2013 would seem to be the year that 29″ wheels break free from being pigeonholed as something to put on a hardtail or short travel race bike and break into the world of fully fledged trail bikes. The bikes we have seen so far have mostly hailed from America, the land of wagon wheels, with bikes from the Santa Cruz Tallboy LT to the Salsa Horsethief landing on our shores over the past months.
Arguably, the terrain and trails of America lend themselves to the kind of fast rolling, high speed carving that 29ers excel at, but they’ve yet to catch on in a significant way for all-round riding in the European style, so it was something of a surprise to find out that Commencal’s first attempt at a full suspension 29er wouldn’t be a lightweight race bike but a bonafide all-mountain bike, with 130mm of rear wheel travel and 140mm up front.
Commencal Meta AM29
Like the Meta SL we rode at the launch, you can see the resemblance to the other members of the Meta family. The floating shock is sat low inside a two piece cradle which also forms the ISCG05 equipped Press Fit BB92 bottom bracket and mounting points for the familiar Contact System EVO suspension hardware. The suspension is designed to be marginally less progressive than the 26″ wheeled 150mm travel AM but the angles are certainly aggressive, with a 68° head angle at the tapered, integrated headtube. The back end uses a 142x12mm Maxle through axle and 180mm PM brake mount. In my opinion it’s one the best proportioned and most svelte looking big wheelers I’ve seen, helped by the fact that all the hoses and cables are tucked out of the way thanks to internal cable routing.
The test bikes were specced with a mix of Fox shocks – a 34 Float up front and RP2 BV at the rear -and a SRAM drivetrain with lower geared 104BCD double to create ratios more like those found on their 2×10 26″ drivetrains. Brakes were from Formula and a RS Reverb dropper post was an extremely welcome addition. The thought put into the spec shows with a set of decently wide 730mm low rise bars which allow you to stand some chance of wrestling the greater gyroscopic forces at work, unlike the slimline items fitted to some other bikes.
Having been a die-hard 26″ wheel enthusiast, this is the second time in as many months that I’ve been blown away by the sheer capability of a longer travel 29er. There’s no doubt that the feel is different, response to steering input feeling muted at first, but once up to speed, the longer wheelbase and longer chainstay length make it feel a much more planted bike than say, the (admittedly shorter travel) Meta SL.
The cockpit isn’t absurdly long but has plenty of space to shift weight about in, the 72.5° seat angle helping the reach extend with the saddle up – and the front end is blessedly free from 29er steering flop/tuck under sensation at lower speed. Uphill, the bike is well mannered, bob tamed by a minimal application of Pro Pedal. There’s plenty of traction, without the feeling that the bike is actively searching for it as on the 26″ bikes.
On slow speed technical descents, the bike require a heavy amount of strength and commitment to pop through sections, the rider having to fight the simple laws of physics and longer levers. At this pace it doesn’t have the pop and ping of the 26″ bikes, but from the very moment you start to gain momentum the bike comes alive.
Threading it through skinny singletrack, edged with greenery decietfully covering pedal grabbing rocks, the Meta AM29 is precise feeling yet confident inspiring. The low BB helps – as long as you keep errant rocks in mind – and the back end feels connected rather than a separate, distant entity, helped by the 455mm stays. A bit of experimentation with shock and fork pressures and the bike feels nicely balanced; a cohesive unit.
It positively encourages thuggish behaviour over the rough stuff and into corners; even so, I found it difficult to discern any front end flex or twang from the 34mm stanchion Fox forks and the back was equally flex free thanks to the through axle system.
So; it feels like a downhill bike yet it pedals uphill like any other trail bike. If it were any brand’s 29er trail bike, the AM29 would be exceptionally capable and fun – but as Commencal’s first attempt it’s truly remarkable. The nail has been hit on the head.
Prices and availability
UK distributor Decade Europe will have Meta AM29 VIP framesets in stock at the end of June, costing £1,749.99 with Fox shock. A complete ‘Limited’ 2012 bike will also be available, costing £4,099.99, but for 2013, there will be two complete bikes, the AM1 29 at £3,799.99 and the AM2 29 at 2,599.99.