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A blind leap into the future of mountain biking

By Reid Wright


Pigs don’t fly, but my 29-plus Kokopelli Warthog certainly does. This is the fastest, most sure-footed, burly and versatile hardtail I’ve ever ridden. But it took a big leap of faith and a lot of mad science to build it.


I knew the 29-plus Warthog would have superior stability and traction. What I didn’t know was how fast it would be. I was fortunate enough to have this one built by Kokopelli’s mechanical mastermind Pete Eschillier. I took it out for a first test run on our local play loops hoping for a personal record. The bike hadn’t even been dialed in yet, and I wasn’t used to it. I was astonished to finish with top-ten times on five different Strava segments.

That’ll do nicely Pete.

My whole life, I’ve waited for 3-inch-wide tire mountain bikes to become commercially available, but the first models were rigid-forked and a little on the heavy side. 2016 saw an explosion in exciting new models with suspension. And while mountain bike publications and well-respected bike gurus see the “plus-sized” trend as a passing fad, or something for beginner riders – I know in my gut it is the future of mountain biking.


You’ve probably heard about plus-sized tires improved traction on loose surfaces, corners and climbs. The larger tires also roll over obstacles better and carry more momentum. While no substitute for shock absorbers, the plus-sized tires do take the edge of small bumps. With the larger wheel diameter, I feel like I ride with a lower wheel RPM and pedal cadence, but the overall speed is improved. Also finding myself standing on the pedals more to crush the climbs.

Long have I lusted after Kokopelli Bike Co’s titanium models, but was unable to afford a new frame and premium build. They are ahead of the game, and have been offering a 29-plus Warthog model for a few years now. So when a friend was selling a used Warthog frame, I jumped on the opportunity – even though the frame was a little smaller than what I usually ride. I told myself that the smaller frame would compensate for the larger wheels. When I sat on a fully-built Warthog of the same size, I knew I could make it fit. So I bought the used frame for about half the cost of a new one.

But I’d never actually ridden one.


Building a bike from the frame up for the first time is kind of like losing your virginity – you think the parts will fit together and be compatible, but there’s always a shadow of a doubt haunting you. So you do some research from sketchy sources online, but walk away with more questions than answers. And no matter the research, you wind up making a few mistakes.

I knew the fork would be the biggest challenge. Although 29-plus wheels have been out for a few years now, there are still remarkably few choices for suspension forks. The Manitou Magnum is the only commercially marketed fork (that I could find) that is specifically designed for the 29-plus wheel size, but it was a little pricy ($680 and up), has a puzzle-like through-axel and consumers complained online about not being able to get the full range of travel. I’ve read that some Fox forks – such as the Float 34 27.5 plus model – could accommodate a 29-plus wheel, but a new one is cost prohibitive for me at $880.

So I settled on the Rockshox Reba RL 27.5 plus model ($550 and up), which is a solid performer for the money and allows about a half-inch of mud clearance on a 29-plus tire. I went with a 120 mm travel fork, because I occasionally like to ride the big-rock trails of Sedona and Moab. With the massive wheels, I could have gotten away with 110 or 100 mms of travel, as the front end of my bike does tend to to be hard to keep on the ground on steep climbs. This particular fork is “boost” compatible, and I did have to have my wheel rebuilt with new spokes around a wider hub (thanks Eli, the red nipples are sick).


Finding a fork with good clearance is a challenge for 29 plus wheels.

Next came the hoops. Again there were remarkably few options on the market. Believing wider is better, I went with used pair of Velocity Dually aluminum wheels – opting for durability over light weight. If there were more money in the budget, I would have gone with the WTB Scrapers. Other 29-plus riders tell me carbon hoops are certainly the way to go if you have the budget and want lighter weight and faster acceleration.

There are only a handful of 29-plus tires on the market right now. All my research pointed to the Bontrager Chupacabra as the best overall performer as it is lightweight and small velcro-hooked knobs. Indeed, I find this tire to be a solid performer on many terrains, with particular excellence on loose surfaces such as sand, kitty litter, gravel and loose-over-hardpack. As an aggressive rider on rocky trails, I did experience a sidewall tear and a puncture in my rear tire due to the lightweight casing – both of which were which were remedied with tape and an inner tube. Next, I’m going to try the WTB Ranger in the rear and Chubacabra up front.

For components, I went with the ever-reliable Shimano XT 1X11 cassette and derailleur, SRAM X0 bottom bracket and cranks and XT brakes. I ordered the entire XT groupset for about $500 from a sketchy German website and sweat bullets for three weeks as it shipped – wondering if I’d been ripped off. But all arrived in good working condition. The drivetrain is a solid performer and the 7 inch rotors of the XT brakes wrangle the massive wheels with butter-smooth control on descents. With the 1X11 gearing, I do occasionally wish I had another gear for range on either end, but those moments are pretty rare.

The cockpit was a challenge for me, since I have longer arms and tend to want to lean forward, but also want to sit more upright for long rides. A friend convinced me to go “full ocho” on 800 mm Raceface carbon bars, which turned out to be a good fit with my monkey arms. Despite my desire to lean forward, I went with a short stem to provide maneuverability with the big wheel. The result is a nice neutral stance.


Wings over Fruita

The long-bar short-stem combo with the dialed geometry of the frame make for fantastic maneuverability on windy trails. Despite this, I do have a more difficult time “threading the needle” or weaving through rock gardens with the larger wheels and more rotational inertia than with my standard 29er.

Lastly, due to the smaller frame, I knew needed a long-and-strong seat-post. Everyone told me to go with a Thomson, but I ordered the wrong diameter and Pete set me up with an aluminum Origin8, which has yet to let me down. I hope to try a dropper post someday soon.

In the end, the build came in at about 27 pounds, but could have been lighter with more carbon parts. The estimated cost of this particular build is $3,200. For more information on custom titanium builds, go to


War horse in pasture



By Reid Wright

Deep in the cliffs of the ratlands — among the used condoms, moonshine distilleries and skeletons of would-be bank robbers with rusty m-16s — an alien beast crawls up an impossible ledge and snarls at the scorching desert sun.

Rock racing is the latest emerging sport to pit man and machine against mother nature. The 2009 XRRA Xtreme Off-Road Racing competition in Cortez Colorado features built-from-scratch rock buggies boasts hundreds of horsepower and 44 inch tires. They range in appearance from almost normal:

Probably not a Toyota

Probably not a Toyota

To the sinister:


To the downright weird:

In a schizophrenic marriage of high-speed Baja racing and slow rock crawling, racers shred the unforgiving desert terrain on side-by-side courses for the best combined time.


The first ledge on the outside track proved to be the most challenging for drivers. Massive tires spit dust and shifted boulders until the obstacle was almost impossible by the end of the day. This resulted in metal-twisting rollovers and several slain beasts.

Sad turtle

Sad turtle

After a thrashing roll-over, instead of reaching for the hip-flask to steady trembling hands, drivers promptly floored it, jerking the steering wheel back and forth to attempt to get the beast back on it’s massive tires.They were even given a chance to climb out and try to push it over, only giving up when a fireball erupted.

Dead buggies were extricated via  Mr. Beergut with the forklift.


The survivors lined up for another dose of punishment.



Biking out at Phil’s, I blast out of the turns and pump my arms and legs through the dips. My legs are rubbery and my lungs are wheezing — not enough blood cells for this altitude.

Point and shoot — pump and pedal. Got to keep that momentum — to make the next climb.

They say momentum is also important in life — that you have to keep giving it your all to keep from sputtering out. So kids rush through high school and college, graduating as children still unaware of the complexities of the world and themselves. They quickly get swept off and wedged into a career.

Got to keep that momentum.

Then one day, they stop and realize how empty and hollow their lives are. They never really liked engineering or accounting or public administration. They rushed blindly through life — forgetting how to live.

Momentum is important, but so is direction. I worry about losing both.

I’ve returned to Cortez Colorado — the ratlands — where dreams go to die. I went to high school here, but have few fond memories of the place. Instead, I see my old classmates — many of them once brilliant and creative students — still working at Subway or the movie theater.

If ever there was a place for life to sputter out, this is it.

I’m here for an undetermined amount of time, to unload some stuff, visit with family and have some time to work on my resume and cover letters. So, I reluctantly sit down and agonize over every sentence, making little progress and hating having my entire being reduced to a single page of text.

As much as I boast about being a bum, I confess needing a job. It’s partly for the money, to pay back that loan and get off the Fed’s debt leash. I also need something for my brain to chew on — so it doesn’t eat me.

And finally, like all who are hard-wired after growing up on Disney movies and Saturday morning cartoons, I need a purpose. While I’m out Kerouacking off, there’s a real world out there with real problems. I can’t just stand by and watch.

Point and shoot — pump and pedal. Got to keep that momentum up — to make the next climb.