First Ride Review: Ben’s 2021 Ragley Big Al 1.0.

The Ragley Big Al is an alloy-framed, big-wheeled, UK hardtail that gets back to basics with a functional and robust build kit for a great price.

Ben has been riding the Ragley Big Al 1.0 for the past 6 weeks and these are his first impressions of this well-priced and specced 29er hardtail.

Photos by Dave Price.

Key features:

  • Marzocchi Bomber Z2 Rail 140mm Forks
  • Shimano Deore 11-speed drive
  • Shimano Deore 2-piston brakes
  • WTB STi30 rims on Nukeproof Hubs
  • Brand X Ascend dropper
  • £1399.99 RRP

Frame and Build Kit

The Big Al shares the same geometry and sizing as its steel-framed brother, the Big Wig, a modern classic on the UK hardtail scene. Built with lightweight 6061 alloy tubing, the cherry-red Ragley frame has a low slung and purposeful look to it. In the size medium tested, the top tube flows beautifully into the slender seat stays. A small strut braces the top of the seat tube and a slight kink at the bottom creates more rear wheel clearance whilst still allowing plenty of seat post insertion.

The geometry is well balanced and right in the middle of what you might call, classic trail bike territory. The medium tested has a reach of 440mm and this grows 20mm per size up to the 480mm XL. Interestingly, there is no size small available in the 29” wheeled Big Al, so if you want a small you will need to get the 27.5” wheeled sibling, the Marley. Chainstays are 435mm, a length that I find short on an aggressive full suspension trail/enduro bike, but that feels just right on a small and playful hardtail like the Ragley. The head angle is 65 degrees which is fairly middle of the road, helping to make this bike fun and capable in most situations.

The build kit is really well thought out and it feels like you get great performance for the cash. In particular, the Marzocchi Bomber Z2 Rail does a great job of controlling the 140mm of travel. For such a budget fork with so little travel, it did an admirable job of smoothing out small bumps and it was surprisingly sensitive. The only thing I don’t really like is the compression adjuster dial on the top of the right fork leg as it doesn’t have defined clicks so you are just roughly lining it up with the frame or the fork crown to try to re-create certain settings. Mostly I just left it wide open though, so it is not a big deal.

I can’t remember the last time I rode a bike without 12 gears and riding the Ragley reminded me that actually more isn’t always better. The 11-speed, 11-51 cassette didn’t feel like it had big jumps in ratio and the shifting was smooth and crisp despite constant winter slop. It will also be pretty cheap to replace worn parts as the winter grit wears stuff down. Brakes were also Shimano with a set of Shimano Deore 2-pots doing a solid job of slowing me down.

The Big Al 1.0 runs on a set of WTB STi30 rims laced to Nukeproof Neutron hubs. They are still straight and true and the 30mm internal width gives plenty of support for the wide 2.4 and 2.5 inch Maxxis tyres. On the note of tyres, this is where I usually moan about bike speccing crap tyres, however the Ragley plays a blinder here by speccing a pair of Maxxis Minions in the EXO+ casing. This is amazing at this price point and shows that the dudes at Ragley really know their market and what we really need.

Fox Purevue advert Leaderboard 2024

Ragley provide the stem, bars, saddle and grips and a Brand-X Ascend dropper post finishes the build. Nothing flashy, but all solid, clean looking and totally functional.

Up Hills

Well, this is a hardtail, so coming off of long travel enduro bikes the immediate feeling of acceleration is a good one. I sized down from my usual large to ride the medium, but still didn’t find the Ragely to be cramped, probably in part down to the relatively slack 74 degree seat angle which helps to open up space in the seated position.

With its short chain stays you might expect the front end to lift and wander with such a rearward seating position, however hardtails are great because they really encourage you to stand and climb steep and tech sections that you would simply winch up on a full suspension bike.

Down Hills

Smaller bikes and small hardtails in particular, can be a load of fun which is why I opted for the medium instead of my usual size large test bike. The way you can chuck it around, lean it in, pop and manual it makes it a great machine for winter lock down sessions in the local wood. Whilst I have not been able to ride the big and gnarly tracks of South Wales, my local spot has had to suffice and here, in its natural habitat, the Ragley thrives.

It loves a muddy rut, a sketchy line and linking turns together. Being alloy, rather than steel you might think it will be harsh, but it is anything but. Big Al feels as comfy and compliant as any steel bike I can think of, aided in part by the large volume tyres and the surprising performance of the Marzocchi forks.

It is super easy to manual, bunny hop and generally muck about on. If you are lucky enough to own one as a second bike, then it will be a potent tool for developing your skills, seasoning tracks and working on your technique whilst having plenty of laughs.

What do we think?

I have really enjoyed riding a hardtail after a couple of years off of one, with the Ragley re-kindling my love for the simple pleasures they provide. The Ragley Big Al is great fun, great value and that cherry red paint job is the cherry on the cake.

We love:

  • Top spec tyres
  • Cherry-red frame
  • Party laps and sessioning

Could do better:

  • No chain guide fitted
  • Fork compression adjuster is vague

You can check out the Ragley Big Al and the rest of the 2021 Ragley range on their website here.

Read Pete’s review of the 2020 Ragley BigWig here.