Sometimes simple is better or at least more fun. Riding a single speed, whether on the trails or the road, is simple pleasure. Get on and pedal. It couldn’t be any easier. For single speed riding in the dirt the Raleigh USA XXIX was made with this idea in mind. One gear and a rigid fork make for a bike that gets back to the basics of trails riding. Riding comes down to your fitness and riding skills, not the latest technology.
The XXIX (which is roman numerals for 29) is a 29″ wheeled bike with a suspension corrected rigid fork. The frame is made from double butted cromoly steel tubing with an eccentric bottom bracket to tension the chain. At less than $1000 you get a solid but not fancy build kit. The wheels use Formula sealed bearing hubs with the rear being single speed specific. Rims and tires are from WTB. The mechanical disc brakes and levers are from Avid. The build is finished off with an Easton cockpit and Truvativ single speed GXP crank set.
Single speeding and 29″ wheels go together like peanut butter and jam. Single speeding is all about momentum and traction. 29″ wheels hold there speed better than a 26″ and have more traction. I’ve owned a number of 29″er single speeds and the Raleigh is my favorite. It isn’t the lightest I’ve owned but I really like the ride quality of steel so I’m willing to take the weight penalty. The bike is very balanced, hooking up well on the hill climbs but confidence inspiring going down the other side. The rigid fork is rougher than a suspension but the steering is so much tighter that I’m willing to put up bumps. As you have to get out of the saddle for most hill climbs, the rigid fork dramatically improves power transfer compared to a locked out suspension fork. I swapped out the front tire for a 2.4″ wide Schwalbe that I can run at 25 psi to act as passive suspension. I also run Ergon grips which help with pounding on the hands.
I set my eccentric bottom bracket to the highest position to increase pedal clearance and quicken up the handling. My complaint of early 29″ers is that the slow speed handling was like a school bus. The Raleigh fixes this with more fork offset and a slightly steeper headtube angle. The big wheels create a lot of stability at speed so the quicker slow speed handling just improves the overall ride.
The Raleigh USA XXIX is an awesome bike. For both trail riding and winter commuting, I’ve found it to be a bike that rides well above it’s price range. The stock parts are solid but it’s easy to upgrade and customize to make it your machine. I love single speeding as it’s a fun challenge and compared to the full suspension wonder machines that fill the magazines it’s downright cheap.