Last spring, I signed up for the Burn 24 Hour in the solo single speed category and our good friends at Raleigh Bicycles were nice enough to supply me with a XXIX 29er with Gates Belt Drive for the race. Check out my unboxed, weighed and first impression review here.
Now, with almost a year of riding on it and multiple solo single speed races I have a much better grasp of the bike’s capabilities.
In a nutshell, the XXIX is meant as a go everywhere, do almost anything single speed bike that brings the Gates Carbon Drive technology to a slightly lower price point. The stock bike came in at 26.04 pounds in size medium with tubes in the tires which was fine for rolling around the local flat trails around Charlotte, but when the trail turned toward the sky the extra weight was apparent. However, the nice thing about the alloy cockpit, steel fork, stock wheels and tubed tires is that it left plenty of room for an easy parts diet. Swapping these parts for a mix of more race oriented offerings from Avid (X0 hydraulic brakes), RockShox (Reba 100mm fork), Truvativ (various cockpit bits) and Stans NoTubes (tubeless conversion) brought the weight down to a more manageable 22lbs.
It’s worth mentioning that the 2013 model upgraded to CenterTrack, hydraulic brakes and a standard 10-speed hub with spacers, making it easier to swap in a standard drivetrain and making the bike just that much more versatile.
I rode the bike around my local XC trails and took it to Dark Mountain, Warrior Creek and other mountainous trails for a proper test. Here’s how she fared…
After spending many hours on the bike this season in both “race” and stock trim I can say that it is a very solid performer. The bike is a comfortable, stable, fun singlespeed that rocks the Gates Carbon Drive System and I am sad to see it leave the Bikerumor stable.
Though I’ve read comments to the contrary elsewhere, I had no issues with the split shell or eccentric bottom bracket (EBB). It’s been quiet, not slipped and other than the required routine cleaning has been maintance free. The bike does have longer chainstays than some others to accommodate the large 46T chain ring, but once you figure out the manners of the bike I never found the longer chainstays to be a problem. For 2012 (and 2013) they have been reduced to 440mm from 466mm version found on the 2011 model. I found the frame to be very compliant over the rough stuff, but plenty stiff and I never had any problems with the Gates Carbon Drive System due to frame flex. The simplicity of the Carbon Drive belt has been great. It allowed me to just hop on the bike and go without worrying about chain lube or derailleur adjustments.
THE “GETTING BETTER”
While I never had any actual problems with the Raleigh XXIX or the Gates Carbon Drive belt system I am glad to see that Raleigh changed the 2013 model to the newer Gates CenterTrack Belt Drive system. This system is more tolerant of chain (er, Belt) line issues and being thinner than the origional CDX system allows more chain stay clearance. It also sheds mud and dirt easier allowing the belt to last longer.
The biggest key I found to getting the most out of the Carbon Drive system was to use the proper belt tension. When I had the belt under-tensioned it would occasionally slip and too tight the free hub made really weird grinding noises both of which could really shorten the life of the drivetrain. After ponying up for the Krikit tension measuring device I never had these issues again. It saved me from many of problems with free hubs, sprockets, and belts that others have complained about. The only issue I had was with the Avid BB5 disc brakes. I did not like the lack of modulation between these and hydraulic disc brakes, but in fairness it has been a few years since I have ridden a cable actuated disc brake. Either way I’m glad to see Shimano hydraulic disc brakes spec’ed on the 2013 model.
If you are looking for an honest all around do everything single speed 29er with Gates Carbon Drive belt then the Raleigh XXIX could be the ticket. It provided me with many, many miles of riding and racing with zero issues. The steel frame is heavier, but will last a lifetime. Likewise, the stock parts build is a little heavy, too, but they are durable. This allows the Raleigh XXIX to be a solid value that’s perfect for future upgrades. The only real downside I found is that the initial costs of items like belts and sprockets is greater than that of chains, etc. As a reformed geared bike rider turned single speeder I always have multiple chains and several different gear combinations ready to swap out as needed depending on where I am riding and this would be more costly with the Carbon Drive system. However, when you look at parts and amortize their cost over their lifespan, the cost of the Carbon Drive system is more than reasonable.
The Raleigh XXIX is a solid do it all bike and a great value for someone just getting into singlespeeds or for someone wanting to add a belt drive bike to their collection. Check out the 2013 Raleigh line up for more details, or head over to RaleighUSA.com for a full spec list.