We, like many, were disappointed to learn of Trek's decision a few years back to do away with the Gary Fisher division of the brand and instead integrate models that would otherwise have been graced with his name across the downtube into the Trek fold. The Rumblefish is precisely such a model. In fact this model finds itself a part of the exclusive Fisher Collection so like the G2 geometry concept and badging, some of the long-established labels haven't been forgotten entirely.
To be completely honest, the Rumblefish is actually the most expensive mountain bike the MBT test crew has reviewed in quite some time. The reason for the sabbatical on testing bikes breaking the $3,000 threshold? Since 2008 the economy has been shaky at best. Each month our inbox is pretty well slammed with emails from readers asking us to test ever-more affordable mountain bikes. In fact so strong was the demand the past couple years, we literally plunked down our own cash on a couple of department store bikes to see what $70-$200 could get you (because believe it or not, manufacturers of $70 bikes are remarkably reluctant to lend us one of their products for professional scrutiny in an established mountain bike publication).
That all leads us back to the Rumblefish- with a set of pedals and tax you're looking at nearly $5,000, this beauty isn't for the faint of heart or light of wallet. However, our local Trek dealer says they steadily sell a few each year so despite a slow economy; someone's buying them. And in the event that you happen to have this model on your short list, we're more than happy to put one through its paces to tell you all about it.
Suspension is handled by 120mm of Fox Racing Shox goodness: 32 Float RLC Kashima-coated fork and an RP3 in the back. Both boast dual chamber functionality known as DRCV. Drivetrain is Shimano XT (3x10) as are the cranks. Rhythm Pro TLR (tubeless ready) rims come wrapped in Bontrager Team Issue rubber. Braking is also of the Shimano XT hydraulic disc variety front and rear. The cockpit is made up entirely of Bontrager Elite components.
All told our 17.5" test model weighed in at 29-pounds and a unit identical to ours can be had for $4299.
Glancing at the Rumblefish Pro can be an acronym lover's dream come true: DRCV shock, G2 geometry, ABP. It isn't hard to get swept up in the tech talk when checking this model out in the shop or even when confronted by gawking admirers out on the trails.
However, before all that, getting the bike set up and ready to ride isn't all that difficult. Pressurize the fork and shock's air chambers to the recommended PSI levels for your weight, do a little tweaking of the compression and rebound adjusters in the back yard to what feels comfortable and you're ready to get underway.
Climbing on board is a reminder that this is 29er town as the bike places its rider pretty well between the large hoops adorning each end. Like all 29ers, you get the impression of being inside the bike rather than atop it. The reach to the bars is somewhere between all-mountain upright and XC stretched with perhaps a slight bias toward the latter.
Taking off on the Rimblefish can be one of several visceral experiences, depending upon your choice of gearing. The 3x10 drivetrain is the absolute epitome of versatility. Truly if you can't find a gear here that suits your legs, lungs and cadence, you simply aren't in the right sport. The choice of effortless spinning to all out sprinting from a stand-still are at your disposal from the get-go and the bike offers a chassis so stable that it practically dares you to go fast at all times.
The suspension is a bit of a double-edged sword here, however. On the one hand the DRCV arrangement (that's Dual Rate Control Valve) manages to feel virtually bottomless in most conditions; certainly on most of the clutter that inhabits trails and on the types of drops and jumps one might attempt on a wagon-wheeler designed for stability over freeriding. On the other it seems to be more active than your average 120mm of squish and that means pedal bob and the bouncies when climbing are definitely factors.
To briefly recap in the event that you are unfamiliar with the DRCV methodology; Fox is essentially packing two shocks into a single body: the first shock (well, chamber technically) is being utilized to absorb the small stuff that bounces us about- roots, rocks, branches, bumps and so on. Blow through that travel and a control valve opens to the second chamber. This larger volume chamber is designed to take the sting out of the bigger hits like drops, wheelie-returns, log-hops and so on. The system works for that purpose undoubtedly, unfortunately the changes in handling that stem from a fork and shock digging deep throughout twice as much travel are all present as it's doing its thing as well.
We found ourselves relying upon the CTD (Climb/Trail/Descend) lever quite frequently during testing to compensate. Naturally Climb offers the stiffest valving, Descend the loosest and Trail falls firmly in between. While we're usually the set-it & forget it type, prepare to be doing your share of flipping between Climb and Trail modes when you're pushing the big ring on the flats and anytime the terrain begins to point skyward. We really never found reason to use Descend but it is there if you like your riding experience to resemble pogo-sticking on a stack of marshmallows.
Making the Most
We mentioned the bike's stability and that is a spectacular word to describe the entire experience. The G2 geometry (that's Genesis 2 in case you aren't up on Gary Fisher's life work) means the fork's offset is 51mm to liven up the front-end. In a very real way the Fisher methodology is the opposite of what most 9er manufactures are attempting in that elsewhere we're finding standard fork offsets with shorter chainstays out back to provide the sensation of a snappier 29er. The Rumblefish runs fairly standard 17.8" chainstays so while the front end may carve better than any 9er you've ridden prior, the rest of the bike still requires flow and finesse through tight corners and switchbacks (forget trying to stuff into the face of berms and power out like you would on a 26" machine). If this sounds contradictory to you, rest assured it all works together to feel quite confident and stable in action. Add to this the fact that the bigger wheels love devouring stuttered technical clutter and allow the bike to be leaned farther than the laws of physics would seemingly allow, and you learn very quickly to relish in taking this bike through the roughest stuff.
We can honestly state that the Trek Rumblefish Pro offers a riding experience like no other on the market today. There are enough acronyms, levers, doodads and adjusters to make even a hardened tech junkie wince but in action, the ride offers a whole new dimension of handling and charm that truly have to be experienced to be appreciated. Chalk it up to years of Gary Fisher's endless tinkering and unwavering faith in the 29" wheel's potential, Trek's massive R&D budget and commitment to excellence or perhaps some combination of the two but the Rumblefish offers a confidence that far out-succeeds the sum of its parts. We're not naive enough to try and convince you parting with close to five G's in these economic climes is easy but we will say this: If your budget is such that the Rumblefish Pro is already on your short list, do yourself a favor and demo one. The ride will do the rest.