This review is part of the Bike Test feature ‘Hard Tails for Trails’ from Issue 137 of Singletrack Magazine.
- Price: £1,999.99
- From: Ragley
We suspect that Ragley strongly believes in the idea that if something isn’t broken then it doesn’t need to be fixed. The Big Wig is Ragley’s 29er steel hardtail and although it has a new paint finish and build kit, the slender steel frame has remained unchanged for the past few years. Generally, a bike being sold in 2021 with geometry from around three years ago might sound like something to avoid, but being the forward-thinking brand that it is, Ragley made the Big Wig quite long, low and slack from the very start (which was way back in 2013 when a 29er hardtail was still pretty niche).
While choosing which size Ragley we would review, we decided on the medium. Whereas normally Andi would go for something with a little more reach, we wanted a hardcore hardtail to be a fun thing to fling around – and also it couldn’t be so long that Hannah wouldn’t be able to enjoy riding it too. But a medium-sized Ragley is actually pretty roomy with a static reach of 440mm, a head-angle measuring 65° and a 74° seat tube angle. Remember this is a hardtail and once the 140mm fork has been compressed with a ride and those numbers are measured at sag, you’re looking at a bike with a slightly longer reach, and steeper seat tube.
The steel-framed Ragley has your traditional hardtail look, with slim steel tube construction that looks tiny in comparison to an aluminium bike, tiny even compared to the 35mm stanchions on the RockShox Revelation fork plugged into the front end of the bike. Although thin, the steel tubes are more than up to the task of surviving hardtail hooning and triple-butted 4130 Cro-Mo steel used on the Big Wig is proven stuff, used for years on mountain bikes and BMX. Being steel, and benefitting from a butted tube profile, it also helps to keep weight to a minimum, adds strength where it’s needed and creates that spritely ride characteristic that quality steel is renowned for.
Costing £2,000, this build of the Ragley Big Wig sits just below the top of the range Race build it shares its frameset with. This lower model comes built with a nice collection of quality components that will serve you well, but it’s worth remembering that for just £300 more the Race build packs a Lyrik Select fork, SLX instead of Deore and a stronger pair of Nukeproof Horizon rims in place of the Neuron wheelset, not to mention that all-important Assegai up front that suits UK riding better than the DHF.
That said, this is a good build – the Deore groupset looks amazing, performs really well and still has an SLX rear mech. The rest of the build spec is good too with a nice mix of Ragley’s own kit and Nukeproof parts.
Andi says: Like each of the bikes on test, a medium Ragley Big Wig is great for playing in the woods, sessioning steeps, and at 178cm tall I can ride this playful steel bike on my local Peak District trails, but for the really chunky stuff I’d likely size up.
Though the geometry hasn’t changed for a few years, I didn’t wish for steeper or slacker, and both climbing and descending on the Big Wig is plenty of fun; however, the frame is perhaps more capable than some of the components, especially that Revelation fork. The frame is very capable, and this quickly has you searching out rougher and more aggressive lines, but the Revelation is quickly overcome, especially during repeated hard hits. If you ride trails that are groomed, or just steep rather than rocky, the Revelation can cope, but as soon as it’s asked to handle repeated hits it holds the rest of the package up.
Keep the Big Wig away from the seriously sketchy off-piste and the complete package offers an enjoyable and rewarding ride. During our photo shoot, our test bike was exceptional on the groomed trails and steep banks of Wharncliffe and Grenoside, but at home on chunkier Peak District terrain, I was left wanting a better fork to complement the frameset.
While the Ragley is steel and has chunky rubber, the bike accelerates well and climbs impressively. Winching my way to the top of my local descents I enjoyed the instant acceleration, but that shorter rear end that proves playful on less chunky tracks keeps you on your toes when the going gets tough.
On dry, dusty trails the DHF/DHR tyre combo is very good, but it doesn’t tend to stay dry for long in the UK and I’d much prefer a front tyre that gives a little better wet-weather performance. This, as well as the Revelation fork issues, can’t help make me wonder if the pricing of the Ragley is a little out of whack. As I’ve already mentioned, our test bike is the most affordable Big Wig build and a Race level bike sits above this for £300 more – £300 is still a chunk of change and I know that not everyone will be able to stretch to cover the extra, but if you can I’d recommend it.
At £2,300 the Ragley Big Wig Race boasts the same capable frame, but built with parts that you can run for longer and won’t hold up your progression. The extra cost gets you a Lyrik fork, SLX drivetrain, Assegai front tyre, tougher wheels and SLX four-piston brakes with tool-less lever adjustment. That’s a hell of an upgrade for very little extra, and that’s where my money would be spent.
Hannah says: Riding the Big Wig is… unremarkable, but not in a bad way. It’s neither so old school as to feel short and staid, nor so new school as to feel like you need to throw enduro-shapes to get it to go where you want it. It’s just… there. Reliable enough to ride where you want, but without any of those ‘oh thank goodness for the bike or I’d have not saved that’ line screw-up moments. It’s neither outdated or out there – it just is.
This centrist geometry means it’s comfortable and familiar to just get on and ride – there’s no learning of foibles to be done. You’ve got a steel frame, a decent set of components, and all is well with the world. Pedal up and along and it’s no cross-country whippet, but equally it’s no reluctant tractor. I got it up some of my steepest local climbs, lungs draped over the handlebars, brain wishing I’d lose traction and have a reason to stop. Head downwards and it’s got all the characteristics you’d hope for in a trail bike, but without edging into the enduro side of things where an aggressive body position and speed are needed to make the bike come alive. The chainstays are short enough to feel somewhat agile, but it doesn’t give me the sense that maybe I’d like to head to my local pump track and jump spot for some #sickwhips (I have an active imagination…). It’s a sound and sensible trail bike that should let you tackle all the middle ground riding you’d want. Head off to the more specialised corners of the mountain bike world and you can still take your Big Wig with you, you’re just not going to have a get out of jail free card on a rocky downhill chute or a set of enduro switchbacks – though you may get away with more on the higher-specced Race model.
More isn’t always more, and I suspect for the vast majority of the trail riding public there’s plenty here to make local trails and trail centre reds a bucket of fun. Point your wheels down a black trail and you’ll still be having fun – it’s just that it’ll be you and your skill that’s getting you down there, and not a stack of engineering.
If you want a bike that needs taming, or will tame the trail, then this isn’t it. But that doesn’t mean it’s not fun – it’s a bike that just works, and that will work for most people who might be looking for a trail bike. Most of us aren’t Sam Hill or Yoann Barelli – most of us are just looking for a bike that works, a frame that’s durable, and a sound set of components to see us round the trails we want to ride.
A great, good-looking steel frameset that will provide you with years of reliable fun. The Big Wig is a proven platform that offers that classic hardtail feel and steel compliance. It’s not as long or slack as some bikes, but your trails might not necessarily need something more aggressive and a handy rider won’t find the Big Wig frame a hindrance. If you’re heavier, faster, or like to ride a lot of rough stuff, we’d recommend opting for the frame only option or dig behind the sofa for an extra £300 and pick up the Big Wig Race and benefit from those excellent upgrades for years to come.
Ragley Big Wig Specification
- Frame 4130 Cro-Mo Steel
- Fork RockShox Revelation 140mm
- Hubs Nukeproof
- Rims Nukeproof Neutron
- Tyres Front: Maxxis Minion DHF 2.5 TR 3C EXO+, Rear: Maxxis Minion DHR II 2.4 TR 3C EXO+
- Chainset Shimano Deore
- Rear Mech Shimano SLX 12-speed
- Shifters Shimano SLX 12-speed
- Cassette Shimano Deore 12-speed 10-51T
- Brakes Shimano Deore 4-piston
- Stem Ragley Stubbing V2 50mm
- Bars Ragley Alloy Handlebar
- Grips Ragley A20
- Seatpost Brand-X Ascend 125mm
- Saddle Ragley Tracker
- Size Tested M
- Sizes Available S, M, L, XL
- Weight 15.1kg/33.28lbs
|Tested:||by Hannah and Andi for|
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