By Adam Newman, photos by Justin Steiner
When I think Raleigh, my mind drifts to thoughts of proper three-speed roadsters on quiet English lanes, but there’s nothing quaint about the current fat-tire offerings from the company that has been building bicycles for more than 120 years. For 2011 Raleigh has two 29” models, the Talus Sport 29 and the Talus 29. The two share a common aluminum frame but are built with different components. With the cost of entry at $710, and available through large retailers like REI, the Talus Sport 29 is likely to be a popular choice with new riders or those looking to expand their fleet.
The frame features aggressively shaped and manipulated tubing, something you don’t always see on sub-$1,000 bikes, and when combined with big wheels and a long seatpost, it provided a noticeable amount of suppleness. This is not one of those harsh aluminum frames you’ve heard horror stories about. Available in four sizes, all with 71° head tube angles and 73° seat tube angles, 455mm chainstays and 55mm of bottom bracket drop, the geometry is traditional and accommodating. Raleigh says the frame was designed for serious trail riding, and I’d have to agree.
The build spec is pretty standard for the price range, with a mostly Shimano Alivio drivetrain with a triple crankset and a nine-speed 11-34t cassette. The Promax mechanical disc brakes have 180mm and 160mm rotors, front and rear respectively. The Weinmann double-wall rims are laced to Joytech hubs and the wheels come wrapped in Geox Saguaro 29×2.2 tires with an aggressive, low-profile tread pattern. I was surprised to see a Shimano Octalink bottom bracket interface still being used on new bikes. Despite being somewhat out of date, there are plenty of spare and compatible Octalink parts.
Cockpit, seatpost and saddle are all Raleigh-branded bits, which got the job done just fine. The Rapidfire-style shifters allow rear derailleur upshifts with either a push or a pull movement. I was surprised to find myself intuitively using both options depending on whether my fingers were on the brakes or not. The same push-pull mechanism allows for downshifts of the front derailleur.
Finally, the fork is a coil-spring SunTour XCR 29 with 80mm of travel and a lockout. It didn’t offer the refinement or performance of higher end suspension forks, but it soaked up rocks and roots well with no adjustments needed during the test period.
I had a great time cruising through the woods knowing that I wouldn’t be having any more fun on a more expensive bike. At 32lbs., the Talus Sport 29 is no lightweight racer, but the Alivio drivetrain shifted with no complaints and little-to-no adjustments were needed throughout the test. I was extremely impressed with the simplicity of setup and durability of the components, as many new riders are less-than attentive with bike maintenance.
I found myself moving nearly as quickly as I would have on a lighter bike. The weight was the only thing I felt was holding me back. The wheels have considerable mass, especially compared to a lightweight 26” setup, so accelerations and cornering slowed as a result. I also couldn’t move the bike as quickly around or up and over obstacles as I could have if it were lighter. The frame allows for a bit of vertical flex, something I appreciated when I couldn’t quite get the rear wheel over roots, and after 2-3 hour rides that little bit of forgiveness really added up.
Now, if you owned this bike and the weight started getting to you, you’d likely start itching with upgrade-itis. The frame is a very worthy platform for swapping in higher-quality parts as your skills and passion progress. Lighter wheels, crankset and fork would really transform this bike into a worthy cross country or trail bike platform.
Should you want to put the bike to use for more than just mountain biking, the frame features a full set of water bottle, rack and fender mounts to handle commuting or touring duty. Suspension forks usually can’t fit full coverage fenders, however, so you’ll have to improvise in the front.
Now, I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I am not the most skilled mountain bike rider around. With a road and cyclocross background, many of the high-end bikes we test here and their wiz-bang features would be completely lost on my bumbling ways. But a bike like this isn’t meant for my singletrack-crushing co-workers and friends. The Talus Sport 29 is meant for people like me, who are new to the sport, honing their skills, and are more than happy just rolling through the woods on a sunny afternoon, something this bike helped me accomplish with aplomb.
- Age: 30
- Height: 6’2"
- Weight: 170lbs.
- Inseam: 33"
- Country of origin: China
- Price: $710
- Weight: 32lbs.
- Sizes available: S, M, L (tested), XL
- Online: www.raleighusa.com
This review originally appeared in Issue #156. You can order a copy of this issue and others in our online store, or order a subscription for just $19.95 a year and see all our reviews as soon as they are published.