I was asked to try out the Wilier 101 XN 29er to give my impressions of the bike. What an honour? There are worse jobs. I have a Wilier Cento Uno (101) road bike so you can imagine my fascination with this mountain bike. The day I chose was sunny and warm (believe it or not we have had one or two) but I had ridden a road race in the morning and foolishly got away in the break with 40 miles to go. I mention this as my body would be acutely sensitive to any discomfort caused by the Wilier 101 29er.
My first impression of this bike was that it had all the beauty and style that you’d expect from an Italian brand like Wilier. However, it was not here to be part of a beauty contest as it would always win that, it was here to see if the ride matched the style.
The bike was vey light (10.5kg) and took off immediately with no 29er lag that can come from a heavier bike. The fit was good for me as I like a low front and the short head tube helped here. It arrived with 660mm bars and a 100mm stem, very unusual for a 29er (in Britain). I fitted an 80mm stem and a flat 710mm USE carbon bar. The cockpit felt great and I was off.
I took the bike up to the most challenging down hill round here (of course that meant a lot of XC riding to get there). The slope is steep with very varied terrain from riding on narrow ridges to bumpy gullies and berms. The bike felt at ease as did I despite the lack of fork. I hadn’t checked but the fork was only 80mm! On several occasions I found myself balanced on the front wheel with the Rock Shox SID bottomed out. It is a testament to the handling of the bike (and fork) that I never felt out of control despite pushing the bike to its (my) limits (a better rider’s boundaries will be higher).
The climb following this descent was equally inspiring. It was the first time that I had tackled this ascent on a 29er and I easily cleaned the first section, normally impassable on a 26in due to the horse trail damage caused by hooves in mud. Don’t try this DH (Kithurst) until it dries out!
My overall conclusion was that the frame was very stiff and aimed at racers. For this purpose it was perfect and not unduly uncomfortable. I would prefer 100mm travel as a 29er encourages so much more downhill speed than a 26inch bike. The head tube is so short that a longer fork could be accommodated. The geometry is steep but not overly so despite the short fork and the 650mm BB to front axle. This was the shortest that I had ridden but it didn’t feel too twitchy and I wasn’t frightened of losing the front wheel.
Although this is aimed at racers with “Racing Division” logos all over the bike it would suit any one that likes a fast ride. To appeal to the men with the money I feel that it would need a 100mm fork to make it successful within the UK. Most forks these days can be reduced or lengthened.
Compared with the Whyte it is a different bike. Having ridden so many 29ers now I would say that the Whyte is very much a trail machine although, as you know, you could have two riders both hammering the same trails and having fun on both bikes.
The next bike that I rode was the Kinesis FF29 which had a 120mm fork. Surprisingly, it felt almost the same as the Wilier in every way with the added advantage that it had a fork to match its speed. They both felt very quick and racy, the Kinesis is supposed to feel like a 26inch and it does. On the steeps initially I preferred the Wilier but only because I was expecting the FF29 to feel like the Whytes. However, since then I have ridden the Kinesis with a Manitou Tower Pro fork which has a 48mm fork offset. The extra 10mm BB to front axle suits the bike better than the Fox fork and I now find that the Kinesis is the perfect combination of XC speed and trail riding zip.
When I sent this report of the 101 XN 29er to ATB Sales, importers of Wilier, Marin and designers of Whyte I added this: “If you want a home for it. I’ll have it!” But, too late now, I have my Kinesis FF29.