bturman's Product Reviews

Added a product review for 2016 Orbea Occam AM M30 2/4/2016 2:50 PM
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2016 Test Sessions: Orbea Occam AM M30

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Reviewed by Fred Robinson and AJ Barlas // Photos by Lear Miller

When talking trail bikes, we've always focused on the aggressive end of the spectrum here at Vital, which is why up until 2016 you never heard much about the Orbea Occam. Previously very XC in nature, this bike has seen a massive redesign for the new year, and now features much more relaxed angles, a longer front end, shorter rear end, and lower bottom bracket height. Toss in a 27.5 version and a new suspension design with more travel and you've captured our interest with a bike that looks capable of truly rallying through the rough bits. Curious to see how it would perform in the real world, we saddled up aboard the Occam AM M30 during the 2016 Vital MTB Test Sessions.

Highlights

  • Carbon frame
  • 27.5 (650b) wheels
  • 140mm (5.5-inches) front and rear wheel travel
  • UFO Flexion suspension
  • Enduro sealed bearings
  • Tapered headtube
  • Internal cable routing
  • Post mount direct rear brake
  • Removable high direct front derailleur mount
  • Press fit 92 bottom bracket
  • Modified (2-bolt) ISCG 05 mount with frame protector
  • 148mm Boost rear spacing with 12mm through axle
  • Measured weight (size large, no pedals): 27.9-pounds (12.7kg)
  • MSRP $4,199 USD

The Occam comes in both aluminum and carbon versions, as well as AM (27.5 wheels) and TR (29-inch wheels) models with 140mm and 120mm of travel, respectively. Today we're looking at the full carbon Occam AM, which uses what Orbea calls their UFO Flexion suspension design. What's UFO? Orbea has done away with the concentric rear axle pivot on their carbon bikes, and in an effort to make the frames as light as possible with a similar axle path and leverage curve, they've designed a flexible seatstay in its place. Aluminum bikes still use the concentric rear pivot, however. Orbea's UFO Flexion technology has been around for a while, but this marks the first time it has crossed over from XC. The result is two less pivots to worry about, a 150g (0.3-pound) reduction in weight, and improved rear end lateral stiffness. To further stiffen the chassis, Orbea uses the new 12x148mm Boost rear axle spacing.

With the shock removed or deflated you can feel the stays flex as you cycle the rear end, but there's far less binding or tension that you might think. The seatstay flexes upwards 25mm (1-inch) as the shock cycles, and requires less than 5kg of force on the saddle compared to 250kg required to fully compress the shock. While 25mm may sound like an alarming amount of flex, Orbea has done their homework and proven the design on the Oiz XC bike. Precise orientation of the carbon fibers and specially shaped stays ensure it can bend time and time again without reaching the critical point. Sealed ball bearings at each pivot help keep things smooth and active.

Orbea's carbon construction method is described as being very labor intensive with several measures in place to reduce excess materials and improve compaction, ultimately resulting in an impressively low frame weight of just 1,990g (4.4-pounds).

The internal cable routing is very clean, though some cable rattle can be detected on rough portions of trail. A removable high direct front derailleur mount makes the bike compatible with most 1X (32T max), 2X (24-38T max), and 3X drivetrains. Other frame features include a modified two bolt ISCG 05 mount with frame protector, PF92 bottom bracket, rubber chainstay and downtube guards, and a bottle mount inside the front triangle. We measured close to 25mm (1-inch) of mud clearance with the stock 2.25-inch Maxxis tire, which is really good given the short chainstays.

Occam AM bikes come in three carbon builds ranging from $4,199 to $7,999 USD, as well as three aluminum builds at $2,299 to $3,699. We tested the M30 carbon build costing $4,199.

Geometry

While not the most aggressive geometry with a 67-degree head angle, Orbea isn't trying to make a complete descent crusher with the Occam AM, but rather a bike that can climb efficiently yet still handle some gravity induced fun. The steep 75-degree seat angle also speaks to this. The front end has healthy reach measurements across the three sizes, while the shorter than average 425mm (16.7-inch) chainstays help keep it nimble. The claimed 340mm (13.4-inch) bottom bracket height was very close to our measurement of 338mm.

On The Trail

We tested the Orbea Occam AM M30 on the rugged trails of South Mountain in Phoenix, Arizona. Our rides had long, technical climbs, rowdy and rocky descents, and some fast and flowy sections where you could really let it go. We set the bike to Orbea's specifications, running 25% seated rear sag on the FOX Float DPS Performance rear shock. Rebound was set slightly faster than normal, again based on Orbea's recommendations.

Pointed uphill the Occam AM M30 pedals extremely well, especially in the small chainring. Left in the open shock setting we experienced close to zero bob during hard efforts, but the bike would occasionally hang up on medium sized rocks and rob us of some forward momentum. We felt the medium compression setting to be ideal as the rear wheel would still track the ground and take the sting off square-edges, but not hang up as much. In the firm setting the bike is too harsh off the top for use on anything but smooth fire roads.

Our 6'1" tall tester is at the very top of Orbea's recommended height for the size large frame, and as such the bike left something to be desired when hunched over during long climbs. Orbea's believes riders over 6'1" should be riding their Occam TR 29er line, which is available in an extra large size for riders up to 6'6". Whether you agree with their big wheels for big riders philosophy or not, we think Orbea is missing an easy opportunity by not offering the more aggressive 27.5 AM series in an XL size, as that would likely be the go-to for our other 6'3" tester.

As mentioned, the Occam AM's geo is fairly neutral between an all-out climber and an all-out descender, making this bike a great choice for someone looking for a well rounded ride that climbs very well and can still be opened up a little on technical descents. However, if you're looking for a mini-downhill bike, this isn't the ride for you.

On fast and flowy trails, the bike was an absolute blast to ride. The bike's light and agile feel made picking up and hopping over obstacles a breeze, and it was extremely playful in these situations. With a 67-degree head angle, the bike handles tighter corners and difficult switchbacks very well and we were able to clean a couple mega-tight switchbacks that had forced a foot out on longer travel, slacker bikes.

That said, the bike did lack some stability when things got gnarly. Through steep technical sections we had to be precise with line choice and couldn't fully let go and open it up. Also, in sections with multiple harsh hits, the bike tends to blow through the travel a bit, making for a rough ride that often felt like it wanted to pitch us forward as we'd reach the end of its travel. Perhaps this is why Orbea recommends a slightly faster than normal rebound speed, in an effort to keep the bike higher up in its travel. The bike's leverage curve is nearly linear for the first 40% of the shock stroke, then becomes regressive near the end to counteract the progressive air spring. Given how capable the bike is, we feel it could benefit from a more progressive overall combination, however, and suggest using volume spacers in the shock as needed to make up for this. There are no spacers in there from the factory. Here's the suspension in motion:

Regardless of the few handling issues we mentioned above, the Occam AM actually did surprise us with its descending abilities. Once we adjusted our riding style and paid a bit more attention to line choice, the bike tackled rough and steep sections better than anticipated and we were able to ride hard and aggressively. In fast, chundery sections, the bike hugged the ground quite well offering great traction despite the dry and dusty conditions. As such, in true trail bike territory where trails aren’t super steep and gnarly, the Occam was one of the more lively and fun bikes to ride during this year’s Test Sessions.

Build Kit

While the overall weight of 27.9-pounds (12.7kg) was very light for a mid-level build, the Occam AM M30 is perhaps a bit under-spec'd for its $4,199 US price tag. The M30 features Shimano Deore disc brakes, a mix of Deore/SLX/XT parts for the 2X drivetrain, FOX Float Performance series suspension, DT Swiss Spline M-1900 wheels, and a Race Face Aeffect bar/stem combo. There are very few standouts in this lineup, but then again you do get a super light full carbon frame with some nice features. The lack of a dropper seatpost is also worth noting, as it's something we'd expect to see on a bike at this level and a necessity for many riders these days.

The DT Swiss Spline M-1900 wheelset performed adequately with solid engagement and reasonable stiffness. While the hubs have only 24-points of engagement, we never noticed it as a huge disadvantage. Though slightly dented, the wheels were true and snug at the conclusion of our test, indicating a solid and reliable choice. They're easy to set up tubeless if desired.

The 2.4-inch Maxxis High Roller II 3C EXO tire up front and 2.25-inch Ardent EXO in the rear proved to be a solid combination. While the Ardent may not be our favorite tire, it was fine on Arizona's less-than-moist trails and helped the bike roll quite quickly. We did manage to flat multiple times, so something a bit burlier could be useful if you ride in similar landscapes. In terms of braking, the tire combination worked well.

When it came to the Shimano Deore M506 disc brakes with a 160mm rear rotor and 180mm front, however, we did experience a bit of fade out back on long, steep descents, though power was adequate.

The Occam AM M30 comes with a 2X drivetrain which lead to several dropped chains during rowdy descents, leaving us wishing for a more secure 1X alternative. The bike is designed to be very efficient with a 32-tooth chainring should you decide to make the switch. Shifting was decent otherwise.

If you'd like to improve the overall descending abilities of the Occam AM, we'd recommend swapping to a shorter stem versus the stock 70mm, as we did. Size small and medium builds already feature a shorter 50mm stem. The stock bars measure 760mm (29.9-inches) wide which will be sufficient for most riders.

While the Fox Performance series isn't top of the line, it handled suspension duties well. The Fox Float Performance 34 FIT4 fork is a big improvement over previous models, providing more support while still remaining active in both the open and trail setting. For extended smooth climbs, the firmest setting might be a convenience, but in our experience it was far too harsh for any actual trail time.

Given the choice, we'd strongly consider stepping up to the M10 build, which gets you FOX Factory level suspension with the EVOL can for improved small bump performance, a dropper post, and several other upgrades for $5,799. Oddly it still doesn't feature a 1X drivetrain, but does come with a large Shimano XT 11-42 tooth cassette which would make for an easy conversion.

Long Term Durability

With the exception of a few dropped chains, we experienced no failures or major areas of durability concern in the build-kit department. We did knock something loose inside the frame's top tube, though, which resulted in a loud rattle every time the bike hit a rough section. We removed the fork, seat post, and crankset in a futile attempt to shaket the frame and remove the item. Further investigation revealed a forgotten piece of EPS that was meant to be removed after the carbon molding process. Orbea says this is the first Occam frame to experience the issue, and was able to remove the EPS while fishing with a derailleur cable.

Long term maintenance looks very straightforward, and this detailed tech document lays out procedures with nice visuals and torque specs. Frames are backed with a lifetime warranty against breakage and three years against paint and varnish issues. Components have a two year guarantee.

What's The Bottom Line?

Orbea did an excellent job making a bike that enjoys climbing as much as it does descending. While the Occam AM stands out in neither direction as outstanding, it strikes a nice balance between the two, making it an excellent choice for someone looking for that "one bike to rule them all" type of ride. Don't let the 140mm of travel fool you, the bike punches well above its class. While the price may be a tad high for the spec on the M30 model, it's a solid performer with some unique tech and a full carbon frame worthy of upgrades.

Visit www.orbea.com or look back at our First Look feature for more details.

Vital MTB Rating

  • Climbing: 4 stars - Excellent
  • Descending: 3 stars - Good
  • Fun Factor: 4 stars - Excellent
  • Value: 3 stars - Good
  • Overall Impression: 3.5 stars - Very Good

Bonus Gallery: 16 photos of the 2016 Orbea Occam AM M30 up close and in action


About The Reviewers

Fred Robinson - Age: 31 // Years Riding MTB: 13 // Height: 6'1" (1.85m) // Weight: 240-pounds (108.9kg)

"Drop my heels and go." Fred has been on two wheels since he was two years old, is deceptively quick for a bigger guy, and likes steep, fast trails where he can hang it off the back of the bike. Several years of shop experience means he's not afraid to tinker. He's very particular when it comes to a bike's suspension performance and stiffness traits.

AJ Barlas - Age: 35 // Years Riding MTB: 15+ // Height: 6'3" (1.91m) // Weight: 156-pounds (70.8kg)

"Smooth and fluid." Hailing from Squamish, BC, AJ's preferred terrain is chunky, twisty trail with natural features. He's picky with equipment and has built a strong understanding of what works well and why by riding a large number of different parts and bikes. Observant, mechanically inclined, and always looking to learn more through new experiences and products.

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

About Test Sessions

Four years ago Vital MTB set out to bring you the most honest, unbiased reviews you'll find anywhere. That tradition continues today as we ride 2016's most exciting trail, all-mountain, and enduro bikes in Phoenix, Arizona. Reviews can be accessed 24/7 in our Product Guide. Test Sessions was made possible with the help of Rage Cycles. Tester gear provided by Troy Lee Designs, Royal Racing, Smith, Fox Racing, Race Face, Easton, and Source.

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Added a product review for 2016 Pivot Mach 6 Aluminum X1 2/3/2016 12:47 PM
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2016 Test Sessions: Pivot Mach 6 Aluminum X1

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Reviewed by Courtney Steen and Amanda Wentz // Photos by Lear Miller

At the 2016 Vital MTB Test Sessions, we ladies got the chance to sample a few of the latest trail/all-mountain bikes to see how they perform for women. With a smorgasbord of bikes ranging from 120 to 160mm travel, women-specific to unisex, and a price range from about $3,000 to over $9,000, how is one to choose?! This year we tested three bikes in the 150 to 160mm travel range that may be options to consider. We put them (and ourselves) to the test on South Mountain's trails in Phoenix, Arizona - a moonscape of rowdy rock sections, decomposed granite, and sharp cactus around every bend. One of these three bikes tested is the 2016 Pivot Mach 6 Aluminum X1, a bike designed just miles away from our testing grounds at the company's Phoenix headquarters.

Highlights

  • Aluminum frame
  • 27.5 (650b) wheels
  • 155mm (6.1-inches) of rear wheel travel // 160mm (6.3-inches) fork travel
  • DW-link suspension
  • New wider and stiffer upper and lower linkage design
  • Enduro Max cartridge bearings
  • Tapered headtube
  • Post mount disc brake mount
  • Mix of external and internal cable routing
  • Removable e-type side-swing front derailleur mount
  • Press fit 92 bottom bracket with ISCG 05 mounts
  • 148mm Boost rear spacing with 12mm through axle
  • Measured weight (size small, no pedals): 30.1-pounds (13.7kg)
  • MSRP $4,268 USD

New for 2016, Pivot added an alloy version of the Mach 6 to their lineup with shared updates also made to the Mach 6 carbon frame. After three years they figured out their “next generation variable wall thickness hydroforming technology,” which is a new way to create complex aluminum tube shapes previously only possible with carbon. A quick glance at the tubes in the bottom bracket area and front of the swingarm provide obvious examples. This enables them to vary the material thickness so that high-stress areas can be strengthened with more material while still maintaining a reasonable overall bike weight. The new aluminum frame is just over half a pound heavier than the carbon version, yet much more cost effective.

In an effort to increase overall stiffness, changes were made to the rear triangle and linkage of both the alloy and carbon versions for 2016. The upper linkage received a 40% width increase that Pivot claims upped stiffness by 150% when coupled with larger bearings. They added Boost axle spacing, widening the rear end an additional 6mm to add even more stiffness to the bike. This also improved tire/mud clearance, which is pretty ample at about half an inch in the tightest spot with the stock 2.3-inch Maxxis tires.

These frame updates are paired with the latest FOX shock technology with DPS (Dual Piston System) damping and an EVOL air sleeve. Thanks to some air spring magic, the shock has better small bump compliance than previous versions. Pivot claims that when paired with the DW-link’s position-sensitive anti-squat, it gives riders better traction on steep climbs and over rough trail. The shock is attached to a new lighter and stronger clevis for 2016.

Save a small portion of housing that goes through the chainstay and the stealth dropper in the seat tube, the Mach 6 Aluminum has external cable routing that follows the bottom of the downtube. While easy to service and rattle-free, there's a legitimate concern for stray rocks and damaged lines, although this rarely occurs.

Additional features include a press fit bottom bracket, ISCG 05 tabs for mounting a chainguide, and rubberized chainstay and seatstay protection. There's a bottle mount under the downtube, though we wish it were above it to keep the gunk off our water. Pivot likely chose this location for extra clearance should you wish to bump up to a higher volume shock.

Geometry

While the Mach 6 is not a women’s specific bike, it does have sizing that works well for many women thanks to low standover heights and shorter seat tube lengths. Riders ranging from 4’10" to 6'2" should be able to find a good fit within the XS through XL size range. At 5'8" tall our limiting factor was the seat tube length plus room for a 100mm (3.9-inch) dropper post, so we got the size small. Though the reach measurements are a bit shorter than what is quickly becoming the norm, the 66-degree head angle and 431mm (17.0) chainstays are in line with other bikes in the aggressive trail / all-mountain / enduro genre. We measured the bottom bracket height at 344mm (13.5-inches).

On The Trail

Set up was pretty straightforward. The cockpit with 750mm (29.5-inch) bars and a 50mm stem was exactly the way we like it. We only made some spacing and angle adjustments for levers and shifter positions based on personal preferences. We then set seat height, saddle angle, and checked the tire pressure. For the suspension, we followed the suggested pressure guidelines for the FOX 36 fork based on rider weight then did a bit of fine tuning from there. The fork pressure we felt we needed was less than recommended. We then used the handy Pivot sag indicator on the FOX Float DPS shock to get that dialed in. Lastly, we put on a bottle cage for our turbo-boost juice and were ready to roll.

There's no denying that trails on South Mountain are a challenge, even for the best bike handlers. We climbed up a combination of the Javelina Canyon, Mormon, and National trails. After four lung-busting grunts and hundreds of opportunities to challenge our technical climbing skills over about six miles, we rose over a thousand feet above the sprawling Phoenix metro area.

As soon as we started climbing, our first thought was something along the lines of, “Oh man, these are going to be some long climbs.” The bike does climb pretty well for a long travel rig, but you can certainly feel that it has some heft to it despite being efficient at the pedals. If you weren’t already strong, you were going to get strong fast riding this particular build. About three pedal strokes in we were flipping the shock to the medium compression damper position for the rest of the climb. The suspension did well on technical climbs and any failures were more on us running out of power or courage. It held traction and didn’t feel like it was bogging down into the travel while pedaling over rocks.

The geometry felt pretty good pointed uphill, albeit a bit over the back end given a slack actual seat tube angle. Even with the saddle all the way forward on the rails, a bit of extra effort was required to keep the front of the bike down and under control on steeper climbs. After several hard earned ascents that emptied snack and drink supplies, we were happy to turn the Mach 6 down the hill and flip the shock back to the open setting. Fun mode engaged!

At the top of the mountain we had a number of options available to us for our descents. Our favorite was to add an extra little loop on Holbert at the top of the hill. Holbert had a fast descent that was mostly smooth with some big rock water bars that required hopping, plus a handful of loose corners with cacti kindly waiting to catch us if we slipped. After blasting down this trail we were so jazzed and said, “See yah later (to others left fixing flat tires), we’re going for another loop!” Pointed downhill the bike was solid and responsive in corners - maybe that’s the variable wall thickness hydroforming technology at work - and the suspension was smooth and supportive when rolling over rocks from small to large. You can really press into this bike and get a nice snappy result.

After riding our fastest bonus lap of the week we rejoined the group and headed over to Geronimo. This downhill bike worthy trail down to the valley floor is nonstop rock smashing fun if you're brave enough for it. On this technical descent we still felt awesome, which was a good reflection of the bike's capabilities. Pivot developed the bike with this type of trail in mind and it showed. After each big compression the bike felt immediately ready for the next, never bottoming harshly, getting hung up on square edges, or throwing us off line. We always felt in control, speaking well to the bike's handling. As expected, the bike was a funner ride with an active style, but even when tired it helped us keep rolling through the technical stuff.

On the downhills, we didn’t feel there was a definite yes or no answer between descending with the shock in the open or medium compression damper positions. It boils down to rider preference, the level of gnar being ridden, and how hard you corner. Here's the linkage in action:

Build Kit

We tested the X1 build kit with a SRAM GX 1x11 drivetrain, SRAM Guide R brakes, KS LEV Integra dropper (optional add on), and a FOX 36 Performance fork. This bike goes for $4,268 and is on the more budget end of the Mach 6 Aluminum spectrum, but delivers a great value. Build kits are available with both SRAM and Shimano drivetrain options, and all bikes come with 2.3-inch Maxxis High Roller II tires and FOX suspension.

The 160mm travel FOX 36 Performance fork seemed to work best a few psi lower than the FOX recommended pressures. Open, it felt solid enough on the climbs and then on the downhills was not so soft that it felt divey. In Medium, it only felt too firm a few times. There was no notable harshness as the fork went through its travel on hard hits, and it was supportive in turns. It felt great for an active riding style when pumping the terrain and pushing into corners. For everything we were putting the bike through, the fork wasn’t something holding us back.

It’s no secret that we prefer 1X drivetrains for their simplicity and ease of use, and were happy to have one on this build. The SRAM GX 1x11 drivetrain shifted smoothly and quickly enough. Because the bike can feel a bit hefty getting up some of the steeper climbs, we personally think a smaller chainring would be ideal if climbing extended climbs frequently. You might relate if you would also rename your legs “Slow” and “Steady” rather than “Thunder” and “Lightening.” Unfortunately, this conversion would require a new crankset for compatibility. We also noted that the derailleur bolt occasionally backed out following long or rough rides. Keep an eye on this or give it a dab of Loctite to keep it in place.

There were no blown corners or persons run over during the testing of this bike. When it came time to stop or slow down, the SRAM Guide R brakes with a 180mm front and 160mm rear rotor were able to handle the job. It was also nice that the shifter could mount on the brake levers, which made for a much neater cockpit area. SRAM's brakes provide enough adjustment range to work well for riders with small hands.

It's rad that Pivot provides Maxxis High Roller II EXO tubeless ready tires on all of their builds. They did well holding their own on these trails. Traction was good, and we made it through our rides without any flat tires despite a few premature dingers or two in the rear Sun Charger Comp rim. They're solid all around performers.

Pivot's custom WTB Vigo Sport saddle worked well for us ladies even though it’s not women’s specific. It did have a surprising amount of traction which was a first for us. It kept the heiny in place, though at times felt like it might pull our pants down if we pushed back into it too much in the battle to keep climbing as far as possible up steep sections.

Our Mach 6 Aluminum X1 bike had the optional KS LEV Integra dropper post, which is an upgrade we highly suggest. Yay dropper posts! We found the compact lever easy to reach and actuate. Cable tension is critical on the LEV Integra, so be sure to have it set up properly before your first ride. The bike came equipped with a 100mm travel post, and on the long, gnarly descent of Geronimo trail we needed to manually lower the base of the post for a little more maneuvering room. We had just enough room that we could have fit a 125mm version given our seat heights, though this will vary from rider to rider.

Overall the build kit worked well. If we personally owned this bike we would consider upgrading to a lighter wheelset, a longer travel dropper post, and would see if the desire for a smaller chainring persisted.

Long Term Durability

Except for a bit of cable rub above the bottom bracket, we think the frame will age well. Given our experience, the wheels will likely get a bit beat up prior to other components. Further down the road when the pivots need service, all torque specs are clearly indicated on the bolts, the bolts are easy to access, and the process looks fairly painless. There's also a great technical library to make things easier. Pivot backs the frame with a three year warranty.

What's The Bottom Line?

The 2016 Pivot Mach 6 Aluminum X1 was a fun ride, especially when pointed down the mountain, and was a favorite among our female testers. Thanks to an extended size range and low standover heights it works well for many people. We would recommend this bike for an intermediate to advanced rider that really enjoys descending. It rewards an active riding style but will comfortably guide more passive riders down the hill. It excelled on rough trails and ripping turns, and the star of the show was the bike’s smooth and supportive suspension. Of the three bikes us gals tested, this is the one we would most consider taking home.

Visit www.pivotcycles.com for more details.

Vital MTB Rating

  • Climbing: 3 stars - Good
  • Descending: 5 stars - Spectacular
  • Fun Factor: 4.5 stars - Outstanding
  • Value: 4 stars - Excellent
  • Overall Impression: 4 stars - Outstanding

Bonus Gallery: 32 photos of the 2016 Pivot Mach 6 Aluminum X1 up close and in action


About The Reviewers

Courtney Steen - Age: 28 // Years Riding MTB: 8 // Height: 5'7" (1.70m) // Weight: 25-30% sag ;-)

"Going downhill puts a smile on my face and I climb for ice cream." Courtney routinely shocks the boys with her speed and has experience in various disciplines. Today she travels the country in a RV in search of the next best trail and writes women's reviews for Vital MTB. Her technical background helps her think critically about products and how they can be improved.

Amanda Wentz - Age: 34 // Years Riding MTB: 10+ // Height: 5'6" (1.68m) // Weight: 135-pounds (61.2kg)

"I like riding rocky technical uphill as smoothly as I can, but my rims would say all that goes out the window when the bike is pointed down." Over the last decade Amanda has soaked up all aspects of mountain biking and continues to push herself to progress. She's a personal trainer and mountain bike coach, and loves knowing what her gear is doing and why.

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

About Test Sessions

Four years ago Vital MTB set out to bring you the most honest, unbiased reviews you'll find anywhere. That tradition continues today as we ride 2016's most exciting trail, all-mountain, and enduro bikes in Phoenix, Arizona. Reviews can be accessed 24/7 in our Product Guide. Test Sessions was made possible with the help of Rage Cycles. Tester gear provided by Troy Lee Designs, Royal Racing, Smith, Fox Racing, Race Face, Easton, and Source.

This product has no reviews yet.

Added a product review for 2016 Santa Cruz Hightower CC X01 29 2/1/2016 11:59 PM
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First Look, First Ride: 2016 Santa Cruz Hightower 29 and 27.5+

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Feature by AJ Barlas // Photos by Gary Perkin, Sven Martin and AJ Barlas

Back in 2012, when Santa Cruz Bicycles launched the Tallboy LT - the longer-legged version of their well-received Tallboy - they broke the mould. At a time when wagon wheelers were generally considered to be average performing XC bikes that lacked any “fun” characteristics, the Tallboy LT changed many opinions. That was more than three years ago now, and the California-based company has been hard at work on the new Hightower, a replacement for the LT. We were excited to see how Santa Cruz was going to improve on things, especially given the evolution of their bikes over the last few years. Throw in an expedition through Southern Chile as part of the Rally Aysen Patagonia and we had the perfect recipe to check out the new mid-travel 29er...

2016 Santa Cruz Hightower Highlights

  • Carbon CC or C frame
  • Compatible with both 29" and 27.5+ wheels
  • 29" front/rear travel: 140 / 135mm
  • 27.5+ front/rear travel: 150 / 135mm
  • Adjustable Toggle Chip for geometry/wheel changes
  • Updated 148mm rear / 110mm front hub spacing
  • Internal cable tunnels
  • 73mm threaded bottom bracket
  • ISCG05 mounts
  • Molded downtube and chainstay protectors
  • 200x51mm RockShox shock with LC LR tune, high volume eyelet, and four volume spacers
  • Medium / Large / XL sizes (no small)
  • Sriracha Red / Matte Carbon & Minty colors
  • Comes in three 29" builds, three 27.5+ builds, or as a frame/shock package
  • Weight: 29" CC X01 - 12.7kg (28.1lb) // 27.5+ CC X01 - 12.7kg (28.0lb) // Frame Only - 2.7kg (5.9lb), size Large

The media circus arrived in Coyhaique, Chile, with little more than rumors surrounding why Santa Cruz had brought us all this. Generally the group was of the impression that it would be a new Tallboy LT, but it was still speculation. When we first sat down with the Santa Cruz team consisting of marketing dudes Will Ockelton and Don Palermini, Product Manager Josh Kissner, and the engineer behind the current flow of bikes, Nick Anderson, we were treated to an impressive-looking bike with a new name: the Hightower.

At first glance the Hightower draws a similar appearance to the Nomad, with twin uprights between the chain and seatstays, plus a similar shock orientation. Nick Anderson noted this design was used in order to make the bike adjustable and maintain a short chainstay, which required removing the front derailleur mount. Once the front derailleur was removed, the ability to run the twin upright swingarm was possible and doing so, also granted the rear of the bike some added stiffness.

The Hightower, like other Santa Cruz bikes, features a 73mm threaded bottom bracket (thank you!), ISCG05 tabs for those wishing to run a guide for extra chain security, and the updated VPP suspension link design of their other current models. Also, like many of their latest rides, the Hightower comes with a 150mm travel Rockshox Reverb dropper, so you can get the seat well out of the way when the going gets rowdy.

The team went on to introduce what immediately looked to be a fun-loving bike, and the initial introduction solidified those impressions. Although the Tallboy LT had the same 135mm of travel as the Hightower, it was quickly addressed that this is a different bike that takes on a number of years worth of evolution within the Santa Cruz camp. The bike is aimed to appease those that are after a mid-travel 29er and the benefits of the larger wheel, but still exhibits a nimble attitude similar to that of the smaller 27.5” sleds in the Santa Cruz fleet. The big surprise being that not only is this a 29er, it fairly easily converts to a plus bike, for those looking to try out the new bastard-child wheel size.

This adjustability is largely possible thanks to the industry shift to the wider "Boost” axle spacing. The benefits of the extra width is especially present where 29" wheels are involved, and allows the hub flanges to be pushed outbound a total of 6mm in the rear, and a total of 10mm in the front. This extra width creates a wider spoke bracing angle and in turn provides a stiffer wheel, in effect improving the ride quality and responsiveness of wagon wheels without the need to throw down the big bucks for carbon hoops. At the same time, the added width makes it possible to have plenty of clearance for a plus sized wheel, and Santa Cruz have gone the extra mile to optimize the performance of both wheel sizes within one frame.

Santa Cruz noted that a 27.5+ and 29" wheel can generally vary in size up to 18mm, with the 27.5+ being the slightly smaller of the two. This translates to roughly 9mm difference in bottom bracket height between the two, plus some extra tire squish. While low bikes can be fun, Santa Cruz developed a flip chip positioned at the rear shock eyelet of the bike to help pick up the bottom bracket slightly when used with 27.5+ wheels. It can be used in the high setting with 29" wheels, pushing the bottom bracket height up to ~340mm and the head angle to 67.25º, but Santa Cruz feel the bike performs best in the low setting with this wheel size.

You'll also have to change the fork when switching over to the stubbier wheels. Spec’d on the 29" Hightower is a 140mm Pike, but when switching over to the plus size wheel it’s recommended that a 150mm fork be used. This can be done internally on the Pike with a relatively cheap part and a little elbow grease. Another option, and one that some of the Santa Cruz team have been doing, is to run the bike with the 150mm fork all the time. This results in the bike performing as expected when setup with the plus wheels, but gives it a slightly more aggressive stance when fitted with the 29" wheels which could be very appealing to some.

In either the 29 or 27.5+ configuration (shown above), the Hightower joins the party at the long, low and slack table, but does so without going to ridiculous extremes. The reach on a medium frame comes in at 420mm and the XL that we rode came in at 475mm. While talking size, we should also mention that the Hightower does not come in a small or extra small. Going that small created too many compromises, essentially making it a different bike to its larger framed counterparts. Shorter riders interested in a bike like this can look to the Bronson, which is the closest in terms of ride quality to the Hightower.

Similar to other recent Santa Cruz models, the seat tube lengths have been shortened slightly, allowing for more flexibility in sizing. The seat tube takes on a more aggressive static number of 74.3º, granting riders a stronger seated position and aiding with getting up over the relatively slack front end. With a bottom bracket height of 337mm (13.2") and drop of 33mm when rocking its 29" shoes, it certainly plays to the low statement as well. The relatively short 435mm (17.1") chainstays and solid 1165mm wheelbase (for a size medium) contribute to the nimble desires of the Hightower, but don’t lose out where stability is concerned.

Swapping out the 29" wheels with the 27.5+ variety obviously changes the numbers slightly. Once the flip chip has been set to the recommended “High” position and the fork set to 150mm, the head angle slackens slightly to 66.8º, the seat angle slackens a little to 74.1º, and the bottom bracket drops 2mm. With the change in the flip chip there is also a minor change to the leverage curve of the rear shock, but nothing discernible even to the most picky of suspension geeks. All of this adds up to what appears to be a pretty aggressive, adjustable bike.

Geometry

Interview With Santa Cruz

We sat down with Santa Cruz engineer, Nick Anderson, to chat about what inspired the Hightower, similarities to the Tallboy LT and Nomad, getting rid of the front derailleur, and alternative uses for the toggle chip. Listen in:

On The Trail - 29" Mode

Being that we were in Coyhaique, Chile, a place that is just developing as a mountain bike destination thanks to guys like Gabito, a small crew of young, ambitious local kids, and Mattias from Montenbaik, we were looking at riding blind down some very, very new trails (fresh loamers anyone?) and covering a lot of ground. We started the week off with the Hightower setup in its 29" configuration. After an initial setup with 30% rear sag and the recommended settings in the Pike Solo Air RCT3 fork plus four clicks of low-speed compression, we loaded up and excitedly set off to the trails.

It quickly became evident that the bike boosts confidence, and in some cases almost too much so, playing into our stupid, childish side far too well. The very first pitch we dropped into - a varying degree drop down some nasty #chooseyourownadventure scree slopes - saw us relying heavily on the bike to get us through a couple of “dear sweet baby Jesus” moments. The stability the bike exhibited and our comfort aboard it from the outset was verified time and time again as we rode blindly down the South American trails, completely oblivious to what was around the next corner and generally riding like idiots. Here it is in action:

Our favorite trails in Patagonia consisted of wide open sections through super dusty, dry dirt. Often these high-speed sections would end abruptly with an unexpected corner. Choosing a line through these corners was somewhat of a guessing game, with no idea where the apex was or the best line. Laying the Hightower on edge rarely resulted in it getting upset, and regardless of whether adjustments were required or line choice was poor, the bike would whip through the turns and charge onward.

In fact, it didn’t appear that anything short of planting the front wheel into something you shouldn’t would phase the Hightower. Shoot over a blind rise in the middle of a turn and the bike would drift sideways only to catch, stabilize and rally on into the next section. Come into a rocky part of the trail and the bike would skip across it all unscathed. Slide down dirt “powder” a couple of inches deep and again, no issue. So long as the rider took control and didn’t do anything wrong, the bike would come out the other end, usually with rider hooting and hollering in sheer joy.

Climbing the bike was comfortable, and although we flipped the dial on the occasional long road ascent (something we blame our jet-lagged legs on more so than the bike) it is remarkably quiet under pedaling forces. Get up out of the saddle, lay down the power, and the bike zips up to speed quite effortlessly. Likewise, we found that the grip was such that standing efforts up fairly loose inclines was also admirable, with little loss in traction, provided rider position was adequate.

We found the front end of the bike to get quite light in tight, steep uphill corners and on steep inclines, making it tricky to keep it on line. Shifting up the saddle we found we were able to keep it more planted. On our second day aboard the Hightower we attempted to run the stem 5mm lower to combat this, and while it helped a little, we found that it was now a little on the low side for our preference when descending. We settled on the original stack height (20mm of spacers beneath the stem due to the flat bar) and employed an aggressive position on the bike, shifting up the saddle when the climb warranted it.

With the 29" wheels the bike handles incredibly well. It’s apparent that the old days of straight-line motivated wagon wheelers are behind us, and the Hightower is another bike adding to the selection of incredibly fun, nimble, and very capable big wheel sleds. The shorter stays and stout construction of the Hightower create a lively ride, while the 135mm of VPP suspension tracks remarkably well and feels bottomless. We used all of the travel on multiple occasions but were unaware of it at the time. High-speed chatter is muted well and did little to upset the bike. Small bump sensitivity is good, and loose, high-speed corners were no problem. The geometry is comfortable and results in a bike that feels at home once the initial cockpit adjustments have been dialed in, leaving it up to the rider to get going and see how far they can push it.

On The Trail - 27.5+ Mode

With the bike in the 27.5+ configuration it sits a few millimeters lower, and strangely it felt longer, despite the numbers not reflecting this. This isn’t our first time aboard a plus wheeled bike, and to be honest, this tester is still a little confused by it all. In certain situations, a good number of which were encountered while aboard the Hightower in Patagonia, plus size is great, but generally speaking we prefer the more defined feeling of a regular wheeled mountain bike.

Riding like idiots through fields and wooded environments littered with debris was a treat with the 27.5+ wheel. The larger footprint provides bucket loads of confidence in loose bits and rarely gets shook off line. Over loose terrain and through flat corners, laying the bike on its side and holding on with a death-grip was easier to stomach, with the big tires holding gob loads of traction. We did find that on proper narrow singletrack it was easier to get pulled up the bank to the high side of the trail, as the wider footprint would catch on earlier than we were ready and scoot us up the bench cut. We battled with this numerous times during descents on otherwise amazing bench-cut sections of singletrack.

Climbing in Patagonia often consisted of loose, dusty conditions that regularly resulted in the 29" wheel requiring more effort to keep momentum due to a loss of traction. This was far less of an issue on the 27.5+ Hightower, and we felt this configuration worked quite well in this scenario as we motored by riders on regular 29" wheels. The only downside was the lower bottom bracket height, which is even lower when you consider the tires sagging. This created clearance issues for us on numerous occasions, though it's something you could grow accustomed to with more time. Fitting a set of 170mm cranks would also help alleviate the problem.

Despite all of this traction, the lack of a defined side-knob or edge to the tire is something we miss on plus sized wheels. Cornering can be a little vague, and generally we find ourselves putting faith in the extra traction purely because of the amount of surface area/rubber rolling on the ground beneath us. There is no “aha” moment where you feel the edge of the tire bite into the terrain and begin to churn up the dirt. To be honest, for us, that is one of the best feelings when riding a mountain bike. Yet we digress, as this is not a knock against how the Hightower rides with the plus wheels fitted, and more of a general observation for all plus bikes. The Hightower handles very well in its plus size configuration with many of the attributes of the 29" wheel being transferred over. This is the most nimble of plus bikes we've ridden, which is good given the plus sized wheel's tendency to dampen a bike's agility and trail feel.

What's The Bottom Line?

Our time aboard the Hightower left us wanting more! The bike in either wheel size configuration is a treat to ride. It's capable of getting rowdy and aiding riders through rough point-and-shoot situations, while exhibiting a wildly enjoyable, nimble side when the trail tones down. Be it twisting, tight sections of singletrack, or wide open “full gas” straightaways, the bike takes it all in its stride and will get you back up to the top with relative ease. The simple fact that we were immediately comfortable speaks loads to the bike's naturally inspiring demeanor.

Build Kits, Pricing and Availability

We spent the majority of our time aboard the mid-range $6,499 CC X01 29 build and found little that we would change, save a few parts for personal preference. There's a 27.5+ version of the CC X01, too. Want the best parts? Step up to the CC XX1 build in 29" or 27.5+ at $7,799 with an optional 29" $2,000 ENVE wheelset upgrade. There are also C AM 29" and 27.5+ models for $4,599, which are more than capable of a good time. A CC frame + RockShox Monarch RT3 shock combo is available for $2,899 for those looking to create a custom build.

The Hightower is available now in both wheel sizes. Cruise over to www.santacruzbicycles.com for more details.

Bonus Gallery: 32 photos of the 2016 Santa Cruz Hightower up close and in action


About The Reviewer

AJ Barlas - Age: 35 // Years Riding MTB: 15+ // Height: 6'3" (1.91m) // Weight: 156-pounds (70.8kg)

"Smooth and fluid." Hailing from Squamish, BC, AJ's preferred terrain is chunky, twisty trail with natural features. He's picky with equipment and has built a strong understanding of what works well and why by riding a large number of different parts and bikes. Observant, mechanically inclined, and always looking to learn more through new experiences and products.

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Added a product review for 2016 Commencal Meta Trail 650b 1/29/2016 3:25 AM
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2016 Test Sessions: Commencal Meta Trail 650b

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Reviewed by AJ Barlas and Fred Robinson // Photos by Lear Miller

Driven by the desire for a more accessible shock position, better standover, and improved kinematics, Commencal recently updated their frame design and aesthetic starting with the Meta AM V4 enduro bike. They’ve since moved the updated design to the shorter travel Meta Trail we tested during the 2016 Vital MTB Test Sessions.

Highlights

  • Aluminum frame
  • 27.5 (650b) wheels
  • 120mm (4.7-inches) of rear wheel travel // 130mm (5.1-inches) fork travel
  • V4 Contact System suspension
  • Tapered headtube
  • Post mount rear brake
  • Internal cable and dropper post routing
  • Double density injected chainstay protector with integrated derailleur housing
  • Water bottle mount
  • BB92 press fit bottom bracket
  • ISCG 05 mounts
  • 142mm rear spacing with 12mm through axle
  • Measured weight (size Large, no pedals): 31.1-pounds (14.1kg)
  • MSRP $2,999 USD

The Meta Trail uses the Andorran brand’s updated take on a linkage driven single pivot suspension design known as the "Contact System." It features a clevis at the rear shock mount, plus a very compact linkage at the seat tube that helps achieve the desired leverage curve while keeping weight down and minimizing pivot rotation. Commencal says the system was tuned to increase responsiveness and traction while reducing pedal kickback and brake squat compared to the previous floating shock system (they're still relatively high). The progressive then regressive design activates a 190x51mm Rockshox Monarch RT3 shock with a standard can, pushing out 120mm (4.7-inches) of travel.

There's also an interesting three-piece top tube surrounding the front shock mount, which partially hides the shock. This is formed separately to the rest of the front triangle and was done to keep standover heights down and make it easier to access shock controls on-the-fly. They also found it to be stronger than mounting the shock to an extra piece of material welded to the underside of the top tube. The distinctive top tube will accommodate many shocks on the market, but not all. This design creates loads of space for a water bottle, tools, and/or a spare tube within the front triangle, if that’s your style.

Frames are made in Taiwan from 6066 T4+T6 aluminum with triple butted hydroformed tubes. All pivots are machined after welding to achieve tight tolerances and ensure alignment of moving parts. Cables enter at the headtube and run through the frame, with just a slight rattle that is dampened by rubber frame inserts. The frame is protected by large double density injected chainstay/seatstay guards, and Commencal includes a fender for poor weather. Out back you'll find a very generous 50mm (2-inches) of mud clearance.

Commencal sells two versions of the Meta Trail 650b, priced very reasonably at $1,799 and $2,999 USD (tested). Frames start at just $799 without a shock. There's also an "A la Carte" program which allows you to configure your own parts spec. Pricing is good even for partial builds.

Geometry

The bike is offered in four sizes and is highlighted by very long reach measurements, a steep 74-degree seat angle, moderately slack 67.5-degree head angle, reasonably short 437mm (17.2-inch) chainstays, and a very low 325mm (12.8-inch) measured bottom bracket height.

On The Trail

We climbed our way up South Mountain in Phoenix, Arizona on multiple occasions via Mormon and National trails. On smooth, consistent, mellow grade sections the Meta Trail moved along with relative ease. While our test bike came in heavier than claimed, it had a playful, lighter-than-the-scale-would-suggest feel that results in a spritely climber given the right trail conditions.

Despite the bike's zippy attitude on flatter portions of trail, rough climbs with repetitive square edges and features revealed stiff off the top suspension that struggled to hold traction, requiring more effort from the rider. The bike felt too firm at a generous 30% sag value (already 5% past the suggested 25% sag), and often seemed as though it was working against the rider rather than tracking the ground and helping us get up loose and steppy sections. Backing off the shock pressure to allow for 35% sag was a good improvement in overall trail feel with a slightly more supple beginning stroke without losing much in the way of support. The suspension remained very quiet to rider movements and tracked better over small bumps while climbing, but still didn’t match the technical climbing abilities of its competitors due to excess harshness off the top.

We found the bottom bracket height to be a little on the low side, with a higher number of pedal strikes while climbing than others in the test, even when at the firmer 30% sag setting.

The size Large cockpit felt rather stretched out, even for our 6'3" (1.91m) tall rider, which is a general observation of the bike as well: it’s quite long with a 460mm (18.1-inch) reach, relatively slack for a short travel bike, and low. It rode quite centered however, and if we were to spend more time on it we would be interested to see how it feels with an even shorter stem.

Pointed downhill, riding smoother sections of twisty trail was a blast. It was a little firm with the initial 30% sag, easily losing traction in the loose-over-hard kitty litter typical of Phoenix trails, but made for a playful ride when pushing the bike into corners expecting to slide. Any chatter, medium hits, and rocks experienced at this setting were a little on the harsh side with the bike having a tendency to get hung up rather than skipping across the top. After dropping to 35% sag the bike was still incredibly playful, but better through flat, loose corners and over bumps. The smoother ride gave us more confidence to push the bike though it didn’t inspire loads of it.

Commencal's V4 Contact System in action. Note: There may have been a little bit of air left in the shock making it a touch harder to compress from behind the bike.

Midway through our rides we'd rally upper Holbert trail, which contains a near perfect downhill grade for a play trail requiring just a couple of pedal strokes at the start. Braking is minimal thanks to the grade, and it’s a roller coaster of twists and turns, bumps and jumps. That’s not it though, as anything in this part of the world is never straight-forward. The trail contained a number of quick, consecutive square-edge rocks protruding out of the ground. Mistiming the pre-hop over these rocks would result in a flat tire, destroyed wheel, or a rider down in the surrounding cactus. The trail makes for an incredibly active ride as you hop over rocks only to touch down for a fraction of a second before having to lift off again. This is where the Meta Trail showed us what it's best for, and it had us smiling from ear to ear at the bottom. The lively attitude of the bike made it incredibly fun through quick consecutive airs and allowed us to throw it wherever we wanted. It was easy to gently lean it over into drifts through chicanes and responded well to rider input. It wanted to be ridden with speed and in smoother terrain remained very stable thanks to the geometry.

It did remarkably well on rougher trails, but once you found its limit, which was often in high speed, rough sections of trail, the geometry did little to help. On slower, techy trails the geometry did a great job of making it feel capable, but because of the slower speeds not playing to the suspension's advantage it created a rough, difficult ride.

Holbert and Geronimo trails feature what can be described as "stupid rowdy" sections that would be a challenge on a downhill bike, let alone a 120/130mm trail bike. The Meta Trail handled this extreme end of the riding scale decently, but not without considerable rider input and a lot of sketchy moments. There is little room for error, as the bike's less-than-planted demeanor requires the rider to be very active in order to stay upright and have a good time. It’s a sporty ride.

We also found the combination of the suspension layout and relatively pinner Maxxis Ardent rear tire would occasionally get unstable under hard braking as the rear end danced around, not slowing as quickly as we would have liked.

Finally, our feet would regularly brush the chainstays and seatstays. We also found that the lip of the chainstay guard - which works great to dampen any chainslap noise - would worsen things as it would catch our feet as the suspension moved through its travel. This would occasionally happen at some really poor times as we were taking off of a lip or deep in rock garden mayhem - something that we really couldn’t afford to be dealing with when the bike was already in over its head and requiring extra effort.

Build Kit

The Meta Trail comes spec'd with a pretty impressive list of components given its $2,999 USD price point, and there's little we'd look to upgrade right off the bat. Even essentials like a RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper are included. The build uses a mix of good value parts from RockShox, SRAM, Maxxis, e*thirteen, and Commencal's house brand Ride Alpha.

RockShox's 130mm (5.1-inch) travel Pike RC fork helped hold great traction in smoother, high speed, loose over hard conditions. When it came to rougher sections and big hits the fork continued to do a great job, and it was more the bike's overall lack of travel and firm setup that became the limiting factor.

The Meta Trail could really benefit from a shock with a larger negative air can versus the standard Monarch RT3. The RockShox Debonair can be added as an aftermarket item, and would allow the bike to have better small bump response and gain more traction, something we feel would improve the ride in a big way.

SRAM's Guide R brakes provided plenty of power with their dual 180mm rotors, and the Matchmaker system ensures a clutter-free cockpit.

The 1x11 SRAM GX drivetrain paired with e*thirteen's TRS single crankset make for a stiff and reliable combination with all the functional benefits of a more expensive setup.

Ride Alpha components are used throughout the bike, including a 780mm (30.7-inch) bar, 50mm stem, 32 hole wheelset, and saddle. They presented no issues and look the part, too. The rear hub actually had some of the best engagement of all the bikes in our test, which was welcomed on the technical trails of South Mountain. The wheels come with tubes installed, but are tubeless ready when you're ready to make the switch. They were still true as can be after descending some of the rowdiest trails in Phoenix multiple times.

As mentioned earlier, the 2.25-inch single ply Maxxis Ardent rear tire is another area for improvement. Though it keeps things light and fast, traction and flat protection are more important factors in our terrain. The 2.3-inch Minion DHR II with EXO did well up front. Consider something similar as a replacement to the Ardent.

Long Term Durability

Based on our test experience with the Meta Trail and several months on other Commencal bikes, we don’t see any major potential issues. Expect some early paint wear on the stays as a result of your feet brushing by. We experienced no creaking from the pivots or press fit bottom bracket. Commencal backs the bike with a five year warranty with a two year restriction on chainstays and seatstays.

What's The Bottom Line?

The Commencal Meta Trail 650b's overbuilt appearance and capable geometry numbers can easily mislead you into believing it can be ridden in the same terrain as longer travel trail and enduro bikes, though firm suspension makes it require a lot of rider input in order to keep going and prevent it from getting hung up. If rough and rowdy is what you're after, consider stepping up to the Meta AM V4.

Where the Meta Trail excels is on twisty, smooth trails as it carries speed well, zips along, and begs to be picked up and thrown into the air - though it's not very forgiving when the rider slips up or trail conditions get burlier. There are lighter, less overbuilt bikes with more forgiving suspension available, so be sure you are prepared to take control and ride it hard if this bike is high on your list of choices. Ridden in this manner and on the right trails it's a super rewarding and fun ride.

Visit www.commencal.com for more details.

Vital MTB Rating

  • Climbing: 3 stars - Good
  • Descending: 2.5 stars - Okay
  • Fun Factor: 3.5 stars - Very Good
  • Value: 4 stars - Excellent
  • Overall Impression: 3 stars - Good

Bonus Gallery: 25 photos of the 2016 Commencal Meta Trail 650b up close and in action


About The Reviewers

Fred Robinson - Age: 31 // Years Riding MTB: 13 // Height: 6'1" (1.85m) // Weight: 240-pounds (108.9kg)

"Drop my heels and go." Fred has been on two wheels since he was two years old, is deceptively quick for a bigger guy, and likes steep, fast trails where he can hang it off the back of the bike. Several years of shop experience means he's not afraid to tinker. He's very particular when it comes to a bike's suspension performance and stiffness traits.

AJ Barlas - Age: 35 // Years Riding MTB: 15+ // Height: 6'3" (1.91m) // Weight: 156-pounds (70.8kg)

"Smooth and fluid." Hailing from Squamish, BC, AJ's preferred terrain is chunky, twisty trail with natural features. He's picky with equipment and has built a strong understanding of what works well and why by riding a large number of different parts and bikes. Observant, mechanically inclined, and always looking to learn more through new experiences and products.

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

About Test Sessions

Four years ago Vital MTB set out to bring you the most honest, unbiased reviews you'll find anywhere. That tradition continues today as we ride 2016's most exciting trail, all-mountain, and enduro bikes in Phoenix, Arizona. Reviews can be accessed 24/7 in our Product Guide. Test Sessions was made possible with the help of Rage Cycles. Tester gear provided by Troy Lee Designs, Royal Racing, Smith, Fox Racing, Race Face, Easton, and Source.

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Added a product review for 2016 Specialized Stumpjumper FSR Comp Carbon 650b 1/26/2016 12:13 PM
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2016 Test Sessions: Specialized Stumpjumper FSR Comp Carbon 650B

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Reviewed by Fred Robinson and AJ Barlas // Photos by Lear Miller

While Specialized may have been a bit late to the 650b wheel game, they're doing it right for 2016. The all-new Stumpjumper FSR gets a ground up redesign for the new year, gaining a more aggressive attitude, an ultra short rear end, updated shock tune, and a wild-looking SWAT compartment hidden in the downtube. We tested the Comp Carbon model during the 2016 Vital MTB Test Sessions, which offers some pretty clever and exclusive tech combined with high value components right out of the box.

Highlights

  • Carbon frame with aluminum rear triangle
  • 27.5 (650b) wheels
  • 150mm (5.9-inches) of front and rear wheel travel
  • FSR suspension
  • Tapered headtube
  • Fully enclosed internal cable routing
  • Chainstay, inner seatstay and downtube protection
  • SWAT door integrated into downtube
  • Taco Blade front derailleur mount
  • Sealed cartridge bearing pivots
  • PF30 bottom bracket with ISCG mounts
  • 142mm rear spacing with 12mm through axle
  • Measured weight (size Large, no pedals): 30.1-pounds (13.7kg)
  • MSRP $3,800 USD

Out back the Stumpjumper uses Specialized's FSR suspension, which they've been tweaking and tuning for over two decades. Also known as a "Horst Link" design, FSR is a four-bar linkage claimed to effectively isolate chain torque and brake loads. Sealed cartridge bearing pivots throughout keep the system running smoothly. It's equipped with a custom FOX Float Evolution CTD rear shock, which utilizes Specialized's unique AutoSag feature for easier setup. The rear shock mount and 197x47.6mm shock size are proprietary, so shock swaps and upgrades are unfortunately very limited.

It was only a matter of time before the short chainstay technology used on the Enduro 29 made its way into the rest of Specialized's lineup, and the 2016 Stumpjumper is among the first to benefit with stays that measure just 420mm (16.5-inches). That's really short! While the removable "Taco Blade" front derailleur mount is a big part of the equation, going this snug meant saying goodbye to the seatstay bridge, freeing up more room for suspension movement and tire clearance. Despite the missing seatstay bridge, Specialized says the end result is actually stiffer than the previous design. Drastically beefed up stays and larger pivot bearings contribute to the stiffness equation, and the rocker and shock extension around the seat tube have also seen some modifications.

One standout feature is the SWAT Door. Simply flip a few clasps, remove the bottle cage/door, and viola! You're able to discreetly store essentials in the downtube. Being able to put a spare tube, CO2 canister, tire lever, a light rain jacket, M&Ms, etc, inside the frame instead of having to store them in a pack or strapped to the frame is a wonderful feature. While both hydration packs and SWAT bibs have their own merits, it was nice to be able pack hard items in a place where we’re not worried about landing on them in the event of a crash. A supplied tool roll in the SWAT compartment ensures that items don’t move around and make noise while riding. Specialized also made a convenient multi-tool slot near the upper shock mount, which allows the tool to be slid into place with a reassuring snap.

Also new for 2016 is improved cable routing, which no longer follows the underside of the downtube. The new internal routing uses molded tubes inside the frame to eliminate rattling and make maintenance as pain free as possible. All cables enter on the sides of the head tube and exit just before the bottom bracket, where they’re then externally routed along the stays.

Other details include a PF30 bottom bracket, ISCG mounts, 12x142mm rear end (with 142+ wheels), and an impressive 19mm (0.75-inches) of mud clearance. The frame is protected on the chainstay, inner seatstay, and downtube by custom molded rubberized guards.

Specialized offers the Stumpjumper FSR in a ton of different models, including 29-inch and 6Fattie (650b+) varieties. The 650b version comes in three carbon models ranging from $3,800 to $8,600, and two aluminum models at $2,900 and $4,300. Frame/shock packages are also available. Top of the line S-Works frames use a higher end FACT 10m carbon on the front triangle and seatstays with M5 alloy chainstays. We tested the $3,800 Comp Carbon which uses a FACT 9m carbon front end paired with alloy chainstays and seatstays.

Geometry

We're pleased to report that while the Stumpjumper 650b previously used a hodgepodge of leftover 29er frame parts and spacers resulting in some odd geometry, the new bike is much more dialed. Highlights include 420mm (16.5-inch) chainstays, 333mm (13.0-inch) measured bottom bracket height, 74-degree seat tube angle, and reasonably long reach measurements across the four sizes. You won't find an EVO model in the lineup anymore, as Specialized chose to give all of the bikes a slacker 67-degree head tube angle.

On The Trail

In concept, the AutoSag shock sounds pretty cool: Inflate the shock 50psi over rider weight, sit on the bike, depress the red release valve until it stops letting air out, cycle shock to set negative and positive spring, then go ride. In practice, however, we found the system to not function as well as we'd hoped. We couldn’t get the sag correct despite multiple attempts, forcing us to set up the shock the traditional way. We initially set the FOX Float Evolution CTD to the "plush" 30% sag recommendation.

We tested the Stumpjumper in on South Mountain in Phoenix, Arizona, and our rides had a technical climb to the top and an incredibly fast and rocky descent with a few flowy high-speed sections mixed in for good measure.

Once on the trail, it was immediately clear the Stumpy was one of the better climbing bikes at this year’s Test Sessions, despite its 150mm of travel. With a 2X drivetrain you get a very efficient and immediate pedal feel in the small chainring. If you'd prefer a simpler setup or a different model, know that the antisquat properties are well suited to a 1X drivetrain with a 30 or 32-tooth chainring.

The front end didn't wander while pointed uphill, and even on steeper climbs we didn't need to get excessively over the front end to keep the bike planted. Thanks to the somewhat upright 74-degree seat tube angle we felt very centered. It pedaled great both seated and out of the saddle, and with the rear shock in the open mode the back wheel stayed glued to the ground well, giving us traction when we needed it on technical climbs. On bigger, ledgy obstacles requiring lots of body language, the rear end did tend to caught a bit deep into its travel, but switching to the medium compression mode alleviated this and was our preferred climbing setting. While we never felt the need to, we did try the shock in the firmest setting which didn't completely lock the shock out, allowing it to still open up over big obstacles to take the sting off. In practice we’d only use the firm position for extended road climbs, as it does result in a pretty rough ride. The bottom bracket height is pretty low, and as a result careful pedal placement was needed to prevent rock strikes.

Descending flowy and fast sections of trail with some chundery bits was an absolute blast. The extremely compact chainstays encourage you to pick up the front end and dice your way through turns. We found ourselves playing with line choice, hopping sections, and pumping the terrain lending to a playful ride that was both stable and predictable. So much so, in fact, we found ourselves going for some pretty unique lines just to see how the bike handled them, which it did quite well.

Squish! Watch the Stumpjumper's FSR suspension system in action.

The bike has a gently progressive leverage curve that regresses a bit toward the end of the stroke, which typically pairs well with low volume air shocks. Running a few numbers you'll find that the overall leverage ratio is pretty dang high at 3.15:1. On trail this results in a bike with good small bump performance, despite not having FOX's latest DPS damping or EVOL air can technologies. Only time will tell if the shock will hold up to extended abuse.

We did push the bike a bit out of its comfort zone a bit on steeper, rockier bits of South Mountain's Geronimo trail. Once in downhill bike worthy territory we had to back-off from pushing the bike into the terrain and ride it more cautiously than we would have a more aggressive ride. While its ability to tackle square edge hits at a moderate pace was good, in fast successive hits we noticed it tended to blow through its travel a bit more than we'd have liked. Removing a single click of rebound damping on the rear shock helped keep the bike a little bit higher up in its travel. In an effort to further improve this we also firmed up the rear end by about 5% sag, and found the slight adjustment helped through high-speed sections and deep g-outs without hindering other ride characteristics much.

Specialized runs a volume reducer in the FOX Float rear shock, though a slightly larger reducer will help with bottom out support for seriously hard charging riders. Despite being a bit overwhelmed in the roughest bits, it was still a fun bike to ride in those conditions.

Under heavy braking the rear end stayed active, helping us maintain control and traction when we often needed it most. We experienced no issues with pedal-kickback.

Build Kit

Key items like Specialized's Butcher and Purgatory Control tires, Command Post IRcc dropper, and wide Roval Traverse Fattie rims carry through all Stumpjumper models, giving each bike similar ride qualities. The $3,800 Comp Carbon model uses a variety of other high-value components that perform surprisingly well given their low price point.

Cockpit wise you'll find a Specialized branded 750mm (29.5-inch) wide alloy handlebar paired with a 60mm Specialized XC stem. While they'll suit many riders, our taller testers preferred the descent-favored handling provided by a wider setup with a slightly shorter 50mm stem.

With a dropper, two shifters, and two brakes, there's a lot going on cable wise up front. Specialized did do a good job of keeping it as clean as possible with the use of the Shimano’s I-Spec system, which allows the brake and shifter to share the same mounting clamp, and Specialized’s own dropper lever takes the place of the left grip's inner lock-on clamp.

New for 2016, the Command Post IRcc dropper adds several 5mm stop increments in the center portion of its travel, making it easier to find that perfect seat height. It still comes up pretty violently, but reducing the post's air pressure can help in this regard.

While limited on the compression damping front, adding a Bottomless Token to the budget friendly 150mm (5.9-inch) travel RockShox Revelation RC3 will allow you to run the suggested air pressure settings and keep it from blowing through the travel excessively. It offers excellent small bump sensitivity and tracked well in chattery corners. In terms of rigidity, the fork resisted twisting and sending us off in weird directions when things got rough, but we did notice a little fore-aft flex compared to the Pike alternative spec'd on other models. As a result, bigger riders may want to upgrade the front end to something a bit more robust.

While the 2.3-inch Specialized Butcher Control tire up front and rear Purgatory Control offered generous amounts of traction in both cornering and braking situations, we found the casing to be a bit outgunned when it came to the rock infested Arizona trails. We cut the sidewalls of both tires on our first descent, forcing us to patch the tires with tape and run tubes. For those riding loamy trails with minimal rocks it's likely these tires would be adequate, but for anything else we'd recommend upgrading to the burlier Grid casing versions of the same tires.

Wheel performance was good with the Specialized’s own Roval 650b alloy wheelset. Under heavy braking or acceleration we experienced no spoke windup or excessive flexing, and the wheels were snappy and predictable through corners and in the rough. In fact, just pairing the 29mm internal width rims with some meatier tires would go a long way to helping the bike feel more capable when things got steep and nasty.

Coupled with 200/180mm Ice-Tech rotors front and rear, the Shimano Deore brakes offered plenty of controllable power. The large front rotor is pretty rare on trail bike builds and makes decelerating quickly from higher speeds very manageable, even with a budget brake. We never experienced any fade despite dragging our rear brake down some extended descents.

While shifting performance was good with a mix of Shimano XT/SLX and SRAM X7 parts, we had a few issues in this department. Specialized chose to spec the bike with a 2x10 drivetrain, which lead to several dropped chains while descending in the big ring. With the lack of a chain-retention device or running a dedicated 1x11 setup with a narrow/wide chainring, we don't see a good solution for keeping the chain in place. We also managed to fold a few cogs on the SRAM PG-1030 cassette while climbing a steep section of trail, which had to be replaced. It should be noted this failure wasn’t due to poor shifting practices or chain-slipping issues, it simply folder under heavy load. We also noticed a bit of noise from the chain slapping, which could likely be remedied with some mastic tape.

Long Term Durability

The Stumpjumper frame held up great to the abuse we were able to throw at it during this review. We experienced no loose bolts or strange noises from the linkage, and overall everything looked solid by the end of our test. As noted, we found the tires not to be up to the task of rocky trails, but luckily these are a disposable part that is usually the first to wear out on a new bike. We also exploded the rear cassette, which was one of SRAM's least expensive 10-speed cassettes.

Specialized offers a generous lifetime limited frame warranty, and two year limited complete bike warranty, which would likely cover the cassette issue. Suspension equipment coverage is limited to five years.

What's The Bottom Line?

The 2016 Stumpjumper FSR Comp Carbon 650b is a blast to ride, and Specialized has done a great job making a bike that's just as capable going up as it is going down. While it's not a standout performer at either discipline compared to other bikes in the 150mm travel class, it's a great all-around performer and a welcome improvement from the previous 2015 version. The bike showed its limitations when trail conditions got super hairy, but for fast, flowy, and moderately rough trails the bike is very enjoyable. It has a very balanced, controlled feel and the ability to charge head-on into unfamiliar terrain. The SWAT feature is incredibly convenient and will be loved by minimalist riders.

In terms of value, this model was one of the best bikes we tested this year at $3,800, which was substantially less than many other similarly spec’d bikes. With its overall performance and value, we think this Stumpy is a great choice.

Check out www.specialized.com and revisit our First Look slideshow feature for more details.

Vital MTB Rating

  • Climbing: 4 stars - Excellent
  • Descending: 3 stars - Good
  • Fun Factor: 4 stars - Excellent
  • Value: 4.5 stars - Outstanding
  • Overall Impression: 4 stars - Excellent

Bonus Gallery: 26 photos of the Stumpjumper FSR Comp Carbon 650B up close and in action


About The Reviewers

Fred Robinson - Age: 31 // Years Riding MTB: 13 // Height: 6'1" (1.85m) // Weight: 240-pounds (108.9kg)

"Drop my heels and go." Fred has been on two wheels since he was two years old, is deceptively quick for a bigger guy, and likes steep, fast trails where he can hang it off the back of the bike. Several years of shop experience means he's not afraid to tinker. He's very particular when it comes to a bike's suspension performance and stiffness traits.

AJ Barlas - Age: 35 // Years Riding MTB: 15+ // Height: 6'3" (1.91m) // Weight: 156-pounds (70.8kg)

"Smooth and fluid." Hailing from Squamish, BC, AJ's preferred terrain is chunky, twisty trail with natural features. He's picky with equipment and has built a strong understanding of what works well and why by riding a large number of different parts and bikes. Observant, mechanically inclined, and always looking to learn more through new experiences and products.

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

About Test Sessions

Four years ago Vital MTB set out to bring you the most honest, unbiased reviews you'll find anywhere. That tradition continues today as we ride 2016's most exciting trail, all-mountain, and enduro bikes in Phoenix, Arizona. Reviews can be accessed 24/7 in our Product Guide. Test Sessions was made possible with the help of Rage Cycles. Tester gear provided by Troy Lee Designs, Royal Racing, Smith, Fox Racing, Race Face, Easton, and Source.

This product has no reviews yet.

Added a product review for 2016 Transition Smuggler 1 1/22/2016 1:12 PM
C138_2016_transition_smuggler_1

2016 Test Sessions: Transition Smuggler 1

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Reviewed by AJ Barlas and Fred Robinson // Photos by Lear Miller

It’s no surprise the good times that can be had on a short travel 29er, especially when it has capable geometry. The combination of big wheels to plough over stuff, short travel for efficiency and precision, a solid parts kit, and aggressive long/low/slack geometry has the potential to create something awesome. Transition’s Smuggler fits perfectly into this party life 29er club, with 115mm of travel out back and a slightly longer 130mm travel fork. Forget your old impressions of 29ers - this is no XC whippet, and is made for riders looking to maximize fun on the trail, especially when pointed downhill. We threw a leg over the Smuggler for the 2016 Vital MTB Test Sessions in Phoenix, Arizona.

Highlights

  • Aluminum frame
  • 29-inch wheels
  • 115mm (4.5-inches) of rear wheel travel // 130mm (5.1-inches) fork travel
  • GiddyUp Link suspension
  • Collet style main pivot hardware
  • Tapered headtube
  • Internal cable routing with Stealth dropper post routing
  • 160mm post mount rear brake tabs
  • Full size water bottle fits inside front triangle
  • 73mm threaded bottom bracket with ISCG05 mounts
  • 142mm rear spacing with Syntace X12 through axle
  • Measured weight (size Large, no pedals): 28.2-pounds (12.8kg)
  • MSRP $5,999 USD

The Smuggler is the wagon-wheeled soldier the relatively new "GiddyUp" suspended lineup. Using the classic Horst Link pivot design, Transition tuned the ride characteristics to make it suit what the brand is all about - good times. Think about their marketing and amusing slogans: this is the company to a 'T' and their bikes are built to fully harness the fun-loving attitude. The new design has improved anti-squat over their old bikes, significantly less brake squat, and a gently progressive leverage curve on this model. Shock access is quick and convenient should you feel the need to flip any levers. You'll find reasonably large 17mm diameter axles at the main pivot and rocker pivot to help increase rear end stiffness, and a tooled 12x142mm rear axle that's very clean.

The new generation of Transition bikes look great too, but not at the expense of functionality. It’s great to be able to fit a full size water bottle inside the front triangle, something an increasing number of riders are adding as a prerequisite to their next trail bike purchase.

Another thing we’re stoked on is the traditional threaded bottom bracket. Simple operation, easy to maintain, and no issues with creaking.

The Smuggler is 1X drivetrain specific with no front derailleur mount in order to keep the chainstays snug, so if you're looking to run a 2X system you’re going to have to look elsewhere. It's optimized around a 30-tooth chainring, which provides a pretty huge range in combination with the large 10-42-tooth SRAM cassette. That short rear end means mud clearance is also a tad tighter than average with just over 7mm of room for build up at the upper seatstay bridge with the stock 2.3-inch Maxxis tire.

Cable routing is internal with all cables running through the downtube and coming out near the bottom bracket. The internally routed seat post cable does what many are doing now, popping quickly of the downtube then back into the seat tube. This helps make maintenance a little easier should you ever need to pull the post out. The rear derailleur and brake cables each dump out on the underside of the downtube and run along the chainstay to their final destination with no kinks or odd rubbing issues along the way.

Transition offers the Smuggler in four build kits ranging from $2,999 to $5,999 USD. All builds come with a dropper post and quality Maxxis EXO casing tires - two items crucial to a good ride. You can also go custom with a frame/shock combo for $1,799. We tested the high-end Smuggler 1.

Geometry

Transition keeps things simple and solid by doing without any flip-chip style adjustable geometry options. The numbers are highlighted by class-leading standover clearance, very healthy reach measurements, a relatively slack 67.5-degree head angle, snug 436mm (17.2-inch) chainstays, and a super low 333mm (13.1-inch) bottom bracket height. Seat tubes are short enough across the range that there's plenty of room for a 150mm travel dropper post. We found Transition's sizing recommendations to be right on the money.

On The Trail

We initially set the bike to Transition’s suggested 33% sag (17mm), and despite being a pretty large percentage we didn’t feel much of a need to shy too far away from this. The standard size 190x51mm RockShox Monarch RT3 Debonair shock comes stock with two volume reducer bands pre-installed (up from one in 2015 models), improving bottom out support and giving the bike even more pop as you pump along the trail. The shock was well chosen given the bike's very low 2.25:1 average leverage ratio, which requires something that's sensitive off the top and ramps up through the stroke.

We did find one quirk with the shock tune, however. Our “big boy" 240-pound tester wound up maxing the rebound damping adjustment yet still desired a slightly slower setting, especially after it warmed up. A re-tune of the shock may be in order to provide a more usable range for riders over about 190-pounds.

The bike's short 115mm of travel is deceptive, as the capable geometry and 29-inch wheels turn it into far more of a beast than one might think. It practically lets you get away with murder when pointed downhill. The slightly progressive leverage curve and a boost from the air shock results in a ride that is not only capable of smashing through rocky terrain at high speeds, but one that's also quite responsive on mellower trails. Lilly-padding through rocky sections on flatter, high-speed trails is really enjoyable, and the bike reacted quickly to rider input. We did find that with the shock in the firmer compression mode these flatter grade trails were even more enjoyable, while the bike was still able to hold traction well.

With the shock wide open, bombing down very rocky runs like Geronimo on Phoenix’s South Mountain was a blast. We were able to easily lift the bike and place it where we needed it to be, and the larger diameter wheels took away a large degree of the harshness from the boulders strewn across the trail. It was as if we were riding a 140-150mm travel 650b wheeled sled, and the comfortable geometry kept us at ease when poor line choice would otherwise get us into trouble. The bike's ability to get our testers out of these moments unscathed was inspiring. Sitting a little deeper into the shock than normal gives the bike plenty of control and small to medium bump compliance, and only through the rowdiest chunk, big hucks, and large compressions are you really reminded that you're on a "little" bike. We'd rate the big-hit-ability of the Smuggler squarely in between Banshee's Phantom (a little less forgiving) and Evil's The Following (do whatever you want).

Thanks to the Horst Link design, braking is well done with minimal squat, and pedal kickback never felt like an issue.

GiddyUp! Here's the Smuggler's suspension in action.

Even with relatively slack geometry and large diameter wheels, we had little issue in the tighter, awkwardly stepped corners of lower Geronimo Trail - a testament to the Smuggler's short chainstays and playful attitude. The bike takes full advantages of the upsides of the big wheel, yet somehow minimizes undesirable traits typical of 29-inch designs from just a few years ago.

The Smuggler’s climbing abilities are average. Put the power down and it picks up speed relatively well, but it's no jackrabbit like the Pivot Mach 429 Trail or Trek Fuel EX 29. The suspension is a great balance of supple traction and support that remains relatively quiet when climbing, and it monster trucks over smaller obstacles without a hiccup. The steep 74.5-degree effective seat tube angle does a great job of putting the rider up over the front of the bike. This angle is a little steeper on the smaller sized bikes which improves things even further.

We found the bike a little more difficult to get up climbs consisting of repetitive steps or ledges requiring a lot of body english. Flipping the rear shock to the middle compression setting helped, though we would prefer not to have to do so when climbing this type of terrain. We don't think it's a major concern given the bike's party attitude. It climbs well enough to get to the top with relative ease, but it's unlikely to win XC races if that’s your thing.

Additionally, we had issues with pedal strikes at inopportune times during climbs on rough terrain. Initially we thought that perhaps a set of 170mm cranks would help alleviate the problem, only to discover that we were already riding a set - something Transition updated for 2016. Turns out they raised the bottom bracket height by 5mm over the original design as well, though the deeper sag point still leaves you pretty low to the ground so time those pedal strokes well.

The Smuggler is deceptively light, coming it at 28.2-pounds for a size Large, but we didn’t feel that it rode especially light through the rough. Instead it feels very planted thanks to the suspension, low bottom bracket height, and component choices. If you're looking for it to ride a bit more sporty on climbs and flatter grade descents, it would no doubt be helpful to swap for a set of lighter weight tires. Then again, tires play a crucial role in handling on a bike like this, so we'd opt to leave things as they are.

Finally, we have to bicker about the internal cable routing, which is something you'll want to address before heading out on your first ride. Without a few custom tweaks the cables rattle incessantly inside the frame. We recommend adding some mastic tape under the cables at the entrance/exit ports to give them some grip when you cinch them down with a zip-tie. Some tape around the cables themselves can help keep them taught inside the frame, too. For a stock bike that is otherwise pretty dialed from the showroom floor, noisy internal cables are unfortunate and can detract from the ride if left unchecked. While you're at it, adding a little bit of protection to the inside of the seatstay can quiet things further.

Build Kit

The Smuggler 1 build was one of the highest end specs at this year’s Test Sessions, but does come in a range of flavors for considerably less if this it out of your budget. Adorned with a drivetrain consisting of a SRAM XX1 / X01 blend plus a set of Race Face Carbon Next SL Cinch cranks, there is no shortage of top shelf components taking care of man-power duties. Add on a carbon Race Face Next 35 handlebar, a 150mm travel KS Lev Integra dropper, and a set of SRAM’s top-tier Guide Ultimate brakes with dual 180mm rotors and the main controls scream serious business and weight savings.

We found the combination of Easton’s new tubeless ready ARC rim with 27mm of internal width and Maxxis Minion DHF/DHR II EXO 3C tires to be fantastic. While they did slow down response time a little, this pairing provides excellent control, gives the bike a little extra leeway to let it fly, and boosts its inspiring stability in rough terrain. Following several rides on trails normally reserved for long travel bikes the wheels showed few signs of abuse and needed just a minor truing. The rims are mated with DT Swiss 350 Classic IS hubs which we've found to be very reliable and easily upgradable should you wish for faster engagement.

The RockShox Monarch RT3 Debonair shock seemed a little stressed after our first ride, with a unsettling pool of oil resting in the lower shock mount after the bike had sat for a few hours. Thinking it was blown we ran a number of tests, but everything seemed to be good, leading us to believe it was simply an excessive amount of assembly fluid. There were no issues during subsequent rides.

Up front we found the new 130mm travel FOX Factory 34 Float FIT4 fork worked flawlessly, utilizing its travel well at all times, offering great support when really pushing and braking hard, and keeping the front wheel glued to the ground. At the suggested 26mm of sag we found it firm enough not to require much low-speed compression damping, though increasing the sag slightly, increasing compression, and adding a volume spacer may be preferred for some riders for a more supple off the top feel.

All in all the Smuggler 1 is a dialed build as should be expected at this price point. The only changes we'd make are to swap the stock 760mm wide bars for something a bit wider and to add a top chain guide if you're planning to ride a lot of really rough terrain. Those looking for comparable performance at a lower cost should check out the Smuggler 2, which drops $1,200 off the tab.

Long Term Durability

We had no real issues with during our time on South Mountain’s rugged trails, and the same is true for a Smuggler that's been in Vital's personal collection for several months. The spec’d components are all good quality and we've seen them stand the test of time well before. The use of things like a threaded bottom bracket should see the frame remain creak free as well. Torque specs and an exploded pivot assembly diagram can be found here. Transition backs the frame with a two year warranty and a lifetime crash replacement program.

What's The Bottom Line?

Transition’s Smuggler is a super fun and versatile ride that capitalizes on the advantages of a big wheel thanks to new school geometry and well chosen components. Compared to the recent crop of similar short travel, slacked-out 29ers, the Smuggler lands at the more capable end of the spectrum thanks to its suspension design. While it won’t blow your socks off on the climb up, point it downhill and the stable feel will leave you thinking you’re aboard something with far more travel, yet you'll still be able to throw it around with ease. Sending it off anything large with a flat landing will remind riders that it's still a short travel whip, but it loves to party and takes these moments in stride.

Visit www.transitionbikes.com for more details.

Vital MTB Rating

  • Climbing: 3 stars - Good
  • Descending: 4 stars - Excellent
  • Fun Factor: 4 stars - Excellent
  • Value: 3.5 stars - Very Good
  • Overall Impression: 4 stars - Excellent

Bonus Gallery: 19 photos of the 2016 Transition Smuggler 1 up close and in action


About The Reviewers

Fred Robinson - Age: 31 // Years Riding MTB: 13 // Height: 6'1" (1.85m) // Weight: 240-pounds (108.9kg)

"Drop my heels and go." Fred has been on two wheels since he was two years old, is deceptively quick for a bigger guy, and likes steep, fast trails where he can hang it off the back of the bike. Several years of shop experience means he's not afraid to tinker. He's very particular when it comes to a bike's suspension performance and stiffness traits.

AJ Barlas - Age: 35 // Years Riding MTB: 15+ // Height: 6'3" (1.91m) // Weight: 156-pounds (70.8kg)

"Smooth and fluid." Hailing from Squamish, BC, AJ's preferred terrain is chunky, twisty trail with natural features. He's picky with equipment and has built a strong understanding of what works well and why by riding a large number of different parts and bikes. AJ is observant, mechanically inclined, and always looking to learn more through new experiences and products.

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

About Test Sessions

Four years ago Vital MTB set out to bring you the most honest, unbiased reviews you'll find anywhere. That tradition continues today as we ride 2016's most exciting trail, all-mountain, and enduro bikes in Phoenix, Arizona. Reviews can be accessed 24/7 in our Product Guide. Test Sessions was made possible with the help of Rage Cycles. Tester gear provided by Troy Lee Designs, Royal Racing, Smith, Fox Racing, Race Face, Easton, and Source.

This product has no reviews yet.

Added a product review for 2015 YT TUES CF Pro 1/13/2016 6:00 PM
C138_2015_yt_tues_cf_pro_blue

Tested: 2015 YT TUES CF Pro

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Reviewed by Brandon Turman // Action photos by Courtney Steen

Just a few years ago Young Talent Industries was a relatively unknown German brand, and today they are setting up to rival some of the industry's greats. How can that be? Where did the fire come from? Excellent reviews of their Capra enduro bike certainly helped, as did their consumer direct sales model and aggressive pricing. There's also the athlete factor, and with names like Cam Zink, Andreu Lacondeguy, and Kelly McGarry truly pushing the limits year after year, it was only a matter of time before bikes started flying out the door. This past summer we took to the chairlifts to see if their TUES CF downhill bike was capable of living up to the hype as well.

Highlights

  • Carbon frame with aluminum chainstays and suspension linkage
  • 27.5 (650b) wheels
  • 208mm (8.2-inches) of front and rear wheel travel
  • Virtual 4-Link rear suspension system
  • External brake routing
  • Replaceable derailleur hanger
  • 83mm PF30 bottom bracket with removable ISCG 05 mounts
  • 12x150mm rear through axle
  • 35.5-pounds (16.1kg, measured, size Medium, no pedals, with tubes)
  • MSRP $5,195 USD

The TUES relies on YT's take on the traditional Horst-Link suspension design to deliver 208mm of bump gobbling goodness. Labeled as Virtual 4-Link (V4L) suspension, it incorporates a pivot located just in front of and below the rear axle (the Horst-Link), a pivot just above and behind the bottom bracket, and one at the top of the seat stay connected to a linkage that controls the leverage rate.

On the CF Pro model, you'll find a highly tunable BOS Void DH air shock in a large 267 x 89mm (10.5 x 3.5-inch) size. The use of a longer stroke shock results in a low overall leverage ratio, which contributes to consistent damping performance over long runs. The shock's high-speed compression, low-speed compression, and rebound adjustments are easily accessible, and removal is simple should you need to service or swap the shock. Sealed bearings at every pivot point result in a rear end that cycles very smoothly through the entire stroke. To combat lower frame stiffness levels inherent in many Horst-Link designs, YT incorporates massive bearings and a 20mm axle at the downtube pivot, a 17mm main pivot axle, and one-piece carbon seatstays.

The TUES began its life as an aluminum frame long ago, and was refined over time before YT introduced the super sleek carbon version in early 2015 following two years of development and testing. The carbon frame brings weight savings close to 1kg (2.2-pounds) and longer front ends across the three available sizes.

Looking the frame over, it's hard not to get lost in the details and just how dialed everything is. Take the frame protection, for example, which is the best we've laid eyes on and will help ensure the bike looks good for a long time. There are perfectly molded, oversized rubber guards to protect the chain and seatstay, a large plastic guard on the downtube, and thick clear adhesive stickers everywhere a cable might rub, mud might scrape, or rocks might fly.

Things continue to impress as you geek out over the replaceable inserts on the post mount brake tabs, a low-profile 12x150mm rear axle for added clearance in tight spots, removable ISCG 05 tabs that cleanly clamp around the bottom bracket, and enough mud clearance to keep that wheel turning in even the worst conditions. There's even some extra machining at the front of the chainstays that not only reduces weight, but also to lets mud get pushed through faster.

Cable routing is as simple and clean as can be, and - save a small portion of the rear derailleur that goes through the seatstay - it's entirely external for quick maintenance. We dig the internal seatstay routing as it ensures the cable will last longer, the chain will be quieter, and it's harder to snag unexpectedly.

YT operates on a direct sales model in order to keep the end cost to the consumer low. This means the only way to procure a new one of these bad boys is to order it through their website. We found the site to be a step above most as it provides almost every detail the discerning rider might be curious about, especially when it comes to bike specs. There are even some awesome insights about how each of their Pro riders set up their bike, including sag percentages and damping preferences.

The 2015 TUES CF was available in the $5,195 Pro model (tested) and $4,595 Comp model. 2016 sees some component changes which brings prices to $6,299 for the Pro CF, $4,499 for the Comp CF, and $2,899 for the aluminum version.

Geometry

The bike is highlighted by a 63.5-degree head tube angle, 435mm (17.1-inch) chainstays, and reasonably lengthy reach measurements. We measured the bottom bracket height at close to 349mm (13.7-inches).

Size wise, a consistent seat tube length means you're able to choose the bike length that suits your style best. Our 1.78m (5'10") tall tester settled on the size Medium frame, which aligns with YT's suggestions.

Setup

Unlike most rides, you're not going to roll this one off the showroom floor. YT ships directly to you, and you have the option to build it yourself or take it to a shop. Our test bike arrived in a giant, reusable cardboard box. Everything was well packed with the important bits protected by cardboard spacers. The build process is made incredibly easy as the bike is partially assembled, leaving only stem, bar, wheel, derailleur (partial), and pedal installation to you. Everything else comes pre-adjusted and pretty much ready to roll. Bikes are accompanied by one of the most thorough and visual assembly manuals we've ever seen. They even include a makeshift cardboard bike stand, and it's things like this that make the process less daunting for the average home mechanic.

The only vague step is suspension setup, which is one area they could improve upon with more helpful guides and recommended settings. Then again, we're looking at a Pro build here, so there's an assumption that you know what you're up to when turning knobs and setting pressures, plus there's always room for interpretation depending on your riding style and terrain. The Comp CF model simplifies things with fewer clickers to think about.

Per suggestions from BOS, our 79.4kg (175-pound) test rider began with the following settings on the Void DH air shock and Idylle RaRe FCV37 fork:

Shock

  • Low-speed: 12 clicks from fully tightened/closed
  • High-speed compression: 17 clicks from fully tightened/closed
  • Rebound: 24 clicks from fully tightened/closed
  • Sag: 33% while standing (149psi)

Fork

  • Low-speed: 15 clicks from fully tightened/closed
  • High-speed compression: 18 clicks from fully tightened/closed
  • Rebound: 24 clicks from fully tightened/closed
  • Sag: 22% while standing (180psi)

All that was left to do was air up the tires (28psi front, 31psi rear) and we were off to the bike park for some hot laps. The entire build and setup process took less than an hour. Not bad!

On The Trail

The majority of our time was spent riding in Colorado, where we were treated to early season rains followed closely by hero dirt, then late summer dust and sand. Trestle Bike Park served as a great place to get our jump on, while Granby Ranch (Sol Vista) allowed us to turn up the speed on trails once used for some of the best downhill races in the United States. Searching for some chunkier terrain, we also escaped to Santa Barbara, California to test it out in some truly menacing rocks. Sprinkle in some very steep shuttle days and the TUES faced some variation of just about every type of trail feature imaginable.

From the onset it was clear the bike would be an absolute blast to ride. Much like the newest Specialized Demo, the TUES has a very calm and quiet sense to it. Aided by remarkably well-balanced suspension and centered geometry, it tames trail chatter incredibly well which allows you to ride more assuredly, look further ahead, and try new things knowing that it's not going to spit you out sideways.

Its particularly playful demeanor is apparent the first time you preload for a jump, rip around a turn, pump a roller, or pull back into a manual. The front end comes up quite easily thanks to the snug chainstays, and once at the balance point it's pretty easy to manual for a while across rocks/roots/whoops/whatever might be in front of you. This is a nice testament to the capabilities of the rear suspension, as the rear end rarely gets hung up throwing the front end back down. The relatively low bottom bracket height helps snap it around corners a bit better, and provides that coveted "in the bike" sensation without going overboard.

Here it is in action at Granby Ranch and Trestle Bike Park. 'Good Times' indeed!


One of its best ride qualities is how well it jumps, with an always smooth, consistent feel that'll have you sending doubles larger than you've ever hit before. The low 35.5-pound weight aids in this regard, making it easy to throw around as you wish. It never feels too light, however, maintaining that awesome sense of stability.

Entering steep sections, the slack 63.5-degree angle allows the TUES to tackle near vertical terrain without a hiccup. You do end up pushing a bit in flatter tight turns, and in deep g-outs the front end can sometimes feel as though it's pointing back towards you which can be a minor speed suck. It's all a matter of compromise, however, and if the bike were meant to be cruised around on mellow trails it'd likely be less aggressive.

The suspension strikes a nice balance between playful and stable, supportive and plush. Pushing into the bike it responds quickly and is easy to pick up and move to a new line at a moment's notice. You get the sense that you're able to place the wheels where you'd like, and while there is a bit of vagueness (which may come down to how you have it tuned), it's all good - you've got several inches of travel under you for ploughing through the chunder. When you're not jumping over the rough stuff, it still holds speed quite well. Frame stiffness is pretty dang good, though not remarkable in an overly positive or negative way.

At our initial settings, we found fast square-edge bump compliance over rocks and roots a tad harsh. This lead us to reduce high-speed compression damping. We also increased air pressure front and rear as familiarity and speeds increased, ultimately ending at these settings:

Shock

  • Increased pressure to 30% sag (156psi)
  • Decreased rebound to 26 clicks from fully tightened/closed
  • Decreased high-speed compression to 20 clicks from fully tightened/closed

Fork

  • Increased pressure to 20% sag (185psi)
  • Decreased high-speed compression to 20 clicks from fully tightened/closed

Adjustments to the suspension are definitely noticed, making it a little easier to find your personal sweet spot. With only minor changes we were able to tune out most of the harsher square-edge feedback, though hard repetitive hits are the biggest area where it could improve. That said, it's predictable enough to not be a bother, and doesn't seem to adversely impact handling or speed. Even when hitting a bumpy lip you can just blip right over it.

While most downhill bikes are progressive, the TUES is very progressive, much like the Capra enduro bike. This makes small bump sensitivity quite impressive, and gives you plenty of bottom out support without fear of blowing through the travel too quickly. At our final settings the bike did very well over chatter, and even in bumpy corners we were rarely searching for traction as it's there in bounds.

Two additional factors that contribute to that calm and quiet overall feel are very low pedal kickback and brake squat. This makes it a joy to ride with flat pedals, and there's no noticeable stiffening or loss of traction under hard braking.

The only semi-sketchy times are when you're coming into something hotter than normal, which honestly comes down to the brakes. We wish it were spec'd with proper DH brakes to allow you to go that much faster. Combined with good tires and the balanced suspension feel, before you know it you're coming in super hot, which can sometimes be a challenge when attempting to slow down immediately.

Sprinting toward a lip or out of the start gate, the bike can feel a tad sluggish and bobby, which may have some riders cranking up the low-speed compression damping to improve pedaling performance depending on their trails or riding style. This is improved over previous TUES generations, however, thanks to better antisquat numbers due to a more compact drivetrain and slightly tweaked main pivot position. It is a downhill bike, after all, so don't expect the same snappy response as your trail rig.

Build Kit

The spec list on YT's TUES CF Pro build reads like a list of all the parts you've only dreamt about affording to put on your downhill bike, yet here they all are at a modest $5,195 USD. Oh, and you get a carbon frame too! It's very rare that we'll have little feedback in the way of components to improve or swap out, but this is one of those times.

Cockpit feel is spot on thanks to a 780mm (30.7-inch) wide aluminum Renthal Fatbar with 30mm of rise, which is excellent for steeper terrain. That's paired with a 45mm Renthal Integra II direct mount stem for a very stiff and sought after combination. Top things off with the pillowy Sensus Disisdaboss grips and your hands are in for a treat. Further back, the custom SDG I-Fly saddle and I-Beam post allow you to really dial in the preferred angle so you can move around the bike with ease.

BOS's Idylle RaRe FCV37 fork provides loads of adjustment range. Some riders note that it feels a bit overdamped - not in the sense that it hurts or hits you, but you get more terrain feedback than normal - though it's smooth and controlled. Most will grow to love the feel over time as you learn to appreciate knowing exactly what your front wheel is up to. The fork and shock tend to be a bit loud until they warm up.

YT smartly specs two different compounds of the same tire front and rear. Up front you've got a grippy 2.4-inch SuperTacky Maxxis High Roller II, and out back you've got the more durable and faster rolling 60a MaxxPro rubber, both in a DH casing. This setup provides great flat protection (we only had one), and excellent all-around traction. They wear well, too.

The wheels are one area that could use some improvement, though this depends on how you want to use the bike. If you're a very smooth rider or are looking to race, the light weight of e*thirteen's LG1r wheels will be tough to beat. If you're a rougher rider or often find yourself in rocky terrain, you might consider a burlier rear rim for everyday use. We did a surprising amount of damage to the rear rim early on, noting several dents and loose spokes after a handful of days. A few months in and it's what we'd call "true enough for a downhill bike," but it stiffens back up well when it's time to snug up the spokes some more. Setting the wheels up tubed or tubeless is easy to do thanks to preinstalled rim strips. We rocked tubes for this test. The sound of the hub is incredible, and good bearings contribute to the bike's quick rolling speed.

SRAM's X0 DH drivetrain is excellent, providing a simple, clean, and quiet solution with great shifting and no skips whatsoever which just adds to the whole package. The 10-24 tooth 7-speed cassette makes finding the right gear a breeze. Just be sure to add some Loctite to the derailleur bolt early on as it has a tendency to loosen.

We appreciated the extra ground clearance provided by the 165mm e*thirteen LG1r crankset. These are paired with a 36-tooth ring with the added security of a narrow wide profile, plus the quiet yet sturdy e*thirteen LG1+ chainguide. If you're going to go press fit with a bottom bracket, e*thirteen is the way to do it and we experienced no creaking over the course of our test.

As we mentioned previously, the brakes are another item we'd consider swapping out, though there isn't a pressing need. SRAM's Guide RSC brakes do a fine job of keeping things in check when paired with 200mm rotors, but we just wanted a little bit more at times. They were consistent, had good modulation, and never faded, so it's hard to complain.

Looking forward to the latest TUES CF Pro build for 2016, YT has switched to FOX suspension, carbon Renthal bars, carbon e*thirteen wheels with wider hub flange spacing, e*thirteen's new DH cassette, carbon cranks, and a more compact chainguide. Though it's $1,100 USD more, we support all of the changes in the name of better reliability and service. Each of these is an upgrade and only furthers the capability and durability of the Pro model.

Long Term Durability

One of the biggest concerns with most carbon frames is impact resistance, and we're pleased to report that the TUES did a remarkable job of withstanding a huge rock to the downtube at speed. It was the type of impact that would make many owners cry for their baby, but left nothing but a small scratch.

We're also encouraged by the use of ISCG tabs that clamp around the bottom bracket. If you really smashed the chainguide hard, the clamp would likely just rotate without damage to frame.

Areas to improve include some minor paint chipping on the chainstay, a slow air leak on the BOS Void DH shock, and a rather flimsy 5mm aluminum safety bolt on the rear axle that snapped while reinstalling a wheel early in our test.

Pivot maintenance is straightforward thanks to easy access, printed torque specs on each bolt/nut, and this handy exploded diagram to show how it all goes together.

YT backs their carbon frames with a five year warranty, though there is a two year limit on some parts. There's also a crash replacement program should you really goof up.

What's The Bottom Line?

If a friend were to ask us how the TUES CF Pro handles (insert pretty much any scenario here), we'd almost always respond "really well" before diving in deeper. This is one of those rare all-around downhill bikes that strikes an excellent balance across all types of terrain, and the invincible feeling it provides the rider is truly inspiring. The bottom line is that this is a great bike with an excellent build at an incredible price. Toss in superb attention to the little details and you've got a 5-star ride.

When we finish a test we often ask ourselves if we'd buy one with our own hard earned dollars. The answer? Hell yes. If you're considering it, we suggest getting on that waitlist now.

Cruise over to www.yt-industries.com for more details.

Bonus Gallery: 41 photos of the 2015 YT TUES CF Pro up close and in action


About The Reviewer

Brandon Turman likes to pop off the 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 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 15 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 no reviews yet.

Added a product review for 2015 Devinci Spartan Carbon SX 1/9/2016 12:55 PM
C138_devinci_spartan_carbon_sx_bike

Tested: 2015 Devinci Spartan Carbon SX

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Reviewed by Brandon Turman // Action photos by Courtney Steen

Every year at the UCI Downhill World Championships, the Pros are treated to one-off bikes, custom colors, special tunes, and the best of the best in an effort to propel them to the top of the box and the top of the world. Back in 2013, Devinci's Stevie Smith rolled out of the pits on a prototype 165mm travel rig paired with a unique 175mm travel RockShox BoXXer. The purpose built Pietermaritzburg killer was designed to excel on the course's blend of a steep and hairy upper section, big blasty jumps, and a good deal of mashing on the pedals on the way to the finish line. At the time the bike's 650b wheels were a novelty, and combined with the longer travel and lower, slacker geometry, suspension designer Dave Weagle was forced to put the shock in a different place than previous Devinci bikes.

Back at the office plans were already underway for the all-new Spartan, a bike brought together side-by-side with Stevie's ride, but tweaked to suit the needs of an enduro racer a bit better. Shortly after its introduction Damien Oton locked in his first Enduro World Series race win. So the proof is there - this bike is capable of hauling ass under some of the best riders in the world, taming some daunting terrain along the way. But how does it stack up against the competition? After three months of good times it's time to fill you in on the details.

Highlights

  • Monocoque carbon frame with aluminum chainstay
  • 27.5-inch wheels
  • 165mm (6.5-inches) of rear wheel travel // 160mm (6.3-inches) fork travel
  • Split Pivot suspension
  • Tapered headtube
  • Adjustable hi/lo geometry via rear shock mount
  • Internal cable routing
  • Aluminum skid plate
  • Enduro bearings with double-lip seals
  • BB92 press fit bottom bracket shell with ISCG 05 mounts
  • 142mm rear spacing with 12mm through axle
  • Frame weight (claimed, size Medium with shock and hardware): 7.1-pounds (3.2kg)
  • $5,899 MSRP complete

At the heart of the Spartan is Weagle's Split Pivot suspension design, highlighted by the easily recognized concentric dropout pivot. The shock is actuated by the seat stays, and the compact 3D-forged Axis Link pivots at the seat tube to control the leverage ratio and the way the bike reacts to braking. Devinci describes the complete system as being able to "separate acceleration forces from braking forces for synchronized feel." All pivot points use Enduro double-lip sealed bearings and it cycles as smooth as can be with the shock removed.

Another standout feature is the bike's rather robust appearance. There's a very large, boxy bottom bracket area mated to a massive downtube. Somehow they've managed to maintain smooth lines though, and despite the initial beefcake appearance it's actually quite smooth looking.

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 EPS molded for high compaction and a smooth surface inside and out, which is key to the strength of carbon and keeping weight low. All said and done the carbon version drops 1.5-pounds off the weight of the aluminum frame.

More features include adjustable hi/lo geometry, a post mount rear brake, BB92 press fit bottom bracket, ISCG 05 mounts, direct front derailleur mount, sufficient mud clearance for up to a 2.5-inch tire, and rubberized chainstay protection on both sides of the bike. There's also an aluminum skid plate at the base of the downtube that could probably withstand a solid 50/50 case on a log without issue (sorry, we didn't try).

Cable routing is mostly internal, save some external bits along the stays. Devinci's system does a great job of sealing the frame from the elements and while washing the bike. There are no internal guides and the entrance ports don't retain much tension, so cable rattle is an issue and may require you to get a little crafty. Our solution involved wrapping the housing with electrical tape while pulling them tight from both ends. Aside from that, there was no rubbing, kinking, or odd wear to report.

Though we never would have admitted it several years ago, we've become increasingly fond of water bottle mounts on trail and enduro bikes. Sadly the Spartan comes up short on this detail.

The 2015 Spartan Carbon is available in four complete builds ranging from the affordable $3,899 XP model to the decked out $6,599 RR version. Our SX test bike slots in at $5,899. If you prefer a custom build, you can pick up a carbon frame and shock for $2,499. It also comes in aluminum models.

Geometry

Note: The first top tube (TT1) measurement is based on a seatpost with a 25mm (1-inch) setback. TT2 is the traditional effective top tube measurement to the center of the seat tube.

On The Trail

We were able to ride the Spartan in several locations, including the rocky trails in Flagstaff, smooth and fast runs in Steamboat Springs and Winter Park, east coast gnar at Mountain Creek, near vertical pitches in Squamish, and everything under the sun at Whistler. From the biggest jumps and steepest steeps to rocky sections out to eat your lunch, the bike saw it all.

When choosing what size of Spartan to ride it's important to consider the reach measurement, which is critical to finding the most balanced option for descents. Compared to many others in its class the bike has a relatively short front end, which is incentive to size up provided you have enough seat post clearance. At 178cm (5'10") tall, we opted for the size Large with a 432mm (17-inch) reach. The bike comes in four sizes, and should be suitable for riders up to about 191cm (6'3") tall. Paired with the stock 50mm stem and 780mm wide bars, it's a simple matter of airing up the tires and suspension before most riders will be ready to roll.

We began our test in the "hi" geometry setting, and while this proved to be plenty usable with no quirks that adversely impacted the ride, the temptation to drop it down to "lo" was too much to resist. Can you blame us? Making the switch is very easy to do and has no impact on the suspension - just remove the rear shock bolt, pop out the flip chips, flip them over and reinstall. This drops 7mm in bottom bracket height to a very reasonable 337mm (13.27-inches), and slackens the head angle and seat angle by 0.6-degrees, ending up at 65.8 and 72.4-degrees, respectively. Making the switch amplifies what the Spartan is best at, and in the lower position we really began to appreciate what it brought to the table.

One of the first things you'll notice is how precise the bike feels. This thing is stiff! That big downtube, large pivots, oversized bearings, seat stay bridge, and compact 3D-forged link all combine to create a ride that's ultra precise and quick to translate strong pumping motions and proper cornering technique into speed. After pushing through with your legs, you can't help but giggle when popping out of turns with the invisible boost button pressed. Add in a front end that's surprisingly easy to pull up into a manual thanks to 432mm (17-inch) chainstays, and you've got a bike with a playful attitude that's built to take some abuse. Here it is in action on some of Whistler's funnest jump trails:

The speedy sensation when pumping is aided hugely by a very progressive leverage curve, especially when combined with the RockShox Monarch Plus RC3 Debonair shock. Our first handful of rides were spent at a generous 32-33% sag setting, during which it quickly became clear that the bike excelled at the flow/jump/pump/big landing type of stuff. After passing the very sensitive initial portion of the travel, which aids greatly with traction needs, the suspension gradually but quickly ramps up. This adds a ton of mid-stroke support, but can make it difficult to consistently use that last inch or so of travel, even over some very sizable hits. As claimed, heavy braking seems to have minimal impact on the suspension action.

It's rare that the bike feels as though it's out of its comfort zone, though it can occur on the roughest bits of trail at speed, especially when they are steep. The Spartan simply lacks the supremely calm and quiet sensation over repeat hard hits that some other class-leading enduro bikes possess, which can throw off your focus a bit, make you work harder through the chunk, and rob a bit of speed. Then again, those other bikes don't tend to pump and jump as well as the Spartan, so there's a tradeoff here.

Searching for a solution in the rough stuff, we first experimented with a few different rebound settings to no avail. Next we cracked the shock open to find that there are no volume spacers installed in the shock from the factory, leaving you one option if you'd like to let things work a bit more freely without opting for a different shock tune - increase the sag. Bumping up to 35% we began to feel an improvement, and pushing the envelope all the way to 38-39% sag yielded the best result on rough trails. "That's crazy talk" you must be thinking, and admittedly it does sound odd, but Devinci's own Damien Oton has been known to run a whopping 40% sag at some Enduro World Series stops.

Heading back to smoother trails at the new sag point, we found it lost a bit of that awesomely responsive feel and pushed through a bit quickly on jump faces and fast berms, so it's best to consider the trails you're riding and adjust accordingly. Leaning back into a manual over semi-rough terrain is an absolute joy at the greater sag percentage, so choose the ride feel/sag that's best for your style.

When discussing our findings with Luc Albert, another experienced Spartan owner, he mentioned trying a lighter compression tune: "At first I thought the stock MM shock tune was a bit aggressive for me, so I went ahead an bought a ML Monarch Plus to try. It made the bike a bit more compliant in the rough, but it didn't have the same mid-stroke support as it had with the MM (eg on fast berms and g-outs). Adding volume spacers just made it ramp even harder, which I didn't like."

Our experience with the Spartan suggests that it's a prime candidate for a coil or high volume air shock, which wouldn't ramp up as much, would allow you to run a little less sag to keep a more reasonable bottom bracket height, and still be very sensitive off the top due to the high initial leverage rate. Luckily the bike uses a standard size rear shock and has plenty of space to accommodate the change. If it already feels like a mini downhill bike, why not go all the way?

Our SX test build tipped the scales at close to 32-pounds, which is pretty dang portly these days. While the frame is a tad on the chunky side, much of the weight came down to rather heavy wheels and tires, which robbed it of some spunk when laying on the gas and pedaling hard. The suspension feel keeps things spritely when you're already up to speed, though that extra rotating weight and supple suspension feel hampers acceleration. There's no avoiding the fact that it's a big bike meant for smashing, not sprinting.

Pointed uphill on singletrack the Spartan SX has a decent pedal response with no drastic need for a platform, but is again dragged down by slow rolling tires which can be taxing to the legs on long days. Fireroad climbs are best tackled in one of the Monarch's pedal settings. While this bike admittedly saw fewer big uphill grunts than most of our test bikes due to its heft, it could easily be transformed into a more pedal-friendly, do-it-all beast. Rear wheel traction is excellent over technical, loose climbs, and the ~73-degree seat angle puts you in a good seated pedaling position when the seat is slid slightly forward. Spin to win on this rig.

Build Kit

The Spartan Carbon SX comes ready to rally the descents, sporting key items like a 780mm wide handlebar with a good rise, short 50mm stem, 1x11 drivetrain, dropper post, and tires made to withstand some serious abuse. Though there is some room for improvement at the same price point, the chosen components align well with the bike's capabilities and we didn't break anything during our test.

Up front the bike comes stock with a 160mm travel RockShox Dual Position Air Pike RC, which can be lowered in travel with the flip of a switch. Convenient? Yes. Necessary? Hardly. Even on steep climbs we had no issues with the front end pushing in uphill turns, and the already low bottom bracket height didn't offer much in the way of forgiveness when it comes to crank clearance. Given the choice, we'd prefer to swap the almost never used travel adjust feature for the more easily tunable and slightly smoother Solo Air version. Otherwise it's the standard Pike affair, with good initial sensitivity and a buttery smooth stroke that reset the standard not long ago. We recommend adding a Bottomless Token or two to the fork to help mimic the progressive nature of the rear end.

RockShox's 125mm travel Reverb Stealth dropper post was reliable, though mounting the remote under (instead of over) the left brake lever would make it easier to reach.

Schwalbe steps up to bat in the traction department with their Hans Dampf in a hardy Super Gravity casing and TrailStar rubber compound. Props to Devinci for going so aggressive here - there are far too many very capable bikes with paper thin tires out there. When new these tires have good all around performance, great sidewall support, and really excel in looser dirt. Just a dozen or so rides in and they begin to lose their cornering bite, however, as side knobs begin to break free which can create a rather squirmy cornering sensation. At 1,065 grams per tire and a pricey replacement cost of $96 USD, there are better tires to be had with equivalent flat protection, less rolling resistance, less weight, and less damage to your wallet.

The decision to use Jalco's DD28 rims was questionable, though they withstood some serious beatings without much fuss. The 22mm internal width rims are quite heavy, and due to the pinned joint they're technically not tubeless ready. Given enough time and patience a basic Gorilla Tape conversion worked. Once dented enough the rear rim's seal at the joint broke free, however, forcing us to go back to tubes. We appreciated having large brass nipples for truing the wheels, and straight gauge 14g spokes aided with durability and stiffness.

SRAM's Guide R brakes came paired with dual 180mm rotors, which gave the bike plenty of stopping power. Though this model lacks the Contact Point adjustment found on SRAM's more expensive models, they worked well enough and felt consistent with a good bleed. While descending some of the steepest, most unrelenting terrain we've ever ridden the brakes pumped up slightly, but not to the point that it was an issue.

The 1x11 SRAM X1 drivetrain performed quite well initially with crisp shifts, no skips, and a simple, clean layout. Applying a few drops of Loctite to the derailleur threads early on goes a long way to ensuring consistent performance out of SRAM's derailleurs. Devinci spec'd a 32-tooth chainring which helps make the climbs less of a chore, but at times we found ourselves wanting something a tad bigger for more low-end range. Increasing the ring's size will slightly reduce flat out pedaling performance slightly as the anti-squat numbers drop, however. As time went on the bike became noisy due to chain slap which we attributed to a blown Type II clutch that was seized and couldn't be tightened. This lead to a few dropped chains as the chainring also wore, though the X-Sync ring did an admirable job of keeping things in check most of the time.

With the 2016 models already listed on Devinci's website, we're pleased to see some great updates to the SX build thanks to better wheels, better tires, and a Solo Air Pike RC fork at $500 less than the version we tested. We also really like the looks of the new $3,999 Spartan Carbon RS with the same updates and a comparable but more affordable SRAM GX drivetrain.

Long Term Durability

Following three months of use in a variety of weather conditions and likely a hundred or so park laps, we're pleased to report no major issues. We experienced no creaking from the press fit bottom bracket, and Devinci provides a handy dandy guide to keeping your bike creak free. The frame is backed by a generous "Ride in Peace" lifetime warranty with a one year limit on the pivots.

What's The Bottom Line?

All it takes is smashing one good turn on the Devinci Spartan Carbon to see its downhill race roots shine through. The combination of a stiff frame and highly progressive suspension yields a bike that is superb at generating speed when pumping, jumping, and being tossed about, which will keep you coming back for more. It's a bit of a brawler so you'll have to put some muscle into it, but the bike responds well when told what to do. It's a little outclassed in the rough by other bikes in this category, although not to the extent that we think its a huge detriment to the overall ride.

Given our experience with the 2015 Spartan Carbon SX, a few rear suspension tweaks and component swaps could boost it to the next level and make it better suited to longer rides, which makes the upcoming 2016 models something to be pretty dang excited about.

Visit www.devinci.com for more details.

Bonus Gallery: 32 photos of the 2015 Devinci Spartan Carbon SX up close and in action


About The Reviewer

Brandon Turman likes to pop off the 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 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 15 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 no reviews yet.

Added a product review for Öhlins RXF 34 Fork 12/23/2015 12:55 AM
C138_fork_1

First Look: Ohlins RXF 34 Fork

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

After creating cartridges claimed to improve other brands' forks, Öhlins is ready to shake things up again with the introduction of their very own mountain bike fork. The new RXF 34 is geared towards trail, all-mountain, and enduro race use. It features a twin-tube design and an interesting triple-chamber air spring configuration that should allow for additional fine tuning for the tinkerers among us. Looking at the controls, the hi- and lo-speed adjusters remind us of the TTX shocks, with 5 clicks on the hi speed adjuster that also acts as a lockout, and a number of clicks for fine tuning the lo-speed compression. In combination with the dual positive air spring set-up, it sounds like Ohlins will be taking us one step closer to that ever elusive, holy grail trifecta of small bump sensitivity, resistance to diving, and bottom out support.

Öhlins RXF 34 Fork Highlights

  • 120, 140, 160mm travel options for 29-inch wheels (27.5" option likely to follow)
  • 34mm stanchions
  • 46mm offset (29" version)
  • High/low speed compression and rebound adjustments
  • Twin-tube design with parallel and separated oil flow
  • Adjustable air spring with two positive chambers and one negative
  • Forged "unicrown" with "raceless" headset integration - no need to run a crown race with some headsets
  • 15x100mm axle
  • Weight: 2040 grams with uncut steerer, 120mm travel
  • MSRP $1,150 US
  • Available soon

Like many of Öhlins' mountain bike products, including the TTX coil shock, STX22 air shock, and a yet to be released dual crown fork, the Swedish brand worked closely with Specialized Bicycles during the development phase. You may have even seen Mitch Ropelato, Brad Benedict, and the Wallner brothers putting the RFX 34 to the test in the 2015 Enduro World Series.

Given their partnership as the exclusive distributor in the USA, Specialized reached out with some additional information and photos of the new RXF, below. Stay tuned for Vital MTB's own ride impressions and more details in the coming weeks! (Specialized also distributes the Öhlins mountain bike products in many other geographies, in parallel to certain in-country distributors, notably in Italy and France).


From Specialized:

Do you remember the days when there were no suspension forks and you never got a good look at the trail because your eyeballs were rattling around? We're glad those days are gone, and it’s amazing how fantastic suspension has gotten in such a short time. Our friends at Öhlins have an idea on how to make the trail even better, so take a read.

Partnering with a company like Öhlins – the world leader in motorsports suspension – means we get the pinnacle of shock design, tuned specifically for a Specialized bike, like a Demo or Enduro. These shocks have so much traction and control that they change the way you ride, while putting a bigger grin on your face – and a larger gap between you and your buddies. Over the past few years, Öhlins has been hard at work bringing their first trail fork to market, the RXF 34. The first trail fork to feature a twin-tube design, it has everything you love about their TTX rear shocks, only it now goes on the front of your bike.

We gave a helping hand to the development by testing and providing feedback on our Camber, Stumpjumper FSR, and Enduro platforms. The key to this amazing handling fork is having parallel and separated oil flow to control the pressure levels, ensuring initial smoothness while staying high in the travel with excellent bump absorption, traction, and stability –all hallmarks of the twin-tube design. The RXF also has three air chambers; two positive and one negative. This allows the shape of the spring force to be adjusted by the rider, such as increasing sensitivity without bottoming out. Bringing it all together is a unique forged "unicrown" for the highest stiffness and tire control with less chassis flex. The result is a 34mm fork that's more rigid than other brands' 35mm forks, and it's comparable with a 36mm fork.

These forks will be available soon from Specialized retailers. We'll also continue to have available Öhlins shocks, springs, and cartridges as well. Additionally, we're excited to announce that Öhlins USA is now authorized to service and sell the shocks and forks, so check them out at www.ohlinsusa.com. They are based out of North Carolina, and we encourage you to contact them with any questions.

More information at www.ohlins.com

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Added a product review for SR Suntour Durolux 27.5 R2C2 Fork 12/1/2015 11:01 AM
C138_2016_sr_suntour_durolux_fork

Tested: 2016 SR Suntour Durolux R2C2 Fork

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by Brandon Turman // Photos by Hoshi Yoshida and Brandon Turman

When SR Suntour sat down to redesign their Durolux fork, they set out to meet the same high level of performance as their big competitors while also ensuring consistency in the production process. Lofty goals no doubt, considering the competition is pretty dang dialed these days, but the brand has much more experience than many of us may think, including what it takes to make high-end products.

Like all of their forks, the new Durolux was built with the "Quick Service Product" philosophy in mind, which boils down to "less wrenching and more riding." Now add in fully adjustable high and low-speed compression, high and low-speed rebound, easy air spring volume adjustment, bleed ports, internally adjustable travel, a 20mm axle, an integrated mud fender, and a sealed cartridge damper capable of taming a huge range of terrain and you've got a fork capable of rivaling the market's best, at least on paper. Oh, and it comes in at $200 or more less than comparable RockShox Pike and FOX 36 forks.

Sound appealing? It did to us, so we flew to Mountain Creek Bike Park in New Jersey to put the Durolux to good use in some incredibly rough terrain. Before we dive into how it rides, let's discuss what's new and touch on a few ways SR Suntour is stepping up their game.

Durolux R2C2 Highlights

  • 160, 170, or 180mm travel (internally adjustable)
  • 27.5-inch only
  • Air sprung with new air volume adjustment system and two step coil negative spring
  • Fully sealed R2C2 cartridge damper with new Piston Compensator System (PCS)
  • External high and low-speed rebound, high and low-speed compression adjustments
  • Additional RC2 (high and low-speed compression, low-speed rebound) damper option
  • Air bleed/lubrication holes
  • Quick Service Product (QSP)
  • Black 36mm 7000 series alloy stanchions
  • Hollow forged crown
  • 20mm Q-LOC2 axle
  • 180mm post brake mount
  • Tapered 7000 series alloy steerer
  • Integrated/removable mud fender, carbon optional
  • Black and white colors
  • Weight: 2,337 grams (5.2-pounds)
  • MSRP: $800 for R2C2 model, $700 for RC2 model

Lots of Wires, Data Acquisition and the Piston Compensator System

With beefy 36mm black stanchions (up from 35mm in 2015) and enough travel to tame the rowdiest of trails, this beauty certainly looks the part, but it's what's inside that's really worth talking about.

SR Suntour uses data acquisition systems to accurately see what goes on during a ride. Coupled with a dyno in a lab, they're able to more closely replicate real world scenarios.

At the Leogang UCI Downhill World Cup earlier this year, SR Suntour rigged up a bike with a fancy data acquisition (DAQ) system and sent one of their Werx Pro riders down the mountain as fast as they could possibly go. The fork on the bike contained a prototype closed cartridge damper system that began it's life nearly two years ago, when SR Suntour developed what would become the heart of the new Durolux. Part of what makes it special is that it utilizes an internal floating piston (IFP) called the Piston Compensator System (PCS). As the fork is compressed, oil flows past various shim stacks and a small amount of oil is displaced by the damper shaft. The spring loaded IFP simply slides back and forth to accommodate the volume change, as shown in the video below:

How does this differ from the norm? In RockShox's bladder system, this displacement causes their Charger damper bladder to expand. In FOX's FIT4 system, the bladder starts in a compressed state and fills back to normal. When it's time for service, both competitor systems require a vacuum bleed, which includes the use of a special syringe. SR Suntour's solution doesn't require any extra equipment or tools at service time while offering similar performance benefits. The addition of the PCS means a big performance improvement over their old open bath, closed cartridge emulsion damper system, while remaining easy to consistently bleed on the production line or in your garage. Unlike many IFP systems found in mountain bike rear shocks, the IFP is not pressurized on one side, but instead uses a lightweight 10 Newton spring to allow the system to move as freely as possible.

One of the biggest things that can detract from consistent feeling suspension is air passing through the damper instead of oil. You simply can't damp air. "But it's sealed," you might be thinking. "How does air get in there?" The biggest culprit is something called cavitation, which is the formation of vapor cavities (bubbles and voids) in the damper oil due to rapid changes in pressure. At high shaft speeds, these cavities can form on the backside of the piston, which can translate to a fork with zero damping for a brief but potentially scary moment. Here's a video example for visual clarification. There are some countermeasures to help prevent it from happening, including SR Suntour's PCS solution.

The Leogang test showed that 80% of the time the fork was compressed, it registered shaft speeds of more than 2.5 meters per second - fast enough that the high-speed compression circuit was constantly at work. When a fork is subjected to a hit in the 4+ meters per second range, cavitation (and the resulting temporary loss of damping) is possible.

Thousands of data points are distilled into more understandable charts and graphs using some nifty software.

They've continued to use DAQ systems to collect data on many trails and under many riders. By looking at multiple big and small bump scenarios and the resulting impact on the rider through the bars, SR Suntour determined where their prototype excelled and where they could improve. This ultimately led to improved high-speed compression range, a better transition between low and high-speed compression, increased consistency of the PCS, and the addition of an adjustable high-speed rebound circuit for better end stroke control - all in pursuit of traction in even the highest speed sections. As you might have guessed, the new damper is available in the RUX downhill fork as well.

Easier Air Spring Adjustment

Another long-awaited feature inside the Durolux is the ability to quickly and easily adjust the volume of the air spring, which adds bottom out support to the fork. Previous SR Suntour forks required you to cut up a small foam insert to play with volume changes, but you couldn't add material back if you wanted to try something different. This system addresses that concern and more. Simply deflate the fork, remove the air spring top cap, add or remove plastic spacers as needed, then re-install, re-inflate and shred! It really is that simple:

The fork comes stock with two spacers installed, and can accommodate up to three. Each spacer subtracts 10mm of height from the air spring volume. Given a consistent starting air pressure, every extra spacer adds about 80 Newtons (18 pounds-force) of bottom out resistance at the end of the travel. For 2016, this new spacer system carries over to SR Suntour's Auron, Aion, and RUX forks as well.

A two-step coil negative spring is used to balance things out and help initiate the fork's motion. While it's suitable for a pretty good range of people, an aftermarket tune is suggested for lighter riders, which runs just $7.

Installation and Initial Impressions

Following a whirlwind departure, inevitable flight delay, and the world's scariest taxi ride through New Jersey, we arrived at Mountain Creek Bike Park for SR Suntour's launch of the new fork anxious to ride. Problem was, the lifts were only open for another hour and we still had to install a fork before we could hit the dirt. Challenge accepted.

Chop the steerer, insert star nut, pound on the crown race, drop the fork into the frame, reinstall the cockpit, bolt on the front brake and adjust as needed, double check that everything is snug, pump the thing up, quickly turn a few knobs... shred time! SR Suntour's tech would have a bright future in a Nascar pit crew considering how quickly things got done, and I was on the hill with time to spare. Of course we ended up dropping into Mountain Creek's signature jump line for our first run down the hill, blindly checking off some of the mountain's biggest features along the way. Despite the world's fastest install, the fork handled it all in stride, and we were able to focus on the trail ahead.

The quick installation process was aided by SR Suntour's 20mm Q-LOC2 axle system, which could also use the "So easy, a caveman could do it" tagline. A simple push and a little twist of the clever expanding axle nut allows it to be quickly inserted or removed.

Hot laps with Mike Hopkins! Ready for some fun?

As we rode the lift back up for another run, we noticed small details like mounting holes in the arch for a mini-fender, two wiper lubrification holes on the backside that also act as pressure releases, ample amount of mud clearance, and the smooth turn and gentle click of the adjustment knobs.

On The Trail

As we've said before, SR Suntour's chassis design is consistently one of their most impressive features. Combined with the 20mm axle, the Durolux offers a stiffness and steering feel similar to a FOX 36, and even feels a touch burlier due to the extra weight.

This time around they've vastly improved bushing alignment during the assembly process, which results in a surprisingly supple feel and better sensitivity. It's rare that you find a fork at this price point with such smooth action. On the trail this translates to improved traction. There is very little torsional binding under heavy braking or in tight turns with weight over the front of the bike. It's nearly as buttery as the RockShox Pike, though from a static state the fork does have a very slight amount of initial stiction to overcome. This may be due to the coil negative spring design which is unable to equalize itself like competing designs.

Save the jump trails, Mountain Creek's terrain is anything but smooth.

The air spring gently ramps up until it hits the last 1 to 1 1/2-inches of travel, where it really ramps up for bottom out support. This final ramp can be tweaked using volume spacers. Due to the somewhat abrupt yet still smooth ramp, we found our 160mm travel test fork best with just one or two spacers installed. When combined with a middle of the road air pressure setting and some low-speed compression support, this kept us up in the travel pretty well while leaving something in reserve for harsh landings. In this configuration we typically used all but the last 1/2-inch of travel. When you do use full travel, the bottom out feel is pretty harsh and translates directly to the hands with a bit of a clanging sound, so it's best to be avoided.

With four damping settings to play with, the fork offers a huge range of potential configurations, making it very customizable to any rider or terrain. It maintains a supple feel even with the compression dials cranked in, which encourages you to actually use them.

One of the more unique features is adjustable high-speed rebound, which really comes into play following a high-speed hit as the fork extends back to full travel. Previously set at the factory, control is now in your hands with four clicks of adjustment. Because the fork is suited to everything from a lightweight trail setup to a heavy duty downhill-worthy wheel and tire, it's actually pretty cool to be able to control the end stroke feel. Setting it as fast as possible without topping out gets you back in the travel faster, again improving traction. It's best to find your low-speed rebound sweet spot first before moving on to the high-speed rebound adjustment.

Adjusted correctly, the combination of all of the above results in a fork that provides amazing contact with the ground, and really shines over medium hits. It's ability to also do well on the small stuff marks a big improvement for SR Suntour, and rest assured that there's plenty to support you on the big hits.

Our final settings for the 160mm Durolux R2C2 are as follows. These are for a 175-pound rider in a rocky bike park setting with a downhill wheel and tire.

  • 78psi with one volume spacer
  • LS Rebound - 14 clicks from open
  • HS Rebound - 4 clicks from open (closed)
  • LS Compression - 4 to 6 clicks from open
  • HS Compression - 0 clicks from open

Things That Could Be Improved

Switching from a Pike or 36 to the Durolux, one of the first things that's apparent is the fork is surprisingly noisy. The noises come from the rebound circuit and coil negative spring, which can be heard over rough terrain.

We always raise an eyebrow when we find ourselves at either extreme of an adjustment, and in this case even with the high-speed compression set to the lightest setting it still feels a bit over damped. During the course of our test we played with multiple air pressures, various spacers, rebound and compression settings, and in every instance the feedback in fast choppy sections and over single square edge hits was a tad harsh. -UPDATE 12/5/2015: We were informed that production R2C2 cartridges will use a lighter high speed shim stack to provide a more usable range.

Typically when companies include a quick lever at the top of the fork it's for low-speed compression adjustments. SR Suntour went against the norm here, making the high-speed the easy one to adjust. Ideally we'd like to see these knobs reversed. As is, adjusting low-speed requires some careful finger work.

Finally, the fork is pretty stout, and actually gained 200 grams from the previous version. This puts it at the higher end of the weight spectrum. Then again, it's clear the fork is built to take some serious abuse. Much of this weight gain can be attributed to the additional lower material needed when stepping up from 26 to 27.5-inch wheels.

Long Term Durability

In lab tests SR Suntour pushed the Durolux and R2C2 damper to 10,000 cycles before they began to see damping issues due to air developing in the cartridge. That's quite a while, and when a bleed is needed it's relatively easy to do. The company suggests changing the damper oil every 100 hours, which is right in line with the other contenders.

The addition of a small lubrification hole on the backside of each leg makes it easy to keep the wipers well oiled. Simply remove the small bolts, add 1cc of oil to each side, and snug things back up. This also bleeds any built up pressure from the lowers, allowing the fork to work as freely as possible.

Every 50 hours of use SR Suntour recommends cleaning and servicing the lowers. The fork ships with grease for lubrication, as oil can be messy during service, but it is possible to add 20-30cc of synthetic oil in the lowers for additional lubrication. Slotted bushings allow a small amount of oil to seep up into the wipers, keeping things nice and smooth.

During our first day on a preproduction fork, oil began to leak from the bottom of the damper assembly. A quick investigation revealed a slight sealing issue that has since been addressed in production models, and we installed a replacement cartridge without any issues. The damper swap was incredibly simple to do.

Overall the Durolux appears to be an easy fork to install and maintain. We'll continue to ride it for several more months and update this review with our long term findings. So far, so good!

What's The Bottom Line?

The outright performance of the new Durolux proves that SR Suntour can battle with the best in the business. It's encouraging to see the company using more advanced tools to make incremental improvements to their lineup, starting with refined damping capabilities and a clever new way of dealing with a common suspension problem through the Piston Compensator System.

The completely revamped fork brings a great chassis, very smooth feel, new technologies, loads of adjustment, and several high-end features to a more reasonable price point. Add in the fact that it's easy to service, and you've got a promising new fork for all-mountain, enduro, bike park, and even freeride use.

Visit www.srsuntour-cycling.com for more details.

Bonus Gallery: 28 photos of the SR Suntour Durolux up close and in action


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 14 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.

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Added a product review for HT Components T1 Clipless Pedals 9/29/2015 6:47 PM
C138_ht_t1_clipless_pedals

Tested: HT Components T1 Pedals

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review and product photos by Brandon Turman // Action shot by Lear Miller

Just a few years ago HT Components stormed onto the flat pedal scene with some incredibly thin pedals that turned heads while simultaneously dropping precious grams off your steed. Then came HT's partnership with Aaron Gwin,during which time they developed the X1 and X2 - clipless pedals with large platforms designed to withstand the rigors of World Cup Downhill racing. A few months ago we spotted Brian Lopes racing the Sea Otter Dual Slalom with a lighter, slimmer pedal based around the same clipless mechanism. Only recently did HT break the news that they signed former Enduro World Series Champion, Jerome Clementz, who has been racing the production version of that Sea Otter prototype. They're calling the new pedal the T1, and we've been giving it a go for the better part of two months.

T1 Clipless Pedal Highlights

  • Extruded CNC aluminum body
  • CNC machined chromoly spindle
  • New EVO+ needle bearing system and one DU bushing per pedal
  • Two adjustable grip pins per side
  • HT exclusive cleats with 4-degree (X1) or 8-degree (X1F) float and 13-degree release angle
  • Weight: 368g per pair
  • MSRP: $135 USD

So how do you take a downhill pedal design and adapt it to trail use? A slimmer body is a good place to start. The T1 body measures just 16.8mm thick at the center, and the platform is 68mm wide x 83.5mm long. That's quite a bit more compact than the X1 downhill pedal, though the T1 still offers a bit of a platform for some additional support or traction when you don't have time to clip back in, at least in theory.

Housed inside the body is HT's very own clipless mechanism. When creating the T1, HT took the opportunity to make a few updates here as well. If you look closely at the back of the clipless mechanism on each pedal in the photos below, you'll notice that the T1 has an angled plate at the back, versus the perpendicular plate on the X1. This update was made after receiving input about occasional difficulty clipping in and inconsistent entry. The cleat can now glide up and over the pedal rather than getting hung up.

A visual comparison of HT's X1 (red) and T1 (orange) pedals.

Initial Impressions

Installing the pedals was as easy as you'd expect. There are no wrench flats, but there is an 8mm allen slot on the partially hollow axle. For those that like to ensure the pedals are snug the large allen size is a plus.

HT offers a few different cleats with varying amounts of float. If you prefer less wiggle, install a pair of the 4-degree X1 cleats, otherwise use the 8-degree X1F cleats. Cleat installation was made painless thanks to relatively square edges for easy reference during alignment, as well as plenty of side-to-side adjustment range. The cleat is held secure by several protruding dots that mash into your shoe sole as you tighten the bolts.

Plastic spacers are included to customize the amount of contact your shoe has with the pedal. We found that the relatively thick cleat required no spacers on both Specialized 2FO and Teva Pivot shoes. Others may need a spacer or two. With zero spacers installed the pedals had the greatest contact area with the shoes, the cleat was recessed just enough to prevent the annoying "clickity-clack" sound while walking, and it allowed us to take advantage of all that shoe tread while hiking.

We appreciate the nice wide body construction, relatively thin profile, great look, and ability to choose from 10 anodized colors. The metal axle end plug used to service the pedals is a great addition, as opposed to the plastic alternative that often gets stuck or stripped. Both axles spun smoothly out of the box with no perceivable play.

When you clip in, springs at the front and back of the pedal engage. The tension adjustment mechanism tightens the back of one side and the front of the other, ensuring an even feel on both sides. We found it to be simple, effective, and easy to access with both a standard 3mm allen key and a multi-tool. There are two indicators per pedal with several hash marks to help determine a consistent setting on both pedals. We did notice some slight inconsistencies in spring tension, however. With the tension indicators set to the same position all around, our left pedal felt noticeably tighter than the right, requiring us to back the tension off half a turn. With things evened up it was time to hit the trail.

On The Trail

The tension adjustment screw changes the feel from one like you're standing on ice to not-quite-twist-your-ankle-while-trying-to-release tight. Regardless of the setting, they make a loud "click" noise on entrance, confirming a solid connection and freeing your mind for what lies ahead on the trail. Unlike many other clipless designs, the clipless mechanism doesn't rotate around the axle, which means that with the pedal level you need to angle your toe downward slightly to hook the front end of the cleat before stomping down with your heel. Alternatively you can start further back and slide your foot forward over the top of the pedal and it will rotate as needed.

For the most part they are reliably easy to go in/out, whether you're rotating your foot toward or away from the bike. As you rotate your foot to release, you'll notice that it requires more and more force the further you rotate until it eventually unclips.

Our one big complaint is a result of side-to-side movement along the line of the axle. HT's pedals have a gently angled spring up front and straight one out back, and the part of the cleat that goes inside the pedal is quite a bit narrower than the inner width of the springs. Depending on which cleat you have installed, this allows nearly 1/4-inch of movement side-to-side, as shown in the animation above. For comparison, a worn out pair of Crankbrothers pedals allow about 1/8-inch movement, while Shimano's SPD system holds you securely in place. On the HT pedals this can be a little weird as the release feel varies depending on where the cleat is relative to the spring. If you're at the extreme end on the outside or inside of the pedal, you sometimes get a notchy two-stage release, but if you're centered it feels nice and clean. We've found the pedals work best with the X1 cleats installed at the tighter side of the adjustment range to help keep you centered.

The platform of the pedal is quite small, so while it doesn't do much to make your whole foot feel stable like a DH-sized platform, the width of the platform does add some side-to-side rotational stability, especially when paired with a skate-style clipless shoe. But what about those two traction pins? Well, without any spacers installed on both the Specialized 2FO and Teva Pivot shoes, the pins don't come anywhere close to touching the shoe. HT says Five Ten's Kestrel shoe works well, however. We noted that Jerome Clementz chooses to remove the front screws, likely for a more consistent entry. The back of the pedal does give some extra support when clipped in, depending on your shoes.

As far as riding out of the clips during those "oh-shit" moments is concerned, don't expect a whole lot of traction as the platform is rarely actually in contact with your shoe. Then again, what clipless pedals actually give traction when you aren't clipped in? In general the biggest benefit of a platform is additional stability when clipped.

In rocky terrain the beveled front edge helps the pedals glide over rocks rather than hanging up, as does the new angled adjustment plate. Performance in the mud isn't too shabby, as the mud tends to get smashed though the pedal and clears pretty easily.

Long Term Durability

Unlike other pedals there was very little break-in time and things have stayed consistent over a few months of use. The cleats are made from steel, and as a result they have worn very little. We've also noted that the tension adjustment stays in place, at least at the tighter end of the spectrum. You may read reports elsewhere of the adjustment screw stripping easily, but we haven't experienced the issue and HT has addressed this in recent production runs.

Many of HT's flat pedals tend to develop some play, but that hasn't been the case with the T1's improved EVO+ bearing system. The pedals still spin in a very smooth and controlled manner.

Noise wise, they developed a slight squeak/squeal while releasing after several dry and dusty rides, but cleaning them up and applying a little bit of chain lube helped resolve the issue.

We've bashed them into a number of rocks with good results. The body still looks great, they don't scratch very easily, and the clipless mechanism is holding up well.

What's The Bottom Line?

For clipless pedals to pass the test with flying colors, they must allow you to quickly get in and out on command, have a smooth and consistent feel, provide adequate stability, not pop out unexpectedly, resist rock strikes, and remain durable in the long term. HT's new T1 pedals meet most of these requirements, however the release feel can be inconsistent depending on foot placement, the cleats you're using, and the tension setting. The pedal needs to be run toward the tighter side of the adjustment range with the 4-degree X1 cleat for best results. As such we believe the pedals are best suited to experienced clipless users.

Beyond the release feel, it's easy to know when you're clipped in, they're visually awesome, come in a bunch of colors, have a slim profile, and have done very well in the long term.

Visit www.ht-components.com for more details.


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 14 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 no reviews yet.

Added a product review for 2015 Marin Attack Trail C-XT9 6/3/2015 6:57 PM
C138_2015_marin_attack_trail_c_xt9

2015 Test Sessions: Marin Attack Trail C-XT9

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

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

Marin has made the Attack Trail for quite few years now, and refinements and different component choices continue to improve the ride. Model year 2014 marked a major rebirth for the brand and the bike, which now sports a drastically updated design and full carbon frame purpose built for Enduro glory.

The last time we rode the a Marin (the Mount Vision) was back at our 2014 Test Sessions in Sedona, and what a difference a year makes. This year's test bike differs in that the 2015 Attack Trail costs $2K less, has 10mm more travel, a degree slacker head tube, similar chainstay length and bottom bracket height. The weight is a pound more than our previous test model as well. Would the more aggressive geometry and different model suit us more than before? Given the intended nature of the bike, we headed to some of the roughest and fastest trails we could find to get a feel for the Attack Trail C-XT9.

Highlights

  • Carbon frame
  • 27.5-inch wheels
  • 150mm (5.9-inches) of rear wheel travel // 160mm (6.3-inches) front
  • Tapered head tube
  • 66.5-degree head angle
  • 73.5-degree effective seat tube angle
  • 333mm (13.1-inch) measured bottom bracket height
  • 435mm (17.1-inch) chainstays
  • Threaded bottom bracket
  • 142mm rear spacing with 12mm through axle
  • Measured complete weight (size Large, no pedals): 28-pounds, 6-ounces (12.9kg)
  • $6,499 MSRP

Marin has been refining their Quad-Link suspension system for a while now, giving it a more and more refined ride as the years progress. Now in it's third version, Quad-Link uses two short links to create an Instantaneous Pivot Center (aka virtual pivot). Marin says the design effectively separates pedal and brake forces from terrain inputs. On the Attack Trail the system is designed to provide a very progressive 150mm of travel - a trait we'll discuss in depth later in this review.

Sealed cartridge Enduro Max Black Oxide bearings are used in major pivot locations. The bearings have more balls and a larger diameter than used in prior Marin bikes, in addition to a generous lifetime warranty.

The frame's one-piece carbon fiber monocoque front end certainly doesn't look fragile, although the bare, blank, flat surfaces don't make us drool with desire either. We like the robust look of the back end of the bike, with a wide top link and plenty of carbon surface area in the swingarm to keep everything stout.

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 downtube that also protects the frame from impacts. Additional mounts are available under the top tube. Internal routing for the dropper post cleans things up nicely. This internal system is prone to cable rattling, however, so you may find yourself crafting methods to silence the bike further.

Small details include a thick rubber chainstay guard, a water seal on the seatpost clamp, bottle mount inside the front triangle, threaded bottom bracket, chainstay mounted disc brake, and torx pivot hardware. There’s a modular bottom bracket 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 upper guide bolted to the mount for added chain security. Mud clearance is a little tight with just 5mm of room with the stock 2.35-inch Schwalbe tire.

Component updates from 2014 to 2015 include a 1X drivetrain with an upper guide, wider bars, and slightly shorter stem - all things we love.

In addition to the $6,499 carbon XT9 model we tested, Marin offers the Attack Trail in two aluminum models priced at $3,899 and $2,699, giving you a wide variety of spec options. Looking to build one from scratch? A carbon frame and FOX Float X CTD shock package is also available for $3,000.

On The Trail

We'll preface this section with the fact that we had to test this bike twice as a result of a mis-spec'd component, hence the review's delay. Our first test bike featured a RockShox Monarch RC3 shock, and we later threw a leg over one with a Monarch Plus RC3. There's a chance you'll find both versions in the wild, though most will include the Monarch Plus. Ride qualities were surprisingly similar. Test locations included the rough and rocky West Cuesta Ridge in San Luis Obispo, California, followed by Laguna Beach's popular Telonix and Canyon Acres downhill trails for a followup.

Every bike is the sum of its parts, not just the numbers on a spreadsheet. While the Attack Trail looks like it would be an absolute fiend on the trails according to the specs (150mm travel, 66.5-degree head angle, 435mm chainstays, and 333mm bottom bracket height), we didn't feel the flow right away. Thus begins our story of finding this bike's sweet spot...

Marin's sizing is certainly on the smaller/shorter end of the spectrum, so consider sizing up to get a healthy reach measurement. The cockpit comes equipped with Easton's 70mm Haven stem and 760mm wide bars, though we'd gladly trade the extra stem length for a longer front center, which is why at 5'8" and 5'10" tall we chose to ride a size Large bike (425mm reach) versus our typical Medium sizing. With the shorter stem in place, the cockpit was very comfortable, and we felt right at home distance wise.

We initially set the bike up with Marin's suggested 25% rear sag and the RockShox Pike RC Dual Position Air fork to a middle-of-the-road recommended pressure setting for both of our 175-pound test riders. When we pointed the Attack Trail downhill, we discovered just how important setup was. At these pressures the bike seemed to work best in situations where pumping the terrain was to our benefit. Pushing into turns and rollers resulted in a positive, quick response and a burst of speed. When smashing into turns or landing a drop it was stable as well. We experienced no odd kicks of any variety, even when landing in rocky piles, and the suspension action was quite smooth thanks to the upgraded DebonAir can.

So what's the catch? Our initial hesitation had to do with the bike's tendency to ride really high in the rear travel. While descending with comfortable rebound settings and open shock compression, we felt as if bumps were not absorbed very well and the bike wasn't very planted. As a result our weight would get pushed over the front end more than you typically want to be, especially on steep, rocky terrain. While it never threw us offline, it wasn't super confidence inspiring due to over the front feel, even with a few spacers under the stem. This tendency made us feel like the head angle was steeper than it actually is. We couldn't quite believe this feeling was coming from a 150mm travel bike. It just shouldn't have felt that way, especially with such awesome modern suspension handling damping duties.

Unable to use all the travel even on large drops to relatively flat landings, we dropped the rear shock pressure in stages all the way down to 35% sag, which helped a good amount. The resulting ride was smoother through those rough sections we initially had trouble with, creating a more balanced, even feel in the suspension with the fork set to the recommended pressure for our weight. We felt more comfortable on the trail and appreciated the bike's new ability to sit lower in corners as well. We were now able to use all the travel without a harsh bottom-out feeling, but somehow it still lacked that deep, plush, super confidence inspiring feel. Instead it rewarded a very active rider wanting to boing around the trail, pumping every depression along the way rather than just ploughing through the rough.

We came back to the numbers after a few rides, puzzled that such a capable bike on paper was just feeling "alright" out on the trails. Yes, we were able to tune away the feeling of hanging up on bumps and being over the front with more rear end sag. Yes, it was better in corners and didn't feel as tall in the back end. But it still wasn't a great ride, and it ended up being a matter of the suspension curve - the Attack Trail has the most progressive curve of any bike we've tested in recent memory.

Lots of manufacturers rely on an air shock's inherent ability to become progressive at the end of the stroke to control bottom-out characteristics. Sometimes that works well, and sometimes that doesn't work well. In this case, the combination of a progressive mechanical system and an air shock meant the bike needed much more sag to allow us to cycle through the suspension and use all 150mm of travel. Could the bike ride better with a coil shock or high volume air shock? You bet, it's a perfect candidate for one.

With both the Monarch and Monarch Plus installed, our repeat tests revealed that at 25% sag the bike can be a handful. At 30% sag the bike has a very light feel to it, providing a more efficient, XC/Trail-style ride due to system's extreme progression. At 36-38% sag the bike finally comes alive and is able to go head to head with others in the 150mm class. Deeper into the stroke we found a good balance between traction, usable travel, bottom-out support, and a more inspiring ride. We don't see this need for extra sag as a positive or negative trait. It's just the way the bike works and something to be aware of. Some may like this, and some may not. Once we were happy with the performance of the rear suspension, the Attack Trail was quite a bit of fun to ride. It didn't inspire us in the same ways other leading enduro bikes do, but at the limit we were never treated badly. It's quite possible that this is actually a very good trait, as some bikes that inspire confidence don't take care of the rider at the limit and can lead to truly bad situations.

Aiding in the bike's ability to handle well was the frame's superb stiffness. Those boxy areas really help the back end stay put, and pumping out of corners and through twisty sections was only met with forward movement. Pressing hard on the pedals resulted a quick response, as the bike didn't wallow in the travel or flex much. It goes to show you, never judge a book by its cover. What we thought at first felt like a relatively steep, non-forgiving frame turned out to be one of the better bikes for jumping, pumping and generally having fun on, provided you're precise with your inputs.

The high feeling of our initial setup really hindered our ability to get the front end off the ground, though this improved with our final setup. The Attack Trail does manual or pick up over obstacles when asked, but it's less forgiving than others. Where some frame designs let you push through more suspension to compensate/overcompensate while manualing over water bars or obstacles, the Attack Trail highlights whatever the rider does, for better or worse.

After all this time on the Marin, we couldn't help but wonder where the bike would excel, and who it would be best for. Our first consensus was that the bike should not be for those in search of steeper descents. The relatively linear feeling of the fork compared to the rear suspension did not impart much confidence when we were really pointed downhill, but on flatter terrain and swooping trails we could generate more speed working with the rear suspension, not fighting it. So, for those riders out there who are coming off of shorter travel bikes or more endurance based rides, the Marin could be a great choice. The responsive frame and nimble suspension could make a rider feel more at home compared to suspension systems that use more travel more of the time, and the stiff back end of the frame would really impart a feeling of efficiency. We feel the main downside of the suspension (multiple medium-large hits in a row) would not be that big of a deal for those riders who prefer to pick their lines around the bumps and smooth out the trail that way.

So what impact does the need for extra sag have on the rest of the ride? While climbing steep terrain the Pike RC Dual Position Air's 30mm travel adjust feature becomes more necessary. This helps keep the front end on the ground, though it lowers an already low bottom bracket. This presents an interesting issue, as the progressive feel of the back end would be better paired with a fork compatible with RockShox's Bottomless Tokens (and travel adjust models aren't). The ability to add up to four Bottomless Tokens would drastically improve the balance front to rear on the bike, and also keep the front end higher in the travel through steeper parts of trail.

Surprisingly, even with that much sag the bike still feels very light on the trail, no doubt aided by its respectable 28.4-pound weight. Marin was smart and put weight in places where it matters. The tires were sturdy enough to not give us any flats the entire time we rode the bike, but the slight weight of those casings was offset by the light DT Swiss M1700 wheelset. A wise choice that strikes the balance between durable and sprint-friendly.

The last part of the equation that makes the Attack Trail feel light is the pedaling response. The bike moves forward in a hurry when called upon, regardless of the 1X gear combination and without the need for any on-the-fly compression levers. As we have noted with other bikes, though, there is a downside to this anti-squat feature. When seated and smoothly pedaling over washboard sections, potholes, and general mayhem along the trails, the suspension movement can momentarily interrupt you pedal stroke. Given that we believe this bike to be a perfect step up for many who have owned hardtails or short travel bikes previously, we don't think this is a problem. The benefit of efficient sprinting and good power delivery would outweigh the small hiccups in rough terrain feedback.

Of course, the bike's head angle, seat angle, chainstay length, bottom bracket height, and other factors play a vital role in determining how a bike will ascend. Marin stuck a nice balance here, and we'd rate the bike pretty well on the climbing scale as spec'd.

Build Kit

The overall parts package on the Attack Trail C-XT9 is about what we have come to expect at this price range. Once you jump into the carbon frame world, you're usually looking at about $4K for a base model. At $6,499, the C-XT9 edition comes with many parts that could be on all but the most discerning riders' wish lists. The SRAM X01 drivetrain, RockShox's newest suspension offerings, and a lightweight DT Swiss M1700 wheelset highlight a well rounded component group.

While the stock damping is pretty good on the Pike RC fork, we have been spoiled recently with the ability to adjust almost any suspension component, fueling our desire for the more tunable RCT3 model. This is in addition to the conflict of interest with the Dual Position Air feature.

SRAM's new Guide RS brakes were fade free and provided easy to adjust ergonomics. Power was very good, and the consistency was welcomed, especially considering the hiccups we had with Avid brakes of old. The bike comes stock with a 180mm rotor up front and 160mm out back.

The DT Swiss M1700 wheelset is light and provided decent engagement. While this isn't DT's fastest available ratchet, the M1700 could be easily upgraded if a rider wanted a lightning quick response. The spokes are not proprietary, and the wheels are tensioned in a traditional fashion. We like those features on a bike that is meant to be ridden, jumped, crashed, and treated like a bike should be. The hoops were still in great shape at the conclusion of our test.

The KS Lev Integra seatpost worked well throughout the test, and internal routing allowed for clean lines and no worries of snagging a cable when the bike went in a stand. The new Southpaw Lever also fits nicely under the left brake, which is exactly where our minds want the dropper post remote to be when running a 1X system.

Marin's choice of 2.35-inch Schwalbe Hans Dampf TrailStar Evolution tires proved to be a good one when the terrain was predictable. On looser terrain, though, the tires tended to slide more than we felt they should coming into corners with debris and rocks strewn about. We would prefer a front tire with more absolute grip, or even just a slightly grippier front tire, and we would give up a little bit of rolling resistance for it.

SRAM's 1x11 X01 drivetrain worked very well, providing near frictionless, consistence performance. Unlike most X01 equipped bikes we noticed a lot of chain slap, however, especially in harder gears. This is likely due to the lower drop style chainstay design. Taking a link out of the stock chain could help this problem, as could some mastic tape in select locations inside the seatstay and on the chainstay.

Long Term Durability

We are happy to say that the Attack Trail seems to be pretty much void of potential long term issues. It was sturdy, stiff, responsive, and nothing came loose. The only area of concern is the exceedingly small bearing spacing on the lower pivot points, which was likely done to accommodate up to three chainrings up front. Larger spacing on bearings usually leads to a more stout frame and longer bearing life, but only time can tell. Marin backs the complete bike with a one year warranty, carbon frame for five years, and pivot bearings/bushings for lifetime.

What's The Bottom Line?

The Marin Attack Trail is more of a Jekyll and Hyde type of bike than we thought it would be. Set it up as suggested and it will motor up any climb and provide a very quick, snappy ride that some riders will love, but will leave others questioning its capability. Set it up with much more sag and the bike gobbles up bumps better and provides a thrilling, responsive ride that does pretty well in rough terrain. There isn't much middle ground unfortunately, so the choice is yours. Do you prefer the doctor's way or the monster that needs to be run ragged? Due to the extremely progressive suspension design, the importance of proper setup and understanding what you really want out of a bike is clearly evident with this model. Regardless of your choice, the bike's stiff and spritely nature rewards an active and precise rider who is in control of his bike at all times, not the other way around.

Visit www.marinbikes.com for more details.

Bonus Gallery: 15 photos of the 2015 Marin Attack Trail C-XT9 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 18 years, 11 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 15 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.

About Test Sessions

Three years ago Vital MTB set out to bring you the most honest, unbiased reviews you'll find anywhere. That tradition continues today as we ride 2015's most exciting trail, all-mountain, and enduro bikes in San Luis Obispo, California. Reviews can be accessed 24/7 in our Product Guide. Test Sessions was made possible with the help of Foothill Cyclery. Tester gear provided by Five Ten, Race Face, Easton, Troy Lee Designs, Club Ride, Kali, Royal, Smith, Pearl Izumi, and Source.

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Added a product review for FOX Factory Series Float DPS Rear Shock 4/4/2015 5:13 PM
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Tested: 2016 FOX Factory Series Float DPS Shock

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

by Brandon Turman

Every year it seems like we hear same thing from suspension manufacturers: "Our new (insert product here) weighs less, is more sensitive, has refined damping, and provides more control." Sounds great, doesn't it? To be honest, we take it with a grain of salt, just as you likely do. There's only so much Kool-Aid a guy can drink, but occasionally a company truly does hit a home run.

We had the opportunity to get some trail time on FOX's latest products - pre-production samples of the all-new 2016 Factory Series Float DPS shock and Float 34 fork - to see if the claims are true. Today we'll take a look at the shock.

2016 Factory Float DPS Shock Highlights

  • New Extra Volume (EVOL) air can
  • New Dual Piston System (DPS)
  • New Open/Medium/Firm on-the-fly compression adjustment
  • New adjustable Open compression mode with three positions
  • Kashima coating
  • Remote compatible
  • Sizes: 7.5 x 2.0, 7.875 x 2.0, 7.875 x 2.25, and 8.5 x 2.5-inches
  • Available May, 2015
  • MSRP $450

FOX is continually working with their Racing Application Development (RAD) program to improve products by subjecting them to abuse under some of the fastest Pro riders in the world. Those who follow the UCI World Cup Downhill series will remember seeing prototype FOX air shocks featuring a modified air can with increased negative volume at the Leogang World Cup in 2012 under the Santa Cruz Syndicate. Today a similar can is ready for production on the Float shock.

Much like the RockShox Debonair upgrade, the new FOX EVOL air can reduces the force to initiate travel, providing better small bump performance and traction at a slight weight penalty of just 30 grams. The increased negative volume contained within the black sleeve also provides a more linear spring curve, increasing mid-stroke support as shown in the graph below. The blue line represents the 2016 shock with an EVOL can, and the red line a shock with a standard LV can.

A quick look around the pits at the opening round of the 2015 Enduro World Series shows that the EVOL can will be available in the Float X variety as well. Don't expect to be able to easily upgrade your existing Float shock right now, however, as FOX says your damping tune will likely need to be updated too. (Update: We've just received word that upgrades will be available, though availability and pricing are to be determined.)

A less visible change comes in the form of the new Dual Piston System, or DPS for short. Both externally and internally the design varies from the previous CTD Boost Valve System. The shock still has a three position on-the-fly compression adjustment lever, but the function is different. Previously Float shocks were only adjustable in the Trail setting. Now, the black "1, 2, 3" knob adjusts compression in the Open setting. The Medium and Firm modes are not adjustable, and are intended to add a pedaling platform for bikes that need it.

While relatively simple on the outside, internally the shock has five damping circuits. The new dual piston valve design separates low and high-speed compression from the lockout circuit, something Boost Valve did not do. Because of this DPS provides a firmer Firm (lockout) mode than CTD without compromising performance in the more often used Open and Medium modes. It's also now possible to tune the compression and rebound circuits without affecting each other.

On The Trail

Testing grounds included some of the rockiest trails in Southern California, as well as several rooty and challenging locations spattered across New Zealand. From a few days in the Queenstown Bike Park to full-day backcountry adventures, we've ridden a lot of terrain aboard the new shock over the course of one month.

Our test mule was a Santa Cruz Bronson Carbon. The shock was paired with the new 2016 Factory Series Float 34 fork, which features the updated FIT4 damper and a similar but more refined external compression adjustment system. You'll learn more about the fork in an upcoming feature.

We initially spent some time on the Bronson with a 7.875 x 2.25-inch 2015 Factory Series CTD Float shock with the standard Santa Cruz tune to get a baseline impression. With that shock installed, the relatively linear bike suffered from pretty harsh bottom outs on the medium to big hits scattered across California's rougher trails, and lacked enough mid-stroke support for an aggressive rider. Even with a sizable volume spacer installed, the use of the Trail 2 or 3 compression setting, and reduced sag in the 20% range, we found ourselves banging off the bottom end often and pushing through the travel a bit too easily - so much so that we actually smashed the bottom out bumper to bits inside the shock. A quick look inside revealed that a large air volume spacer was already installed. Traction was decent in most situations, however, even in Trail mode.

Moving to the Float DPS with a similar tune, we set the shock up to the bike's recommended sag point of ~25%. It takes a bit more pressure to achieve this as a result of the new air spring, but the negative volume in the EVOL can helps overcome the added pressure without feeling harsh.

Nothing reveals the relative strengths and weaknesses of a product better than a back-to-back comparison, so setting out on the trail a few things were readily apparent. The rear wheel was able to move up and out of the way quicker, the bike felt smoother over sustained chatter and small bumps, and the rear end felt more active, even with a similar rebound speed. The end result was more traction and improved control, with the bike remaining more planted at all times. Perhaps the most notable improvement was while unweighted over rough and rocky sections. In these instances it was plainly clear how supple the new shock is, as it removed any sense of bucking when only the rear wheel would contact a rock.

The air spring offered more support when pressing into turns and jump faces, and with the addition of a slightly larger volume spacer and a bit of compression damping the bike no longer bottomed harshly.

Trail/Enduro/All-Mountain bikes these days are pretty awesome in that many of them don't require the use of a shock's platform setting to achieve suitable pedaling performance, allowing riders to leave their shocks wide open whether climbing or descending. Doing so gives the best traction while climbing, and the bike's anti-squat properties help it stay up in the travel when putting the hammer down. The Bronson is one of those bikes. Because it doesn't require the use of FOX's new Medium setting to climb well, we feel FOX's decision to have an adjustable Open mode is a wise one. Switching between the 1, 2, and 3 micro-adjustments in Open provides less of a platform feel than moving all the way to Medium, giving more usable damping but less of the sometimes notchy platform feel. For those that feel the need, the Medium setting does noticeably stiffen the rear end off the top, but it does so in a smoother fashion than the previous Trail setting.

For the reasons above we rarely feel the need for the Firm mode, though it does work as claimed by pretty much locking things out for arduous road climbs. There's a blowoff valve should you encounter an unexpected big hit while in the Firm setting.

Long Term Durability

To date we've experienced no issues. The recommended service interval is pretty generous, requiring an air sleeve cleaning/lube right along the same time as the previous CTD version. Just be sure to wipe down the shock before rides to ensure better longevity.

What's The Bottom Line?

FOX's new Float DPS shock is another step back in the right direction. The added negative volume of the EVOL air can helps suspension designs that aren't notoriously supple off the top, and the DPS design is a nice improvement over the previous CTD damping system. Will it help your ride? There are suspension designs out there that will greatly benefit from the upgrade, while others won't see as big of an improvement. On a Santa Cruz Bronson we noted improved sensitivity, better traction, and less unwanted chassis motion through rough terrain, which all added up to more control - just as FOX claimed.

This model year is an exciting one for FOX, and they'll be unveiling the entire 2016 product lineup at the Sea Otter Classic. Keep an eye on www.ridefox.com for more details.


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 14 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.

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Added a product review for 2015 Specialized Enduro Elite 650B 3/10/2015 1:44 AM
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2015 Test Sessions: Specialized Enduro Elite 650B

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by AJ Barlas and Brandon Turman // Photos by Lear Miller

At the tail end of 2013, Specialized began to make the shift from 26-inch wheels to 650B, also commonly referred to as 27.5. The move, which began within their Stumpjumper FSR series and is now migrating into the rest of their lineup, was one that the 'Big S' held off on for quite a while. Since making its way into the Enduro range, team riders like Curtis Keene have posted some of their best results in the World Enduro Series aboard the updated bike, leaving many wondering just how good it is? We threw a leg over the top end aluminum model to answer this question during the 2015 Vital MTB Test Sessions.

Highlights

  • Aluminum frame
  • 27.5-inch wheels
  • 165mm (6.5-inches) of rear wheel travel // 160mm (6.3-inches) front
  • Tapered head tube
  • 65.5-degree head angle
  • 74.6-degree effective seat tube angle
  • 349mm (13.75-inch) measured bottom bracket height
  • 422mm (16.6-inch) chainstays
  • Press Fit bottom bracket
  • 142mm rear spacing with 12mm through axle
  • Measured complete weight (size Large, no pedals): 29-pounds, 7-ounces (13.4kg)
  • MSRP: $5,000 USD

The Enduro Elite uses an M5 aluminum alloy frame and Specialized's easy to spot X-Wing design, said to boost front triangle torsional stiffness. Rear suspension duties are taken up by the FSR design, which uses a Horst-link to improve many of its ride qualities. One downside of the design is the need for a unique shock mount, which can limit aftermarket shock option. The Elite model is shipped with the smaller Cane Creek DB Inline shock that provides 165mm of travel with high/low-speed compression and rebound damping with a Climb Switch. While Specialized does provide a base tune, it's interesting to see more bikes coming equipped with something as tuneable as the Cane Creek, essentially resulting in the user being able to get the bike to handle almost any way they want. Up front it features the 160mm travel Rockshox Pike in the RC configuration.

The 650B frame features a new rear triangle, but makes use of the existing 26-inch front triangle. Specialized says they were able to achieve the geometry they were after using this configuration without compromise, and the numbers look good with a 65.5-degree headtube angle, 422mm chainstays, and 352mm bottom bracket height. Sizes Small, Medium, and Large are available.

Additional frame details include a tapered headtube, PF30 bottom bracket, ISCG tabs, a molded chainstay guard, sealed cartridge bearing pivots, and ~1cm of mud clearance at the tightest point on the rear wheel with the stock tires. Cable routing is almost entirely external, save the internal dropper post routing through the seat tube. Cables follow the underside of the downtube, and all cable mounts are very secure with no cable rattle.

Specialized also includes a water bottle cage mounted inside the front triangle, which features a convenient SWAT multi-tool holder. There's a chain tool and place to store a spare SRAM quick-link in the steerer tube as well.

Another interesting component that's worth mentioning early on is the inclusion of Roval's latest wheel offering, the Traverse Fattie. On this model it's the aluminum version of the wheel, but aside from the material the wheels feature all the same specs as their carbon bigger brothers, most notably, a 29mm inner width.

There are several Enduro 650B models ranging from $3,600 to $9,300, in both aluminum and carbon. We tested the $5,000 aluminum Elite version. To step up to a more or less comparably spec'd carbon model, check out the Expert Carbon for $6,600. Carbon frame/shock packages are also available for $4,000 if you'd like to go for a custom build.

On The Trail

We tested the Specialized Enduro Elite on the loose, rocky chunder of West Cuesta Ridge, fast flow of Montana de Oro, and boulder covered Madonna Mountain near San Luis Obispo, California.

On our initial climb we opted to leave the Cane Creek DBInline shock untouched, set to the recommended compression/rebound settings with 16-17mm sag (approximately 30%) and without the Climb Switch engaged. The FSR suspension climbed well, even in this wide open position, and while there was a little suspension movement it was very close to neutral, especially when seated and pedaling smoothly. The shock remained high in its stroke and created a platform that held well off the line thanks to the suspension's anti-squat properties. Where it was let down while sprinting wasn't by the suspension, but by the wheels and overall 29.4-pound weight of the bike.

We did of course do some ascending with the Cane Creek's Climb Switch enabled as well. This is the best shock climb adjustment that has been made in the mountain bike industry to date. Rather than simply cutting down on the amount of oil flow allowed through the compression circuits, engaging the Climb Switch increases both low-speed compression and low-speed rebound. While it lacks a distinct platform feel that some may be accustomed to, this still helps the shock remain firmer under pedaling forces, while drastically improving traction in technical, rough uphill sections of trail. The only downside to the Climb Switch on the Enduro is its position, as it can be somewhat challenging to find and flip, especially when it is most useful on a technical climb.

The stock shock settings are at a point where most riders would be completely happy with the performance of the suspension system. They also serve as a great starting point for those that want to adjust things to personal preferences. The Enduro rides lively and agile, enabling quick line changes and last minute options to pop off features, all while providing control on moderately sized hits and loose terrain. Braking is calm and controlled, with no odd qualities to it.

On sustained rough off-camber sections we found that the rear end skipped around a bit more than ideal, which could be alleviated with some minor adjustments to the stock settings. The bike also found the bottom end of its travel pretty quickly on big hits, partly due to the quite linear nature of the Enduro's suspension design. The bike relies heavily on the progressive nature of the air shock (with volume spacers) for bottom out support. Those riding long descents may want to take note of the relatively high leverage ratio (3.2-3.0), which could put the shock through a good test on long descents.

Overall, through our rides down the rock infested trails we found the rear of the bike outperformed the lower end Pike up front, keeping the back wheel planted and controlled at most times, while the front tended not to track as well. We've had similar experiences with the front end on other bikes that were equipped with the Pike RC, and feel that had the RCT3 been fitted in this situation, the bike would have been more balanced front to rear in the rough.

The geometry is aggressive, which lends itself well to getting rowdy and letting off the brakes, though it doesn't ride as planted and DH-like as some of its closest competitors, instead providing a better all-around feel than encourages playfulness and fun, rather than muting the trail. The short 422mm chainstay length is a good deal less than most bikes in this arena, which helps with tight corners, jumping, and lifting the front end. We did notice that the 650B model lacks the typical "in the bike feel" of most of Specialized's creations, a result of using the existing 26-inch front triangle which makes the bottom bracket a little high for a Specialized at 352mm.

While it can climb well, it was not without its nuances. The 74.5-degree effective seat tube angle helps in this department, though in steeper switchbacks and chunky sections it can be a struggle to keep the front end grounded, especially for tall riders who need more seatpost extension on the 69.5-degree actual seat tube angle. The short chainstays, tall-ish stack height, and a bit of an offset on the Specialized Command IR dropper post also contribute to this. The higher than normal (for Specialized) bottom bracket height makes technical climbs a bit easier thanks to better crank/pedal clearance, and the slack head angle is less of a nuisance than you'd think on the ups.

The size Large frame we tested is the largest frame available, and if a slightly larger size is desired riders are forced to up their wheel size to the 29-inch incarnation. This falls in line with Specialized's "bigger is better" saying when it comes to wheels. It's an interesting move considering that 29-inch wheels are available in size Small of other models, like the Stumpjumper, so it would seem frame size is not the sole rationale behind this sizing preference. One of our testers, standing at 6'3", found the Large Enduro 650b to be a little on the small side, making it a struggle when ascending and less stable when descending with any speed, but has little interest in jumping on a 29-inch trail bike. There will no doubt be other riders that would like the opportunity to ride an XL Enduro 650B. For our 5'10" tester, however, the size Large provided a healthy amount of reach at 443mm and stable handling when combined with a short stem.

Build Kit

The Enduro Elite comes with a range of SRAM and Specialized branded products. Like many all-mountain machines for 2015, it's equipped with SRAM's X01 1x11-speed drivetrain. The bike was fitted with a 34-tooth chainring up front, providing a good range of gear ratios. We were happy to see Specialized's lightweight and compact top chainguide, which adds that little bit of chain security for peace of mind. Despite the clutched X01 derailleur, our bike made a bit of a racket, most notably under successive larger hits. The supplied Specialized chainstay protector appears to cover the area sufficiently, though adding some mastic tape to the inside of the seat stay will help quiet things further.

The braking department was covered by SRAM's new Guide R brake, with a reach adjustment but no pad contact adjustment. The Guide brakes are a vast improvement on previous Avid incarnations. Coupled with 200mm rotor up front and 180mm out back, we had plenty of power to get stopped in a hurry. The larger rotor up front is appreciated.

Specialized's own 125mm travel Command Post IR dropper seatpost comes equipped with a new lever that mounts cleanly under the bar. It's in the perfect position for quick adjustments. The post is very reliable, but is limited to just three positions and rebounds very quickly.

As mentioned, the Pike up front was the RC version, a model that is limited to low-speed compression and rebound adjustments. We found the fork was not able to equal the control granted by the Cane Creek DBInline shock, and feel that the RCT3 would be a better match to balance the bike out. It's worth noting that at this price point on other manufacturer's bikes, the RCT3 is not out of the question.

The tires on our test bike were a little different to what is being spec'd by Specialized. We had the trustworthy Butcher tire up front in the lighter Control casing, and in the rear was a Purgatory. Specialized specs state that the bike will come equipped with the new Slaughter semi-slick tire, which will boost rolling speed while providing some good cornering knobs. The Purgatory in the rear was cleverly fitted with the burlier Grid casing, and while this adds weight, it's nice to have a little more protection in the rear for those bigger hits and sharp sniper rocks. Kudos to Specialized for thinking a little outside the box here, supplying a slightly lighter front casing compared to the rear in order to save a little weight. The Control tires do tend to get squirmy when pushing into fast corners, however, and given the speeds and terrain the bike is capable of tackling we feel that perhaps a Grid front and rear would have been a better choice.

The new tubeless ready Roval Traverse Fattie aluminum wheels have a moderately massive 29mm inner width, which really boosts cornering performance. Set this bike on edge, look through the corner and hang on! It will grip like velcro and give a consistent and confidence inspiring ride through most turns, which ultimately equates to more fun. The aluminum version isn't the most peppy of wheels, despite weighing in at a respectable 1,690g (3.7-pounds). They’re also not the stiffest or snappiest, most likely thanks to the reduced 24/28 spoke count. Combined with the bike's overall weight this resulted in just average acceleration when getting on the gas. The DT Swiss Star Ratchet drive system provides reliable, quick engagement.

Finally, the cockpit was an odd one, especially considering the intended purpose of the bike. The stem on our Large was a Specialized 75mm XC stem with a 6-degree rise - definitely an oversight both in terms of the length and the stem's functionality. Additionally, the 750mm Specialized bars are a bit narrow, especially for the size Large. We swapped out the cockpit for something in the 780x50mm variety, and suggest all other riders do the same.

Long Term Durability

The Enduro is a stout bike with a stiff frame and mostly well thought out spec, and as such we don't see many concerns for durability down the line. We're still big fans of the traditional threaded bottom bracket for durability and noise reasons, and it's likely that at some point there will be an issue with the bottom bracket for some users. The Enduro also retains its cable routing under the downtube, which is cause for concern and could result in a pinched cable or cut hydraulic line. The frame is backed by a lifetime warranty with a five year limit on "suspension attachment points and related equipment."

What's The Bottom Line?

The 2015 Specialized Enduro Elite 650B is a downright fun bike to ride. It's poppy and playful, yet the rear suspension grants the rider confidence when traction and control are required with a predictable feeling. The front end of the bike was a bit of a let down in loose terrain. While the stock rear suspension tune is a good starting point, those that want more out of their bike will likely stray away from these settings given enough time. The great thing thing is that if you are so inclined, you can absolutely do this thanks to the adjustability of the Cane Creek DB Inline shock. For most, the stock setup (with exception to the cockpit), makes for a great ride that loves to be pushed hard. If you're an energetic rider or looking for something that can take the hits while remaining maneuverable, the Enduro 650B is definitely worthy of a test ride.

Visit www.specialized.com for more details.

Bonus Gallery: 19 photos of the 2015 Specialized Enduro Elite 650B up close and in action


About The Reviewers

AJ Barlas - In 15 years on the bike AJ has developed a smooth and fluid style. Hailing from Squamish, BC, his preferred terrain is chunky, twisty trail with natural features. He's picky with equipment and has built a strong understanding of what works well and why by riding a large number of different parts and bikes.

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 15 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.

About Test Sessions

Three years ago Vital MTB set out to bring you the most honest, unbiased reviews you'll find anywhere. That tradition continues today as we ride 2015's most exciting trail, all-mountain, and enduro bikes in San Luis Obispo, California. Reviews can be accessed 24/7 in our Product Guide. Test Sessions was made possible with the help of Foothill Cyclery. Tester gear provided by Five Ten, Race Face, Easton, Troy Lee Designs, Club Ride, Kali, Royal, Smith, Pearl Izumi, and Source.

This product has no reviews yet.

Added a product review for 2015 Fezzari Timp Peak X01 3/4/2015 6:10 PM
C138_2015_fezzari_timp_peak_x01_bike

2015 Test Sessions: Fezzari Timp Peak X01

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

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


Introduced in 2014, the Fezzari Timp Peak is the brand's first full carbon dual suspension mountain bike. Sporting 150mm of travel, 27.5-inch wheels, and geometry that makes it a good all-arounder, the bike is best suited to trail, all-mountain, and light duty enduro race use. For many the most appealing aspect of the bike is the great value it represents - a comparable build on most competitors' full carbon frames would set you back nearly $10,000, while the Timp Peak slots in at just over $6,000 thanks to a direct to consumer sales model. Curious to see how it stacks up against the competition, we spent some quality time aboard the bike during the 2015 Vital MTB Test Sessions in San Luis Obispo, California.

Highlights

  • Carbon frame
  • 27.5-inch wheels
  • 150mm (5.9-inches) of rear wheel travel // 150mm (5.9-inches) front
  • Tapered head tube
  • 67-degree head angle
  • 72.5-degree effective seat tube angle
  • 367mm (14.4-inch) measured bottom bracket height
  • 438mm (17.2-inch) chainstays
  • Press Fit bottom bracket
  • 142mm rear spacing with 12mm through axle
  • Measured complete weight (size 18", no pedals): 25-pounds, 14-ounces (11.7kg)
  • $6,199 MSRP

At just 3.75-pounds without the shock, the Timp Peak's low frame weight coincides with the relatively skinny tube appearance of the carbon front end, rear triangle, and rocker link. Fezzari says they did their best to optimize the strength to weight ratio on this frame. This adds up to a very respectable complete build weight of 25.9-pounds. That's nearly 2-pounds lighter than any of the 15 other men's bikes in our Test Sessions lineup, at a cost thousands less than the next closest competitor.

When it comes to the carbon construction process, Fezzari utilizes 3D printing machines to create collapsible mandrels, which, according to Fezzari, allow a tighter wrapping of carbon for higher strength and lower weight. The process gives the inside of the tubes a smooth finish and better consistency over a larger number production frames. Mandrels are removed before the curing process, piece by piece. The carbon layup uses smaller sheets of carbon at junctions to make the layup more precise while decreasing carbon fiber waste. The brand says this technique is more expensive to use but creates better performance at a lower weight. A mix of carbon types are used to tune stiffness, flex, and weight in strategic locations. On the Timp Peak, an additional carbon plate is integrated into the underside of the downtube for impact resistance and frame protection, though there's no rubber guard like on many other carbon frames.

Cable routing is internal for the rear brake, rear derailleur, optional front derailleur, and stealth dropper seatpost. Rubber grommets at the cable ports help keep moisture and grime out of the frame.


The rear suspension design is a linkage driven single pivot design called FRD Tetralink, where the main pivot doubles as the lower shock mount. The compact design puts the shock in a pretty convenient position for on-the-fly adjustments while leaving plenty of space for a water bottle inside the front triangle. Just one linkage pivot point utilizes bearings, while the remaining points rely on Igus bushings. We noticed some slight binding while cycling the linkage with the shock removed, as is typical of frames with bushings.

Our test bike came equipped with SRAM's X01 drivetrain, but it's also possible to set it up with a 2X system. It uses a press fit bottom bracket and there are no ISCG mounts, but if one wanted a chain guide the direct front derailleur mount could be used for a top guide. Additional details include ~1cm of rear tire mud clearance, a tapered head tube, and 12x142mm rear axle.

What's the Timp Peak name all about? Fezzari's headquarters near Salt Lake City, Utah is surrounded by several large mountain peaks. The Timp Peak is named after Mount Timpanogos, which the bike was tested on prior to production.

The early 2015 release Timp Peak X01 model comes in at $6,199, even with carbon wheels. Fezzari has historically offered several models of this bike, so we expect additional builds will be offered in the future.


On The Trail

Our time aboard the Timp Peak was split between the wide open, jump filled trails of Montana de Oro State Park and the rocky and rougher singletrack on West Cuesta Ridge in San Luis Obispo. The two offered a good variety of terrain to see where the bike is best suited.

Every bike Fezzari sells goes through a 23-point custom setup program to ensure it's just right for you. They consider your riding style and use measurements including your height, weight, inseam, torso, and arm length to determine a good setup. Bar width, stem length, saddle position, crank length, brake reach and angle are considered in the equation. They'll even trim the stock 800mm wide RaceFace Sixc35 carbon bars to your desired width. With a 50mm RaceFace Atlas35 stem in place, the cockpit on our size 18-inch test frame (428mm reach, 584mm effective top tube) felt perfectly roomy while standing while also putting us in an upright position for seated climbs.

A single bottomless token was added to the RockShox RCT3 Solo Air Pike fork, and the rear RockShox Monarch Plus RC3 DebonAir shock seated sag was set to the recommended 30% before hitting the trails.

While the claimed 330mm (13.0-inch) bottom bracket height sounds low, when we measured it to the center of the bottom bracket it actually comes in quite tall at around 367mm (14.4-inches). In talks with Fezzari after riding the Timp Peak, we learned that the number was quoted from when the bike used a shorter shock, before reaching production. Unfortunately this discrepancy makes use question the listed geometry. Fezzari has since updated the site to read 349mm (13.75-inches). The bike's moderately slack 67-degree head tube angle lends itself to all-around use, providing a good compromise of chunk eating capability and quick handling traits. At times the handling felt so quick that we're inclined to think the bike may be a bit steeper.

Numbers aside, when pointed downhill the Timp Peak is quite fun to ride. It has a very calm and controlled disposition most of the time, which inspires you to let loose and jump around. The bike's low weight only adds to the playfulness. The ride is comfortable and confidence inspiring at slow and medium speeds.


Aided by the Monarch Debonair shock, rear suspension performance is quite good with a supple and active feel when off the brakes, which balances well with the Pike fork. The bike responds quickly to rider inputs, and changing lines at a moment's notice is easy to do. The snug 438mm chain stays add to the snappy, precise feel and encourage you to whip it around turns and pop wheelies. There's enough progression built into the system to prevent a harsh bottom out while still allowing it to use a good amount of travel often. This compromise is often difficult to master in a single pivot design.


On the brakes the suspension feel is quite different, however, as the rear brake placement on the chain stay creates an excessive amount of brake squat. This firms up the suspension greatly during heavy braking, which can cause it to feel a little harsh. As trails became truly rough and fast, requiring more braking power quickly, the suspension felt a tad overwhelmed. Most of the time it was great, but occasionally we would hit a rough section that felt a whole lot more square than it was. When slowing from high speeds we also sometimes noted a severe chatter/vibration feeling as the suspension would be forced to compress, causing a momentary loss of traction, rebound, catch traction again, and repeat until we let off the brakes. Delicate rear brake modulation was the only solution to the problem. This occurred a handful of times each ride. Subsequent re-tests of the bike by the company on their own trails haven't reproduced this result.

Because the rear brake line is secured to the rocker before entering the top tube, when the suspension compresses the brake line is forced into the top tube. The Timp Peak lacks any sort of internal guide system for the cable, so this can create a lot of internal rattling. It was not all the time, but when it did happen, we couldn't help but wonder if it was something actually wrong, or if it was just the cables acting as drumsticks inside the frame. While it's possible to add a little bit of electrical tape around the brake cable where it exits the frame near the seat tube, re-routing the brake externally or past the lower pivot would create a quieter ride.

Speaking of the routing, we wish there were two ports for cables on the left of the frame, and two on the right. Currently there are three cables that enter the frame by the headtube on the right side, and only one on the left. As sent from the factory this makes for an awkward rear brake line that has more bend than it should have and a more cluttered front end than we would want.


Sprinting, the bike reacts pretty quickly, stands up in the travel, and gains speed well. Seated climbs are just fine with the shock wide open with no drastic loss of power or suspension movement, leaving it free to absorb bumps and keep traction. The 72.5-degree seat tube angle puts you in a good position for climbs while still being easy to get the front end up over obstacles. We experienced no front end pushing in uphill switchbacks, which it snapped right around. Technical climbs were handled very well for the most part, so long as we were smooth and spun up them. The geometry helped with this, especially the high bottom bracket height.

Build Kit

As we mentioned previously, most bikes with a comparable spec run several thousands more, so you know the components are all the cream of the crop from RockShox, SRAM, Race Face, Ergon, Reynolds, and Schwalbe. The bike arrived almost fully built, requiring just 20 minutes of our time to have it assembled and ready to rip.


Up front, the RockShox Pike RCT3 Solo Air fork provided buttery smooth action, great sensitivity, a dialed chassis, and good bottom out control with one or more Bottomless Tokens installed. We'd love a little more high speed support, but as we've noted before it's a remarkable fork for the vast majority of riders. In the rear suspension department, the Monarch Plus Debonair did a commendable job masking some storied single pivot flaws, and made the relatively simple system work well in most circumstances.


New for 2015, the Timp Peak comes setup tubeless with the recently updated Schwalbe Nobby Nic 2.35-inch tires (not the Maxxis Ardents mentioned on their site). Traction was quite good on both sandy and loose-over-hard terrain, but then again dirt conditions were very favorable. On drier, more gravely terrain, we did experience some front end washing when really pushing it, which was tough to recover from given the compound that came stock on the Fezzari. We'd love a softer TrailStar rubber compound installed up front, but the stock PaceStar version will last quite a bit longer, especially out back. The tires roll quickly while providing much better cornering traction than the previous version.


The 3.8-pound Reynolds 27.5AM Carbon tubeless wheels help keep the weight down where it really counts while adding to the precise feel of the bike. With our tire pressures at 28psi up front and 31psi in the rear, the Reynolds wheels didn't have an overly harsh feel that some carbon wheels do. Hub engagement was average. They still ran very true at the conclusion of our test.

SRAM's new Guide RSC brakes coupled with dual 180mm rotors provided plenty of power, good modulation, and improved feel and adjustment range over the Avid X0 Trail predecessors. We experienced no inconsistencies or fading. We feel the Timp Peak would benefit from a smaller rotor in the back, though. Less force going into the rear suspension would be a positive thing without hampering braking too much, and an already light bike would become marginally lighter.


The SRAM X01 drivetrain worked flawlessly with quick shifts and plenty of range while remaining dead silent. Hard charging riders may consider a top chain guide, as well as sizing up from the stock 30-tooth chainring. While there is a neoprene chainstay guard for chainslap, there is no guard on the inside of seat stay which could help quiet the bike a touch more.

Once again, the RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper post functioned very smoothly, and Fezzari took care to spec the most ergonomic lever option possible.


If you're not sold on any one component, Fezzari will upgrade or change out parts at a very reasonable price without charging any restocking or shop fees.

Long Term Durability

Other than a few paint chips on the rocker link and the potential for the Igus bushings to require service more often than bearings, we've seen nothing that indicates a potential durability issue. All Fezzari bikes come with a 30 day money back guarantee and a three year warranty on the carbon frame, which speaks well about the confidence they have in the product. All other original components are warranted for one year.


What's The Bottom Line?

The 2015 Fezzari Timp Peak is a quick handling trail/all-mountain bike that's capable of taming a wide variety of terrain while remaining incredibly light and pedal friendly. It's well balanced for the most part, though the above average bottom bracket height gave us some trouble in corners and lacked that oh so coveted feeling of being 'in' the bike. The rest of the geometry encourages you to play, however, making even mundane trails more enjoyable. Lower the bottom bracket, solve the brake squat problem, sort the cable routing, and give us ISCG tabs and you've got an outstanding ride. While the build kit may be better, we feel Fezzari needs to dial in the details to really knock it out of the park. That said, it's a good value considering the great build kit and care that goes into each purchase. Buying direct may be a sticky point for some as you lose the shop component, but Fezzari has programs in place to make setup and warranty as smooth and seamless as possible, even for the novice rider.

Visit www.fezzari.com for more details.

Bonus Gallery: 16 photos of the 2015 Fezzari Timp Peak 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 18 years, 11 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 15 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.

About Test Sessions

Three years ago Vital MTB set out to bring you the most honest, unbiased reviews you'll find anywhere. That tradition continues today as we ride 2015's most exciting trail, all-mountain, and enduro bikes in San Luis Obispo, California. Reviews can be accessed 24/7 in our Product Guide. Test Sessions was made possible with the help of Foothill Cyclery. Tester gear provided by Five Ten, Race Face, Easton, Troy Lee Designs, Club Ride, Kali, Royal, Smith, Pearl Izumi, and Source.

This product has no reviews yet.

Added a product review for 2015 Liv Women's Intrigue 1 3/3/2015 9:47 PM
C138_2015_giant_intrigue_1

2015 Test Sessions: Liv Intrigue 1

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Reviewed by Amanda Wentz and Courtney Steen // Photos by Lear Miller

After its debut in 2014, the Liv Intrigue is back for more with some nice upgrades. Liv claims the bike will help boost your speed and skills, and is "built specifically for women seeking maximum control and confidence on aggressive trails." Was this just some marketing talk or is there really a difference? We were in sunny San Luis Obispo, California to find out. Enduro Pro lady shredder Kelli Emmett helped with the design process, so we knew it had potential to be a ripper going into the 2015 Vital MTB Test Sessions.

Highlights

  • Aluminum frame
  • 27.5-inch wheels
  • 140mm (5.5-inches) of rear wheel travel // 120-140mm (4.7 to 5.5-inches) front
  • Tapered head tube
  • 68-degree head angle
  • 73.5-degree effective seat tube angle
  • 327mm (12.9-inch) measured bottom bracket height
  • 447mm (17.6-inch) chainstays
  • Press Fit bottom bracket
  • 142mm rear spacing with 12mm through axle
  • Measured complete weight (size M, no pedals): 27-pounds, 15-ounces (12.7kg)
  • $4,700 MSRP

Liv, a Giant Bikes brand, creates bikes with their 3F (Fit/Form/Function) guiding principle in mind. At the basic level, when designing bikes specifically for women, they consider our unique strengths and physical characteristics. How so? For starters, the Intrigue was designed from the ground up using body dimension data collected from women all over the world. According to Liv, this data has led them to finding the best angles to complement how women carry their weight and balance over their bikes. They also consider stem lengths, handlebar width, crank arm length, and saddle ergonomics into the equation. It's much more than the usual "shrink it and pink it" approach.

The Intrigue rides on an ALUXX SL-grade aluminum frame, 27.5-inch wheels, and 140mm of Maestro suspension. The dual-link suspension design creates a single floating pivot point claimed to perform consistently under pedaling power and remain fully active while braking. Additional features include internal routing for everything, a chainstay guard, ISCG tabs, Press Fit bottom bracket, room for a water bottle inside the front triangle, and lots of mud clearance. Liv has also moved back to the original OverDrive headtube (standard 1 1/8 to 1 1/2-inch tapered) to make things easier.

2015 sees a few sweet upgrades in the components department for the $4,700 Intrigue 1 model - most notably the Giant P-TRX1 Composite wheel system. Another big upgrade is in the SRAM drivetrain, which is still a 2x10 system, but instead of GripShift it now has X0 trigger shifters paired with X9 front and X0 rear derailleurs. There's also a $2,775 Intrigue 2 model featuring a Shimano Deore build, RockShox suspension, and a dropper post. XS, Small, Medium, and Large sizes are available, with the XS being one of the few bikes small enough for short women who may struggle to find a good fit.

On The Trail

We had the difficult job of testing the Intrigue 1 in some of the most beautiful scenery that California has to offer (rough job, we know). We rode several West Cuesta Ridge and Madonna Mountain trails near San Luis Obispo that really put bikes through the wringer.

As testers with two very different body types, we believe we were able to get a well-rounded perspective on this bike, especially in the fit department. We are roughly the same height, but Amanda (5'6" tall) has long legs and a short torso while Courtney (5'7" tall) is just the opposite.

The 403mm reach is average length for a Women's size Medium frame, and we found that it strikes a good balance for a range of rider heights and arm lengths. All sizes have a better than average standover height, which is great for women with shorter legs. Short seat tubes are also welcome for more adjustment and fit options.

In the cockpit area, Amanda rode the bike completely stock at first, while Courtney immediately switched out the stock Giant Contact SL 700mm bars and 80mm stem to suit her preference. This bike is intended to provide "unrivaled handing on descents," so the lack of wider bars and a short stem was a bit puzzling to us. In the end we both agreed that swapping out the bars and stem for something in the 750mm wide and 50mm length range gave us more control over the front end, both uphill and down.

The Fox Float CTD rear shock was initially set to 30% sag, falling within the suggested 25-30% range. Up front the Fox Float CTD Talas Performance fork was set to 25% sag. Once we had our bike feeling dialed we headed out to a network of trails that would give us the best variety. We had some time to settle in on a short road climb then dropped into a trail littered with some slower techy rock features. After that, we bombed through some fast, chundery, loose rocks before some jumps and a quick flowy section with a mix of berms and flat turns.

Both of us tend to favor the downhills, so we were super excited to see how it would perform on the rocky trails. Once we got past the slight distrust of the front Schwalbe Nobby Nic tire and replaced the cockpit, the Intrigue rewarded us with responsive handling and stability at speed. Popping off rocks and other trail features made the ride a blast and we were psyched the Intrigue was able to get us out of a few spots of trouble we got into. We feel like the moderately slack head angle and low bottom bracket height added to the stable feel, and allowed us to ride the bike down some rowdier terrain than most 140mm travel women's bikes would be up for. While the Intrigue would reward rider input, it didn’t necessarily need it. It would motor comfortably over trail features without making us feel like we were along for a wild ride.

We were also pleasantly surprised how well the bike handled under braking. Amanda came into a few switchbacks a bit too hot, and even with the rough ground she was able to brake quickly without losing control of the back end.

Suspension wise, we both agreed that with the CTD shock in Descend mode it tended to push through the first bit of travel quite quickly with a super plush feel, then ramp up almost too much at the bottom of the travel. Trail mode gave something more predictable to push against when jumping or changing lines, so dropping just below 30% sag and riding in Trail mode seemed to strike the best balance. Chattery sections at speed could be a bit rough at times in this setting, however.

In the last section of trail we were rewarded with some fast and flowy turns through a fantastic eucalyptus grove and around some gnarled live oaks. There were even a few jumps thrown in to mix it up. While the Intrigue didn’t necessarily want to rail through corners, it was quite stable. Manualing through puddles and over waterbars was a bit of a challenge due to the somewhat long chainstays, though these add to the stable feel at other times. Jumping was another matter though. It did make that fun, and the ramp in the suspension saved one of our testers who may have cased one of the jumps pretty solidly.

Along the road and on the trail we noticed that the 27.9-pound bike feels light on its feet. The front end feels planted on climbs, yet it is still easy to move your weight forward or back to get up and over a feature. Compared to some lighter bikes we tested, it felt more efficient, but only when we were in the Trail suspension setting. Those composite wheels also make for a bit of an easier job pedaling. We noticed that in Descend mode, the bike has a descent amount of pedal bob, especially when standing out of the saddle. During a slightly rocky climb with some waterbars we switched both the front and rear into Climb mode to see how it would perform. It turns out that Climb mode wasn’t the greatest choice for this terrain as it functions more as a full lockout that felt too harsh and unforgiving, so reserve it for smooth fire road ascents. Ultimately Trail mode also became the preferred ascend mode for both of us, as it allowed the wheels to maintain traction and added a platform for hard efforts. The Maestro suspension design makes it easy to get to the CTD adjustment lever.

A glance at the specs shows that this bike has a 73.5-degree effective seat angle, putting you into a pretty aggressive pedaling position. While the downs are the best part, what goes down must sometimes go up, and we faced some steep climbing sections which made us thankful for the seated geometry. Up front you get a Fox Float CTD Talas Performance fork which can be set to 120 or 140mm of travel on the fly. Only Courtney used the travel adjust feature, dropping the fork for climbs then turning it back to 140mm for descents which felt was more efficient. Overall the performance of the fork was something we were happy with and it was easily adjustable to fit all riding styles.

Build Kit

The 2015 Intrigue 1 comes nicely spec’d for the $4,700 price point, especially when you note the Giant P-TRX1 Composite wheels that you typically wouldn't find on a bike at this level. While we did notice increased stiffness in the wheels versus the aluminum alternative, the first difference noticed was the level of noise when blowing over rocks, or lack thereof. Where our aluminum rims would make a loud PING when we weren’t so graceful, the carbon muted mistakes quite nicely. There was also some level of damping that we could feel when rolling over smaller bumps and chatter at speed. Plus the wheels accelerated nicely and the hubs had good engagement to get us up and over tech sections. Should you want to upgrade to a 1X drivetrain, we believe they are compatible with the SRAM XD driver body design. One thing we didn’t get to test is the ease with which the wheels could be converted to tubeless, but they do come with the necessary parts from the factory.

2.25-inch Schwalbe Nobby Nic tires are spec'd both front and back. We were slightly skeptical of this choice for a front tire because they seemed relatively low profile, but we knew they would be fast rolling. Weighing in at 610g per tire they are quite light, but we found that the weight savings may come at a trade-off in sidewall thickness. According to Schwalbe this tire is supposed to have superior sidewall protection from cuts and pinches, but we had the rear tire pinch flat in terrain that we didn’t expect. Setting these up tubeless could help prevent pinch flats. On the plus side, Schwalbe made some improvements to this tire in the last year and we felt that the cornering knobs seemed a bit more robust. They did feel a bit drifty when we rode some loose over hard pack, but many tires would have felt the same way. Overall we were happy with the way they rolled and had good traction under braking.

In addition to the cockpit swap, neither of us were a fan of the foam grips. They were huge in comparison to many women’s hands and difficult to change out. We felt that lock-on grips would have been a better choice. They would have made the bike look better, and we could have more confidence that they would stay put over time. They may have saved a few grams, but the savings here seemed negligible.

This bike comes with Giant’s own internally routed Contact SL Switch-R dropper seat post which has some cool features, like the ability to adjust to any point in its travel. While hydraulic seat posts are popular, a cable actuated post like this one can be kind of cool. Let’s say you’re just riding along 15-miles from home and the cable breaks. We're guessing that a bleed kit isn’t part of your gear bag, but a spare derailleur cable is. Problem solved. Don’t have a cable? That's fine too. The post will just remain in the upright position for the duration of your ride. As much as we appreciated the way the dropper post has changed riding, we do have one beef with the Giant Contact post. The Intrigue comes with just 75mm of dropper travel, and this just isn’t enough to get the saddle out of the way on steep descents. There were a number of times the saddle would bump us in the bum on rowdy descents and would make us feel a little sketchy. The bike can tackle steep terrain, but sometimes we felt limited by the saddle all up in our business. Giant does make a 100mm dropper post, and even at the seat height needed for our shorter legged rider it looks like there would be room for that extra 25mm of adjustment. The single bolt clamp design is also a little difficult to adjust and keep tight.

The bike should have come with the SRAM Guide R brakes, but instead we had the Avid Trail 9s. We had heard good things about the Guides and were looking forward to checking them out, but the Trail 9s didn’t disappoint. The lever was comfy and it was easy to adjust the reach thanks to the knob on the outside of the lever. This is a fine adjustment that can be beneficial to the ladies with smaller hands. Modulation was quite good, and we never felt like we were locking up our wheels when we didn’t mean to. Lastly, the 160mm rotors provided sufficient stopping power. Overall they were well matched to the capabilities of the bike, but we are still looking forward to checking out the Guides.

While the range of gears provided by the SRAM 2x10 system is fantastic, we found that it dropped the chain way too much. And by too much we aren’t being overly dramatic here. Almost every bumpy downhill ended with us having to stop and put our chain back on. This costs the bike some points overall. Unfortunately this is something that also occurred on the 2014 Intrigue, and hasn’t been corrected for 2015 despite other drivetrain upgrades. On the plus side, the X0 shifting seemed precise.

Finally, the internal routing could use some serious help. The cables, particularly the seat post cable on our test bike, bounced around in the frame a lot. The frame has big ports to accept the cables, but there is no internal guide to keep them from moving around or to help with installation. The cable length is also very excessive from the factory. Trimming down the housing and making sure everything is pulled tight in the frame would help.

Long Term Durability

We've had another Intrigue in the field for quite some time, and even after almost a full year of riding it hasn’t seen much obvious wear and tear. Much of this is thanks to some clear tape on the head tube which comes with the bike to protect against cable rub. As for the components, they are solidly spec’d for this bike's intended rider so nothing stands out as a liability. Liv backs the frame with an impressive lifetime warranty plus one year on original components.

What's The Bottom Line?

We set out to see if Liv had in fact created a bike that would allow women of all sizes to feel comfortable and stable. There is a ton of merit to this claim, though it took a cockpit upgrade to achieve the feel. Overall the Intrigue 1 was able to rise to the occasion in almost all the situations we put it in. Provided you find the sweet spot in the suspension setup, it's capable of taming very rough descents without feeling like it's overkill on the rest of the ride. There are a few shortcomings to the build kit and cable routing, but these could be overcome with a few small tweaks. The geometry promotes balance, and while responsive it doesn’t always need to be told what to do. Because of this we felt that this bike would be fantastic for helping a beginner progress or a more advanced rider hone her skills, so it could be a good investment for several seasons of use.

Visit www.liv-cycling.com for more details.

Bonus Gallery: 16 photos of the 2015 Liv Intrigue 1 up close and in action


About The Reviewers

Courtney Steen - Courtney has been at it for seven years and racked up some nice race results along the way in various disciplines. Today she travels the country in a RV in search of the next best trail and writes women's reviews for Vital MTB. Her technical background helps her think critically about products and how they can be improved.

Amanda Wentz - Over the last decade Amanda has soaked up all aspects of mountain biking and continues to push herself to progress. Just last year she fell in love with the rush of racing downhill. She recently turned her passion into a career by coaching riders to navigate the sometimes painful entry into mountain biking.

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

About Test Sessions

Three years ago Vital MTB set out to bring you the most honest, unbiased reviews you'll find anywhere. That tradition continues today as we ride 2015's most exciting trail, all-mountain, and enduro bikes in San Luis Obispo, California. Reviews can be accessed 24/7 in our Product Guide. Test Sessions was made possible with the help of Foothill Cyclery. Tester gear provided by Five Ten, Race Face, Easton, Troy Lee Designs, Club Ride, Kali, Royal, Smith, Pearl Izumi, and Source.

This product has no reviews yet.

Added a product review for 2015 Santa Cruz Nomad Carbon X01 27.5 2/26/2015 6:35 PM
C138_2015_santa_cruz_nomad_test_session_build

2015 Test Sessions: Santa Cruz Nomad Carbon X01

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

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

The 2015 Santa Cruz Nomad is built to be an absolute beast. Now in its third generation, it is longer, slacker, lighter, has updated VPP suspension, and even sports more travel than the previous model. 27.5-inch wheels round out the package, as well as a parts pack that's ready to rock. With all the hype around this bike it was high time to officially weigh in on the Nomad during the Vital MTB Test Sessions.

Highlights

  • Carbon CC frame
  • 27.5-inch wheels
  • 165mm (6.5-inches) of rear wheel travel // 160mm (6.3-inches) front
  • Tapered head tube
  • 65-degree head angle
  • 74.2-degree effective seat tube angle
  • 340mm (13.4-inch) measured bottom bracket height
  • 433mm (17.0-inch) chainstays
  • Threaded bottom bracket
  • 142mm rear spacing with 12mm through axle
  • Measured complete weight (size L, no pedals): 28-pounds, 6-ounces (12.9kg)
  • $6969 MSRP as tested

At the heart of the new bike is a closely guarded carbon construction process that Santa Cruz prides itself on. Their fantastic plastic frames have incredibly smooth insides, while many other brands have rough patches and inconsistencies which can result in a weaker frame and unnecessary weight. The "Carbon CC" frame is more refined from what they were even able to do a couple years ago as the technology is advancing at such a fast rate. Santa Cruz also offers a more affordable "Carbon C" version.

Looking inside the frame also reveals the most dialed internal cable routing system in existence. Santa Cruz uses small carbon tubes to make routing internal cables incredibly easy, which also eliminates the chance of cables rattling. Both stealth and external dropper post cable routing options exist as well.

The frame uses the tried and true VPP suspension design to deliver 165mm of travel. You'll notice that the lower link has been recessed on this model with a pivot above the bottom bracket, protecting the link from rock strikes and allowing the designers to really shorten up the chainstay length (the 1X drivetrain specific frame helped, too). Both links are forged, the collet-style axle pivots are easy to access, and the use of angular contact bearings helps stiffen the rear end.

Completely new geometry is another big highlight, and as always the Nomad continues to be geared towards the descents. There are no geometry adjustments, but the 65-degree head angle should suit the bike's target rider well and make for no excuses on the way down. A 340mm bottom bracket height, long wheelbase, increased reach measurements, and compact 433mm chainstays round out the package. Those wanting to get really wild can throw up to a 180mm travel fork up front.

Extra details include a threaded bottom bracket, 12x142mm rear axle, ISCG 05 tabs, and some of the best molded rubber chainstay, seat stay, and downtube guards in the industry. Mud clearance with the stock 2.3-inch Maxxis tires is acceptable with about 1cm of room for the muck. There's room for a water bottle inside the front triangle as well, though it's a tight fit so you may have to use a small bottle with some cages.

Complete Carbon CC Nomad builds start at $6,599 for the X01 option and $8,299 for XX1. Upgrades to the suspension and wheels are available from the factory, with the most expensive build running $10,669 for ENVE wheels, a FOX 36 Float RC2 fork, and RockShox Vivid Air R2C shock. Our X01 build with an upgraded shock and fork ran $6969. If you're looking to save a few bucks and aren't afraid of a few grams, the Carbon C model with X1 starts at $5,599. Or you can build it from the ground up starting with the Carbon CC frame and RockShox Monarch Plus RC3 Debonair shock for $2,999.

We were able to test the murdered out flat black Nomad, though if you prefer some color you can choose the Miami Vice tribute magenta and baby blue version.

On The Trail

As luck would have it, one of our testers actually bought a Nomad before our test and has ridden it everywhere between Colorado and California. Resort riding, shuttling, and some all day adventures were just part of the weekly routine. During Test Sessions in San Luis Obispo, California, we were able to try different suspension components and experiment on more trails to complete the experience.

The build kit on our test bike provided 800mm wide Santa Cruz carbon bars, a short 50mm RaceFace Turbine stem, and plenty of seatpost adjustment up and down to accommodate a wide range of riders. Check the reach and top tube numbers in the specs, and make sure you can work with the new sizing as it's longer than Santa Cruz bikes of the past. Our 5'10" tall tester loved the 438mm reach and 610mm effective top tube on the size Large frame. Meanwhile our 5'8" tall tester is usually between Medium and Large frame sizes, and the Medium was a better for him.

We experimented with rear shock sag settings from 30-40% while seated (30-35% is suggested), noting quite a range of performance through those different pressures. After settling on a fairly standard ~20% sag on the FOX 36 fork with the bike weighted evenly, we felt slightly rearward in our orientation, but this lent itself well to downhill use.

The bike's geometry encourages the bike to go fast, and regardless of a good or poor suspension setup the geometry will still take care of you, to a point, which really highlights how far frames have come. We would have killed to have controlled suspension and a 65-degree head angle on a DH bike just a handful of years ago, but now it's standard in a package where you have great pedaling performance to get up the hill as well. The slack head angle, relatively low bottom bracket height, and long front center all make for a bike that's made for hauling down any trail where speed is readily available, and it can come very close to DH bike speeds in rough terrain. It's really incredible how well the bike worked at the limits of our bravery and mental speed limits, a sign of a truly confidence inspiring ride.

On a casual ride, though, the Nomad might not be the best thing. At slower speeds or while you're not fully on the gas the ride can be a bit boring. Why? Because the Nomad is so capable you don't have to pick super precise lines or worry about the little stuff in your path. The trail can disappear beneath you, but that's the trade off for all the stability it offers. Sometimes we like the nature of picking lines, the challenge of keeping our feet on the pedals, or the excitement of finally nailing a tricky section we've had fits with before - the Nomad makes all of these things almost too easy. If you don't want to feel the rough stuff, then by all means bring this gun to the fight.

It responds well and does what it's told, but we wouldn't call it nimble or playful in the tradition sense. It will change lines, but be ready to muscle the bike around a bit due to its length and suspension feel. Then again, if your definition of play is to pull up hard and gap massive sections of the trail, then sure, it's "playful." It's also easy to get over the back of the bike and feel ready for anything that requires a quick front end lift.

A huge part of the Nomad's capability comes from the suspension. There were no situations where the bike didn't work well in rough terrain. The RockShox Vivid Air shock upgrade is borderline cheating, resulting in tons of control and consistency. The frame stiffness is also top notch. Really compressing the bike into corners yields a confidence that's sometimes a scarce commodity on San Luis Obispo's rockiest trails.

Due to the relatively linear mid-stroke that's typical of VPP designs, the Nomad uses a lot of travel a lot of the time. It's regressive through the sag point, then progressive after that. This allows you to sit into the travel, both aiding in smoothing out the trail and also giving the feeling of a muted ride. Despite using a lot of travel, it's still fairly difficult to bottom out. There is a pronounced ramp up at the end of the stroke which helps immensely on big landings or impacts. That's a very good thing, because odds are that you'll be moving at a high rate of speed when you do use all the travel. Small bumps disappear under the VPP suspension and Vivid Air, and the Nomad is one of the most stable we have ridden on trail chatter. The amount of travel and the quality of the Vivid's damping seem very well matched. We dare say that the capability of the Nomad would not be fully exploited with less of a shock, though the alternate RockShox Monarch Plus Debonair has proven to be a good all-around performer as well. Due to the overall progressive nature of the leverage curve it will also work very well with a coil shock.

On trails that were rocky or had ledges, the Nomad would stay very composed. It wouldn't ever kick us forward, try to spring us off, or surprise us, which is an improvement over the previous versions.

We can see how it would be easy to think of the Nomad as a purely descending machine - it does that job better than many. What really surprised us, though, is what a capable climber it is. The seat angle is very steep, giving you an upright seated riding position that feels more over the pedals than the off the back feel when standing. Owners of the previous generation Nomads will really notice this change, and it makes climbing much better than we anticipated. The fact that the Vivid Air did not have any external climb switches or settings was just fine by us given the added anti-squat that's built into the suspension design.

We were often tempted into questionable lines, and on occasion we would have to sprint into them. Santa Cruz's refinement of the VPP suspension is put to excellent use here, with the Nomad feeling very neutral during all out efforts. This is no doubt caused by the system's use of chain torque to keep the bike around the sag point, instead of extending the swingarm like some other designs. When climbing, the neutral feeling never made it seem like we were flying up the hills, but we always arrived at the top with few hassles. Other than the random pedal spike due to the low bottom bracket, the only other issue while climbing concerned the front end. There will always be a trade off for this type of steed, and in this case it's difficulty maneuvering up steep, tight turns. With a front end so far away and so slack, we really had to lean the bike over to change direction, or else it would feel like we were driving a bus at times.

Build Kit

Our X01 edition test bike came equipped with quality parts from FOX, RockShox, Maxxis, DT Swiss, WTB, RaceFace, Shimano, SRAM, e*thirteen, and Santa Cruz. At nearly $7,000 it's a bit of a let down to not see a top of the line component group, but the bulk of the money goes towards great frame quality and suspension more than anything else - components very necessary for a great ride.

As mentioned previously, our test bike had two upgrades to the stock build, including the FOX 36 Float RC2 fork and RockShox Vivid Air R2C shock. Were they worth it? We think so. The behavior of the 36 coupled with the Vivid Air on the rear made encouraged us to make otherwise questionable decisions, and the adjustability of the compression and rebound in both the front and rear of the bike made for a highly tunable ride. We can't overemphasize how much we appreciate not having extra knobs and levers on the bars, and instead of on/off switches, tuning adjustments that actually make a difference. The 36 had very smooth action and compression control, as well a stout chassis that pairs well with the frame. We also like the Vivid Air's ability to tune the beginning and ending of the rebound circuits independently. These adjustments could be overkill for some people, or some terrain, but for the Nomad it all seemed to fit and align with the purpose of going through rough terrain quickly.

On the tire side of things, the 2.3-inch Maxxis High Roller II treads aided in the bike's stable, capable feel. They roll surprisingly well for the size, and we had no issues with flats thanks to the Tubeless Ready design and EXO casing. While we'd prefer a little more predictability when really leaning the bike over in flat turns (especially once the side knobs start to peel away after a few weeks of use), braking is great and traction while climbing is good, so all in all they're solid performers.

The wheels were entirely capable, and we like the fact that normal spokes, rims, and very reliable hubs were all in place for easy service. The decently wide profile of the WTB Asym i23 rims gave the tires a good seat, and the solid engagement on the DT Swiss 350 hubs was just as we have come to expect. In the several months one of our testers has had with the same wheels there have been a few dents here and there, but nothing too bad considering the WTB rim is one of the lightest available for its width.

Shimano's XT brakes handled stopping duties with dual 180mm rotors, and it's reassuring to not write much more about them other than they were exactly as we have come to know. They're reliable, fade free on all but the longest descents, and easy to adjust. We do wish they would fit on the bar better with some of SRAM's product offerings, however. The dropper post, shifter, and brake levers coming from different companies made for a cluttered bar clamp area with reduced customization options.

Coupled with RaceFace Turbine Cinch cranks and their 32-tooth Narrow/Wide chainring, we didn't have any issues with the SRAM X1/X01 drivetrain. The addition of a E13 XCX top guide means the occasional chain drop is no longer a concern. The whole system works very quietly thanks to to the clutched rear derailleur and excellent swingarm protection that comes standard.

Finally, Santa Cruz includes a 150mm travel RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper post that worked perfectly well. The extra 25mm of travel allows you to move the bike around even more on those really steep descents and jumpy trails.

Long Term Durability

Considering the fact that this bike should be purchased for the purpose of going downhill quickly, we would only worry about the relatively lightweight rims. They will hold up fine for a while, but they are not the perfect match strength wise for how capable the rest of the bike is. Other than that, the frame features an easy to use grease port on the lower link, as well as double sealed pivots for better bearing life. It's easy to take care of all areas that could be stressed with heavy use. The company backs the frame with a five year frame warranty and lifetime on the pivots.

What's The Bottom Line?

There is no Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde here, the latest edition of the Santa Cruz Nomad is 95% Hyde. We have not ridden a more capable bike with this amount of travel. If your motto is "go fast, have fun, safety third," this could very well be your calling. Only its surprising ability to climb well makes us believe it really was intended to go up and down. Just remember, this is not a bike for the lazy, as it can morph crazy trail sections into rideable terrain under a motivated rider, but at the same time your average trail might end up feeling a bit more boring than you ever intended.

Visit www.santacruzbicycles.com for more details.

Bonus Gallery: 21 photos of the 2015 Santa Cruz Nomad Carbon X01 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 18 years, 11 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 15 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.

About Test Sessions

Three years ago Vital MTB set out to bring you the most honest, unbiased reviews you'll find anywhere. That tradition continues today as we ride 2015's most exciting trail, all-mountain, and enduro bikes in San Luis Obispo, California. Reviews can be accessed 24/7 in our Product Guide. Test Sessions was made possible with the help of Foothill Cyclery. Tester gear provided by Five Ten, Race Face, Easton, Troy Lee Designs, Club Ride, Kali, Royal, Smith, Pearl Izumi, and Source.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for 2015 Orange Alpine 160 RS 2/25/2015 8:05 AM
C138_2015_orange_alpine_160_rs_bike

2015 Test Sessions: Orange Alpine 160 RS

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Reviewed by Dylan Stucki and AJ Barlas // Photos by Lear Miller

For 2015, Orange moves to the 27.5-inch wheel size and slightly more aggressive geometry on their Alpine 160 RS. Still sporting the trusty single pivot suspension design that has taken them through many years of mountain bike history, the Alpine 160 RS aims to contend with the industry’s finest enduro rigs. Vital MTB's Test Sessions was the perfect opportunity to evaluate the merits of the handmade British bomber.

Highlights

  • Aluminum frame
  • 27.5-inch wheels
  • 160mm (6.3-inches) of front and rear wheel travel
  • Tapered head tube
  • 65-degree head angle
  • 74-degree effective seat tube angle
  • 344mm (13.6-inch) measured bottom bracket height
  • 439mm (17.3-inch) chainstays
  • 73mm threaded bottom bracket
  • 142mm rear spacing with 12mm through axle
  • Measured complete weight (size L, no pedals): 31-pounds, 9-ounces (14.3kg)
  • £4130 MSRP as tested (approximately $6,300 USD)

Born from craftsmen at their Halifax factory, Orange has always been known for robust and moto-esque single pivot designs. Although the single pivot is far from new, it has certainly held its own as a reliable suspension design and capable performer. Just look to Greg Minnaar (2001), Steve Peat (2002, 2004), and Tracey Hannah's (2006) Downhill World Championships for indisputable proof. The Alpine 160 RS builds off that legacy with 160mm of travel and geometry numbers that rival those used to win downhill races not long ago.

A quick glance at the spec sheet and you'll see it's a true modern enduro machine with a proper 65-degree head angle, 465mm reach on the size Large frame, and 640mm effective top tube. It was among the slacker and longer bikes of the 19 in our Test Sessions round up. Orange has always pushed the long front center concept, and the Alpine 160 RS goes even further to provide more stable handling at speed.

Visually, one might argue that the 6061-T6 monocoque/Reynolds custom butted aluminum frame is a little stuck in its glory days with the basic design and bulky rear swing arm, but there's certainly something good to be said for simplicity and the reliable traits that can result. Surprisingly, though, a visual inspection of the welds raised a few eyebrows with many bead inconsistencies along the downtube.

Orange hits the major notes on the features list pretty well, including 27.5-inch wheels, a threaded bottom bracket for creak-free performance, tapered headtube, ISCG tabs, ample mud clearance, and stealth-style dropper post routing. Aside from the dropper, cable routing runs along the outside of the downtube which makes for easy service and a rattle free ride. With single chainring drivetrain systems absolutely taking off, Orange makes a confident vote for the 1X setup by making it an integral piece on the RS build, however the frame includes an E2 type front derailleur mount if it's needed. There's no water bottle mount, so plan to figure out an alternate hydration transportation method.

The Alpine 160 is offered with "RS" and "AM" build kits, both of which are customizable from the factory. We spent our miles getting used to the RS, which is geared more for the descents and starts at £3800 (~$5,875 USD). The AM model has increased usability with a 2X drivetrain at £3000 (~$4,335 USD). Frame and shock packages start at £1700 (~$2,625 USD). A whopping 13 frame colors are available, as well as S, M, L, and XL sizes.

On The Trail

The Orange was put to good used on the trails of West Cuesta Ridge and Madonna Mountain in San Luis Obispo, California, where a great mix of long climbs, high speed chunder, big rocks, tight switchbacks, and ripping turns made for some of the better zones to test bikes.

Orange recommends 25-30% sag, so we began with 28% on the RockShox Monarch Plus RC3 shock. The RockShox Pike RCT3 SoloAir fork was also set to the recommended pressure for our body weights. Visual indicators and/or charts on both made the process painless.

With 800mm wide Kore Torsion bars and a 35mm length Kore Repute stem, the cockpit components provided a setup ready for some good old fashioned aggressive fun. The bars can always be cut to fit, if needed. Our 6'3" tester ran the stock stem length, while our taller 6'5" tester opted for a 50mm to keep things consistent between bikes and gain a little extra length.

The updated geometry of the Alpine 160 made for a well rounded fit well suited to the enduro and all-mountain genre. The top tube and reach provided plenty of room to move around comfortably, and combined with a 65-degree head angle the bike handled well on the steeps and at speed. The 439mm chainstays kept things lively and maneuverable, allowing for quick changes of direction, and getting the front end up was never an issue. The 344mm bottom bracket height fit the build perfectly, being low enough to keep the center of gravity down, but still high enough to provide ample clearance through the rough bits.

While the bike's geometry added to the confidence inspiring feel, once we got fully up to speed and really started charging hard, the rear end seemed stubborn, not wanting to stay planted with an almost springy, uncontrolled feel. Adjusting the sag down to ~35% greatly improved cornering and traction in this scenario, and finite rebound adjustments made incremental improvements as well. Even so, the bike still wanted to skip around, lacking that super stable feel of many of its competitors. This was amplified with the front wheel off the ground when charging through rock gardens while the rear end seemed to wander and deflect.

Although the ideal rear suspension feel was never achieved, perhaps due to a lack of truly adjustable compression adjustments, the Monarch Plus provided decent small bump compliance at all times despite not having the DebonAir can. The shock also ramped up nicely through the stroke, providing good support in g-outs and big compressions that the perfectly linear leverage curve of the single pivot design doesn't naturally provide. Ripping fast, smooth turns was another notable highlight.

While the single pivot design does see some brake squat, the pivot placement keeps things in check without any truly odd braking characteristics.

The frame is fitted with a nice and steep 74-degree effective seat tube angle, making the climbing position more optimal than many other bikes in the enduro/all-mountain category. This improves the 31.6-pound bike's willingness on climbs without needing to integrate travel or geometry adjustments that can hamper performance on the descent. Both suspension components feature pedal-friendly compression modes that aid in getting back to the top of the fun, though the bike pedaled efficiently even with the rear shock wide open.

Build Kit

Orange keeps an eye on true performance gains versus value with the Alpine 160 RS, selecting components they know work well from a variety of companies. Select upgrades are available for those wanting a boost here or there. We opted for just two of the more popular upgrade packages, which included Stans wheels, Maxxis tires, and an improved gear range on the rear cassette.

The top end Rockshox Pike RCT3 Solo Air fork performed flawlessly with a sufficient level of adjustability, that renowned smooth-as-butter small bump feel, and a solid chassis to push against. Hard chargers will be pleased with the ability to add Bottomless Token volume spacers for greater bottom out support.

The 2.3-inch, triple compound Maxxis Minion DHF EXO and High Roller II EXO tires were a nice change from the standard Continental Trail King spec, and really allowed us to get the most out of this bike on loose and rocky terrain. Paired with the Stans No Tubes ZTR Flow EX rims featuring a 25.5mm internal width, the tires had a robust profile, solid footprint, and secure tubeless connection. The rims were laced to Hope Pro II Evo hubs which we've found to be very reliable. After several days of abuse the wheels were still in good shape.

The drivetrain was fitted with a Shimano Zee rear derailleur, 10-speed Shimano XT cassette, and Hope’s 40-tooth REX cog to give the bike a bit more range. Unfortunately there was an insufficient amount of B-tension available on the derailleur, and the chain was very loose in the bottom of the cassette as a result. This led to the bike being incredibly noisy on fast descents (as did the lack of a chainstay pad), and shifting was sub-par due to the maxed out B-tension lifting the derailleur too far off the cogs. The Zee setup seems to work well paired with an 11 to 36-tooth cassette based on past experience, however the 40-tooth add-on seems to push the derailleur beyond its ideal limit.

Orange smartly includes a MRP AMG chainguide to help the somewhat small 30-tooth Raceface Narrow/Wide chainring do its job while also providing some bash protection.

Shimano's XT brakes lived up to their popularity, and we'll once again praise them for their reliable, sure-footed stopping performance. The bike has 203 and 180mm rotors which help provide plenty of power.

The build was topped off with a RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper post that also worked flawlessly.

Long Term Durability

The Alpine 160 held its own in the rocky terrain of San Luis Obispo, leaving little concern for long term durability issues. Orange backs the frame and pivot bearings with a five year warranty, and maintenance is as easy as can be due to the design.

The only real concern lies in the 40-tooth cog upgrade. With excessive chain slap and maxed out adjustments, the potential for wear in the drivetrain area increases significantly.

What's The Bottom Line?

It’s always nice to compare apples to Oranges, and with the Alpine 160 RS being among the few true single pivot designs still available it was interesting to evaluate its merits against the industry's more intricate designs. What the frame lacks in complexity it makes up for in durability and simplicity, which can really appeal to some riders.

Given our experience, we think the Alpine 160 RS is best for riders who prefer the playful feel of a quick and snappy rear end paired with the stability offered by a lengthy front center. If loose, rocky terrain is your jam, the bike may not be the best weapon because it lacks a composed, comfortable feel when things get truly hairy. In this case the well chosen spec and geometry only go so far, and some bikes with more advanced suspension designs provide increased capability and a more well rounded feel at the same cost.

Visit www.orangebikes.co.uk for more details.

Bonus Gallery: 20 photos of the 2015 Orange Alpine 160 RS up close and in action


About The Reviewers

Dylan Stucki - When he's not busy popping no-handed wheelies or shot-gunning beers you're likely to find Dylan comfortably inside the top ten at Big Mountain Enduro races. Since he's a big guy and charges hard he breaks a lot of stuff. He's naturally a perceptive and particular rider who picks up on even the smallest details.

AJ Barlas - In 15 years on the bike AJ has developed a smooth and fluid style. Hailing from Squamish, BC, his preferred terrain is chunky, twisty trail with natural features. He's picky with equipment and has built a strong understanding of what works well and why by riding a large number of different parts and bikes.

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

About Test Sessions

Three years ago Vital MTB set out to bring you the most honest, unbiased reviews you'll find anywhere. That tradition continues today as we ride 2015's most exciting trail, all-mountain, and enduro bikes in San Luis Obispo, California. Reviews can be accessed 24/7 in our Product Guide. Test Sessions was made possible with the help of Foothill Cyclery. Tester gear provided by Five Ten, Race Face, Easton, Troy Lee Designs, Club Ride, Kali, Royal, Smith, Pearl Izumi, and Source.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for 2015 Mondraker Foxy Carbon RR 2/8/2015 9:31 PM
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2015 Test Sessions: Mondraker Foxy Carbon RR

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Reviewed by AJ Barlas and Dylan Stucki // Photos by Lear Miller

After three years of development, Mondraker's first foray into a bike with fantastic plastic has arrived in the form of the Foxy Carbon, a 140mm travel trail machine. The Foxy comes in a lightweight package and features the now dominant 27.5-inch wheel size. Mondraker bikes are renowned for having some of the most unique geometry, and the new ride is no exception. We got to know the modern looking Spanish creation during the 2015 Vital MTB Test Sessions.

Highlights

  • Carbon frame
  • 27.5-inch wheels
  • 140mm (5.5-inches) of rear wheel travel // 140mm (5.5-inches) front travel
  • Tapered head tube
  • 67.5-degree head angle
  • 75-degree effective seat tube angle
  • 343mm (13.5-inch) measured bottom bracket height
  • 430mm (16.9-inch) chainstays
  • PF92 bottom bracket
  • 142mm rear spacing with 12mm through axle
  • Measured complete weight (size XL, no pedals): 27-pounds, 13-oz (12.6kg)
  • MSRP 5999 EUR

As with many manufacturers that offer a new carbon model, doing so typically results in a far more streamlined, sleeker look. Such is the case with the Foxy. The new bike is sexier than its aluminum sister, thanks in part to the replacement of the unconventional hunchback top tube with something more slender, while still maintaining their distinctive bracing near the headtube. Mondraker says the bike's modern and aggressive styling was influenced by contemporary auto design trends, among others, and we've got to admit that this thing looks good. The company varies the fiber type, quantity, layout, and epoxy resin based on the different demands for each part of the frame.

Mondraker was the first brand to really push the drastically longer front end (top tube and reach), which they call Forward Geometry. What are the benefits of such a setup? Steering precision, control, handling, confidence, and stability at speed over difficult terrain are just a few of the items claimed to improve. Pushing the front end out also gives the perception of having a slacker head angle, and encourages you to get your weight forward.

They offset the frame's elongated geometry by using a short stem to place the contact points in approximately the same location as a bike with conventional geometry. In the case of our size XL Foxy test bike, the massive 518mm reach measurement was a considerable 38mm longer than the next closest XL bike at Test Sessions, and used a stubby 30mm length stem to reign things back in a portion of that distance.

It also utilizes Mondraker's Zero Suspension system, a proprietary design that falls under the virtual pivot banner. The rear shock is compressed by rotating links on both ends. It's said to provide a great pedaling platform, little in the way of brake squat, and a smoother ride in the rough - all attributes we'd evaluate on the trail. Another interesting feature on the Foxy is the use of FOX’s CTD lever with a splitter, which allows you to switch between Climb, Trail, and Descend damping modes on the front and rear suspension simultaneously. This adds two more cables to the front of the bike, which unfortunately also makes for a very cluttered setup.

The bike is very quiet, with no internal cable rattle thanks to a well designed internal routing system that tensions the cables inside the downtube. The RockShox Reverb seatpost is routed up through the seat tube for that Stealth look. Frame protection is offered by a rubber guard on the chainstay to prevent chainslap. The downtube gets a guard as well, but it's minimal in comparison to the length of the downtube and may not prevent many stray rocks from marring up the beauty.

Additional details include a press fit bottom bracket, ISCG tabs, a bottle mount inside the front triangle, ample mud clearance, and a nice fender/mud guard on the otherwise exposed shock.

There are four Foxy Carbon models ranging from 3699-6999 EUR. We tested the second tier Foxy Carbon RR model that runs 5999 EUR (approximately $6,800 US, though the brand does not sell in the USA at this time). You can also pick up a frame and shock package for 2999 EUR. They're offered in sizes Small, Medium, Large, and XL.

On The Trail

So, where does one ride a bike like this? What types of trails is best suited to? We experimented on a variety of terrain surrounding San Luis Obispo, California. From smooth and fast ribbons of dirt with high speed berms, jumps, and meandering climbs to rock gardens and tight switchbacks, we rode a big selection of trail types for good measure.

With the high speeds possible on the majority of the trails we rode, the bike often felt very stable - a result of its length, which takes some time to get used to. The long reach requires you to get very aggressive and up over the front in order to push the bike into turns. Don't get over the front enough and you'll feel detached from the bike and fight to keep front end traction. If you can maintain a minimum speed that's quite quick, the bike will shine on descents and instill confidence. Just don't get sloppy. Keeping it up to speed is a challenge you'd better be willing to accept, because it's the only rewarding way the bike likes to be ridden. That stability and control at speed comes with shortcomings.

Regardless of your technique, the length makes it sluggish in tight situations, and it can be a challenge to maneuver quickly. The extra length also made it difficult to manual and play with the front end of the bike, despite the reasonably snug 430mm chainstays. Jumping the bike was also very awkward, as the added length seemed to make it want to kick up the rear end through the transition, adding a bucking sensation at times.

We are all for trying new things, and perhaps with much more time on the bike we would grow fond of its size. The Forward Geometry concept is intriguing, but when pushed to the extreme we felt that it's simply too much for the trail bike application. Despite the short 30mm stem, the long front end was uncomfortable with a reach of 40-60mm longer than most bikes of the same size in this category. The majority of bikes come equipped with a 50mm stem these days, so even with the 20mm savings on the stem length, you're still looking at something with contact points 20-40mm further out than what you're likely accustomed to. We agree with having a long reach and short stems, but the XL Foxy Carbon felt flat out too long for our 6'3" and 6'5" testers. As very tall riders who often struggle to find bikes that actually fit us, that's not something we thought we'd ever say.

Geometry aside, we owe some praise to the Zero Suspension system as it's a very well rounded design. With the rear 200x57mm FOX Float CTD Factory shock set to 25% sag and the FOX 34 Float CTD Factory fork set to 20%, the suspension felt balanced and performed well. We never felt any harsh bottom outs, despite actually doing so on numerous occasions. The progressive nature of the design and the speed burst it can provide was really noticeable when pushing the bike hard into short, quick corners - an attribute that caught us by surprise the first time we gave 'er. There was no discernible hang up on square edges or skipping about on chatter, with the bike remaining quite planted when our form and speed were up to par.

We seldom used the dual CTD adjustment lever as there simply wasn't a need for it. The Foxy exhibits very little pedal activated bob even when wide open, and accelerates up hills quite well. We wouldn't go as far as describing it as spritely, but it moves faster than many 140mm travel bikes do. Even on straightforward, buff climbing trails we saw little point in the lever, but for the times we really wanted to smash the pedals, the Climb and Trail modes did provide a noticeably stiffer platform. Leaving it wide open allows the rear end to track better, however, and also leaves the bike ready for the next descent, so we'd prefer to see the bike without the complication and clutter of the remote.

The Foxy's weight didn't its climbing abilities either, coming in as one of the lightest Test Sessions bikes at 27.8-pounds.

Build Kit

Mondraker's Foxy Carbon RR build consists of components from Onoff, FOX, RockShox, Maxxis, Crankbrothers, Formula, and SRAM, which for the most part were solid.

Right off the bat, most riders will ditch the stock 740mm wide Onoff Stoic Carbon bars. Considering how the bike needs to be ridden, some extra width is a good bet.

The 140mm travel FOX 34 Float CTD Factory fork features an updated cartridge for 2015, and once setup to a suitable pressure (likely higher than recommended) it performed well, with buttery smooth action and good support throughout. Tracking was good, and for the trails the bike will likely see the fork is a great match.

As we've come to expect, RockShox's Reverb Stealth dropper post performed well. Because there is no front derailleur, we flipped the remote lever to be under the left side of the bars as it's in a better position. Even with the dual CTD lever to contend with, both levers were still easy to use when required.

Crankbrothers Cobalt 3 tubeless wheels filled the rolling department, and actually felt quite nice, albeit a bit softer than what our testers prefer. The wheels stayed true and tracked well. They're pretty narrow, though, resulting in a rather rounded profile to the high volume tires.

The 2.4-inch Maxxis Ardent tires roll fast, but we were left wanting a little more cornering bite when getting up over the front end - something the bike requires to muscle its long front center around bends.

Formula's CR3 brakes were the only component that gave us any major grief. Aside from providing relatively poor stopping performance, the rear brake piston seized on several occasions, essentially locking the brake. Getting it to recede back into the caliper was more of a guessing game than anything, but rotating the rear wheel with the brake held would eventually release it. Should you decide to upgrade the dual 180mm rotors, know that the rear brake uses a relatively uncommon adapter.

The SRAM X01 drivetrain with X1 cranks worked without a hitch, providing a smooth, quiet, and friction free drivetrain experience with no chain drops. Clearance between the chainstay and the front ring is incredibly tight, so much so that we would be surprised if a 34 tooth chainring could fit. Potential clearance issue aside, our test bike was severely under geared with the stock 30 tooth ring. This made getting up to the speeds needed to really enjoy the bike more difficult, and we found ourselves spun out often.

Long Term Durability

The brakes are the only part that we had issues with. We'd suggest replacing them. There were no concerns with the frame or other components, however, and we don't see why the bike wouldn't hold up to years of abuse. Mondraker backs the frame with a generous lifetime warranty.

What's The Bottom Line?

Thanks to Mondraker's Forward Geometry and bottomless feel of the Zero Suspension system, the new Foxy Carbon RR is a more capable bike than the 140mm travel designation would typically indicate. It needs to be ridden at speed to enjoy the ride, and requires a very demanding, over the front riding style that may be difficult for riders to maintain during long days in the saddle.

We found the recommended size to be surprisingly and uncomfortably long (even for our 6'5" tall tester), but the bike has potential to be a good, go-mostly anywhere trail rig under the right rider. The predictable, progressive, and well designed suspension allows it to climb and descend equally well. Those who prefer an easily maneuverable bike will want to look elsewhere, or at the very least consider sizing down. For practical use, there is an upper limit to the long front end/short stem geometry concept, and in our opinion the Foxy is at the far end of the spectrum.

Visit www.mondraker.com for more details.

Bonus Gallery: 22 photos of the 2015 Mondraker Foxy Carbon RR up close and in action


About The Reviewers

Dylan Stucki - When he's not busy popping no-handed wheelies or shot-gunning beers you're likely to find Dylan comfortably inside the top ten at Big Mountain Enduro races. Since he's a big guy and charges hard he breaks a lot of stuff. He's naturally a perceptive and particular rider who picks up on even the smallest details.

AJ Barlas - In 15 years on the bike AJ has developed a smooth and fluid style. Hailing from Squamish, BC, his preferred terrain is chunky, twisty trail with natural features. He's picky with equipment and has built a strong understanding of what works well and why by riding a large number of different parts and bikes.

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

About Test Sessions

Three years ago Vital MTB set out to bring you the most honest, unbiased reviews you'll find anywhere. That tradition continues today as we ride 2015's most exciting trail, all-mountain, and enduro bikes in San Luis Obispo, California. Reviews can be accessed 24/7 in our Product Guide. Test Sessions was made possible with the help of Foothill Cyclery. Tester gear provided by Five Ten, Race Face, Easton, Troy Lee Designs, Club Ride, Kali, Royal, Smith, Pearl Izumi, and Source.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for Canfield Brothers Balance Frame, 2015 2/5/2015 4:49 PM
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2015 Test Sessions: Canfield Balance

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

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

For 2015, the Canfield Brothers are bringing you the culmination of their last 10 years of trail bikes. The Balance is a 160mm slayer designed to do it all, integrating ideas from both their downhill and former 180mm travel "The One" bikes. With a build and suspension design oriented to provide maximum fun, we couldn't wait to throw a leg over it at the Vital MTB Test Sessions. The beautifully welded aluminum frame can run 26 or 27.5-inch wheels, and looks to be a beast when pointed down. A Cane Creek DBair CS shock and slack head angle point towards the gravity end of the all-mountain spectrum, but the really interesting part of the Balance lies between those cool red anodized links.

Highlights

  • Aluminum frame
  • 27.5 (tested) or 26-inch wheels
  • 160mm (6.3-inches) of rear wheel travel
  • Tapered head tube
  • 66-degree head angle (160mm fork, 27.5, external headset)
  • 74.2-degree effective seat tube angle
  • 346mm (13.6-inch) measured bottom bracket height
  • 425mm (16.7-inch) chainstays
  • 73mm threaded bottom bracket
  • 142mm rear spacing with 12mm through axle
  • Measured complete weight (size L, no pedals): 32-pounds, 7-oz (14.7kg)
  • $2,100 MSRP (frame + shock)

The Canfield family has truly embraced 1X drivetrain systems that come as standard equipment on so many bikes this year. We see that as a good thing, so long as you don't want two front chainrings for climbing. Optimizing a frame for a single front ring allows frame designers to be free from the constraints of chain torque from different locations. The Balance is optimized for a 30 or 32 tooth chainring, which is what most riders will run on a do-everything bike with 27.5-inch wheels. Those red links joining the rear swingarm to the mainframe work together to change the virtual pivot location as the frame cycles through its travel. The virtual pivot is designed to move not up and down, but instead across the arc of the front chainring. By designing the parallel link "Formula" suspension this way, the Balance promises efficient, neutral pedaling while still retaining the bump-absorbing heart of a shredding machine. Shock accessibility is very good, and it should be considering all the available adjustments on the 200x57mm Cane Creek DBair CS.

In the looks department, the Balance is striking. From the skull adorned, beefy hydroformed headtube area to the remarkably intricate details that pop when you look closely, this 6061 aluminum frame is a work of art, balancing brawn and beauty while showing just how well the Brothers have mastered their craft. Out of our 19 bike Test Sessions fleet, the Balance is the one we were all clamoring for when we were setting out for our roughest trail days.

There a no geometry adjustments on the Balance, aside from the ability to run 26 or 27.5 wheels. In reality, almost all 27.5 frames can do this. If a bike is made to have clearance for 27.5-inch wheels, 26-inch wheels only drop about a half-inch from the bottom bracket height. A slightly lighter weight, slightly lower ride height, and a slightly more playful ride will likely result from that change. We stuck with 27.5 for this test, as we believe that is what most riders will stay with when purchasing new rides for the year. This setup yielded a 346mm (13.6-inch) bottom bracket height. Mud clearance out back was tight though, with just ~6mm of room for the muck with 2.35-inch Maxxis tires, likely as a result of the compact 425mm (16.7-inch) chainstays.

Additional details include a no-nonsense 73mm threaded bottom bracket, ISCG tabs, direct front derailleur mount, tapered headtube, 160mm post brake mount, large Enduro Max bearings at the pivots, a replaceable axle nut, and a bottle mount under the downtube. Cables route externally on top of downtube, eliminating the dreaded cable rattle and protecting them from stray rocks or mishaps. Canfield provides stealth-style internal routing for the dropper post, as well as the option to run one externally.

The Balance is sold as a frame and shock package for $2,100, and fork/wheel/crank/pedal packages are available to help with the build. The main frame comes in anodized black or brushed aluminum, and there are six link colors to choose from to customize the look of your ride. Small, Medium, Large and X-Large frames are made, and the claimed frame weight is 7.5-pounds without a shock.

On The Trail

The Canfield Balance was taken on numerous outings to the rockiest trails on West Cuesta Ridge in San Luis Obispo, California, and then to the coastline trails and a jump zone near Morro Bay.

Although our test rig was set up with a good mix of parts, we are going to focus more on the frame as that's how it's sold. Canfield can certainly recommend parts based on their experience, but the frame + shock combo can be built up with whatever parts you choose.

Initial setup is pretty easy, provided you follow the recommended settings for the Cane Creek shock. The myriad of adjustments can seem overwhelming, leading some riders to do nothing and just hoping for the best. Luckily for new Balance owners, Canfield and Cane Creek have two baseline recommendations. Knowing our propensity for the more gravity fed side of trails, they suggested we try their "Park" setting first. With more low-speed rebound control and minimal low-speed compression, the Balance was set to take big hits and make the most of the trail ahead. We also believed that this would be a perfect setting to see how good the claimed pedaling efficiency really was. For our 175-pound test riders we settled on a generous 38% (20mm) sag, as suggested by Canfield. The other recommended starting point is what they call their "All-Mountain" setting, which provides a firmer, more pedal-efficient bike with 33% (17mm) sag and increased low-speed compression.

The Balance sports a frame tailor made for fast fun. A 66-degree head angle paired with short chainstays encourages speed, but usually allows for a playful demeanor. The size Large frame's 438mm reach was comfortable for our 5'10" tall tester, but on the edge of our 5'8" tester's preference even with a 50mm stem. This caused Steve some trouble when trying to weight the front end, and he had to change his riding to get lower and more forward than normal. With frame sizes all over the board depending on the brand, some riders at 5'9" will prefer a Medium, and some riders at 5'8" will prefer Larges. While we usually prefer to ride longer Mediums or shorter Larges, we'd caution against thinking the Canfield's 607mm effective top tube would mean a "short" bike for the Large size designation. Even though the top tube isn't super long, the reach feels longer than other bikes in our usual size range.

Compared to some other bikes with slack actual seat tube angles, the Canfield didn't feel too stretched out while seated for either tester. We also didn't feel like we were behind the bottom bracket when pedaling, much of which can be attributed to those short stays. This gives the relatively big bike a sportier, more climb-friendly feel.

Once pointed downhill, the Balance showed us how important suspension setup is on this frame. At first we felt the bike kicking on successive hits, throwing our weight forward. It felt as if the rear suspension wasn't working to its full potential, especially considering Canfield bikes' reputations for vertical axle paths and bump eating prowess. Cornering felt decent on smooth terrain, and big hit absorption was also very good. On successive hits though, like through rough rock gardens, the Balance was certainly off. This is as it should be with the settings we were handed, though, as the "Park" mode seemed best suited to bike park use. We tried it and listened to what we were told, but on rough trails with successive rocky hits we needed more rebound speed and less high-speed compression. The Balance came alive after our changes, and would keep up with the terrain coming at it. The ability to tune low-speed rebound kept the bike from feeling too springy at the top of the travel, and the lighter high-speed compression setting allowed the back wheel to move out of the way of bumps quicker. We tend to gravitate toward more low-speed compression in general, and that made an improvement to the Balance's ride as well.


Some of our changes also focused on the RockShox Pike fork. What felt like a good initial setup needed to be changed to a few more clicks of low-speed compression and two-fewer clicks of rebound damping for our shorter tester. This kept the front end higher up in the travel and provided more support so he could lean on the front end more for traction. After all these changes, which really only amounted to a few discussions and stops, the Balance felt more like what we thought it could be. It was a high-speed machine that jumped well when compressed, but also felt glued to the ground when we wanted to keep contact with the dirt. No doubt that the initial suppleness helped with this, as well as the ramp at the end of the stroke caused by the air shock spring and the Balance's own gently progressive leverage curve. Big or small, if we wanted to get airborne, we could.

When we were going through fields of baby heads and really rough terrain, the Balance would keep its speed really well. We didn't always place the wheels perfectly, and we didn't always pump at exactly the right time, but the frame's suspension and axle path did a great job of getting up and over any obstacle in our way.

Once we had the suspension set up well for fast, rocky terrain, one of the few complaints we had was on a few big landings. Any double can be made into a single if you go fast enough, and we experienced this first hand. While the suspension was good on big compressions generated by us, if we were really pushing the limit of drops or jumps, the bike's suspension would go through travel pretty quickly. This is the tradeoff we experienced due to easing up on the compression settings we mentioned earlier. If you do go to the park with this, crank up the high-speed compression a bit more than what we had, and consider adding a volume reducer inside the shock. We don't see this as too much of a bad thing. The Balance is what it is - 160mm of travel that's great at gobbling up bumps, and even good suspension characteristics when under power. The small trade off of an occasional bottom out at the limit seems completely acceptable.

Overall, the Balance was very good when pointed downhill, but this frame is definitely capable of lots more than just descending steeps well. The suspension was very consistent on flat terrain when we would encounter chattery or rough sections. Pedaling would keep the suspension from moving too much, but felt far from locked out. It was a good kind of firm, not the kind that would inhibit bump absorption while pedaling into ledges or techy terrain. Big-footed riders may experience some slight heel rub on the relatively wide swing arm.

We wouldn't say that it was easy to change lines, but the bike would move in a hurry given enough body english. Some of the bike's weight was a part of that. We don't want to harp on the weight too much, but it is worth explaining. The 7.5-pound frame without shock turns into a 8.6-pound frame + shock combo. That's not light, but with many frame + shock combos coming between 6.5 and 7.5-pounds, it isn't a huge penalty either. We've never ridden bikes that are great at 30 but bad at 31-pounds. On the flip side, taking a pound of weight from a 29-pound bike that is mediocre will not turn it into a star.

The 32.4-pound complete bike weight is mostly because of the parts, which are entirely up to the rider. Even so, no matter how much we try to justify the Canfield's weight, there was no argument that made our quads feel better up some of the big hills we rode. It felt heavy, but not sluggish. The Balance took effort to go forward, but it was not wasted effort thanks to the suspension design's efficiency. While jumping, it also felt lighter than its build would indicate. Manualing was fun and also masked the waistline number. Powering up technical terrain was far better than one might assume at first. The rear wheel felt so glued to the ground that given enough power, the bike could motor up just about anything. The above average bottom bracket height also aided to its climbing ability. We wouldn't spike cranks nearly as much on familiar climbs as we have with bikes that were closer to the 13-inch bottom bracket mark.

We didn't end up using the climb mode much on the Cane Creek rear shock, even though the DBair CS has a cool way of dealing with climbing. Instead of locking out the rear end on a compression circuit, it calms the rebound and adds a little bit of low-speed compression so that a rider doesn't feel much bobbing. It made a difference in the climbing performance, but it wasn't that necessary, which is more of a highlight of the Canfield's great pedaling performance than anything else. The bike doesn't need many switches or performance additives, and the bar is acceptably adorned with only a dropper post cable, two brakes and a shifter cable - refreshing in a day when excessive items on a spec sheet can be all too common.

Build Kit

As mentioned earlier, components will be entirely up to each rider, so we'll focus on the bits that are unique to Canfield.

Canfield makes hubs that provide the option of running a 9-tooth small cog and then a good range after that. Considering the bike was designed around a 30 or 32-tooth chainring, the Balance seems like a perfect candidate for their hub. With a small chainring up front and a 9-36 tooth cassette, many riders will be able to climb majority of hills and still have a high enough gear to put down power at speed. Our bike was equipped with a standard 11-36 tooth 10-speed setup. It got the job done just fine, but we were oh so eager to see what Canfield's own gearing setup would be like.

We weren't left out completely from Canfield's line up of components though. Our wheels, crankset, hubs and pedals all sported Canfield's name. All worked just as they should have, with no hiccups out of any of the parts. Given the nature of the Balance, we wouldn't change much at all. Engagement on the wheels was decent, and the pedals did their job as well as they could have. Combined with the bottom bracket height, the Crampon pedals' thin profile worked wonders in avoiding rocks during our testing period.

If pressed, we would could be convinced to add a lower roller to the chainguide. There were a few noises from the chain moving around on the standard style chainring, but it never fell off with just a top guide. Adding a roller could put a stop to some of the chain rattle and add to the feeling of indestructibility the Balance imparts on the rider. Also consider adding some mastic tape to the inside of the seat stay to silence the little bit of remaining chainslap.

For a bike as lively and plush as the Balance, some riders may prefer the full on performance of a coil shock. The bike is already heavy, so that isn't going to change much. The increased suppleness wouldn't hinder much on the way up, as the suspension is so good at mitigating bob via the design. On the way down, the coil would provide even more control and a smoother ride over the majority of hits. It might even save a few dollars off the end bill.

Long Term Durability

The Balance gives us no reason to worry in the long run. The large, consistent welds are among the best we've ever seen on a production bike, and the frame has multiple places that are braced and gusseted for added strength. Aside from a few checks to the suspension bolts (which we wish had the torque specs printed on them), we see no reason why the Balance can't be in your stable for a very long time.

What's The Bottom Line?

The Balance is unique in a way that is almost hard to describe. In a world where many bikes claim to be jacks of all trades, the Canfield stands apart thanks to its superb technical climbing performance, especially among those that prefer to rally on the way down. Even so, given its comfort in berms, large jumps, rough sections, and at speed, don't be surprised when it feels like you're riding a bike with more travel.

For bikes like this, we feel inclined to forgive faults (the Balance is not made to be the lightest bike out there), and praise attributes (ride quality aside, even the smallest details on the frame are beautiful). It's hard to place Canfield's latest creation in a specific group with competitors. This bike is for those out for laughs, hollers, and good sessions with friends, and holds true to its mini-DH roots. The Balance seems to just be for those who want a Balance, and that isn't a bad thing at all.

Visit www.canfieldbrothers.com for more details.

Bonus Gallery: 23 photos of the 2015 Canfield Balance 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 18 years, 11 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 15 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.

About Test Sessions

Three years ago Vital MTB set out to bring you the most honest, unbiased reviews you'll find anywhere. That tradition continues today as we ride 2015's most exciting trail, all-mountain, and enduro bikes in San Luis Obispo, California. Reviews can be accessed 24/7 in our Product Guide. Test Sessions was made possible with the help of Foothill Cyclery. Tester gear provided by Five Ten, Race Face, Easton, Troy Lee Designs, Club Ride, Kali, Royal, Smith, Pearl Izumi, and Source.

This product has 1 review.