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Added a product review for 2014 Felt Virtue Nine 20 4/3/2014 8:33 PM
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2014 Test Sessions: Felt Virtue Nine 20

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Reviewed by John Hauer and Jess Pedersen // Photos by Shawn Spomer and Lear Miller

New for 2014, Felt’s Virtue lineup sees the addition of bikes in the 29-inch variety. The Virtue Nine features 130mm of travel out back and 140mm up front, slotting it somewhere between the long-travel 29er crowd and pedal friendly trail rippers. Even so, Felt’s not shy when they state their claims about the ride, saying that it’s a defining bike for the Enduro and Super D racing crowd.

Having previously tested out the 26-inch Virtue, we were mighty curious to see if this gold painted rig was truly up to the task during the 2014 Vital MTB Test Sessions.

Virtue Nine 20 Highlights

  • Hydroformed Double-Butted 6061 Aluminum frame
  • 29-inch wheels
  • 5.1-inches (130mm) of rear wheel travel
  • Equilink suspension
  • Tapered headtube
  • 69-degree head angle
  • 74.5-degree seat tube angle
  • 1.4-inch (36mm) bottom bracket drop
  • 17.7-inch (450mm) chainstays
  • 73mm threaded bottom bracket
  • Syntace 142x12mm through axle
  • Measured weight (size Large, no pedals): 31 pounds, 1 ounces (14.1kg)
  • $3,799 MSRP

Despite having a similar look to other four-bar dual suspension bikes on the market, Felt's Equilink linkage is actually a six-bar system said to disconnect drivetrain forces from bump absorption forces. When pedaling, the force from chain tension attempts to pull the lower link downward while the upper link pivots upward. Because the two links are connected by the Equilink (the vertical bar near the seat tube) in precisely calculated positions, the opposing forces effectively cancel each other out, "equalizing" the system. Ultimately this means the suspension is unaffected and able to absorb impacts while pedaling.

Had we not already ridden the 26-inch model we’d be skeptical about the claims, but Felt’s rigs truly do pedal well. Even though that bike was efficient, it had some issues with cleaning up the rougher sections of trail. With the tweaks and improvements Felt has made we were anxious to get this bike out on the trail for a more current opinion.

The Equilink system can be tuned depending on the bike's intended application, and in the case of the Virtue Nine, the progressive leverage curve is certainly geared toward efficiency with loads of anti-squat worked in. A combination of sealed dual row angular contact bearings in the main pivots and DU bushings in the Equilink allow the rear end to function quite smoothly, the latter of which are intended to save weight and increase longevity of the system due to their element-prone locations. The whole Equilink system has been lightened a fair amount for the new year. New oversized aluminum hardware and 15mm hard anodized aluminum axles help boost rear end stiffness as well.

Also new for 2014, a revised derailleur hanger now stays in place when the wheel is removed, and the rear axle has been beefed up to the 12x142mm standard.

Additional details include a water bottle cage inside the front triangle, high direct mount front derailleur, and post mount disc brake. The bike lacks ISCG tabs, but thanks to the use of a standard 73mm threaded bottom bracket you can sandwich one against the frame for additional chain retention. For those who ride/race in mud often, do note that there’s less than 1cm of rear wheel mud clearance with the stock 2.4-inch Continental tires.

Felt chose to stick with external cable routing on the aluminum Virtue Nine frame. This improves ease of maintenance but clutters things a bit, especially considering that there are a total of 6 cables running this way and that. The rear brake and derailleur housing follow the underside of the downtube, which could present an issue do to stray rocks. The dropper post and front derailleur cables follow the bottom of top tube. There’s also the front brake and a remote lockout for the fork dangling up front.

The aluminum Virtue Nine 20 that we tested is the mid-range model retailing for $3,799. Two more affordable options are the Nine 50 at $2,799 and Nine 60 at $2,199. Those looking for some carbon fun can choose from the $4,149 Nine3 or the super decked out $6,199 Nine1. The carbon models see the addition of internal routing and flex seat stays in place of the rear pivot.

On The Trail

Most of Felt's lineup has a cross-country appeal, and we can see why. They're made to get up the hills and sprint very well. Because of this we were able to cover a lot of ground on the Virtue Nine, sometimes taking off from the rest of the test group for a few bonus miles. Terrain included everything from technical climbs to high-speed flowy descents, rough off camber sections, and some hair-raising slickrock plunges. For those familiar with the Sedona, Arizona area, we rode Girdner, Last Frontier, Western Civilization, Cockscomb, Aerie, and the famous Hangover trail.

The 80mm stem and 720mm bars that Felt specs are definitely on the longer and narrower side than the vast majority would choose for an Enduro race rig. Even so, we chose not to make any changes in order to get a true feeling of how the consumer will receive this bike. Those with a cross-country background may love the setup. Those with a more gravity based background will likely find it uncomfortable.

Our size Large test bike had a healthy 620mm reach and slightly longer than average 442mm top tube, which fit our 6’0” testers well. Combined with 450mm chainstays and 29-inch hoops, it had good high-speed stability on moderate trails. If anything, the head angle could be a smidge slacker at 69-degrees, but adding a 10mm taller fork or an Angleset will solve this problem. Stability and playfulness were well-balanced with the stock setup. It was easy to move the bike around when needed.

We’ve always been impressed by the efficiency of Felt’s Equilink bikes, but they’ve sometimes struggled when the trail got rough and steep. This bike is improved in that area. When riding rough, high-speed sections of trail the bike felt decently stable, but occasionally twitchy and edge. The biggest thing holding the bike back through the rough and steeps were the tires and bar/stem combo, which made us hesitant to open it up to its full potential. This also hindered overcoming the chainstay length when trying to get the front end up over obstacles. The spec is definitely more XC oriented, but the bike has potential to be a more well-rounded ripper with a few changes. As is we felt a bit more over the front end than we’d prefer.

We were happy to see that Felt used a 200x57mm RockShox Monarch RT shock with the mid-sized air canister to get 130mm of travel. This increase in air volume and stroke gave the feeling of deeper, more usable rear suspension than the previous Virtue models we've tried, and really took the edge off small bumps and chatter. The bike’s suspension design and smooth, progressive leverage curve and air spring kept it feeling pretty lively on the trail. When you pumped a depression or roller the bike was quick to respond. Large high-speed compressions, g-outs, and drops did seem to blow through the travel a touch easier than it should have, however.

The 140mm RockShox Revelation RL fork was surprisingly smooth as you pressed into its travel with almost zero resistance other than the pressure in the air spring. This allowed the fork to track amazingly well over small bumps and chatter. Several of the trails we tested the Virtue on were littered with small marble-sized rocks. Even with the sketchy traction conditions the fork kept us as planted as the tires would allow.

One thing that made us scratch our heads was the inclusion of the PushLoc remote lockout on the fork. Not because the function didn’t work well, but we didn’t understand why you would need it, especially given the bike’s intentions. It feels awkward to have a locked out fork and an active rear end on a full suspension bike. The PushLoc lever just added extra clutter to the already busy handlebar area.

The Equilink suspension design shines when putting the power down. Energy isn’t wasted and you feel like the bike wants to continue accelerating until you reach max speed. Under power the bike felt reasonably light and nimble like an XC bike, which made it easy to power up the steeper sections of trails without feeling bogged down despite the somewhat hefty weight.

At 25-30% sag, we preferred to leave the bike’s rear shock in the open compression position. The suspension design is efficient enough that you do not need any lockout levers to aid in getting up the hill. This also added traction on loose terrain. The seat tube is at a good angle as well, so body position seemed to be comfortable even on the steepest uphill sections of trail.

Build Kit

Our sub-$4,000 Virtue Nine 20 test bike came equipped with a mix of RockShox, Shimano, DT Swiss, Continental, KS, and Felt components. The bike weighed 31.1-pounds with a dropper post, but a few corners were clearly cut to make even this weight a reality. As previously mentioned, the lightweight Felt bar and stem combo does not inspire much confidence, and some front end flex could be felt when really pushing on the front end.

Also, the 2.4-inch Continental X-King SL Performance front tire is more of a fast rolling, lightweight tire. Aggressive riders will want to swap out these folding bead tires for something with more supportive shoulder knobs. The front end would often push when we really needed it to bite, leaving us on edge when ripping sandstone or fast sweeping sections of trail.

Some component highlights included the external KS LEV dropper post and Shimano Deore disc brakes. We’ve had great luck with the external LEV and praised its performance and feel in the past. This experience was no exception. Shimano’s Deore brakes had a ton of power and great lever feel, especially given their low price point.

The Shimano XT/SLX 2x10 drivetrain shifted well, offered a wide range of gears, and presented no real issues other than a bit of chain slap and a few dropped chains. The clutched XT rear derailleur helps in these areas, but it’s not a perfect solution.

The wheels were a mixture of Shimano XT hubs on DT-Swiss 533D hoops, offering a pretty basic setup with no major stiffness or engagement issues.

Long Term Durability

One of the biggest potential issues is the use of 6mm bolts for the shock hardware. We’ve had several 6mm bolts break in the past, many of which were on Felt bikes.

As a word of caution, be sure to put a dab of LockTite on each of the pivot bolts prior to hitting the trail for the first time. While Felt has improved things in this area over the years, some of them still have the tendency to loosen and we'd suggest this simple precautionary measure. We’d also recommend some additional chainstay/seat stay protection.

Other than these concerns, the rest of the bike seems well built and should hold up over time. Felt backs the frame with a limited lifetime warranty.

What's The Bottom Line?

So is the Felt Virtue Nine a category defining Enduro race bike like they stated? That’s a tough one to swallow. The bike we tested is much more cross-country than you’ll likely find under any competitive Enduro racer (at least on any “real” Enduro courses). It’d take several component changes before we could see their target market getting gaining maximum enjoyment out of the bike.

Where the Virtue Nine excels is on trails where rolling speed and efficiency are highly valued. Just like the 26-inch Virtue we tried previously, the Virtue Nine feels light, climbs exceptionally well, and is great for intermediate descending. Because of this we feel the bike would be a solid all day epic adventure rig with the snappiness to be fun while ripping generally smooth downhills. The suspension and geometry allow it to work well in most situations. It still has the ability to hammer through technical bits and steep sections, though not as quickly and confidently as most in the Enduro category. At $3,799 we see it as a good value 29-inch trail bike for someone looking to pound out the miles.

Visit www.feltbicycles.com for more details.

Bonus Gallery: 25 photos of the 2014 Felt Virtue Nine 20 up close and in action


About The Reviewers

John Hauer - In 13 years of riding, John has done it all and done it well. Downhill, 4X, Enduro, XC, cyclocross... you name it. He spent 7 years as the head test rider for a major suspension company, averages 15-20 hours of saddle time per week, and is extremely picky when it comes to a bike's performance. And yeah, he freakin’ loves Strava.

Jess Pedersen - Jess is one of those guys that can hop on a bike after a snowy winter and instantly kill it. He's deceptively quick, smooth, and always has good style. He's also known to tinker with bikes 'til they're perfect, creating custom additions and fixes along the way. Maybe it's that engineering background...

Which reviewer resembles you the most? Don't miss our Q&A with the testers for more insight about their styles and preferences.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for 2014 Orbea Rallon X-LTD 3/31/2014 4:42 PM
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2014 Test Sessions: Orbea Rallon X-LTD

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Reviewed by Evan Turpen, John Hauer, and Brandon Turman // Photos by Shawn Spomer and Lear Miller

Of all 25 bikes in the 2014 Vital MTB Test Sessions, none screamed “RIDE ME!” more loudly than the all-new Orbea Rallon. The combination of BOS suspension, super aggressive geometry, and fluorescent paint had us chomping at the bit.

Many US-based readers may not recognize the Orbea brand, but know that they’ve been making bikes for a long time are just now entering the US market. Thanks to new Rallon the Spanish company has finally grabbed our full attention. This bike is exciting.

Orbea Rallon X-LTD Highlights

  • Hydroformed triple-butted alloy frame
  • 27.5-inch wheels
  • 6.3-inches (160mm) of rear wheel travel
  • C9-12 concentric pivot system with BOS Kirk rear shock
  • Tapered headtube
  • 66 or 66.5-degree adjustable head angle
  • 74.5 or 75-degree adjustable seat tube angle
  • 13.3 or 13.6-inch (338 or 345mm) adjustable bottom bracket height
  • 16.5-inch (420mm) chainstays
  • Threaded bottom bracket shell with removable ISCG05 mounts
  • 12x142mm rear axle
  • Measured weight (size Medium, no pedals): 29-pounds, 11-ounces (13.47kg)
  • $8,799 MSRP

Now in its 4th major revision, the Rallon gains 10mm of travel, 27.5-inch wheels, 25mm of reach, and 40mm on the wheelbase for 2014. This adds up to a new school ride with a seriously long reach combined with chainstays that are shorter than most 26-inch bikes - a potentially awesome combination. The bottom bracket is also 14 or 21mm lower than previous Rallon, depending on the adjustable geometry setting used. By rotating the front shock bolt you can quickly drop the bottom bracket height from 13.6 to 13.3-inches (338 or 345mm) and head angle from 66.5 to 66-degrees.

Surely you saw the $8,799 price tag and thought, “Where’s the carbon frame?” Orbea’s stance is that the rider looking for the best ride will benefit more from custom-tuned high-end BOS suspension and SRAM’s carbon fiber wheels than saving a few hundred grams on the frame, so they’ve allocated the dollars in those areas. Even so, the aluminum frame loses 0.66-pounds (300g) for 2014, bringing it down to a pretty respectable 6.94-pounds (3.15kg) for a Medium frame with shock and hardware.

After receiving Pro rider feedback about the previous Rallon ramping up a bit too harshly, the rear suspension takes on a slightly less progressive leverage curve. The new bike has a more linear curve shape with an overall progression of about 10%. Also new is the C9-12 concentric pivot at the rear axle which improves the suspension’s performance under heavy braking. In practice, the C9-12 design is a bit more complicated than similar designs and requires use of a few tools to remove the wheel. Unfortunately the suspension design doesn’t leave room for a water bottle mount inside the frame.

Sealed Enduro Max Black Oxide cartridge bearings are used throughout the linkage, including a pair that replace the bushings you’d typically find at the rear of the shock that improve shock actuation. Torque specs for all pivots are conveniently printed on the hardware.

Additional details include dual-compound frame armor under the down tube and on the chainstay and seatstay, 180mm post mount disc brake tabs, and a nicely concealed direct front derailleur mount. The Rallon also has removable ISCG 05 tabs for riders who want to run a chainguide, and comes stock with a MRP AMG top guide/bash guard installed to protect the SRAM XX1 chainring. A standard threaded bottom bracket is nice to see as it’s much easier to work on and resists creaking over time. There’s about 1.5cm of mud clearance with the stock 2.25-inch Geax tires, which are actually quite massive.

Save the seatpost, Orbea chose to stick with external cable routing that cleanly tracks the top of the down tube. Routing for the RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper post also follows the down tube before entering the seat tube.

The Rallon is available in four builds in the US market - the $8,799 X-LTD (tested), $6,999 X-Team, $4,599 X10, and $3,299 X30. Both the X-LTD and X-Team include BOS suspension, while the more affordable options use FOX. Several customization and upgrade options are available in Europe, including suspension, graphics, and colors.

On The Trail

Wanting to push the Rallon hard in variety of different situations, we chose several test loops that encompassed some of Sedona, Arizona’s best segments of trail. We rode a mix of steep, technical climbs and descents, long and rough descents, and fast flowy singletrack mixed in with some slickrock bits and sizable hits. Trails included Slim Shady, Hi-Line, Baldwin, Old Post, Coral Canyon, Ridge, Templeton, HT, and Made in the Shade. We also got in several laps on Brewer trail - a short, fast, rough, and loose descent that wouldn’t be out of place as a stage in a respectable Enduro race.

Grabbing hold of the bars for the first time on our size Medium test sled, we immediately felt the added length of the front end while standing. Seated it’s a different story. Because the seat tube angle is a steep 75/74.5-degrees, the 23.9-inch (606mm) top tube length is manageable even with the long 17.4-inch (442mm) reach. The thinking here is that a long reach will provide greater stability when descending, while the steep seat angle will put the rider in a better climbing/pedaling position. We had three riders try out the Rallon - two at 5’10” and one at 6’0” - and all three felt comfortable on the size Medium frame. Our 5’10” riders opted to swap the stock 50mm stem for a 35mm to reign in the length just a touch, but our 6’0” pinner enjoyed the stock setup. Combined with the 760mm bars, the Rallon felt perfectly suited to our styles.

Almost everything is dialed when it comes to the bike’s geometry. The long reach combined with some of the shortest chainstays in the business make for a very confidence inspiring yet flickable ride. We rode the bike exclusively in the higher of the two geometry adjustment positions as we felt it was plenty low and slack in this position. Given how rocky and pedally the terrain is Sedona, we felt like we’d be clipping pedals far too often if we changed it. This is something Orbea is clearly proud of, as the geo adjustment labels on the frame read “low” and “lower,” which we respect. Even with 170mm length cranks (as opposed to the industry standard 175mm) we were still clipping occasionally.

Pointed downhill, holy moly! The Rallon rallies! The calculated combination of the geometry and BOS suspension really make this bike come alive, and it was truly an eye opening experience for all three of us. It begs to be ridden faster and faster and launch higher and farther, and we never felt as though the bike was overwhelmed. It can be casually ridden as well, although the slack head angle makes it really shine at speed.

Even though it has near World Cup downhill race bike stability through the roughest terrain (yes, it’s that good), if you need to quickly navigate tight switchbacks or wheelie between obstacles it’s surprisingly easy to do thanks to the super short rear end. Though it’s not as responsive as bikes with a shorter wheelbase or steeper head angle, it changes lines with ease and never once felt sketchy in any way. Even in the high setting the bike was dialed, and we can imagine it gets even better in the lowest setting. Frame stiffness is up there with the best of the best with no noticeable flex, wiggles, or play.

This was one of the very rare occasions when we’ve jumped on a new bike and had the confidence to immediately charge rough sections of trails at true race pace. It’s very, very confidence inspiring.

A big part of the bike’s downhill prowess is the rear suspension, and it’s clear that Orbea has taken advantage of being based just a few hours drive from the BOS headquarters. In short, the BOS Kirk rear shock was phenomenal and worked amazingly well over all types of bumps. It was lively and supple off the top, had an amazingly controlled feeling, and ramped up smoothly as you reached bottom. Small bumps, square edge hits, g-outs, chatter, and drops were all absorbed without the slightest complaint. We’d go so far as to say It was one of the best trail shocks we’ve ever ridden, which is in large part due to the efforts by both BOS and Orbea to come up with the perfect tune.

The Kirk shock has external low- and high-speed rebound and compression adjustments that allow for even more fine tuning, though the knobs are quite hard to turn. Our preferred settings were within one or two clicks of those suggested in a BOS tuning guide provided by Orbea.

While the BOS Deville 160mm fork was extremely controlled, it felt over-damped, leading all three testers to ride it with the compression wide open. It had a lot of support when things got gnarly, but not with the same smoothness that the rear had in all conditions. Given more time on the fork (which we’ll have in an upcoming long term Deville review) we’d like to play with reduced air pressures while using the compression adjusters to compensate. On long, rough descents the fork built pressure in the lowers and became harsher, requiring us to burp the pressure from underneath the dust wipers to neutralize the pressure. The fork also had almost no clearance between the top of the tire and arch. On a positive note, it was extremely stiff and features a 20mm axle that most trail forks have gone away from.

At 29.7-pounds, the 160mm travel Rallon is of a respectable weight despite having an aluminum frame. On trail the perception of the bike’s weight is average. Some of this could be due to its very stable nature. It doesn’t have the same snappy feel as some lighter weight options. Even so, it rolls well, carries speed better than most, and never felt overly sluggish.

This bike doesn’t rocket forwards in the same manner as more pedal-minded suspension designs, but it’s still quick under hard efforts. It has a slight amount of bob, but this becomes almost unnoticeable under really big sprinting efforts with no drastic loss of power. The bike just motors forwards smoothly. It has a good amount of anti-squat which also helps with pedaling efforts. Combined with the steep effective seat angle, this gives you a bike that goes up a lot better than the travel and slack head angle would have you expecting.

Techy climbs were enjoyable as we could motor straight up the gnarliest of sections with gobs of traction from the rear suspension and tire. The only real limit was our balance and power, not the bike. Body position was very neutral feeling on climbs, and surprisingly we never once had to fight to keep the front tire down. The low bottom bracket did make it more difficult to time pedals between obstacles, however.

The BOS Kirk rear shock has an easily accessible “pedal efficiency lever” that drastically increases low-speed compression. This helps to minimize bob while pedaling on fire roads, but the extra compression damping was a tad too much for climbing on unpredictable off-road terrain, not that we ever felt it was needed. It feels best when adjusted to the recommended base settings and never touched again.

Build Kit

Complete with BOS suspension, a RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper post, Race Face cockpit, and SRAM’s XX1 drivetrain and Roam carbon wheels, the Rallon X-LTD is well-equipped for even the most discerning of riders. There wasn’t a single component that wasn’t worthy of this bike, although we’d prefer a different fork, brakes, and tires for the ideal setup. Finding a fork that could match the performance of the BOS Kirk rear shock would be a very tough task, however.

The stock Geax Goma 2.25-inch TNT tires worked decently well with just one flat in the rocky terrain. They were predictable, but lacked the crazy cornering and braking bite that we prefer. Where these tires really excelled was with their smooth rolling and hardpack grip, especially for a more aggressive treaded tire. They also had a huge air volume despite the 2.25-inch size designation. Getting the tires to seat properly in the SRAM Roam carbon wheels was quite difficult, too.

SRAM’s Roam 60 wheels worked flawlessly, rolled smooth, engaged quickly, gave the GEAX tires a good profile, and felt plenty stiff for the job. They also helped keep rotational and unsprung weight down, improving acceleration and suspension performance.

Formula’s T1 Gold brakes with 180mm rotors didn’t impress us with their power or modulation, and we felt that other brakes would help us ride even faster with more control. Despite being almost too grabby at slow speeds, they required a very hard pull to get full power and lacked the brute force to get the job done when moving quickly. We never experienced any fade though, which was a plus. The levers are also not among our favorites ergonomically.

SRAM's XX1 drivetrain worked well with no complaints other than the chainring size. The bike comes with a 28-tooth chainring which we quickly swapped to a 32-tooth for a more speed-friendly gear range. Combined with the MRP AMG top guide, we never dropped a chain.

The bike was extremely quiet with the derailleur’s clutch mechanism and rubber chainstay and seat stay protectors. The only noise that was noticeable was coming from the cables at the front of the bike rattling together. With some zip-ties and/or electrical tape much of this noise could be reduced.

Long Term Durability

The Orbea Rallon is a well put together and solid feeling bike. Combined with the lifetime warranty the frame should last for many years to come.

We did run into three component issues, however. First, the BOS Deville fork had the pressure build up issue previously mentioned. Second, the RockShox Reverb Stealth seatpost blew a seal and leaked hydraulic fluid inside the frame. Third, the BOS Kirk shock failed on our fourth outing.

When the shock failed, it began cavitating and lost some of the rebound damping. Curious about what happened and why, we reached out to Orbea, who in turn reached out to BOS:

“We have had good experiences with the Kirk suspension platform for over a year during testing and planning with BOS. The problem seems limited to [pre-production test] bikes as we have not run into it again with production models that are shipping with bikes now.” - Xabier Narbaiza, Orbea MTB Product Manager

“We made a pre-production run of 30 Kirk shocks for the Rallon test bikes. Being finished outside of the normal assembly procedure, these shocks were finished in a hurry and suffered from a lack of proper QC. As the production run is made on the regular assembly line with all the QC checks, it will not happen anymore. And obviously the BOS warranty would cover the issue.” - Jaycee Charrier, BOS OEM Sales Manager

The shock was quickly repaired and has performed without fault since.

What's The Bottom Line?

The 2014 Orbea Rallon X-LTD oozes confidence. It inspires its pilot to push harder all the time and rewards those that oblige. Rough and chunky terrain are where it excels most, but it’s no slouch elsewhere. We'd be hard pressed to find a trail that the Rallon would struggle to rally. It’s a good, not great climber, but it more than makes up for this with its descending capabilities. We haven’t thrown a leg over many bikes in the last few years that felt as comfortable and eager so quickly. The geometry works very well, the rear suspension is dialed, and the spec is close to perfect.

With a different fork that could match the suppleness and amazing control of the rear shock you’d have one beast of a bike. Add in some more powerful brakes and more aggressive tires and you could probably put most downhill bikes to shame. Even with the component issues we had, it was among the best all-mountain/trail/enduro bikes we’ve ever tested. Slightly different components and a better price point would make the Rallon a five star ride.

Orbea knocked the ball out of the park with this one, and we’d recommend the Rallon to any aggressive rider. It’s a great ride, especially if you live for the descents.

Visit www.orbea.com for more details.

Bonus Gallery: 33 photos of the 2014 Orbea Rallon X-LTD up close and in action


About The Reviewers

John Hauer - In 13 years of riding, John has done it all and done it well. Downhill, 4X, Enduro, XC, cyclocross... you name it. He spent 7 years as the head test rider for a major suspension company, averages 15-20 hours of saddle time per week, and is extremely picky when it comes to a bike's performance. And yeah, he freakin’ loves Strava.

Evan Turpen - Evan has been racing mountain bikes as a Pro for the last 8 years with his career highlight being selected to represent the U.S. in the 2006 World Championships. More recently he can be found competing in enduro races and having a blast with it. He has helped design, develop, and test products for multiple major mountain bike companies and has an attention to detail well above most.

Brandon Turman - Brandon likes to pop off the little bonus lines on the sides of the trail, get aggressive when he's in tune with a bike and talk tech. In 14 years of riding he worked his way through the Collegiate downhill ranks to the Pro level. Formerly a Mechanical Engineer, nowadays he's Vital MTB's resident product guy.

Which reviewer resembles you the most? Don't miss our Q&A with the testers for more insight about their styles and preferences.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for 2014 Diamondback Mason FS Pro 29 3/25/2014 8:09 PM
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2014 Test Sessions: Diamondback Mason FS Pro

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Reviewed by Jess Pedersen and John Hauer // Photos by Shawn Spomer and Lear Miller

Inspired by the aggressive Mason 29er hardtail, Diamondback's 140mm Mason FS entry into the mid to long-travel full suspension 29er trail bike market serves up a rowdy looking package. Curious to see how recent improvements to the suspension and frame design played out, we pointed the Mason FS up and down some of the rowdiest trails in Sedona, Arizona during the 2014 Vital MTB Test Sessions.

Mason FS Pro Highlights

  • 6061-T6 weapons grade aluminum frame
  • 29-inch wheels
  • 5.5-inches (140mm) of rear wheel travel
  • Knuckle Box suspension
  • Tapered headtube
  • 66.5-degree head angle
  • 73-degree seat tube angle
  • 13.6-inch (345mm) bottom bracket height
  • 18.3-inch (464mm) chainstays
  • Threaded bottom bracket shell with ISCG mounts
  • 142x12mm rear through axle
  • Measured weight (size Large, no pedals): 32.0 pounds (14.51kg)
  • $6,000 MSRP

Early Vital MTB readers surely remember the advertisement featuring a monster truck announcer’s voice screaming “KNUCKLE BOX!” before practically every video. While it may have seemed a little corny, Diamondback’s four-bar suspension technology has some true potential that is worth screaming about. This design deserves more attention than it gets.

Also known as a bell crank, the Knuckle Box serves as the center of the single-pivot four-bar suspension platform and redirects bump forces from the seat stays to the shock. The progressive design keeps the majority of the weight low and centered, which helps out a bit in turns and with stability. A custom tuned FOX CTD Float rear shock compliments bike, offers a good platform when the trail heads uphill, and is easy to reach on the fly. All 14 Enduro Max bearings needed to keep the system running smoothly can be easily accessed thanks to the oversized, single-sided aluminum hardware that rounds out the Mason FS.

Perhaps the most important story about the Mason FS is how Diamondback has improved lateral stiffness in the rear end. During last year’s Vital Test Sessions, we faulted the similarly designed Diamondback Sortie 3 29er with stiffness issues, so it was refreshing to see the company take a few steps in the right direction by beefing up the rear end. New with the Mason FS, the bell crank has been anchored to a pivot that goes through the downtube rather than on top of it, gaining width and increasing stiffness. The seatstay bridge was also beefed up significantly, though this came at the expense of increased chainstay length. The chainstays are also visibly larger and have a more symmetric design. A 142x12mm axle and large clevis pivots out back tie it all together.

The frame features a hydroformed top tube, butted and formed downtube, tapered headtube, and plenty of standover clearance in a 6061-T6 Aluminum package. A threaded bottom bracket promises less creaking than the press fit alternative, and ISCG mounts allow you to mount a chainguide if you see the need. Mud clearance is quite good with the stock 2.35-inch Kenda tire.

While a potential negative for some due to their exposed position under the down tube, the custom cable guides are better than most. Dropper post guides follow the underside of the top tube, and there’s also a Stealth routing option on the side of the seat tube. The bike does lack water bottle cage mounts, the overall package is executed quite well. It seems as though Diamondback has finally nailed most of the small details.

The Mason FS is available in two builds priced at $3,500 and $6,000. We tested the $6,000 Pro build.

On The Trail

We chose to ride the Mason FS on the incredibly diverse terrain in Sedona, which had everything from fast and flowy singletrack to extremely technical rocky climbs and descents. Trails included Slim Shady, Hi-line, Baldwin, Old Post, Ridge, Templeton, and Made in the Shade.

Diamondback did a great job with the cockpit components, which include a 50mm stem and 30.9-inch (785mm) handlebars. It’s clear that whoever spec’d the bike likes to shred, and these parts paired well with the bike’s capabilities. The compact 4.3-inch (110mm, size dependent) headtube works well with the 29er, helping to keep the front end height reasonable. The reach felt on point, and we were right at home immediately. The 24.4-inch (620mm) top tube is average for a size Large, and Diamondback recommends the Large for riders in the 5’10” to 6’1” range which seems on point given our experience. Unfortunately reach and stack measurements are not published.

Given the bike’s rather aggressive geometry, it's obvious that Diamondback intended this bike to be used on as hectic of terrain as the rider can handle. The 66.5-degree head angle is matched with a 5.5-inch (140mm) FOX 34 Float CTD fork with a 51mm offset. This gives you a nice slack feeling but doesn’t compromise the steering characteristics that you would get with a smaller wheeled bike.

The one fault with the bike’s geometry is the length of the chainstays, especially on tighter trails. At 18.3-inches (464mm) they are an inch or more longer than many others in the aggressive all-mountain 29er category. While this provided good stability in high speed sections, we would like to see things balanced out to give the bike the ability to change directions more easily when the trail is slow and tight. The excessive length of the stays could feel worse on smaller sizes.

The bike's strong point has to be its capabilities on the descents. The geometry, suspension design and pure physical mass allow you to point it down and open it up. It may not be the most playful bike due to its weight, but when heading into the roughest sections of trails you can hold your line, pick a new line mid section, or even experiment with sketchy lines that lighter, more nimble bikes want nothing to do with. Most of the mass is around the bottom bracket or behind it, so lifting the front end is still as easy many lighter bikes, despite the long stays.

There was a little flex detectable in the rear end, but it was no where near as much as the Sortie 3 we tested last year. This helped tremendously with the overall handling and responsiveness of the bike.

Small bump sensitivity was spot on, allowing the bike to track extremely well on loose terrain. The back of the bike wanted to push through the chunder rather than bounce or hang up. The shock had great mid-stroke support and was progressive enough towards the end to avoid the feeling of riding too deep into the suspension. G-outs, drops and jumps were dealt with surprisingly well. Downhill square edge hits were absorbed very well, but what stood out even more was the bike’s ability to take the edge off all the square edges on technical climbs. It smoothed out many of the awkward ascents and made it easier to keep the wheel on the ground between rocks and shelves.

FOX’s 34 Float fork paired well with the Mason FS, offering sufficient front end stiffness, decent small bump performance, and a nice progressive ramp at the end that prevented any harsh bottom outs.

At 32-pounds there’s no hiding the bike’s weight, and it definitely has the feel of a heavy rig. Yes, in this day and age you will find much lighter bikes, but we would rather tack on a few extra pounds to the Mason FS and have it work well than sacrifice performance.

In the saddle over rough terrain, the bike is very efficient. Standing up, though, the active suspension design robs some horse power. The bike doesn’t exhibit a large amount of anti-squat so it lacks a snappy pedal response, but then again it tracks very well. Flipping to the “Climb” setting on the Float CTD shock helps improve the ride on smooth portions of the trail.

Climbing efficiency comes from its ability to find traction where other bikes can't. You may have to carry a few extra pounds up the hill, but you will find that you are not spinning the rear tire wasting energy. This was greatly appreciate as we neared the end of a few big rides and tired muscles made things a little sloppy. The Mason can keep a slow and easy cadence while minimizing strain which will help you continue to clean technical climbs hours into your ride. The bike’s length does requires some advanced planning on technical ups, however.

Build Kit

Diamondback did a great job understanding the personality of the Mason FS by equipping it with a pretty smart selection of components. They didn’t compromise performance with anything flimsy, which makes the bike feel solid and doesn’t leave much room for hesitation due to a lack of confidence in the components.

The 2.35-inch Stick-E rubber Kenda Nevegal tires are not the fastest rolling, but they provided sufficient traction on the rock in Sedona when things got steep and rough. For smoother, faster rolling trails we’d suggest something a little less aggressive in the rear. For loose over hard terrain, consider a complete swap for the best traction.

Easton’s Haven wheels performed well. Had Diamondback chosen to put lighter and potentially less stiff wheels on this bike to save weight, that could have had a big impact on the review. The Mason can take the gnar so the wheels better be able to as well.

The Avid X0 Trail brakes combined with a 200mm front and 180mm rear rotor provided plenty of power and modulation. We never found ourselves wishing for more power, even after a few river crossings and sand sections. Two thumbs up.

SRAM’s X01 drivetrain had no issues and the lack of a chainguide gave the whole system a very smooth and drag free feel. Shifting was flawless with no skips or dropped chains. It also quieted the bike nicely and cleared up room to run the Crankbrothers Kronolog dropper post lever where a front shifter would normally sit.

While we’ve had a few poor experiences with the mechanical Crankbrothers Kronolog seatpost in the past, this post worked flawlessly.

Long Term Durability

The components and frame are definitely worthy of being abused for the long haul. The frame is quite stout compared to previous Diamondback 29er designs, and the pivots remained tight during our test.

Diamondback's warranty policy provides up to five years of coverage for the frame, and all suspension components (including the swingarm and linkages) are covered for one year.

What's The Bottom Line?

From the moment we threw a leg over the Diamondback Mason FS Pro 29 we were pleasantly surprised. It feels comfortable immediately, inspires confidence when the trail gets rough, and the aggressive geometry is suited to letting it rip on the descents. Dropping in for the first time it was clear we were going to have fun on this bike. While it’s not the most agile due to the rear end length, the stability, suspension performance, and rear end stiffness improvements allow you to focus on getting nasty.

Yes, it weighs a decent amount, but there is a lot to be said for a bike that does the job without a single hiccup. The added heft also helps the bike carry speed where others slow down, and makes us inclined to think that it’d be a good match for riders that really put their equipment to the test. Remove any preconceptions from your mind, the Mason FS is the real deal and ready to take what you can dish out.

The only major point of contention is the price tag, because at $6,000 you can pick up some very nice rides, many of which are of the carbon variety.

Visit www.diamondback.com for more details.

Bonus Gallery: 31 photos of the 2014 Diamondback Mason FS Pro up close and in action


About The Reviewers

John Hauer - In 13 years of riding, John has done it all and done it well. Downhill, 4X, Enduro, XC, cyclocross... you name it. He spent 7 years as the head test rider for a major suspension company, averages 15-20 hours of saddle time per week, and is extremely picky when it comes to a bike's performance. And yeah, he freakin’ loves Strava.

Jess Pedersen - Jess is one of those guys that can hop on a bike after a snowy winter and instantly kill it. He's deceptively quick, smooth, and always has good style. He's also known to tinker with bikes 'til they're perfect, creating custom additions and fixes along the way. Maybe it's that engineering background...

Which reviewer resembles you the most? Don't miss our Q&A with the testers for more insight about their styles and preferences.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for 2014 BH Lynx 6 27.5 3/23/2014 1:39 PM
C138_bh_lynx_6_27.5_8.5

2014 Test Sessions: BH Lynx 6

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Reviewed by Evan Turpen and Brandon Turman // Photos by Shawn Spomer and Lear Miller

While the BH Bikes brand may be a new name to riders in North America, they’ve actually been creating finely crafted bikes for more than 100 years. The Lynx 6 is the Spanish company's all-mountain/enduro bike designed for aggressive riders seeking slack angles and great suspension performance via Dave Weagle’s well regarded Split Pivot system. For 2014 the bike comes in the 27.5-inch (650b) wheel variety at a reasonable price of $3,499. We spent some time aboard the Lynx 6 in Arizona during the 2014 Vital MTB Test Sessions. Let’s see how it performed.

Lynx 6 Highlights

  • Hydroformed alloy frame
  • 27.5-inch wheels
  • 5.9-inches (150mm) rear wheel travel
  • Split Pivot suspension design
  • Tapered head tube
  • 67-degree head angle
  • 73-degree seat tube angle
  • 13.2-inch (335mm) bottom bracket
  • 16.9-inch (430mm) chainstay length
  • Press Fit 92 bottom bracket with ISCG 05 mounts
  • 142mm x 12mm thru-axle
  • Measured weight (size Medium, no pedals): 31-pounds 7-ounces (14.3kg)
  • $3,499 MSRP

The BH Lynx 6 is unique in that it utilizes DW’s Split Pivot suspension design in combination with a floating shock mount, meaning the shock is compressed between both the chainstay and the rocker link. The shock is situated low in the frame in an opening created by a break in the seat tube. BH is the only European brand making use of the Split Pivot design, in which the 142x12mm thru-axle and rear pivot are concentric.

According to Weagle, “Split Pivot separates the acceleration forces from the braking forces caused by the suspension, thus reducing the excess compression of the suspension under acceleration - anti squat, and at the same time, reducing the excess compression resulting from the braking forces.” The bike has a progressive leverage curve through the majority of the 150mm of travel.

Unique hardware at the rear pivot uses a cassette tool instead of wrench flats or allen wrenches to tighten, and Enduro brand bearings are used throughout the linkage. The lower suspension pivot assembly and Press Fit 92 bottom bracket are made from two halves that are welded together. While the short 16.9-inch chainstays are greatly appreciated, they come at the expense of mud clearance - there’s less than a centimeter of room for the muck with the stock 2.35-inch Schwalbe tire.

Additional details include a tapered headtube, direct mount front derailleur, ISCG 05 mounts for an optional chainguide, and plenty of room for a water bottle inside the front triangle. The post mount rear brake uses replaceable hardware should you accidentally cross-thread a mounting bolt.

The rear derailleur cable routes through the chainstay, reducing the chance of damage from the chain. Both the front and rear derailleur cables are routed internally through the front triangle. Rear brake routing remains external for ease of maintenance. Cable guides are included for a dropper post should you decide to add one.

In Europe, the Lynx 6 is available with two build kits designated as the 8.5 and 8.7. One model is available in the USA with a slightly different spec and a $3,499 price tag.

On The Trail

To put the Lynx 6 through its paces we headed out to the Black Canyon Trail about an hour south of Sedona, Arizona. We rode two sections of the 78-mile trail that had a good variety of technical rocky bits, high-speed corners, dozens of punchy climbs, and a few very fast, aggressive descents.

Before hitting the trail we replaced the longish 80mm stem and narrow 26.5-inch bars for a short 50mm stem and 29.5-inch bars, which were much more in line with the bike’s intentions and capabilities.

The moderately slack 67-degree head angle, low 13.2-inch bottom bracket height, and short 16.9-inch (430mm) chainstays were very close to ideal numbers for this style of bike, offering a lively yet capable ride. While the effective seat tube angle is a reasonable 73-degrees, the actual seat tube angle is very laid back, and we ended up liking the feel more after sliding the seat all the way forward in the rails. The 17.3-inch seat tube height might be too short for some with the stock seatpost, as both of our 5’10” testers were just beyond the recommended maximum seatpost height.

On paper, the 24.2-inch (615mm) top tube length is quite long for the size Medium we tested, but because we slid the seat forward it felt average in the length department while seated. If anything, we’d like to see a slightly longer front end to add more downhill stability and a steeper seat angle for improved climbing performance. Unfortunately Reach and Stack measurements aren’t published.

Pointed downhill, the Lynx 6 is a very fun bike to ride. It’s not quite as stable as others, but it’s very playful. It’s easy to hop around, jump, and pick the front end up over obstacles. The bike changes directions and corners well, too. Those who are aggressive and active will appreciate the superb front to back balance, and those who ride more casually will still find it to be enjoyable. The frame is plenty stiff for its weight, but doesn’t beat the rider up with over the top stiffness.

At 30% sag, rear suspension performance was impressive for the base model RockShox Monarch shock. The Lynx absorbs small bumps at the top of its stroke well. Chatter was absorbed well too, but where the Lynx really shined was when encountering g-outs, drops, and jumps. It had a very controlled feeling that seemed to use just the right amount of travel for the occasion. Once deeper in the travel square edge bumps are absorbed okay, but it felt like there may have been a little too much compression damping making square edges feel slightly harsh. Regardless, the rear end of the bike remained well composed and never hung up or spiked during our test, even under heavy braking.

The mid-range 140mm RockShox Sektor fork was the weakest link in the bike’s downhill performance. It was noticeably flexy compared to larger stanchioned forks and had relatively poor compression and rebound damping control, leading to a few slightly sketchy moments. The fork is equipped with a remote lockout lever which we never felt the need to use, and would have preferred a fork with effective external adjustments and no remote lockout.

The Lynx 6 is an extremely noisy bike when encountering rough sections, mostly due to the internal cable routing which rattles around inside the frame. A switch to external routing would fix this, although there are no external cable guide provisions except for the dropper.

While the bike claimed is to be in the 29-pound range, the actual weight is closer to 31.5-pounds. The heft can be felt on the trail as it adds stability, but we were pleasantly surprised by how quickly the bike rolled and maintained speed. Despite the weight the geometry and suspension makes the bike easy to maneuver.

Out of the saddle sprints are responded to well. The bike is efficient and has minimal perceivable bob or loss of power. Seated pedaling was also very efficient, although only in the largest of the double front chainrings. In the 24-tooth granny ring we felt there was a little too much pedal feedback.

From a suspension performance standpoint the bike climbs well and didn’t require the use of compression levers to achieve this. Technical climbs were managed well, but only while standing. There was plenty of traction at the rear wheel, but the seated riding position was too far back which created a front end that would wander and come up too easily. We had to fight to keep the front end down up steep climbs. The low bottom bracket (which helped the bike corner so well) became somewhat of a nuisance when pedaling through rocky terrain even while trying to be conscious of pedal timing.

Build Kit

Our $3,499 build included components from RockShox, FSA, Shimano, and BH. Save the stem, bars, and fork, we found the build to be pretty well suited to Arizona’s rough and rocky terrain. The addition of a dropper post would make it even more trail worthy.

Schwalbe’s 2.35-inch Nobby Nic tires worked decently well, though riders in demanding terrain and may want to replace the front tire. They excelled in deep loose conditions, but drifted too much on loose over hard terrain due to their tall knobs and harder PaceStar compound. The tires also showed major signs of wear after just a handful of rides.

The BH-branded wheels weren’t standout items as far as weight, stiffness, or width are concerned, but they got the job done without issue.

Shimano’s Deore brakes worked well especially given their low price point. They had excellent modulation with enough power to control the ride, but swapping the front 180mm and rear 160mm rotors for something larger would help if riding steep long descents often. The lever feel was excellent and consistent with no fade experienced.

The Shimano XT rear derailleur shifted flawlessly with no skipping, but was a non-clutch version which made the bike noisy and prone to dropped chains. We would have much rather seen a less expensive SLX derailleur with a clutch to match the rest of the SLX drivetrain. The chainstay and seat stay also come without any form of protection which adds a lot of chain-slap noise. Covering the chainstay and seat stays with strips of rubberized 3M mastic tape would solve this as would the inclusion of a rubber chainstay and seat stay protector from the factory.

Long Term Durability

The frame itself looks like it will far outlast most of the stock components, which is par for the course for most mid-range builds. One particular area for concern is how exposed the shock is to rear wheel debris. Another is how the external rear brake routing rubs the frame where it crossed the rear shock’s path, which could lead to leaky brake housing and frame wear.

BH backs the Lynx 6 frame with a limited lifetime warranty, provided you don’t the race the bike.

What's The Bottom Line?

The BH Lynx 6 has a great suspension design combined with neutral geometry that makes it easy to get used to, playful, and fun to ride. With a more carefully considered spec it could really come to life. The bike is very well balanced and remains composed through rough sections. Those seeking a versatile, well-rounded bike who occasionally ride more difficult trails will be at home on the Lynx 6. It excels on flowy trails with a mixture of short rough sections, jumps, turns, and terrain to pump. A slightly longer reach, steeper seat angle, and a few different components would take it to the next level. Not many bikes in this price range are perfect, but the heart of the Lynx 6 is a solid performer.

Visit www.bhbikes.com for more details.

Bonus Gallery: 26 photos of the 2014 BH Lynx 6 up close and in action


About The Reviewers

Evan Turpen - Evan has been racing mountain bikes as a Pro for the last 8 years with his career highlight being selected to represent the U.S. in the 2006 World Championships. More recently he can be found competing in enduro races and having a blast with it. He has helped design, develop, and test products for multiple major mountain bike companies and has an attention to detail well above most.

Brandon Turman - Brandon likes to pop off the little bonus lines on the sides of the trail, get aggressive when he's in tune with a bike and talk tech. In 14 years of riding he worked his way through the Collegiate downhill ranks to the Pro level. Formerly a Mechanical Engineer, nowadays he's Vital MTB's resident product guy.

Which reviewer resembles you the most? Don't miss our Q&A with the testers for more insight about their styles and preferences.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for 2014 Cannondale Trigger 29 Carbon 1 3/19/2014 4:01 AM
C138_2014_cannondale_trigger_29_carbon_1_bike

2014 Test Sessions: Cannondale Trigger 29 Carbon 1

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Reviewed by John Hauer and Jess Pedersen // Photos by Shawn Spomer and Lear Miller

New for 2014, the Cannondale Trigger 29 is offered in a carbon version. By switching to carbon from aluminum, they were able to save an impressive 550 grams (1.2-pounds) off the frame weight. Sporting the rather unorthodox looking Lefty SuperMax fork and a FOX DYAD RT2 pull shock, it’s sure to make others look twice. With the flip of a switch, the custom shock transforms the ride from a 130mm trail crusher to one with just 80mm of rear travel and steeper angles ready to haul you up the hills. Curious to see how the uniqueness of the bike plays out on the trail, we tackled the best of Sedona, Arizona’s red hills aboard the Trigger 29 Carbon 1 during the 2014 Vital MTB Test Sessions.

Trigger 29 Carbon 1 Highlights

  • Ballistec Hi-Mod Carbon frame
  • 29-inch wheels
  • 130/80mm (5.1/3.1-inches) adjustable rear wheel travel via remote
  • 1.5-inch head tube
  • 69-degree head angle (S, M) or 69.5-deg head angle (L, XL)
  • 73.5-degree seat tube angle
  • 348mm (13.7-inch) bottom bracket height
  • 448mm (17.6-inch) chainstay length
  • PF30 bottom bracket
  • 142 x 12mm thru-axle
  • Measured weight (size Large, no pedals): 26-pounds 5-ounces (11.94kg)
  • $8,120 MSRP

Up front, the Trigger 29 is equipped with the Cannondale developed Lefty SuperMax Carbon PBR fork. It features 130mm of travel and a unique dual-crown, single-leg inverted design. How did they pull this off? For starters, the fork uses a 36mm diameter stanchion and 46mm carbon fiber upper leg. The hidden top portion of the stanchion is square-shaped, which prevents the two tubes from rotating relative to each other and is key to retaining torsional stiffness. Internally, the stanchion slides on four sets of needle bearings rather than bushings, reducing stiction when loaded. This design requires a proprietary hub and tapered axle.

It may surprise you, but the 4-pound (1,830 gram) fork is actually as torsionally stiff as many downhill forks while at the same time being lighter than most trail forks. As proof, take a moment to watch this demonstration videoor look over the figures below.

An integrated bumper protects the fork and frame from damage. Unlike previous versions, this model of the Lefty has been modified to allow the use of stems as short as 50mm without bar/top cap interference issues, and the steerer tube now measures a true 1.5-inches for greater stem and headset compatibility. The “PBR” edition of the fork features a Push Button platform “lockout” nestled within the top cap Rebound adjuster. Seeking a bike that could provide stability at high speeds but also handle as well as one with steeper angles at lower speeds, they chose to kick the head angle out a bit and increase the fork’s rake measurement to 61mm (compared to a typical 45-51mm).

Out back, the swingarm and linkage are based around what Cannondale calls their “Zero Pivot” and "Enhanced Center Stiffness–Torsion Control" systems. The premise is simple, and comes down to the simple fact that a frame is only as stiff as its weakest link. The single pivot and rocker link design is coupled with carbon stays that are engineered to flex vertically every compression, eliminating the need for a pivot near the rear axle like what is found on the aluminum Trigger 29. To really beef up the rear end, 15mm thru-axles are used at the remaining pivots combined with widely spaced bearings and a collet sleeve bearing preload system. The lower pivot axle is clamped by bolts on both sides. Finally, they double-stack bearings in each rear pivot to increase resistance to twisting loads.

Rear suspension wise, things get really interesting thanks to the use of a proprietary pull shock. Developed in conjunction with FOX, the DYAD RT2 offers handlebar remote cable-actuated travel adjustment from 130mm (known as "Flow" mode) to 80mm ("Elevate" mode). Setup requires the use of a Cannondale supplied high-pressure shock pump. To really envision what's going on, it's best to think of the DYAD RT2 as two separate shocks combined into one. Depending on the handlebar remote setting, the oil displaced by the center pull chamber will go into one or both sides.

In "Flow" mode the bike gets the full 130mm of travel and utilizes both positive air chambers and its own damping circuit. Doing so yields a high-volume air shock and more linear feel.

In "Elevate" mode the bike gets just 80mm of travel. This occurs because the shock is trying to pump all of the available oil into just one chamber and there simply isn't enough volume. As a result the sag point changes and the spring rate becomes more progressive. This steepens the bike's sagged head and seat tube angles, picks the bottom bracket up a bit, and provides a firmer pedaling platform.

The two modes have different compression and rebound damping characteristics. High-speed rebound and compression are factory-tuned, but low-speed rebound for both Flow and Elevate modes is user adjustable. The center chamber also includes a shared negative air chamber that affects how easily the shock compresses initially. While it may sound complicated, the shock is decently accessible and a tuning guide on the frame is a quick and easy reference.

Frame details include a direct front derailleur mount, burly derailleur hanger, 1.5-inch headtube, and a rubber chainstay protector. Cable routing is mostly external, with the derailleur, brake, and dropper post housing following the underside of the downtube. The Reverb Stealth dropper post goes into the base of the seat tube, and the rear shock cable routes internally through the side of the headtube. Cannondale licenses the Syntace X-12 142mm width rear axle system and uses ballistic carbon to increase the strength and stiffness of the frame. Despite the XX1 drivetrain spec, the frame still has ISCG tabs if you want to add a chainguide to ensure you never drop a chain. The shock positioning leaves room for a water bottle cage inside the frame. Mud clearance is decent with a minimum of 1cm of room for the much with the stock 2.35-inch Schwalbe tire.

The Trigger 29 is available in both carbon and aluminum varieties. The high-end Trigger 29 Carbon 1 retails for $8,120 (tested), while a more affordable Carbon 2 version comes in at $6,170. Aluminum models run $4,120 and $3,170.

On The Trail

We rode the Trigger 29 on a diverse selection of Sedona trails in a variety of different conditions. From slippery snow covered climbs to steep descents with slickrock, massive g-outs, rough rock gardens, tight technical maneuvers, and enough corners to make you dizzy, we rode it all. Trails included Slim Shady, Hi-Line, Little Horse, High on the Hogs, Pig Tail, and Broken Arrow.

Sporting the longest top tube in our 25 bike Test Session lineup at 634mm (25-inches), throwing a leg over the size Large test bike we immediately felt slightly more stretched out than normal. The 447mm (17.6-inch) reach is pretty lengthly too. Combined with the stock 60mm stem and modestly wide 740mm bars, this made for a stable ride well-suited to fast terrain and climbs. The bike feels a bit like a stretched out XC rig with a few extra millimeters of travel. This isn’t exactly a negative though, because with the dual travel set up it basically takes it from an XC ripper to a bike that doesn’t mind rallying when the trail gets rough.

The massive 2.35-inch Schwalbe Hans Dampf tires and long wheel base inspired a good deal of confidence on most descents, and we’d happily charge into just about anything knowing that we’d make it through unscathed. Bulldozing through moderately pitched rough terrain came naturally and the bike ate most of it up. With its 69.5-degree head angle, the Trigger is a degree or two steeper than many other aggressive 29-inch trail bikes, at least among current designs. That made truly steep terrain feel a bit sketchy and the fork didn’t absorb square edged hits as well as it could have.

On the flip side, the quick front end handling due to the head angle and increased fork offset made it very manageable as things slowed down. We were able to balance, regain composure, and get over that last rock or through a tight switchback with ease. While it felt quick and snappy in tight corners at slow speeds, at higher speeds the Trigger seemed to excel in a straight line. When the trail turned frequently the length became a bit of a burden, and any quick changes in direction took some brute force and advanced planning to bring the back end around. Once committed, though, the bike tracks well when pushing the bars down and laying into fast/smooth corners. The chainstays also felt long when trying to get the front end up on quick drops and manuals.

Stiffness in the center of the frame left a little to be desired. Flex was apparent when sprinting out of corners and during g-outs or the occasional landing where the frame wasn’t pointed straight. When airborne or about to hit something abrupt we’d find ourselves hoping the bike came out pointing in the right direction. This did seem to aid in traction around flat rough corners, however. Despite having only one leg, the Lefty fork was deceptively stiff on the trail, backing up Cannondale’s claims. This amplified the perception of the rear end flexing. On rocky descents the front end sometimes felt as though it was deflecting more than normal, but you could push into it with authority and the response was impressive.

Oddly, the fork seemed to hit a bit of a wall midway through its travel. Throughout all of our rides we were only able to use about 70% of the available travel despite some rather large impacts and conservative pressure settings according to Cannondale’s setup guide. Activating the “Pop Top” adjustment made no perceptible difference, leading us to believe that the fork may have been stuck in the firmer compression mode. It seemed to lack the superb suppleness touted in the sales material, but we did appreciate the consistency through rough off camber sections where traditional designs sometimes suffer from bushing bind issues.

Starting one of our rides on an early winter morning at 28-degrees Fahrenheit, we found the fork to be extremely sensitive to temperature when it seemed afraid to move even with the rebound wide open. Once the sun came out and the fork warmed up from riding things improved, but later in the day when the temperatures dropped and the wind picked up it began to have issues again.

Rear suspension performance was surprisingly good for a 130mm bike with no obvious problems keeping up with the trail or our riding styles, though we wouldn't classify it as being significantly better than many traditional designs. Some additional compliance over square edges and chatter would improve the experience, but overall we found it to be sufficiently active. The regressive then progressive leverage curve provided support when needed further into the stroke.

The DYAD RT2 rear shock’s on-the-fly travel adjust proved to be quite effective. At 26.3-pounds the bike is definitely on the light end of things according to the scale, but it doesn’t feel as light on the trail as you’d expect. Without the travel adjust the bike feels sluggish out of corners and when you stand up to hammer on the pedals, almost as though the brakes are rubbing or the tires are loosing air. A lot of that may come from the massive tire width. Because of this the ability to shorten the travel from 130 to 80mm for efficiency purposes is greatly appreciated, and you immediately feel the extra zip in every pedal stroke. The bike climbed like a champ in the shorter travel mode, though it does lose some compliance and traction in rough technical sections.

Changing travel modes may seem awkward at first until you realize how to best use the adjustment lever, and after that it becomes natural and surprisingly quick to do. Pushing with your thumb puts the bike in the shorter travel mode, and depressing the silver button at the end of lever returns it to the longer travel position. It’s easiest to rock your hand over and use the side of your pointer finger to return to the longer travel mode rather than once again reaching up with your thumb.

Build Kit

Cannondale’s component choices on the Trigger 29 Carbon 1 model contributed positively to the ride experience. Parts from Schwalbe, Mavic, RockShox, Magura, SRAM, and some house-branded bits highlight the spec.

The 2.35-inch Schwalbe Hans Dampf tires were absolutely ripping on the descents, though when your tires work this well on the technical aspects of the trail you often give up some valuable rolling speed. Opting for a faster rolling rear tire could balance the performance and rolling resistance equation better. Hans Dampf tires in the Trailstar compound also wear quicker than most.

While the Mavic Crossmax ST 29 wheels are aluminum, they are quite light at a very reasonable 1,620 grams. When trying to flex the bike the only perceptible give came from the bottom bracket area and center of the frame. The wheels gave the tires a good profile and should be easy to keep true over time. They’re also very easy to set up tubeless thanks to the UST rim profile.

Although the Magura MT6 levers made the travel adjust lever hard to line up perfectly, they provided great control and plenty of usable power. We were impressed with their ability to remain quiet despite riding through sand and water several times. They never faded and always had the same pull and consistency.

The drivetrain is a mixture of SRAM XX1/X01 and Cannondale components. Cannondale’s own HollowGram SI cranks were used in place of SRAM’s carbon cranks, presumably to keep the cost down. Similarly, the X01 cassette is a hair less expensive while retaining the same level of performance as the XX1 equivalent. Even without a guide, we had no concerns about dropping a chain. The 30-tooth chainring and 10 to 42-tooth cassette offered plenty of gear range for the technical rocky climbs of Sedona.

The drivetrain, suspension and brakes made no noise, helping to keep the bike very quiet. Cable routing is also clean without rattling.

Long Term Durability

The Trigger 29 frame appears to be well made and down for the long haul. Our only concern is the use of a proprietary shock and fork, which may or may not be in production as long as traditional models. Given that the fork appeared to have premature issues with the pop top compression/"lockout" adjustment, we feel this is a legitimate concern. Without a Cannondale dealer nearby, service might take longer than you’d like.

Cannondale backs the frame with a lifetime warranty and components for one year should any issues arise.

What's The Bottom Line?

The Cannondale Trigger 29 Carbon excels in high speed, rolling singletrack where efficiency, traction, and the ability to blast through an occasional technical section are the primary demands. With its long top tube and massive tires it feels a bit like a bulldozer when charging the trail, but remains agile at slower speeds and climbs impressively. This is a decent all-around trail bike, and save truly steep and rowdy descents the geometry works pretty well.

As they have from day one, Cannondale continues to be bold and think outside of the box. The use of two proprietary suspension components certainly begs the question of whether or not they are being unique for the sake of it or for true performance gains. There are a lot of awesome 29-inch trail bikes on the market right now with components to match, so it’s difficult for us to recommend the Trigger 29 over some of the other class leaders, especially at this price point. One thing is certain though - it’s definitely a conversation starter.

Visit www.cannondale.com for more details.

Bonus Gallery: 34 photos of the 2014 Cannondale Trigger 29 Carbon 1 up close and in action


About The Reviewers

John Hauer - In 13 years of riding, John has done it all and done it well. Downhill, 4X, Enduro, XC, cyclocross... you name it. He spent 7 years as the head test rider for a major suspension company, averages 15-20 hours of saddle time per week, and is extremely picky when it comes to a bike's performance. And yeah, he freakin’ loves Strava.

Jess Pedersen - Jess is one of those guys that can hop on a bike after a snowy winter and instantly kill it. He's deceptively quick, smooth, and always has good style. He's also known to tinker with bikes 'til they're perfect, creating custom additions and fixes along the way. Maybe it's that engineering background...

Which reviewer resembles you the most? Don't miss our Q&A with the testers for more insight about their styles and preferences.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for 2014 Santa Cruz 5010 Carbon XX1 AM 27.5 with ENVE Wheels 3/18/2014 11:56 PM
C138_2014_santa_cruz_5010_carbon_xx1_am_27.5_with_enve_wheels

2014 Test Sessions: Santa Cruz 5010 Carbon

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Reviewed by Brandon Turman and Steve Wentz // Photos by Shawn Spomer and Lear Miller

The 125mm travel Santa Cruz Solo - excuse us, Santa Cruz “5010” - enters the 2014 lineup as a smaller brother to the Bronson. Compared to the well-regarded Blur TRc, at first glance you’re sure to notice the new wheel size, but there’s much more to the story. The bike sees updates to the geometry, suspension tweaks, feature updates and more. As one of the most memorable videos of 2013 showed, the bike was designed to take to cover some serious ground on your adventures, but also to be a capable rig that’s at home even under downhill crushers like Steve Peat. Having only gotten a taste of what the bike had to offer during the official launch, we invited the boys from Santa Cruz to send one over for the 2014 Vital MTB Test Sessions in Sedona, Arizona.

5010 Carbon Highlights

  • Carbon frame
  • 27.5-inch wheels
  • 125mm of rear wheel travel
  • Tapered headtube
  • 68-degree head angle
  • 73-degree seat tube angle
  • 13.1-inch bottom bracket height
  • 17.1-inch chainstay length
  • ISCG05 tabs
  • 73mm BB shell
  • 142mm x 12mm thru-axle
  • Measured weight (size large, no pedals): 26-pounds
  • $9,775 MSRP

There’s no denying that this bike is a good looker, but what’s inside is equally impressive. From the cutouts we’ve seen, the one piece carbon lay-up is as smooth and wrinkle free inside as it is on the outside. Weighing it at just 5.06-pounds for the frame and shock, the 5010 immediately takes a step ahead of much of the competition. Find and watch Santa Cruz's frame testing videos and you'll see there isn't much to concern yourself with in regard to their carbon frame strength. Carbon done right can be incredibly strong, even when the frame is light. Our complete build weighed just 26-pounds sans pedals, and was the lightest of the 25 bikes in our 2014 Test Sessions lineup. It was also the second most expensive.

Close inspection reveals that Santa Cruz took their time as even the minor details have been executed well. One favorite element is the ability to access the lower pivot bolt from the non-driveside, a small touch that can save a lot of time when it comes to maintenance. As with all Santa Cruz bikes, the 5010 features remarkably well-engineered pivots. The collet axle system uses steel-shielded angular contact bearings that boost frame stiffness. Everything is very well sealed with grease ports for quick and easy pivot maintenance. Mud clearance near the lower link with a 2.3-inch Maxxis tire is decent with about 1cm of room for the muck.

Internal seatpost cable routing cleans things up nicely, but external cable mounts are still there if needed. External brake and derailleur routing make for easy maintenance. Santa Cruz also kept the 73mm threaded BB, sighting the press-fit alternative as sometimes creaky and troublesome. IS brake mounts ensure that you don't accidentally goof up your frame by stripping a threaded insert and, according to Santa Cruz, are also positioned more reliably during the carbon molding process.

New molded rubber frame protection finds its way onto the frame on the chainstay and downtube. It's plenty durable and easy to remove. There's also a rubber guard on the inside rear area of the seatstay to eliminate any chance of chain slap. The 5010 sees the addition of ISCG05 mounts for those looking to bolt on a chainguide. First introduced on 2013 Blur TRc frames, the 5010 also sports a 142mm thru axle rear end. There are two water bottle mounts on the downtube for those looking to ditch the pack.

Compared to the 26-inch Blur TRc, the seat tube has been steepened a half degree to offer a better pedaling position. The shock rate has been altered slightly as well, allowing it to sit further up in its travel and again pedal a bit better. Another thing that we're pleased to see is a shorter seat tube length for each size, allowing riders that opt for a larger frame to still run a dropper post with 5+ inches of adjustment.

Out back, the bike relies on the VPP2 suspension system to soak up the hits and provide traction. It uses a pair of super short, counter-rotating links with large diameter axles and angular contact bearings to keep things stiff. The upper link is carbon fiber and the forged aluminum lower link has been offset to allow for a chainguide. You might notice that the lower link is quite low, which may present a clearance issue in extremely rocky, jagged situations.

The linkage has been tuned to be regressive up until the sag point before getting increasingly progressive through the end of the stroke. This creates a bike that is responsive to small and medium-sized bumps with (in theory) plenty of support for bigger hits. The FOX CTD Float shock is in a very good position for adjusting the knobs on the fly.

The bike is designed to work best with a fork in the 120-140mm range. The stock 130mm Fox 32 Float CTD fork can be adjusted internally +/- 10mm.

Complete builds start at $4,199 and range up to $8,010 with additional FOX and ENVE upgrades that add extra. Our 5010 Carbon with the SRAM XX1 build kit, ENVE wheels, and Kashima coated FOX suspension ran a whooping $9,775. For those looking for the value buy, the 5010 is also available with an aluminum frame and completes starting at $3,299.

On The Trail

When the 5010 was introduced to the public last year we had the opportunity to throw a leg over it in the boggy hills of Scotland. Wanting more ride time before writing down our ride impressions, we spent a few extra weeks rallying it in the hills of Sedona. Trail highlights included HiLine, Chuckwagon, Aerie, Huckaby, Teacup, Slim Shady, Ridge, Brewer, High on the Hogs, Pig Tail… just about anything you can think of. All told it saw a proper mix of terrain and trail styles from fast cruisers to big hits and rowdy steeps.

We tested a size Large frame. Before we even left the garage for the first time a stem swap was in order. The stock 80mm Thomson stem is certainly a beautifully made component, but to really unleash the potential in the 5010 we opted for a shorter replacement. Combined with the comfortably sized 750mm Easton Havoc Carbon bars, Brandon (5’10” tall) chose a 50mm stem and Steve (5’8”) a 35mm. After the swap both riders felt perfectly centered on the bike with a spacious reach and lots of room to move around. Note that Santa Cruz’s sizing tends to run on the smaller side, so be sure to consult their suggested size charts before purchasing.

While there are no geometry adjustments built into the frame, the chosen numbers create a ride that’s perfectly suited for the full range of trail riding. The moderately low 13.1-inch bottom bracket height, agile 68-degree head angle, and 17.1-inch chainstays worked well on the vast majority of the terrain we rode. It was surprisingly rare that we found ourselves wanting a slacker front end, even on the steeps. If anything we’d just bump the fork up to 140mm of travel and call it good. It very rarely pitched our weight forward, and combined with how the frame works the head angle is more capable than the number typically indicates.

Pointed downhill, the 5010 feels immediately comfortable, encouraging you to let off the brakes and pick up speed. It’s playful and rewarding once you reach a minimum speed. Before that speed it's a very stable but almost muted feeling ride. It lacks the always playful feel of some bikes in that it's not overly bouncy or "poppy" off stuff, but it’s playful in the sense that it encourages you to try harder things by staying composed through the rough. It felt really planted and stable in corners, was easy to compress and jump off of trail features, and getting the front end off the ground wasn’t hard to do. The traction offered by the VPP suspension certainly adds to the bike’s descending ability, and it’s surprising what you can get away with considering you’re on a 125mm travel bike.

When things get really steep and rowdy, though, the bike begins to feel a little overwhelmed. We found ourselves at the end of the travel on several occasions on drops, g-outs, and big impacts. It's a not a harsh bottom-out, but you can feel it. The bike does a great job of maintaining a line even at the end of its rope, though, so it never feels sketchy. Because it seems to use lots of travel lots of the time, it gobbles up bumps, tracks well through chatter and stays planted, but there isn’t much left for big hits. Previously we had a hard time using all available travel on the Blur TRc, but it feels a bit too easy on the 5010. The bike does, however, stay up in the travel nicely when you’re not smashing down rough hills.

Part of that “muted” feel we described earlier can be attributed to a lack of much mid-stroke support. Ridden with the suggested amount of sag, the bike tends to wallow a bit, leaving us wishing for more mid-stoke damping. Sure, one could simply flip from “Descend” to “Trail” or “Climb” on the FOX CTD Shock, but doing so increases the damping in the beginning of the stroke a bit more than we’d like for all-around performance. The initial damping is great for pedaling but comes at a compromise to the great small bump performance that’s available in the softer modes.

What we appreciate most about the suspension design and performance is that there wasn’t any funny business. The bike tracks very well with no hang ups, and when ridden hard it doesn’t ever get out of shape.

While the 32mm FOX Float CTD fork may look concerning to the aggressive rider, we found that those concerns don't really translate to the trail that much. In short, the fork isn't holding the bike back. A lowered 34mm FOX fork (they don't make a stock 130mm 34) could offer some additional stiffness, but it's not an absolute necessity, at least for these 175-pound riders. That said, we did have to run about 20psi more than what FOX recommends for our weight to keep it from diving excessively. Heavier riders or those wanting to extend the fork to 140mm of travel may find torsional stiffness to be an issue.

Except for rolling speed, everything about the way the bike handles goes hand-in-hand with the 26-pound weight we observed on the scale. While the Maxxis Highroller II tires perform quite well all-around, a faster rolling rear tire could take the 5010 to the next level. This is only a marginal part of the perceived weight argument, though. All else was exceptional.

Out of the saddle the 5010 wants to take off. It accelerates quickly and reaches top speed in a hurry. There isn’t much bob and just a little loss of power, but it’s perfectly acceptable given the tracking and small bump compliance offered by the suspension design. You can feel the bike settle into its travel, but once there it offers good support while stomping on the pedals.

When climbing seated there is little suspension movement. FOX's higher initial damping rates do a great job of numbing any movement that could happen with pedaling when using any of the three Trail modes. The bike feels efficient and there is plenty of room to move over the front. Technical climbs are a treat thanks to the suspension design which offers ample rear wheel traction when you need it. Pushing in turns wasn’t an issue, nor was crank spiking due to the bottom bracket height.

Build Kit

For $9,775, the components spec’d on the top-of-the-line 5010 Carbon had better be remarkable. Luckily they are, and this build includes the best of the best in many areas. Those that can afford it will be pleased to know that there’s very little we’d change. Those that can’t will be pleased to know that the other build kits offered by Santa Cruz come at a competitive price and quality.

Save the stem, as previously mentioned the only other thing we’d swap out is the rear tire. The 2.3-inch Maxxis Highroller II tires were solid performers in the loose trails of Sedona and occasionally wet trails in Scotland. Loose over hardpack wasn't the best (when is it?), but once the tires were in soft soil the grip was incredible. Braking traction is phenomenal and there’s great bite when really leaning into turns. If you do replace the rear with something fast rolling, we’d suggest saving the extra High Roller 2 for when the front gets worn.

ENVE’s wheels are super light, remarkably stiff, accelerate very quickly, help the bike change direction at a moment’s notice and add to its downhill abilities. Are they worth the additional dollars? For those racing, possibly so. For those out to enjoy everyday trail rides they’re hard to justify. With such little travel and an already stiff, precise, and light frame, the stiffness of the wheels might be overkill on the 5010. Some will appreciate this precise feeling, others may miss the more forgiving ride of aluminum rims. Plus, a little bit of rotating weight could actually help the 5010 in the stability department. It’s already stable as is, but the ease of movement can take a little getting used to.

On two occasions the DT Swiss rear hub slipped, but this could likely be remedied by cleaning and carefully re-lubing the ratchet mechanism. This is easy to do.

The Shimano XTR disc brakes performed very well all around with zero complaints. There was some disconcerting pad movement in the garage when rocking the bike back and forth, but this didn't impact the ride on the trail.

The RockShox Reverb Stealth seatpost worked without issue and was as smooth as they come. We appreciate that Santa Cruz got the lever position correct and mounted it under the bar.

SRAM’s XX1 drivetrain was exceptional, as usual, with no drag and quiet, drop free, dialed performance. It comes with a 34-tooth chainring which may mean some grunts on long, extended, steep climbs even with the added range of the 10 to 42-tooth XX1 cassette.

The carbon frame, carbon wheels, clean cable routing, and clutched Type II rear derailleur all helped keep things quiet, and the 5010 was among the quietest bikes we’ve ever tested.

Long Term Durability

We have no concerns regarding durability. The big pivot hardware, oversized shock bolts, and grease ports are smart things for any frame, and especially so for one that's capable of getting rowdy. Santa Cruz includes a grease gun for easy pivot maintenance.Detailed maintenance tips and videos are available online. The frame is backed with a five year warranty and lifetime pivot/bearing replacement.

What's The Bottom Line?

The Santa Cruz 5010 Carbon is an everyday rider's kind of bike good for rough trails, smooth trails, and everything in between. It's light, strong, stiff, stable, predictable, consistent, and corners like it’s on rails. The carbon construction is amazing and without a doubt improves the quality of the ride. Those seeking a short travel bike with a confidence inspiring feel capable of handling high speeds will be pleased with the 5010. It isn’t vague in the least, and if you’re willing to push it a little the ride is very rewarding. The only improvement we’d like to see is more mid-stroke support and a touch more bottom-out resistance for when things get wild, which they inevitably will do given how encouraging the bike is.

Oh, and for the record, we still call it a Solo.

For more details visit www.santacruzbicycles.com.

Bonus Gallery: 32 photos of the 2014 Santa Cruz 5010 Carbon up close and in action


About The Reviewers

Brandon Turman - Brandon likes to pop off the little bonus lines on the sides of the trail, get aggressive when he's in tune with a bike and talk tech. In 14 years of riding he worked his way through the Collegiate downhill ranks to the Pro level. Formerly a Mechanical Engineer, nowadays he's Vital MTB's resident product guy.

Steve Wentz - A man of many talents, Steve got his start in downhilling at a young age. He has been riding for over 17 years, 10 of which have been in the Pro ranks. Asked to describe his riding style he said, "I like to smooth out the trail myself." Today he builds some of the best trails in the world (and eats lots of M&M's).

Which reviewer resembles you the most? Don't miss our Q&A with the testers for more insight about their styles and preferences.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for 2014 Intense Tracer T275 Carbon Pro 3/17/2014 4:04 AM
C138_intense_cycles_tracer_275_carbon_pro

Tested: All-New 2014 Intense Tracer T275 Carbon

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by Brandon Turman // Photos by Tim Bardsley-Smith and Intense Cycles

On January 14, journalists from the World’s leading mountain bike media outlets gathered in Temecula, California for a special event touted as the “Intense Experience.” As we admired Shaun Palmer’s 1996 World Champs M1 downhill bike, shook hands with skilled machinists, chatted about the next day’s ride over beers, and at last sat down for the big unveiling, we honestly didn’t have much of an idea of what was in store. Then Jeff Steber took the stage.

Behind the podium, Jeff recounted founding Intense Cycles back in 1991 alongside Marv Strand, welding frame after frame in their Southern California work shop, and sweating the details at every step along the journey. As he spoke, you could sense his pride in the authentic American brand they’ve built up over the past 20+ years. He also introduced us to a few recent additions to the Intense Cycles workforce - men with dozens of years of experience brought onboard to share their expertise. From the moment Jeff started speaking to moment the new team additions left the stage, it was clear that Intense is making moves for 2014, and they’re doing it in a way they’ve never done before.

Several rounds of applause later, just one thing remained on the night’s agenda - to pull back the curtain on Intense’s latest creation.

Introducing the 2014 Tracer T275 Carbon…

Tracer T275 Carbon Highlights

  • Full carbon frame
  • 6.25 or 5.75-inches (160 or 145mm) of rear wheel travel
  • 27.5-inch wheels
  • VPP2 suspension
  • Tapered headtube
  • Press fit bottom bracket shell with ISCG05 mounts
  • Integrated 142X12 dropouts
  • Internal cable routing system (including Stealth Reverb)
  • 66.5-degree head angle
  • 74.5-degree seat tube angle
  • 13.5-inch (343mm) bottom bracket height
  • 17-inch (432mm) chainstays
  • Colors: Naked and Red
  • Frame Weight: 5.6-pounds (2.5 kg) for size M frame with Fox CTD shock
  • Complete Weight: Factory - 26.7-pounds, size L (12.1kg) // Pro - 28.0-pounds, size L (12.7kg) // Expert - 29.1-pounds, size S (13.2kg)
  • Pricing: Factory Build - $9,999 // Pro Build - $6,599 // Expert Build - $5,999 // Frame and RockShox Monarch Plus Shock - $3,199

Designed from the beginning as a purpose built Enduro and all-mountain slayer, the new Tracer T275 Carbon is the next evolution of an already popular machine. Not only does it feature a full carbon frameset, but Intense took the opportunity to update several key features from the aluminum Tracer 275 predecessor. In addition to 10mm more travel, the bike has more aggressive geometry with a full 1-degree slacker head angle, 0.5-inch longer wheelbase, increased standover, and comparable top tube/reach measurements. By moving to carbon Intense dropped nearly 2.2-pounds (1kg) of weight.

Rather than simply slapping some slightly modified dropouts on the bike and calling it good, Intense went back to the drawing board on this one, ultimately arriving at a fresh redesign. Gone are the replaceable G1 dropouts and their extra hardware, in are new integrated 142x12 dropouts that simplify the rear end and make this a dedicated 27.5-inch platform.

For years Intense has specialized in aluminum frames welded in their headquarters. Only recently have they started to offer carbon, and they’ve been learning and refining their technique along the way. Much like a welder’s beads get better and better over time, the Tracer T275 Carbon is made with evolved monocoque construction techniques when compared to the four other carbon bikes in their lineup. The new molding process ensures the best material consistency and shape to date, with no extra material or filler added. It’s every bit as smooth on the inside as it is on the outside, which is key to a strong carbon frame.

While the frame may be made overseas, CNC machines at Intense’s workshop crank out everything from the suspension rockers to the shock mounts and pivot hardware. Everything is then assembled in-house.

“If we can’t do it all here – like in the case of our carbon fiber line – we go to the experts. While all of our aluminum products are designed and manufactured in-house at Intense, we source the carbon fiber manufacturing to Asia. But even then, we hold fast to our ideals and import fronts and rears, leaving room to put our 'Made in USA' stamp on every nut, bolt, link, washer that goes on each carbon frame. Even the box is made down the street.”

Also new is an internal cable routing system. Inside, nylon guide tubes connect the entrance and exit ports, sealing the frame and making assembly and maintenance an easier task. The rear brake and derailleur go through the downtube, while the optional front derailleur routes through the top tube. Stealth routing for the dropper post starts external while tracing the top of the downtube before entering the seat tube near the bottom bracket. Cable clamps at the left and right of the headtube allow you to pick the best dropper post routing option based on cable lengths and the cleanest look.

Up front, the angled seat tube and a direct front derailleur mount help keep the chainstays to 17-inches. Nearby ISCG-05 mounts allow for a chainguide if you feel the need, and a 92mm press fit bottom bracket is used to keep things stiff. Integrated downtube and chainstay armor protects the investment and looks super clean. The frame also sees the addition of water bottle mounts inside the front triangle, though they’re really only usable on models without a piggyback shock.

Small details include an IS brake mount, optional aluminum front derailleur direct mount cover, an o-ring on the seatpost clamp to keep water out, and the blazing Intense Cycles headtube badge that looks absolutely mint.

Suspension duties are taken care of using a dual link VPP (Virtual Pivot Point) design. Changing the rear wheel travel between the 5.75 and 6.25-inch modes doesn't affect the geometry of the bike, but does alter the suspension rate slightly with a slightly firmer feel in the shorter travel option. Most builds come stock with a RockShox Monarch Plus rear shock, but a Cane Creek DBair CS is available as an upgrade. Adjustable angular contact bearings and 15mm pivot axles keep the system stiff and play free. Service is easy, too, through the use of replaceable grease zerks on the lower rocker link.

The Tracer T275 Carbon not only appears stunning, but it’s a well-thought-out package from top to bottom.

Chris Kovarik Unleashed on the Tracer T275 Carbon

On The Trail

We spent the better part of two months riding the Tracer T275 Carbon in Southern California, Sedona, and Phoenix, Arizona. Our $6,599 "Pro" level build came equipped with a RockShox Pike fork and Monarch Plus shock, Maxxis Highroller II tires, Renthal cockpit, SRAM X01 drivetrain and Stan's No-Tubes wheels.

Thanks to a smart spec, from the second you grab hold of the 740mm Renthal bars you’re comfortable on the new bike. When we previously tested the aluminum Tracer 275, we enjoyed nearly every aspect of the ride save the steepest descents and were left wishing for a slacker head angle. This new model answers that request, and the geometry is dialed for the aggressive rider. Those who prefer a long reach should consider sizing up, as our 5'10" tester quickly found out.

Coupled with the super sensitive VPP suspension, stout rear end, and 2.3-inch Maxxis High Roller II tires, the 13.5-inch bottom bracket makes for an awesome cornering experience as it carves from turn to turn with ease and ample traction. The 17-inch chainstays and wheel path require a bit of effort to overcome when popping up into a manual or picking up over obstacles, but not to a degree that hampers the playful experience.

The bike exhibits a consistently fun nature as you pop off lips and throw it around beneath you, but at the same time is very well balanced and maintains composure through the rough. Just like Kovarik, it performs best when you’re on the gas and maintains speed well once you’re there, provided you keep the cranks spinning. The riser bars and stem combined with a 5.25-inch headtube height (including headset) and 160mm fork add up to a pretty tall front end, which can be a bit precarious at slower speeds, but keep it pinned and you’re golden.

With the Monarch Plus shock installed in the 6.25-inch travel mode, the VPP suspension performed very well across the board. It's supportive at the sag point, smooth through the mid-stroke, and rises towards the end of the stroke. It got a little skittish over successive square-edged hits, but handled g-outs, drops, and small bumps assuredly. Jumps were predictable as well. Front to back balance is excellent, and the rear end mimics the RockShox Pike fork nicely. The combination of the suspension, tires, and dual 180mm rotors provide great braking performance.

Though the bike is quite light, under power it doesn’t exhibit an over the top go get ‘em attitude, nor does it yield huge bursts of speed when pumping the terrain. It does move along quite well once you hit a minimum speed, though. The suspension remains very active under pedaling, allowing it to motor incredibly well over rough terrain both in and out of the saddle. Using the shock’s compression lever is good for big pedaling efforts as it stiffens things up slightly and gives a more performance oriented feel without taking away too much small bump compliance.

Pointed uphill, the only hindrances are the slightly tall front end and somewhat mushy feel at the pedals on slow, technical climbs. It turns well around switchbacks without pushing, but these two combined can create some awkward moments. Also be conscious of your pedal timing at all times, as crank/pedal spiking is a pretty common occurrence with the 175mm cranks and relatively low bottom bracket.

Build Kits

The Tracer T275 Carbon is available in Factory, Pro, and Expert level build kits, as well as a frame + shock option. Looking at the range, Intense has clearly done their homework in spec’ing the components. Each build makes use of many of today’s most well-regarded components, and there is next to nothing that we’d change about any of them. They’re all made with reliable, quiet, top performers in every category.

From top to bottom: Factory, Pro, and Expert builds. Each is available in two color options. Compare the three builds side-by-side here.

What’s The Bottom Line?

Don’t let the smooth lines and gorgeous finish fool you. This bike is meant to be ridden hard and fast, and it’ll keep up over any type of terrain. The purpose built do-it-all rig represents the culmination of Intense’s many years of experience, merging impeccable in-house craftsmanship and a leap into the world of high-end carbon. It’s the next evolution of an already successful ride that brings it up to the highest level of standards. From a spec sheet that mimics our dream builds to the incredibly well-balanced VPP suspension and impressive carbon construction, they’ve nailed all the major details and the minor ones, too. Well done, Intense Cycles. The Tracer T275 Carbon is a winner.

Bikes are available now at an Intense dealer near you. Visit www.intensecycles.com for more details.

Bonus Gallery: 35 photos of Kovarik rallying the 2014 Intense Tracer T275 Carbon


About The Reviewer

Brandon Turman likes to pop off the little bonus lines on the sides of the trail, get aggressive when he's in tune with a bike, and to really mash on the pedals and open it up when pointed downhill. His perfect trail has a good mix of flow, tech, and balls-to-the-wall speed. He loves little transfers, rollers, and the occasional gap that gives him that momentary stomach in your throat kind of feeling. Toss in some rocky bits with the option to double over them or risk pinch flatting and you've got a winner in his book. In 13 years of riding he worked his way through the Collegiate downhill ranks to the Pro level. After finishing up his mechanical engineering degree his riding focus turned to dirt sculpting and jumping with the occasional slopestyle contest thrown in for fun. Nowadays he's Vital MTB's resident product guy, putting in saddle time on nearly every new platform and innovation the bike industry has to offer.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for 2014 Marin Mount Vision Carbon XM Pro 3/13/2014 5:02 PM
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2014 Test Sessions: Marin Mount Vision Pro XM

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Reviewed by Steve Wentz, Evan Turpen and Brandon Turman // Photos by Shawn Spomer and Lear Miller

Born in Marin County, California in 1986, Marin Bikes has a long and rich history in the mountain bike world. Over the years they've produced many rides as iconic as the trails in their backyard. In recent years, however, they've fallen off the radar of many riders. That's all set to change with the introduction of several new bikes and a rebranding. Leading the charge is the Mount Vision, a bike with 140mm of travel, 27.5-inch wheels, and a do-it-all attitude. Interested to see how the new rig rides, we hit the trails in Sedona, Arizona on the full carbon Mount Vision Pro XM during our 2014 Vital MTB Test Sessions.

Mount Vision Pro XM Highlights

  • CXR 60T Carbon Main Frame and Swing Arm
  • 27.5-inch wheels
  • 5.5-inches (140mm) rear wheel travel
  • IsoTrac suspension system
  • Tapered head tube
  • 67.5-degree head angle
  • 74-degree seat tube angle
  • 13-inch (330mm) bottom bracket height
  • 17.1-inch (435mm) chainstay length
  • 142mm x 12mm thru-axle
  • Measured weight (size Medium, no pedals): 26-pounds 7-ounces (12.0kg)
  • $7,800 MSRP

The Mount Vision makes use of a simplified suspension design called “IsoTrac.” While it looks like a traditional four-bar linkage, the pivot near the dropout has been eliminated and replaced by flexible carbon fiber seat stays. Marin developed the design in an effort to lose some frame weight by reducing the number of pivot bearings. Why was the weight a primary focus? Because the bike is billed as an Enduro race bike, where weight may be a concern. The entire bike weighs 26.4-pounds and was the third lightest in our 25 bike Test Session lineup.

Compared to Quad-Link, Marin's other suspension design with an added pivot point, IsoTrac is nearly half a pound lighter. As the suspension cycles, the 3.5-degrees of flex occurs in the seat stays, not far from the 12x142mm rear axle. All this talk of flex may have you thinking the bike has a noodly rear end, but thanks to a beefy box section chainstay yoke behind the BB that isn't the case. The pros of this type of system are usually fewer moving parts and increased frame stiffness due to fewer pivots. One con is that the flex can have an impact on suspension performance.

A high-volume FOX Float X CTD rear shock complements the progressive IsoTrac leverage curve and is very accessible on the fly. Unfortunately the rebound knob is difficult to reach without the use of a small allen key, though this is FOX issue.

New for 2014, Marin’s high-end bikes use sealed cartridge Enduro Max Black Oxide linkage bearings that feature a lifetime warranty. The bearings have more balls and a larger diameter than used in prior Marin bikes.

The frame's front end uses a one piece carbon fiber monocoque with bonded metal inserts. Out back, the rear triangle is molded using two pieces. The chainstay yolk is one piece and the chainstay/seatstay is the other. Marin stresses the use of continuous fibers through the stays to help ease concerns about long term durability surrounding the flex.

Full internal cable routing enters through the headtube. If you'd prefer to go external with your cables, they can be routed through the custom-molded “FRS Rock Shield” on the down tube that also protects the frame from impacts. Additional mounts are available under the top tube. Internal routing for the Reverb Stealth dropper post cleans things up nicely.

Small details include a thick rubber chainstay guard, a water seal on the seatpost clamp, bottle mount inside the front triangle, and torx pivot hardware. There’s a modular BB interface that allows the use of ISCG05 tabs or a chain drop backplate for either a double or triple crankset. It also has a high direct front derailleur mount and comes with an e*thirteen XCX guide bolted to the mount for added chain security. Mud clearance is pretty good with ~1cm of room with the stock 2.35-inch Schwalbe tire.

Marin offers a total of six Mount Vision models giving you a wide variety of spec options. The full carbon frame models fall at $7,799 (tested), $6,699, and $5,199, plus a Women’s build at $4,899. There are also two more affordable models with aluminum front triangles and carbon swingarms running $4,099 and $2,099.

On The Trail

We tried the Mount Vision on a wide variety of trails surrounding the Sedona area. From the high-speed fun of Slim Shady, Huckabee, Girdner, Last Frontier, and Ridge to the technical masterpieces of HiLine, Hangover, and Old Post, we feel like we put the bike through just about every kind of terrain from mild to wild. Dirt conditions were pretty amazing following a recent dusting of snow during the winter months.

While the stock 60mm stem and 711mm bar are a decent choice for this style of bike, most riders will prefer a slightly wider bar for more stability. We tend to prefer roomy bikes, and the size Medium test bike felt decent with a 60mm stem, but perhaps a tad short for riders in the 5’10” range. Unfortunately Marin doesn’t list reach/stack measurements which can make sizing a little more difficult. For riders that prefer a long reach, consider sizing up. Make sure your legs are long enough before committing to a bigger frame though. Because the seat tube is bent, the RockShox Reverb seatpost cannot go into the frame fully, effectively creating a taller minimum seat tube height.

The Mount Vision has a 67.5-degree head angle, 74-degree seat angle, 17.1-inch chainstays, and 13-inch BB height. This geometry is very neutral with neither a front or rear weight bias, and with the stock cockpit components installed we felt like we could move around the bike easily. The seat position is also quite good. The head angle makes for a ride that works well as an all-rounder and is well suited for climbing and agility, but can become a hindrance once pointed down steep and rough terrain.

Pointed downhill, the bike excels at fast, flowy, rolling, pumpable terrain with an almost slalom-like feel to it. It’s responsive when you push into it, precise, easy to change lines, and loves to flow dynamically down the trail. You can really feel the side-to-side stiffness of the rear end when bashing through successive turns. Thanks to the chainstay length and axle path, popping the front end up into a manual or picking up over obstacles comes naturally and doesn’t require a big effort.

On steep and rough sections we found that the bike has a bad tendency to push the rider forward, likely as a result of the rear suspension staying high in its travel. This occurred even when we experimented with increasing the rear sag to around 30-35% and upping the pressure in the fork. Slowing the rebound made the bike feel dead, so we kept that pretty constant as we prefer a lively ride. As a result of the tendency to pitch our weight forward, it would often feel a tad sketchy when the trail made drastic pitch changes, and we found ourselves hesitating on a handful of steep sections that we’ve bombed down multiple times before on other bikes. For the rider who might be coming from a gravity background who wants to really push it, perhaps in an Enduro race situation, this can be a confidence killer.

Suspension performance was a mixed bag. Small bumps often felt a bit harsh regardless of the compression settings, almost as though the flex stays were resisting the input. Top end rebound was also a bit too quick for our tastes, likely also a result of the flex stays. They tended to resist small compressions and then rebound very quickly. This could be more apparent to lighter riders. Once you get into the travel further the bike performs better. The mid-stroke is very sensitive and active giving you great traction and control over loose terrain, exceeding our expectations for a 140mm travel bike. It stayed up in the travel through chatter and never seemed to be out of place. Because of how supple the mid-stroke is, rider inputs can be a bit muted at times. Square edge hits were good, partially due to the wheel size. G-outs, drops, and jumps were absorbed with a very controlled feeling on compression and rebound, and it bottoms out smoothly.

One of our tester riders had a problem with hitting his knee on the rocker link. The link is sharp and wide, and his back leg positioned his knee in a prime place to hit the link a few times each ride. This would be a non-issue for those who ride in knee pads.

As we’ve said in other reviews, the 140mm FOX Float 32 CTD fork was a bit of a let down. While the 32mm stanchions save weight, they give up a lot of the stability, precision, and confidence that comes with a larger stanchioned fork. It’s unfortunate because of how the Mount Vision’s rear suspension works. Bumping the fork up to a lowered 34mm stanchion option would greatly improve front end handling, especially when things get steep and off camber.

In general the Mount Vision feels decently light on the trail, but not as light as you’d think having looked at the scale. The weight is centralized in the frame, making for easy direction changes and a snappy feel. It also rolls fairly well, but we didn't feel like it was a rocket ship like many other sub 27-pound bikes often are. This is in part due to the noticeable bob under hard pedaling efforts, which is an issue in all but the firmest of CTD settings. Unfortunately in the firmer CTD settings you give up a lot of the smooth ride and amazing chatter absorption that this bike excels at.

Seated climbing is much more efficient than standing. On smoother fire road climbs the CTD lever needs to be set to “Climb” mode in order to pedal efficiently with minimal bob. Once off-road with the CTD lever set to “Descend” there was quite a bit of rear wheel traction. Overall the geometry was very conducive to climbing efficiently, but the rear suspension lacked the anti-squat support needed to make it an excellent climber on smoother trails.

Build Kit

Our top-of-the-line XM Pro test bike was highlighted by FOX, SRAM, Avid, Schwalbe, Formula, and RockShox components. As previously mentioned, we feel like wider bars and a possible fork swap would really benefit the overall ride. Some may find the narrow Fizik saddle to be a bit uncomfortable as well.

Schwalbe’s Nobby Nic tires worked decently well thanks to our hero-dirt conditions, but we’ve had poor luck with them in the past. While they roll quickly, the lightweight casing adds a skittery sensation when smashing through rough/rocky sections. They also typically wear quickly and offer little cornering bite as the side knobs fold over easily.

At 22mm wide internally, the Marin branded Formula Xero Carbon wheelset was plenty wide for a good tire profile while also offering tubeless compatibility. Weight seemed decent for a carbon wheelset, adding a little to the bike’s acceleration. Stiffness wasn’t a concern, nor was hub engagement.

Avid’s X0 Trail brakes worked great. There was plenty of power even with the smaller 180/160mm rotor combo. The modulation was better than most. We never experienced any fade and the lever feel is some of the best in class. Aggressive riders may see benefit from adding larger rotors.

The RockShox Reverb Stealth worked very well for the duration of our test. We appreciate that Marin got the lever placement correct under the left side of the bar. The lever is separate from the brake allowing you to find that perfect spot. Avid/SRAM’s Matchmaker system cleans up the right side of the bar nicely by combining the brake and shifting on one lever mount.

The SRAM XX1 drivetrain was a great match for this bike and the trails we rode. It shifted well while keeping things simple. We’re not certain the e*thirteen XCX top guide is needed given how well the XX1 X-Sync chainring holds onto the chain, although it does add some sense of security. In general the bike was very quiet thanks to the clutched rear derailleur, but we did hear some occasional cable rattling inside the frame.

Long Term Durability

By eliminating a pivot in the back end and instead asking the frame to flex there are definitely some unique stresses being applied to the back of the bike. It's engineered flex, though, and Marin hasn’t seen issues with softening or cracking over any extended lab testing they’ve done. Marin backs their carbon frames with a five year warranty, plus one year for all parts except the tires, tubes, chain, fork, and shock.

What's The Bottom Line?

The Marin Mount Vision XM Pro is a valiant effort at a trail bike, but it's far from what we’d consider to be a proper Enduro race rig. Marin seems to cross some wires here, because the 140mm front/rear Mount Vision is sold as an "Enduro" bike, while their 150mm Attack Trail with its slacker angles and more refined suspension are billed as a "Trail" bike. Somewhat subjective nomenclature aside, those seeking a hard charging bike capable of blasting steep descents should look to the Attack Trail.

What the Mount Vision offers is a fun, light, snappy, progressive, and pretty well equipped ride. It’s very active and smooth in most conditions. When pushing hard on steep or rough terrain it hits the limit and forces the rider to back off. It isn’t the best pedaling bike, but the smooth ride almost makes up for it. At $7,800 there is a lot of good competition, so consider your choice based on the terrain you’ll be riding most often. The rider who enjoys flowy, less demanding trails and wants a very comfortable ride will be at home on this one.

Visit www.marinbikes.com for more details.

Bonus Gallery: 23 photos of the 2014 Marin Mount Vision Pro XM up close and in action


About The Reviewers

Steve Wentz - A man of many talents, Steve got his start in downhilling at a young age. He has been riding for over 17 years, 10 of which have been in the Pro ranks. Asked to describe his riding style he said, "I like to smooth out the trail myself." Today he builds some of the best trails in the world (and eats lots of M&M's).

Evan Turpen - Evan has been racing mountain bikes as a Pro for the last 8 years with his career highlight being selected to represent the U.S. in the 2006 World Championships. More recently he can be found competing in enduro races and having a blast with it. He has helped design, develop, and test products for multiple major mountain bike companies and has an attention to detail well above most.

Brandon Turman - Brandon likes to pop off the little bonus lines on the sides of the trail, get aggressive when he's in tune with a bike and talk tech. In 14 years of riding he worked his way through the Collegiate downhill ranks to the Pro level. Formerly a Mechanical Engineer, nowadays he's Vital MTB's resident product guy.

Which reviewer resembles you the most? Don't miss our Q&A with the testers for more insight about their styles and preferences.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for 2014 Specialized Camber EVO 29 3/10/2014 12:17 PM
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2014 Test Sessions: Specialized Camber EVO 29

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Reviewed by Jess Pedersen and John Hauer // Photos by Shawn Spomer and Lear Miller

In a time when bikes with 150mm of travel or more seem to get all the attention, Specialized’s 110-120mm Camber dishes up a short-travel option that is more capable than the numbers typically indicate. The model has been around for a while, but for 2014 it gets a number of upgrades and refinements. New for this year Specialized has also introduced both a new carbon and an EVO version. We had the opportunity to try out the very reasonably priced Camber EVO 29 during the 2014 Vital MTB Test Sessions.

Camber EVO 29 Highlights

  • M5 hydroformed alloy frame
  • 29-inch wheels
  • 4.7-inches (120mm) rear wheel travel
  • Tapered head tube
  • 68.8-degree head angle
  • 73.3-degree seat tube angle (size Large)
  • 13-inch (330mm) bottom bracket
  • 17.8-inch (451mm) chainstay length
  • PF30 bottom bracket
  • 142+ rear hub spacing with 12mm thru-axle
  • Measured weight (size Large, no pedals): 29-pounds 4-ounces (13.27kg)
  • $3,000 MSRP

If you’re familiar with the Camber 29 from 2013, then you will immediately notice that Specialized improved on their design. The tube sets are noticeably slimmer, and the package is altogether smoother than the previous iteration. A new concentric seatstay/shock pivot adds a considerable amount of stiffness to the rear end. The geometry has also been tweaked to yield a more playful and snappy feel.

The bike is available in two model types - the standard Camber and the Camber EVO. Just like the Stumpjumper FSR EVO, the “EVO” designation indicates that the model has been tweaked and tuned for those who ride more aggressively. Compared to the standard Camber, the Camber EVO loses 5mm of bottom bracket height (335 to 330mm), gets 1.2-degrees slacker (70 to 68.8-degree head angle), and gains 10mm of travel (110 to 120mm). Beyond the geo adjustments, Specialized also specs the EVO editions with 30mm wider handlebars (720 to 750mm) and a wider rear tire (2.1 to 2.3-inches).

All Camber models feature an AUTOSAG FOX CTD rear shock, which conveniently and quickly sets the proper sag and air pressure. Setup is easy to do - simply pump the shock up to a psi higher than needed, then push the red colored transfer port valve while sitting on the saddle to release excess air pressure. This equalizes the positive and negative chambers and achieves the correct sag.

The bike uses the tried and true FSR suspension system. Also known as a "Horst Link" design, FSR suspension is a four-bar linkage claimed to effectively isolate chain torque and brake loads. Full-cartridge bearing pivots throughout keep things running smoothly. Shock positioning is great, allowing easy access to the adjustment levers while staying out of harms way and leaving room for a water bottle cage. We're not huge fans of the proprietary link used to mount the shock, though, as it limits your ability to quickly swap shocks. [Note: Specialized stated that the use of the shock extension allows their bikes to have an uninterrupted seat tube, makes for a stiffer linkage/chassis due to the square rear interface (as opposed to round), short links, and concentric pivots. The AUTOSAG shocks are also only available in this configuration.]

Another point that we're not particularly fond of is the cable routing. Cables follow the underside of the downtube and bottom bracket on the aluminum models, presenting an opportunity for damage from stray rocks. Internal routing is available for a dropper post if you choose to add one. Carbon Cambers now have internal routing throughout.

Other frame details include a tapered head tube, PF30 bottom bracket, and a little “Dangler” chain guide which is simple, light and effective. The rear end uses a 142+ hub said to provide additional wheel stiffness over a traditional 142mm hub design. If you'd like, it's still possible run a standard 142mm rear hub. Mud clearance is adequate with ~1cm of room with the stock 2.3-inch Specialized tire.

The Camber EVO 29 starts at just $3,000 for the base model with a M5 alloy frame. There’s also a $6,000 Camber Expert Carbon EVO 29 with a carbon frame, internal routing, upgraded parts spec and Specialized’s integrated Storage, Water, Air, Tools (SWAT) system.

On The Trail

To put the Camber EVO 29 through its paces we headed out to the Black Canyon Trail about an hour south of Sedona, Arizona. We rode two sections of the 78-mile trail that had a good variety of technical rocky bits, high-speed corners, dozens of short punchy climbs, and a few very fast, aggressive descents.

With the stock 65mm stem and 750mm wide handlebar installed, the 617mm top tube and 432mm reach was slightly long for us at 6-feet tall. Shortening the stem to 50mm would have balanced our body position slightly better and given the steering characteristics we’re accustomed to, but we decided to keep the stock stem to get a true feeling of what customers will experience when buying this bike off the showroom floor. We felt right at home pretty quickly. The one change we did make was to install a dropper seatpost.

For a 120mm aggressive 29-inch trail bike the Camber EVO’s geometry felt close to spot on. It wasn’t as low and slack as we normally prefer, but it still handled the steep and high speed sections quite well. For everything else (climbing, cornering, and getting over/around obstacles) the geometry was great. While the 451mm chain stays are 21mm longer than the Enduro 29, with a shorter travel bike it’s nice to have some added stability built into the frame when the speeds get high. Despite being longer than the Enduro 29 they are still reasonably sized within the 29-inch trail bike spectrum. The bike is very agile in all but the tightest of turns and it’s easy to pick the front end up when needed. On tight switchbacks, just enter a little wide to avoid the front wheel pushing.

Although we didn’t ride the steepest trails they were still quite rough and technical in spots. We never experienced any hesitation while riding into unknown terrain and had faith in the bike’s abilities. The bike is playful, responsive, and precise yet stable at the same time. It changed lines on command without hesitation. We wouldn’t recommend doing technical park laps on the Camber, but for everyday trail riding it would be tough for us to find many sections of trail that completely overwhelm it. The bike is surprisingly capable. Having said that, if the trails you ride on a daily basis are very steep and rocky but you still prefer a shorter travel bike, consider the Stumpjumper EVO where a few extra millimeters of travel will inspire even more confidence.

The Camber's suspension performance is competitive with bikes costing much more. FOX's CTD Evolution shock featuring Specialized’s proprietary AUTOSAG technology had a light and lively feel off the top that helped keep traction and handle the small bumps superbly. The suspension is very smooth and stiction free. We were also impressed with the progressiveness of the spring curve and mid-stroke compression support. For having just 120mm to work with, it could handle bigger hits smoothly and maintained its composure well. This helped the bike stay on track and kept the shock away from the bottom of its travel patiently waiting for the next trail feature. Square edges and chatter were the only bump types that seemed average.

More of a surprise to us was the performance of the RockShox Reba RL 29 fork. Being a budget model, we were initially concerned that it would lack the damping and stiffness we prefer in our forks, but we’re glad to put that concern to rest. It was supple off the top, didn’t blow through its travel and had a nice progressive ramp as it got closer to bottom. If we really wanted to ride this bike aggressively we might opt for the 120mm RockShox Pike that comes standard on the Camber Expert Carbon EVO, but the Reba had no trouble keeping up on the rocky Arizona trails.

We’d be lying if we called the all aluminum bike “light,” but you would be hard pressed to find another trail bike that’s close to its 29.25-pounds at the same price point. The bike pedaled well and never felt sluggish when climbing. Combined with some pretty fast rolling tires, it has a lighter feel than the scale registers.

Specialized uses a custom bottom bracket/crank setup from SRAM with a PF30 spindle. Jamming through rock gardens or stomping on the pedals out of corners you definitely notice the added stiffness in the center of the bike. Camber EVO owners are not going to be afraid to line up next to their buddies for a sprint. The power you put down goes straight into the trail, and the bike sprints very well with little to no noticeable bob.

Compared to the standard Camber, the EVO’s climbing position is a hair more relaxed as the effective seat angle sits back from 74.5 to 73.3-degrees. Even so, body position is still good for ascents and is plenty comfortable for long days in the saddle. The bike is efficient and the 2.3-inch tires help to keep traction when things get rough or loose. Some riders may want to swap out the rear tire for something that rolls a bit faster, but the bike has no struggles climbing and the extra meat is nice for more fun on the way back down.

Build Kit

We’d argue that spec’ing a bike costing $3,000 is harder than one costing $10,000, simply because this is where real value and performance comes into play. With that in mind, let’s see what Specialized came up with.

Things start off nicely with a dialed set of tires, which are key to the overall handling of the bike. The 2.3-inch 2Bliss ready Specialized Butcher Control in the front and Purgatory Control in the rear are worthy of just about anything you can throw at them. Our trail conditions were loose and had a ton of sketchy marble sized rocks, but the bike felt stable and hooked up the entire ride. Specialized was wise to put some real knobs up front and the faster rolling tire in the rear, a combo offering traction where it is needed while keeping the overall rolling resistance reasonable.

Wheels are something that you really only notice if there is something negative happening, and luckily they didn't have any issues. On a budget-minded bike they are not going to be the lightest, but the Roval wheels were stiff enough, the tires worked well on them, and the engagement of the rear hub was good. Both hubs use sealed cartridge bearings to improve durability.

Formula’s C1 brakes had issues from the start, and were our main complaint about the build. The lever clamps are quite wide, dictating shifter/brake lever spacing in a way that may not be comfortable for everyone. On the trail they would struggle on long descents, and the rear brake made very loud vibration noises. Combined with a 203mm front and 180mm rear rotor they offered decent stopping power when you really pulled the lever, but they lacked modulation.

SRAM’s 2X drivetrain worked well. It was not overly noisy and we didn’t drop any chains, likely aided by the Dangler guide and the Type 2 clutch mechanism. The 36/22 chainring combo offers plenty of range for any level of mountain biker and most will appreciate the granny ring when the trail gets steep.

The first upgrade we’d recommend any EVO rider makes is a dropper post. A stem swap is also recommended for truly aggressive riders preferring that short cockpit feel.

Long Term Durability

Beyond the brakes, nothing stood out to us as something that could develop into future issues. This bike should be in it for the long haul. Specialized backs the main frame with a lifetime warranty, the chain/seat stays with a five year warranty, and everything suspension related for one year.

What's The Bottom Line?

The Specialized Camber EVO 29 absolutely rips. This do-it-all 29er trail bike excels on fast, flowy, jumpy terrain but doesn’t back down when things get rough. The efficiency of the bike makes it a very quick ride, and the range of trail types it can cover is about as wide as it gets for a short-travel trail bike. The aluminum Camber EVO 29 is a great all-around performer, and when you add the $3,000 price into the equation the bike’s value really shows through. Even though it was the most affordable of all 25 bikes in our 2014 Test Sessions lineup, the overall performance outclassed many of the more expensive options.

Visit www.specialized.com for more details.

Bonus Gallery: 30 photos of the 2014 Specialized Camber EVO 29 up close and in action


About The Reviewers

Jess Pedersen - Jess is one of those guys that can hop on a bike after a snowy winter and instantly kill it. He's deceptively quick, smooth, and always has good style. He's also known to tinker with bikes 'til they're perfect, creating custom additions and fixes along the way. Maybe it's that engineering background...

John Hauer - In 13 years of riding, John has done it all and done it well. Downhill, 4X, Enduro, XC, cyclocross... you name it. He spent 7 years as the head test rider for a major suspension company, averages 15-20 hours of saddle time per week, and is extremely picky when it comes to a bike's performance. And yeah, he freakin’ loves Strava.

Which reviewer resembles you the most? Don't miss our Q&A with the testers for more insight about their styles and preferences.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for 2014 GT Sensor Carbon Pro 3/7/2014 3:13 PM
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2014 Test Sessions: GT Sensor Carbon Pro

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Reviewed by Evan Turpen, Steve Wentz and Brandon Turman // Photos by Shawn Spomer and Lear Miller

With 130mm of travel and a very unique suspension design, the all-new GT Sensor aims to tackle the trail market and is Hans Rey's go to ride. Everything from the headtube to the dropouts has been re-worked from the Sensor of old. Gone is the high bottom bracket and short top tube, in is more modern geometry, 27.5-inch wheels, and a roomy cockpit. Curious to see how the changes impact the ride, we pounded out several miles aboard the Sensor Carbon Pro during the 2014 Vital MTB Test Sessions.

Sensor Carbon Pro Highlights

  • Carbon frame
  • 27.5-inch wheels
  • 5.1-inches (130mm) rear wheel travel
  • Angle Optimized Suspension system
  • Tapered headtube
  • 68.5-degree head angle
  • 73.5-degree seat tube angle
  • 13.2-inch (335mm) bottom bracket height
  • 17.3-inch (440mm) chainstay length
  • Threaded bottom bracket
  • 142mm x 12mm thru-axle
  • Measured weight (size Medium, no pedals): 27-pounds 8-ounces (12.47kg)
  • $7,050 MSRP

The 2014 Sensor was in development for over two and half years. During that time they took a long hard look at their I-Drive suspension design, bringing linkage mastermind Peter Denk into the picture. The redesigned Sensor uses a new “Angle Optimized Independent Drivetrain Suspension" system (AOS), which maintains the high pivot point while making the rear end lighter and stiffer than before. According to GT, the overall effect is a more responsive bike with better pedaling characteristics and limited chain growth.

They key to AOS is the grey colored Path Link, which connects the shock mount to the chain stays with the bottom bracket in-between. Similar to the previous I-Drive iteration, the bottom bracket is removed from the front triangle. GT wanted to keep the benefits of I-Drive (high pivot location and wheel path), but make it simpler with a lower center of gravity. When the suspension compresses, the bottom bracket moves backward to control chain growth, one of the main drawbacks of high pivot systems. The design has a relatively high leverage rate (2.75-2.95) that is generally regressive through the stroke.

There’s a lot going on down low on the GT, but the carbon frame has smooth lines and a clean appearance. The massive seatstays and connector bridge behind the main pivot pretty clearly show that rear end stiffness was a priority. It might be bulky to some, but the frame looks like it’ll handle anything. Even with the oversized portions of the frame the bike comes in at a respectable weight of 27.5-pounds. A full axle at the main pivot and double bearings at the dropouts also help with lateral stiffness.

Frame details that jump out at us include secure bolt-on cable guides on the underside of the downtube (a potential negative for some), post mount disc brake tabs with replaceable threaded inserts, a bottle mount inside the front triangle, direct mount from derailleur, and the relatively new Shimano direct mount rear derailleur hanger. Mud clearance is excellent, so no worries there. Unfortunately there are no ISCG mounting tabs for those looking for an easy chain management solution. The frame does use a threaded bottom bracket so a guide can still be sandwiched against the frame. There’s also a nifty built-in sag meter making suspension setup easier by indicating roughly 25-30% sag at a glance. Even so, you’ll likely need a helper because the meter is difficult to see while sitting on the saddle.

The Sensor is available in both carbon and aluminum versions, with price points falling at $2,820 (Sensor Elite), $3,800 (Sensor Expert), $4,880 (Carbon Expert), $7,050 (Carbon Pro, tested), and $9,220 (Carbon Team).

On The Trail

Due to a random spell of poor weather in Sedona, Arizona, we headed an hour south to the 78-mile long Black Canyon Trail. First we rode North from the Bumble Bee trailhead which offered a mix of rolling hills, intermediate technical bits, loads of rock, a few good climbs and a very fast, aggressive descent. Next we headed South from the main Black Canyon City trailhead. This segment starts with a fast, flowy descent littered with sniper rocks before heading up and over a big ridge and dropping into miles of swoopy, smooth singletrack. A few days later we were able to try the bike out in Sedona. Looking to put it through a more challenging test, we chose to hit up Slim Shady, Hi-Line and Ridge trails - all of which are highlighted by steep chutes, large rock slabs, big g-outs and occasional loose rock.

The stock 740mm bars have a good feel and are of adequate width for most riders on a lighter duty trail bike. We chose to swap the stock 80mm stem with a 50mm for better downhill performance. While GT claims the bar/stem combo offers a “stable” ride, an 80mm stem is anything but stable in our experience. Following the swap, the 601mm top tube feels average for a size Medium (neither short or long) and overall rider position is very centered. Our testers ranged from 5’8” to 5’’10” and trusted the fit pretty quickly. While reach measurements aren't published by GT (nudge nudge), it does offer a sufficient reach for most “trail” use. Even though it’s noticeably longer than the previous Sensor, those who prefer a lengthy reach may still find it a tad short, however. On smoother terrain the bottom bracket height seemed spot on for a bike of this nature with 130mm travel. Ridden through rocky terrain the BB is a bit low with fairly frequent crank spikes if you’re not careful.

Combined with the 68.5-degree head angle, the bike pumps, carves, and corners very well, and is quite precise when grip is good and terrain is consistent. Overall it has a playful feel at casual speeds, akin to most cross-country bikes. The overwhelming sensation is that the bike wants to accelerate and go fast, and the bike gets up to speed in a hurry. This made it a blast to ride on rolling singletrack.

Unfortunately handling suffered once you let off the brakes and embraced the awesome acceleration that it offers, especially in the rough. The relatively steep, low front end combined with the heavily rearward axle path and increasing chainstay length made it feel as though our weight was being pushed forward at inopportune times. This lead to a lot of “pull back and hope for the best” moments. We tried a handful of different shock settings and pressures but could never find that sweet spot. Considering the forward weight bias and geometry, it’s clear that the bike wasn’t really designed for utmost downhill performance, instead favoring more casual terrain and climbs.

When we’d get pushed over the front end of the bike, the 130mm FOX 32 Float fork had little damping support to help out, nor did it offer much confidence. The rear end of the bike was so stiff (wheels included) that it really overwhelmed the front. Equipping the bike with a 140mm travel fork with 34mm stanchions would likely improve the ride greatly with a slacker head angle, more support, more stiffness, and more front end height.

While good on flowy terrain, the rear suspension’s performance in the rough also left a lot to be desired. It seemed like the rider’s weight on the pedals greatly affected the rear suspension. Small bump performance was poor, and we felt more feedback through the Sensor than the large majority of the 25 bikes we tested in Sedona. Chatter sounded and felt just like that, chatter. The bike wasn’t as good cornering in uneven terrain due to the suspension. It also seemed to choke up/squat slightly under braking, making it harsher over bumps of all shapes, sizes, and frequencies. On drops and big g-outs the bike would use all of the available travel regularly, but it wasn't a harsh bottom out. Where the high pivot seemed to shine was over square edge hits, which were surprisingly good given our experience otherwise.

Where the bike excels is its perceived weight, sprinting, pedaling, and pumping. It feels very light, nimble, and snappy, and rolls quickly thanks to the low-profile Continental tires and lightweight e*thirteen wheels. Out of the saddle sprints were very efficient and hard efforts were rewarded with firm and fast acceleration. Body position is pretty good as a result of the 73.5-degree seat tube angle, but again things may be a bit short for riders at the higher end of each size’s suggested height range.

Seated in the middle chainring, the Sensor pedals really well with every ounce of effort going into forward motion. In the big ring it felt like there was some chain tug affecting the suspension, worsening the feel of chatter. Small ring performance was surprisingly good (many bikes suffer here), but with a little bit of feedback as well.

The Trail compression setting on the FOX Float CTD rear shock helps hold the bike higher in the travel, but it’s not entirely necessary for climbing. Those that want the most efficient feel may want to run this setting for minimal movement and an even faster response at the pedals. The AOS rear suspension offers sufficient traction when things get techy on climbs, but be mindful of pedal timing.

Build Kit

While there are some components that deserve praise, some weird spec choices were unfortunately the Sensor’s undoing. Aside from the previously mentioned stem and 32mm fork, we think the tires, brakes, drivetrain, and saddle could all be drastically improved.

The Continental X-King 2.2-inch rear/2.4-inch front tire combo had a particularly squirmy feel in rocky sections. We also seemed to have torn the inner casing during a hard g-out, creating a large wobble in the tire. The wider front and narrower rear tire was definitely appreciated, though we would have liked to see something with more pronounced cornering knobs up front. They could be a good match for those riding hard-pack trails, however.

While GT has had good luck with Formula brakes in the past, we found the T1 model to be inconsistent with poor modulation. They had enough power to stop us when needed, but getting there was not a confidence inspiring affair. In addition, lever feel isn’t up to par with the more popular options. We would liked to have seen Shimano XT level brakes instead at this price point.

In a market filled with reliable and proven 1 and 2X drivetrains, we were a bit perplexed to find the Sensor with 3 front chainrings. Even with a clutched Shimano XT derailleur the bike was among the loudest of the bunch with loads of chain slap and occasional rub on the front derailleur. It would be nice to see an integrated rubber chainstay and seat stay protector. The bike shifted decently well with no skips, but the chain would occasionally come off in the rough. GT says many riders (in Europe especially) prefer the extra range offered by the triple chainring. They are listening to their US-based customers and may update the spec in the near future.

Because a mixture of several component brands were used, the control area seems a bit hectic as well. The Shimano shifter levers, Formula brakes, and RockShox Reverb dropper post actuator don’t work together well in terms of bar real estate. Many riders will also find that the dropper lever is on the wrong side of the bars when they go to drop a few rear gears and their post at the same time. We were pleased to see a Reverb Stealth was used - it’s one of the cleanest and best in the business.

The Fizik saddle was also uncomfortable for two of our three test riders. It was too narrow and rounded.

The e*thirteen TRS+ wheels were light, plenty stiff, and offered great engagement, which was helpful on techy climbs while ratcheting the cranks. Setup tubeless, we were unable to burp or flat the tires despite some instances that would have surely flatted a tube. The rim width was sufficient enough to create a good tire profile with the X-Kings. Overall these were a big highlight and a great choice.

Long Term Durability

Something to keep an eye on are the pivot bearings under the bottom bracket as these are pretty exposed to the elements. Another is the rear shock, which has a very small stroke (1.75-inch) for the amount of travel and could require shorter damper service intervals as there’s a bit more stress here than on other bikes.

What's The Bottom Line?

The GT Sensor Carbon Pro is a well made bike - it's stiff, light, pedals well, accelerates with the best of them, and can corner like it is on rails in the right conditions. The build quality also looks great. Unfortunately the compromises made to outright suspension performance and handling are too much in our opinion, and it’s not an easy bike to get used to. It falls short when attempting to smooth out terrain, tackle steep sections, or rally through the rough like so many other 130mm travel bikes can. In the end we never felt like we could trust it, which is the most important thing in our book.

The value for the price is also questionable, because at $7,050 we’d expect better a better drivetrain, tires, and brakes. At this price point we feel like you shouldn’t have to swap out much of anything to get it right. GT says they're aware and should be releasing a new spec option soon.

So who would be at home on the Sensor? A rider that wants a very efficient, lightweight bike who is willing to sacrifice downhill suspension performance and handling to achieve this. It’s best on flowy, smoother trails with a consistent grade and minimal braking.

Visit www.gtbicycles.com for more details.

Bonus Gallery: 36 photos of the 2014 GT Sensor Carbon Pro up close and in action


About The Reviewers

Evan Turpen - Evan has been racing mountain bikes as a Pro for the last 8 years with his career highlight being selected to represent the U.S. in the 2006 World Championships. More recently he can be found competing in enduro races and having a blast with it. He has helped design, develop, and test products for multiple major mountain bike companies and has an attention to detail well above most.

Steve Wentz - A man of many talents, Steve got his start in downhilling at a young age. He has been riding for over 17 years, 10 of which have been in the Pro ranks. Asked to describe his riding style he said, "I like to smooth out the trail myself." Today he builds some of the best trails in the world (and eats lots of M&M's).

Brandon Turman - Brandon likes to pop off the little bonus lines on the sides of the trail, get aggressive when he's in tune with a bike and talk tech. In 14 years of riding he worked his way through the Collegiate downhill ranks to the Pro level. Formerly a Mechanical Engineer, nowadays he's Vital MTB's resident product guy.

Which reviewer resembles you the most? Don't miss our Q&A with the testers for more insight about their styles and preferences.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for 2014 Niner ROS 9 with X01 2/27/2014 1:02 AM
C138_ros9_4starxo1

2014 Test Sessions: Niner ROS 9

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Reviewed by Brandon Turman and Evan Turpen // Photos by Lear Miller

Billed as a hardtail for riders that don’t like hardtails, Niner's new ROS 9 brings the simplest form of mountain biking up to speed in a glorious, in your face, 4130 Cro-Mo fashion. Niner isn’t shy about what the bike was intended for, and when questioned about the ROS name you’re likely to hear “RIDE OVER SH*T!” It’s a fitting name, too, because that’s exactly what us bunch of hooligans did during our 2014 Vital MTB Test Sessions in Sedona, Arizona.

Buried deep in a garage filled with 25 of the latest and greatest $8,000+ carbon dual suspension rigs, the ROS 9 kept calling to us. This is a bike we wanted to ride. So began our quest to huck over and off of everything in sight…

ROS 9 X01 Highlights

  • 4130 Cro-Mo frame
  • 29-inch wheels
  • 44mm OS headtube
  • 67.5-degree head angle
  • 73.5-degree seat tube angle
  • 2.0-inch (52mm) bottom bracket drop (adjustable)
  • 16.5 to 16.8-inch (418 to 423mm) chainstay length (adjustable via BioCentric2)
  • Tabs for bash guard only
  • Press fit or threaded BB via CYA inserts
  • 142mm x 12mm thru-axle
  • Measured weight (size Large, no pedals): 28-pounds 8-ounces
  • $3,799 MSRP

Don’t let the gorgeous blue finish on the frame and 130mm RockShox Revelation fork fool you, this rig was built to withstand some serious abuse. While it may look similar to the Niner SIR 9, the tubes have been beefed up and tailored to improve durability while maintaining the somewhat forgiving ride quality steel is well known for. With a 67.5-degree head angle and 12x142mm rear axle, you know it means business. You can slack it out to 67-degrees with the optional 140mm FOX fork if you’re feeling extra rowdy.

From the unique dropout design to the sleek brake mounts, removable bolt-on housing guides, oversized 44mm headtube, and removable front derailleur hanger, everything about the ROS 9 is dialed. Internal or external dropper seatpost cable routing is up to you, and an aluminum cover closes the port if you choose not to use it. Because there’s no shock to contend with, of course there’s a bottle mount inside the front triangle. Tabs under the bottom bracket shell accept a proprietary MRP XCG bash guard for chainring protection.

Perhaps the most interesting feature is the BioCentric II bottom bracket interface. The eccentric system is one of the cleanest, simplest, and most effective we’ve seen to date. Crazy enough to run single-speed? It allows for quick setup without the need for tensioners or brake adjustments. Prefer a geared drivetrain? By loosening two bolts and rotating the bottom bracket you can choose the bottom bracket height, chainstay length, and effective seat angle that suits you best. Retightening the bolts applies a clamping force on the outside edges of the bottom bracket shell, which Niner says eliminates the possibility of ovalizing or indexing. The system has a 73mm width and is compatible with external bearing or press fit bottom brackets through the use of Niner’s optional CYA cups. The chainstays run as short as 418mm to allow for as much wheelie popping fun as you can handle. Mud clearance is ~0.8cm with the stock 2.35-inch Schwalbe tire and slammed stays.

Available in Forge Grey and Rally Blue, ROS 9 build options include single-speed, SRAM X7, and SRAM X01 kits at prices ranging from $2,499 to $3,799. It also comes in a frame plus hardware package for $899.

On The Trail

So where does one ride a bike like this? That's simple: the trails you’re likely already riding on a full squish. Not content to ride the cruisers, we hit the ROS 9 with some of the best terrain Sedona has to offer. Teacup, Slim Shady, HT, Little Horse, High on the Hogs, Pig Tail, Broken Arrow, Llama and Bail Trail all served up a healthy dish of red dirt and slickrock. We even dared to rally it down HiLine, one of the most advanced trails in the area.

Throwing a leg over it for ride number one we were surprised to find not only the widest bars we’d seen on a stock trail bike in a while, but also the longest stem. The 780mm handlebars are wide enough to quiet all the gravity lovers, but the 90mm stem seemed way, way out of place. Opting for a 50mm stem instead, the ROS 9’s cockpit was ready to roll. The top tube and reach are spacious enough to allow for easy weight transfers front to back, and overall the rider is in a very neutral position which feels centered between the wheels. Seeking the maximum smiles per mile, we opted to adjust the BioCentric II towards the back of the bike to allow for the shortest chainstays possible.

A confidence inspiring hardtail? While it may sound like a bit of an oxymoron, the ROS 9 had us eyeing up gaps, transfers, wallrides, and humanly impossible climbs that we likely wouldn’t have even glanced at on other bikes.The slack head angle, low bottom bracket and short chainstays combined with a decently long reach and steep-ish seat tube angle make it comfortable right off the bat. It’s easy to get the front end up to clear obstacles but long enough to hold true through a rough line. Since there’s little to no flex, it’s a very precise and responsive ride that changes lines well. Coupled with the big wheels, high volume tires and the added badassery of steel, the bike feels surprisingly stable, agile enough to hop around, and forgiving enough to get away with some of your dumber finer moments on the trail. For having just 130mm of front travel and a rigid frame, you can do a lot without beating yourself up. As far as hardtails go, this is definitely one of the smoothest rides we’ve ever experienced - provided your legs are up to the task.

You can cruise it or push it with equally good results, although if it gets really rough you better hang on tight! The only time the bike ever felt sketchy is while riding trails that were far beyond the normal capabilities of a hardtail (read: the gnar). As our insanely-talented-on-a-bike photographer put it, "Yeah it’s rough, but that’s mountain biking. The big wheels smooth things out. How can you not enjoy the simplest form of two-wheeled entertainment?"

If you thought you were having fun before, you’ve got to try this ride out. It brings parts of the trail that have become mundane back to life and offers a new challenge. Pushing it on a hardtail takes you back to the roots of our sport, and the whole experience screams capital F-U-N.

At 28.5-pounds it’s no lightweight ninny. The ROS 9 is a hoss and proud of it, which helps the bike stay stable. Luckily rolling speed is pretty good. It also accelerates like a wild animal. Like Niner says, “Zero millimeters of suspension is efficient in every chainring.” No bob out of the rear end means almost pure power transfer, and we never once felt the need to touch the lockout on the fork.

If you’re up for some bunny hopping, the thing will climb like a mountain goat. It does amazingly well on technical climbs as the big, meaty tires claw their way into the dirt and rocks with gobs of traction. Body position is also quite neutral, helping to keep the front end down and in control. Even in the lowest position the bottom bracket height yielded next to no pedal strikes throughout our test.

Build Kit

The entire component spec is spot on for this bike’s intended use, and it all helps to make the ride more enjoyable. Given the option, the only items we’d swap out are the foam grips in favor of lock-ons, the 90mm stem for a 50mm, and the 5-inch drop Reverb Stealth for a 6-inch version to allow for more leg "suspension" when getting rad.

Schwalbe’s Nobby Nic tires in the 2.35-inch size provided excellent traction in all conditions, which is something we can’t say of their smaller sizes. They were good on loose terrain as well as loose over hard, and the relative lack of rolling resistance and weight was surprising for their large size.

The Stan’s No Tubes ZTR Flow EX wheels are an excellent match for this bike. The rim width helps increase the tire’s air volume and creates a better tire profile. They were stiff enough to not feel sketchy, but not over the top stiff. More of a compliant ride which helped the bike track well through corners and on off-camber terrain. Ours were setup tubeless, and even in the punishing terrain of Sedona we experienced no flats.

Avid’s Elixir 9 Trail brakes worked amazingly well. Even with the small 6-inch rear and 7-inch front rotor there was plenty of power. Modulation was good, lever feel excellent, and we never experienced any fade on longer descents.

The SRAM X01 drivetrain also performed flawlessly throughout the test. X01 is a great fit for this bike, providing more clearance, less noise, less clutter, and plenty of usable gear range. It shifted well with no skipping and zero dropped chains even though there wasn't a chainguide on the front ring. With the addition of some Mastic tape on the top and bottom of the chainstay and underside of the seat stay it might very well be the stealthiest of all stealthy bikes.

Long Term Durability

You’re kidding, right? There’s nothing to worry about here. This frame will still be kicking when you're an old geezer and your great grandchildren want to get into mountain biking because it’s cool again.

What's The Bottom Line?

You know the guy who shows up to group rides that just doesn't give a f*** about the latest technology, wheel size debate, or suspension design? The Niner ROS 9 is for that guy. He keeps it real and shreds with the best of them. He might even do it in jean shorts and a collared shirt.

The ROS 9 is simply too much fun to ignore. It brings a new love for old trails to life, offering fresh challenges and excitement along the way. The bike's slack head angle, adjustable geometry, wide tires and big wheels let you get away with just about anything. It requires skill to ride fast through the rough, yet it’s surprisingly forgiving. A rider who appreciates being connected with the trail and the bike beneath them will absolutely love this bike. The "Ride Over Sh*t" meaning couldn’t be more appropriate, and you'll find yourself seeing what kind of craziness you can get away with on a daily basis. It might even make you question if all the latest gizmos we're bombarded with are really needed.

When asked if they would buy one, every one of our testers said, “Hell yes!” That doesn’t happen often...

Visit www.ninerbikes.com for more details.

Bonus Gallery: 12 photos of the 2014 Niner ROS 9 up close and in action


About The Reviewers

Evan Turpen - Evan has been racing mountain bikes as a Pro for the last 8 years with his career highlight being selected to represent the U.S. in the 2006 World Championships. More recently he can be found competing in enduro races and having a blast with it. He has helped design, develop, and test products for multiple major mountain bike companies and has an attention to detail well above most.

Brandon Turman - Brandon likes to pop off the little bonus lines on the sides of the trail, get aggressive when he's in tune with a bike and talk tech. In 14 years of riding he worked his way through the Collegiate downhill ranks to the Pro level. Formerly a Mechanical Engineer, nowadays he's Vital MTB's resident product guy.

Which reviewer resembles you the most? Don't miss our Q&A with the testers for more insight about their styles and preferences.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for 2014 Scott Genius LT 700 Tuned 2/20/2014 4:58 PM
C138_scott_genius_lt_700_tuned

2014 Test Sessions: Scott Genius LT 700 Tuned

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Reviewed by Evan Turpen and Steve Wentz // Photos by Shawn Spomer and Lear Miller

For 2014, Scott went back to the drawing board with their do-it-all Genius LT. The redesigned bike has been reduced from 185 to 170mm travel, but gains a new suspension design, 27.5-inch wheels, revised geometry, and a simple lever designed to enable you to pedal it up just about anything you'd like to rally back down. While it may look similar to the Genius 700, the Genius LT 700 is a big-mountain tamer with extra travel to back it up. The latest version looks clean and means business, so we were excited to put it through the wringer at the 2014 Vital MTB Test Sessions.

Genius LT 700 Tuned Highlights

  • HMX carbon fiber frame
  • 27.5-inch (650b) wheels
  • 170mm (6.5-inches) of rear wheel travel
  • FOX Nude / SCOTT custom rear shock
  • Tapered headtube
  • 66.3 or 66.8-degree adjustable head angle
  • 74.0 or 74.5-degree adjustable seat tube angle
  • 346 or 315.8mm (13.6 or 13.9-inch) adjustable bottom bracket height
  • 438.8 or 440mm (17.3 or 17.3-inch) chainstay length
  • Press Fit BB92 bottom bracket
  • IDS SL dropouts for interchangeable hub size - 142mm x 12mm thru-axle tested
  • Measured weight (size Medium, no pedals): 27-pounds 6-ounces (12.41kg)
  • $7,600 MSRP as tested

In switching from the previous pull-shock based frame to this new HMX carbon version, Scott managed to drop a substantial 400 grams off the total frame weight. That's no small feat. The new frame weighs 2,450 grams including the shock and hardware. Combined with a smart build, Scott’s top of the line Genius LT tips the scales at a surprisingly light 27.4-pounds.

Frame details include a semi-integrated tapered headtube, internal cable routing for everything, press fit bottom bracket, direct front derailleur mount, rubber frame and chainstay guards, and an optional integrated chainstay-style chainguide. The 12x142mm IDS-SL dropouts can be adapted to 12x135mm or 5x135mm if desired. Mud clearance is very good with about 1.5cm of room for crud around the stock 2.35-inch Schwalbe tires. There’s also plenty room for a water bottle and a spare tube inside the front triangle.

A geometry adjustment chip in the rear shock mount allows you to change the head angle by 0.5-degrees and bottom bracket height by 6mm. In its slackest setting, the bike has a 66.3-degree head angle and 346mm BB height.

Perhaps the most unique feature on the Genius LT is the suspension. Previously the bike used a DT Swiss Equalizer 3 pull-shock, but with the new frame Scott has partnered with FOX on a proprietary Scott-FOX Nude rear shock. The shock itself features Kashima coating and a Boost Valve for better performance. Unlike other FOX shocks on the market, the use of two internal air chambers allows you to remotely adjust the volume of the shock while simultaneously changing the damping characteristics. Scott's bar-mounted TwinLoc lever switches between three modes:

  • Descend = 170mm travel, full air volume, supple damping
  • Traction = 135mm travel, reduced volume, increased damping
  • Climb = 0mm travel, reduced volume, locked-out

While the available travel changes, the shock’s eye-to-eye length does not. The sag point also decreases in Traction mode, steepening up the front end of the bike slightly for better climbing performance.

Up front, the 170mm FOX Float 34 CTD fork simultaneously switches between Climb, Trail, and Descend modes, but remains at 170mm travel in both Descend and the middle Traction/Trail mode. Just like the shock, the fork locks out in the Climb position.

The Genius LT is available in the full carbon 700 Tuned model for $7,600, the half carbon, half aluminum 710 for $5,500 and the full aluminum 720 at $4,000. Frame and shock only kits are available in the full carbon and aluminum versions.

On The Trail

The Genius LT is claimed to be the “ultimate Enduro bike” so we treated it like one. Our rides in Sedona, Arizona consisted of several fast and rough descents linked together by meandering and sometimes technical climbs. Trails included Broken Arrow, Little Horse, HT, Slim Shady, HiLine, Baldwin and Ridge. We also got a few shuttle runs in on Brewer Trail, a rowdy descent with a good sprint up top that’d be at home in any Enduro stage race. Dirt conditions ranged from hero dirt to loose over hardpack.

Leaving the trailhead, we immediately felt at home on the Genius LT thanks to the Syncros stem and carbon bar. At 50/60mm long (size dependent) and 760mm wide, the cockpit is ready for the aggressive rider. We found the top tube length on our size Medium test bike to be comfortable at 5’10” with an upright and centered position with plenty of room to move around. The front end seems a little tall with the 170mm fork, but this encourages you to open it up on the descents. The bike is clearly made for charging and we applaud Scott for gearing this bike toward the descent crew - it should be with all that travel.

We found the bike to handle best set up in the low and slack geometry position, offering better handling over the rowdy stuff. The bottom bracket height, seat tube angle, seat tube length and reach are all within very comfortable dimensions. The back end seemed neither short nor long, just stable. Overall the Genius LT felt very neutral in many respects and was one of the more comfortable stock bikes we threw a leg over. Pedaling up to the first big descents we had high hopes. With loads of travel and pretty aggressive geometry to work with, just about any trail looked tamable.

Dropping in we quickly learned that the Genius LT is best when ridden at a decent clip. At slower speeds it can be difficult to maintain balance due to the tall front end and lanky feeling suspension. Even at speed we sometimes felt very detached from the terrain, leaving us wishing for a more precise, responsive, and playful ride. We like to be in tune with what our tires are doing. Because there is so much linear-feeling travel to push through, the bike also isn't the easiest to jump in the Descend setting. The front end is also a little difficult to pop up at times due to the extra squish of the suspension. Depressions and rollers in the trail weren’t that fun as the bike just absorbed them and we weren’t able to pump as much as we wanted to gain speed.

Fast, rough, but not overly steep terrain is where the bike excels. Suspension performance through the chatter was good - it would use lots of the travel lots of the time, which is a great thing in rough, consistently bumpy trails. It would just keep soaking up the hits and stay stable through it all. Occasionally a large square-edged bump would catch us off guard, though, hanging the rear of the bike up slightly. It tracked surprisingly well through rough off-camber sections, possibly aided by a slight amount of flex helping to maintain traction.

Pointed down the steep and gnarly stuff the Genius LT comes up a bit short on performance. Even with proper air pressure and sag settings, g-outs and drops had the rear suspension reaching the end of its travel a little too harshly. It felt as if the back end rode fairly high in its travel yet used it all quickly. Unfortunately the damping isn’t readily adjustable outside of the TwinLoc lever. The downhill geometry is also not as aggressive feeling as the numbers would suggest, and the head angle feels slightly steep at times. Ultimately it seemed to lack the gusto we’d hoped for in the most demanding terrain. It feels compromised in order to provide an easier ride to the top. It still descends decently well, it’s just doesn’t have the over the top fun factor and rowdiness level one would expect for a bike with 170mm of travel. We often felt like we could get away with more on shorter travel bikes.

The sluggish, detached feeling in Descend mode definitely encouraged the use of the TwinLoc lever as much as possible, though the benefit was questionable. In Traction mode the bottom out position of the bike was just a tad higher in the rear with no change on the front, so the head angle would be a tad steeper when fully compressed. There was more breakaway force in the rear shock and it made the feeling of detachment from terrain worse. Because of the higher breakaway force it felt like the rear shock was through-stroking more once it did move, making it feel like more travel anyway. Pointed downhill, we chose the Descend setting more often because it was smoother, rode slightly lower in the rear travel and had better traction. While the fork was more consistent through its travel, due to the TwinLoc configuration it lacks good compression damping support in Descend mode.

Torsional stiffness of the 170mm FOX 34 fork was a concern for Evan, who said it seemed as if he could feel the fork flexing more than any other fork in the 25 bike test. Looking over the FOX’s aftermarket lineup, it’s interesting to note that they don’t offer an aftermarket 34mm stanchion fork in excess of 160mm of travel. If in the future they make a 36 with 27.5-inch lowers it could be ideal. We reached out to Scott about their decision to spec this fork and if it was based on weight or other factors:

"Weight has always been a consideration but not at the detriment of the ride. At the time of spec there was not an offering from FOX that fit the bill, but as we work closely with FOX they were able to tune the 34 for us. [Stiffness concerns] are not something that we have heard from other people but everyone’s riding styles are different. The frame is actually laterally and torsionally stiffer than the previous edition."

The Genius LT is a very light bike for its travel, and it impressed us by how light it often felt while riding. Rolling speed is decent and the tires keep speed well. The long-travel suspension can take away from this feeling while maneuvering over obstacles and pumping, though, regardless of the TwinLoc setting.

Pedaling was one of the stronger points of the Genius LT when the Twin Loc lever was set to the middle Traction setting. It didn’t feel like it suffered from excessive bob or chain torque problems, and there was only a slight loss of power. In this setting it accelerates with authority while still maintaining decent traction and control. However, if the bike is left in Descend mode it bobs noticeably with a more obvious loss of power. The body position offered by the roomy front end and 74+ degree seat tube angle was comfortable and we never really encountered any issues clipping pedals or having the front end wander.

We found the firmest Climb setting almost useless in Sedona’s rocky terrain as it fully locked out the fork and rear shock. Traction was worse, bump absorption was worse, and the bike ended up being essentially a rigid hardtail. When the suspension was in the softer settings the bike would absorb bumps and motor up climbs. It did become difficult to bunnyhop once fatigued because the amount of suspension made it tough to really move the bike up and over obstacles.

Build Kit

The top of the line Genius LT 700 Tuned brings together several great components from FOX, Shimano, SRAM, RockShox, Schwalbe, and Syncros (now Scott’s house brand). The bike is ready to race out of the box. There’s little we’d change before hitting the trails, save perhaps the suspension for something offering independent adjustability.

Schwalbe’s super high-volume 2.35-inch Hans Dampf tires worked well and matched the intended purpose of the bike. They had good all around traction in the conditions we encountered, though we did occasionally wish for a little more cornering bite.

The Syncros AM1.5 wheels are fairly light, plenty stiff, decently wide, and come tubeless ready. They did their job well, we had no issues, and we trusted them. Ours came fully tubeless which definitely helped keep things light and flat free.

Once broken in, Shimano’s XTR Trail brakes worked well with plenty of power and excellent modulation. They were never grabby, didn’t fade and have some of the best lever feel in the business.

The SRAM X01 drivetrain shifted well and had plenty of gear range to get the job done. With the clutch derailleur, upper e*thirteen chainguide and 32-tooth X-Sync chainring there were no dropped chains and everything stayed working smoothly throughout the test. The addition of some 3M Mastic tape in select areas would reduce the little bit of chain slap noise we occasionally heard while bombing rough sections.

Long Term Durability

The Genius LT is extremely light and because of that it doesn’t quite give the confident, solid feel that most 160mm+ travel bikes have. Even so, the frame does carry a five year warranty so Scott should have you covered in the event anything goes wrong. Proprietary suspension is always a concern of ours due to availability and service issues, though, especially years down the line. During our limited time on the bike we experienced no issues.

What's The Bottom Line?

The Scott Genius LT was designed to be a capable, aggressive Enduro bike with a unique advantage across all types of terrain by way of the three mode TwinLoc suspension adjustment system. Unfortunately in our experience all three modes felt like a compromise. We can’t help but think that the bike would be far better off with independently adjustable suspension without the bells and whistles. Those looking to tinker will be pleased to learn that while the shock itself may be proprietary, it’s now possible to swap the shock thanks to the use of standard shock dimensions.

For someone wanting lightweight XC-like performance on the climbs and a long travel feel on the downs it does a decent job. It climbs well and descends well in some terrain, but it does so without much personality. There are much better performing bikes on the downs with less travel, some of which climb as well or better, too. As of right now we feel that the Genius LT is a bit confused and trying to find its identity - this isn’t the ultimate do-it-all machine we had hoped it would be. The bike doesn’t do anything poorly, but because there’s lots of good competition at this price level it comes across as just “okay.”

When we discussed our experience with Scott, they responded:

"We do see this bike as one of the most capable Enduro style bikes out there and we obviously have to look at a global reach. When we develop a bike we have to take into account all the different terrain that the bike may be ridden on, so it is tough to get the bike right for everyone and all conditions. TwinLoc is obviously a proprietary system so we try to utilize it as much as possible, but this is the first year with this design for the Genius LT and the FOX partnership. We do listen to all the comments and feedback we get so that newer generations can benefit."

Visit www.scott-sports.com for more details.

Bonus Gallery: 26 photos of the 2014 Scott Genius LT 700 Tuned up close and in action


About The Reviewers

Steve Wentz - A man of many talents, Steve got his start in downhilling at a young age. He has been riding for over 17 years, 10 of which have been in the Pro ranks. Asked to describe his riding style he said, "I like to smooth out the trail myself." Today he builds some of the best trails in the world (and eats lots of M&M's).

Evan Turpen - Evan has been racing mountain bikes as a Pro for the last 8 years with his career highlight being selected to represent the U.S. in the 2006 World Championships. More recently he can be found competing in enduro races and having a blast with it. He has helped design, develop, and test products for multiple major mountain bike companies and has an attention to detail well above most.

Which reviewer resembles you the most? Don't miss our Q&A with the testers for more insight about their styles and preferences.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for 2014 Nukeproof Mega AM 275 Pro 2/17/2014 9:10 AM
C138_2014_nukeproof_mega_am_275_pro_bike

2014 Test Sessions: Nukeproof Mega AM 275 Pro

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Reviewed by Evan Turpen and Jess Pedersen // Photos by Shawn Spomer and Lear Miller

Following a major overhaul to the tubeset, linkage, and shock tune in 2013, the 160mm travel Nukeproof Mega AM once again sees updates for 2014. When the company sat down to redesign the bike, they made it a goal to maintain the same stable, do anything feel from 2013, but with the added benefit of 27.5-inch wheels. Curious to see just how wild we could get on the revised ride, we did our best to put it through the paces in Sedona, Arizona during the 2014 Vital MTB Test Sessions. After all, any bike named after the famous mass-start Megavalanche race better have the guts to back it up.

Mega AM 27.5 Pro Highlights

  • Hydroformed double-welded T6 6061 aluminum frame
  • 27.5-inch wheels
  • 160mm (6.3-inches) of rear wheel travel
  • True 44mm headtube diameter
  • 66-degree head angle
  • 73.5-degree seat tube angle
  • -3mm bottom bracket drop
  • 445mm (17.5-inch) chainstay length
  • ISCG05 tabs
  • 73mm bottom bracket shell
  • 142mm x 12mm thru-axle
  • Measured weight (size Large, no pedals): 31-pounds 14-ounces (14.46kg)
  • $5,503.99 MSRP

From the square shaped hydroformed tubeset to the oversized pivot bearings, CNC-machined bottom bracket assembly, huge chainstays, and massive welds throughout, everything about the Mega AM 275 screams robust. The scale says the same, registering a hefty 31.9-pounds - just 3-ounces less than the heaviest of the 25 bikes we tested in Sedona. The bike isn’t shy about it though, and a quick glance at the spec sheet and geometry shows that it’s clearly intended to be an all-out brawler.

While the changes from 2013 may be subtle, Nukeproof had to update every tube in order to keep the same ride qualities from year to year. In the end, they managed to maintain the same bottom bracket and bar height by making slight adjustments here and there. They also extended the chainstays from 430mm to 440mm to make room for the new wheels.

Dubbed the “Erosion Linkage” suspension system, the linkage actuated single-pivot design yields 160mm of travel. It’s slightly regressive up to the sag point, then gets very progressive through the end of the stroke. The high-volume RockShox Monarch Plus RC3 shock is easily accessible with the compression lever positioned well for on the fly adjustments. All bearing and pivot seats are machined after the frame is built to ensure perfect alignment and the most supple suspension.

As you’d expect for any UK-based brand, mud clearance is excellent. Thanks to a large, curved tube that connects the seat stays in front of the seat tube instead of the typical seatstay bridge, there’s ample room for meaty tires and as much mud as you dare ride through.

External bolt-on guides on top of the downtube make for quiet and secure cable routing as well as easy maintenance. Nukeproof provides partially internal routing for the RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper post, cleaning things up nicely. The lower cable guide bolts serve as a water bottle mount inside the front triangle. Additional details include ISCG 05 chainguide mounts, a 142x12mm rear axle, and direct mount for the optional front derailleur.

The Mega AM 275 is available in sizes Small through XL in Pro and Comp builds that’ll run you $5,503.99 or $4,299.99, respectively. A frame and shock only option is also available for $2,235.99.

On The Trail

Sedona, Arizona’s Girdner to Last Frontier loop served as a good introduction to the Mega AM 275, offering a mix of technical and wide open sections. Later we enjoyed several laps on Brewer and Ridge trails, both of which served up plenty of high-speed gnar to see what the bike was capable of in more demanding situations.

The stock cockpit feel was spot on for a bike of this size and intended use, meaning that we didn’t need to change a thing. Nukeproof gets it - the stem was short, but not too short and the 760mm bars were wide, but not too wide. Even with the short stem there was plenty of room to move around on the bike with its spacious feeling top tube and reach. The rider position was also pretty neutral allowing for easy movements forwards or back to weight the bike.

Right off the bat it was clear that the Mega AM comes alive when pointed downhill. We were pleased with the properly slack 66-degree head angle, which was spot on for aggressive riding. Aided by the long-ish 17.5-inch chainstays, the stiff frame handles well at all speeds without feeling sketchy. Although this length adds to the bike’s overall stability, we can’t help wondering if it’d be more playful and snappy with something a hair shorter. Getting the front end up off the ground was a bigger task than we expected.

Thanks to the centered/neutral riding position it does change lines well, but the Mega AM also doesn’t have the most precise or responsive feel. It’s more of a point and shoot ride that allows you to get away with a lot, and is confidence inspiring in a monster truck kind of way. Though it does move along well at a casual pace, the geometry is best suited to being ridden hard and with very clear intentions. The stout frame gives assurance that it’ll hold up to the abuse. It all feels almost downhill bike-esque - surefooted, slightly sluggish, a little heavy and about average as far as rolling speed, but ready to rally through anything and everything in the trail.

Small bumps, square edge hits and trail chatter are all absorbed decently by the Nukeproof’s back end, although we felt if the wheels/tires were lighter that it would be able to respond quicker. G-outs, drops, and jumps are also absorbed well, encouraging you to let it rip down the trail. The RockShox Pike fork's stiffness and buttery smooth feel paired well with the frame. The main downfall of the rear suspension is while pedaling and sprinting hard, but for some riders the downhill performance will make up for this.

Out of the saddle under hard sprinting efforts the Mega AM is slow to respond, bobbing a bit with a definite feeling of power loss. Seated, however, it’s a surprisingly efficient climber, although it works best with the rear shock’s compression lever set to the middle firmness setting. The bike’s efficiency comes mainly from its excellent traction, roomy cockpit, and neutral climbing position. The slack front end did feel slightly off balance on slow tech climbs, but the long reach and 73.5-degree seat tube angle put us in a good place for climbing. The front end stayed planted pretty well up steep technical climbs and the bottom bracket height was high enough that clipping pedals on rocks was never an issue yet low enough to corner quite well.

Build Kit

The Mega AM 275 Pro has a solid and very well rounded spec. There’s not really anything that needs changing for the rider looking to take advantage of all 160mm of bump-gobbling travel the bike offers.

Maxxis High Roller II tires front and rear cornered well, provided excellent braking traction and were good in all types of conditions. The rolling resistance of the more aggressive tread is the only real negative. The amazing performance everywhere else more than makes up for this compromise.

Nukeproof’s Generator AM wheelset wheels are plenty strong, wide and stiff. They add to the bike’s charge over anything attitude, but the weight penalty robs the bike of quick acceleration. There also appears to be no provisions for an easy tubeless conversion. The 30-point engagement is great, though, making technical climbs more enjoyable.

We were once again impressed by the Avid Elixir 9 Trail brakes. They worked surprisingly well with plenty of power. The modulation was better than most, but ramped up fairly quickly from light braking force to full lock. We never experienced any fade and the lever feel is some of the best in class.

The bike comes with a dedicated 1x10 drivetrain and a chainguide, helping to keep the cost down while still offering a decent range of gears and reliable chain retention. With the fully enclosed Truvativ X0 chainguide there never were any dropped chains and everything spun smoothly with little to no drag. The only thing some may want to change is downsizing the front chainring from a 36 to a 32 or 34 tooth for a lower climbing gear. Noise was minimal thanks to the SRAM X0 Type II clutched derailleur and removable chainstay protector.

Long Term Durability

One quick look at this bike and you know it was built with durability in mind. It’s a burly bike with reliable components throughout, and will likely withstand many seasons of use with minimal maintenance. Nukeproof backs the frame with a two year warranty.

What's The Bottom Line?

The Nukeproof Mega AM 275 Pro is a dependable, overbuilt bike that’s geared towards hair-raising descents. Of all the 2014 bikes we threw a leg over during our Test Sessions, it felt more like a downhill bike than all the others. It’s long, low, and slack with a point-and-shoot ride that inspires confidence. The suspension design isn’t anything special, but it gets the job done and keeps the cost reasonable. Overall it’s a solid ride that wouldn’t be out of place lining up for the Megavalanche or even dropping into Whistler’s most challenging trails, making it a do-it-all rig for the gravity lover. The fact that you don’t have to swap any parts out to get the most out this bike is a major plus as well. Those more concerned with strength and long term durability than weight and pedaling efficiency will love this bike. The more chunky, rough, and steep your trails are the better.

Visit www.nukeproof.com for more details.

Bonus Gallery: 24 photos of the 2014 Nukeproof Mega AM 275 up close and in action


About The Reviewers

Evan Turpen - Evan has been racing mountain bikes as a Pro for the last 8 years with his career highlight being selected to represent the U.S. in the 2006 World Championships. More recently he can be found competing in enduro races and having a blast with it. He has helped design, develop, and test products for multiple major mountain bike companies and has an attention to detail well above most.

Jess Pedersen - Jess is one of those guys that can hop on a bike after a snowy winter and instantly kill it. He's deceptively quick, smooth, and always has good style. He's also known to tinker with bikes 'til they're perfect, creating custom additions and fixes along the way. Maybe it's that engineering background...

Which reviewer resembles you the most? Don't miss our Q&A with the testers for more insight about their styles and preferences.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for 2014 Norco Sight Carbon 7.1 2/13/2014 2:39 PM
C138_norco_sight_carbon_7.1

2014 Test Sessions: Norco Sight Carbon 7.1

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Reviewed by Steve Wentz and Brandon Turman // Photos by Shawn Spomer and Lear Miller

New for 2014, the 140mm travel Norco Sight makes the leap from aluminum to carbon. In doing so they’ve reduced the frame weight by a whopping 25% and improved the ride characteristics. While the geometry remains the same, Norco did take the time to make a handful of minor updates. Combining the smooth lines of carbon, a dialed paint job and a little color coordination in the component spec, this bike truly is a sight to behold. In fact, we’d wager that it’s the best looking Norco ever.

Curious to see how the new carbon version rides, we invited the Vancouver based brand to ship over the Sight Carbon 7.1 for our 2014 Vital MTB Test Sessions in Sedona, Arizona. Retailing at $5,252 with a pretty impressive build and an almost full-carbon frameset, could this bike be one of the best values going?

Sight Carbon 7.1 Highlights

  • Carbon main frame and seatstay, aluminum chainstay
  • 27.5-inch wheels
  • 140mm (5.5-inches) of rear wheel travel
  • A.R.T. suspension platform
  • Tapered headtube
  • 67.5-degree head angle
  • 74.2-degree seat tube angle (size medium)
  • 338mm (13.3-inch) bottom bracket height
  • 427mm (16.8-inch) chainstay length (size medium)
  • ISCG05 tabs
  • Press Fit BB
  • 142mm x 12mm thru-axle
  • Measured weight (size medium, no pedals): 27-pounds 7-ounces (12.44kg)
  • $5,252 MSRP

Like many of the bikes in Norco’s lineup, the Sight uses “Gravity Tune” - a unique way of sizing frames where the front and rear end grow proportionally with each size. This is said to give the bike a similar feel across the entire size range because it takes into account rider height in relation to frame dimensions. They do this by using a slightly modified front triangle for each size. The result is varying top tube lengths for each size, like normal, but also chainstays that vary from 423 to 435mm as you progress from Small to XL. Another important feature is the low standover height, which we believe to be among the best available.

Part of the clean look can be attributed to the lack of a front derailleur mount on the higher-end carbon models. Because the Sight Carbon 7.1 and LE use a single chainring up front, there really isn’t a need for one. This also reduces the weight a bit. With SRAM’s two 1x11 drivetrains widely available and more on the horizon, we don’t see this decision coming back to haunt them in terms of compatibility.

Rear suspension duties are handled by Norco's “Advanced Ride Technology,” or A.R.T. for short. Depending on the type of bike, Norco tweaks pivot placement to optimize the suspension and ride characteristics for the intended use. In the case of the Sight, the bike benefits from a rearward axle path for square-edge bump compliance and a progressive leverage curve. The shock is very easy access making on the trail adjustments quick and easy.

The bike's 140mm of rear travel is actuated by a one-piece “Holloform” link. Combined with a Syntace X-12 rear axle, asymmetrical stays, tapered headtube, and carbon front triangle and seat stays, the bike is stiff in all the right places. “360-Lock” hardware located in the two main pivots uses a conical clamp to distribute forces on the bearings, extending bearing life over traditional designs.

Additional details include post mounts for the rear disc brake, rubber chainstay and downtube protectors, a bottle mount inside the front triangle, gorgeous anodized hardware, a spare Syntace derailleur hanger bolt near the BB area, and integrated ISCG05 tabs with a removable inner chainguide. Mud clearance is adequate with about 1 to 1.25cm of room for build up with the stock 2.25-inch Maxxis tires.

The 2014 Sight also sees improvements to the cable routing. On 2013 models the cables were routed over the top of the Holloform link, which sometimes lead to premature wear because the cables would bow when the suspension was compressed. Instead, cables now route internally through the down tube before reaching the chainstay. Stealth routing is also included for the RockShox Reverb dropper seatpost. Rubber plugs at the headtube allow you to remove cable slack and prevent rattling inside the frame, though they did pop out quite often.

The Sight Carbon is available in four models priced at $3,545, $4,165, $5,252, and $6,850. It also comes in two builds based around the original aluminum frame. Frame-only options can be had in both carbon and aluminum.

On The Trail

Our time on the Sight was spent in Sedona, Arizona, home to a huge variety of trails and terrain. Loops consisted of a good mix of fast, rough, slow, steep and techy stuff. The dirt was great for traction during the week we played on the Sight, with some snow and mud thrown in as well. For those familiar with the area, trails included Broken Arrow, Little Horse, HT, Slim Shady, Hi-Line, Carroll Canyon, Old Post, and Ridge.

Looking at the geometry numbers, our size Medium Sight is on the short side of things with a 588mm top tube. Even so, it felt comfortable to our 5’8” and 5’10” testers. The seat angle is steep-ish at 74.2-degrees, making for great body position relative to the bottom bracket when climbing. When standing, the 421mm of reach makes it feel longer than you’d think looking at the top tube length. Norco wisely specs the bike with a 760mm wide handlebar, which is plenty of width for just about anyone. We swapped the stock 70mm stem for a 50mm due to personal preference.

Headed out on the trail we felt immediately comfortable on the bike. The bike’s playful, light feel quickly showed through while winding up the climbs at the beginning of our rides. After cresting over the hill, what really surprised us was how stable it was at higher speeds while also responding to every input very well. Thanks to the geometry we were naturally forward when climbing and could get off the back when moving around.

The superbly balanced feel of the Sight is very confidence inspiring. We never once felt out of control, and would go into new sections blind at speed believing that the Sight would take it. Granted, that is a really dangerous way to ride, but it was REALLY fun on the Sight. The bike remains well-composed at all times making it very predictable, which encourages you to just let it rip. Even with 67.5-degree head angle it felt as though we could get away with just about anything. We could jump, turn, float, and skim with ease… boy it was good. The frame felt plenty stiff with no issues in the wheels or rear end when pushing hard. Casually riding the bike is perfectly fine, too, though you’ll quickly find yourself naturally trying new things and clearing technical sections aboard the Sight.

In the rear suspension department, the Sight honestly excelled everywhere except for drops and huge hits. Planted but playful, it offers good traction and precision. We could leap up ledgy climbs, push hard in corners, and jump into rocky areas without concern and have the bike move exactly how we wanted it to. It felt incredibly refined and was borderline fantastic at everything. The only area we see a need for improvement is the bottom-out feel. The bike felt like it wanted to cry under a few big hits, so we wish the frame or shock was a little more progressive at the very end of the stroke. It kept tracking straight and didn't feel sketchy, but there was a very noticeable bottom out. Additionally, we found ourselves maxing out the rebound adjustment to slow the shock down to a reasonable rate, leading us to believe that heavier riders may want a slower rebound tune on the shock.

Up front, the 140mm RockShox Revelation RLT fork surprised us. Even with 32mm stanchions it felt plenty stiff torsionally and aided our confidence when pushing the Sight in corners and through rocky sections. The damping performance was also excellent, offering smooth and controlled action that matched the rear end well.

Headed uphill the Norco doesn’t skip a beat. Because we could move around on the frame and get the right traction in the right areas, seated climbing was a relative breeze. The Sight would just keep moving uphill, not with a great sense of urgency mind you, but provided you’re putting effort into the pedals you’ll rarely get stopped. Norco did a good job managing the chain torque with no perceivable power loss when pedaling. This could also be a product of a relatively optimized pivot point around a single chainring. We were able to leave the FOX CTD rear shock wide open in “Descend” mode without concern. This offered good traction, a planted feel, and plenty of compliance to smooth out the bumps on techy climbs. Rolling speed was average for a 27.5-inch bike, and while not a rocket ship, it was always willing to accelerate without too much effort.

Build Kit

The Sight Carbon 7.1 comes equipped with a good mix of proven components from SRAM, RockShox, DT Swiss, Formula, Sun Ringle, and FOX. There are few components where we see room for improvement, however.

As previously mentioned, we preferred something shorter than the stock 70mm Race Face stem. Going shorter adds a lot of stability to the bike when descending. We'd also swap out the Ergon grips because they effectively chop a full inch off the bar width due to their design. Some people love them, we don’t.

WTB’s Volt Race saddle is comfy when you’re in the right spot, but if you’re active on the bike and like to move around, the pronounced rear wings on the saddle may catch your thighs. Something slightly narrower at the rear would be welcome.

While we were lucky to have great dirt conditions during the duration of our test, we know from previous experience that the 2.25-inch Maxxis Ardent tires leave a lot to be desired when cornering. We do applaud Norco for spec’ing the heavier duty EXO casings, but they forgot the knobs. We would be okay with an Ardent on the rear for rolling speed, but consider upgrading the front tire.

Norco chose to build custom wheels for the Sight 7.1 using Sun Ringle Inferno 25 rims, a 12x142mm DT Swiss 350 rear hub, 15mm Formula MTB hub, and straight gauge spokes. They were stiff, offered decent engagement, and did their job well, so we pretty much forgot about them. Unfortunately those looking to convert the bike to a tubeless setup will quickly learn that the Inferno 25 rims are not tubeless friendly, ghetto or otherwise.

Avid’s X7 Trail brakes were solid performers with good power, modulation and control. The use of a full Avid/SRAM/RockShox build kit allowed Norco to utilize SRAM’s Match Maker system which declutters the bars nicely by consolidating everything to just one bar clamp per side. We would like to see the Reverb remote lever moved under the bar in the future, though, because it’s easier to reach on the fly.

SRAM’s X01 drivetrain worked great throughout the test with almost no drag and plenty of gear range. It’s also very, very quiet which helped make the bike incredibly silent, even through the rough stuff.

Long Term Durability

While they certainly sound like an improvement from a bearing longevity standpoint, Norco's 360-Lock pivot hardware loosened during each of our rides. Be sure to keep an eye on it during the first few months of use. A dab of thread locker could also do the trick.

We also had a rear brake failure after just a handful of rides when the housing wore through near the back of the bike. To prevent the issue, ensure there is enough slack between the main frame and seatstay cable clamps by deflating the rear shock and pulling sufficient slack through the frame.

Other than that, the Sight Carbon was dialed and looks like it’d hold up for a long time.

What's The Bottom Line?

The Norco Sight Carbon 7.1 is a remarkable bike. It’s predictable yet fun and offers very impressive suspension characteristics without any big hang ups. It will change directions in a heartbeat and stay stable through the roughest lines - a great balance to have. It’s also refreshingly clean in its appearance and competitive in the weight game.

We tried hard to find fault with it, but the bike really is a solid performer across the board. Of the 25 bikes we tested in Sedona, the Sight Carbon was among the small handful of stand outs. Fix a few of the component quibbles while maintaining the price point and it’d be a five-star ride. Considering how well it rides at a cost thousands less than many others, this truly is a great value for your dollars.

For more details visit www.norco.com.

Bonus Gallery: 25 photos of the 2014 Norco Sight Carbon 7.1 up close and in action


About The Reviewers

Steve Wentz - A man of many talents, Steve got his start in downhilling at a young age. He has been riding for over 17 years, 10 of which have been in the Pro ranks. Asked to describe his riding style he said, "I like to smooth out the trail myself." Today he builds some of the best trails in the world (and eats lots of M&M's).

Brandon Turman - Brandon likes to pop off the little bonus lines on the sides of the trail, get aggressive when he's in tune with a bike and talk tech. In 14 years of riding he worked his way through the Collegiate downhill ranks to the Pro level. Formerly a Mechanical Engineer, nowadays he's Vital MTB's resident product guy.

Which reviewer resembles you the most? Don't miss our Q&A with the testers for more insight about their styles and preferences.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for 2014 Evil Bikes Uprising 2/9/2014 4:36 PM
C138_evil_uprising

2014 Test Sessions: Evil Uprising

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Reviewed by John Hauer and Jess Pedersen // Photos by Lear Miller

Shrouded in mystery since the beginning, the Evil Uprising is now available to the public. It’s about time, too! We’ve been eager to try one out since we first saw Filip Polc on a prototype back in 2012. Our chance finally came during the 2014 Vital MTB Test Sessions. With looks that could kill, the full carbon frameset features 150mm of travel, 26-inch wheels (gasp!), adjustable geometry and the unique DELTA suspension system.

Uprising Highlights

  • High-pressure molded unidirectional carbon frame
  • 26-inch wheels
  • 150mm (5.9-inches) of rear wheel travel
  • DELTA suspension system
  • Tapered headtube
  • 66.7 or 65.7-degree adjustable head angle via flip chip system
  • 72.8 or 71.7-degree adjustable seat tube angle
  • 349 or 336mm (13.74 or 13.22-inch) adjustable bottom bracket height
  • 430 or 434mm (16.90 or 17.08-inch) chainstay length
  • ISCG05 tabs
  • 73mm BB shell
  • 142mm x 12mm thru-axle
  • Measured weight (size large, no pedals): 28-pounds 8-ounces (13.04kg)
  • $6,500 MSRP

Looking at the Uprising, the thing that immediately jumps is the DELTA link suspension system. That’s short for Dave’s Extra Legitimate Travel Apparatus. No joke, and Evil is the only company using this Dave Weagle design. Similar to DW's other linkage designs, the frame has a nice balance of pedaling performance and neutral braking. The DELTA system was designed to provide three stages throughout the bike's travel. It starts with a supple beginning stroke and transitions to a mid-stroke leverage ratio intended to provide as much traction as possible. Finally, a progressive leverage rate at the end ramps up in combination with the air shock to create a bottomless feel and help prevent harsh bottom-outs. These stages are achieved by the system's dual progressive leverage curve (progressive, near linear, then progressive again).

The shock, links and massive portions of the frame sit near the bottom bracket keeping the center of gravity low. That's a plus. While building the bike, however, we discovered that due to the shock positioning it’s a royal pain in the butt to install or remove the lower shock mount. To clear the chainstay it’s necessary to let the air out of the shock, remove the upper bolt to get an extra few millimeters of clearance, then bottom the shock out. Very tight tolerances to say the least... It’s also nearly impossible to reach the shock’s rebound adjuster without a small allen key - this problem is a FOX Float X issue, not Evil’s.

One feature of the DELTA system is the ability to change the geometry between a high and low setting via flip-chips in the linkage. It can basically go from a bike with the right angles for all-day trail riding to a mini DH shredder. Doing so does not affect the leverage rate or suspension feel, so you can change the geometry of your bike and not have to re-tune your shock to get it back to where you like it. Laser-etched directions on the hardware indicate if the bolt is reverse-threaded and which geometry setting the flip-chip is set to. While it’s rad that the bike includes this feature, it’s far from a quick and easy process to change the geometry. Because of this, we’d probably just put it in the lower/slacker shred mode and leave it be.

Additional frame features include a Shimano direct mount for the optional front derailleur, ISCG05 tabs for chainguide compatibility, and fixed 12X142mm rear dropouts. The bike includes a nice frame protector at the bottom of the down tube which also incorporates a housing guide for the front derailleur cable. There’s no chainstay guard, but with SRAM’s XX1 drivetrain it doesn’t really need one. Also absent are bottle mounts. For 2014, tire clearance has been improved to accommodate a 2.35-inch Schwalbe tire. Mud clearance is still far from awesome, though, so consider that if you ride in the slop often.

The use of carbon allows Evil to fine tune different areas of the frame for stiffness and flex - something you can't achieve to the same extent with aluminum frames. It has clean lines and looks every bit as burly as the Evil Undead DH bike, but the frame weighs in at a reasonable 7.2-pounds with the rear shock and axle. Our complete size Large build came in at 28.5-pounds.

The Uprising is available in five sizes (Small, Medium, Medium/Large, Large, and Extra Large), which is nice for those that often fall between them.

On The Trail

Our affair with the Uprising was spent pounding out the miles in Sedona, Arizona. One of the highlights was John trusting the bike with his life while navigating the incredibly exposed White Line. John gives the Uprising big kudos for not being the bike he plummeted to his death on. Other trails included Broken Arrow, Little Horse, Slim Shady and Hi-Line, which included everything from fast and flowy to rocky tech and high speed hits with big slickrock g-outs.

We’ve said it dozens of times - bikes of this nature should be spec’d with a proper short stem/wide bar combo. In the case of the Uprising, it’s nice not to have to complain about the cockpit. At 6-feet tall a size Large frame with the stock 55mm stem and 750mm wide bar felt spot on, offering a healthy amount of reach and good front to back balance. Thanks for doing things right, Evil.

As mentioned above, the Uprising offers adjustable geometry. Due to the difficulty of changing the geometry, it was left in the “high” position for the duration of our test. Don’t let the high designation fool you, though. The bike still rode great in this setting, offering a sufficiently slack 66.7-degree head angle and 13.74-inch BB height. It was able to charge hard, felt stable, cornered well, and made the tighter portions of Sedona’s varied terrain more than manageable. Dropping to the low setting would only make the bike charge harder, which is exactly what we’d expect considering the riding ability and preferences of Evil’s World Cup athletes and owner, Kevin Walsh.

With everything mentioned above it should be no surprise that this thing hauls ass on the downhills. This rig was clearly built for speed, steeps and tech. It has a playful attitude and you can flick it around or change directions on a dime. Light but stiff, it’s a responsive ride that you can trust not to do anything weird when you’re hauling through the rough stuff. Whether pushing it or just casually riding along the bike feels really good. Nothing felt below average (or even average for that matter).

Combined with the FOX Float X rear shock, the rear end left us very impressed. We played around with the CTD settings quite a bit at the beginning of our ride, but quickly noticed how well the Uprising pedals. This encouraged us to keep the compression setting wide open almost all the time. As claimed, the suspension was very supple off the top but had a nice progressive feel that kept it away from the bottom of its travel. Being so active off the top made for great traction on the chatter and loose sections of trail. The mid-stroke had sufficient compression support so the bike never wallowed. It also took g-outs and drops like a champ. We always felt like it was efficiently eating up the trail and ready for the next impact. All this and the thing still pedaled and sprinted very well!

After riding over two dozen of the latest 27.5 and 29-inch bikes for 10 days straight and then hopping on the Uprising, we were fully expecting to have "little wheel syndrome" and feel like we were hanging up everywhere. But guess what? It still ripped. Good suspension coupled with a high main pivot and proper geometry allowed the bike to soak up the big hits and keep rolling with good momentum. It handled the square edges as well if not better than any other bike in the Test Sessions lineup, 26-inch wheels and all. If anything, the front end was having a tougher time carrying speed over continuously rough sections than a 27.5 rig with comparable angles. That said, we had an easier go at navigating tighter sections and putting the bike in precise locations.

Up front the bike is equipped with a 160mm FOX Talas 34 CTD fork. While we never felt the need to drop the travel, we did go back and forth between the CTD settings. Things performed best in the Trail 1 setting, but when riding fast/loose terrain we would open it up for added traction and small bump sensitivity. Regardless, FOX’s 2014 Talas felt really controlled throughout the entire stroke and ramped up nicely towards bottom - a welcome improvement from previous model years.

For how heavy it looks, the Uprising feels surprisingly light thanks to good weight distribution above the bottom bracket. This makes it stable yet snappy when you needed to accelerate. It also felt like it was easy to keep up to speed when spinning out on long, flatter sections of trail. Sprinting was also a major plus. It transferred power straight to the ground and was very quick to get up and go when punching it. The suspension design works very well with a 1X drivetrain under power.

Pointed uphill the bike continued to impress us, so much so that we were able to run the rear shock wide open without sacrificing energy wasted into the suspension. This added traction on the steep, punchy, and often loose climbs and ensured the bike was always ready to descend at its best. Keeping the bike in the high geometry setting gave us good crank clearance over rocks, a comfortable body position, and great balance between rear wheel traction and keeping the front end down.

Build Kit

While you won’t find any current info about build specs on Evil’s website as of the time we’re writing this, know that they do offer five build kit options ranging from $3,800 to $6,500. There’s also a frame/shock option that’ll run you $2,400 with a FOX Float CTD or $2.600 with a Float X CTD. Our $6,500 build came decked out from head to toe, and it’s hard to fault any of the component spec on the high-end model.

The standard RockShox Reverb seatpost was a small issue, however. It worked as it should have, but the line running to it bulged out when the seat was down. This was mildly annoying as it would rub on your leg. A post with a fixed cable would solve the issues, as would an internally routed option if the frame allowed for it.

The Schwalbe Hans Dampf front and Nobby Nic rear tire combo was predictable and hooked up when it counted. There only situation where this combo struggled to provide traction was when braking hard on loose dirt. It also did well on slickrock, adding confidence when things got off camber and sketchy.

Aided by the super loud rear hub, e.thirteen’s wheels really stood out. They were extremely stiff, had great engagement, and held up to all the abuse we could dish out. We hit several drops to nearly flat, boosted lips into very rocky sections and took a few good sandstone g-outs at high speed.

Avid’s four piston X9 Trail brakes yielded no complaints in the braking department. John surviving the White Line should be enough to tell you that they work well. They provided the bike with more than enough stopping power and great modulation.

Once again SRAM’s XX1 drivetrain impressed us. With a 32-tooth front chainring it was ideal for Sedona’s trails. We had no shifting issues and there was always an ideal gear. Zero dropped chains, zero chain slap, and zero drag are a definite win. The only noise was the occasional knock from the clutched rear derailleur when the wheel would slap down hard. A quiet bike is so enjoyable, and XX1 makes it so all you can hear are tires on the ground and the buzz of a good hub.

Long Term Durability

There’s no denying the past issues Evil has had when it comes to durability. Heck, they’re the first to admit it. Luckily they were smart to switch up factories and enforce stricter quality control throughout the construction process, which we hope will solve their past issues. Evil backs the Uprising frame with a two year warranty and lifetime crash replacement.

There are a lot of pivots that may need routine cleaning and maintenance, so keep an eye on those. Also, flipping the links to change the geometry requires removing and reinstalling a lot of hardware, which may provide an opportunity for a less experienced mechanic or rider to damage something.

What's The Bottom Line?

The Evil Uprising was built for the person who wants an all-out trail shredding machine. It’s also very reasonably priced for high-end full carbon bike. Some will avoid it simply because it doesn’t have the latest wheel size. That’s a real shame. This is no dinosaur. If you are holding true to your roots and love to shred the trail to pieces, then you need to check this thing out. It pedals well enough to get you to the good descents with ease and then it's all downhill from there. It may not excel on flatter, smoother terrain against a bigger wheeled bike, but it rips on anything technical and can be ridden with confidence on even the steepest descents. Stable, playful, efficient and aggressive, the Uprising just makes you want to grip it and rip it. And damn, it looks mean!

For more details visit www.evil-bikes.com. Better yet, email them directly at info@evil-bikes.com.

Bonus Gallery: 19 photos of the 2014 Evil Uprising up close and in action


About The Reviewers

John Hauer - In 13 years of riding, John has done it all and done it well. Downhill, 4X, Enduro, XC, cyclocross... you name it. He spent 7 years as the head test rider for a major suspension company, averages 15-20 hours of saddle time per week, and is extremely picky when it comes to a bike's performance. And yeah, he freakin’ loves Strava.

Jess Pedersen - Jess is one of those guys that can hop on a bike after a snowy winter and instantly kill it. He's deceptively quick, smooth, and always has good style. He's also known to tinker with bikes 'til they're perfect, creating custom additions and fixes along the way. Maybe it's that engineering background...

Which reviewer resembles you the most? Don't miss our Q&A with the testers for more insight about their styles and preferences.

This product has 2 reviews.

Added a product review for 2014 Trek Slash 9 27.5 2/2/2014 4:01 AM
C138_trek_slash_9

2014 Test Sessions: Trek Slash 9 27.5

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Reviewed by Brandon Turman // Photos by Shawn Spomer, Lear Miller and Brandon Turman

Originally introduced as a replacement to the Trek Scratch Air in 2012, the Slash was born from the desire for a ride that descended like a downhill bike but pedaled up like the well-regarded Remedy. It boasted 160mm of travel, slack geometry, and the ability to plough through pretty much anything. Fast forward to 2014 and the bike has been redesigned from the ground up around the 27.5-inch wheel size. As we soon found out during our 2014 Test Sessions, Trek had much more in mind with their redesign than just the wheels. The new Slash is sleeker, lighter, and somehow more aggressive than ever before, but is the all-around performance better?

Slash 9 27.5 Highlights

  • Alpha Platinum aluminum frame
  • 27.5-inch (650b) wheels
  • 160mm (6.3-inches) of travel
  • FOX Float CTD with DRCV rear shock
  • E2 tapered headtube
  • 65 or 65.6-degree adjustable head angle
  • 66.5 or 67.1-degree adjustable seat tube angle (actual)
  • 350 or 358mm (13.8 or 14.1-inch) adjustable bottom bracket height
  • 435 or 433mm (17.1 or 17.0-inch) chainstay length
  • Press Fit bottom bracket
  • 142x12mm thru-axle
  • Measured weight (size 18.5, no pedals): 28-pounds 12-ounces (13.04kg)
  • $5,769.99 MSRP as tested

Just like the prior version, the bike features a Mino Link geometry adjustment system in the seat stay. In the “high” position the bike has an impressively slack 65.6-degree headtube angle and 14.1-inch bottom bracket height. Flipping the chip to the “low” position brings the head angle down to 65-degrees and lowers the bb height to 13.8-inches. To put that into perspective, it’s a full degree slacker than the previous Slash.

Out back, the Slash relies on Trek's proven Full Floater suspension design coupled with a magnesium EVO link and Active Braking Pivot (ABP) centered on the 142x12mm rear axle. For 2014 the bike sees changes to the suspension that retain the progressive leverage curve but gain an improved anti-squat curve for better pedaling efficiency. Trek’s two-chamber Dual Rate Control Valve (DRCV) shock uses an internal plunger to cycle between two chambers, combining the pedaling benefits of a low volume shock and the big hit cushion of a high volume one. Unfortunately the bike uses a proprietary shock size, so swapping it out isn’t as easy as one would hope. While many Trek bikes incorporate a DRCV system into the fork as well, the Slash uses a standard 160mm 2014 FOX Talas CTD fork.

Additional frame features include a tapered headtube, press fit bottom bracket, ISCG tabs, disc brake post mounts, direct front derailleur mount, ample mud clearance with the stock 2.35-inch tires, room for a water bottle inside the front triangle, and a replaceable chainstay guard. Internal routing for the rear derailleur, front derailleur, and seatpost add to the clean look, although they can be a hassle when it comes time to do maintenance.

If you often find yourself between sizes, you’ll be pleased to know that Trek offers the bike in five sizes instead of just three or four. Even with several component improvements from the previous model year, the $5,769.99 price was maintained on the top-of-the-line Slash 9. The Slash 8 is available for $4,499.99 and Slash 7 for $3,669.99.

On The Trail

The Slash found its way into our hands a few months prior to the start of our annual Test Sessions event in Sedona, Arizona. Rather than wait to ride it, we used the bike to scout the area for the best trails, covering nearly every inch of Sedona’s varied singletrack. It also saw use on jump trails near San Diego, the steeps of Laguna Beach, and some rocky fun in Phoenix. All told we put a whopping 527 miles on the Slash over the course of 2.5 months.

The bike comes well-suited to our tastes with a 60mm stem and 750mm bars. At 5-foot 10-inches tall, we opted for the Size 18.5 frame with its 600mm effective top tube. The 447mm reach is noticeably longer than the previous Slash and 23mm longer than a comparably sized 2014 Remedy, but it’s a change that works well with a short stem and adds stability to the bike at speed.

By default we set up bikes with adjustable geometry in the low/slack mode, often preferring the setting for everyday use. The first few rides on Sedona’s punchy terrain proved to be a handful in the low setting, though, as we spiked cranks on rocks repeatedly and the front end wanted to flip-flop side-to-side on slow, techy climbs. This was the first time we've found a trail/all-mountain/enduro bike to be too slack. Of course the handling was incredible on the steep and fast descents, but for most rides many will find the low mode to be too much. We think that’s a good thing. More bikes should be this way. It’s nice to have something in the reserve tank for days when you know the trails are going to get extra steep, or perhaps when a few lift-assisted laps in the bike park are on the agenda. Switching to high mode the overall handling improved greatly with fewer crank spikes and a better all-around feel on most trails.

Pointed downhill the Slash’s aggressive nature really shines through. It’s a very confidence inspiring ride, and we had no qualms about hucking it into oblivion. Just pull back and hang on! The new wheel size really helps it get up and go, too, and the gains are especially noticeable though small chatter and rock sections. You can plough through stuff easier than before and maintain more speed. Combined with the coil-like performance of the rear end, holding wild lines and hopping from one side of the trail to the other was easy to do. Many super slack bikes tend to lose the precise and agile trait, but the Slash strikes a great balance of everything. It’s more playful than the previous version, in part due to the 2.25-pound weight loss.

It excels the most on rough trails versus tight bermy sections or lippy compressions and jumps. The bike manuals well without too much effort and the front end is easy to pick up into a wheelie when seated. Unlike the previous Slash, this new version can be casually ridden with good results, not requiring you to be fully on the gas all the time. It's a bit more forgiving and allows you to get away with sloppy lines. At no point did we ever feel in over our heads on this bike, which says volumes about the way it handles rough stuff.

The combo of Trek’s DRCV shock and Full Floater suspension creates a rear end that is very active and ready to absorb the smallest of bumps. Even with the downgrade from the Kashima-coated FOX shock found on last year’s Slash to the Performance Series for 2014, there’s no noticeable loss in small bump performance. We imagine this trade was made as a cost saving measure in order to keep the total price the same while spec’ing the bike with SRAM’s 1x11 X01 drivetrain.

The bike feels most balanced in FOX’s Descend mode up front and Trail mode in the back, which is the configuration we used 95% of the time. In Descend mode the rear end tends to use more travel faster, and feels almost too active compared to the fork. It did come in handy for long, chattery flat portions to give your bum a rest though. In Trail mode, rear suspension performance over all bump types feels very controlled and well-mannered. To add, the fork’s new CTD damper is a big improvement over the 2013 model, as is the Talas travel adjust system.

Pedaling along, the weight of the bike isn't nearly as noticeable as in the past, and rolling speed is pretty good with Bontrager's XR4 Team Issue tires. When you’re out of the saddle sprinting the bike responds more quickly than before, moving forward quite well at a higher cadence. There’s a decent amount of suspension movement while getting up to speed, but it doesn’t feel as though it’s robbing you of any power.

We previously cited the Slash’s climbing performance as an area that could be greatly improved, and the new model answers that complaint. It wants to get up and move now, which certainly took us by surprise given the old bike’s slightly brutish feel. While the actual seat angle is quite slack, a comparison of the effective top tube length and reach numbers suggests that the effective seat angle is quite steep, putting your body in good position for the ups. The bike exhibits great pedaling characteristics with the 32-tooth chainring and 1X drivetrain. Again, Trail mode on the rear shock was preferred at almost all times, giving it a little extra support needed to be a good pedaler while maintaining favorable traction. We did find the rear end to be a little bouncy feeling when cresting over quick pitches on techy climbs, sometimes throwing off our balance. Though the fork is easily adjustable to 130mm of travel, we never really felt the need to switch from the fully extended 160mm mode while ascending. The Talas feature could come in handy in the low/slack geometry mode provided you can deal with a super low bottom bracket.

Build Kit

The Slash 9 uses a smart mix of FOX, Avid, SRAM, RockShox, and Bontrager components that contribute positively to the ride experience.

As mentioned before, Bontrager’s Rhythm Pro cockpit is perfectly acceptable out of the box. The 15mm rise, 9x4-degree handlebars can feel a little odd at first, but you quickly get accustomed to them once on the trail. Combined with a short head tube, most riders will require the use of a spacer or two under the stem to get the bars to a comfortable height.

We previously reviewed Bontrager’s XR4 Team Issue tires and found them to be good in most conditions. Once again, they offered sufficient braking and cornering traction at a reasonable weight. Puncture resistance while running tubes was quite poor, however, leading us to convert the bike to a ghetto tubeless setup. After 500+ miles of use the rear tire is definitely in need of replacement, but the side knobs have remained in good enough shape to still dig into the soil.

The Bontrager Rhythm Comp wheels took a beating throughout this test, but that’s to be expected when you’re on a bike that can throw down like the Slash. After three weeks of use the rear wheel developed a pretty good wobble and a few decent dents. Most could be taken out in the truing stand, however. Bontrager’s TLR rim strips weren't included, but our ghetto tubeless setup worked well with the rim profile.

Braking duties were handled admirably by Avid’s X0 Trail brakes, never acting up or fading during the course of our test. The lever is cleanly integrated with the RockShox Reverb Stealth remote lever, helping to keep the bars as tidy as possible. In an ideal world we’d prefer to have the seatpost remote lever on the underside of the brake for easier access on the fly.

As we’ve said time and time again, SRAM’s 1x11 drivetrain performed very well. It’s simple, quiet and clean. With a 32-tooth chainring up front we never felt under- or over-geared thanks to the wide spread of the 10 to 42-tooth cassette. Toward the end of the test period we had our one and only dropped chain while hucking to flat off a small ledge. Note that production bikes come equipped with the aluminum X01 crankset, not the carbon XX1 cranks see on our test bike. We’ve found both to be reliable. Do keep an eye on the rear derailleur bolt though - due to the Type 2 clutch system it tends to loosen after a few hard rides, so consider adding a drop of LockTite to the threads.

Long Term Durability

Since we were able to ride this bike more than most in our Test Sessions, a handful of long term concerns presented themselves:

  • The black-colored protective finish on the X01 cassette is deteriorating quicker than expected. Even so, the teeth still look okay and chain wear isn’t bad.
  • Trek’s DRCV rear shock has developed a slight notch near the beginning of its stroke. This hasn’t been noticeable on the trail since you’re often sagged into the travel, but it’s concerning nonetheless and may need to be serviced/repaired.
  • Several large paint chips are missing from the downtube and bottom bracket area where loose rocks struck the frame. The Slash previously had a downtube protector, but it appears to have been scrapped in favor of saving some weight.
  • The lever on the 142x12mm axle protrudes quite far from the frame due to the ABP design. As a result it’s prone to rock strikes when squeezing through tight sections in the trail. The lever has sustained a few big hits and is showing some considerable wear.

Other than those items the bike has held up very well in wet and dusty conditions. The bearings in the linkage are still smooth and most of the components are no worse for wear. Trek does back the frame with a three year warranty should anything go wrong.

What's The Bottom Line?

To answer the question posed at the beginning of this review, yes, the new Trek Slash 9 is a far better all-around bike than its predecessor. What once was considered a capable big rig that was a chore to pedal is now a lighter, well-rounded ripper that can be motored to the top with the best of them. The introduction of the 27.5-inch wheel size, more aggressive geometry, and refined suspension make it more “ready for anything” than ever before. It's still a big bike, but we were impressed with its versatility during all 500+ miles we rode it. Those that love to charge the rough and steep bits without regard for personal safety will really appreciate what the Slash has to offer.

We have to wonder though, when is the carbon model coming? If Trek was waiting for confirmation that riders like the new Slash, here's ours. Sign us up.

For more details, visit www.trekbikes.com.

Bonus Gallery: 28 photos of the 2014 Trek Slash 9 27.5 up close and in action


About The Reviewer

Brandon Turman - Brandon likes to pop off the little bonus lines on the sides of the trail, get aggressive when he's in tune with a bike and talk tech. In 14 years of riding he worked his way through the Collegiate downhill ranks to the Pro level. Formerly a Mechanical Engineer, nowadays he's Vital MTB's resident product guy.

Which reviewer resembles you the most? Don't miss our Q&A with the testers for more insight about their styles and preferences.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for 2014 Giant Trance Advanced SX 27.5 1/28/2014 9:06 AM
C138_trance_advanced_sx_27.5_rt

2014 Test Sessions: Giant Trance Advanced SX 27.5

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Reviewed by John Hauer and Jess Pedersen // Photos by Shawn Spomer and Lear Miller

It’s bold, it’s black and it looks bad ass.

When Giant converted the majority of their bikes to the 27.5-inch wheel last year, they also took the time to completely redesign the Trance. Fueled by the Enduro craze (and no-doubt their own squad of shredders), the rowdier than standard Trance Advanced SX 27.5 was born. Sporting 140mm of rear wheel travel, 160mm up front and a list of components that’s certainly race worthy, this one appears ready to rally. Sedona, Arizona served as the perfect place to try out the bike claimed to “climb like an XC racer and descend with confidence” during the 2014 Vital MTB Test Sessions.

Trance Advanced SX 27.5 Highlights

  • Advanced-grade composite front triangle with ALUXX SL rear triangle
  • 27.5-inch (650b) wheels
  • 140mm (5.5-inches) of rear wheel travel
  • Maestro suspension
  • OverDrive 2 tapered headtube
  • 66-degree head angle
  • 72.5-degree seat tube angle
  • 17.3-inch chainstays
  • Press Fit bottom bracket shell with ISCG05 tabs
  • 142mm rear spacing with 12mm thru-axle (or 135QR via interchangeable dropouts)
  • Measured weight (size Large, no pedals): 28 pounds (12.70kg)
  • $6,400 MSRP as tested

When you see the Trance Advanced SX 27.5 for the first time you can tell it was developed under some talented racers. The frame has everything you need and nothing you don’t. It’s lightweight, has good geometry, and best of all the finish is gloss on matte black.

Giant’s Trance 27.5 lineup includes two bikes with the “SX” designation, both of which utilize the same Trance frame but include a longer travel fork that alters the geometry. SX versions use a 160mm fork (versus 140mm), slackening the head angle to 66-degrees. The use of a FOX Talas fork allows you to quickly reduce the travel on the fly to 140mm if you want to transform the bike to normal Trance mode at 67-degrees.

New for 2014, the half carbon, half aluminum Trance Advanced frame features internal cable routing to keep things neat and tidy. Injection molded plugs are used to seal the void around the cables while simultaneously tensioning the cables to prevent rattling inside the frame. Giant’s 100mm travel Contact Switch-R dropper seatpost now comes internally routed, ridding the frame of more clutter.

Injected molded chainstay and downtube protectors help keep the investment in good shape. Additional frame features include a Press Fit bottom bracket, ISCG05 tabs (it’s about time!), post mounts for the rear disc brake, interchangeable dropouts, bottle mounts inside the front triangle, and approximately 1.25cm of mud clearance with the stock 2.35-inch Schwalbe tires. Giant also specs the bike with their unique “OverDrive 2” 1.5-inch to 1.25-inch steerer tube and stem standard which is said to further increase front end stiffness.

In the suspension department, Giant uses the dual-link Maestro suspension design found on many of their bikes complemented by a FOX Float X shock. The system creates a single floating pivot point claimed to perform consistently under pedaling power and remain fully active while braking. Trance frames have a forged upper link with integrated cartridge bearings intended to increase small bump sensitivity when compared to the bushing alternative. The rear shock is very accessible, but does require a small allen key to adjust the rebound dial. Other than that small inconvenience, the frame looks to be a true ripper on and off the racetrack.

The Trance Advanced SX 27.5 slots in at $6,400 while the full aluminum Trance SX 27.5 will run you $4,050. Custom builds can be had too, with the frame and shock kit running $3,150 and $1,575 for the Advanced carbon and aluminum versions, respectively.

On The Trail

While Sedona is known for its red rock, we rallied the Trance SX on a number of trails with varied terrain. For those familiar with the area, trails included Slim Shady, Made in the Shade, Hi-Line, Templeton, Old Post, Carol Canyon, Ridge, Mystic and Brewer. All said and done, this bike saw everything from steep, techy rock sections to wide open descents and lung-busting climbs, all at a serious pace.

Hopping on the bike for the first time, our size Large felt quite big compared to others. The effective top tube length is pretty long at 625mm, and we’re guessing the reach measurement is too. We’d verify this with a number, but Giant doesn’t publish the now standard reach/stack measurements for some unknown reason. Given the perceived length of the bike, we’d likely swap the stock 70mm stem to a 50mm while also replacing Giant’s rather odd feeling 730mm handlebars to something in the 750mm+ range. For an Enduro race rig, the stock cockpit spec just isn’t up to par for those seeking the best balance and a confident attack position.

Just looking at the specs, the geometry is close to spot on for a 27.5 Enduro bike that can handle rough terrain but still feel efficient when sprinting or in the saddle climbing. The 66-degree head angle lets you get away with a lot. The 17.3-inch chainstay length isn’t too short but not too long either giving the bike a nice balance between stability and responsiveness. While it also isn’t published, the bottom bracket height wasn’t too low, preventing rock strikes while pedaling.

Even though we were slightly stretched out over the bike with the stock cockpit, we did enjoy it on the technical descents. It was predictable, had good balance front to back, and the overall stability inspired us to open it up a bit. It’s also light and very lively feeling, making it easy to pop around and pick up over obstacles in the trail to maintain your momentum. It didn't plow through the chunder as well as some other bikes in its class, but it definitely made up for it with its agility. It was quick and responsive, always ready for our next command. For how light the frame and overall bike is we never noticed any issues with stiffness. The bike works well when pointed down the hill. It’s also extremely fun to ride.

Just as we found when we first tested the 2014 FOX 34 Talas CTD fork late last year, it proved to be a capable performer on the trail.The updated spring curve and progression changes make it much more suited to aggressive riding, and improvements to the Talas travel adjust system reduce friction within the fork. Front end stiffness was not a concern, especially when aided by the tapered 1.5 to 1.25-inch steerer tube. We didn’t feel the need to use the Talas adjustment since we never climbed anything painfully steep and the bike tracked well regardless.

Out back, the rear FOX Float X sock was phenomenal the entire ride. It worked especially well on the Trance SX, and we found ourselves actually using all three settings of the CTD adjustment. When on fire roads we were in Climb mode, rocky climbs and rolling trails in Trail mode, and when trying to get wild we popped it into Descend. The bike and shock exhibited good compression support throughout the stroke, as well as a smooth transition into the ending stroke with spring curve progression. This helped provide the Trance SX with amazing traction over every type of terrain. The suspension was very compliant over small bumps and handled large square-edge hits decent enough for an efficient trail bike. The chatter at high speeds could be better, but was manageable and stable. The bike handled g-outs and drops fairly well too. Things felt good when leaving the ground off jumps, and the suspension offered a firm and responsive platform ready for preload and pop. All told, the Trance SX has a good all around suspension design that functions really well for a do-it-all trail bike.

According to John, perhaps the only ride characteristic needing improvement is rear braking traction. This feeling may have resulted because of his slightly more forward position on the bike due to cockpit restrictions, but he also felt that under rear braking the bike sat up in its suspension, putting less force on the ground through the rear tire. He came into a few sections hot and was almost unable to slow down in time while braking on steep surfaces. He noted that after changing the cockpit to his favored set up, he likely wouldn’t have any issues when charging even the most rough and technical terrain.

At 28-pounds the bike is competitive in the weight game but also feels light on the trail aided by the Maestro suspension which made for an extremely quick feeling ride. You never feel bogged down when riding the Trance SX and it seems to carry its speed well. It was snappy in and out of corners, up and over obstacles and while climbing.

Standing and sprinting, the bike feels like it puts power to the ground very efficiently even when in the rear shock’s Descend/Open setting. Switch the shock to the Trail or Climb setting and the bike might as well be an XC bike. We were really impressed by how quickly the bike accelerated and could get up to speed from a near dead stop. There’s very little loss of power due to bob or other suspension inefficiencies when out of the saddle.

Seated climbing also presented no issues. Body position was just about right, making it very comfortable to climb. In combination with the suspension it climbed very well regardless of the rear shock’s setting. Traction was readily available on techy climbs and we didn't experience any crank spiking, allowing us to keep a smooth pedal stroke at all times.

Build Kit

The Trance Advanced SX 27.5 build combines several proven components and a handful of Giant’s own creations, including the dropper post, cockpit and wheels.

The house brand Contact Switch-R dropper post works well, but it only has 100mm of adjustment. To get our saddle high enough for climbing we felt as if it didn’t get low enough when descending, which meant us getting knocked in the behind far more often than we would like. The dropper cable also comes out of the remote at an unsightly 90-degree angle to the bar, but this can be remedied with a zip tie or angled brake fitting.

As stated before we were not fans of the bar/stem combo. Swapping them isn’t terribly hard to do, provided you can find a stem you like made to fit the OverDrive 2 standard. At this time you’re limited to Giant, FSA, PRO and Ritchie stems.

The Giant P-TRX1 27.5 wheels felt stiff enough, provided a sufficiently wide profile and didn’t go out of true. The engagement of the hubs was on par as well.

Schwalbe’s new 2.35 Hans Dampf Evo front and Razor Rock Evo rear tire had plenty of traction and a good balance of rolling speed, but we did have a high number of flats despite being setup tubeless. After blowing both the front and back out on the first ride and installing tubes, we continued to flat despite running relatively high pressures. The terrain in Sedona is pretty rocky, so a better casing would be preferred.

We were impressed by the Avid Elixir 9 Trail brakes that seemed to have just as much power and modulation as the more expensive X0 Trail brakes we’ve ridden on other test bikes. The lever feel is good and it was easy to adjust the reach without any tools.

As always, SRAM’s X01 drivetrain complemented the bike well. It’s light, drag-free, extremely silent on the trail, shifts wells,and keeps the cockpit tidy. We did experience some shifting issues early on, but this was due to the routing of the rear derailleur cable. The cable kept getting pulled away from the rear derailleur up into the frame during large compressions. We resolved the issue by pulling more slack beneath the bottom bracket and adding some tape around the cable to keep it in place.

Long Term Durability

Looking the Trance Advanced SX over, we feel it will have no problem with long-term durability. The only components we question are Giant’s house brand products - specifically the wheels and the dropper post - because we haven’t had sufficient time to evaluate them. With routine maintenance the bike should be good to go for the long haul. Giant offers a generous lifetime warranty on the frame as well as a free 60-day repair labor period to work out any bugs early on.

What's The Bottom Line?

After riding the Giant Trance Advanced SX 27.5, it’s clear the company has some fast and fit racers that played a big roll in developing the bike. It caters to their strengths and provides a ton of confidence when the trail gets rough. Luckily these same characteristics favor everyone, and anybody who throws a leg over the Trance SX is going to have a good time. It suits a wide range of riders and performs well on an even wider range of trails. Those that want an efficient bike will be pleased, as will those that want one that can be ridden hard. Overall Giant and their athletes did a good job constructing a frame that is built to do everything well, and the component spec (minus the cockpit) follows suit. We have no qualms about recommending the Trance SX to anybody looking for a do it all trail bike or Enduro race rig.

For more details, visit www.giant-bicycles.com.

Bonus Gallery: 31 photos of the 2014 Giant Trance Advanced SX 27.5 up close and in action


About The Reviewers

John Hauer - In 13 years of riding, John has done it all and done it well. Downhill, 4X, Enduro, XC, cyclocross... you name it. He spent 7 years as the head test rider for a major suspension company, averages 15-20 hours of saddle time per week, and is extremely picky when it comes to a bike's performance. And yeah, he freakin’ loves Strava.

Jess Pedersen - Jess is one of those guys that can hop on a bike after a snowy winter and instantly kill it. He's deceptively quick, smooth, and always has good style. He's also known to tinker with bikes 'til they're perfect, creating custom additions and fixes along the way. Maybe it's that engineering background...

Which reviewer resembles you the most? Don't miss our Q&A with the testers for more insight about their styles and preferences.

This product has 2 reviews.

Added a product review for 2014 Yeti SB75 Race 1/26/2014 10:14 AM
C138_sb75_enduro_black

2014 Test Sessions: Yeti SB75

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Reviewed by Steve Wentz, Evan Turpen and Brandon Turman // Photos by Shawn Spomer and Lear Miller

For 2014, Yeti Cycles combined their proven Switch Technology suspension platform and some newfangled 27.5-inch wheels to create the SB75. After having a great experience on the SB66 Carbon and watching Jared Graves lay the hammer down on his SB66 time and time again during the Enduro World Series, it goes without saying that we had high hopes for the SB75. Is the new bike a better version of the original Super Bike, or is it an entirely different ride? Sedona, Arizona served as the perfect testing grounds to see what the new rig has to offer during the 2014 Vital MTB Test Sessions.

SB75 Highlights

  • Aluminum frame
  • 27.5-inch (650b) wheels
  • 127mm (5-inches) of rear wheel travel
  • Switch Technology suspension
  • Tapered headtube
  • 67.5-degree head angle
  • 73-degree seat tube angle
  • 13-inch bottom bracket height
  • 17.4-inch chainstays
  • 73mm bottom bracket shell with removable ISCG03/05 mounts
  • 135 or 142mm rear spacing with QR or 12mm through axle
  • Measured weight (size Medium, no pedals): 31 pounds, 8 ounces (14.29kg)
  • $4,900 MSRP as tested

Central to Yeti’s SB lineup is their dual-link Switch Technology suspension design which sets the bikes apart from all others on the market. The key to the system resides just above the bottom bracket. As the bike moves through its travel, the rotation of this fully-sealed eccentric link switches directions. What's the benefit in doing that? It allows the bike to have an initially rearward axle path to counteract pedaling forces, resisting bob and helping with square edge hits. Later in the stroke, the link switches direction, shortening the chainstay length and preventing further chain growth. The axle path follows a smooth curve thanks to the eccentric design. Yeti can also tune leverage rates using the system to suit a bike’s intended purpose.

Overall the SB75 frame is well thought out and clean looking. Save a partially internal segment for the rear derailleur cable, cable routing is almost entirely external for ease of maintenance. Notably absent is a stealth routing option for the dropper post, but dropper cable guides run cleanly under the top tube. The splined bottom bracket shell accepts removable ISCG 03 or 05 tabs, allowing you to clean things up and save a few grams if you'd prefer a dual or triple-ring setup. A direct mount front derailleur, 160mm rear brake post mounts, tapered headtube, and a 12x142mm rear axle (with the option to run 135QR) also highlight the frame. It’ll fit a true 2.4-inch tire with excellent mud clearance. Yeti made a compromise by putting the bottle mounts on the underside of the downtube, but at least it’s still an option to use a bottle.

At first glance you might think the SB75 is just a super-sized version of the SB66. In some respects you’d be right, but the SB75 varies in quite a few ways. In addition to the wheel size, the second most obvious difference is also contained within the name, where the “5” in SB75 means 5-inches of travel versus the SB66’s 6-inches. Yeti’s fork specs follow suit, with the SB75 receiving a 140mm fork versus the 160mm found on the SB66.

Digging into the geometry numbers, more differences become apparent. Compared to the SB66, the head angle on the SB75 is 1.5-degrees steeper, seat angle 1.8-degrees steeper, chainstays 0.4-inches longer, bottom bracket 0.5-inches lower, seat tube 1.5-inches longer, stack 1.5-inches taller, and while the reach is longer on the SB75, the effective top tube length is nearly a full inch shorter due to the steepened seat angle.

Unlike the SB66 and SB95, the SB75 does not come with a carbon swingarm at this time. This means the SB75 faces a pretty substantial weight gain of 0.95-pounds with its full aluminum frame. On the plus side, the SB75 is a little cheaper as a result. There’s also no size XL SB75 as of now. Are we comparing apples to oranges here? After really looking at the numbers it seems entirely possible. The real proof would come once we hit the trail.

Complete builds start at $2,900 and range up to $6,900. Our Shimano XT equipped “Race” build slotted in at $4,900, as does the SRAM X01 option that may appeal to many riders. Those wanting to build one from scratch are looking at a frame and shock price of $2,000.

On The Trail

Curious to see what the latest Super Bike is capable of, we chose a wide variety of Sedona trails to put it to the test. Steve piloted it around the famous Hangover loop with its many technical maneuvers and steep pitches before dropping into the faster Huckaby trail. Brandon spent time running laps on Brewer, Ridge, and Carrol Canyon, all of which are high-speed rock fests. Evan also got some saddle time in on the good mix of technical terrain and long descents offered by the Girdner and Last Frontier trails.

At 5-foot 8-inches tall with average proportions, Steve found himself in a bit of a predicament early on. While the reach and top tube length offered by our size Medium test bike fit him well, the increased seat tube length on the SB75 meant he was unable to fully extend the dropper post, even when fully slammed. With a 5-inch travel Thomson dropper installed, the lowest bottom bracket to saddle height was approximately 29-inches - a full inch more than Steve’s legs could accommodate. Riders on the cusp of sizes should take note of this oversight. Remedies include using a dropper with less travel or sizing down, but neither of those seem like acceptable solutions.

With a 711mm wide handlebar and 70mm stem, the SB75’s stock cockpit will be comfortable for some and offer plenty of room to move around. Even so, we feel the added control offered by something in the 750mm x 50mm range warrants the switch. The bike has a long front-center and feels comfortable seated or standing when headed out onto the trail.

Pointed downhill the SB75 is a fun and fast bike to ride, but only to a point. While neither twitchy or overly slack, the 67.5-degree head angle offers a decent all around mix of everything, helping to create a ride that’s responsive to quick steering inputs and ready for most obstacles. The bottom bracket height also feels spot-on.

For having just 5-inches of rear suspension it does a good job with what its got and always remains composed. Because of this and the initially rearward axle path, you’re encouraged to ride the bike faster, and the SB75 excelled in quick terrain. All three testers agreed that the bike feels like it responds best when being pushed hard. It corners well, jumps with ease and likes to be man-handled. Slower speeds are not where it shines, often exhibiting a rather ho-hum, dead feeling when just cruising along. Once you put your body into it the SB75 becomes fairly playful and decently stable, though it’s far from the confidence-inspiring ride of the SB66. When things get steep and rough the bike can get a little bit sketchy. At 5-foot 10-inches tall, both Brandon and Evan noted feeling like they were constantly too far forward on the bike when descending anything with a decent pitch, pointing to the somewhat steep head angle and long-ish chainstays as the likely source of the problem. This over the front sensation was a real confidence zapper, and had us getting on the brakes more than we’d like.

Based on our experience, we’re inclined to think that more travel up front would be a good thing. The rear end has great potential, and a slightly slacker front end with 10mm more travel and a marginally higher bar could make the bike a better descender.

To expand on the rear suspension performance, the bike seemed to communicate a lot of feedback over small bumps. While it didn't feel harsh, we could feel every bit of terrain. Steve noted that he rides most bikes with the rear FOX CTD shock in “Trail” mode for added mid-stroke support, but on the SB75 this provided too much feedback. In “Descend” mode the bike kept traction pretty well, but we found ourselves double checking the tires to ensure they weren’t too hard a couple of times. Bigger hits (not drops, but bumps) are where the bike comes alive, overcoming the overall initial stiffness of the shock. G-outs are also absorbed with plenty of support, but potentially not enough ramp for when things get really crazy. The bike bottomed out hard (with a big “thunk!” sound) on big hits. Even so, it tracks decently through rougher sections.

Pointed uphill, the SB75 is among the most efficient of the 25 bikes we tested in Sedona. Pedaling and sprinting are definitely the strong points of the bike, regardless of the front chainring you’re in. It’s fast to respond and doesn’t really have any noticeable bob or loss of power, all the while staying active and ready to absorb the terrain. Forget the shock’s compression lever, riding in “Descend” mode yields great results. There’s ample rear tire traction when climbing and the bottom bracket height keeps the pedals out of harms way. The front end stays put on the trail, rarely wandering at all. During our tests, the bike would frequently surprise us when we made it up steep sections that looked impossible on the approach.

Though it feels pretty heavy when lifting it trailside, the SB75 doesn’t feel as heavy when it’s being ridden. It’s somewhat snappy (definitely not sluggish) and rolls very well. It also accelerates quickly when being pumped through rough or undulating terrain, making it feel lighter than it is.

Build Kit

Save our preference for a different bar and stem, Yeti did a pretty good job coming up with the spec on the SB75 “Race” build.

Among the component highlights is the Thompson Elite dropper post, which functioned perfectly throughout the test. It had a really good feel to it with infinite adjustability, great consistency and zero slop. We could even lift the bike by the seat without any play or side effects. However, the up/down cable movement is one big downside and the lever was a bit tough to push at times. The sharp edges on the lever could also use some refinement.

The bike came stock with a 2.3-inch MaxxGrip Maxxis High Roller II tire up front and a 2.25-inch Ardent in a standard compound on the rear. This combo offers a good compromise of braking and cornering performance without sacrificing too much rolling speed, but rear wheel traction left a little to be desired at times. The EXO casing sidewalls were nice to see and helped to prevent cuts and flats in harsher terrain.

The DT Swiss wheels provided a trouble free ride and got the job done at a decent weight, even though the rear wheel didn’t have the best engagement. It’s possible to upgrade the DT Swiss Ratchet Drive hub later on if you think it’s needed.

As we’ve come to expect, the braking performance offered by Shimano’s XT brakes was very good, and we always felt like we had control. There was plenty of power with good modulation, and we never experienced any fade.

Shifting was well-handled with Shimano’s 2x10 XT drivetrain, but we could see ourselves quickly opting for the comparably priced SRAM X01 build kit offered at the same price in favor of greater simplicity, fewer dropped chains and less chain noise.

Long Term Durability

Looking at the frame, one potential area for concern is the eccentric Switch Link. There's a lot going on there, and it's crucial to the performance of the bike. That said, with regularly scheduled pivot bearing replacement the SB75 should last for many years to come. If you ever have any issues, Yeti stands behind their product with a two year warranty.

What's The Bottom Line?

Yeti’s new SB75 loves to be pushed, wants to go fast, and rewards a rider who isn’t afraid to charge. It’s a great pedaler and very efficient on the way up, sporting excellent geometry for climbing and gentle downhills. We can’t help but thinking that some of the ride experience was compromised to make it that way, because the rear suspension performance feels as though some sensitivity was given up in order to gain utmost pedaling efficiency. When pointed down steep hills it also doesn’t offer the confidence inspiring ride we’d hoped for, and many riders may find themselves all over the front end in a hurry. If it were better suited for descending, though, surely the performance on the way up would suffer. Even so, it’s an exchange we’d be happy to see. Sizing could also be a big issue due to the unnecessarily long seat tube, so be sure to try the bike out before committing.

Is the SB75 better than the proven SB66? In the end they are entirely different machines, and we can't see it replacing the SB66 anytime soon. It's certainly not for the aggressive type of riding we love to do, but it’s undoubtedly a better climber. So long as you’re in it for the entire trail and not just the nugget on the backside of the hill, it could be a better everyday trail bike for the right type of rider.

For more details, visit www.yeticycles.com.

Bonus Gallery: 33 photos of the 2014 Yeti SB75 up close and in action


About The Reviewers

Steve Wentz - A man of many talents, Steve got his start in downhilling at a young age. He has been riding for over 17 years, 10 of which have been in the Pro ranks. Asked to describe his riding style he said, "I like to smooth out the trail myself." Today he builds some of the best trails in the world (and eats lots of M&M's).

Evan Turpen - Evan has been racing mountain bikes as a Pro for the last 8 years with his career highlight being selected to represent the U.S. in the 2006 World Championships. More recently he can be found competing in enduro races and having a blast with it. He has helped design, develop, and test products for multiple major mountain bike companies and has an attention to detail well above most.

Brandon Turman - Brandon likes to pop off the little bonus lines on the sides of the trail, get aggressive when he's in tune with a bike and talk tech. In 14 years of riding he worked his way through the Collegiate downhill ranks to the Pro level. Formerly a Mechanical Engineer, nowadays he's Vital MTB's resident product guy.

Which reviewer resembles you the most? Don't miss our Q&A with the testers for more insight about their styles and preferences.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for 2014 Devinci Troy Carbon SL 1/22/2014 4:45 PM
C138_2014_troy_carbon

2014 Test Sessions: Devinci Troy Carbon SL

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Reviewed by John Hauer and Jess Pedersen // Photos by Lear Miller

The all-new Troy is Devinci’s first stab at the 27.5-inch wheel market. Sporting 140mm of travel and Dave Weagle’s Split Pivot suspension technology, the Troy took the world by storm last season as Stevie Smith rallied the never before seen bike to the top of the podium at the highly contested Crankworx Whistler Air Downhill race. Instantly the internets filled with the news, and demand was born for a bike that had just made the very best debut possible. Curious to see how this bad boy performs under someone other than the reigning World Cup Downhill Champion, a Troy Carbon SL made its way into our hands for the 2014 Vital MTB Test Sessions in Sedona, Arizona.

Troy Carbon SL Highlights

  • Carbon frame
  • 27.5-inch (650b) wheels
  • 140mm (5.5-inches) of rear wheel travel
  • Split Pivot suspension
  • Tapered headtube
  • 67 or 67.5-degree head angle
  • 72.4 or 73-degree seat tube angle
  • 13.3 or 13.5-inch bottom bracket height
  • 16.9-inch chainstays
  • BB92 press fit bottom bracket shell with ISCG05 mounts
  • 142mm rear spacing with 12mm through axle
  • Measured weight (size Large, no pedals): 28-pounds, 1-ounce (12.73kg)
  • $6,499 MSRP as tested

There's no arguing that Troy frame has very sleek and clean appeal to it. Combining Devinci’s Carbon Monocoque G technology with internal cable routing and a quality finish yields an ultra-smooth frame. It's not entirely carbon, though, bringing together a carbon front triangle and seat stays with aluminum chainstays. Note that there are no provisions for externally routed cables which adds to the overall look, but may detract from the package for some riders.

Devinci’s exclusive carbon blend uses “cross-hatched and unidirectional carbon fiber layers bolstered by high-strength epoxy resins and finished with a blast of Nano powder additive.” The frame is molded using a process that combines bladders and silicone inserts said to surpass traditional one-dimensional bladder construction, resulting in high compaction and a smooth surface inside and out.

As with many frames these days, the Troy uses a BB92 press fit bottom bracket, has post mounts for the rear disc brake, a direct mount front derailleur, ISCG05 tabs should you decide to run a chainguide, and a 12x142mm rear axle. Those unfamiliar with the Split Pivot suspension system should take a look at the rear dropouts, where a concentric pivot is built around the axle. This is said to “separate acceleration forces from braking forces within the suspension system." Shock positioning is tight and out of the way, leaving ample room for a water bottle inside the frame. Tinkerers will be pleased to see a flip-flop pivot mechanism that allows you to change the bike’s geo to either a high or low setting, though we imagine most riders will spend the vast majority of their time in the slacker, lower setting.

The frame comes with a soft foam frame protector at the bottom of the down tube, but the low density of the protector makes us doubt its ability to protect the frame from any decent rock impacts. Damage from mud scraping through the rear of the frame isn’t much of a concern, through, with about 1.25cm of room for muck with the stock 2.25-inch Schwalbe tire in place.

The Troy is offered in three carbon models designated the RR, SL, and RC, coming in at $6,599, $6,499 and $4,799 respectively. An aluminum Troy XP option is also available at $2,999. Custom builds can be had by building up the $2,399 carbon or $1,899 aluminum frame and shock packages.

On The Trail

The beauty of using Sedona as our testing grounds, beyond the usually great weather, was the variety of trails at our disposal. Our rides on the Troy were made up of singletrack and slickrock with punchy climbs, technical rocky bits, several high-speed descents with big g-outs and a handful of steep portions. Trails included Tea Cup, Broken Arrow, Little Horse, HT, Slim Shady, and Hi-Line. Jess also trusted the bike with his life when he tiptoed along the extremely exposed White Line - a move that requires utmost confidence in your equipment.

That confidence didn’t come without some modifications to the stock build kit, though. The SL model comes standard with narrow 720mm bars and a relatively long 70mm stem. For a bike with such capable geometry, that type of setup just doesn’t cut it, often times making a bike feel uncomfortable or twitchy when it could otherwise be better. Replacing the stock Easton stem and bars with something more appropriate from the same brand, the bike felt ready to rip.

We spent our time aboard the Troy in the low, slack geometry mode giving it a 13.3-inch bb height and 67-degree head angle. Changing the geo to the high position is a relatively painless process, and raises the BB height 7mm while steepening the headtube by half a degree to 67.5. The remainder of the Troy’s numbers look comparable to many other 2014 27.5-inch trail bikes, meaning the performance of the bike would come down to the suspension, stiffness, and spec to determine if the bike is a standout choice or not.

Hitting the dirt, the Troy felt light and snappy, and was easy to throw around. It was a fun, stable ride most of the time. The bike also kept its speed extremely well on smooth trails as we pumped and sprinted along, aided in part by the 27.5-inch wheels, but also by the fast-rolling 2.25-inch Schwable Racing Ralph tires.

When descending and cruising along the flats, small bumps were handled well and in a controlled manner. When things got steep and rough, however, the Troy didn’t provide the type of ride we had hoped for. When we were pushing it and speeds picked up, square edge hits felt noticeably harsh. Combined with the low profile tires, keeping traction was quite a task. We tried opening up the rear shock, running a touch more sag and playing around with rebound settings, but the bike continued to skip around rather than sticking to the ground through rough bits. This was in some part made up for with its agility, though. It was quick and responsive, ready for our next command. The progressive rear end also handled g-outs, drops and jumps above average for a 140mm travel bike.

Up front, the 2014 Fox Float 34 CTD FIT fork had good damping control and felt active off the top. It was slightly over-damped for our tastes though, so we kept it in Descend the entire time we rode the bike. At 140mm the fork felt plenty stiff torsionally and really came alive when riding faster terrain.

Pointed uphill, it’s very easy to keep pace on the Troy and you never feel like the bike is a burden. Sprinting is one of the areas where it excels. It’s extremely efficient and no power is lost when laying down a hard effort. The bike responds to pedal inputs quickly with minimal bob. Even when your body position is all over the place and you’re mashing on the pedals, the Troy keeps accelerating forward with the best of them.

Despite its built-in efficiency, we did have some issues getting traction while climbing over rocky, more technical sections. Part of that can be attributed to the low profile rear tire, but the rear end also didn’t feel incredibly compliant during ledgy climbs. When the trail was smooth the Troy jammed right on up the hill, but on rough portions it had some issues. This battle for traction meant spending more energy than what would have likely been necessary on other bike designs.

Build Kit

With its narrow bars, longish stem and relatively skinny tires, Devinci’s Troy Carbon SL build is certainly geared toward a more XC/Trail focused rider with an old-school mentality. We found ourselves wanting a setup that provided more control in the demanding situations that Sedona's trails so often put us in. Luckily Devinci also offers the Troy in a more fun-worthy RR build with wider bars, a shorter stem, 1x11 SRAM drivetrain, 10mm more fork travel and beefier tires for just $100 more than the SL.

Regarding the tires, we can understand putting the super light, fast-rolling Schwalbe Racing Ralph tire on the rear. However the same tire in the front didn’t do much for inspiring confidence on anything but the smoothest portions of trail. It lacks good shoulder knobs and we had issues with the front end pushing the entire time, even in some great dirt conditions. Despite the tubeless setup, we also found ourselves with a double flat not long into the first descent. They sure did roll fast and provide some weight savings, but more well-rounded tires for a wider selection of terrain are needed.

Easton’s Haven wheels were a highlight on this bike, providing good stiffness and allowing us to push hard when the tires could keep up. Hub engagement was acceptable, as was the weight for an alloy wheel.

Once again, Avid’s Elixir 9 Trail brakes worked very well, providing plenty of power and good modulation. No fade occurred during the ride. These brakes are an excellent choice with comparable performance to that of the X0 Trails, but with the added benefit of saving you a few dollars.

The SRAM X0 2x10 drivetrain was solid throughout the entire ride, and shifting was as precise as one could ask for. There were no dropped chains thanks to the Type-2 clutched rear derailleur and the added security provided by the bash guard. Drivetrain noise was also minimal, with only occasional rattling near the front derailleur.

Long Term Durability

During our relatively short test of the Troy nothing stood out as a potential durability issue. Aside from the tires, the components are reliable and the frame looks as though it would have no problem standing up to the test of time. The previously mentioned down tube protector does present a minor concern, however. Even so, Devinci stands behind their carbon frames with a Lifetime Warranty - something very rarely seen in the mountain bike industry.

What's The Bottom Line?

The Devinci Troy Carbon SL excels on smooth, flowy terrain by providing a fun, lively ride. The rider that will really appreciate it is one in search of a lightweight trail bike that pedals extremely well, is easy to get around on, and rolls fast. The Troy offers modern geometry in line with much of the competition, superb carbon construction and great looks at a good price. Where performance falls short is on rocky, technical terrain where every bit of traction, stability and comfort counts. It simply couldn’t keep up through the roughest bits and often felt like a handful at speed. We feel like there’s far more potential in the Troy, but unfortunately for the bike’s overall rating, this particular model is let down by a few poor component selections that drastically impact the ride.

For more details, visit www.devinci.com.

Bonus Gallery: 16 photos of the 2014 Devinci Troy Carbon SL up close and in action


About The Reviewers

John Hauer - In 13 years of riding, John has done it all and done it well. Downhill, 4X, Enduro, XC, cyclocross... you name it. He spent 7 years as the head test rider for a major suspension company, averages 15-20 hours of saddle time per week, and is extremely picky when it comes to a bike's performance. And yeah, he freakin’ loves Strava.

Jess Pedersen - Jess is one of those guys that can hop on a bike after a snowy winter and instantly kill it. He's deceptively quick, smooth, and always has good style. He's also known to tinker with bikes 'til they're perfect, creating custom additions and fixes along the way. Maybe it's that engineering background...

Which reviewer resembles you the most? Don't miss our Q&A with the testers for more insight about their styles and preferences.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for 2014 Intense Carbine 29 1/20/2014 12:23 PM
C138_2014_intense_carbine_29

2014 Test Sessions: Intense Carbine 29

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Reviewed by Evan Turpen and Brandon Turman // Photos by Shawn Spomer and Lear Miller

Introduced in late 2013, the Carbine 29 is the first long-travel enduro 29er from Intense Cycles. It has a full carbon front triangle and carbon swingarm linked together by two counter-rotating CNC’d aluminum VPP links with options for either 127 or 140mm of rear travel. Complete with the well-regarded 160mm RockShox Pike fork, this rig is designed to tackle anything you can throw at it. With that in mind, we pedaled up and pointed it down some of the rowdiest descents Sedona, Arizona has to offer during the 2014 Vital MTB Test Sessions.

Carbine 29 Highlights

  • Carbon frame
  • 29-inch wheels
  • 127 or 140mm (5 or 5.5-inches) of rear wheel travel
  • VPP suspension
  • Tapered headtube
  • 67-degree head angle
  • 72-degree seat tube angle
  • 13.75-inch bottom bracket height
  • 17.75-inch chainstays
  • BB92 press fit bottom bracket shell with ISCG05 mounts
  • 142mm rear spacing with 12mm through axle
  • Measured complete weight (size Medium, no pedals): 28-pounds, 1-ounce (12.73kg)
  • Claimed frame weight with shock: 5-pounds, 13-ounces (2.63kg)
  • $8,950 MSRP as tested with optional ENVE upgrade

From the moment you set your eyes on it, the beautiful Carbine 29 frame looks well thought out and purpose built. Close inspection reveals very clean cable routing that flows effortlessly from one end to the other with a mixture of secure external and internal options. Internal tubes make routing less painful and effectively eliminate any chance of the cables rattling, resulting in a bike that is as quiet as can be.

There are ISCG05 chainguide mounts as well as water bottle cage mounts in the front triangle. The shock is also easily accessible in case you need to flip the FOX CTD lever (or optional Cane Creek DBair CS lever) on the fly.

Integrated downtube and chainstay protectors help maintain the carbon investment from flying debris, but the VPP suspension design does show a potential weak point with its exposed bottom link. The two links rotate on an angular contact/collet bearing system that is serviceable through replaceable grease zerks should you find yourself riding in nasty conditions often. Mud clearance is very acceptable with around 1 to 1.5cm of room for build up with the stock 2.3-inch Maxxis High Roller II tires. Replaceable 12x142mm Intense G1 dropouts round out the frame.

Those wanting a custom build can secure a frame and shock package starting at $3,200. Alternatively, lose the ENVE wheel upgrade shown on our test bike in place of Novatec Diablo wheels for a complete spec rolling in at $6,599.

On The Trail

One look at the Carbine 29 and you know it’s ready for business. Wanting to see what kind of craziness we could get away with, a combo of Sedona’s Slimshady, Hi-Line, Baldwin, Broken Arrow, Little Horse, and HT trails were used to evaluate the bike. This selection of trails provides a huge variety of terrain, with everything from slow, techy climbs to steep rollers, nasty rock shelves, and wide open, steep descents. We got pretty lucky with the weather, which provided mostly hero dirt with the occasionally muddy or snowy patch.

Hopping on the bike for the first time, the stock cockpit feels very close to ideal. The bars are plenty wide at 740mm with a comfortable rise and sweep. The saddle is also decently comfortable, though we needed to push it forward on the rails to get the most comfortable climbing position. We also swapped the stock 70mm stem for a shorter 50mm option to get the most out of the bike’s descending prowess.

There was a lot that felt great about the Carbine’s geometry. The cockpit was roomy while seated and standing. With the new stem in place we felt well-centered with no complaints when climbing or otherwise. Looking at the numbers, the reach and top tube are relatively short compared to several other size medium frames, but this doesn't hold the bike back on the trail - it feels every bit as stable as newfangled bikes with longer front ends, and the bike feels roomier than the numbers would suggest. The head angle is decently slack at 67-degrees, meaning you can get away with a lot, but the bike remains relatively easy to maneuver in tight spots without feeling sluggish at the cockpit. Front stack height felt spot on too, which is surprising given the 160mm 29er fork up front. While it may seem high at 13.75-inches, the bottom bracket height is a-okay on trail and doesn’t seem to hamper the bike’s cornering ability while also providing plenty of crank clearance in rough rock sections.

Travel was set to the longer 140mm setting for the majority of our test. Changing to the shorter 127mm mode takes about two minutes, including the need to change the pressure in the shock. Note that the geometry is unaffected by the travel change.

After a casual climb to the top, dropping in on the gnar is a real treat. Aided by good suspension, legit tires and big wheels, the bike glides over the roughest bits with ease. It is very confidence inspiring and is easy to get used to. Traction is readily available and the bike is so stable and so well-supported that taking wild lines at speed seems almost too easy. What sets the bike apart is that it can be ridden and enjoyed both casually and aggressively. Most bikes can't do that - they often perform best one way or the other. It is fairly playful while maintaining a precise and responsive feel. Despite the long-ish 17.75-inch chainstays, getting the front end off the ground is surprisingly easy to do, whether pedaling into a wheelie to get over obstacles or pulling back to pop into a manual between rises in the trail. The Carbine also changes lines better than most 29ers, and you can place the front and back end with precision. It was slack enough that steep sections could be attacked effectively with a lot of control. The frame was also pretty darn stiff laterally and never once had any noticeable wiggle. Up front, the Pike fork was plenty stiff with no noticeable flex even in the long legged 29er version.

Sitting on the bike in the garage and cycling the shock for the first time, the rear of the bike felt harsh and sticky, especially compared to the buttery smooth Pike up front. That was all quickly forgotten on the trail though, as the rear end's brighter side started to show through. The linkage rate is regressive through the sag point, then becomes progressive for the remainder of the stroke. On the trail, this translated to very controlled small bump performance when weighted, and square edge hits seemed almost to disappear under the 140mm travel back end. The bike tracks well, maintaining its composure and impeccable traction over chunky/bumpy/chattery terrain. While the Carbine 29 shares the VPP system with Santa Cruz bikes, it has a decidedly different, more lively feel to it than Santa Cruz bikes with similar travel.

The bike offers enough progression after the sag point to prevent excessive bottoming, though you will find yourself using the full stroke pretty often. Large g-outs and moderately sized drops had the rear end reaching full travel a little too quickly for our tastes although it was never a harsh bottom out. The addition of an air volume reducer in the rear shock’s air can could solve this. The Carbine took to jumps with ease, although the compression off lips felt slightly uneven from front to back. While this never created any issues when getting airborne it did take a little getting used to.

The 28-pound bike has the stability of a heavier bike but the liveliness of a light one. No spindly feeling frames or components here! Rolling speed could be improved with a quicker rear tire, though it seemed like the faster we went the more it wanted to maintain that speed. Nearly every time we entered a rough section with speed and avoided the brakes, we'd leave the section going every bit as fast.

Out of the saddle, sprinting doesn't feel as efficient as it could, with the bike settling well into its travel. At the same time, though, it doesn't feel like it's robbing any massive amounts of power. It's decently fast to respond, but it's akin to four-stroke acceleration compared to that of a two-stroke - the acceleration comes on smoothly and just keeps on building down the trail. There is a very minimal amount of bob that isn't really noticeable. The power gets to the rear wheel with little to no loss of power.

Pointed uphill, the Carbine is an efficient and very enjoyable climber regardless of the rear shock setting. On technical climbs the VPP system, big wheels, and meaty treads did a great job of maintaining traction both seated and standing. The geometry was comfortable while climbing and it wasn’t hard to keep the front end planted up steep climbs and switchbacks. As with most 29ers, there was a very slightly awkward sensation during slow speed up and over maneuvers.

Build Kit

Intense did a great job when choosing the components to complete this bike, and everything comes together to create a remarkable ride. The only thing we’d change is the Thomson stem to a shorter 50mm length. Additionally, some might prefer a separate Reverb dropper post remote from the brake lever - it’s easier to reach under the bar than on top of the brake.

The RockShox Pike fork is a definite highlight, and certainly adds to the bike's overall performance and well-mannered characteristics.

In the 29x2.3-inch size, the dual Maxxis High Roller II tires have excellent grip in most conditions and a very nice casing feel with the EXO protection sidewalls. Braking performance is superb and they roll smoothly, although not as fast as more XC oriented options. They were confidence inspiring tires and an excellent match for this bike’s charge anywhere attitude.

Those with a healthy bank account will find that the optional ENVE all-mountain 29-inch rim upgrade laced to DT Swiss 240 hubs work great. The hubs spun very smoothly with solid engagement, and the rims were plenty wide which helped add to the great profile of the Maxxis tires. They also felt very stiff and light which helped acceleration and handling. Overall they’re an excellent choice for the Carbine to help it perform at its best.

Avid’s X0 Trail brakes worked surprisingly well with plenty of power. The modulation was better than most, especially when combined with the larger 29-inch wheels. We never experienced any fade and the lever feel is among the best in class. Riders looking to race the bike may find a 200mm front rotor beneficial as speeds pick up and more performance and control is needed compared to the stock 180mm rotor.

SRAM’s X01 1x11 drivetrain and aluminum OEM crankset also performed flawlessly throughout the test. The system shifted well with no skipping or dropped chains even though there wasn't a chainguide. The drivetrain was extremely smooth and quiet with little to no drag, helping make the Carbine arguably the quietest bike we tested without any additional noise prevention applied on our end. The silent sensation definitely helped add to the smooth, confidence inspiring ride of this bike. Even the hub was quiet.

Long Term Durability

The Carbine 29 looks to be a fairly stout, well put together frame with a much improved collet pivot axle system which should help keep things stay tight and slop free. With regular scheduled maintenance of the pivot bearings, there’s no reason why we can’t see this frame lasting for many years to come.

What's The Bottom Line?

The Intense Carbine 29 is a well-thought-out and beautifully constructed machine that inspires confidence better than most. Sometimes everything comes together to make for an incredible ride, and that's exactly what happened with this bike. Smart component selections and dialed suspension/frame design combine to create a ride that's impeccably well mannered. It allows you to try wild new lines and begs for more. You'll find yourself hucking into oblivion and riding out with ease. It's incredibly quiet which only adds to the great ride. With only minor tweaks to the cockpit and possibly the addition of an air volume reducer in the rear shock, this rig is ready to rip.

To feel so comfortable on this bike right away tells us that Intense is definitely doing something right. If you race enduro or simply love going fast on challenging and rough trails, the bike will not let you down. Of the 25 bikes tested during Vital’s 2014 Test Sessions, the Carbine 29 was definitely among the best.

For more details, visit www.intensecycles.com.

Bonus Gallery: 35 photos of the 2014 Intense Carbine 29 up close and in action


About The Reviewers

Evan Turpen - Evan has been racing mountain bikes as a Pro for the last 8 years with his career highlight being selected to represent the U.S. in the 2006 World Championships. More recently he can be found competing in enduro races and having a blast with it. He has helped design, develop, and test products for multiple major mountain bike companies and has an attention to detail well above most.

Brandon Turman - Brandon likes to pop off the little bonus lines on the sides of the trail, get aggressive when he's in tune with a bike and talk tech. In 14 years of riding he worked his way through the Collegiate downhill ranks to the Pro level. Formerly a Mechanical Engineer, nowadays he's Vital MTB's resident product guy.

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