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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


First, let me be clear: I’ve ridden the hell out of this bike. About 2,500 miles now since purchasing it in the fall of 2014. So this review isn’t just based on a day-long demo or ride around the block.

As advertised, the Crave is an affordable (retails for about $1,600) option for someone getting into cross-country racing who doesn’t want to pay $7,000+ for a carbon-fiber race bike. What’s surprising is all the other things this bike can do. Like ripping tight corners on single track, long-distance gravel grinders, dancing through rock gardens and bike packing the entirety of the Colorado Trail.


My first impression of riding the Specialized Crave was that it makes me feel like a ninja. For a large-wheeled bike, it is remarkably agile and maneuverable. Without getting into the geometry lesson, the design of this frame is dialed and honed to perfection from decades of mountain bike evolution. Sure, you have to ride it more like a ballerina and less like a bull – but that goes for most hard tails. Dancing over the rocks on this bike has honed my technical skills, and I feel like I’ve grown as a rider because of it. I now clear technical climbs that I never could before.

The Crave provides the pedaling efficiency, mountain goat climbing, and stand-and-deliver acceleration you love from a hard tail, but still rolls remarkably well over large rocks and steps. I was recently tickled when some riders on six-inch travel enduro bikes did a double take at me as I was keeping pace with them on the rocky downhills of Sedona’s Highline trail. But this bike really shines on smoother single-track and dirt roads.

The Shimano disc brakes, SRAM X5/Shimano SLX 2X10 drive train, stock seat post and handle bars are all solid performers on this bike. I even kept the Specialized Body Geometry saddle and now prefer it.

Recommended upgrades, if you can find a good deal on parts (no use sinking a ton of money into a bike that isn’t worth much) would be to the tires, wheels and fork lockout. The stock remote lockout on the Rockshox Recon fork was nice while it lasted, but stopped working after about thousand miles. My mechanics were unable to repair it, so I just took it off and pumped up the fork firm for increased pedaling efficiency.

I’m afraid the Specialized Stout wheels and hubs don’t quite live up to the name. They are a nice compromise between lightweight, affordability and strength – but they are not bomb proof. Early on, I came around a corner and had to ride over a sharp rock because a guy was resting with his legs outstretched into the middle of the trail. It pinch flatted and put a nice dent in the rim. My mechanic was able to bend it back into tubeless functionality, but after bike packing the Colorado Trail, the rear hub came loose internally and started rattling. Specialized was kind enough to send me a new wheel assembly under warranty complete with hub, tire, tube, rotor and cassette (hurray for spare parts!), but the replacement wheel had a 9-speed cassette for a 10-speed bike and was bored for a Schrader valve (boo).

Despite the wheel setbacks, my Crave is currently set up for tubeless and is rolling as fast as ever. I’m currently experimenting with a 2.3 inch Specialized Slaughter tire in the back, and a 2.3 Specialized Butcher in the front (review to come) – in the hopes that a wider tire will better protect the rim. I’m also on the lookout for a set of used or take-off 29 inch race wheels. Lastly, I’m looking into upgrading to a 1×11 drivetrain.

I have also had to replace the chain, cassette, cables and brake pads, but I would definitely attribute that to normal wear and tear. Also had an issue where the headset started coming loose, and a mechanic had to install another spacer (worked fine ever since). The right crank occasionally has to be re-tightened. I like to think it just can’t handle the raw power of my pedal stroke.

I’ve ridden this bike hard, and used it in ways that were probably never intended by the designer. But like a scrappy underdog, it keeps fighting the trail and never letting me down. I’d recommend it for anyone on a tight budget that rides smoother terrain and wants to up their cross-country riding game to the next level.

For more information, go to