As 29ers move beyond the world of XC and into all-mountain territory, the need for burlier, high performance suspension forks has quickly become apparent. While many manufacturers work just to get their XC forks down to fighting weight, Manitou has found a way to produce a lightweight, high performance fork that is just as comfortable zooming over rocks as it is flowing over hardpack. The Manitou Minute 29er suspension fork promises to take minutes off your regular course times because it’s lighter, more responsive, and more adjustable than other forks we’ve ridden. Plus, since it’s also designed for AM riding, the Minute 29er is as rugged and durable as it is good looking.
Manitou markets this fork as 50% XC, 50% AM so this portion of the review will mostly speak to the XC weight weenies out there (though who doesn’t want a lighter bike?). On paper the Minute 29er fork weighs in at 1740 grams (the 100mm version), about 100 grams lighter than the Reba SL that came with my bike. The weight savings alone are significant but even more so when you consider the performance gains over a more XC-oriented fork like the Reba SL.
Weight savings come through a variety of design and manufacturing innovations, most notably Manitou’s proprietary MARS Air and Hollow Crown technologies. MARS Air essentially places a coil spring in series with an air chamber to provide creamy, “bottomless” travel while still taking advantage of lower weights and the adjustability of an air spring. Hollow Crown is exactly what it sounds like: Manitou has developed a process to remove unnecessary material from the Minute 29er crown while maintaining strength and durability. The crown is integrated into the one-piece casting and is made from lightweight magnesium for maximum durability and minimal weight.
During my initial testing I have to admit I was a little frustrated with the 20mm Hex Lock through axle configuration, especially compared to the easygoing QR axle on my old fork. The extra time to remove the wheel and the hassle of tightening bolts seemed like a big step backward – that is, until I really started riding hard. The Manitou Hex Lock through-axle stiffens the entire front end which felt great through fast turns (no wobble) and allowed me to pick through technical lines with predictable, pinpoint accuracy.
20mm hex Lock through axle. Blue rebound control knob, no tools required.
Aside from the stiffness produced by the through axle, the Minute 29er also features a unique reverse arch design that effectively shortens the distance from the dropouts to the arch. This gives the fork even more torsional stiffness and makes Manitou forks unique from others on the market. The upshot: every bit of force you put into turning the handlebars goes right to your front wheel.
One of the things that sets the Minute 29er fork apart from many strictly XC-oriented forks is the ability to fine tune preload, platform, and rebound.
Setting pre-load on the Minute 29er fork is easy – just consult the included sag chart to get a good baseline pressure setting (the air valve is conveniently located on top of the right stanchion). I found the recommended pressure gave me just the right amount of sag but you’ll want to double-check because every bike set-up is different.
The Absolute+ platform damper on the Minute 29er fork is, in a word, amazing. The selector allows you to choose from one of 6 settings on the easy-to-access dial atop the left stanchion and as element22 likes to say, it’s nice and “clicky.” In the full open position you get plush, responsive suspension which is perfect for high speeds over everything from small bumps to medium drops. At the other end of the dial, with the damper locked out, you get efficient pedaling out of the saddle with zero braking dive, yet you still have insurance against unexpected abrupt hits.
During my hut-to-hut trip over the summer the Absolute damper came in super handy since the route was constantly changing from fire road descents to technical singletrack to punishing climbs. And since I was carrying a gear bag on my handlebars I was able to dial the travel precisely to avoid the buzz of my bag contacting the front tire.
Setting the rebound on the Minute 29er fork is a cinch and to be honest I haven’t had to fiddle with it too much. For fast, washboard trail riding it’s possible to set the rebound to return the fork more quickly; for lower speed steps and drops you can set the rebound to offer a more controlled return.
One of the big considerations I had when gearing up for my hut-to-hut trip this summer was durability and dependability on the trail. I ended up putting the Minute 29er on my bike about a month before the trip, not because it was lightweight (though it did save me a few grams) but because I felt like it could better withstand the increased weight and rocky, unforgiving terrain between Durango and Moab. So I wasn’t surprised at all that the fork held up flawlessly and didn’t need a single adjustment along the way.
At home I feel confident tackling technical trails at higher speeds because I know the Minute 29er is designed to mate with more aggressive all-mountain rigs. In fact, as I contemplate building up my first FS rig (shock!), the Minute 29er fork is at the top of my list thanks to its responsiveness and durability at high speeds on pockmarked trails.
Manitou has managed to adapt the high performance Minute platform to work flawlessly with 29er geometry in a brilliant marriage of light weight and high quality. The Minute 29er fork ($599 MSRP, 30% off at JensonUSA right now) is a great choice for riders who enjoy aggressive cross-country and even all-mountain riding but don’t want to pay a weight penalty for the privilege. If you’re looking to take minutes off your best lap times on the race course or just the after-work-loop, upgrade your fork to the Minute. 29er.
Thanks to the folks at Manitou for providing the Minute 29er fork for review.