It seems we’re all getting used to 29ers – the big wheeled bikes with hoops 3in greater in diameter than a normal mountain bike. In fact, only one of our three testers initially noticed that the Cobia wasn’t a standard 26er. But all three noticed the smooth ride as soon as we rolled onto the ﬁrst section of bumpy trail.
The Gary Fisher copes with all types of terrain superbly – whether it’s up, down, technical or twisty – and its quality frame is well worth upgrading as the stuff that’s supplied here starts to wear out. That said, the spec is one of the best we've seen on a sub-£1,000 big-wheeler.
We’ve tested a couple of 26in wheeled Fishers recently too – and like them – but try the Cobia 29er if the sizing is right for you. We reckon you’ll enjoy its more relaxed ride rhythm than a similarly equipped 26er.
Ride & handling: Smooth, stable and surprisingly agile
If you look around, you'll ﬁnd lighter and better equipped 26in-wheel bikes for £800, but the Gary Fisher Cobia is one of those unusual bikes with an easy-to-ride feel that belies both its 28.5lb weight and its middle-of-the-road spec list.
This is primarily down to the easier rolling ride of the bigger wheels over bumpy terrain, which is emphasised by both the fast-rolling tyres and the stable, long, low Fisher Genesis 2 geometry. It results in handling that feels sprightly at both low and high speeds when compared to typical 29er geometries from a few years ago.
If you tried a 29er then and weren’t too sure about the big-wheeled machines, it’s probably time you tried another one. This would be a fantastic place to start. Oh, and contrary to the often-heard wisdom about the handling on big wheelers – that a 29er is slower than a 26er on twisty technical trails – with the kind of modern tweaked 29er geometry you’ll ﬁnd on bikes like the Fisher, there’s really not much in it.
Ultimately, the Cobia is a great all-rounder that really comes to life on difﬁcult singletrack. This effect is at its most noticeable when the speeds get higher, but the handling is also remarkably agile on low-speed technical trails. The G2 geometry makes for handling that even cross-country racers appreciate too, and while this can make relative beginners feel initially nervous on a 26er, the big wheels introduce a level of comfort and stability that adds to trail conﬁdence.
It’s also worth pointing out that Fisher’s frame geometry, together with the custom fork offset, is a ﬁne way of designing a smaller framed big-wheeler. You can get hold of the Cobia in 15.5in trim, albeit still with a 22.5in top tube reach, and while we rarely recommend a 29er to riders who stand under about 5ft 10in, we know a couple of riders around 5ft 7in who highly rate their Gary Fishers.
Frame & equipment: High-quality aluminium frame plus functional kit
You’ll need to pick your frame size carefully when it features Gary Fisher’s Genesis 2 geometry. Our 17.5in test machine has a 24in horizontal top tube reach – which is longer than most 17.5in frames. However, this allows for the short stem and extra fork crown offset that are crucial elements in producing the bike’s precise but stable handling.
The Cobia’s high-quality aluminium frame also has a short head tube that, when combined with the short-travel fork, stops the front end from feeling too high. This also has the happy consequence of avoiding the gawky looks that puts some riders off big-wheelers.
There’s still room for a generous rise in the stem and an inch of washers on the steerer to adjust the stem height. A massive weld contact area behind the head tube joins the radical shape-shifting hydroformed down and top tubes, standover room is generous and there’s loads of mud room between the rear stays.
The perfectly functional, if somewhat unsophisticated, RockShox Tora SL 80mm fork may point to the Cobia’s relatively low price tag, but it does the job well over all but the roughest terrain and has a reasonably effective lockout function.
The Avid cable pull disc brakes aren’t as powerful as the hydraulic numbers you’d normally ﬁnd on £800 bikes either, and the cables are more vulnerable to the ingress of dirt as well. That said, they’re easy to maintain, and make for easy upgrades later.
You’ll tend to ﬁnd better parts on 26in wheel bikes at this price, but everything here is still functionally excellent. The drivetrain mixes a budget steel ringed Shimano crankset with SRAM’s X5 shifters and rear mech.
Bontrager’s Ranger rimmed, 29-3 treaded wheels are great too – the tyre’s tread pattern looks uninspiring but rolls fast and grips well. And we couldn’t ﬁnd anything to moan about with the Bontrager saddle, seatpost, stem and low rise bar either.