With 2018 looking like a breakthrough year in downhill (and the Enduro World Series), 29ers seem to be all the rage in gravity-fuelled mountain biking at the moment. It's therefore no surprise that more and more manufacturers are bringing out long-travel big-wheelers. And Commencal is no different.
The Meta AM 29 looks very similar to its smaller wheeled sibling, the Meta AM V4.2, but the frame is completely new, sharing only the odd dropout and tube from the V4.2.
The 160mm alloy bike has already won an EWS under Cecile Ravanel, and Commencal's engineers say the bike's ground-up design has an improved suspension kinematic and an increase in stiffness, because bigger wheels exert more twist on a frame, so added frame stiffness keeps the feel consistent.
I rode the bike for two days in Ainsa, Spain, on the dry, rocky and very fast trails made famous by the EWS.
Commencal Meta AM 29 Team Edition ride experience
While most of the riding was uplifted, I did tackle some very steep climbs. Here, the lockout lever on the Vivid rear shock was handy, giving a firm lockout that maximised efficiency. Where climbing was done with the shock fully open, the sensitivity of the coil meant traction was incredibly good.
There's plenty of stability from the suspension, with plenty of anti-squat preventing too much pedal bob around the sag point.
That anti-squat also comes into play when the trails start their descent back towards the valley floor. While some longer travel enduro bikes can feel sluggish until things get steep — with a stable pedalling platform, and a geometry that isn't ridiculously raked out — the Meta AM 29 manages to feel responsive and agile, ideal for ducking and diving around the rocks and turns that litter Ainsa's trails.
In the straights the bike is confident, the big wheels and balanced geometry feeling relatively stable (though a longer reach would add yet more stability here) and the supremely supple suspension keeps the wheels tracking the ground.
The coil rear shock feels great on the rocky stutter bumps, and is matched by the latest generation RockShox Lyrik RC2 fork, which is arguably the best enduro fork on the market now.
The composed ride gives extra confidence when things turn more technical and steep. With the suspension dealing admirably with the ground, and the Code RSC brakes on my test bike (stock bikes will come with the impressive Guide RE brake) offering ample power, you're able to focus more on line choice.
Schwalbe's Magic Mary tyre, in the Addix Soft compound up front, adds confidence in the turns too, working well to provide grip in both the wet and the dry.
At the rear, the older Hans Dampf didn't match the Mary's competence, but production bikes should come with the updated Hans Dampf, which is a definite improvement on the old.
Commencal Meta AM 29 Team Edition geometry
Some will feel that Commencal missed a trick when building this new bike, with geometry figures that look relatively conservative against a number of other new enduro bikes, and this would be most felt on the steepest of tracks.
The Meta 29 is far from nervous or incapable when things really point down, but a longer reach would improve the bike's sure-footedness a touch in these situations.
Fortunately, the Lyrik is a superb fork, and so I never felt out of control even on the greasier sections of track. The small bump sensitivity, mated with the Rapid Recovery, meant traction here was as good as could be expected, while the support offered by the fork as it goes through its travel meant that the front end never pitched dangerously on the steeps.
During testing I was able to add a token and reduce air pressure, meaning better support later in its travel yet a softer feeling earlier on — at 85kg kitted up I ended up with 91psi and two tokens, and the compression damping left relatively open.
The soft compound tyre and ground-hugging suspension means the Meta AM 29 is happy having its front wheel loaded into corners, where every ounce of grip can be found.
With neither front nor back end being super long (in fact, the 432mm chainstays are 6mm shorter than on the 650b Meta V4.2), I don't want to use the cliché of the bike being 'flickable', but it's certainly not a bike that's scared of tight corners, nor being slapped from side to side as you sling the bike along a twisty trench-like trail.
As we've come to expect from Commencal, the pricing is competitive (€3,899 / $3,899), which makes this an even more attractive proposition.
Yes, some will moan at the lack of a carbon option, but I agree with Commencal's take that weight isn't everything. During the test I never felt the bike was sluggish, unreactive or dull to ride. It's managed to reach the middle ground between trail-taming plushness and an agile, interactive ride feel.
Commencal Meta 29 Team Edition early verdict
I can confidently say I've never ridden a bike so fast. Following Cecile Ravanel and Anne-Caroline Chausson's wheels down Ainsa's tracks was not only an incredible experience, but no doubt helped me push myself faster than ever before.
But that just shows the AM 29's prowess when it comes to riding. The fact I was able to push myself so hard on a bike I'd not ridden before speaks volumes for the capability this bike has.