EWR OWB29er: How it Rides

karl wheelie rockHow’s it ride? That’s usually the first question somebody ask when they spy me riding a test bike for Dirt Rag. An innocent sounding question, but not an easy one to answer.

Describing how a bike rides is a subjective exercise. Many variables come into play. Not the least of which are: riding style, type of trails ridden, intended use of the bike (design), component mix, and bike set-up. Sprinkle in biases and limiting factors such as: rider skill level, rider fitness and the rider’s preferences—and the wicket becomes rather sticky.

Yep, bike testing is a tough job, but that’s why we get paid the big bucks. In an effort to try and earn my keep, I’m here to talk about how the EWR Bikes OWB29er rides. To properly evaluate a bike, one first needs to understand what the bike was designed to do. To that end, I asked Jay de Jesus of EWR Bikes about his design goals for the OWB29er.

Karl Rosengarth: Talk a bit about how the frame’s key geometry numbers combine with the new-generation (offset) 29er forks to produce the handling characteristics you desire.

Jay de Jesus: I’ve always preferred a long front/short rear end since my first EWR frame in 1991—very BMX oriented, efficient and really fun to ride for everything. Wheelie monster, steer off the rear wheel, absorb big landings. In the new generation of my designs, I’d learned the importance of a relatively slackened head angle (for instance my original 26″ frames were 72 degrees and current ones are 69 degrees) in relation to the head tube height, BB height, front end length and overall cockpit. My new designs have a slightly longer front center, a taller head tube and a slightly more slack head angle to the norm. It is my philosophy to steer the bike either off of the rear wheel or by leaning in and pinning it at speed. The 70.75 degree head angle is designed around the new fork offset of 46mm, we are able to achieve a frame that can be nimble and precise at trail-riding pace plus stable and comfortably flick-able at speed. This is a combination of head angle, seat angle, BB height, front center and cockpit height.

KR: Did you design the OWB29er to handle differently than most other 29ers, and if so, in what respect?

JdJ: I designed it for balance. Our bikes wheelie, manual, climb, accelerate and descend very well—those are not traits that riders generally associate 29ers with.  I firmly believe that we have the best handling frame out there, which is why we label it as the “World’s Most Versatile Hardtail.”

karl log hopSounds great, let’s ride! Fortunately, my local trails are chock full of technical features and tight handling challenges—perfect for putting the OWB29er through it paces. In fact, Hartwood park, right out of the Dirt Rag backdoor, is all that and more. It even offers great photo opportunities, with rocks to drop and logs to hop .

One of the reasons that I scored the assignment to test the OWB29er is that one of my personal bikes is a first-generation EWR, so I’m familiar with the signature EWR handling characteristics. I have a frame of reference. I was already used to “steering off the rear wheel,” as Jay describes it. The OWB29er makes it easy to weight the rear wheel, which lightens up the front, enabling the rider to either flick or float the front end through turns—while keeping power to the rear wheel. The technique is similar to riding on the loose, decomposed granite of the western states, where the trick is shifting your weight rearward and letting the front wheel drift through turns. I call it “unicycling” through a turn. It’s the opposite of railing a tacky bermed turn, where you’d crouch forward to weight the front end and use it to carve your way through the berm. I don’t have the skills required to ride manuals, but the bike inspires confidence on the rear wheel, making wheelie drops flow naturally. If you like to pop wheelies, pull manuals or ride the rear wheel, I think you’ll like the way this bike handles.

Speaking of handling, over the course of this test I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with the handling of the OWB29er. In tight, twisty singletrack I find the OWB29er retains the flickability of the heritage EWR design, but toned down a bit (as Jay pointed out). The original EWR front end was a bit steep, which could make handling a bit sketchy at times. I put a “longer-travel than it was designed for” suspension fork on my old-school EWR to tone down the “twitch” a bit. Fortunately, the feeling at the handlebars on the new-generation OWB29er is snappy, but far from twitchy.

karl rock dropSometimes you have to get a bit “uncomfortable” to calibrate your thinking. I decided that “pushing my limits” a bit would be a good way to also test the bike’s limits. During my test rides, including the aforementioned photo-shoot in Hartwood, I’ve sought out technical obstacles. One such obstacle is a downed log, taller than the bottom bracket, and just about at the limit of my log-hopping ability. I repeatedly sessioned it on the OWB29er, with some runs being smoother than others, but feeling confident in the bike’s ability to propel me up and over my nemesis.

Same goes for the big rock on the “Heebie Jeebie” downhill that you can either straight launch off, or pull up and wheelie off. As I sessioned the rock for the camera, not only was I  having great time, but I was also feeling comfortably at home on the bike. As I climbed back the trail, up onto the rock, I realized how nicely this bike pops onto, and over, big ole obstacles. I also had great fun hitting the many “log piles” in the park—up and over, lickety split.

Is the OWB29er “the world’s’ most versatile hardtail”? I’m not qualified to answer that question, but so far the  bike has responded well to everything that I’ve been able to dish out. Stay tuned.

For more info on my EWR OWB29er testing experience, check out Part 1 and Part 2 in this series. In the video below I do my best to put the OWB29er through its paces on some technical trail features (gimme a break, I’m an old fart with mediocre technical stills).