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A new face for an old friend: the El Mariachi 29+

Standard width rims and tires make for a fun bike, but one with inherent limitations when things get rough.
Standard width rims and tires make for a fun bike, but one with inherent limitations when things get rough.Matt James

As far as reliable, trustworthy, consistent mountain bike platforms go, it’s tough to beat a steel hardtail. Reasonably light, smooth riding and resilient, steel does most things well to make it an enduring frame material despite its antiquated origins. The Salsa El Mariachi has been in my stable for a number of years now and sticks around as other bikes come and go due to its strength and stability. It’s been a flyweight front suspension single speed racer, a rigid play bike and is now in its new incarnation as a pseudo 29+.

The Salsa El Mariachi takes on new life with wider rims and increased tire volumes
The Salsa El Mariachi takes on new life with wider rims and increased tire volumesMatt James

I’ve been enamored with the Surly Krampus since its introduction a year ago and have always been a believer in big tires, especially on a rigid bike. Over the winter, I got the notion to build some wheels around the tubeless compatible Velocity Blunt 35 rim and the biggest tires I could fit on my El Mariachi. A Surly Knard 29x3 easily cleared the front fork and a Maxxis Ardent 29x2.4 fits the rear stays with room to spare. Mated to the 35mm wide rims, the result is a bigger footprint and tremendous tire volume to completely alter the ride.

The tires have so much volume that the low pressure doesn’t even register on my floor pump. The resulting ride quality means massively increased traction and stability. Compliance takes a big jump too, a trait that is highly prized on a rigid bike. On a recent ride on frozen, rutted trails, the inconsistencies in the trail disappeared beneath the huge tires and there was a notable increase in high speed stability descending eroded terrain.

All told, the wide rims and increase tire volume makes for a whole new character for an old friend. Surly’s introduction of the 3” tire size adds a whole new dimension to what’s possible from a rigid bike and livens up the ride quality of a familiar platform. The 29+ idea might have seemed like a niche at first, but every person whose ridden one walks away with a huge smile on their face, virtually ensuring its longevity in the mountain bike market for years to come.