BMC Speedfox 29
Europe has lagged behind the USA and Australia in their appetite for 29 inch wheels, and until product season 2012 it has been clear that mainly non-European brands have made a commitment to 29 inch wheels.
This situation is rapidly changing. Big time European brands such as Cube and Focus now have deep lines of 29ers, and smaller brands such as BMC have joined the fray too. And while big wheels have gone a long way towards reviving interest in hardtails, evolving suspension design and an improved understanding of 29er geometry has also lead to more big-wheel duallies on the market.
BMC may be small in terms of their product range and volume, but this Swiss brand has some enviable cred in Australia. It seems like just last week that Cadel rolled his yellow BMC roadie down the streets of Paris (and Melbourne), and Jason English clocked up a dizzying number of marathon and 24 hour race victories on BMC bikes before a change of sponsor. Despite this, we still don’t see a too many BMC mountain bikes out on the trail, so I was very curious as to how their first attempt at a 29er dually would ride. Has BMC been wise to wait on the sidelines until now, letting other brands make mistakes with a product line that is still relatively new in the market?
A quick overview of the Speedfox 29 (SF29) shows some very contemporary thinking in design and fabrication. Keeping the back end short is no easy design task with a 29 inch dually, yet the 445mm chainstays on the SF29 are as compact as those found on many hardtails. At least in theory, this should add a degree of nimbleness; a trait sometimes found lacking with the big wheel brigade.
Up front the head angle is stable but not sleepy at 70 degrees, a change from many early generation 29ers where super steep 71-73 degree head angles were used to speed up the steering and compensate for the big wheels (and often long chainstays too). BMC have also thrown in a tapered head tube and post mount rear brake tabs, just to make sure everything is modern. The only ‘new standards’ not present are thru-axles to mount the wheels and some kind of press-fit bottom bracket.
BMC (Bicycle Manufacturing Company) have been producing and refining their APS (Advanced Pivot System) for years, and it’s no surprise that it’s used here on the SF29. It’s the only suspension system that BMC uses, which shows that they are 100% committed to both this system, as well as to producing cunning acronyms. The design itself is a short link four-bar system that employs chain torque to limit unwanted pedalling bob and suspension squat when climbing or under acceleration.
The Speedfox platform is billed as BMC’s ‘marathon/race’ line, offering enough travel for all-day comfort, without carrying too much weight. With this use in mind, the SF29 offers 100mm of travel at both ends—around 20mm less than the 26 inch version but a healthy amount for a 29 inch marathon bike.
Not surprisingly the SF29 cuts a very similar profile to their 26 inch Speedfox and Fourstroke models, as it shares the same suspension design. The bottom link is a very neat forged piece, and the upper link is forged in two halves, which are welded together to form one unit. Both linkages are angular and minimal with a definite purposefulness about them; it’s very Swiss I’ll have you know. All pivots run on 10mm alloy axles with sealed cartridge bearings covered by machined anodised red alloy dust caps. The dust caps all have the pivot bolt torque settings etched into them—a sensible and practical touch. Although conditions through our test were pretty rotten (mud, rain, sand, locusts…) there was no squeaking or loosening in the multi-pivot design. It seems that the APS system has been solidly engineered and should perform reliably for many seasons.
While the suspension links are built to last, a quick finger flick on the top and down tubes reveal that these oversized pipes have been aggressively butted inside—they are pretty darn thin. A Frameskin or other protective adhesive would be a good investment for the underside of the down tube to deter dings from trail debris. The rear triangle also exhibits a disturbing amount of flex when the wheel is removed. This ‘give’ clearly occurs at the front of the triangle where chainstays are ovalised heavily to provide the tyre clearance. Obviously it relies on the rear axle to complete the triangulation and lock everything in place, but I wouldn’t be resting anything on the frame when laying the frame down in the back your car (if that’s how you happen to transport your rig). Other than these two points, BMC has created a solid set of suspension links and bolts, as the 2,903g frame weight isn’t really featherweight for a 100mm travel alloy dually.
Setting up the SF29 to hit the trail is about as easy as it gets. The RockShox Recon TK Gold fork has a really handy air pressure guide on one leg, and in my experience this guide gets you pretty close to the mark first time around. BMC has also done a top job by supplying the SF29 with a sag marker on the upper link and seat stay pivot, it’s dubbed the ‘Initial Load Indicator’ (or should that be the ILI?). Just match up the lines when you sit on the bike and you know you have the right amount of sag. Add more air for a slightly firmer ride, and take some out to go with more squish. Like the RockShox fork guide, the BMC sag marker is excellent and it got the bike 95% sorted right away. The only catch is that the marker on the seat stay is a sticker rather than a permanent graphic on the frame. By the end of the test the sticker was starting to peel a little; I’d be shocked if it outlasted six months of good, dirty riding. It really looks like an afterthought on what is otherwise a nicely finished frame.
Not everyone wants to drive a Holden or a Ford and the same applies to bikes; some people will pay a premium to ride a brand that you don’t see at every turn of the singletrack. Now BMC bikes certainly aren’t a dime-a-dozen brand but will you pay for choosing a little individuality? We reviewed the base model SF29 and it will set you back $3,450 with a functional but mid-range component selection—it’s pretty respectable value for a smaller brand that’s seen by some as vying for ‘boutique status’.
Want more bling? Well you can also shell out $5,399 for the same alloy frame fitted out with a Fox RLC thru-axle fork and SRAM X.0 running gear, but let’s look more closely at the more affordable model on review. The entire drivetrain is Shimano SLX, which is great news for anyone on a budget. SLX straight up works, with no BS or frills. I would love to see the new SLX brakes too, but BMC went with Avid Elixir 3s. They have a nice lever shape and modulation, but even with the supplied 180mm rotors, they never felt like they had enough guts to bring the big BMC to a speedy halt once it was pointed downhill and had built up steam.