First ride: Orbea Alma 29er

Revised geometry, updated frame features yield quicker, sharper-handling big wheeler

Orbea today officially unveiled the revamped 29" variant of its new Alma carbon hardtail at the Mellow Johnny's Classic, and two laps of the superbly entertaining course revealed a distinctly quicker and sharper-handling machine than its predecessor.

Frame weight is virtually unchanged at 1,280g for a medium sample but front-end stiffness has noticeably improved, especially when out of the saddle and wrenching on the bars. Key updates include a tapered 1 1/8"-to-1 1/2" head tube that not only cuts down on fork crown flex when braking or cornering but also allows for a bigger down tube than before.

Down below there's a newly added BB30 oversized bottom bracket shell while an extra kink at the rear end of the top tube supposedly bumps front triangle torsional stiffness by 10-15 percent on its own by effectively spreading the distance between the top tube and down tube.

"The 4x4 technology is something that came from the old Alma where we had the rear triangle split with the new extra point near the rear wheel," said frame designer Xabier Narbaiza. "But here we also have it on the front triangle, which is very important on 29ers. 29ers tend to have down tubes and top tubes very close to each other and adding this extra point in the front triangle makes it stiffer and lighter while keeping the stability and reliability we are looking for."

Chain and seat stay sizes have gone up substantially as compared to the original Alma 29 and the nominally round and oval shapes have been traded in for more triangular profiles that beef up the rear end. Even so, ride comfort is still pretty admirable for a hardtail even on the Mellow Johnny's Classic course's incessant sprinkling of rocks and with our tester's 2.0"-wide tube-type tires inflated to a relatively firm 30psi.

Handling and geometry have been improved on this latest Alma 29 iteration, too. First and foremost is a travel increase from last year's 80mm up to a more versatile 100mm, while a roughly 5mm decrease in head tube length helps maintain a reasonably low bar height. The chain stays have also shortened to just 439mm – only 16mm longer than the standard Alma – making this latest version noticeably more eager to change directions in tight switchbacks.

In spite of the short rear end, Orbea has impressively still managed to retain excellent tire clearance – we measured nearly 70mm of room between the chain and seat stays, right at the tread crown. Moreover, there's heaps of room in the radial direction, too, and no shelf at the bottom bracket to collect mud. Depending on the tire make and model, Narbaiza claims that the new Alma 29 will accept up to a 2.35" casing and yet will simultaneously fit the latest two-ring cranksets, too.

Orbea has retained the Alma's trademark down tube shaping with its integrated mini-fender.

Naturally, the standard Alma's notably clean DCR (Direct Cable Routing) system has carried over to the 29" variant as well. Sealed lines from end-to-end are expected to retain shift performance in nasty conditions while extending service intervals, plus weight weenies will certainly welcome the handful of grams saved by eliminating two sections of housing.

Perhaps best of all, Orbea has finally expanded the Alma 29's size range from just one to a far more accommodating three so riders that were either too short or tall for the old 18" geometry should have an easier time achieving a proper fit.

Orbea will offer the Alma 29 in four builds, including Shimano's XTR and XT groups or SRAM's XX or X9. Bare frames will also be available for US$1,799.

Potential buyers will have to wait until July to get one, though, but we're luckily going to be able to start extended testing of an early production sample right away. Assuming all goes well, expect a more thorough long-term review from us by the time they arrive in stores.

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