Total Mountain Tamer
The Good: Burly and nimble 29er with a DH pedigree // Solid build // Respectable weight // Good climbing manners
The Bad: Stock saddle
After 5 months of riding at a variety of demanding zones (GJ, Moab, Sedona, Squamish, Nelson, Whistler, Bellingham) it is time for an official Bandit 29 (B29) review. Is this new wagon wheeler from Transition really all that and then some? Is it the game changer that it has been made out to be? Of course the wagon wheels are not for everyone and I am not going to try andconvince you to convert. I am just going to share my observations with this extraordinary mountain bike. NOTE: This is a review of the 2012 Bandit 29. With the recent release of the Covert 29 in 2013, Transition is making changes to the 2013 Bandit frame (slightly less travel, slightly steeper head angle, maybe others) which will change the characteristics of the bike.
I am 5’10”, 170lbs and come from an AM/SS riding history (think enjoyingFree Lunch/Pucker Up on a rigid hardtail). This is my first FS 29er but I have been on 29ers since 2003. I ride for Grassroots Cycles and bought this bike from the shop in April of 2012. For my personal bike, I traded in the 2x10 drivetrain for a 1x10 with a spiderless 30t MRP Bling Ring and Micro G2SL chainguide, Added a KS dropper post, Deity Components Blacklabel bar and pedals, and a 40mm Truvativ stem. I have also been playing with different tire combos as my riding style isn't rewarded by the stock Maxxis Ardents.
One thing is for sure, at $3549 (US) complete the B29 is one of the best values in premium bikes today. For a little over double the cost of the frame alone ($1599 US), you get top of the line suspension from Fox Racing Shox, a no fuss X7, 2x10 grouppo from SRAM, and burly wheels from Transition weighing in complete (w/o pedals) at just under 31 pounds. Reasonable component upgrades can bring the weight under 30lbs with a dropper seatpost. Weight wennies are seeing 26-27lbs with unobtanium level builds.
For me, the only gripes with the stock build are the cranks and stock saddle. The cranks are flexy and the saddle is the most uncomfortable surface I have ever rested my arse on. The wheels are also quite heavy, but that is the price you pay for getting stiff and strong 29er wheels that can cope with the punishment the rest of the bike was built to handle.
I was most surprised by the level of quality in the finish. The welds and paint look like they belong on a one-off custom, not a $1600 Taiwan frame. All of the threads were clean as a whistle, requiring no facing, very good stuff.
Here are some of the key frame features:
- Sizes- M/L/XL (18, 19.5, 21)
- Colors- black, pewter, or bright green
- Tapered headtube
- Hydroformed tubes (toptube and downtube)
- ISCG 05 chain guide tabs
- Dropper post cable routing
- 2 water bottle mounts
- Ample frame clearance for the beefiest 29er tires on the market
- Sealed cartridge bearings in all pivots
- 12×142 dropouts with replaceable dropouts convertible to 10x135
As for frame geometry Transition has focused on taking the compact, low, slack characteristics found on their more gravity oriented sleds, and marrying it with a pedal friendly linkage to create a confidence inspiring trail bike that laughs in the face of 29er stereotypes. The effective top tube length is short for typical industry sizing coming in almost a full inch shorter than other companies similarly sized offerings. The short top tube lengths are necessary to avoid a limo length wheelbase and consequent slow handling. The seat tube angle is fairly steep, which keeps more rider weight forward and the reach short allowing the bike to climb with good manners despite having a headtube angle on the slack side (68.5* for 2012). Looking for one ride to do it all, I choose a large Bandit 29 in pewter. I am 5'10" and could ride either a large or medium according to Transitions' sizing guidelines. I chose a large as the reach and top-tube numbers are similar to what I am used to riding and I wanted to run wide bars and a short stem while keeping a roomy cockpit. Sometimes I find myself wishing for the medium as the large is harder to manual and more difficult to work through the really tight sections than the medium for a person of my stature, but I still feel right at home on the large and really enjoy the spacious cockpit for a bike that has to do it all from all-day epics to laps on flow trails at the bike park.
Who says 29ers can’t do tight and technical?
This is a bike that refuses to be categorized by the xc, trail, all-mountain nomenclatures that we have grown to accept in today’s mtb world. This is a mountain bike, pure and simple. The B29 feels at home from XC epics, to the steep and committing trails of BC, to the airy flow lines at Whistler and Crested Butte. There isn’t much this bike isn’t capable of.
All-day XC rides are a dream with 5" of uber-plush travel and the big wheels. This spring, I took the Bandit 29 on a 4 day, 150 mile ride of the Kokopelli Trail and I never wished I was on any other bike. It takes a very special bike to comfortably and confidently take you from the technical singletrack of Fruita, CO through the rolling sandy double track of the Colorado River bluff country, descend the infamous Rose Garden Hill, climb into the La Sal Mountains TWICE, and then descend UPS,LPS,Porc Rim to Moab,UT all without batting an eye.
The Bandit 29 is a capable climber that will go uphill efficiently but without a lot of snap. After riding a few of the “masterful climbing” dual link bikes, I was pleasantly surprised by the B29 as it climbs with little pedal induced bob like a dual link bike but displayed almost no pedal kickback unlike the dual link bikes. The B29 does ride lower in its travel than most bikes. Some like this trait, some don’t. I found it to aid my climbing by allowing for the rear wheel to track the ground better and give more traction for climbing over roots, rocks, and ledges.
The suspension soaks up the trail with aplomb and a plush yet bottomless feel. Everything from small bumps over pebbles to serious air time jump lines, drops to flat, and high speed chatter are met with composure and buttery smoothness. The custom tuned Fox RP23 and Float 34 work great together creating a progressive feel that ramps up ever so slightly so that it is hard to feel the bottom yet never feels harsh. Genius suspension/linkage tuning by Fox and Transition on the B29 has created the finest riding suspension platform out of the box that I have pedaled to date.
Point it downhill and the Bandit 29 shows its true pedigree. While it may not be as playful as its 26” sibling, the Bandit 29 does a great job of making the big wheels feel nimble. It is easy to manual and willingly flies from lip to transition without drama. The short HT and low BB really help the bike corner with confidence that I have never felt on a 29er before riding the B29.
I just recently wrapped up a 3 week tour of British Columbia and the PNW testing the B29's mettle in legendary freeride locales like- Nelson, Squamish, Whistler, North Vancouver, and Bellingham. I may have been the only one on big wheels in most of these zones (and received my fair share of teasing for it) but the Bandit killed! The big wheeled Bandit showed no hesitation on the steep greasy roots and rocks of the North Shore. The bike went right where I pointed it and kept encouraging me to go faster and to fly farther than a trail-bike should. Sure, the steep, fall-line trails and vertical rock-slabs were a bit beyond the Bandit's comfort zone. But all that meant was stopping to scope the stunts before committing. All but the big mandatory gap stunts and steepest slabs were ridden aboard a 5" 29er while locales on DH bikes looked on, stunned. The only places I was left wishing for a 26" bike was on trails where the cornering was critical to find the flow and the air time was plentiful. These are more shortcomings of the wheel size than the bike.
Some attributes of the B29 that pins the fun meter are:
- Short wheel base. A big contributor to the “playfulness” of the bike
- Slack head tube angles. Confidence inspiring on the descents
- Steep seat tube angle. Balanced on steep inclines
- Short head tube. Keep the stack height low for a lower center of gravity
- Low BB height. Low center of gravity, better cornering
- Short chainstays. Keep it tight to keep it fun
This bike fits well in so many different scenarios that it really is a great all around mountain bike. Love long distance epics? Build it light and the bike will keep you fresh into the wee hours of the morning. Enduro/Super-D racing? Add a dropper seatpost and 1x10 w/chain guide and blow away the competition. Just want a bike that you can have fun on, day in, day out? Buy it stock, don’t change a thing and pedal away into the sunset knowing you are on one of the most thorough mountain bikes out there today.