First ride: Gary Fisher Superfly 100

The cross-country 29er full-suspension race bike finally comes of age

Gary Fisher's new Superfly 100 debunks nearly every possible argument put forth against 29"-wheeled dual-suspension race bikes: it's light, it's stiff, it handles brilliantly, and most importantly, it's brutally fast.

Claimed weight on the carbon fiber Superfly 100 frame is just 2.1kg (4.6lb) including the stock Fox Racing Shox RP23 rear shock and all applicable hardware – likely making it not only the lightest fully suspended 29er on the market but also well in keeping with most 26"-wheeled carbon flagships. Fitted with an appropriately race-ready build, the bike feels every bit as light on the trail as you'd expect and not unexpectedly, the Superfly 100 is an impressive climber with surprisingly smart acceleration.

In addition, the frame is remarkably stiff overall with accurate tracking even on rough terrain, a solid-feeling bottom end, and a rear triangle that faithfully follows the front. Credit here goes to the tapered E2 front end, the correspondingly enormous down tube, the extra-wide BB95 bottom bracket with drop-in bearings, and the stout rear swingarm with healthily proportioned tube cross-sections and well bolstered Active Braking Pivot rear dropouts.

Thanks to Gary Fisher's novel G2 front end with its increased fork offset and reduced trail, handling is also remarkably 26"-like with a particularly nimble – almost twitchy – feel that soundly negates any preconceived notions that 29ers can't handle twisty terrain. We had no issues whatsoever on tight uphill (or downhill) switchbacks and in general the Superfly 100 is plenty eager to change direction. Super short (for a 29er) 451mm chain stays make for comparatively easy manuals and general pivoting about the rear wheel, too.

Moreover, the Superfly 100's rear suspension is also up to snuff with an appropriately taut cross-country feel: small bumps are nicely muted, there's no mid-stroke wallow and a smooth progression towards bottom-out. There's excellent pedal response overall, too, with little need to engage the ProPedal if you have a smooth stroke unless you want absolute drivetrain efficiency – we were generally quite content to run without for most of the day.

The direct mount front derailleur allows for the Superfly 100's offset seat tube.

Of course, the usual 29er advantages still apply: an overall smoother ride on rough ground, increased cornering stability, superb traction, and more confidence in technical descents since the front wheel's higher pivot point makes it harder to go over the bars.

Obvious downsides are few and far between at the moment. The low bottom bracket definitely aids the Superfly 100's cornering abilities but it's unfortunately so low that we hit far more rocks and roots with the pedals and crankarms than usual. There's also no getting around the fact that the larger wheels are unavoidably heavier than 26" equivalents – by about 12 percent on average according to Gary Fisher – and require more energy to get them going unless you compromise on traction and floatation by going with narrower and lighter rubber.

This obviously means a little more mass to lug up the climb and the Superfly 100 likely wouldn't be our first choice for courses that require a lot of accelerations. But time gained elsewhere may still make it a faster bike than a traditional 26" full-suspension rig depending on the terrain.

There were also no problems equipment-wise save for the Bontrager rear wheel. We experienced a fair bit of popping sounds coming from a similar hub on our recent Trek Top Fuel tester and the one on our Superfly 100 was unfortunately notably worse, clicking and groaning in protest nearly every half dozen pedal strokes or so, and not always under heavy power. Gary Fisher product manager Aaron Mock says the company's wheel engineers are aware of the issue and are already looking into it but it's still not particularly confidence inspiring given the old DT Swiss-built rear hubs' bulletproof reliability.

Still not convinced? Check out the race results from the Subaru-Gary Fisher team this year: Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski and Heather Irmiger took home four US National titles this year on 29" wheels and most recently, Willow Koerber earned a bronze medal at the UCI World Championships on a Superfly hardtail – after only having ridden on 29" wheels for a handful of weeks prior.

Oh, and toss out the notion that only taller riders can ride 29ers: Irmiger is only 1.63m (5' 4") tall and Koerber measures 1.55m (5' 1"), and both are now full-time converts by choice (Irmiger rides a medium!).

Two-niner holdouts: your chariot has finally arrived. Check back in a couple of months for a proper long-term review – we're actually looking forward to this one.

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