Ragley is a hardtail brand through and through. With tweaks to both geometry and sizing, we took the updated Big Wig Race for a spin.
For 2023, Ragley has made some minor modifications to the Big Wig platform. It’s still a hard-hitting 29er trail bike with a robust 4130 steel frame, but the angles and fit have been tweaked to eke out those final few percentage points of performance.
Need to know
- 4130 cro-mo frame tubing
- Updated geometry and sizing
- 29in wheels on all three frame sizes
- Designed around 140-160mm travel forks
- External cable routing makes swapping in parts super easy
- Shimano SLX/XT drivetrain on Race level build
- Nukeproof wheels with Maxxis EXO+ casing tyres
- Well priced frame only option
Currently the new format is only available as a frame only, as Ragley still has 2022 versions of the Big Wig to shift before the new frame geometry is rolled out across the range. As such, our Big Wig Race test bike was a mix of old and new: the build kit is similar to the 2022 build for £2,499.99, the frame is brand new and available for £549.99.
Hopefully Ragley can hold complete build prices where they are at when the new frame finally rolls out to the bike range later this year.
So what exactly has changed? Well, on the size L the head angle has been slackened by 1º to 63.1º and the reach measurement has grown by 25mm to 470mm (160mm fork). Not a wholesale shift in attitude then, but taken together the front centre measurement on the size L has jumped up to 824mm. Which is pretty rangy for a hardtail and up there with the Whyte 629
And those aren’t the only tweaks. Ragley has also lopped 30mm off the seat tube height to improve compatibility with longer stroke dropper post and steepened the seat tube angle by one full degree.
Now, given that the chainstay length and kinked seat tube still allow for a relatively short 433mm rear end, the weight distribution, at least when applied through your feet, has been shifted rearward on the new Big Wig Race. Great for steep, bum-on-the-back-tyre descents, but surprisingly, it also seems to work really well on flatter trails, as you tend to lean over the front and ride the fork more on a hardtail than on a full suspension bike. In fact, that’s exactly where I found the revised geometry really beneficial.
Not that I want a 160mm travel fork on any hardtail. And the reason is simple. More fork travel on a hardtail leads to bigger swings in the dynamic geometry of the bike. Basically, the chassis pivots around the rear axle more than with a shorter travel fork, and you need to shift your body position accordingly to balance the weight distribution and ultimately traction. Which in turn requires more energy input from the rider and more thought.
How it rides
Now, I’m not shy about saying it…I’m a lazy rider, so I prefer to stay more centred on the bike. As such I ran the 160mm travel fork with more pressure than recommended, just so the red o-ring on the black anodised upper leg of the RockShox Lyrik fork never ventured into the last 30mm of travel.
Running the fork higher in its travel also prevents the reach from increasing too much as the fork sags, because as I’ve already mentioned, the size L Big Wig is a rangy bike with a massive 645mm top tube and 470mm static reach measurement. I’d even say it’s slightly too big for me, as I found it more difficult to get my weight back on really steep, tech descents, even though I regularly ride full suspension bikes with 480mm, and above, reach numbers.
Not that you should compare full suspension bike geometry with hardtails. In fact, I really like that Ragley hasn’t made the seat tube angle super steep on the new Big Wig. At a saddle height of 740mm I measured the effective seat tube angle at 74.1º, which is roughly three degrees slacker than most modern full suspension bikes. This is a bonus though, as it allows for more flex and comfort from the seat tube, because when the seat tube is too upright, it makes the saddle feel like a whacker plate that’s constantly compressing your spine.
Making the seat tube angle too steep is a surprisingly common mistake on hardcore hardtails, as brands tend to copy the numbers straight from their full suspension trail bikes, ignoring two key points. The first one is that you always run more shock sag than fork sag on a full suspension bike, so the dynamic seat tube angle is always slacker than claimed. Secondly, hardtails only rotate forward as the fork compresses, so the resulting dynamic seat tube angle is always steeper than claimed. It’s the exact same reason why all hardtails need slacker head angles than full suspension bikes. And at 63.1º Ragley has nailed that too.
Sure, I noted a bit of steering flop when I stood up to sprint, but on steeper steady state climbs the bike behaves impeccably, even with the short back end. The 29in rear wheel offers better traction and rollover that a 27.5in wheel with the same 2.4in Minion DHR II, even if it’s not as comfortable as a Plus size tyre on any wheel size.
Shifting with the Shimano drivetrain felt seamless too, and even in the 51t cog I never experienced any of the grinding sounds you often get with Shimano’s 12 speed setups. Drop into a steep descent and the ability to dump two gears at a time with the XT shifter pod is a real boon if you are running flat pedals as you need the lower cadence and the resistance of the taller gears to help keep your shoes locked firmly to the pedal pins.
Another really cool thing about the Ragley is that all of the cables, bar the final portion of the dropper post cable, are routed externally. So swapping, bleeding or cutting down a rear brake hose is super easy. Handy too for anyone embarking on a frame build.
The real advantage of the external cable routing though is that there is zero cable rattle. Given all the external cable clamps, Ragley has missed a trick by not fitting a tool roll/inner tube mount. Also while I couldn’t detect any cable rattle or chain slap, there was a constant rattle emanating from the front end of the bike. I’m not sure if it was coming from the fork internals, brake pads or the front hub, but it was a constant distraction from an otherwise blissfully quiet ride.
Actually, it wasn’t always quiet, as I’d grunt and groan regularly as I slammed into braking bumps or got rattled by some big old roots. Now, let me be crystal clear here. The jarring that would knock the wind out of me wasn’t any worse than on any other 29er hardtail I’ve tested. And even with its steel frame construction, the Big Wig wasn’t really that much better at soaking up the hits either. And that’s the real rub here; having increased fork travel and making the geometry really progressive on hardtails allows you to ride faster which also means more of a beating for the ride.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that steel as a material doesn’t have inherently superior damping characteristics to aluminium. It’s just that the difference isn’t as pronounced as fitting fatter tyres or, dare I say it, riding a bike with rear suspension.
And when you’re talking about £2.5k for a hardtail that weighs 14.9kg, a full suspension bike is a genuine alternative, and one that does not carry a weight penalty. The Vitus Mythique and Canyon Neuron are both 15kg or under and will be faster, more capable, more comfortable and more fun on a wider variety of trails than any hardtail, regardless of frame material, tyre size or frame geometry.
But hey, if you fancy a hardcore hardtail like the Ragley Big Wig, go for it. It’s a great option, just don’t try to convince yourself or anyone else that it’s better than a modern full suspension bike.
If you're a hardtail purist the steel Big Wig Race is a great hardcore option, especially if you build one up from a bare frame. However, if you've got £2.5k to spend, there are now some more capable and comfortable full suspension options that may well be worth considering.