I was after a reasonably priced 29er hardtail which I could cobble together with old parts and then use for cross-Downs duties and as a winter hack. The official excuse for a new bike – if I needed one – was to use it for commuting. If I could end up with something that would be fun on the trails at the same time, all the better. Having never ridden big wheels on a mountain bike before I spent a fair bit of time wondering about the impact of different geometries and considering what to look out for to give a good ride. With advice from a certain Brighton MTB member I focused on thinking about the ‘right’ combination of head angle, chainstay length and bottom bracket height, along with sufficient mud clearance for Stanmer in winter and the right mix of components to balance weight against cost.
I eventually decided that the On-One Scandal 29er v2 seemed to fit the bill best – good value and simple. I fancied the challenge of building up my own bike as it was something I’d never done before. So I bought one of the last available 21 inch ‘super raw’ aluminium frames which weighs in at under 4lb and I think looks rather nice. The head angle is 71 degrees with a 100mm fork (the maximum travel the frame will take), it has a chainstay length of 444mm, and bottom bracket drop of 58mm – in the hope that this would translate into something grounded yet chuckable. During the build my aim was to use the various spare parts I’d accumulated as a result of upgrades to my other bike, and to reduce costs so I could spend more on forks and wheels. Once I had all the necessary parts, I built the bike up slowly over a couple of weekends. The final bike weighs a respectable 25lb or so.
The first ride
I’d already taken the bike out for a couple of spins on the Downs, but the first real test on the trails was a Saturday ride at Stanmer in somewhat sloppy conditions. Kicking off at the tearooms, we made our way uphill under the trees towards Upper Lodges. Mud aside, the first thing I noticed was the considerable lightness when compared with my full suspension bike. My acceleration uphill definitely seemed more nimble and sprightly. Likewise on open stretches downhill the bike picked up speed incredibly fast once the wheels started rolling and gave the feeling that it would just keep on going.
On sections that I would normally find quite pedally I simply let the bike roll on and I could still keep pace. Having only ridden a full-suspension bike for more than three years, the lack of rear-end plushness on the hardtail didn’t reveal too much laziness in technique. The harsher stiffness did make maintaining foot contact with the spare V8 flats I’d put on the bike a little bit of a struggle on rougher and more aerially oriented sections. The supersized wheels, running tubeless with pretty low pressure, actually gave confidence to float over the rough stuff at speed. Flowing down the fast trails of the Great Wood, taking in ‘Rail the Roots’ and the Big Dog final descent, showed me the potential of the bike (and, incidentally, made me sorely miss having a dropper seat post!).
I was a little more cautious on the more tight and twisty singletrack on the other side of Stanmer, taking care to manoeuvre the seemingly freakish big wheels to which I wasn’t yet fully accustomed. The so called ‘classic On-One wishbone style’ seatstays and kinked seat tube seem to give pretty good mud clearance, although I haven’t tested this with anything bigger than a 2.1 inch tyre at the back. Next on the wishlist is a dropper seat post, testing out a shorter stem and wider bars, and some upgraded pedals to make contact points a little more grounded. It was a great first ride and since then the sensation of automatic acceleration has grown more familiar, making it my ‘go to’ bike for cross country and winter mudfest trails alike.