If you’ve been keeping up with my blog, you know that I’ve been riding and racing the Airborne Goblin 29er all season long. From endurance races including the 24 Hours of Wausau to the shorter Wisconsin Off Road Series (WORS) races across the state of Wisconsin, I’ve been riding the wheels off this bike. You’ve also heard me talk at the beginning of the season about being a little cynical about the whole 29er thing. But, one toasted bottom bracket and destroyed rear derailleur later and it’s still going strong.
I’m going to do this in a bit of reverse order. First, I’m going to list the issues I had with the bike instead of the normal method of listing pro and then cons (just for fun).
I’ve had issues with the rear shifter at times during the season. The issues usually occurred during foul weather riding so there it is a good bet that that had something to do with it. However, I’m not a big fan of the X.7 shifters. I find the feel to be lacking. I think the throw is too far and the feeling is not as solid and definite as higher level shifters. But with higher end shifter comes a higher pricepoint so I understand the choice of the SRAM X.7 here.
Later in the year I had some issues with the rear derailleur. Firstly, the lower jockey wheel cracked all the way through. Luckily, it happened at the very end of my ride (or race, I really can’t remember which at this point). The replacement derailleur ended up failing a couple months later when the b screw tab bent causing severe shifting issues during a race preride. The onsite race mechanic was able to rig something up to get me through the race the next day and through the following warranty claim. In the end though, the drivetrain never failed to the point that I could not finish a ride or race.
I'd point out that I am the only one on the Flight Crew reporting drivetrain issues on the Goblin so I don't expect the above issues to be the norm.
Now the good stuff. Let’s start with the obvious. The wheels. The 29er inch bad boys roll. I know I was skeptical at first of the big wheels. I thought they would be clumsy and slow through the singletrack. To be completely honest, I thought the big wheels were for unskilled mountain bikers and they loved them because the wheel just rolled over everything. The last part is true. The wheels will roll over just about anything, but they can also be very fast and surprisingly nimble in the hands of a skilled rider.
I’ve been out riding at local trails and received several comments about how nimble I made the big wheels seem. But trust me, my first month or so of riding the bike was a real feeling out process. It took me nearly a half a season to really tap into the potential of the big wheels. And now that I have, I can hardly imagine XC racing with a smaller wheel.
The stock Avid Elixir R brakes are a decent set of brakes. They have good power and feel. Since I have shorter fingers the tooless reach adjustment is really nice. In the end, I decided to go in a different direction with the brakes to save some weight.
The bike is a bit on the heavy side for racing, but in all fairness, the Goblin is not designed as a pure racing machine. It is designed and equipped with trail riding more in mind than racing. So to get the weight down and the handling where I wanted it, I made a few modifications.
The first modification and the one I would recommend for anyone planning on racing the bike is upgrading the wheels. I chose the Sun Ringle Black Flag Pro wheelset. Not only did I loose a fair amount of rotational weight in the switch and gain points of engagement in the rear hub, the gold hubs, nipples and decals look awesome with the green, black and white of the Goblin. That upgrade was a total win.
The next major upgrade was the Fork. I swapped out the Rock Shox Reba for a Fox F29 RLC with a 15mm thru axle. There was nothing wrong with the Reba, I just happen to like the feel of the Fox forks. I found the 15mm axle stiffened up the bike a bit and the weight savings was nice for racing. I also really liked the the slight increase in travel going from 80mm to 100mm. I’d really like to see the stock Reba come set to 100mm travel setting. I really didn’t notice any slowing down of the steering with the change either.
Other modifications that mostly had to do with weight were (in no particular order): Thomson Masterpiece seatpost and Elite stem, Avid XX brakes and Answer Protaper XC carbon handlebar and KMC X10SL chain. I ran a set of Shimano XT brakes for the first 3/4 of the season and actually liked the feel and power of them better than I do the Avids. The drop off in performance isn't that bad so I’ve stuck with the weight savings of the Avids for now. I’ve had the rear brake bled once already and it isn’t holding proper pressure. If the problem persists, I may end up going back to the XT’s.
I began the season by taking off the stock 2.1 Kenda Small Block 8’s and swapping them out with 1.9 Hutchinson Pythons. As much as I tried, I couldn’t bring myself to like the Pythons. They felt very squirrelly to me and I didn’t much care for the narrowness of the tire. So without any hesitation I went back to the Small Block 8’s and couldn’t be happier with that choice. I really like the tire choice here because of the predictable and solid feel of the Kenda’s.
Like I said before the Goblin is not designed and equipped as a pure racing bike. The geometry is more slanted toward trail riding with a 71 1/2 degree head tube angle 74 degree seat tube angle. However, the Goblin does have a decently low bottom bracket. This makes the bike feel great in the corners. I found this also takes a period of adjustment. Upon hopping on and riding the Goblin, I found I was having an unusual number of pedal strikes. After adjusting my riding to compensate for the pedal strikes, I now have no more than normal. I just have to accept the fact there are some places I couldn’t catch an extra pedal stroke like I do on some of my other bikes. I find that the bigger wheels generally roll over what I would normally want to pedal over with a 26 inch wheel, so I don’t feel I’m loosing anything, just not gaining as much as I want to. But there is always tradeoffs with geometry. You can’t have everything.
Despite this, I had more success racing on the Goblin 29er this season than any other bike at any other time. Much of it had to do with the amount of training and riding I put in, but I’m now convinced that the bigger wheels are the way to go for XC bike racing because they definitely hold momentum better so you roll faster once they get going. Once you learn how the bigger wheels handle you can still go plenty fast in singletrack. When you condition yourself to get the big wheels turning, they tend to do much of the work as far as rolling over terrain.
Other than the minor drivetrain issues I have had with the bike, I’m very happy with the overall performance of the bike. I’m now a big believer in big wheels for going fast on XC trails and I’m elated with the result of my racing season on the Goblin. At $1,150, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better value on a 29er at this component level.