Go Big or Go Home | Commencal Meta AM 29

Going back just a few years, Commencal basically did not have any 29ers in their line-up, choosing instead to focus all their energy around the 27.5-inch wheel size. However, the company is heavily involved in racing, which means they are also constantly on the lookout for ways to make a bike go faster – and lo and behold, the bigger wheel seems to be pretty good at that little game. Spurred on by the success of the 29er DH bike (which currently sits atop the World Cup overall standings in both the men’s and the women’s categories), Commencal figured it was high time to give the Meta platform some bigger shoes as well. We headed to Ainsa in the Spanish Pyrenees to put the new bike to the test.

Commencal Meta AM 29 Highlights

  • 29-inch wheels
  • NEC + ULTRA SL frame (aluminium 6066 triple butted)
  • 160/170mm travel (R/F)
  • Shock dimensions: Metric 230mm x 60mm
  • Rear brake mount: Postmount 160mm
  • Internal cable routing
  • S44/ZS56 headset
  • Seat tube diameter: 31.6mm
  • Pressfit BB92 bottom bracket
  • Front derailleur compatibility: no
  • Boost spacing
  • ISCG05 chainguide mount
  • Molded frame protectors and integrated fender
  • Sizes: S, M, L, XL

 

When Commencal introduced the Meta AM V4.2, they claimed that the “only thing that’s changed is everything.” That bike looked a lot like its predecessor, but a closer look revealed a full overhaul of everything from the geometry to the construction. It was all for the better too, with the V4.2 besting the older V4 in every way. When it came to making the 29er version now before us, Commencal didn’t want to just settle for squeezing in bigger wheels and calling it good. Once again, everything was up for debate, and that resulted in some significant changes.

The design brief for the new Meta AM 29 included the following goals: improved dynamics, optimized stiffness, ease of handling, improved efficiency, better support and grip, and a better finish. That’s quite the list, but the company was able to draw on its experience from the recent 29er downhill bike development to hit the mark. Visually, the most significant change is the seat tube, which had to be shaped differently to make room for the bigger wheel. Commencal also shortened the chain stays at the same time, and with a full 160mm of travel this left even less room to play with out back. 

The designers were happy with the leverage rate curves of the 27.5-inch bike, but they felt they could do better in regards to pedal kickback and anti-squat, two factors that can really affect rider fatigue over a long day of riding.

The second reason for playing with the seat tube design was the placement of the main pivot. The designers were happy with the leverage rate curves of the 27.5-inch bike, but they felt they could do better in regards to pedal kickback and anti-squat, two factors that can really affect rider fatigue over a long day of riding. By playing with the pivot placement and the other aspects of their tried and true “Contact System” (basically a single-pivot 4-bar layout), Commencal was able to completely reshape the anti-squat curve. It still provides an anti-squat value of above 100 around the sag point, but it tapers off dramatically as you get deeper into suspension travel. The result should be a bike that still responds well to pedal input, but that doesn’t kick back at your feet over the rougher stuff.

When it comes to stiffness, Commencal has never been known to make the stiffest bikes. To the contrary, the company always claimed that a bit of compliance in the frame improves grip and comfort. However, when sizing up the wheels, they realized that the frame had to be made quite a bit stiffer to deal with the increased torsional forces dished out by the bigger hoops. Different tube shapes, larger bearings, and the introduction of a seat stay bridge helped them achieve their goals here.

Even though the main impetus for designing a 29-inch bike came from racing, Commencal firmly believes that a mountain bike should always be fun to ride and versatile enough to deal with all kinds of trails. As such, the geometry remains on the conservative side of sizing, whilst other aspects like the short chain stays and the 65.5-degree headangle are on the more aggressive side of the 29er equation. The very slack actual seat tube angle is counteracted by the large seat tube offset, to arrive at an effective seat tube angle that Commencal says is steeper than the 27.5-inch bike.

When it comes to the quality and finish of their bikes, Commencal has really committed themselves to their Taiwan-based manufacturing partnerships, and their product has matured nicely over the last few generations. Commencal is proud of its Asian presence, as showcased in the launch video for this bike that can be found at the top of this article.

Specifically, the new bike introduces quite a few nice little improvements and design features. The cables are now routed in such a way so as to create the least amount of interference with the suspension movement (which also avoids having them rub on the frame where they previously used to exit the downtube). A waterproof toptube prevents water damage to the headset. A small mudguard keeps the rocker arm area clean. Enduro bearings offer better stiffness and reliability, while assembly quality in general has also been improved. Coupled with the factory replica paint job of the Team edition, the bikes we rode certainly both look and feel the part these days.

On The Trail

Ainsa is located in the Spanish Pyrenees, and it offers up just the kind of terrain the new Meta 29 was designed for. Big mountains littered with fast, fun, and challenging trails is the ideal playground for such a capable bike. It did not take us long to feel at home on the new machine, which proved to be well balanced and at home both in the rough stuff as well as on more mellow trails. In fact, if asked to sum up the Meta AM 29 in one word, “balanced” would be a good choice. “Ready for anything” would be another way to describe it, although that’s three words.

We did it for the 'gram...

On the way up a hill, it’s no secret that the bigger 29er wheel can be a big help, especially over rough ground where the improved roll-over capabilities help you conserve energy. But aside from the big wheels, we tackled several long and steep climbs that really put our fitness to the test, and we were impressed with just how easily such a big bike was able to deal with it all. The seat tube is steep enough to keep you in a good pedaling position, and the bike does not bob much at all while seated – even the coil version we tested is perfectly capable of good climbing efficiency without locking out the shock. 

Pumping and playing around also revealed a bike that has retained much of the “joie de vivre” that typically characterize the Andorran steeds, despite being billed as a race horse first and foremost. On the topic of racing, we had the pleasure and honor of having the company of two illustrious world champions at this launch. 12X DH World Champion and BMX Olympic Gold Medalist Anne-Caro Chausson and Enduro World Champion Cecile Ravanel both ride for Commencal these days, and they wasted little time showing us just what it takes to compete at the top level of the sport. Cecile had of course already proven that the bike was up to the task by racing it to victory in the EWS earlier in the year, but for Anne-Caro it was her first time riding the new 29-inch version, which didn’t seem to hold her back at all.

Enduroscrub for ACC...
...and a table for Cecile.
Whether carving turns or getting off the brakes down a rock-strewn single, we found the new bike fun and easy to ride.

On the fun side of the hill, the new Meta 29 is a very capable beast. Progressive enough to handle a coil shock with no problem, it also offers a very comfortable ride with gobs of traction and a confidence-inspiring demeanor in general. Whether carving turns or getting off the brakes down a rock-strewn single, we found the new bike fun and easy to ride. The rear end feels a good deal stiffer than on the old bike when twisting the wheel side to side, which translates to a more direct feel from the rear wheel. On the 27.5-inch bike, you can hear the rear brake rotor rubbing when you really load up a turn, this seemed to occur a lot less on the new bike. We’d need to spend more time on it to know for sure, but the bigger wheels do not seem to have taken much away in terms of maneuverability, while adding another dimension of surefootedness when things get loose and rowdy.

Build Kits

We rode the Team Replica edition, which aside from the factory paint job also features essentially the same parts as those raced in the EWS by team Ravanel. There are two other levels to choose from as well (click to enlarge the specs below). 

As with most direct-sales brands, the builds all come in at a very competitive price point, especially considering the parts on offer. Here are a few of our observations on key components of this build:

The updated RockShox Lyrik features a larger negative spring and the second generation of the Charger damper. These updates have created one of the smoothest and most controlled forks we have tested to date. In stock form it is generous with its travel, but a couple of tokens add end-stroke ramp-up if this is an issue for your riding style and terrain. The Super Deluxe coil is a perfect complement to bring up the rear.

Our test bikes featured SRAM Code RSC brakes, which are awesome. Sadly, the production version of this build will have to make do with the Guide RE, which is certainly good enough for the task at hand but can’t compete with the Code RSC for power and feel.

GX Eagle is a solid choice for the drivetrain, with enough range for mountainous terrain and good shifting performance. The Renthal handlebar is a nice touch for the cockpit, and whilst the ultra-tacky Renthal grips feel a bit weird at first, they actually work really well on the trail.

Spank’s Oozy 350 wheelset is another solid spec choice – this is a wider version of the previous generation of this wheel that we have had good experience with in the past. The Schwalbe tires worked well across a range of different conditions, with few if any problems observed across the group over two days of riding.

Pricing and Availability

The Meta AM 29 is available for pre-order now. Worldwide pricing as follows:

More information at: www.commencal.com.


About The Reviewer

Johan Hjord - Age: 45 // Years Riding MTB: 13 // Weight: 190-pounds (86kg) // Height: 6'0" (1.84m)

Johan loves bikes, which strangely doesn’t make him any better at riding them. After many years spent practicing falling off cliffs with his snowboard, he took up mountain biking in 2005. Ever since, he’s mostly been riding bikes with too much suspension travel to cover up his many flaws as a rider. His 190-pound body weight coupled with unique skill for poor line choice and clumsy landings make him an expert on durability - if parts survive Johan, they’re pretty much okay for anybody. Johan rides flat pedals with a riding style that he describes as "none" (when in actuality he rips!). Having found most trail features to be not to his liking, Johan uses much of his spare time building his own. Johan’s other accomplishments include surviving this far and helping keep the Vital Media Machine’s stoke dial firmly on 11.

Photos by Nico Brizin/Commencal and Johan Hjord

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