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Test Ride - Chiru Pulse 29er

Hong Kong based Chiru bikes is coming out later this month with its first 29er model - the pulse x0. the big question on many minds this year is 'should i get a 29er?' both bob smith, a long time 29er rider, and steve coward, a newcomer to this diameter, share their different perspectives on this innovative bike.

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Chiru Bikes founder and Lantau resident, Pierre Arnaud LeMagnan, is an elite adventure racer and mountain biker. Many top local riders already have switched to Chiru as well as many top level adventure racers. With Chiru Bikes, Pierre marries his decades of industrial design engineering experience developing carbon fiber sports equipment with his passion for mountain biking and the Chiru Pulse is the latest child from this innovative company.

The Pulse is an XO equiped 29er hardtail that tips the scales around the 23lb mark. Its built with a shock absorbing rear triangle that is designed to soak up high frequency bumps. Expecting that the owners of this bike will abuse it, Chiru has even hardend the top tube near the steerer with a protective metal plate that can even be personally factory engraved - not a bad idea for those riders who frequently end up in the bushes.

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Steve Coward  aka 'bikesteve' is owner of Cross Country HK an MTB skills training and guiding company.

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By Steve Coward

One type of bike, two systems & two perspectives

Top ‘trail talk’ this past couple of years has to be the 29’er Vs. 26’er debate. 29’er owners swear by their investment in that extra 3 inches wheel diameter over the good old 26 leaving non owners making up a mixed bag of those that believe the hype and those that think size really doesn’t make any difference at all. Time for an HKMBA shoot-out!

The Bikes

Courtesy of ‘Chiru endurance bikes’ Hong Kong’s homegrown frame designer Pierre Arnoud Le Magnan very kindly supplied two almost identical carbon fibre hard tail bikes for the test. The ‘Laktik’ represents the traditional 26”wheel whilst the ‘Pulse’ sports the 29” wheels. Weight wise both came in around the miniscule 9kg mark. Both models are marketed as ‘Endurance cross country’ bikes designed to be ridden comfortably for several hours at a time.

The Testing Ground

The Tai Lam Reservoir Loop, a 13km circuit consisting of one third road and two thirds trail with handsome amount of challenging technical sections thrown in for good measure. It’s also the most trafficked (legal) MTB trail in HK.

The Rider

Having ridden the Tai Lam Trail on average three times a week as an instructor for the past four years I threw myself forward as ‘test pilot’. Unlike our other contributor former HKMBA chairman Bob Smith I was a complete newcomer to the 29’er experience. I wouldn’t say I was a complete skeptic more a rider just seeking hands on clarity of the claims being bandied about. 26”wheel hardtail mountain bikes have served me happily for the past twenty-one years, what you don’t know you don’t miss but as the sightings of 29’ers in HK increase particularly amongst the local riders I found myself curious to see what all the fuss was about. Chiru owner and adventure race team boss Pierre also accompanied me for the ride offering real time comparisons of both bikes over the same sections.

The Format

Two back to back loops anticlockwise from the Siu Lam Dam, one lap using the 29’er and one lap on the 26’er Laktik. Not timed laps but at the same time we weren’t hanging around either.

Down to business

Pulse 29’er

The toss of coin dictated I take the 29’er out first and take off it certainly did, like a rocket! As its ‘Pulse’ name suggested within seconds I was cruising missile like across the dam wall but it was on the steep hill around the corner it really pulled away. Several days earlier I’d ridden the same stretch of road on my 26’er with Pierre astride the ‘Pulse’ and he was soon out of sight the minute we hit that first hill. Today there wasn’t much in it and I almost felt the pulse willing me on to push harder, every pedal stroke accelerating in gears several higher than I usually push on my own 26”wheeled Cannondale.

I was aware it was early days and we hadn’t hit the trails yet but this bike just felt right straight away. The larger wheels increase stability a noticeable amount even on the roads the whole experience just seemed more relaxed.

All too soon we had reached the trail head where the real test was to begin. The trail starts off fairly sedately, fast flat sweeping bamboo clad tunnels synonymous with Tai Lam Country Park. I approached the few technical sections much the same way as on my 26’er but what was noticeable was the reduction in chatter and feedback through the handlebars whilst doing so. For about 6km the trail is seldom straight for more than a 100metres at a time constantly swinging from side to side as it hugs the reservoir, accelerating hard then braking hard before the next corner. I’ve always enjoyed this in races as emphasis is more on the skill of lightening speed reactions than just sheer brute pedal force. This is where I felt the 29’er really come into its own. The slightly higher centre of gravity means the Pulse requires a lot less leaning to get round corners and as most of the corners are loose sandy gravel this meant they could be taken with confidence without scrubbing off to much speed. So far it was a win win!

Toward the last 3km of trail the going becomes distinctly harder with longer technical up and down hills. Where the flat sections had been a relaxing blast I had to choose my lines a little differently to avoid quick changes of direction. The 29’er definitely lacked the pin sharp dexterity in slow speed steering that I felt accustomed to on the 26 requiring a different line altogether or just bailing completely on one particular section. This was more of an exception to the rule but it definitely felt clumsy on more than one occasion hampering my progress when the going got really tight where fast flicking through the handlebars just wasn’t having the desired effect.

Laktik 26’er

Jumping back on the ‘Laktik’ I felt initially like I was almost riding on casters in comparison to the mammoth 29” hoops. Pierre astride the 29’er pulled a larger gap on the first hill than the first lap, the Laktik was no slouch but on the rolling road sections I really felt I had to pedal a great deal harder to maintain a similar speed to the previous lap.

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The Laktik

On hitting the trail the biggest difference was the fast and furious pace at which I had to flick the bars through the cobble rock gardens in order to maintain the cleanest line. Where the Pulse skipped straight over the tops with the Laktik I really had to work hard to keep up the momentum. Fun stuff don’t get me wrong but soon tiring after an hour or so and just damn uncomfortable toward the end of a long ride on a blazing hot day.

On the final tight technical section the Laktik should have excelled but alas the harder riding earlier in the lap was beginning to take its toll on my reactions. Despite my tiredness I still managed to clear nearly all the tighter sections slightly more so than on the 29’er but it was at the sacrifice of a little speed in between whilst I regained my breath & composure.

Conclusion

With its relaxed demeanor both on road and trail the Pulse 29’er made the ride feel fast yet relaxed and un fussed at the same time. Sure there were issues when the going got really tight but these were few and far between. Even in the car park the Pulse felt almost eerily stable even at walking speed to the point it almost balanced itself whereas a traditional 26'er always feels a little twitchy. Relaxed stability comes at the loss of steering speed to help you get through tighter sections but then again in most cases the 29'er allows the rider to comfortably float straight over the top of lesser obstacles without so much as a second thought.

I don't want to wade too deeply into the sister debate of 29'er hardtail vs. 26'er full suss but there is some pretty compelling evidence here in favour of the 29'er hardtail based solely from my brief outing.

 

Bob Smith is the HKMBA's former Chairman who left Hong Kong in 2010  to take up a position working for USAID in Afghanistan. He returned to HK this winter to test ride Chiru's 29er.

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By Bob Smith

A Hardtail that rides like a Full-Suss

I have never been an “early adopter” and my bikes and equipment have always reflected this. I was one of the last riders to bolt on disc brakes and got into full suspensions long after they were fashionable. However there is one trend I jumped on early and that was the 29er bandwagon.

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The logic of bigger wheels seemed sound: easier over obstacles, better climbing and cornering do to increased rubber on the ground. And maybe most importantly, my main ridding buddy had just purchased a 29er and was beating me up technical climbs he never had before. So flush with hope, and cache, I went out and picked up a Niner Air9 tricked out with full XTR. I was hooked!!

I have been riding and racing the 29er platform for the last 6 years and have not thrown my leg over a 26 inch wheel for the last 3 years. I have owned four 29ers and am currently riding a one year old Niner air9 and Ventana El Rey. I have ridden and raced these bikes around the world and really love both, but in different ways and in ways you would expect between a full-suspension and hard tail frame-set.

I have tested lots of bikes but have not found two cross-country bikes I like more than these two rigs, especially the Ventana  and none that I have ridden since have persuaded me to shell out at least another $35000 for a comparably equipped new bike.

Budha Test
However this all changed when I rode the carbon fiber Chiru Pulse 29er a month ago for a week in Hong Kong with my many riding mates. For the first time riding mountain bikes in the last 15 years I was blown away on my very first ride. The setting was a very technical single track trail with both serious descending and of course technical and steep climbing. It was raining, the trails were filled with big slippery rocks and the grade got up to 20 degrees.

We started on Budha trail in Lantau and began our 4 hour day at the top…I know, I know this is not proper, but don’t worry the climbing comes later. What a way to start a ride: on a new bike, not warmed up, on a long, steep, rock strewn trail in the rain…. What can a mountain biker do but to say “I am just going to ride and forget the sheer cliffs to my right”….Bonzi !!!

The bike immediately felt familiar and comfortable, the big wheels hitting the rocks induces confidence and gives you the balls to push it hard. But I was in very technical section with major rocks and drop offs so didn’t really feel a major difference except the bike felt solid and didn’t flex under the pounding, plus I was hanging on for dear life. It wasn’t until I hit a fast section where there were small rocks, crevices and roots that I really felt the difference between this bike and any other niner hard tail I have ever ridden.

I had a good long straight section that allowed me to let off the brakes and let it go. The bike handled the rocks like it was a full suspension. Between the niner wheels, the carbon fiber and the inherent suspension characteristics of the flattened seat stays the bike glided over the rough terrain. I left my hard tail riding buddy behind as he had to ease up since he was getting beat up and bounced around.

Even though I would ride the bike the rest of the week on varying terrain, and get a fuller picture of the handling characteristics, the main value of this bike came out within the first hour. The Chiru takes the trail like a full suspension bike. I could not believe how smooth it was over rough ground. After the 4 hour ride I knew I was in a whole new league with this bike and was looking forward to testing it out later in the week on faster, cross country like trails.

Climbing: This baby can climb, especially it’s ability to climb out of the saddle without the normal careful balance of my Air9. Plus my air9 is a flexy bike and when I hammer out of the saddle I can feel the bike twist under me. With the chiru I could feel a firm and stiff bike even when I was cranking on steep sections. I could be aggressive on the bike and not completely smooth and still wouldn’t lose traction. Compared to my ventana the climbing ability of the Chiru is far superior climbing or seated, and the Ventana is a very excellent climber. Even on rocky and muddy up-hill trail sections I was able to keep the wheels from spinning.

Cornering: Like all 29ers you need to manage corners and high-speed turning and this bike is no exception. Again since I am familiar with the niner configuration I had no trouble railing the Chiru into corners and out quick by dropping a gear or two and then power the bike up to top speed, smooth and steady.

One word of caution with any 29er. The comprise between weight and rigidity on the 29er wheel is critical. You hear all the time about needing to run a light a wheel as possible but the downside to this is a flexy wheel which really shows itself in corning and turns. Don’t automatically go for the lightest wheel without first taking your weight and riding style into consideration. Otherwise you will not enjoy all the big wheel bike has to offer as it is more work to keep a good line in fast, tight turns than the 26 in cousin.

As it relates to the Chiru 29er she is a capable corning machine but no significant difference between this bike and my El Rey and only a slight difference than my Air9. I did suspect that the light wheel-set I was running was the reason but didn’t get a chance to change out the wheels during the 5 rides I did during the week.

Technical flats and slight grades: For me I love to ride technical flats and technical climbs: Balance, power, skill, physical conditioning all come into play to get you through and over these challenging sections. One advantage of a full suspension bike on these type of sections is you can peddle through them at speed, but on hard- tails you need to stand until you get over the obstacle. Related to it’s small hit capabilities, mentioned above, the Chiru 29er can be peddled over rocks, roots , ruts etc when my Niner air9 could not be. I was putting distance between the hard-tail riders every time a rocky section presented itself. Simply fabulous.

Descending: Because it is stiffer than my air9 it is more predictable and stable on fast downhills than I am used to which makes it a nice comprise between a full sus and HT niner. Kudos to my Ventana El Rey here. This bike is a monster going down even at a sparsely 26.5 lb.

Other notes: This bike is billed as an endurance rig, which it definitely is as it is comfortable and forgiving over varying terrain. But make no mistake this is a cross country racer as well. At 23 lb, in a large, this rig begs to be go fast. The faster I pushed and the harder I rode the more predictable the bike became.
In 15 years of riding I can say this is one of the best all around mountain bikes I have ridden. You can take it out for an all day on an epic adventure ride or it can get you on the podium at the local XC short track race.

My order is in and am anxiously waiting for my new toy to arrive.

As the holiday season hits full swing many folks will be indulging in Hong Kong’s 2nd favorite sport which is shopping – we all know that MTB is #1. But before you plunk down your hard earned money on a top-end bike perhaps it’s worthwhile to reconsider bikes towards the bottom of the range? Steve Coward did. Steve owns and operates CrossCountryHK, a local MTB skills training and guiding company. Here are his insights on budget bikes.