There was a time when a sub-$1000 mountain bike of any configuration was either wishful thinking or a bloated department store clunker disguised to look like a real off-road bicycle. If there is one good thing to be said for economy of scale, it's that mountain bikes have been becoming steadily more affordable and these days a well spec'ed hardtail can be yours for just such an initial investment. Case in point, Diamondback's Overdrive Comp 29er.
For roughly $700 (a bit less online), Diamondback sets you up with a butted 6061-T6 Aluminum frame (integrated headtube, DB Snake Stays, replaceable hanger), an SR Suntour 100mm travel, 30mm stanchions (with lockout and rebound adjustment) fork, and 29" Weinmann SL-7 Doublewall wheels wrapped in WTB Prowler SL tires.
The rest of the spec sheet reads pretty well: SRAM S600 cranks, Shimano Acera derailleurs, SRAM PG-820 cassette, DB Lazer bar, stem and seatpost, Avenir Series 200 saddle, Can Creek headset and you even get a pair of Wellgo alloy forged pedals.
The Mount Up
Like all 29ers, the Overdrive Comp looks a bit more intimidating in person that a similarly sized 26-inch wheeled bike and for good reason. That additional three-inches of wheel diameter is compensated for somewhat by the frame geometry but the very nature of a 29" bicycle is such that the rider is stretched out a bit more across all of the points of contact. There is undeniable truth in the old cliché "you sit in a 29er and atop a 26er".
Setup is an absolute breeze: Dial in about 20% sag using the fork's preload adjuster, turn the rebound control to about halfway and off you go. There is a lockout feature on the fork but in all honesty we never felt the need to activate it. The fork is pretty stiff by nature and the aluminum hardtail design wastes very little pedaling effort upon each stroke.
So the big question is what does it feel like to step down on those SRAM cranks? Well 26er aficionados would say sluggish. 29er devotees would likely be a bit more forgiving in their assessment but there's no denying that this particular bike doesn't snap through its gears so much as it cruises through them. Slam and jam riding style (one in which you power up to speed, brake hard to corner, then hammer up to speed again) are going to be very disappointed. The larger hoops, stretched riding position, and lack of lively acceleration will play out as a very energy-sapping experience to that method of riding.
You hear it time and time again but perhaps this bike epitomizes the reasoning; the key to acceleration on the 29er is entirely dependent upon momentum. Prepare to start out low, as in gear combinations lower than you would have ever considered on a 26" bike, then work a nice even pedaling cadence. As you start to spin out a gear, up shift to the next but be prepared for changes in gearing to feel a bit more pronounced (gapped) if you're used to smaller wheels.
Once up to speed the key is to focus on keeping that momentum you built and a lot of this is accomplished through the larger wheels themselves as they do deliver on the promise to reach up and over trail litter that would jar a 26-incher. The downside of course is that staying seated and keeping the pedals turning on an aluminum hardtail can be a bone grating experience on many of the trails we east coasters consider fun.
However the experience works to your advantage should your definition of trails include sand, rock plateaus, hardpack, or even the occasional paved bike path. Suddenly those long strides and rigid tail end pay dividends.
Odds & Ends
The Tektro Draco hydraulic disc brakes (6" rotors) are one of the budget oriented component specs chosen to keep the price of the Overdrive 29er so low and truthfully, when you consider the fact that a few years ago bikes in this price range came with manual V-brakes, hydraulic discs are basically a gift! These particular units are adequate in bringing the larger wheels down from speed on level terrain quite efficiently after a brief burn-in period.
Modulation is smooth and precise but the reality that larger hoops require larger brakes to scrub momentum will become clear should you start experimenting with taking the Overdrive downhill. We hadn't encountered situations where we literally blew our intended line but when the speeds start to pick up, a solid fistful of the levers was often required to keep our flow. Steep descending will require an upgrade to stronger brakes (not to mention buns of steel).
WTB Prowler tires are a quite capable on a wide variety of terrain and we were able to verify this across hardpack, soft sand, and gravely bike paths.
Gearing that would be quite well suited to a 26er begins to feel a bit spaced out on a 29er and that fact is evident here. We spent a majority of our time in the lower half of the second chain-ring as the region felt comparable to the upper reaches (2- 7 & 8) of most similarly geared 26ers.
While our criticisms of the Diamondback Overdrive may seem a bit harsh, the fact of the matter is that a decade ago this exact spec would have occupied a bicycle costing up to $3,000. The beauty behind the idea of picking one up for a little over $500 isn't lost upon us here at MBT.
The bottom line is if you've had even the slightest curiosity about or desire to sample life on "Planet 29", the Overdrive Comp is an affordable test mule; a great second bike and a model beginners should give serious consideration.