Orbea officially unveiled the revamped 29in-wheeled variant of their Alma carbon hardtail at this weekend's Mellow Johnny's Classic – the annual mountain bike race organised by Lance Armstrong's Texas bike shop.
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 1-1/2in 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 by 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."
Orbea's 4x4 design has moved from the rear to the front triangle on the Alma 29
Chain- and seatstay sizes have gone up substantially 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 test bike's 2in tyres 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 chainstays have shortened to just 439mm – only 16mm longer than the standard Alma – making this latest version noticeably more eager to change directions in tight switchbacks.
Chainstays are beefy but shaped to provide tyre clearance and room for two-ring cranksets
In spite of the short rear end, Orbea have managed to retain excellent tyre clearance – we measured nearly 70mm of room between the chain- and seatstays, right at the tread crown. There's heaps of room in the radial direction, too, and no shelf at the bottom bracket to collect mud. Depending on tyre make and model, Narbaiza claims that the new Alma 29 will accept up to a 2.35in casing and yet will simultaneously fit the latest two-ring cranksets, too.
Naturally, the standard Alma's notably clean DCR (Direct Cable Routing) system has carried over to the 29in 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.
Orbea's 'Direct Cable Routing' is fully sealed and eliminates two sections of housing
Perhaps best of all, Orbea have finally expanded the Alma 29's size range from just one to a far more accommodating three so riders who were either too short or tall for the old 18in geometry should have an easier time achieving a proper fit.
Orbea will offer the Alma 29 in four builds, with 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, but we're going to be start extended testing of an early production sample right away. Assuming all goes well, expect a more thorough review from us by the time they arrive in stores.
The Alma 29 now sports a tapered head tube that provides extra front triangle torsional rigidity