Most bike reviews are reviewed on loans. Reviewed over a week, or at best a month. But what better way to give a frame a true rundown, than running it down the whole length of the Continental Divide?
So, first off, why the Carver Gnarvester? Well, I got all caught up in the fat bike craze when it started, but I always thought they looked sluggish and maybe not as much fun, then 29 Plus came out and it made a whole lot of sense. It’s still arguably in it’s infancy (and may be phased out by B+ sizing, but that’s for another day), so there weren’t many frames (still aren’t), besides the Krampus and a few custom frames. I spent a good deal looking for something to clear massive tires. I hunted the internet for a long time and couldn’t find much out there. Then I came across the Gnarvester, which was not only 29+, not only had sliding dropouts, not only had 142 thru axle spacing, not only titanium, not only a standard 73mm BB but frankly had some fun trail looking geometries, as the frame is based off the titanium 420, Carver’s “rowdy” hardtail.
I had two major concerns about this frame when I was looking at it, the lack of a front derailleur capability and how it would handle with smaller lighter tires.
Either way, I went in and got this frame. The versatility of the sliding dropouts and the durability of the titanium had me thinking I could hang on to this frame for a while. I built it up to start with 3″ tires, which were fun, but I think the Vee Rubber tires are rather unimpressive (I actually like my current Ikon 2.35s better). The bike handled the trail riding I do in the Bay very well with the 3″ tires fully rigid. I hit Cinderella Trail, one of the few technical downhill trails in the Oakland hills a couple of times and I could throw the bike around pretty well and to get to the top I could climb the bike real well. After setting it up for the first time I PRed one of the popular XC loops in the Oakland hills, Redwood Loop, by a long shot.
But how did it fair on a 2700 mile mountain bike ride? Fantastically. There were some fit things I didn’t really have dialed (skinny bars and a long stem didn’t work, as much as I liked it on short rides). But the frame was very comfortable, the titanium absorbing the rough stuff, even with 2.2 tires. The 1×10 setup was plenty to get up and down, I did find myself spinning out on some descents, but it was so rare that I don’t feel the lack of front derailleur held me back. The bottom bracket height felt low to me, but only because I had been used to the height with 3″ tires. I might benefit from shorter cranks in the future, because the lower bottom bracket had me pedal striking on chunk (I like to pedal through stuff). My only complaint, is that the sloping top tube makes fitting a larger frame bag difficult, but it just meant I had to carry less and be inventive.
If I went back to Tour Divide I would not hesitate to bring this bike, but I don’t know if I’m going back to Tour Divide soon, instead I might throw more stuff on the bike and take a two week bikepacking trip and I am very confident this bike could handle it. And that’s what I like most. Starting from a Surly Cross Check, the Swiss Army Knife of bikes, I wanted something just as versatile and the Carver is a very versatile bike. My stable won’t need another hardtail for years to come.