Trek Cobia 29er £850

Mid-range big-wheeler

BikeRadar score 3.5/5

The Trek Cobia is part of the Gary Fisher collection, a name synonymous with mountain biking innovation. In the eight years since Fisher first unleashed the 29er concept, the big wheel size has become legal on the race circuit and won over a generation of riders in the US. UK riders have been rather more reluctant to jump on board, but 2011 looks like it might just be a watershed in 29er history. The Cobia represents the new guard of 29in-wheeled bikes – subtle, light, well specced and vying for a slice of the 26in action.

Ride & handling: Great all-round trail hardtail that’s faster and smoother than the 26in competition

Although the long top tube/short stem basics of Fisher’s proprietary Genesis geometry have been much copied over the years, there’s little doubt that only a Fisher really rides like a Fisher. Much of that is down to the G2 evolution of the original Genesis concept, which reduces the fork’s trail with a custom offset crown in order to sharpen up slow speed handling.

Early 29ers didn’t always convince in the front end handling department, needing plenty of notice if you wanted to turn and making them a handful in fast, tight and twisty singletrack. The Cobia’s G2 front end all but neutralises the extra inertia of the larger front wheel and gives it a nimbleness that’s likely to shatter a few preconceptions. Stable and confidence-inspiring at speed, a last-ditch change of direction is just a dropped shoulder away.

And all this user-friendliness comes with added big wheel easy-rolling, which delivers easier technical climbs, faster descents and more comfortable cruising. Downsides? The frame lacks the springy sprightliness of the best of the 26in competition. Despite its impeccable handling, it’s still marginally less chuckable in the tight and twisty stuff than a really well sorted 26in bike. Er, and you’ll need to carry 29er inner tubes. But that’s about it.

In terms of handling, practicality and spare parts availability the 29er has come of age. Those big diameter tyres roll noticeably easier along the trail, giving the Cobia’s rider both a smoother ride and the option  of putting the hammer down and dropping the 26in competition. It’s not the lightest bike for the price, and that does blunt its overall performance slightly. But the excellent  fork, sorted geometry and decent kit list should put it near the top of your all-day trail bike shortlist.

Frame & equipment: Great fork for the money but frame lacks the lively feel of the best at this price

Big wheels roll faster over trail obstacles. That’s a (more or less) quantifiable fact that underpins the existence of the 29er breed. But big wheels also take up more space, so fitting them into a frame that works isn’t quite as straightforward as shoehorning them into an existing chassis. Eight years of development mean that geometry and tyre clearance wrinkles have been pretty much ironed out.

To the untrained eye, the Cobia looks like a regular bike with oddly-proportioned wheels. Subtle hydroforming and butting puts strength where it’s needed but keeps the bike’s weight down to about the same as most of its 26in rivals. Not bad for a bike that’s starting with heavier wheels and forks. Braceless stays leave enough room for the rear wheel to keep turning in the filthiest of conditions, although clearance below the fork’s brace isn’t nearly as generous. 

The Cobia comes outfitted with different width Bontrager tyres – a 2.25in at the front and a 2.0in at the rear. It’s an old trick that adds comfort and cornering grip under the fork and better wet weather grip and mud clearance through the rear stays. But if you don’t like it, 29er tyre choice is much better than it used to be. A functional mix of SRAM and Shimano components take care of the transmission, while the Promax brakes work better than you might expect once they’ve bedded in.

The cheap-feeling Bontrager bar features a pronounced backward sweep that initially feels odd, but combined with the Cobia’s proprietary G2 geometry it's surprisingly comfortable. The ace up the Cobia’s sleeve is the custom 29er RockShox Recon air-sprung fork. Air is lighter than a coil spring, adjusts for a wider range of rider weights and styles and works better, most of the time.

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