I was a reasonably early adapter of 29ers (for Ohio), starting back around 2006. That spring, I saw a guy on the trail with a white On One Inbred--the first 29er I'd seen in real life. I tried to meet up with him later for a demo ride, but it just never worked out. That didn't stop me from taking the plunge, though, and I built up my own 29er that summer:
1. Voodoo Dambala
A decent frame, super versatile as were most of the early 29ers (disc or rim brakes, single speed or geared). I had a Marzocchi Bomber fork on there, which was adequate. But, it just felt kind of slow and unwieldy on the trail. I blamed the 29er wheels, but I also had some medical issues going on that summer which likely played a bigger role. I sold it and went back to my Specialized Epic... for a while.
2. Redline Monocog
I wanted to give 29ers another try, and so I gave it another go with the quintessentially cheap 29er, the Monocog. I quite enjoyed this one--some combination of me feeling better, and riding a single speed bike gave it a better result than the Voodoo. The Redline was a noticeably cheap bike--thick, OS steel frame, cheap plates for braces, etc--but it still rode quite well.
I liked the Redline enough that I decided to go custom. Somewhere along the way, I sold the Redline and needed an in-between bike while waiting for the custom, so I got a...
3. Gary Fisher Rig
4. Waltworks MKI
The thing with custom bikes is, my expectations get unreasonably high. This was to be my do-it-all bike: horizontal dropouts like my Cross Check, supple steel frame, lots of useful braze ons, etc. But we had some issues with the dimensions from the build sheet, and though Walt tried to fix it, I was never quite happy. I sold it for a huge loss to some guy in Belgium.
5. Waltworks MKII
This was our try at a fix for MKI. I basically had Walt copy my Redline geometry, but make it rigid specific. Stripped down, lean and mean. But I got frustrated with the track ends, and for various other reasons I can't recall, sold it as well. I kind of regret that now; it looks like a good bike. Maybe someday I'll buy back one of my previous bikes. This would be a good candidate.
6. Salsa Dos Niner
I bought this used and got quite a bit of fun out of it. I set my record lap time at the Epic Alum (Alum P1 + P2, riding the road in between) on it, with a time of 1:27. When I sold it, the guy who bought it from me ended up breaking it at the chainstay a few weeks later, a common occurrence for Dos Niners. Moral of the story: don't buy a used Dos unless you feel lucky. Really lucky.
7. Singular Peregrine
Man, I wanted this bike. Before Singular were available in the US, I was starting a scheme where my sister-in-law's twin sister could buy this for me (she lives in England). But then they became available, and I jumped on the first one in the states. Lugs, drop bars, single speed, disc brakes... it just never all came together for me. Slow on the road (maybe due to the cheap Kenda tires), nervous off road with it's limited tires and standover height, it just didn't work for me. Maybe another case of expectations vs.reality.
8. Voodoo Dambala II
I like so many things about Voodoo--the logo, the headbadge, the steel frames, the versatility--that I tried again on this model. But I still didn't like it. The dropouts slipped, the paint chipped. I need to keep this in mind when I find a cheap Wanga 650B candidate for sale. Like right now.
9. Gunnar Rockhound
The awful green paint chipped. The seat post slipped. The head tube was ridiculously short. But this was the best riding steel mountain bike I've ever owned. Shoulda kept it!
10. On One Inbred
So many people like the Inbred, and it was so cheap, I had to try it. The ride was nothing special, the head tube was too short, and I hated the track ends. Plus, I had to buy a flippin' 180mm rotor to work on the rear end.
11. Performance Access
12. Salsa Mamasita
I can't believe I rode a 650mm top tube with a 120mm stem. My back must have been in better shape back in those days. It rode quite smoothly, which is probably due to the fact that the bonded carbon rear end was splitting from the wishbone seatstays--as the guy who bought it from me found out. I had to end up buying it back from him.
13. Salsa Selma
But that didn't turn out bad. I tried for a warranty with Salsa, being very straight with them by explaining that I wasn't the original owner. They offered me a crash replacement warranty, but I couldn't afford that/didn't want to spend that kind of money since it was right around Christmas. Can I have my bike back? "Er, we had the LBS mechanic saw the frame in half so it couldn't be used again. It's now a shop stool." I was actually OK with this, feeling resigned to the whole thing.
A few hours later, they called me back and said they would go ahead and just give me a new frame. Being untypically full of chutzpah, I asked if I could upgrade to a Selma. Sure, why not. But I just didn't enjoy the Selma--the ride wasn't as smooth, maybe because the seatstays weren't broken. But Salsa had a happy customer, and I've bought many more frames from them (Fargo, Casseroll, and Spearfish, and many forks, bars, and stems). Thank you Salsa!
14. Salsa Fargo:
Another in my series of road/cross/toury/mountain type bikes, but unlike the Peregrine above, the Fargo actually delivered. I rode many miles and many years on this one. It was a great touring bike, and pretty good mountain bike, and a great bike around town to pull the kids. Lots of smartly designed braze ons. I only sold it when I started to become more a steel bike snob, and wanted a more flexible frame--the Fargo's stiff frame is great for 30 or 40 pounds of luggage or with a trailer, but too stiff for everyday riding. Still, I kind of regret selling this one as well.
15. Kona Unit
After riding the Access, Selma, and Mamsita above, it was refreshing to get back on a steel frame. My only complaint was the bland paint. I sold it to splurge on the next bike, but I'm actually looking for another Unit of similar vintage right now.
16. Gunnar Rockhound II
17. Kona Kula
This one checked many boxes for me at time: tall head tube, rim brake options, single speed or geared, but it was much too stiff. After a brief foray into family duties, it was out the door.
18. Specialized Stumpjumper
I need to learn: aluminum is not for me.
19. OS Blackbuck
Kind of another box checker: pinch bolt EBB, skinny (not OS) steel tubes, tall headtube--the Blackbuck had a lot going for it. I had one of the first gen 2 frames around, paired with the 455mm fork, which made for an excellent handling bike. But I was never really comfortable with the looks of the thing, and then I went into a brief Ti fling.
20. Motobecane Fly Ti
This one rode nicely, but didn't seem to have a lot of character.
21. Soma Juice
I had this Juice for a long time, selling it just this summer. It was maybe the smoothest riding hardtail frame I've had, maybe due to the longish wheelbase--which made it handle a touch slowly. Too slow, I felt, so I wanted to try something shorter...
22. Surly Karate Monkey
Which was a pretty quick handler: shorter top tube and chainstays than the Juice gave it almost a 2" shorter wheelbase. I liked the way it handled, but 95mm for a headtube? Seriously? Look at all those spacers! I may get another KM someday soon, in a bigger size. Yes, it has the despised track ends, but I found with this frame I could run them all the way forward, which mitigated a lot of issues with chaintugs or wheel slip.
23. Gunnar Ruffian
You know, with the Ruffian line, Gunnar oversizes the tubing relative to the Rockhound. So even though this was the same size as my green Rockhound that rode so well, it really felt much more like my orange Rockhound above. Nothing special.
24. Canfield Nimble 9
You can read the full detail at the link, but I really didn't like the slack front end here. Too bad, because otherwise this frame had potential.
25. OS Blackbuck II
I came across a deal on another Blackbuck. Same story as above: I like the handling (ranging from the short 435mm fork to my 4" sus fork), but I'm uncomfortable with the odd appearance.
26. Singular Gryphon
Another one that rides well, but I'm looking for faster handling. This frameset is currently
I didn't quite realize I've had so many hardtail 29ers until I started putting together this post. 26 bikes: 7 aluminum, 1 Ti, and18 steel. This is why I sometimes think of my Next Bike as YASH (Yet Another Steel Hardtail). If you add in the 3 full sus 29ers I've had, that makes 29 29ers. Is that a sign I should stop here? If only I could find the perfect bike, I'm sure that would do it!
Update: Need to add details for Niner SIR9, Krampus, Razzo, and my new Chinese carbon frame