Revel is a bike brand unlike most others. The founder, Adam Miller, cut his teeth in the world of boutique titanium cross country, gravel, and fat-tire bikes through his first company, WHY Cycles. That company is still around and thriving, to the point where they can pursue passion projects like a 27.5” titanium belt driven dirt jumper—an extravagant project, but a fun one. Not one to limit himself, somewhere along the way Adam formed the goal of diving into the carbon fiber full-suspension world. A path to that end became clear after hopping on one of Canfield’s bikes and finding a suspension feel he had never encountered before.
That suspension design, called the Canfield Balance Formula, was the spark, and Revel’s first two bikes, the 27.5” 160mm travel Rail and the Rascal, a 130mm travel 29’er, were the fire that introduced Revel to the world. Since then, they’ve launched a phenomenal short travel 29” downcountry bike, called the Ranger, and most recently of course, the bike you’re here to see, the Rail29. I’ve put a few hundred miles on this one right here, in the gorgeous Shred Velvet Cake color, and I’d like to tell you all about it.
Mid/Long Travel 29’ers
Before I get into the details of the Rail29, I want to briefly look at this category of bike: the medium/long travel 29’er. In it I’d include a number of highly acclaimed bikes like Ibis’s renowned Ripmo, Evil’s incredibly fun Offering, Specialized’s award winning Stumpjumper EVO, and one of my favorite bikes I’ve owned, Transition’s Sentinel. All these bikes are slightly different takes on this genre, and you can get a feel for these company’s predilections by looking at the variations between them. As I see it, the general rule of thumb for making one of these bikes is that it should be able to ride almost the entire bell curve of trail types, and be fun on almost everything. I think the Ripmo is the prime example of this: a bike that is raced by Ibis’s extremely competitive enduro team on the gnarliest tracks in the world, but is enjoyed almost unanimously by riders of all skill levels.
In that light, what is the Rail29? For the sake of making an informed comparison, I’ll look at it next to the Transition Sentinel, which I’ve actually sold so I can purchase one of these. For context, I’m 5’10” tall, with a 5’10” wingspan and a 30” inseam. Although I can ride size larges of most frames, I tend to prefer mediums, as was the case with both of these.
The first number a lot of people look at before riding a bike is reach, which informs how a bike’s cockpit will feel while out of the saddle, i.e. descending. The medium Sentinel has a 450mm reach, and the Rail29 a 447mm reach, which is effectively identical. That’s also the same for a number of bikes in this class, and even burlier bikes like Norco’s Range or Santa Cruz’s Megatower. A few get a centimeter or so longer, but that’s the difference between running a 32mm stem or a 40mm stem.
Another number I like to check is the effective top tube, which better tells you what a bike will feel like while seated, and is a more concrete indicator of how a bike’s cockpit will feel. The medium Rail29 actually has a 15mm longer effective top tube than the medium Sentinel, due to a slightly slacker seattube angle. Generally speaking, it’s right in the middle of most bikes of this type, and is quite close to the Ripmo, at 606mm.
Stack, which tells you how high your hands are going to sit relative to your feet, is 630mm, just like Evil’s Insurgent or Norco’s Range, and a centimeter taller than my Sentinel or Evil’s Offering. That gives it a nice, upright feeling, without having to run too many spacers under your stem. Doing that actually decreases a bike’s reach, because the handlebar moves backward along the steering axis.
The last two points I want to look at are wheelbase and headtube angle. A bike’s length, or wheelbase, is a great indicator of how playful a bike will feel, because it directly affects how it handles a corner and how maneuverable it is. The Rail29’s wheelbase measures in at 1202mm, very similar to Evil’s Offering, which is 1205mm long. That’s in comparison to the Sentinel’s wheelbase of 1233mm, or the Range, the most DH-like bike that I’ve mentioned, at 1243mm. Revel achieved that measurement by using a 65 degree headtube angle, as opposed to the slacker 63.5 degree head angle of those two bikes, or the Offering’s steeper 66.4 degree head angle.
There’s a few other dimensions that you can compare to your own bike to give you an idea of how this might fit in comparison: things like chainstay length, bottom bracket height, and seattube angle. For the sake of this review, I’ll just say that the Rail29 has settled into a nice middle ground as compared to many of the other bikes in this category.
Before I talk about how this bike rides, I want to touch on that magical CBF suspension that convinced Adam he’d seen the light. CBF was developed by Chris Canfield and implemented into Canfield Bikes by him and his brother, Lance, so that they could chase World Cup DH races and compete in the first four RedBull Rampage events, respectively. Many suspension designs maintain favorable amounts of anti-squat, which helps prevent pedal bob, and anti-rise, which helps prevent your suspension from either pitching you forward or locking up during braking, but they primarily do so at specific points in the travel, for example at sag. CBF’s calling card is to maintain these levels throughout a wide range of the travel. That means that whether you’re cranking through a techy climb or hard on your brakes through a chunky chute, whether your suspension is 10% of the way through it’s travel or 70% of the way through, it will stay functional and stay active, absorbing bumps and maintaining traction.
All the factors that I’ve mentioned, in combination with the Rail29’s astonishingly low weight (this bike here weighs 32 lbs), means that this is an absolute joy to ride. Let me explain what I mean.
Climbing on the Rail29
The Rail29, like all of Revel’s bikes, climbs exceptionally well. A comfortable, fairly upright position, due to the high-ish stack height and appropriately stretched out top tube, keeps my upper body from doing the dance that some bikes with really steep seat angles and short cockpits get. The suspension stays very active over bumps, which makes techy climbs, even when you’re out of the saddle, feel smooth and relatively easy.
Descending on the Rail29
You could argue that climbing is of secondary importance on a six-inch travel bike like this, so let’s talk about descending. You may have got it into your head that a bike with anything more than a 64 degree head angle can’t go down hills. Well, let me tell you that that’s simply not the case. In fact my old Iron Horse Sunday, a DH bike that Sam Hill took to multiple world cup wins, had a 65 degree head angle. Suffice it to say, the Rail29’s head angle is hardly a limiting factor, and in fact helps make this bike more fun than anything but Evil’s Offering on flowier trails.
The Rail29, with its fairly neutral wheelbase and light weight, is a breeze to throw around tight berms and weird, tight corners, and doesn’t require some of the front wheel stoppie shenanigans that extremely long bikes require on switchbacks.
At this point you might be thinking “oh, this is a trail bike masquerading as an Enduro bike,” but that’s not right either. The CBF not only works wonders while pedaling uphill, but it feels like a cushion over rough terrain, smoothing out bumps and keeping that rear wheel on the ground so it can do its job of maintaining traction. In tandem with the big, stiff ZEB we’ve got on here, this is a bike that is comfortable at least at the speed limits that I’m willing to take it to. Any limitations from a slightly shorter wheelbase are mitigated by a rear wheel that doesn’t buck you and bounce you around, and makes chunky, high speed bumps feel smooth. That same wheelbase makes it easier to have fun on the bike by changing directions on a whim and getting the bike off the ground.
Verdict - I Love This Bike!
I’ve already told you I sold my Sentinel to buy this bike, so you know I like it, but let me further explain my thinking. When I had the Sentinel, I also owned an Evil Following, which I actually rode around 70% of the time. Although the Sentinel can be fun on any trail, a majority of the time, my much lighter, snappier Following resulted in even more fun.
But when I get down to it, owning two mountain bikes is a little ridiculous. So in selling them both, I wanted something that could still hang on the nastiest of trails, but that would err just a hair more on the side of fun/snappy/and playful. And that’s where the Rail29 excels.
So far I’ve taken it on a 46 mile ride with 5700’ of climbing, I’ve done some freeride on it, and I’ve hit all types of trails, from easy to hard, chunky to flowy, slow to blisteringly fast, and it’s an absolute blast on all of them. And for me, having one bike that brings a smile to my face no matter the occasion is all I could ask for.
Happy trails - Dan P.
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