At A Glance
Ragley have been through a few changes behind the scenes in recent years, but at their core has always been the desire to make hardtails of a very British persuasion. Originally from Yorkshire and the brainchild of Brant Richards, they were some of the original “hardcore hardtails”. Times have moved on, people and locations have changed (they’re now based in Belfast), but the bikes remain.Buy Hard Tails on
2016 sees all the familiar names and models, although with some tweaks to bring them bang up-to-date. This issue we have the large wheeled Big Wig, which sits somewhat apart from the other bikes in the range as the only 29er. That said, a quick look at the numbers show that it shares more than a little DNA with its smaller sibling, the Piglet. The 130mm Yari Fork suggests that the Big Wig might like to be pushed hard, and along with a dropper post and some decent rubber, the overall package looks good.
760mm bars and 50mm stem show this is definitely more towards the hardcore category of hardtails. Shimano take care of brakes in the form of SLX units, and the same is found on the drivetrain. Wheels are WTB Novatec combos, and various Nukeproof and Ragley parts finish the build.
A 130mm steel hardtail could be many things, but the pedigree of Ragley would mean one would expect to be going playing in the woods, rather than smashing out fire road climbs on this machine. The numbers do give it away; a 65-degree static head angle is the first clue, followed by short 435mm chainstays and a low bottom bracket which puts your feet at the same height as the Piglet which has smaller wheels!
The idea behind this height is that it gives a position similar to a sagged full suspension bike, and the lower stature keeps things stable. The frame is made from custom triple butted 4130 Chromoly steel and features plenty of modern touches, including ISCG tabs, a 44mm headtube and bolt-through rear end (not Boost). External cable routing keeps things simple and the welding is neat and tidy. There are some very nice details in the dropouts and the chainstays, which give the frame a sophisticated look and I’m always a sucker for a metal headtube badge.
On The Trail
I really wasn't sure what type of character the Big Wig would have. I initially had lined it up for another tester who has a slight preference for causing himself pain on a bike, and thought this might make him smile a bit more. However, it ended up in my size, and with my bias towards plummeting down the steep stuff, I wasn't sure how we would get on.
During my first ride I spent a lot of time re-learning how to use a front mech, which may sound daft, I can be a bit slow, but my left thumb has long since forgotten what to do other than drop my seat. In an age, which sees SRAM publicly announcing the demise of the front mech, it seems odd to see entire Ragley range geared up with 20 speed, especially given the nature of these bikes.
Gearing aside, the Big Wig climbs as well as you would expect from a steel hardtail with some decent tyres, WTB Vigilante and Trailboss, and whilst it won't set your Strava records alight, it's quick and comfortable, with the gentle compliance of the chromo frame. Quickly forgetting the wheel size, uphill switchbacks were negotiated with ease, and everything felt planted and stable.
A few pedal strikes were noticeable due to the low bottom bracket, but I quickly got used to this and it was rarely much of a problem. The riding position is not overly roomy, and with a 50mm stem, it could perhaps do with a little more breathing space in the top tube for taller riders, currently they go up to size large which is 20” in old money, I usually fit into the extra large bracket when it comes to bike size.
I found it quite tricky at first to dial into the true nature of this bike, however, give it a bit of speed and some flowing trails and it suddenly starts to come alive. The low-slung bottom bracket gives a ton of confidence in the turns, and the short back end snaps out of corners with a satisfying burst of pace. Probably the most notable thing about the Big Wig was how easy it was to ride, the handling and feel is very predictable, but by no means dull and pedestrian.
It's the sort of bike you can instantly get on with, the position being quite neutral by modern standards, not super slack, not super long, just a quality trail bike that makes your life easy. When things got steeper, that low bottom bracket again kept things stable and the Yari fork is getting very close to the performance levels of a Pike. The 35mm stanchions keep the front solid, and although they've 'only' got 130mm of travel, they did a great job of smoothing out the trail and not giving up too much travel too soon.
Being used to longer travel forks, I found the front end a little low, and ran the Yari with perhaps a little more pressure to keep it high. I also swapped out the bars for something with a little higher rise and 20mm wider, which brought my bar height up to something I was happy with. This little tweak sorted out my fore-aft balance and gave me a lot more confidence when the trail turned steep.
With the cockpit sorted for my personal preference, I slammed the seat and went looking for some trails to put a smile on my face, no, make that a massive grin. The local trails in the woods had been drying out and loamy conditions had returned. Carving deep and steep turns usually reserved for the full enduro crowd was immense fun, especially confusing other riders by happily riding trails on a 130mm hardtail.
Tight twisty and off-camber trails really bring out the best in this bike, as do trail centres. Rather than being over-biked on the lastest carbon mega-machine, the Big Wig forced me to keep sharp whilst still allowing me to push hard and pump every inch of the trail. Now a hardtail can do a lot, but there are always drawbacks, and rock gardens and rough trails are probably top of the list. The 29-inch wheels smooth a lot out, as does the Yari, yet rough climbs or descents can make for hard work, it's all still possible, but takes a bit more effort.
I did make one modification during the course of the test, I dropped the double set up in favour of a single 30t ring at the front. This allowed me to move the slightly awkwardly positioned dropper post lever into a more comfortable place and forget all about left-hand shifting. The 30t chainring with the 36t cassette has given me enough gears for all but the steepest climbs and I imagine this would be a popular and cost-effective modification to most Ragley buyers.
A 130mm hardtail could be many different things, fork travel and wheel size these days certainly does not define a bike. I sometimes feel sorry for 29ers, as they don't always get a look in with their long travel forked 650b relations, and are expected to remain on XC duty. Although not adorned with a huge, long travel fork, it can still cut it as an aggressive trail bike, and whilst not being the fastest up the hills, it's certainly no slouch.
Rather than trying to be one thing, it occupies that middle ground in a Swiss Army Knife style. This is truly a bike, which can do it all, obviously with a few compromises here and there, but always airing on the side of skids and wheelies. Swinging your leg over a hardtail always sharpens up your skills, and for many this will be more than enough bike for nearly all their riding. It's incredibly capable and though it might not be able to compete with the hooligan hardtails or XC machines out there on the market, it's happy not to be too niche and will give everything a go. All in all, the Big Wig is a very impressive do-it-all hardtail.
This review was in Issue 41 of IMB.For more information visit Ragley Bikes
By Ewen TurnerEwen Turner is a self-confessed bike geek from Kendal in the Lake District of England. He runs a coaching and guiding business up there and has a plethora of knowledge about bikes with an analytical approach to testing. His passion for bicycles is infectious, and he’s a ripper on the trails who prefers to fit his working life around his time on the bike.