By Eric McKeegan
Tester: Eric McKeegan
Country of Origin: Taiwan
Sizes available: SM, MD, LG (tested), XL, XXL
I like technical trails. I like bikes. So the Rumblefish, marketed as a "29er Technical Trail" bike, seemed to be something I’d want to throw a leg over. I first had a chance last fall in Park City, Utah, where Fisher unveiled their completely redesigned 29" full suspension line-up.
When news of the Rumblefish broke, some folks were hoping for a 29" version of the 140mm-travel Roscoe (tested by Justin in issue #144), but instead this is more of a burly Hi-Fi, Fisher’s long-running XC platform. In fact, other than the upper shock mount, the Rumblefish and Hi-Fi share the same frame and 110mm rear travel. However, the component spec completely changes the character of this bike.
Two proprietary features make the rear suspension something special. First, the Active Braking Pivot, now found throughout both Trek and Fisher full suspension line-ups, is designed to keep the rear suspension active under braking. Second is the Dual Rate Control Valve on the Fox RP23 rear shock. First appearing on the Roscoe, it has now found its way onto the Rumblefish, as well as Trek’s Fuel EX and Remedy full-sussers. A secondary air chamber sits inline with the primary chamber and a valve between the two opens at 40% travel to create one large chamber. This makes the spring rate more linear without the mid-stroke hammock feeling that larger canister shocks can impart to some suspensions. Think coil shock, without the weight or need to swap springs.
Suspension duties up front are handled by a Fox F29 RLT 120mm with 15QR axle and tapered steerer. Bontrtager Rhythm Elite wheels with 28mm-wide rims plump up the aggressive tires, and a nice wide handlebar and 185mm front brake rotor round out the sturdy spec. All the Shimano bits shifted like expensive parts should, the Avid Elixir R brakes where quiet and powerful, and the Bontrager bits where functional, if ugly in a Euro-trash sorta way.
The relatively simple, linkage-driven single-pivot rear suspension is not as efficient as something like a dw-link bike, but it sure is plush, and even at only 110mm travel, try as I might, I couldn’t get it to bottom harshly. I spent most rides with the rear shock in the #1 position on the ProPedal platform switch, which meant some bob when I got sloppy in my pedaling technique, but that just reminded me to start spinning. Once in a while I would flip the platform off, but this caused more bob with little increase in small bump compliance. On pavement or smooth climbs, even with the ProPedal set to the stiffest setting, some bob made it through. But overall the suspension was smooth with nary a hiccup or harsh spike to be felt anywhere in the travel.
The fork was typical Fox: a controlled ride, not super plush, but in no way harsh. This is the third Fox F29 120mm fork in a row for me that never got much over 110 of travel, and Lord knows I tried to find that last 10mm. This seems to be more of a problem on paper than on the trail; I only noticed the missing travel when measuring it. I spent most of the time riding with the rebound set a few clicks out from full fast, the low-speed compression at 3-4 clicks in from the lightest setting, and the lockout unused unless pavement was involved. That fat steerer tube sure felt stiff to me, and in fact the whole bike, front to rear, felt reassuringly stiff.
The 28-spoke wheels seemed to be the only slightly flexy point, and the rear rim required a good bit of truing after some trips through the local rock gardens. If I had my druthers, I’d take the 40g hit that four more spokes per wheel would add for a stiffer, stronger wheel.v My initial impressions of the bike were quite favorable—"intuitive handling" was the descriptor that fit my experiences in Utah. On more familiar terrain, that impression continued. This is my first experience with G2 geometry on a 29er, and I’ve come away impressed. The increased fork offset (51mm vs. the ~45mm standard) helps to keep the 69° head tube from feeling sluggish. I’ve spent a good bit of time on other 120mm-travel bikes with steeper angles and they definitely handle the super tight and twisties better. That isn’t to say the Rumblefish can’t keep up, but it does need to be pushed a little harder and leaned a little more to make time in the turns. This is particularly noticeable on flat trails with tight turns and trees close to the trail. The fact the wheelbase is a rangy 45.75" doesn’t help things in the tight stuff.
But all that is forgotten the moment those big wheels start spinning up to speed. The half-step lost on that boring flat corner is made up when things are either thick and chunky or fast and flowy. Rock gardens that at one time needed a slow deliberate line were handled with a half-shrug, and I was able to take lines that would scare me on most 5" bikes, regardless of wheel size. I attribute this to the slack-for-a-29er head angle and increased offset, which leads to a longer front-center measurement (27.25"), which really makes a bike feel more confident in the chunk. Inversely, going fast and carving turns were a joy, and the balanced feel of the bike, both in the suspension and my position, invited my inner speed demon to go faster.
In places where I had felt nervous on other bikes and hoped for the best, the Rumblefish always had my back. The stability of the bike misled me into thinking a good bit of muscle would be required to get the bike around in the big rocks and logs, but it was a cinch to snap the front wheel back up after a steep down. A quick tug would get the front wheel up for drops, and there was a big sweet spot for wheelies, particularly with the platform turned off. In other words, while not the most nimble bike I’ve ever ridden, the Rumblefish acquitted itself well when the moves got bigger. The bottom bracket sits at 13" sagged, which was low enough for turn carving, but I did make regular contact with the big ring when working through big rocks. Better technique and/or a bash guard would solve this issue.
The Rumblefish, ridden with some grace, would have no problem keeping up with most 140mm bikes on the market, and should make many riders really, really happy. If your trails are littered with mid-size drops, the big wheels can’t make up for the short rear travel, but small drops and chunky terrain are eaten up with aplomb. The only concern I have with this bike is the proprietary parts (G2 offset fork, rear shock, rear ABP skewer), but they all contribute to the standout performance I experienced. It is rare for me to conclude a test and not wish for a slacker this, shorter that, or stiffer the other thing. Other than a few swaps for personal preference (tires, bars, a bash guard instead of a big ring, stronger rear wheel), I’m going to pull a Goldilocks and declare, "This bike is just right."