Monday, 26 November 2012

Chinese 29er review- Carbonal Gaea 29er

I’m obsessed with bikes, but i’m quite tight with money. As much as i’d love a Scott Scale or a Santa Cruz Highball the high frame costs are out of my reach

I’d seen a forum thread on MTBR which featured chinese carbon 29er frames, it was almost 100 pages long and mainly positive views, a few horror stories, but as with many things to do with cycling I take these with a pinch of salt. Still undecided on which frame to pick I emailed a few contacts who I knew had a chinese frame, they both came back saying that the Carbonal Gaea was a safe bet, it also had the best suited geometry to my needs, as I had noticed many had incredibly short top tube lengths compared to the seat tube, the head and seat tube angle were also similar to my Niner frame.

A few promptly replied to emails from the seller at Carbonal and I had ordered a 19” UD matt finish frame, with integrated headset and shipping, for the some of £320. 1 week later it arrived, packaged well, but with 
very little documentation.

The build was simple enough, I’ve built a few bikes so i’m quite confident doing it myself. The internal gear cable routing caused a few headaches but my choice of Alligator I-link cables was to blame for that. Setting the rear mech was also tricky, the original mech hanger was not of the best quality, so it promptly snapped after a small amount of fettling, using the correct tool I hasten to add! replaced with a UK sourced alternative the gears work spot on, I used a 1 x 9 setup as I am used to one gear, so nine is a luxury. I imagine a 2 x 10, 3 x 10 or 1 x 11 would work just as well with the correct front mech.

I was not familiar with the tapered headset type, but the two bearings fit into a race, which is a structural part of the frame, I used an FSA 1.5” to 1 ⅛” adapter so i could run my existing 1 ⅛” RockShox Sid XX fork, no problems encountered.

The remainder of the build was simple: the brake routing is neat and simple: i’m using a mixture of Hope and Superstat hubs on Notubes Stans Crest rims, I particularly wanted a hub with 10mm quick release skewer compatibility to improve rear end stiffness and as Hope’s are too heavy and DT Swiss too expensive I went for Superstar, I know sealing isn’t great but the bearings look easy to replace.

Overall the quality seems good,I have noticed due to the incredibly short headtube is that the brake levers and gear shifter clash with the top tube, this can be remedied by having a stem which points up instead of down and more spacer, but as I prefer a low front end I will gamble on protecting the top tube and having low torque on parts which clash, incase they need to move. Initially I have had trouble with the seatpost slipping, i’ve heard this can be a problem, i’m working on a few remedies, carbon paste and well placed zip ties have helped, but it still slipped 2mm in 4 hours so it requires more thought.

So in conclusion initial thoughts are good, with a tough but simple built the complete bike with pedals etc is 21.8lbs. Its first proper outing was at the first round of the Brass Monkeys 4hour race series, I had a silly crash which saw me chase back to 10th overall but the bike felt good, fast on the hills and handled well in the slippy conditions. I plan to get the matching rigid fork to save my suspension forks over the winter, and matching carbon wheels to increase stiffness still further and reduce weight.

I decided to buy the matching rigid fork, initially put off buy the longer a-c height than my Niner rigid fork. First ride seems good, it is less refined than i'm used to, very stiff, with no "give" compared to the other forks i've tried, but for a winter fork for local riding I am happy so far.


  1. Hi,
    the frame is still ok?
    how tall are you? what is the size of the frame?
    Thinking of buying a frame + fork GAEA ... I'm looking for opinions.
    you still have a problem with the seat post?

  2. Hi, apologies for my late reply, i must adjust my email settings. the frame is still great, i think i've put 500miles on it, i'm 6ft exactly and find it quite short compared to my inner, but its not short short. Seatpost issue has been resolved by wedging thin cable ties between the post and the inside of the frame, and lots of carbon paste, not budged since :)

  3. could you expound on the comment "incredibly short headtube is that the brake levers and gear shifter clash with the top tube".i'm interested in the frame but not sure what you meant by that..thanks!

    1. the headtube where the fork join is only 100mm, so even with spacers under the stem the bars cannot fully rotate without the brake levers hitting the top tube, therefore if you crash you could potentially damage the frame. its a typical 29er problem, most frames are the same if you like an aggressive riding position

    2. oh i get it..thanks for clearing that how do you like the hongfu compared to the other carbon frames you had?

  4. still going strong, 1500miles and still cleans up great, i'm putting it into winter mode, ready for the UK weather

  5. How is the tire clearance? Would you be able to fit a 2.4" tire?

    1. sorry for the delay Eric, tyre clearance is tight, i run 2.25" tyres, i wouldn't recommend using 2.4" tyres if you ride in the mud often,

  6. Hi Chris, this post is just to exchange some positive
    feedbacks on this good frame.
    I bought a Gaea frame 2 years ago, and i can confirm
    your feeling, i run at least 6000 km. without problem
    also including the log race Dolomiti Superbike in the
    north of Italy as well.
    I'd like to suggest you some tips for protecting the
    lowest part od the frame under the crank set and
    top tube as well.
    1) I put a very thin al aluminium (similar to a Trial
    motorbike) protection by fitting it with the help
    of aeronautic velcro (very strong).

    2) I put a portion of an old tyres (10 cm.) in the
    "hazardeous" area (this morning i fall down...and it worked

    P.S. If you should need, any pictures concerning the "modification",
    just reply to me.

    1. thanks stefano, i like the velco and thin aluminium idea, sounds neat! i've used some thick vinyl, 2mm thick which has done well, my frame is up to 2,000miles now, it still the bike i ride most, but now fully rigid, the carbon forks isn't the best but feels strong. thanks for reading my blog

  7. This is simply awesome piece of honest write up ! I been fidgeting my in pants for some time now as I dont have much in my wallet but do wanna build a decent bike. I have looked at few china made frames but narrowed to Carbonality and Yoeleo. This article kinda nailed it for me :) Gracias Senor!! Dude.. write MORE of your bike experience... need all the poison to keep me going... so for now.. I have decided on this frame! :)

    1. Hi Yusman, thanks for the kind words, glad its helped your decision, if you look around quite a few companies use the same frame, rebranded, its a great workhorse, enjoy

    2. Hey Chris I am caught between choosing 29er GAEA or ORION... was there any reason you chose Gaea over the Orion?

    3. Hi Yusman, the orion wasn't available when I bought my frame. looks good though, I just know of a few brands rebadging gaea frames

  8. I just came to your post and reading above thing it is very impressive me and it is very nice blog. Thanks a lot for sharing this.
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  9. Hi Chris,
    How's your frame going ? Great to see a review on these frames.
    I've been contemplating on getting one for a while. Do you have any feed back on the Titan 29er Suspension Frame from the same company from yourself or others.

    1. Hi, i've sold mine now, had it 2 years, 3000miles, and still looked fresh when i sold it, great frame. I think i prefer my hongfu frame which i still have. the titan looks good but i couldn't find any info on it either, think the quality will be good, just unsure on the linkage etc. mtbr is the best place for info

  10. Excellent and helpful post… I am so glad to left comment on this. I am from UK and I was looking to buy some lightweight chinese carbon wheels for my bike. Thanks for sharing useful info.