many obstacles, yet the added volume in the large 3” tyre made this an even smoother experience. Plus, the added grip of the large profile, and low pressures deforming over the obstacles, made the bike feel planted and positive in its feedback. So perhaps it’s horses for courses in this respect.
One thing that did bother me, however, is that when the speed was picked up, the undamped rebound of the tyre felt like it began to effect the suspension and the ride quality, which gave the 6Fattie a rather bouncy feel. I played with the pressure in the tyres to try and counteract this, but running less pressure made the tyres, even with the tougher Grid compound, feel flimsy and unsupported under heavier cornering. On the trail centre hard-pack the tyres performed brilliantly, up to pace they carried speed well and on the more defined corners and berms of man made tracks. In this kind of environment the vague edges were less noticeable and the ability to roll around on the rounded profile of the tyre made me feel like a bit of a hero even in some of the lesser corners.
Specialized Enduro Verdict: 29er vs 6Fattie
Riding one bike with both wheel and tyre combos definitely helped put the plus tyres into context. I think they have a place in the market, and I had a lot of fun on them, but I wouldn't personally like to have them as a one stop solution. The slightly numb edges of the 6Fattie don’t give the feedback I want, and they seem to work better, not necessarily at lower speeds, but certainly for less aggressive riding or on hard-packed, man-made trails. When used within those parameters the Plus tyres made the bike fun, playful and incredibly stable. Rough terrain was positive and satisfying (bouncy feedback aside), and they provided a comfortable and smooth ride. Some peoples opinions seemed to be, off the cuff, that the downside of plus was crappy tyres and lack of choic? Well I managed to find a mind boggling array of tyre choices now available, as with any other wheel size and in a variety of casing weights, thicknesses and treads, so that argument is out the window now. I was running the Specialized Grid range on both the 29er and 650b Plus and they were both as tough as I needed on those rides, with no rips, tears or major disasters.
So, in the end, although there’s no real disadvantage to the 6Fattie, I preferred the 29er because of the feedback I can get from the tyres when riding the bike hard in loamy, technical trails. That’s just my bag. No, I wouldn’t commit to a plus wheel for my everyday bike, but as we all know bikes are on an “n+1” deal, and in the right situations it’s a whole lot of fun to have as well as a 29er (or even your 650b standard), so hats off to Specialized for creating one bike that can take both wheel sizes, as now you don’t even need to choose between the two.