As part of my responsibilities with Planet X USA/On-One/Titus Bikes here in Portland, Oregon, I get the privilege of testing other manufacturers bikes whenever possible. This helps me from a sales standpoint, as I can compare our product offerings to those of our competitors. It also helps me contribute product development and design ideas and feedback to the mothership in the UK.
As such, I spent this past weekend down in Oakridge, Oregon at Oregon Adventures’ Mountain Bike Oregon event. Damn, that’s a lot of Oregons.
If you haven’t heard already, Oakridge is one of the West Coast Meccas for Mountain Biking. It’s absolutely gorgeous, mountainous, rocky, forested, with more creeks, rivers, lakes, and hot springs than I could possibly name here. There are hundreds of miles of incredible trails with scenery just like you’d expect to see in the photo sections of magazines.
Each summer, Oregon Adventures gathers several hundred mountain bikers and a handful of bike companies from all over the country and around the world to camp out, demo bikes, ride trails, swim in the cold mountain water, and drink beer.
We’ve been fortunate enough to attend four times now, and we plan to continue to do so as long as the option is open to us. Who wouldn’t?
On my agenda for testing this weekend was the new Ibis Tranny 29 “Unchained” with Gates Belt Drive in Singlespeed configuration. The Medium bike I tested was outfitted with a 2015 Fox Float 32 CTD 100mm fork, Ibis 928 Carbon wheels dressed tubeless with Nobby Nick’s on the front and Racing Ralph’s on the rear, 710mm wide Ibis carbon bars with an 80mm Ibis 3DForged Stem, Ibis alloy seatpost and Ibis saddle. The total MSRP for this build is $4899. I estimated the total weight at around 17.5 pounds.
My initial impression was that the Medium felt a tad small for me, at 5’11” with average proportions. But with the 710mm bar width, I was able to handle it well, and it felt very quick and nimble underneath me, which I felt would be to my advantage on the technical terrain that Oakridge trails offer. Plus, it was lighter than my fully rigid single speed Lurcher, owing entirely to the wheelset upgrade from our stock On-One Trail 29er wheels.
I chose to ride Lil Bunchgrass Trail on the Tranny, which proved advantageous, as this ride offered ample technical challenges, more than ample climbing, ridiculously tight switchbacks, and dropped over 3600’ in less than 14 miles. I thought it would provide all the right challenges to a Gates Carbon Belt Driven Singlespeed hardtail, and give me an opportunity to really put the bike to the test. I had no idea what I was in for.
Lil Bunchgrass Trail cuts in a little more than halfway down Bunchgrass Ridge, where the Eugene to Crest Trail can be found. Within the first 300 yards the trail presents “Derek’s Switchbacks of Death”. These were described as the 9 Switchbacks of The Apocalypse, wherein 1200’ of elevation is lost in less than 3/4 of a mile. To make matters worse, the trail is rocky, rooty, dusty, and very loose for this entire descent. There were 9 of us on this ride; 2 paying clients, 1 industry client (myself), and 6 professional guides. Of the 9, only 3 of us rode the switchbacks. The rest of us happily walked.The Tranny 29er was terrific for carrying, as it weighs so little, and the wide top tube rests comfortably on the shoulder.
Once we reached the bottom of “Derek’s Switchbacks of Death”, we came quickly through some terrific rooty and rocky technical corners to “The Valley of the Dinosaurs”, where waist-high ferns and a lush blanket of wild grasses and flowers create a lush and almost sub-tropical paradise among the towering old-growth fir trees. The Fox Float 32 was terrific at managing the rocks and roots, and the Gates Carbon Belt Drive made jumping over rocks and logs extremely easy, with miles of clearance in the bottom bracket area. To top it off, the light weight of the bike and wide tire profile make the bike feel stable and nimble, “like mountain goat”.
After a short break to take in the incredible scenery in “The Valley of the Dinosaurs”, Bunchgrass Trail takes a sharp upward turn, climbing back up to nearly 5,000’ over more technical and rocky, rooty terrain. The Tranny’s gearing was a bit heavy for climbing much of this, as it was pretty sustained 12-15% grades with loose, bumpy, technical terrain. Still, hiking with the Tranny is a breeze, and I was definitely in the front of the group the whole time.
Lil Bunchgrass turns into Heckletooth at this point, and it gets steeper and more technical with each 100 feet of descent. I was having a hard time with the front brake on the Tranny, as it needed a bit more fluid and a bit less air in the system. I’d pump it up on the climbs and flats, and then get about three or four good squeezes out of the brakes before the lever hit the bar again. This made the descents far more harrowing and far less fun than they would otherwise have been. If the brake was functioning properly, I’m quite certain it would have been a playful, fast, seriously fun descender that would have given ample opportunities to challenge my skills and play with the terrain. However, from this point on my ride became a battle to stay on the bike. A battle that I ultimately lost.
Heckletooth Trail is about 97.5% sidehilling with tons of exposure on a narrow, loose trail covered with large rocks and roots, tight turns, switchbacks, and repeated short, punchy climbs. It should have been a blast to ride on a bike as the fast and light as the Tranny, rather than a harrowing hellride of death.
I crashed 3 times just trying to keep my wheels on the narrow singletrack without the use of the front brake for slowing down. The Tranny is certainly fast, and I really wish I could have enjoyed the speed rather than white knuckling the bars and looking for every opportunity to stop.
On the final 300 yards of descent before Heckletooth meets the Fish Hatchery Road in Oakridge, there is a wide decommissioned logging road that has a distinct rut in the middle from all the mountain bikes that have dragged their tires over the years, slowing down on what is likely the fastest section of the entire trail. Speeds upwards of 30mph are easily attainable on this long straightaway, and with 13 miles of twisted, rutted, rooty, rocky, narrow, technical singletrack behind you, letting the brakes cool down and fingers relax is very tempting.
I fell prey to a combination of speed and trail wear on this final stretch, and found my wheels deep in the channel at nearly 30mph. I decided to move to the wider shoulder and get out of the rut, just to be on the safe side, and with a little bunny hop managed to do exactly what I was trying to avoid. My rear wheel didn’t clear the rut, and the whole bike, myself included, pitched sideways onto the dry grass and mixed dirt and gravel of this old logging road. I doubt I was traveling at 30mph when I hit the ground, but I was definitely going fast enough to break bones. I found my left leg thrust through the front triangle, with my femur trying to snap the top tube and my shin testing the strength of the downtube.
I can happily say that the Tranny is a strong frame. Even with the separation at the seatstay/seat tube and chainstay/bottom bracket junction which allows removal of the rear triangle for travel or belt drive setup, this frame stood up to some serious abuse. I didn’t break the frame, nor did I break my leg. However, the contusions were severe, and walking was difficult work for almost a week after the ride. Still, I loved the bike, and have been trying to figure out how to convert my Lurcher to a belt drive ever since riding the Tranny.
If you have a chance to try one out, I highly recommend doing so. And if you have the $4700 in your budget for a belt driven carbon single speed, this is the bike you should be looking at.