MTB legend and all-round badass Tom Ritchey is well known for designing components that have adorned the bikes of many riders over the years. Perhaps less well known is that Ritchey makes mountain bike frames made from good old-fashioned steel.
The P-29er represents all of Ritchey’s know-how packaged into a setup designed for out and out speed and comfort. It may look like a bog standard steel frame, but there’s a whole lot going on underneath that lovely paint.
Ritchey uses its special Logic 2 tubing, which is triple butted to save weight without losing stiffness. This gets a large frame down to 2,150g — not bad for steel.
The previous generation of P-29ers had straight non-tapered steerers, limiting fork options and adding some unwanted flex up front. Thankfully the P-29er now comes with a tapered 1.5 steerer, putting a stop to that wobbly front end.
Elsewhere, everything is nice and simple, with a threaded English bottom bracket (no more annoying creaks), external cable routing and a 135mm rear end. Mine came with a tasty spec, too, consisting of a RockShox Sid xx fork, a full Shimano XT groupset and Ritchey’s own finishing kit and wheels.
A unique but fun ride
As the P-29er is billed as a race bike, it needed to be weighed on our scales of truth. My size large weighed in at 11.54kg, which for a race bike is pretty heavy, but as it’s made from steel some extra heft is to be expected. With a careful albeit pricey spec, I think you could build a P-29er around the 10kg mark.
Once out on the trails, the first section I hit was a reasonably steep five-minute climb and it’s here you realise you’re riding a bike made from steel. Sitting in the saddle feels fairly normal, with some extra give and comfort coming from the thin tubes. But when standing, there’s a definite bob and flex, which you don’t get with carbon frames.
This characteristic only becomes greater the harder you push. I had a play with the tyre pressure to try to mitigate the issue, but fettling only made a small difference. Safe to say, I didn’t get any KOMs.
The steel frame does have some redeeming traits, as the extra give takes some of the sting out of bumpy/technical sections when you’re climbing in the saddle. On long days where comfort is paramount instead of speed, this could be a real bonus.
Hitting the singletrack left me with mixed feelings. Diving hard into corners and winding through trees, the flex and twist was once again apparent. Initially there were a few heart-in-mouth moments, but once I got used to the unique feel, I started to have fun. Sitting in the saddle there was a definite feeling of forgiveness that harsh carbon frames don’t have and the narrow Ritchey seatpost definitely helped.
When it came to tackling descents it was more of the same — flex and comfort at the expense of some control and the razor sharp handling of carbon frames. The P-29er has fairly conservative geometry for a modern XC bike, so perhaps a slightly slacker head angle and shorter stem could instil some greater confidence on the descents.
On the whole, the spec on the P-29er complemented it nicely, especially the wide wheels. Perhaps the only thing I’d change would be converting to a single ring drivetrain, to help shed some weight.
Style at the cost of speed
My time aboard the P-29er was fun, but I was left in two minds about recommending it as a dedicated race bike. The external cables and threaded bottom bracket make maintenance easy, which is certainly a bonus in long stage races. The comfort factor of steel also makes me think it would be great for bike packing or even ultra endurance 24-hour races.
However, for shorter XC races it’s just too heavy, which combined with the frame’s inherent flex makes for a scary/unpredictable experience when riding on the limit. I think a thru-axle on the rear could help combat some of the unwanted flex, although being a steel frame that will only take you so far.
But perhaps that misses the point. People who buy the P-29er probably aren’t after the latest and greatest in mountain bike tech. Instead they want something a little different with a classic/historic edge to stand out from the crowd.
The frame material might be costing you some watts, but it looks great among the sea of current carbon hardtails. So if that sounds like your cup of tea, the P-29er could be the bike for you.
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine.