First Impressions: Revel Rail 29
A more civilized approach to the long-travel 29er
-155mm rear travel, 160 front
-Sold consumer-direct and in a small number of dealers
-Excellent bump absorption without excessive travel
-Calm but supple climber
-Some spec customization available
-Not the monster truck that other enduro 29ers are
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Anyone shopping for a bike right now understands the value of being patient. It’s not easy, but if you think about it, waiting can have its perks. Sometimes that feeling of anticipation actually does us good. I mean, The Proclaimers probably never opened a show with, “I Wanna Be [500 Miles].” I bet they would build up to that. Maybe you’d hear “I’m On My Way” to get things moving, but you gotta give it at least six or seven songs before dropping the real banger. Or, if you’re Revel Bikes, you give it three years. The long-travel Rail 29 is the bike many of us have been waiting for since March of 2019 when Revel launched with the mid-travel 29-inch Rascal and long-travel 27.5-inch Rail. Then, in June of 2020, there came the timely release of the aggressive short-travel Ranger. That was the year when my editor had me putting a dollar in a jar every time I accidentally said the word “downcountry.” But we all wanted to know when Revel would finally come out with a monstrous enduro 29er. Spoiler alert: They still haven’t.
The Rail 29 sits on 155 millimeters of rear travel and 160 up front, with Revel’s blessing to run 170 should you choose. Now, keep in mind, those are only numbers, and they don’t tell the whole story. Same goes for the 65-degree head angle, 436mm chainstay (all sizes) and 469mm reach (size large). But those numbers represent deliberate choices that Revel made. Choices to keep the Rail 29 from being the mini DH bike that so many other enduro 29ers are today. In our increasingly hair-splitting category discussions, we might call this bike more all-mountain than enduro, but of course, it’s not that simple.
The way the Rail 29 carries its moderate-for-a-big-bike travel bridges the gap between more support-focused bikes like the We Are One Arrival and the more plow-ready Transition Patrol. Now, you might be saying, “No duh! The Rail 29 is a 155mm-travel bike. The Arrival is 150 and the Patrol is 160. Of course it bridges that gap.” Unless, that is, you’re not an early millennial. In which case you’ve probably never said “No duh” in your life. Regardless, I’d actually liken the Rail 29’s suspension feel to that of the Orbea Rallon or Pivot Firebird, which are 160 and 165 bikes, respectively. It has the sort of mid-stroke that’s poised for big hits. There’s not a noticeable “floor” to it that feels like it’s always there to hold you up and keep you from bottoming out. This bike is supremely focused on traction on even the gnarliest terrain, and doesn’t reserve the bottom 10 percent of its travel for the top 1 percent of riders. There’s definitely a floor somewhere, though. I buried the o-ring on my first run, but I couldn’t tell you where or when that happened. Whatever mistake I made, there was no hard hit and no subsequent loss of control. Looking at Revel’s published leverage curve, the otherwise pretty straight progressivity levels off late in the stroke, helping nudge you into that last bit of travel, but resisting putting you past it. Still, my test bike had only one standard volume spacer installed, leaving plenty of room for anyone who might want that ramp-up to happen a little sooner, whether it’s for bigger hits or more pop. In fact, that may be the way I’d opt to set up the Rail 29, but we only had one day together while I was at the Sedona Mountain Bike Festival. And as it turned out, the local terrain taught me more about this bike’s aptitudes than my Southern California home trails could have.
Right out of the gate, we descended a town trail called Brewer. Like many of Sedona’s descents, Brewer is full of surprises. There are tight corners that may or may not feature a sub-optimal boulder placement somewhere at or after the apex. And without fail, this comes up while you’re busy negotiating the characteristically shelfy straightaways and off-camber slabs that Sedona is known for. But unlike many Sedona descents, Brewer includes several relatively steep sections, offering all the speed you want as long as you can stay upright. And with a local who I tried (and usually failed) to keep up with, that meant just enough speed to get me into trouble. I suppose that, if I knew this trail as well as I know my own trails, I could pour right down it on any bike I wanted. But when learning it on-sight, the ingredients that make up the Revel 29 were probably what kept me from being That Guy; the out-of-towner who goes down on his first run. Those ingredients include the rather moderate wheelbase and head angle. On the mostly straight and steep trails I seek out at home, that’s not what I look for in a long-travel 29er. But in the particular combination of twist and tech that I was facing in Sedona, it’s a perfect combination. It offers the sort of maneuverability that isn’t necessarily about sliding and jumping whenever you get the urge. It’s about following the optimal line around corners and around obstacles, carrying speed and holding traction.
And that traction carries through on the climbs as well. That may be the main reason I was so eagerly awaiting a long-travel 29er from Revel. The first brand to license the dual-short-link CBF linkage design from Canfield, Revel makes bikes that, at any torque, at any angle, and on any terrain, keep your body’s mass moving straight forward as you pedal. But being a long-travel 29er, it does it better than any other platform can. The 27.5-inch Rail does a great job at chunky climbs—for a 27.5-inch bike. The relatively short-travel Rascal and Ranger do a great job at chunky climbs—for bikes with relatively short travel. The Rail 29 is naturally better suited for them than any of Revel’s other bikes, and like its aptitude for twisty descents, Sedona was a great place to test this. On the undulating, energy-sucking chop of Skywalker trail, I was able to stay on the gas far better than I could on my personal shorter-travel Horst-Link-suspended bike when I rode it on the same trail the following day. And when I managed to find some precious smooth dirt, the Rail 29 wouldn’t bob under pedaling force. That said, it wouldn’t make up for any of the bad habits I sometimes fall into now that I’ve switched to flat pedals. CBF defaults to being active, not supportive. When pedaling squares, the drivetrain won’t keep it from sagging. But if I kept my body weight level while I ramped up the torque, I could watch as the suspension sat in calm indifference, waiting for the bumps. Bumps which, this being Sedona, inevitably came. It also helps that the Rail 29 sits high in its travel despite the slack-for-2022 76-degree effective seat tube angle, but that’s nothing that slamming the rails can’t fix, stopping at the MAX safety line, of course.
I rode the $8,300 X01 Eagle kit, making any discussion of value rather tricky. That does get you Revel’s U.S.-made R30 rims. They offer a ride quality once impossible on carbon rims, a warranty we’ve now come to expect from them, and the unique capability to be recycled if you need to take advantage of that warranty. Being a fan of both Shimano and Fox, though, I’d say the $7,300 XT build is a better buy. You don’t get the carbon rims, but you do get a smartly chosen Crankbrothers Synthesis Alloy Industry 9 wheels. And if you really want Revel’s wheels, you can opt for them at checkout for an upcharge. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the dropper, and I had to make do with the 175mm post on my XL test bike when Race Face offers a 200. I never miss a chance to point out my dropper-post peeves, but I’ll admit that Revel’s not alone in this practice. And they did make a few quality-of-life improvements to the Rail, including a Universal Derailleur Hangar, easier-to-service single-sided disassembly of all frame pivots, and sizing that goes down to a small.
The introduction of the Rail 29 is a promising move for the still-young brand. It’s the second time since they launched that they released a fundamentally new model, which is no easy feat, especially now. It’s also an interesting move to have called it the Rail 29 instead of thinking up an entirely new R word for it. The implications are that Revel will continue to have a 27.5-inch Rail in their lineup. Even though this new take on the Rail doesn’t feature major shifts like a revamped silhouette or (thankfully) a high pivot, it does prove that Revel is already iterating on its own models, and it looks like they’re going to keep on doing it.
Frames and completes are expected to be available in spring of 2022 at dealers and at revelbikes.com
Photos: Anthony Smith
The Rail 29 starts at $6,000, with a DVO Diamond fork, RockShox Super Deluxe Select rear shock, GX drivetrain and Crank Brothers Synthesis Alloy rims wheels with Industry 9 1/1 hubs. Really, there’s nothing on this build that will function like it was chosen to meet a price point aside from maybe the SRAM Code R brakes. For the (insert extremely well-paid profession here) out there who are probably most likely to be buying a Revel, the XT build will probably be the sweet spot value-wise, but for the rest of us who are ready to scrape up every last penny and borrow the rest to get into a Revel, they will not be disappointed in this GX option.