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Added a product review for 2015 Transition Patrol 1 1/26/2015 10:45 PM
C138_2015_transition_patrol_1

2015 Test Sessions: Transition Patrol 1

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

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

Giddy up boys and girls! An entire new line of Transition bikes is here for 2015 featuring the GiddyUp suspension design. The complete overhaul to their frames and suspension system includes a Horst Link (not to be confused with a four-legged animal who neighs), which is now available to use by a wider number of companies. Transition was among the first brands to jump on the opportunity. Interested to how they pulled it off and what improvements they might have made, we tested the 155mm travel Patrol 1 during the 2015 Vital MTB Test Sessions.

Highlights

  • Aluminum frame
  • 27.5-inch wheels
  • 155mm (6.1-inches) of rear wheel travel // 160mm (6.3-inches) front travel
  • Tapered head tube
  • 65-degree head angle
  • 76-degree (S), 75.4-degree (M, tested), 74.9-degree (L), 74.5-degree (XL) effective seat tube angle
  • 337mm (13.3-inch) measured bottom bracket height
  • 430mm (17.0-inch) chainstays
  • 73mm threaded bottom bracket shell
  • 142mm rear spacing with 12mm through axle
  • Measured complete weight (size Medium, no pedals): 29-pounds, 9-oz (13.4kg)
  • $5,999 MSRP

Transition says the Patrol is meant to "give you the control of a downhill bike perfectly balanced with a lively and jumpy personality for a comfortable, efficient and fun ride in almost any trail condition." How'd they pull it off? The bike uses some pretty aggressive geometry coupled with suspension that's supple as can be yet progressive to provide some pop. The new design has improved anti-squat over their old bikes, significantly less brake squat, and a progressive leverage curve. The shock is also easily accessible should you feel the need to flip any levers.

Additional features on the aluminum frame include a 73mm threaded bottom bracket, ISCG05 tabs, plenty of room for a bottle inside the front triangle, a tapered headtube, zero stack headset, 160mm post mount rear brake, Syntace X12 rear axle, E2 low direct front derailleur mount, and integrated rubber chainstay protection.

For those that ride in the grime, mud clearance is pretty good with ~1cm of room at the tightest point with the stock 2.35-inch Schwalbe tire. They say you can fit up to a 2.5-inch tire out back should you prefer some big meats for dicey conditions or a day at the bike park.

Cable routing is almost entirely internal, which is actually a surprise given the company's no non-sense approach everywhere else. Though maintenance can be a pain, it does look good we suppose. The rear derailleur and rear brake go through the downtube and exit just in front of the bottom bracket before reaching their destination. The rear brake line is slightly exposed to stray rocks on the bottom of brake-side chainstay. Dropper post routing also follows the downtube before exiting momentarily and heading up into the seat tube for that stealth look.

Three build kits are available at $3,499, $4,899, and $5,999. We tested the top of the line Patrol 1 model. For those wanting to build one from the ground up, it's also available as a frameset and shock combo at $1,999. Claimed weight for a size Medium frame with shock is 7.85-pounds.

On The Trail

We rode the Transition Patrol on West Cuesta Ridge and in Montana De Oro State Park near San Luis Obispo, California. The trails included very rocky, fast descents that really tax a bike's rear suspension as you flow in-between trees over never-ending boulder fields. We also got some time in on rolling hills and faster, flowier terrain with several tight turns to see how the bike maneuvers when it counts. A jump trail rounded things out.

Transition recommends 35% (22mm) seated sag on the 216x63mm RockShox Monarch Plus RC3 Debonair shock. This is the point at which they've designed the bike to have the best anti-squat properties. It comes stock with two volume reducers already in the rear shock, though more can be added for seriously hard charging riders. We appreciate that Transition publishes a handy guide discussing how to get the most out of their rear suspension design.

We were also pleased to see that the cockpit includes a 50mm long Race Face Atlas 35 stem and 800mm wide Race Face SixC 35 Carbon bars that can be easily cut down to suit any rider's preference. Considering the bike we tested is a size Medium, the 432mm reach dimension is actually quite long, comparable to many other brand's size Larges. This will make those accustomed to shorter bikes feel much better when things get wild or fast. The average length 583mm effective top tube has a familiar feel for a size Medium while pedaling seated.

You'll see Lars Sternberg doing his best to compete with the fastest in the world at the Enduro World Series aboard the Patrol, which clearly shows the bike's intended purpose. The Patrol is the most aggressive bike in Transition's refreshed lineup, and is geared toward the Enduro racer and professional fun havers. It has a slack 65-degree head angle, 337mm bottom bracket height, and 430mm chainstays that combine to create a ride that's ready to rally. The rather short 419mm seat tube adds a nice perk in that you can get the seat far out of the way, but may be a bit too short for some long-legged riders. At 5'10" one of our testers was near the upper limit of the 125mm RockShox Reverb. Transition specs a longer 150mm dropper on the bigger sizes.

Pointed downhill the Patrol will bring a smile to your face. It excels in situations that coincide with its geometry, including those that are fast and rough. Surprisingly it's quite agile on the jumps as well, and we had no issues throwing it around in the air or through tight turns. Stability is quite good at all times, allowing you to precisely pick your way down the trail. We did occasionally experience some harsh feedback in the rear end while riding at speed through really rough, continuous baby-head rock sections, but it remained in control and pointed straight ahead at all times. Lifting the front end is easy to do, and we found ourselves manualing and popping off the little bonus lines on the sides of the trail more often as a result. This bike definitely encourages playful riding and rewards a dynamic riding style.

Transition tuned the rear suspension in a way that benefits a rider who likes to push into the bike, yielding a surefooted and immediate response. Running the shock at 35% sag allows the bike to use a good portion of its travel over small hits, getting the rear wheel up and out of the way quickly, but the progressive design still does very well on larger hits. Though we used full travel pretty often, we never once felt a harsh bottom out, indicating a nice ramp up at the end of the stroke. We rode the bike almost exclusively in the wide open compression setting outside of our experiments to see how it impacted the ride.

At 29.6-pounds the Patrol certainly isn't the lightest bike, but it's actually quite reasonable when you consider the full aluminum frame and real-deal, large volume Schwalbe tires that are made to withstand and perform in rough conditions. The weight is noticeable when pedaling up, but the bike does have a lighter feel when pointed downhill. It's pretty quick to respond to firm pedal inputs and rolling speed is decent, though the beefy front Magic Mary tire slows things down a bit.

Climbing the bike is less terrible than climbing a slacked out 160mm bike with large tires should be. Those looking for a boost will want to switch the shock into a firmer compression mode, but leaving it open will yield gobs of rear wheel traction over rough and techy climbs. Body position is quite good with a 75.4-degree effective seat angle. When standing up or hopping through technical climbs, the length is sometimes apparent and a little awkward as you push it out and over slow maneuvers.

Build Kit

The build kit on the Patrol shows the Pro-level experience that Transition's Product Mangers have in the field. Notable standouts include bars with actual rise and a wide width, a fast rolling rear tire matched to a meaty front tire, and pre-installed volume spacers in the suspension. The build includes components from Race Face, RockShox, SRAM, Anvil, Schwalbe, DT Swiss, and Stan's No Tubes.

Up front it uses a RockShox Pike RCT3 fork. After a few years of standout performance, it goes without saying that we were pleased with the fork. It helps provide a very balanced ride, mimicking the smooth feel of the rear suspension off the top and ramping up nicely at the end, especially with a Bottomless Token or two inside.

You're more likely to find the mega wide and super beefy 2.35-inch Schwalbe Magic Mary front tire spec'd on a downhill bike than a trail/all-mountain/enduro bike. It's very well suited to loose and wet conditions, much like those you'd find in Transition's hometown of Bellingham, Washington. The huge knobs sometimes lack a little bit of bite on rocks and loose over hardpack terrain, however, and the weight of the front tire is very apparent when you pick up the bike. Out back the've included the polar opposite 2.35-inch Schwalbe Rock Razor to help keep things moving along decently quickly. It offers good cornering bite, but may struggle with braking in some conditions. We appreciate that they chose the softer Trailstar compound up front and more durable Pacestar out back.

The wheels are a combo of the well-regarded and lightweight Stan's No Tubes Flow EX rims and reliable DT Swiss 350 hubs. This will make future tubeless tire swaps a breeze. The DT Swiss hubs offered good engagement, and are upgradable to have more points if you'd like something quicker. After a few days of rocky abuse the wheels still ran true with no dings or flat spots, but prepare to re-build a few if you're a big, hard charging rider as the rims can be a little soft.

Shimano's XT brakes were as dialed as ever, offering plenty of useable power with dual 180mm rotors and good modulation.

The drivetrain uses a combination of Race Face and SRAM components. We've spoken well of the new Race Face SixC Cinch cranks before. They're incredibly light, surprisingly strong, offer good stiffness, and are easy to maintain when combined with the threaded bottom bracket. The Narrow/Wide chainring also does a good job of keeping the chain on, and we experienced no dropped chains. Those seeking to race (or just avoid any awkward near death moments) will want to add a chainguide for added security using the frame's ISCG05 mounts. The 32-tooth chainring provides a good range of gears paired with SRAM's massive 10-42 tooth cassette. Increasing the chainring size will yield less anti-squat, so be aware that'll impact pedaling performance a bit if you swap it out.

Shifting was dialed, just as you'd expect from SRAM's top of the line XX1 shifter and derailleur. The inclusion of these high-end parts was one of the only choices that had us scratching our heads, as SRAM's more affordably priced X01 and X1 drivetrains provide very comparable performance at less cost. But hey, why not go a little baller sometimes?

The silent nature of the XX1 drivetrain does make other noises more evident, including cable rattle inside the frame. While Transition's cable guide design does a decent job of quieting things down by tensioning the housing as it enters the frame, the addition of tape in select locations could quiet it down a bit more. Also consider adding a bit of mastic tape to the inside edge of the seat stay to fully silence chainslap.

Long Term Durability

We see no issues with the Patrol's design or components at this time. It certainly seems as though it's in it for the long haul. Everything is user serviceable, including the collet style pivot hardware that's made to stay snug while being easy to remove for bearing changes and the like. Transition backs the frame with a two year warranty.

What's The Bottom Line?

If a buddy asked us how it rides, we'd likely say that the new Patrol 1 is one of the best Transition bikes yet. The updates to the suspension design, wisely chosen components, dialed appearance, and overall attention to detail coincide with the brand's continued growth and real-world experience. This particular model is best suited to dynamic riders looking to mob down hills at speed, perhaps in an enduro race scenario. It excels in fast terrain with occasional chunder thrown in, jumps very well, and offers good support for those times when you just want to pull up and send it.

As always, Transition's value for the price is good, leaving us very little to not like about the new steed. Even so, $5,999 is no small amount of money to kick down for a new bike, especially with some nice carbon options at comparable prices, which is why we think the more reasonably priced Patrol 2 model is the best bang for your buck on this bike.

What we liked most is how the Patrol never did anything wrong, which is much less common than you'd think in today's bike market. The full aluminum frame and dialed spec list show just how in tune Transition is with what makes a bike ride well under a demanding rider, overlooking some of the industry's current trends in favor of what actually works best. From our perspective the Patrol represents the best of the "less is more" belief. While Transition's refinement of proven concepts yields nothing super fancy, the back to basics approach works damn well and keeps a smile on your face - and that's precisely why we ride bikes.

Visit www.transitionbikes.com for more details.

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


About The Reviewers

Steve Wentz - A man of many talents, Steve got his start in downhilling at a young age. He has been riding for over 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 Trek Slash 9.8 Carbon 27.5 1/23/2015 12:17 PM
C138_trek_slash_9.8_27.5

2015 Test Sessions: Trek Slash 9.8 Carbon 27.5

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

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

After much anticipation, the Trek Slash goes carbon for 2015. The 160mm travel bike underwent a major redesign last year, gaining 27.5-inch wheels, noticeably better pedaling performance, and even more capable geometry. This all-mountain/enduro ripper was just waiting to unleash its fury on the trails at the 2015 Vital MTB Test Sessions.

Highlights

  • OCLV Mountain Carbon frame with aluminum chainstay
  • 27.5-inch wheels
  • 160mm (6.3-inches) of rear wheel travel // 130/160mm (5.1/6.3-inches) front travel
  • E2 tapered headtube
  • 65 or 65.6-degree head angle
  • 66.5 or 67.1-degree actual seat tube angle
  • 350 or 359mm (13.8 or 14.1-inch) bottom bracket height
  • 435 or 433mm (17.1 or 17.05-inch) chainstays
  • BB95 bottom bracket
  • 142mm rear spacing with 12mm through axle
  • Measured complete weight (size 21.5-inch, no pedals): 28-pounds, 9-oz (12.96kg)
  • $6,089.99 MSRP

After a few legacy aluminum versions of this frame, a bit of carbon is just what the Slash needed. The OCLV Mountain Carbon tubing has a similar look to Trek's Remedy and Fuel EX lines, really slimming the profile of the bike and making it smooth and stealthy. Trek does their best to protect the frame with integrated rubber guards on the downtube, chainstay, and outside of the seat stays.

Out back, the Slash relies on Trek's proven Full Floater suspension design coupled with a magnesium EVO link and Active Braking Pivot (ABP) centered on the 142x12mm rear axle. The RockShox Monarch Plus RC3 DebonAir shock is possibly one of the most exciting specs on this bike for 2015. Formerly held prisoner to FOX made Dual Rate Control Valve (DRCV) shocks, Trek owners are finally getting what they wished for. While the more common shock is a welcome upgrade, know that it's still a very uncommon 209.5x60.3mm size should you wish to use something different.

The Slash received some updates with the addition of 27.5-inch wheels for 2014 including a slacker head angle and a longer front center. After proving the geometry with the 2014 aluminum version, the carbon version features the exact same numbers. The bike has Trek's Mino Link geometry adjustment system located in the seat stay. In the “high” position the bike has an impressively slack 65.6-degree headtube angle and 14.1-inch bottom bracket height. Flipping the chip to the “low” position brings the head angle down to an even slacker 65-degrees and lowers the bb height to 13.8-inches.

Additional frame features include a tapered headtube, press fit bottom bracket, ISCG tabs, a rear disc brake post mount, optional direct front derailleur mount, 1cm mud clearance with the stock 2.35-inch tires, and room for a water bottle inside the front triangle. Semi-internal routing for the rear derailleur and seatpost add to the clean look, and are made in a way that eliminates cable rattle.

Trek makes the bike in a whopping five sizes (designated 15.5, 17.5, 18.5, 19.5, and 21.5) and four models, two of which are carbon and two are aluminum. In the carbon variety, the 9.9 model has a full carbon frame, while the 9.8 still has an aluminum chainstay. Our Slash 9.8 test bike is the more reasonably priced carbon model at $6,090. Prices for all models range from $3,620 to $8,880.

On The Trail

The trails in San Luis Obispo, California were the perfect application to test the Slash. With a great mix of long drawn out climbs, short punchy climbs, tight ripping turns, some jumps, and full on chunder, the Slash got everything thrown at it.

Before we could hit the trail, the first thing that needed to be switched up was the bar and stem. The 70mm stem and 750mm wide Bontrager Pro Carbon bars with 15mm rise don't quite match the bike’s capability, especially for our 6'2" and 6'5" testers on a size 21.5 frame. As a result, stem lengths of the 50-55mm variety and bars ranging between 780-800mm were added to the mix in order to give the Slash a setup more conducive to what the bike is capable of. The 480mm reach felt generous and just about perfect while standing, and the 645mm effective top tube was comfortable while seated. Not too long, but also not too short, giving the Slash the best of both worlds.

While the geometry is versatile, it's no doubt geared towards annihilating descents. The two geometry settings - high/slack and low/slacker - allow for terrain dependent tuning. It requires about five minutes of your time to rotate the Mino Link flip chips to the high bottom bracket mode. This feature would come in handy if the terrain you're riding requires more pedal clearance, is flatter, or has a lot of steep climbing. Regardless of which setting you choose, with a head angle in the 65-degree range the Slash is ready to tackle roughest trails out there, and we appreciate the fact that you have a truly slack mode if it's needed. The carbon frame yields a stiffer, yet quieter and lighter ride, giving the bike a more playful feel than its aluminum predecessor that optimizes the fun factor while damping the feel of chattery trail noise.

Because sag percentages are clearly marked, the RockShox Monarch Plus RC3 Debonair shock made for easy work while setting up the rear end. With the compression setting fully open, the Slash shows it true colors, and the Debonair really allowed the bike to take off through the gnar. At 30-38% sag the shock held itself up in the travel with a buttery smooth feel off the top and seemingly bottomless travel when combined with the bike's progressive suspension design. The shock didn’t pack out and it was quick to react in fast, choppy terrain. Small bump performance was admirable with the Debonair can and the bike seemed to float over the tops of most rocky sections. When things got truly rough, the Slash monster-trucked through feeling very planted and holding its line well, and at no point did we ever feel in over our heads which says volumes about the way it handles. It's still agile enough to fine tune line choice and playful enough to turn up the fun meter. The front wheel just begged to be lifted, and riding manuals through rocky areas was just as fun and smooth as with two wheels.

With the concentric Active Braking Pivot and brake mount on the seat stay, braking may be a bit different than what you are used to. We noticed the lack of brake squat, with the bike remaining up in its rear suspension under heavy braking as opposed to dipping back in its travel a little. While the rear end was able to remain more active over bumps, this would occasionally translate to a slightly imbalanced feeling with a weight bias toward the front end. We initially experienced some traction loss at the rear tire when leading into tight corners following high speed straights, before adjusting our riding style to be a bit more rearward while braking hard.

While the geometry may be very aggressive in many respects, don’t be fooled by the slack head angle. The Slash features a reasonable effective seat tube angle, and depending on the desired front end setup, it actually pedaled very well when it came time to climb back up. Switching to the high geometry mode improves overall handling with less front end pushing and a better feel on all but the steepest downs. The geometry was thoughtfully put together, providing a balanced work-to-play relationship. The Debonair and carbon frame really give the Slash a well-rounded feel without compromising the bike's ability to smash rock gardens.

Based on past experience with an older (pre-2014) version of the same bike, the updated Slash has much improved pedaling performance thanks to additional anti-squat built into the design. Flipping the shock into a firmer compression setting on the uphill felt more at home than legacy version which performed very sluggish on climbs. That said, we feel like the shock’s platform settings still could yield more of a noticeable difference - likely a result of the increased negative air spring volume that makes it so supple off the top. There’s a decent amount of suspension movement while getting up to speed.

Since its carbon fiber diet, the bike has made another big gain in its perceived weight while coasting down the trail. Compared to many 160mm travel bikes it felt agile and light while throwing it around in corners and the air. The actual weight of 28.6-pounds is about average for a size 21.5 (XL) bike with a carbon frame. In comparison, the previous 2014 aluminum Slash 9 we tested weighed 28.75-pounds. A chunk of the weight on the new bike can be attributed to the new Bontrager Maverick Pro wheels, which have a much wider internal rim width and as a result are a bit heavier. The added rotational weight reduced acceleration speed from a slow start.

Build Kit

With the exception of a few minor changes, the build kit on the Slash 9.8 Carbon packs a lot of great performing parts at a good value. The build includes a mix of RockShox, Shimano, and in-house Bontrager components.

As mentioned previously, a bike of this nature would be better suited with a shorter stem around 50mm and handlebars in the 780 to 800mm range.

The front end is equipped with a Dual Position 130/160mm travel RockShox Pike RC fork, which unfortunately just does not have quite the same feel as the standard Pike RCT3 deep in heavy hits. After playing with the travel adjust on a variety of climbing terrain, we did find that the resulting geometry change was nice for some of the steeper bits, but certainly not worth the performance loss on the downs in our eyes.

Bontrager's Maverick Pro Wheels come with Tubeless Ready rim strips installed, saving you some time and hassle. They're 28mm wide internally, which provides great sidewall support for the otherwise somewhat flimsy 2.35-inch Bontrager XR4 Expert tires. Combined with the wide rims the XR4 Expert tires performed well with good grip in most terrain, but we wanted more aggressive cornering knobs up front than what this tire provides. We also flatted more times on the XR4, both front and rear, than any of the other 18 bikes in our test fleet - further evidence that the treads aren’t up to snuff with what the bike is capable of. The rims took a beating as well, falling out of true with a handful of flat spots after just a few rides. The wheels do not have Bontrager's Rapid Drive hubs, and as a result engagement is average.

As with most Trek bikes, the lever on the 142x12mm axle protrudes quite far from the frame due to the ABP design, and is prone to rock strikes when squeezing through tight sections in the trail.

One detail that caused a minor headache while setting up the controls was that the left hand RockShox Reverb lever, when mounted above the bars, does not play well with Shimano XT brake levers. Ideally this bike would be equipped with a right hand Reverb lever installed under the left side.

Shimano's XT hydraulic disc brakes performed admirably with a 203mm rotor up front and 180mm out back. They provided lots of usable power and great control, and we experienced no fade, pumping, or other odd issues.

SRAM's X1 drivetrain provides great 1X performance at a reduced cost with a great gear range, good durability, and a quiet, friction-free ride. There's no rubber guard on the inside of the seat stay, so consider adding a little mastic tape or something similar to really silence the ride.

Long Term Durability

Over the long term, the Slash seems it would be solid, and even though this is the first carbon version of this specific model, the frame didn’t show any sign of weakness during the test. After a number of punctures, however, the Bontrager XR4 tires seemed like they may be the first item to go, and we'd suggest opting for something with better flat protection. Trek backs the frame with three year warranty.

What's The Bottom Line?

The 2015 Trek Slash 9.8 Carbon is one of the most well-rounded bikes in its travel range, though it clearly excels in the roughest terrain you can find. For the price, the carbon frame, and mid-to-high end spec make it a great value. The Slash feels at home on a wide variety of trails, whether it's monster trucking steep, rocky descents with confidence, or dicing through faster trails with a nimble, fun, and playful feel.

Visit www.trekbikes.com for more details.

Bonus Gallery: 21 photos of the 2015 Trek Slash 9.8 27.5 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 Banshee Phantom Race 1/20/2015 10:51 PM
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Tested: 2015 Banshee Phantom

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by Brandon Turman // Action Photos by Courtney Steen

The Banshee Phantom is a 105mm travel 29er. We wouldn't blame you for immediately thinking "cross-country" when you first hear those kinds of numbers. We did. But no, the new Phantom is decidedly not an XC bike, but instead a special blend of XC/trail/all-mountain/enduro magic. It brings together the efficiency and precision of a short travel ride, the capability of a slack head angle, big wheels to get your roll on, and well-chosen components that let you get away with murder. We spent a few months getting acquainted with the new bike (and new concept) in the mountains of British Columbia and Arizona.

Highlights

  • Hydroformed 7005 aluminum frame
  • 29-inch wheels
  • 105mm (4.1-inches) of rear wheel travel // 120mm (4.7-inches) front travel recommended
  • Tapered headtube
  • 67.5 / 68 / 68.5-degree head angle
  • 74 / 74.5 / 75-degree effective seat tube angle
  • 335 / 342 / 348mm (13.2 / 13.45 / 13.7-inch) bottom bracket height
  • 445 / 442 / 440mm (17.5 / 17.4 / 17.3-inch) chainstays
  • 73mm threaded bottom bracket
  • 142mm rear spacing with 12mm through axle (convertible to 135x10mm and 150x12mm)
  • Measured complete weight (size Medium, no pedals): 29.6-pounds (13.4kg)
  • MSRP $4,930

At the heart of the full aluminum frame is the KS-Link suspension system, which is also used on the Banshee Prime, Rune, Spitfire, and Darkside. The Virtual Pivot suspension platform uses two one-piece forged linkages and a one-piece rear triangle for a stiff, light, and compact package. Banshee uses unique internally ribbed stays to further increase rear end stiffness. Oversized and fully sealed bearings throughout help ensure durability and decrease maintenance. The shock is actuated by the seat stays, which is said to yield a more plush and active ride due to minimal DU bushing rotation. A 120mm travel fork comes stock with the ability to bump up to a max of 140mm.

Interchangeable dropouts allow the use of just about any rear axle standard you can imagine, though it comes equipped with the most common 12x142mm option. Three geometry adjustments are available by flipping or swapping out the oval shaped "flip chips" contained within the dropouts.

Additional features include a tapered head tube with zero stack headset, 2.4-inches of rear tire clearance, a threaded bottom bracket, ISCG 2005 tabs, and a direct front derailleur mount. Cable routing is almost entirely external, save the option to run a stealth-style dropper post. Although not ideal, we're pleased to see a bottle mount on the underside of the downtube.

The Phantom is available with three build kits or as a frame/shock package only. We tested the Race build which retails for $4,930 US. Frames run $1,800 with a Monarch RT3 shock or $2,050 with the new Cane Creek DBinline. Medium, Large, and XL sizes are available. There's no size Small unfortunately, likely due to lower demand.

On The Trail

Our time on the Phantom included several rides in the rocky, rooty mountains surrounding the Whistler Valley, as well as hundreds of miles in Arizona, including the high speed fun in Flagstaff, swoopy turns and flowing hills of Prescott, and unique ledgy terrain of Sedona. It even saw a few laps down Whistler Bike Park just for good measure.

Banshee's choice in cockpit components is spot on for the bike's intended user. It comes with a reliable 50mm Race Face Turbine stem, wide 785mm Race Face Atlas bars, and comfortable Half Nelson lock-on grips. The size Medium frame with a healthy 420mm reach measurement hit the mark for our 5'10" test rider. There's a big jump up to the size Large frame at 450mm, so consider your size choice carefully. The 585mm effective top tube length provided a roomy, comfortable ride while seated.

After a bit of time using the long/low geometry setting and smashing far too many roots and rocks in Whistler, we decided it best to switch to the middle setting. This provided an extra quarter inch of bottom bracket height at 13.45-inches, and steepened the seat and head angles half a degree to 74.5 and 68-degrees, respectively - striking a good compromise for BC and Sedona style terrain. Because the bike is so adjustable and can be run with up to a 140mm fork, an alternative setup to gain some cranks clearance while still retaining all the fun would be to drop it to the low/slack mode and install a bigger 130/140mm fork, picking up the bottom bracket slightly and landing you in the 67-degree head angle territory. We didn't test this option, but it's worth considering.

So, how does it ride? What surprised us from the get-go was that even though you only have 105mm of rear travel, it's pretty impressive what you can get away with on this thing. This is in large part due to carefully chosen geometry, big wheels, and rally-ready components.

Pointed downhill the Phantom is an absolute blast when ridden attentively. It's very precise, and as a result requires a more demanding riding style. Perhaps the biggest benefit of less travel is a much faster ride when you really start to push into and work with the trail rather than just smashing everything in sight like many of us have grown accustomed to. Riding with this mentality and technique makes the bike a joy to ride. Have some fun with it. Hit those lines well, pump the terrain, pick up over the nasty stuff, and (surprise!) you'll likely be railing along faster than your friends on their super squishy rides. The rider that enjoys knowing where their wheels are, placing their bike in nooks and crannies, finding sneaky new options on trails, and jumping through the rocks will love this bike the most. It really excels in tight, jumpy, slightly bumpy trails where you truly don't need a lot of travel. Guess what? That includes far more trails than you'd think.

Sure, should you misplace the wheels there's a chance you'll get a little buck wild, but know that the bike won't dump you on your ass even in this case. The only time it gets hung up is when the rear wheel encounters a truly large square edge. In general it's quite stable due to the well-tuned suspension, good geometry, large wheel size, and reliable tires. While the damping characteristics of the DBinline shock shine, what can introduce some instability is how little travel is in the rear. It's pretty easy to reach the bottom of the rear shock on consistently rocky or ledgy terrain with repetitive big hits, and that's when the rear end can start to feel a little overwhelmed. Meanwhile the 120mm RockShox Pike RCT3 fork goes relatively unfazed and keeps things in check and pointed straight when you really need it. The bike is not as confidence inspiring as the recent surge of long travel 150-160mm 29ers, but the fact that you have a solid fork up front paired with great tires adds a lot to the bike's willingness to try just about anything.

As is the case with most 29ers, it naturally excelled at average size square edge hits and maintaining speed over most terrain. G-outs and drops rely more on the rider to absorb the blow, but we feel as though this only adds to the bike's ride qualities, helping you to accelerate where bigger bikes tend to bog down. Just get the fork, shock, and tire pressures dialed in and you're good to go.

We tested this bike with both a Cane Creek DBinline and a RockShox Monarch RT3 shock. Both were initially set to the suggested 25% (11mm) sag. With the Monarch it felt harsh off the top and the bike had a bit of an uncontrolled pogo stick feel, lacking any real sense of control. Switching to the DBinline was an eye-opener. With one large volume spacer installed and the high/low-speed compression dials set to the suggested base tune, small bump performance was noticeably better and the bike began to track much better. In short, the DBinline is the shock you want on this bike, so opt for the $250 upgrade as it's well worth it. We experimented with various settings, ultimately settling on 35% (15.5mm) sag with a touch less high/low-speed compression than suggested. We preferred the feel of more sag, resulting in better small bump performance and control in most situations. It's very easy to add more volume spacers to the DBinline for bottom out support, though the stock setup with one spacer worked pretty well. The bike's leverage ratio is just slightly progressive overall, so some ramp from the air spring near bottom out helps.

Here's the base shock tune, for reference:

Would our ideal ride have a few more millimeters of travel? Possibly, but at what point do you cut yourself off as a bike designer? It's the short travel advantage that makes the Phantom so good during 98% of the typical trail ride, and adding more travel would only dilute its best trait in order to boost performance during the other 2%.

One of our favorite things about the Phantom is how well it corners. Many 29ers feel tall and awkward in all but high-speed, sweeping corners, but this just isn't the case with the Banshee. That low 13-inch range bottom bracket height, relatively snug chainstays compared to most 29ers, stiff rear end, and good tires add up to a ride that is noticeably better in tight turns. This makes changing lines at a moment's notice easier to do, as well as picking your way through tight terrain. Wheelies are relatively easy, as is getting the front end over technical features, but when it comes to manualing it does require a pretty firm yank at the bars.

At 29.6-pounds the bike is a bit heavy on the scale, but it feels lighter on the trail. Though it lacks a super firm platform feel at 35% sag when laying down the power - a result of less anti-squat as you get further into the travel - sprinting is still quite good. When you only have a little travel any bike is bound to get up and go quickly. Sedona's terrain really highlighted this, with its never-ending quick ups/downs/tight turns that require you to be on the gas hard and often to maintain speed. The slight heft is in the right places and actually adds to the stability of the bike in rough situations outside of sprints, helping to prevent the dreaded skittery feel that lighter bikes often have. The only area we could see Banshee saving some substantial weight without compromising the ride is moving to a fixed dropout design, but that would come at the expense of losing the adjustable geometry feature.

With the Cane Creek DBinline, you gain their "Climb Switch" technology. The Climb Switch is unique in that it adds both low-speed compression and low-speed rebound damping by switching on one easy to use lever. This slows all chassis motion down and prevents any sense of bucking while ascending technical/bumpy terrain, in addition to keeping the rear tire on the ground longer. With this feature activated we were able to conquer many tricky uphill sections we've struggled with previously. The bike's 29-inch wheels, meaty tires, precise feeling at the bars, and quick pedal response also add to the climbing experience, and seated climbs presented no issue with body position.

Build Kit

As we've mentioned many times throughout this review, the components really help this bike excel in (or survive) many situations. Banshee's Race build places priority on all out performance where it counts while maintaining a reasonable price point. The RockShox Pike RCT3 fork, Cane Creek DBinline shock, and Maxxis High Roller II tires are examples of this, with some savings in the wheel, brake, and drivetrain departments.

While the 2.35-inch Maxxis High Roller II tires do come at a slight rolling speed penalty, we're partial to their inclusion front and rear thanks to the excellent braking and traction they provide in most conditions. As we've seen on other long term test bikes, unfortunately these tires often succumb to cracking/tearing around the base of each side knob. The knobs really started to cut in after a half dozen rides or so. Once this happens, the side knobs bend over very easily while turning hard or riding off-camber terrain with good traction, and the squirmy effect this has can be quite noticeable at times.

The Phantom comes with Kore Durox rims laced to Novatec hubs. We found the combo to be plenty stiff with a good internal rim width and decent engagement. We did put a handful of dents in the rear wheel, however. On the plus side, we didn't experience a single flat tire, even while running tubes. Both wheels continue to run true with good tension. We'd love to see these come pre-taped for tubeless use.

SRAM's new Guide R brakes complement the package well. We had plenty of power, good modulation, and the brakes have a better lever feel than the previous Avid option. The only issue we ran into was rotor size. Given the speeds you can reach and terrain the bike is willing to carry you down, it simply needs a larger rotor than the stock 160mm in the rear. Matching it to the 180mm that's up front would be great.

The Phantom uses a smart combination of Race Face Evolve cranks, a 30-tooth Race Face Narrow/Wide chainring, and SRAM's X1 rear derailleur and cassette. This saves on dollars while providing comparable performance and possibly better durability. We love the X1 system for its simplicity, the clutch mechanism that quiets the bike, and overall smooth operation. Some minor shifting issues took a little time to work out, but never really had an impact on how the bike rode. We experienced two dropped chains, and would recommend an upper guide for better chain security for those concerned about it. The 30-tooth ring works well with the anti-squat characteristics of the suspension design, and provides a wide range of gears when combined with the 10-42 tooth cassette, but does top out pretty quickly.

Finally, you'll want to add a dropper post as the Race build does not include one. A 125mm RockShox Reverb Stealth worked well for us, and really enables you to use the bike to its full potential.

Long Term Durability

After a few months of use we've seen no potential concerns, and we anticipate the Phantom lasting for a long time. Gone are the days of worn bushings and creaky linkages. Just be sure to follow the suggested service schedule, and consider adding padding to the chain/seat stays to prevent chainslap. You'll also likely need to clean the dropout interface a few times a year to prevent creaking. Banshee backs the frame with a two year warranty and lifetime crash replacement assistance.

What's The Bottom Line?

The 2015 Banshee Phantom is made for the rider who favors precision over monster trucking. This bike has an interesting blend of short travel, capable geometry, and robust components that give it some character and allow it to tackle terrain that would typically be above a 105mm travel 29er's head. It's a winning combination for the rider that likes to get rowdy on the descents while still enjoying a sense of efficiency everywhere else. Ultimately it made us re-think our desire for increasingly bigger and burlier bikes. A skilled rider can get away with less travel, have just as good a time on the descents, and be faster on all the sections in-between while aboard the Phantom.

Visit www.bansheebikes.com for more details.

Bonus Gallery: 21 photos of the Banshee Phantom 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.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for 2015 Pivot Mach 6 Carbon X01 1/18/2015 2:15 PM
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2015 Test Sessions: Pivot Mach 6 Carbon X01

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

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

Pivot's Mach 6 Carbon has existed for a few years now, a veritable eternity in the world of changing designs and all-new products. It does, however, build off the success of the already refined Mach 5.7 and Firebird, blending the best qualities of each into one do-it-all machine. It certainly looks like it checks all the boxes, so lets mull over the details and hit the trail to see if the Mach 6 is indeed worthy of the name. We spent some time getting acquainted with it during the 2015 Vital MTB Test Sessions.

Highlights

  • Carbon frame
  • 27.5-inch wheels
  • 155mm (6.1-inches) of rear wheel travel // 160mm (6.3-inches) front travel
  • Tapered headtube
  • 66-degree head angle (XS, S, M) // 66.25-degree (L) // 66.5-degree (XL)
  • 72.3-degree effective seat tube angle
  • 341mm (13.4-inch) measured bottom bracket height
  • 430mm (16.9-inch) chainstays
  • Press Fit 92 bottom bracket
  • 142mm rear spacing with 12mm through axle
  • Measured complete weight (size Large, no pedals): 27-pounds, 14-oz (12.64kg)
  • MSRP $6,199 + $399 for optional KS dropper post

Six inches of travel, dw-link suspension, 27.5-inch wheels, a slack head angle, relatively short chainstays, and gadgets galore - Pivot's flagship doesn't disappoint in the feature department. At the heart of the frame, the dw-link suspension promises a good deal of anti-squat when you put the power down, neutral braking, and supple bump eating the rest of the time. Dave Weagle's system has been around for a long time now, and we appreciate having a design that has been tuned and re-tuned over the years. This bike sees a new upper linkage design that provides additional control over the suspension curve. Pivot also claims that the "variable wheel travel path provides incredible square edge bump absorption and control on technical descents."

On the flip side of refinement, 27.5-inch wheels grace almost every new bike available now. In a few short years they went from oddities to the top item on most riders' wish lists. We see no problem with this, as they handle everything pretty well. Rolling? Better than bikes from a few years ago. Strength? Better than the what the XC camp rides.

Aside from the carbon frame, which utilizes "an exclusive hollow box, high-compression internal mandrel technology" to result in the claimed "best stiffness to weight ratio in its class," there is some internal cable routing, rubberized leather chainstay/seat stay/down tube protectors, post mount disc brake tabs, a press fit bottom bracket, ISCG tabs, bottle mount, aggressive looks, and the option to run multiple chainrings and a direct mount front derailleur if you so choose. We tend to not change up bikes after we find what we like, so the lack of adjustable geometry does not bother us on the Mach 6. Slack angles and relatively short chainstays are a recipe for good times. The tucked-in linkage design provides a satisfactory 1cm of mud clearance at the tightest point with the stock tire.

Cable routing is very direct, but there are a few odd qualities to it. Pivot provides internal routing for the dropper post, putting them in the same company as so many others now. The other internal routing is a mere foot long section of rear derailleur cable. The cable exits the top tube at the upper shock mount. Both it and the external rear brake cable bend out toward the rider around the seat tube when the suspension is compressed. They don't really get it in the way, but a more well thought out cable system could be a benefit. On the plus side, it lacks the dreaded cable rattle that plagues so many bikes today. We're also not fans of the excessive amount of branding that adorns an otherwise clean looking frame.

Pivot offers the Mach 6 Carbon in XS-XL sizes with a whopping eight build kit configurations ranging from the great value Shimano SLX/XT combo to an ultra pricey option adorned with XTR components. Our SRAM X01 equipped test bike fell right in the middle of the range at $6,199, plus a $399 add-on for the very necessary KS Lev Integra dropper post.

On The Trail

The rowdy, rock-strewn trails off of West Cuesta Ridge in San Luis Obispo, California started off our test days, followed by the high-speed corners of Morning Glory, and finally jumps and berms in the Eucs Project.

The Mach 6 felt comfortable to us as we pedaled from the trailhead. The cockpit is acceptable, with a 755mm bar that is just wide enough and 60mm stem that's just short enough. Sag was easy to measure on the rear shock with Pivot's custom sag indicator, and the fork's adjustments were equally as easy to work with. We settled on Pivot's recommended 20mm of sag and 'Trail 1' setting on the rear FOX Float X CTD shock to begin. Note that the Float X rebound knob is extremely close to the forward shock mount, making quick rebound adjustments impossible without a small twig or tiny allen key.

On the fit side of the equation, the Mach 6 is a bit odd. While our test bike was listed as a Large, the frame felt surprisingly comfortable for our 5'8" tester who typically rides Medium bikes. The reason for this is partly due to the actual seat tube angle. The listed 72.3-degree seat tube angle can be deceiving (it's the effective seat tube angle at a seat height that may not match your own), with the actual seat tube angle resting at a very slack ~67.5-degrees. This may have been required due to the frame and suspension design. As is always the case, the higher you raise the seat the further back the seat gets, but the extreme angle on the Mach 6 makes for an average to short top tube length with a little seatpost extension and a long top tube if you have long legs and need more seatpost exposed. Because of this it's really important to know your body's proportions. If you have long arms and legs this bike might be great while seated. Short arms and legs? Also works. But… if your legs are long and you have a shorter reach the Mach 6 may give you some trouble, and the same goes for shorter legs and longer arms.

Because you stand while descending it's also important to consider the 414mm reach measurement, which is very short for a size Large frame - this left our 5'10" tester wanting a longer front end while descending at speed, but our 5'8" tester enjoyed it when the going got rough. The XL frame reach is also short at just 425mm reach. While not ideal, our recommendation for those who prefer a longer reach is to get the biggest frame you can while considering the seat tube length, then use your fore/aft saddle position to adjust as needed.

The rest of the geometry did make for a fun ride in most terrain. We appreciate how Pivot didn't go crazy with the head angle. It's slack at 66.25-degrees, but not so slack that the bike only responds to speeds above 20mph. The head angle makes climbing acceptable, tight twisty singletrack enjoyable, and really rough stuff more engaging instead of a muted experience. The front end was easy to get up with 430mm chain stays, changing lines was easy to do, and it was precise at speed. Regardless of the short reach, the bike was planted, the suspension worked well, and there wasn't a ton of racket coming from any component. The suspension would stick to the ground and add stability, which was a pleasant surprise compared to other lightweight bikes that can feel sketchy when opened up.

We initially started riding in the Trail 1 shock damping setting, which provided a controlled ride that worked well in most situations and was responsive to very small rider inputs. It lacked great small bump sensitivity though, and because the bike is already pretty progressive, doing without the Trail platform and switching to Descend yielded a better ride in our eyes. Descend mode also let the suspension compress just a little bit more, so it was easier to compress the bike to the point in the suspension when you can really jump it or move it around. This might seem counterintuitive for some, but Trail 1 provided what we felt was a firm initial stroke that we had push through often. Small bumps in Descend mode were perceivable only to the point of knowing what our tires were doing.

Once we found what we liked, the Pivot was very good to us in many situations. The suspension felt really planted in corners, and we could move the bike around when we needed to. The trail was not lost under the bike, it could be felt, and small adjustments to your riding can really make the Mach 6 live up to its name. The suspension and wheel path was also good enough that it didn't pack up and allowed riders to keep mowing down the hill whether it was rough and rutted or necessitated some rider induced air. Jumps were good, but we want to caution against building this up as a lightweight park bike. Some cased jumps and over-cleared sections used up a lot of travel. The bottom-out wasn't harsh, but this frame is not as progressive as others that could be more suitable for that application.

At 27.9-pounds it isn't just light on the scale, but also felt light and snappy while pedaling. The dw-link suspension has a large amount of anti-squat built in. This makes pedaling feel as if it has an immediate effect on the bike, but we are torn on if this is a good thing on a bike like this - it really depends on where and how you ride. While pedaling lightly over different types of terrain the suspension was largely unaffected. Any moderate to powerful efforts on the pedals resulted in exactly what the frame was designed to do, and the rear end would stiffen up when we pedaled over rough terrain. This was unwelcome when we encountered sections that were rough leading up to ledges, where the stiffness while pedaling was throwing us around a bit before a compression. Additionally, when smooth pedaling over terrain with bumps here or there, the effect of suspension movement created some dead spots in our pedal stroke. The pedaling feel is one that you'll have to ride to experience. Some will love it while others would prefer something different.

Geometry wise, the Pivot's stretched out seated climbing position allows for lots of movement fore and aft while tackling tough climbs. There were no downsides climbing the Mach 6, other than the possibility of taller riders having a tough time keeping the front end on the ground due to the seat angle. Overall, the Mach 6 sports a stiff frame that climbs well, with a unique behavior of how and when it stiffens up under power.

Build Kit

Before all the descending, climbing, and fun we had on the Pivot, we of course had a chance to drool over the whole setup. None of the most important parts on the X01 build can be called out for being money saving items, yet the front fork, wheels, rear suspension and drivetrain all provide great value for almost any budget. They all looked the part too for a bike meant for rallying. Only one component stood out visually on such a ripping build - the stem looked diminutive compared to many other components. While nothing happened while riding, we have become accustomed to beefier handlebar and steerer tube interfaces. If you need a longer or shorter stem than stock, a different brand might provide a more beefy (and comforting) look than what Pivot's in-house component provides. Honestly, we were relieved to gripe about "just" a stem.

FOX's new 36 provided consistent damping and very good terrain control. The damping adjustment range is very large and volume spacers can be added to the air spring if needed. The stiffness of the fork's chassis matches the awesome frame stiffness, and the only disconnect front to rear was in the damping. The 36 provided smooth damping, whether light or firm. The FOX Float X rear shock was smooth the whole way through in Descend mode, but less consistent in Trail and Climb modes.

The wheels were a very unique and welcomed addition the build kit. DT's 1700 series no doubt kept the weight low and provided a quick accelerating package. They use relatively normal spokes compared to many high end wheels, which allows for easier fixes should the time come. DT's hub bodies are also very reliable. After some hard hits the wheels still ran true at the conclusion of our test, with just a few dings to the rear rim.

Wrapping the wheels were Maxxis Highroller II tires. The casings were acceptable for the Pivot's intention, keeping a good balance between weight and durability. We liked the decision to run the 3C rubber as well, with both soft and firm sections. Rolling resistance was decent, cornering suited us just fine, and braking was great. If we were to race this bike in North American enduros we'd only opt to change to a slightly faster rolling rear tire. Going overseas to some burlier courses? Keep the back and go for a burlier front. The Highroller II is a jack of all trades, but does have shortcomings at both extremes.

In charge of the stopping duties were Shimano's tried and trued XT brakes with 180/160mm rotors. Once bedded in they provided consistent fade free performance. The power was good and modulation top notch. Shimano's reach adjustments are the easiest to use out of almost any brake out there, and there is also a pad contact/free stroke adjustment. We couldn't get the engagement to bite as soon as we wanted, but that trade off allowed for easy adjustment and clearance of the caliper/rotor interface.

We've ridden many bikes with SRAM XX1/X01 drivetrains and most of them are flawless. Every drivetrain will have a hiccup here or there, but with Pivot's combination of parts we had more hiccups than usual. A Race Face narrow/wide chainring provides front end security, and the cassette/derailleur combo is handled by the X01 system. We experience some ghost shifts which could be due to the suspension design or cable routing, the latter of which which made the derailleur cable bend around the seat tube when the suspension is compressed.

Despite the couple issues we had with shifting, the Pivot was surprisingly quiet. The smooth suspension and integrated swingarm guards no doubt aided in this, but credit must be given to the clutch on the SRAM X01 system. That, along with the chainring, prevented any dropped chains during our testing and let us concentrate on the trail ahead instead of any clanking noises underneath us. It'd be easy to install a chainguide using the ISCG tabs or front derailleur mount if your riding style or terrain warrants it.

Long Term Durability

Pivot's Mach 6 is stout, stiff, and showed no weak points in the durability arena. Of course, the stem could be swapped out, but that is mostly cosmetic as we never experienced any problems. Aluminum rims gets dented here and there, so the DT wheelset doesn't present a problem either. Pivot prints torque specs on the suspension pivots to allow for proper care of the frame's most vital moving parts. They back the frame with a three year warranty.

What's The Bottom Line?

With a dialed carbon frame, good suspension, and great components, $6,600 is indeed not a bad price for the Pivot Mach 6. It's arguable that nothing will return more bang for your buck past this price point and build kit. A few grams here and there might be your only savings.

If we were to pick a 6-inch bike that would be a weapon for corners, medium hits, and the type of terrain you're likely to encounter on the majority of your trail rides, the Mach 6 would be high up on our list. The few hiccups that we see in Pivot's torque delivery can also be seen as positives for many people, depending on terrain and riding style.

Are you looking for a bike that can do everything pretty well? The Mach 6 is worth checking out. Ensure that the slack seat tube angle and short reach measurement won't be an issue for you, play with the suspension to find what works best given your terrain, and the Mach 6 may indeed take you to new speeds on your next ride.

Visit www.pivotcycles.com for more details.

Bonus Gallery: 21 photos of the 2015 Pivot Mach 6 Carbon up close and in action


About The Reviewer

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 Juliana Furtado Carbon CC XX1 1/15/2015 2:50 PM
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2015 Test Sessions: Juliana Furtado Carbon CC XX1

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

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

This being the pilot year for women's Vital MTB Test Sessions reviews it seemed appropriate to check out a bike from Juliana, a brand focused solely on women's cycling. The 125mm travel Juliana Furtado, twin sister to the Santa Cruz 5010, includes a women's specific saddle, narrower bars, and a few other touches that make it better suited to the ladies. Using the latest VPP suspension technology atop 27.5-inch wheels, this bike is touted as a snappy, agile ride that descends well and climbs with the efficiency of an XC bike. Sounds like she's more than just a pretty face, right? We hit the trails to find out.

Highlights

  • Carbon CC frame
  • 27.5-inch wheels
  • 125mm (4.9-inches) of rear wheel travel // 130mm (5.1-inches) front travel
  • Tapered headtube
  • 68-degree head angle
  • 73-degree seat tube angle
  • 332mm (13.1-inch) measured bottom bracket height
  • 435mm (17.1-inch) chainstays
  • 73mm threaded bottom bracket with ISCG tabs
  • 142mm rear spacing with 12mm through axle
  • Measured complete weight (size Medium, no pedals): 25-pounds (11.3kg)
  • MSRP $8,199 plus optional $2,000 ENVE upgrade

This great looking bike is offered in two different carbon qualities. The slightly lower grade frames are designated "Carbon C" and the higher grade is a "Carbon CC." The high end Carbon CC construction method requires less material while still achieving high strength numbers. Our complete build weighed just 25-pounds and was the lightest of the 19 bikes in our Test Sessions lineup.

Our test bike came spec'd so nicely we couldn't help but sing (in our head) "I'm so fancy" when looking at it. With the full carbon frame, Race Face Next SL carbon cranks, Juliana carbon bars, ENVE carbon wheels, Shimano XTR brakes, and SRAM XX1 drivetrain, this featherweight bike was a nice treat, especially when loading the truck. Though light on the scale, it won't be light on your bank account. The bike runs $10,199 including the optional $2,000 ENVE wheel upgrade. Don't despair if this is out of your price range as other complete carbon Furtado builds start as low as $3,599. The Small, Medium, Large size range covers riders from 5'1" to 6'1" tall.

We really admired the attention to detail and how clean this bike looks. The "Hella Yella" color is matched throughout, molded rubber guards help protect the frame, internal seatpost cable routing keeps things tidy, external brake and derailleur routing make maintenance easier, and the threaded bottom bracket ensures that the bike will stay quiet. Nobody likes a creaky ride. There are also two bottle mounts for those that prefer to ride without a pack.

On The Trail

Our time testing the Furtado was spent in San Luis Obispo, California, which isn't just a place where you can spend your weekends at the beach, but also home to a huge variety of mountain bike trails. The riding options among the pastoral green hills ranged from fast and flowy to rough and rocky. A few days of rain leading into our testing period also meant the trails were going to be prime for riding.

Before heading out the door we had some setup to do. We adjusted the FOX Float CTD Factory shock to the recommended 30% seated sag and the RockShox Pike RCT3 Solo Air fork for its recommended air pressures based on rider weight. Both Vital test riders swapped out the Juliana Mountain Saddle for their own personal saddles, though Courtney did ride a day on it to see how it faired. A saddle's fit is a very personal thing, and the booty knows what it likes. Courtney swapped out the 720mm bars for something slightly wider at 750mm before heading out.

Courtney felt pretty good at 5'7" tall with a longer torso and shorter legs on our size Medium test bike. The top tube length was comfortable when reaching from the saddle to the bars. The shorter reach than she is used to took a little bit of readapting to find her balance point out of the saddle. Be sure to consider the seat tube measurement if you have shorter legs or are at the lower end of the suggested size range, as the 432mm seat tube left her just a few millimeters of wiggle room for the 125mm dropper post. If your inseam is less than 30-inches, you might struggle with getting the post low enough for pedaling. Juliana wisely specs a shorter 100mm travel dropper on the size Small frame. Courtney also had just enough standover height. Amanda felt like she was reaching a little on the Furtado's top tube length at 5'6" tall with a shorter torso and longer legs, even with a short 50mm stem installed.

The comfortable 68-degree head tube angle prevented the dreaded dive-over-the-bars feeling when heading down some steeper sections, and when climbing it didn't feel like pushing a shopping cart uphill. Decently compact 435mm chainstays, a 1114mm wheelbase, and low 332mm bottom bracket height help strike a good balance of stability and playfulness in the geometry.

The Furtado felt decently capable while descending. On wide open and smoother trails it was stable, balanced in the air, reacted the way we wanted it to, and was quick while pumping which made for a super fun ride for the proactive rider. It wanted to rail corners and it wanted to have decisive rider input.

More rowdy descents showed a different side of the bike's personality, though, and we slowed up more than we probably would have on a larger travel bike. It tracked well through the super rough stuff and never surprised us in a bad way in spite of this. The suspension felt plenty supportive when rolling off drops and jumps. The times when we felt a bit buck-wild and pinballed around we were on some pretty rough and loose sections where you would probably want a bigger bike if it were part of your regular riding terrain.

Courtney felt the bike rode well at 30% sag with the FOX CTD shock set to Descend mode. Amanda let out a little more air from the shock, bringing it down to about 35% sag, which she thought felt better and mostly rode in Trail mode. In Descend mode she thought it was tough to balance front to back on the bike and wanted something to push against in the suspension, which at times felt a little muted and dull.

On the climbs the Furtado did okay, though not as well as we expected the 25-pound super bike to do. It lands somewhere in the middle as far as efficiency is concerned - not as quick as a billy goat or as sluggish as a waterbed. Things improved some by flipping the CTD switch to a firmer mode, which was easy to do given the shock's position. Courtney would switch it to Trail mode for extended climbs and Amanda would go all the way to Climb. In either case the increased damping support helped quiet bike movement while putting power down.

The geometry also asked for a little more effort from us on the climbs. Both of us, short and long-legged, were a bit further back off the bike than we feel is ideal. Even with the saddle all the way forward our legs had to reach forward more than preferred, and as a result we were struggling more than we could have been. At times it felt like extra efforts were needed to keep the front end down on inclines that weren't even all that steep. Lowering the bars and stem as far as they go helped a bit.

There were a number of inclines where we wished we had more of a bail out gear than the 32-tooth chainring would get us. We kept checking the shifter, hoping for another gear like checking an empty wine bottle hoping there is still a splash more hiding inside. No luck. The ENVE rims did help make for some easier efforts to make wheels go around though, especially on slight inclines and flats.

Build Kit

Other than the awesome Hella Yella paint color, Juliana also included a few parts with the ladies in mind. For our lady hands they include a pair of grips with soft rubber padding. These came on 720mm wide Juliana carbon bars with a 60mm stem. We are stoked to see decently wide bars for women and a shorter stem coming stock. It is a combination that really does add stability, though some may still prefer something a bit wider. Also special for women, the Juliana Mountain Saddle has an ergonomic center channel to avoid pressure points and the width has been adjusted to provide more support than a typical saddle.

The RockShox Reverb seatpost with a luxurious 125mm of travel is another accessory we applaud. We like to get the saddle out of the way when descending so we can get low in corners and move around as needed. However, we did have a "well-this-just-won't-do" response to the Reverb remote being clamped to the shifter on the right side of the bars. The 1x11 drivetrain leaves plenty of open real estate on the left side just calling out for some love, and it's much easier to use over there. You'll need a new bar clamp to make the switch.

The RockShox Pike fork was a fun ride. It was smooth off the top, sucked up smaller bumps incredibly well, and sailed over medium hits that might have caught up other suspension setups. It took a minute to get used to and trust that it wasn't actually diving because there is so little stiction and it goes into its travel so easily. It felt pretty good with the recommended settings, though Amanda softened it up a little extra which made the bike feel more balanced to her. It took the hits that we sent it over well and was supportive in corners.

ENVE's M60 carbon rims felt a bit more solid than aluminum when plowing over rocks. They also seemed more quiet as there weren't the pings you typically get from alloy, and we do like the improved acceleration due to lower weight. We also like the fast hub engagement - our track stands have never been so good.

The Maxxis HighRoller II tire up front and Ardent in the rear was a good combination. The HighRoller II gave us solid traction up front for pushing or cruising through corners and the Ardent helped improved rolling speed a bit.

Surprisingly, Shimano's new XTR M9020 brakes were a problem child. Their lever pull was very inconsistent as they pumped up over a super short period of use. It appeared that they needed a bleed, badly. We tried doing a partial bleed through the lever and got some bubbles out, but it didn't remedy to problem entirely. They seemed to have good grab, though. Unfortunately this translated to excess skidding as there was zero room for modulation when they pumped up (sorry IMBA). One the plus side, the ergonomics and length of the brake levers felt great. The bike is equipped with 180 and 160mm rotors.

We enjoy the simplicity of a 1X drivetrain and SRAM's XX1 system worked really well. It keeps the cockpit clean and reduces the number of cables running around everywhere. Shifting was quick, responsive, and smooth. The bike was also nearly silent while riding with chain noise and cable rattling pretty much eliminated. The Race Face narrow/wide ring up front and a clutch derailleur in back helped the chain stay on through all our rides.

Long Term Durability

With the exception of the brakes, all the parts on the Juliana Furtado seemed to be working as they should. There was some cable rub here and there on the frame though. Cable rub patches will definitely be needed to keep the frame looking pristine. We noted we had decent mud clearance but mud would get balled up a bit in the lower link of the frame, which could present an issue if you ride in the wet often. There is a grease gun included with the frame so the pivots can be serviced, and using this will certainly keep things running smoothly. Juliana backs the frame with a five year warranty, pivots for lifetime, and will help with the cost some in the event of a bad crash.

What's The Bottom Line?

The Juliana Furtado is a really enjoyable ride through moderate tech and and on fast, flowy trails. It's best suited to those who like to ride proactively and fancy that low and quick slalom feel. It'll make it through really rough sections alright, but you'll likely have some white knuckles on the other side. The need for such decisive rider input makes it a bike that's best suited to experienced riders.

Geometry leaves a little to be desired for climbing and the overall dimensions may be a very close fit for some women - possibly a result of being a direct crossover from a men's frame - so we recommend trying one before buying.

The price point is very high on this bike with all its glitz and glam, but luckily you can get comparable performance from some of the less expensive builds. If smoother trails are your jam and you like pumping your bike and playing with the terrain, the Furtado could be a great ride for you.

Visit www.julianabicycles.com for more details.

Bonus Gallery: 19 photos of the 2015 Juliana Furtado Carbon 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 1 review.

Added a product review for 2015 Intense Spider 275 Pro 1/13/2015 12:00 AM
C138_flo_red_spider275_pro_1

2015 Test Sessions: Intense Spider 275 Pro

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

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

When the original VPP-equipped Intense Cycles Spider debuted in 2003 it was a bred for the cross country racer with speed and weight as top priority. Over the next decade it morphed into a marathon style trail bike with a penchant for pounding out the miles, and eventually a 29-inch option was born. Today the Temecula, California based brand is proud to release their latest in the long line of handcrafted Spider frames. The new Spider 275 maintains an adjustable 115/130mm of rear travel while becoming even more capable with updated geometry, revised suspension pivot placement, and 27.5-inch wheels.

After over one year in research and development, Intense was so excited to show us what they had been working on that Jeff Steber himself welded up the brand new frame for our 2015 Test Sessions just days before testing began. The bright orange bike arrived decked out with the latest and greatest components and ready to rip. We took it to the trails of Montaña De Oro and Madonna Mountain in San Luis Obispo, California to see just what it's capable of.

Highlights

  • Aluminum frame
  • 27.5-inch wheels
  • 115/130mm (4.5/5.1-inches) of rear wheel travel // 130mm (5.1-inches) front travel
  • Tapered headtube
  • 67-degree head angle
  • 75.5-degree effective seat tube angle
  • 337mm (13.25-inch) measured bottom bracket height
  • 419mm (16.5-inch) chainstays
  • 73mm threaded bottom bracket
  • 142mm rear spacing with 12mm through axle
  • Measured complete weight (size Large, no pedals): 29-pounds, 7-ounces (13.35kg)
  • MSRP $5,999

Like all Intense bikes, it rides on the popular VPP suspension system that they've shared with Santa Cruz for several years. The system is highlighted by two short counter-rotating forged links, angular contact bearings, and replaceable grease zerks for easy maintenance. Travel is adjustable thanks to two shock mounting positions, with the upper shock mounting hole providing the full 130mm of travel. It's designed around a 130mm travel fork.

The Spider 275 is the first Intense with the lower pivot placement up above the bottom bracket, attached to their new "iBox" machined bottom bracket assembly, effectively allowing them to make the rear end shorter. The result is a super compact 419mm (16.5-inch) chainstay length. Surprisingly there's still decent mud clearance, with a hair less than 1cm of room for mud at the tightest point. Riders looking to add a front derailleur will still be able to so with the increasingly popular direct mount attachment, but note that 3X systems are not compatible due to limited clearance. Our test bike sported a 1x11 SRAM drivetrain.

The updated pivot placement also allowed designers to steepen the effective seat angle. It now comes in at 75.5-degrees. This resulted in a relatively short top tube length of 622mm (24.5-inches) in relation to the healthy reach of 467mm (18.4-inches) on our size Large tester.

Aesthetically we think the new pivot placement looks better as well. Intense puts some emphasis on their bikes looking great, so it makes sense to see this move and thought process behind it.

Cable and brake routing on the new bike is the tried and true external variety, making any changes to the cables easier than the internal alternative. The KS LEV Integra dropper post does get the cleaner stealth-style treatment, though the cable doesn't jump into the frame until reaching the seat tube. It has a rubber gasket to help keep water and dirt at bay. Cable routing is fitted to the top of the downtube, keeping them out of harms way from any flying rocks or potential incidents resulting from hacking up a storm on the trail.

The oversize double-butted and hydroformed aluminum frame also sports molded downtube and chainstay protection, a threaded bottom bracket, ISCG 05 mounts, 160mm IS rear brake mount, a water bottle mount inside the front triangle, integrated dropouts, and remarkably low standover. Claimed weight for a size Medium frame is 7.6-pounds, versus just 6-pounds for the previous 26-inch aluminum model.

The bike is available in Pro ($5,999), Expert ($5,650), and Foundation ($2,999) build kits as well as a frame only option ($2,199). We tested the cream of the crop Pro build. Colors include Flo Red and Silver Flake.

On The Trail

We began testing with the Spider 275 on the smooth, flowy trails of Montaña De Oro. These trails are generally straight-forward with the occasional rocky crop, but they do allow for some high speeds and a good bit of berm slapping which the Spider welcomed with open arms. We'd later ride the rock-strewn slopes of Madonna Mountain to really push it into some taxing situations.

Setup was a breeze thanks to the sag indicators on the 200x50mm RockShox Monarch RT3 shock. Set to the recommended 30% sag while seated in the 130mm travel setting it worked well for us, resulting in a balanced, consistent feel with the RockShox Revelation fork. The bar and stem were swapped out for something a little shorter (from 70mm down to 50mm) and wider (750mm up to 800mm) due to personal preference. At 6'3" and 6'5" tall we also pushed the seat back on the rails in order to lengthen the top tube a hair for seated climbs. With a seat tube angle as steep as the Spider's we were still in a great position to get up over the bottom bracket.

As we'd find out in the rougher bits of trail, the Spider 275's updated geometry is pretty well suited to aggressive use, but there is a limit to what it will handle in stride. At 67-degrees, the head angle is now is 2-3 degrees slacker than the previous 26-inch Spider, providing some relief when things get rough while maintaining a quick feel at the bars. The wheelbase, which comes in at 1,178mm (46.4-inches) on the Large, is long enough to give some stability in most situations. Despite these numbers we found it slightly unstable and rough feeling at high speeds with a little chunk thrown in. The short chainstays no doubt had a role in this, while the narrow 2.25-inch Maxxis Ardent tires didn't help.

Even so, the bike was a lot of fun to ride when the trails got twisty or involved any quick direction changes. It has a nimble yet planted personality that makes it predictable and inspires confidence when smacking through consecutive corners. The front end is also easy to pick up and throw around, leaving you with a bike that asks to be played with rather than pointing it straight through the rough.

Here it is in action under Intense Pro riders Luca Cometti and Bernat Guardia:

The rear suspension provided a comfortable ride on a range of terrain, doing a good job of smoothing out small bumps while also handling bigger hits and g-outs well without a harsh bottom-out. It did get a little hung up on square edges, especially while climbing, which is something we've experienced on other VPP bikes in the past - a result of the design relying on chain tension to aid with the exceptional pedal platform.

Even with the shock wide open the bike is spritely on climbs, quick to accelerate when stomping on the pedals, and encourages you to get out of the saddle often. It's a shame that it toys with your feet when under strain through chunky square edges, because otherwise it's dialed in the pedaling department. Is the pedal feedback something to be concerned with? That really depends on your priorities. For us the bike's playful attitude in the twisty stuff and smooth acceleration outweighed the pedal feedback we experienced.

Heel clearance when pedaling isn't great. Our testers' ankles clipped the seat stays on both sides on several occasions. Sometimes while climbing, others while descending as the suspension was moving through its travel. The rear derailleur housing guide on the outside of the seat stay also causes more contact than necessary.

Coming in at 29.4-pounds for a size Large, the Spider 275 Pro is no lightweight by today's standards, but its energetic attitude helps with its perceived weight on the trail. Nevertheless, it leaves you wondering, "What if?" Surely there will be a fantastic plastic version of the bike in the future, and given our experience with the aluminum version it will take off like an absolute rocket.

Build Kit

Intense built the Spider 275 Pro with predominantly SRAM gear with exception to the brakes, where they opted for Shimano's proven XT offering. It's clear that the build attempts to balance all-out performance with low component weights and speed. The only parts we felt the need to immediately change were the bar and stem, but the stock cockpit options weren't too far from our ideal setup.

Up front the 130mm travel RockShox Revelation RCT3 fork with 32mm stanchions did a decent job once tuned to our liking. Our final air pressures were close to recommended, while the compression damping required a little adjusting with both the low and high speed set to about 1/4 of the way in from open. For the type of riding that the Spider is intended for this fork will be fine for most, but the bike begs to be ridden harder, making us wonder what a slightly longer travel fork with a more robust 34mm stanchion would offer (think 140mm Pike or similar). The Revelation gets the job done, though isn't anything to shout about.

The narrow 2.25-inch Maxxis Ardent tires offered great rolling speed on fast trails and would be a decent choice for racing cross-country, but when it comes to general trail riding we would like to see a little more tread up front and perhaps a larger version of the Ardent on the rear. Something with more bite would allow you to really get over the front end when pushing into corners and across off-camber terrain.

The wheel department is taken care of by Stan's No Tubes Arch EX wheels, a fitting set of hoops for the bike's intended purpose, though a bit on the soft side. Aside from upgrading the front tire, a wheelset change could help the bike become more planted at speed. The stock wheels have a good amount of flex and a very narrow rim that's just 21mm internally. The rear wheel showed signs of abuse after just a few rides.

Brake performance was as expected from Shimano's XT line with great modulation, consistent power, and enough bite to get you out of most situations. The bike comes with 180/160mm rotors.

In a similar fashion, SRAM's X01 drivetrain did its job well with light, accurate shifts and smooth operation. The Spider was setup without a chainguide and we had no issues with dropped chains, but there are ISCG tabs should one be of preference. The included chainstay guard is a little on the short side and the bike is missing any seat stay protection, allowing the chain to make a slight amount of noise when it contacts the frame.

Long Term Durability

Our initial impressions bode well for the Spider 275. Beyond the wheels showing their softer side relatively quickly, we don't seen any potential issues that could result in a shorter lifespan for the bike so long as it is ridden as a playful short travel trail bike. The components are all solid and should last a good amount of time if looked after appropriately.

The new lower link placement up above the bottom bracket helps keep it further out of harms way than the previous VPP design, and should hold up better in muddy and loose terrain. New serviceable pivot points feature collet bolts. Pivot/bearing service is suggested every 2,000 miles or 6 months, whichever comes first. Intense backs the frame with a three year warranty.

What's The Bottom Line?

As a short travel trail bike the new Intense Spider 275 Pro is a lot of fun to ride. Its agility and snappy acceleration make it enjoyable to rip around and the components help make it a no nonsense ride. If the trails you frequent involve predominantly high-speed, rocky terrain, then consider the experience we had with some slight instability in the rough. If you're looking for something playful for those twisty trails, the Spider 275 checks all the right boxes. The continued evolution of the Spider is towards an increasingly capable ride, and this latest generation has shed its spandex-clad XC ways for better all-around trail manners.

Visit www.intensecycles.com for more info. The bike will be available in March 2015.

Bonus Gallery: 29 photos of the 2015 Intense Spider 275 Pro 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 Canyon Strive CF 9.0 Race 1/9/2015 4:22 PM
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2015 Test Sessions: Canyon Strive CF 9.0 Race

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

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

At the end of the 2013 race season there was quite a bit of curiosity around what Fabien Barel's prototype bike had hiding under a strange looking cover on the rear shock. All would be revealed in early 2014 when Canyon released the new Strive, including details of their new "Shape Shifter" technology. With the push of a lever the system changes the bike's geometry and travel between "DH" and "XC" modes. It's an interesting concept and one we looked forward to trying out during the 2015 Vital MTB Test Sessions in San Luis Obispo, California.

Highlights

  • Carbon frame
  • 27.5-inch wheels
  • 130 or 160mm (5.1 or 6.3-inches) of rear wheel travel // 160mm (6.3-inches) front travel
  • Tapered headtube
  • 66-degree (+1.5-degree) head angle
  • 73.5-degree (+1.5-degree) seat tube angle
  • 338mm (13.38-inches) measured bottom bracket height
  • 423mm (16.65-inches) chainstays
  • SRAM X-Type bottom bracket
  • 142mm rear spacing with 12mm through axle
  • Measured complete weight (size Race Large, no pedals): 28-pounds, 3-ounces (12.81kg)
  • MSRP 4299€

Making a bike that climbs like an XC rig and descends like a DH sled has been the goal of pretty much every manufacturer with a 160mm bike in their catalogue. The inherent problem with this eternal equation is that traveling uphill requires a fundamentally different tool than when you head back down said hill. It's not only about weight, nor is it only about geometry - it's about a total package that is put together in the optimal way to tackle the task at hand.

Many companies have tried to come up with solutions that involve the on-the-fly tuning of the shock and fork, changes in shock travel, or even changes in fundamental geometry. But to this day none have really managed to find a solution that actually adjusts all these aspects in an uncomplicated and non-proprietary manner. Canyon's new Strive looks like a pretty big step in the right direction.

The Strive's use of Shape Shifter technology is definitely the bike's key feature. A rider can compress the rear suspension while pushing the bar-mounted lever and ride at a lower, slacker stance. Pushing the button again while slightly unweighting the bike will result in the bike landing at a taller, steeper stance. The difference between the two modes in terms of static numbers is a 19mm change in bottom bracket height, a shift of 1.5-degrees at the seat and head angles, and 30mm less travel. Here it is in action:

Canyon's sizing system is interesting for the Strive. They offer Standard and Race versions with different geometry numbers intended to allow you to pick a bike to suit your style. Regular geometry is for "those seeking agility" and Race geometry is for "those looking for more stability at speed." Comparing the numbers, the Race versions gain about 26mm in the reach and top tube department. The chainstays on both bikes are identical at a very short 423mm. It’s a little confusing for sure, but with everything else being the same it really is a matter of knowing which front center length works best for you.

Additional details on the carbon frame include a threaded bottom bracket, ISCG tabs, internal cable routing, and bottle mounts inside the front triangle. Mud clearance is good with about 1cm of room for the muck.

The Strive CF is offered in five models. The 9.0 Race that we tested falls right in the middle of the bunch. Aluminum framed versions are available as well.

On The Trail

Prior to hitting the dirt we discovered that setting up the bike can be a little finicky, as the Shape Shifter device needs to be precisely adjusted in order for it to operate properly. Once we set the bolts at the top of the link to the correct torque spec, adjusted the cable, and inflated the Shape Shifter to the specified range it was game one. As shipped from the factory we struggled to get it to change modes.

Geometry for this model is what one might expect from an Enduro race machine. In DH mode the numbers resemble those of some downhill bikes from five years ago and altogether make for a confidence inspiring ride. The head angle is in line with a number of bikes in this category at 66-degrees, as is the 73.5-degree seat angle. Static bottom bracket height is a very reasonable 338mm with a BB drop of 12mm. The chainstays are short at 423mm. At 468mm and 648mm respectively, the reach and top tube lengths on the size Race Large frame is at the upper end of size Large bikes, allowing riders upwards of 6-feet tall to ride it comfortably.

The Strive was taken straight to the loose, rocky, chunky terrain of West Cuesta Ridge and Madonna Mountain in San Luis Obispo. On the climb up we activated the Shape Shifter switch and were pleasantly surprised at how obvious it was that changes had been made. When in XC mode the bike props the rider further up over the front end, which is great for steeper or more technical climbs. When in the DH setting the bike still climbed up the initial fire road remarkably well, scooting along when we put power down.

Pointed downhill the Strive gets on with business. It tracks very well, whether in loose baby heads, loose turns or high speed straightaways. The shorter rear end and reasonably tall stack height make it easy to lift the front end while also allowing for some comfort in steeper terrain. All of the above also helped make the bike agile when direction changes were required, whether at speed or not.

The suspension feel on the Canyon is controlled and planted, riding higher in its travel than some bikes tested when set to the suggested 30% seated sag. While the bike is capable of pointing through a line, it is up to the rider to be on their game to pull through any situations that may result in being a little out of control. This is a race bike through and through and has been developed as such. Take control and it is a weapon, but get lazy or make a big mistake and you will have to pull out of it or face the consequences. Run at 35% sag the bike was more forgiving and allowed a more point-and-shoot approach, yet still rode exceptionally well.

We found that the firmness in the suspension also translated into being a relatively good climber even when in DH mode. Sure, the head angle is a little slacker, but the 73.5-degree seat angle is more than suitable for getting the rider up over the cranks for efficient power transfer. Combined with a suitable top tube length it allows the rider to get up over the bars to take control of the front end of the bike while keeping the front on the ground.

When the Shape Shifter lever is depressed and the rider unweights, the bike feels as though it stands up as it enters XC mode. This position makes for a more aggressive climbing position and adds some good clearance to the pedals if striking rocks or roots is a concern. We never noticed any discernible feedback through the pedals in either position, and the rear tire stayed glued to the ground providing exceptional traction.

On rolling trails we found that descending sections with the bike set to the XC mode was a bit awkward, with the tall stance and now 67.5-degree head angle making it less stable. The firm suspension in XC mode definitely contributes the instability as well, taking away the planted feel that the bike has otherwise. Because the bike climbs better in DH mode than it descends in XC mode, we wound up spending more time with it in the low and slack mode, which made it a lot of fun to ride. Changing between XC and DH modes has little impact on the bike's anti-squat properties.

Not only do you get shorter travel in the XC mode, you also get a lower leverage ratio, effectively making the suspension stiffer without adjusting the air pressure of the shock itself. In DH mode you get a higher leverage ratio, making the suspension more supple while still ramping up towards the end of travel thanks to the progressive characteristics of the air shock. The fact that sag as a percentage also changes between the two modes is testament to the change in leverage ratio, and again, this provides a neat solution to the issue of building a dual-personality bike.

It's worth noting that the Shape Shifter system is not a quick or natural adjustment, which makes it difficult to change modes on the fly. We feel like it works better for long, sustained climbs rather than as a mid-trail shift. Perhaps it's something that would become quicker once the movement becomes second nature, but with the bike's ability to climb as well as it does in DH mode we think the majority of people will be more than happy to run it in that mode most of the time.

Our test bike was surprisingly noisy, not from the usual cable rattling or chainslap though, but from some annoying creaks that we had trouble amending in the main rocker link area. We lubed up each pivot to no avail, leaving us to wonder if it was the cable noodle for the Shape Shifter making contact with the innards of the rocker. There was wear on the noodle, signaling that there was indeed some form of rubbing going on.

Build Kit

The Strive CF 9.0 Race is decked out with one of the best off the shelf kits we've seen. It comes with trusty Maxxis rubbers, quality Ergon GE1 grips and comfortable SM3 Pro Carbon seat, and a set of Renthal Fatbars and Apex stem. This model runs with SRAM all over, from the great quality Rail 50 wheels, to the Guide RSC brakes, X01 drivetrain and Reverb Stealth dropper. It even came with a quality E-Thirteen upper chainguide.

The RockShox Pike RCT3 fork performed how everyone has come to expect. Combined with the Monarch Plus RC3 Debonair rear shock the bike was very well balanced bike and exceptionally easy to setup. The rear shock does require a lot of pressure thanks to the bike's higher leverage ratio (we had to run between 230 and 250psi in order to achieve proper sag).

SRAM's new Guide RSC brakes are a big improvement over previous Avid models, providing a very consistent feel at the lever and plenty of power and modulation. They're well suited to the bike and will no doubt challenge Shimano in the stopping department, provided they stay this way for a good period of time. The addition of a 200mm rotor up front to the 180mm rear was also a welcomed addition to the bike.

The Rockshox Reverb dropper post performed flawlessly with the Stealth style cable routing kept it clean and uncluttered.

Maxxis EXO treads provided a great mix of brawn and traction with loads of confidence when battling down rock strewn sections of trail. Even when landing on some nasty rocks after a few questionable lines choices keeping air in the tires was no problem for this trusty set of rubber. The tire profile on the SRAM Rail 50 wheels is good with the High Roller 2. The Minion DHR2 is a little rounder in profile, but worked well out back regardless.

We were stoked to have a good cockpit on the Strive, with a solid set of 780mm Renthal Fatbars up front, clamped into Renthal's new 40mm Apex stem. The combination made for great steering and no odd delays thanks to excess flex.

Ergon's GE1 grips have a great shape and worked well for us, even when riding without gloves. The choice to run the rubber of the grip out to the end of the bars and only provide a clamp in the inside is something that we will undoubtedly see a lot more of, and was something we were thankful for. It does change the position of the hand on the end of the bar, which requires a little adjusting of the grip to combat it. There is also a little flex out there thanks to the soft ends, but once used to them it isn't an issue.

The bike's suspension was designed to work best with a 1x11 system. Canyon fitted the bike with a 34-tooth chainring, allowing us to have all the gears required rather than spending all our time in the lower end of the cassette. This may not suit all riders and is easy to change if so, but it was something we were glad to see. Consider adding some protection to the inside of the seat stay to eliminate chain slap.

Long Term Durability

There's a potential for extra service time thanks to the addition of a gas spring in the Shape Shifter system. We're also curious of what would happen on trail if the system were to leak and no shock pump was available. The noise we had coming from a relatively new bike was also a minor concern. Aside from simply liking our bikes quiet, the fact that it was making this sort of noise early on indicates that the pivots needed to be pulled apart and greased well ahead of the suggested service schedule, or that the Shape Shifter's extra parts were causing some issues. Canyon backs the bike with a two year warranty should any real issues develop.

What's The Bottom Line?

The Canyon Strive CF 9.0 Race is a bike that rallies, remains stable in the air, climbs like a mountain goat, and rewards precise and assertive rider inputs. It's a fun, fast, and aggressive ride. Keep your game up though, because should you slip you'll find you need to pull yourself out of the situation. We don't see this as a negative, but those seeking a bike that will bail you out of any mistake may want to look elsewhere.

Considering Canyon has developed a way to use a standard shock, the ability to adjust the Strive's ride qualities at the flip of a lever is next level. While the bike is designed well enough to be run in the low DH setting all the time, the added versatility is a nice feature for those that want it and does make climbing a little easier. More moving bits may be a concern for some, however.

Because they're consumer-direct, Canyon is able to offer very competitive price points for all the builds. The components on the CF 9.0 Race are all top shelf, and as a complete package it's a great ride.

Visit www.canyon.com for more info.

Bonus Gallery: 22 photos of the Canyon Strive CF 9.0 Race up close and in action


About The Testers

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 Cube Stereo 160 Super HPC SL 27.5 1/7/2015 3:26 PM
C138_2015_cube_stereo_160_super_hpc_sl_27.5

2015 Test Sessions: Cube Stereo 160 Super HPC SL

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

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

Cube's Stereo was one of the first bikes available with 27.5-inch wheels. The early adopter immediately stood out from the others by offering a full carbon frame, 160mm of travel, and aggressive angles in a visually appealing package. Previously unavailable in the USA due to a suspension patent held by Specialized, the Horst link equipped Stereo will soon be accessible to anyone with a $4,199 US price tag that'll make you look twice. As a result, we were finally able to get our hands on a bright green Super HPC SL model for the 2015 Vital MTB Test Sessions. Does the bike live up to its bold looks? We dropped into the gnar of San Luis Obispo, California to find out.

Highlights

  • Carbon frame
  • 27.5-inch wheels
  • 160mm (6.3-inches) of rear wheel travel // 160mm (6.3-inches) front travel
  • Tapered headtube
  • 66.5-degree head angle
  • 74.6-degree seat tube angle
  • 330mm (13-inch) measured bottom bracket height
  • 441.5mm (17.4-inch) chainstays
  • Press fit bottom bracket
  • 142mm rear spacing with 12mm through axle
  • Measured complete weight (size 18", no pedals): 27-pounds, 9-ounces (12.5kg)
  • $4,199 MSRP

Cube takes pride in their "Advanced Twin Mold" carbon construction process said to maintain close manufacturing tolerances while avoiding the use of excess material. All frames with the "Super HPC" designation use high-quality carbon fibers and resins to achieve required strength numbers and low frame weights. They avoid the use of bonded alloy pieces wherever possible, instead choosing to create bearing seats out of carbon. We appreciate the downtube guard that extends a long way up the underside of the frame, offering protection where many others don't.

The suspension design is a typical four bar Horst link layout with a carbon rocker that actuates the easy to access rear shock. It leaves plenty of space inside the front triangle for mounting a bottle or carrying a spare tube.

Cable routing is a mix of carefully considered internal and external paths. The rear brake is entirely external for easy service, and the dropper post is partially external before entering the frame at the base of the seat tube for the same reason. Both shifter cables route through the front triangle, but unlike most frames the Stereo uses cable stops at the entrance and exit points, leaving just the cable and no housing inside the frame. This lightens the build by a few grams, and more importantly ensures things are rattle-free because the cables are tensioned inside the frame. The cable tension also helps to seal the frame from debris and water.

Additional details include a direct mount front derailleur, Syntace X12 through axle system with direct mount rear derailleur, post mount disc brakes, and press fit bottom bracket. Unfortunately the frame lacks ISCG tabs, but it is still possible to install an upper chain guide using the front derailleur mount should you make a 1X drivetrain conversion. Mud clearance on the seat stay bridge is quite minimal, with a tad less than 1cm of space for build up.

Cube offers the Stereo 160 in four aluminum and three carbon models, including one with a beefier 180mm FOX 36 fork used by the Cube Action Team. Vital's Super HPC SL test bike slotted right in the middle of the carbon options.

On The Trail

Our time aboard the Stereo 160 was spent bashing rocks and cruising through manzanita trees on West Cuesta Ridge and Madonna Mountain in San Luis Obispo. The bike saw a mix of terrain including never ending rock fields, loose pumice, steep ascents, twisty singletrack, and some flow trail action. Trails included some West Cuesta Ridge action, Morning Glory, Eucs, Elevator, and Rock Garden on Madonna Mountain.

Cube's cockpit is spot on with a 50mm length stem and 760mm wide, 35mm diameter Race Face Next SL carbon bars which strike a good balance between control and maneuverability for the average size human. On the size 18" frame our 5'8" and 5'10" testers felt as though the bike gave a nice upright position while seated with a relatively steep 74.6-degree seat angle for a 160mm bike. Shock sag was initially set to the recommended 30% while seated.

The 423mm reach of the 18" frame felt plenty roomy without being too stretched out. 6-foot plus riders may run into an issue however, as even the largest 22" frame has a reach measurement of just 434mm which will likely feel cramped. Cube chose to keep the bottom bracket height the same when making the switch from 26 to 27.5-inch wheels, resulting in a measured 330mm height that is quite low. In combination with with the rear suspension characteristics the cranks contacted the ground on occasion. On the flip side, this does help the bike corner quite well in tight situations along with the 441.5mm stays and moderate 66.5-degree head angle.

Pointed downhill the Cube Stereo is perfectly capable. The ride is very quick handling with a somewhat bouncy, fun, and playful demeanor. We found that it encourages you to double all the little bonus gaps on the trail. The bike is easy to wheelie, manual, and pop over obstacles. It's not what we'd call a calm ride, but it's an engaging one that some riders may enjoy. Braking is quiet and controlled and the rear wheel feels planted and active.

When trail conditions get really chunky at high speeds, the bike occasionally feels a bit unruly due to the linear rear suspension feel. Small bump performance is pretty dialed at 30% sag, but square edges can sometimes feel a bit harsh due to the fact that it tends to push through the travel quickly. Sustained chatter is just okay. The bike seems to float over most bumps, however when they are in quick succession following a big hit it sometimes has trouble recovering fully and will get stuck down between bumps. This can often times make it feel as though the bike is getting away from you. It lacks a super stable, safe feel when going all out in the rough.

The interesting thing about the ride is that it can go as fast as you want, but to get to top speed we ended up changing our riding style. While we prefer to be centered on a bike in order to jump obstacles or move the bike around, the Stereo needs a different riding style to make it work well. Once we gave up on trying to jump things (compressing the linear suspension was a lot of work anyway) and just plowed over the trail off the back of the bike, it really worked well. Letting our legs do the majority of the work resulted in a more planted ride than what we got when centered. You can even see this riding style in some of Cube’s elite riders like Nico Lau. When ridden this way the linear feeling in the fork was not too much of an issue, though we did have to up the rear shock pressure to a firmer 25% sag point that let us push the suspension harder than what we initially started with.

On g-outs, drops, and jumps, the bike bottoms often due to the fact that it's so linear. We'd encourage any hard charging riders to install a larger shock volume spacer in place of the stock 0.6 cubic-inch spacer. As is, the low-speed damping tuned into the shock provides pretty good pop on jump faces, but doesn't provide sufficient support during large hits or in fast, bermed corners. The bottom out has a very distinct "thud" feel and is quite audible when it occurs. It's necessary to play a game of juggling pressure and damping adjustments (via the three-step FOX Float CTD adjustment with additional Trail Adjust feature) to find the perfect balance between the two extremes. At 30% sag it gets through the travel quite quickly, while at 25% it loses a bit of small bump compliance. We think the ideal solution is adding a larger volume spacer with around 30% sag or even increasing the base compression tune in the shock.

At 27.6-pounds the bike feels light as you bound from side to side of the trail. The suspension’s active feel also contributes to this as it makes the bike feel even lighter than it is. It rolls quite well and maintains speed with the best of them, aided by the fast rear Schwalbe Rock Razor tire. When you sprint it's pretty quick to respond.

Pointed uphill it doesn't pedal the best in the large ring. The anti-squat properties are much better in the small 24-tooth ring offered by the 2X system. With a narrow wide ring in the 32-36 tooth range it'd be just okay, though the suspension would still be a bit mushy while pedaling hard. Switching to Trail mode during sustained climbs helps quite a bit.

Build Kit

Aside from looking the part, the Stereo 160 has a well chosen build kit that is extremely high end considering the bike's price. Highlights include components from FOX, Race Face, Shimano, DT Swiss, Schwalbe, SDG, RockShox, and some in-house Cube items, all color coordinated to match the frame.

One issue we ran into during setup was that we couldn't put the RockShox Reverb lever on the left side of the bars. The included lever mount is simply not compatible with Shimano's brake lever and shifter combo. It would be possible if you replaced the Reverb lever with a top left mount, however this would run an additional charge. The post itself worked flawlessly with 125mm of travel for on-the-fly fun.

The FOX 34 was among the smoothest FOX forks we've ever tried, pointing to continued improvements to the 34 line for 2015. It was very plush and active with no noticeable stiction, though like the rear end we found it using a lot of travel quickly in Descend mode. Surprisingly, switching to Trail mode didn't add much damping, even when adjusted to the firmest Trail setting. We ended up adding an additional 5-10psi over what FOX recommends for our weight. Even so, the performance of the front end mirrored what was happening out back well, providing a balanced feel.

Schwalbe's 2.35-inch Hans Dampf tire up front offers good volume with a stable feel. The rear 2.35-inch Rock Razor tire may struggle with braking in loose over hard, but the increased rolling speed almost makes up for it. Traction during some rides was unreal due to hero dirt conditions, but when we rode the bike in drier conditions the tires would skate around more than we wanted. Cube wisely specs the bike with the softer TrailStar compound up front and more durable PaceStar out back.

The Cube System EM 3.7 Wheels are made by DT Swiss. They came setup tubeless and have a decently wide profile. They're a pretty standard straight pull wheelset with average engagement, and come with the base model ratchet system installed. After some rather large rock hits they still ran true. We expect rear wheel durability to be pretty good on this bike considering how quickly the suspension allows it get up and out of the way.

As we've come to expect, Shimano's XT brakes were as dialed as ever with 180mm Centerlock rotors front and rear. Cube chose to spec the cheaper brake pads that lack the cooling fins, and while this may not be the best decision for extended descents, it actually makes the bike a touch quieter as the finned pads tend to rattle a bit.

The 2X Shimano XT drivetrain shifted well with no skips, and surprisingly held on during rough descents. It has 24/38 gearing up front with an 11-36 tooth cassette, providing a slightly wider range than any 1X system will. As expected with any 2X drivetrain, there is a good deal more noise due to chain slap and the front derailleur - the clutch helps, as does descending in the big ring. We also suggest adding some type of paint protection on the inside of the seat stay. The bike comes with a neoprene protector on the chainstay.

Long Term Durability

The primary durability concern is the result of the tendency for the bike to bottom in harsh terrain. This could lead to bent shock bolts and high stresses throughout the frame. As mentioned previously, installing a larger volume spacer in the shock could help alleviate the issue. Cube backs the bike with a two year warranty.

What's The Bottom Line?

The Cube Stereo 160 is a fun, fast, active, jumpy ride that turns even mundane trails into a playground. Hard charging riders will want to make some slight modifications to the stock rear suspension setup. It does very well on most terrain, but can feel taxed in the roughest portions of the trail due to the linear suspension characteristics. Considering the impressive $4,199 price tag for the full carbon frame, good suspension, and reliable component list, this bike is a great value that is worth spending the time on to dial things in perfectly.

Visit www.cube.eu for more info.

Bonus Gallery: 18 photos of the Cube Stereo 160 up close and in action


About The Testers

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 Novatec Dirtride Wheelset 11/12/2014 2:05 PM
C138_dirtride32

Tested: Novatec Dirtride Wheelset

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by Brandon Turman // Action photos by Courtney Steen

When it comes to a good dirt jump wheelset, riders are often looking for a few key things: Are they strong? Are the individual components easily replaceable? Are they affordable? Do they match my ride? Will they slip in the rear dropout? Built using the same rims that Kyle Strait and Cam Zink rely on while hucking massive cliffs at Rampage, the Novatec Dirtride wheelset is clearly designed to take some serious abuse. I mounted up a pair to see how they'd fair during a summer of use at the Whistler dirt jumps and skatepark.

Dirtride Wheelset Highlights

  • Designed for dirt jump, slopestyle, street, and skatepark use
  • 31mm external rim width, 25mm internal width, 22mm depth
  • Black micropeen rim finish
  • Tubeless ready
  • 20/15mm front hub, 10x135mm rear hub with bolt-on axle
  • Anti-bite guard reinforced steel rib integrated into alloy cassette
  • 4-degree engagement
  • Replaceable Japanese made sealed bearings
  • 6 bolt ISO disc mounts
  • 14mm brass nipples
  • 32 stainless 14 gauge spokes per wheel (also available in 36 spoke version)
  • 3X lacing pattern
  • Hand built
  • Includes alloy sprocket and spacers
  • Weight: 935g front // 1,145g rear // 2,080g total (4.6-pounds)
  • MSRP: $679 USD

Initial Impressions

I've taco'd a fair number of wheels in the past, so I was pleased to see just how burly the Dirtrides are out of the box. Novatec used the same proven rim found on Novatec's Demon models (a downhill wheelset) combined with straight gauge spokes, brass nipples, and a solid bolt-on rear axle - all things that point to great durability.

They come in 32 hole or 36 hole spoke counts. I tested the 32 hole option. The relatively wide rims are drilled for use with Presta valves. While many dirt jumpers and street riders run Schrader tubes for emergency gas station air compressor fill ups, making the hole bigger is easy to do. At the same time, some may enjoy the convenience of running Presta valves/tubes on all of their bikes, and others may take advantage of the tubeless ready rim profile (a nice to have but not really practical for dirt jump or park use). The sleeved rims do not have eyelets, and the black micropeen finish is clean looking and doesn't scratch easily.

Novatec's polished red hubs really pop, which adds to the visual appeal. Out back you're limited to just one cog, clearly indicating which type of bike the Dirtride wheels are best suited to. Novatec provides two spacers to dial in your chainline. On my Banshee Amp dirt jump frame the center position worked best. The room saved by restricting the number of gears allows the hub flanges to be widened, which creates a stiffer and stronger rear wheel. It uses a BMX cassette lock-ring, so unfortunately that standard Shimano cassette tool you have won't work. A large pair of pliers works to tighten the lock-ring in a pinch. It appears that you'd be able to get away with a cog as small as 11-teeth.

The rear hub uses a hardened 10x135mm steel axle with threaded axle bolts that can be tightened using an 8mm allen key or a wrench. It's a very sturdy, heavy axle. Should the rear hub ever come loose, it's a simple matter of finding some cone wrenches to snug it up. The 20mm front hub is available without the 6-bolt disc mount for those seeking the ultra sleek no front brake look.

All of the 14 gauge spokes are black, save the two silver ones surrounding the valve hole which makes it easier to locate. They're a traditional j-bend spoke design which means they'll be easy to replace, and all of the spokes are either 255 or 257mm long. 14mm brass nipples provide plenty of surface to wrench on if they need to be trued as well as a few extra threads of spoke engagement.

Unfortunately all of these things come at a weight penalty, and at a combined 2,080 grams they're certainly on the heavier end of the spectrum.

Mounting up tires was a simple and painless process, and the beads set without any hassle. Time to session the jumps...

At The Jumps & In The Park

There was a point in time when all I did was build and ride dirt jumps, and during that time my ninja skills and flow were at an all-time high. Those days have passed, though, and I'll admit that I'm much more likely to case a few landings or hang up on the coping at the skatepark these days. That is to say, now that I'm more of a hack (and a heavier one at that), I'm a pretty good candidate for testing wheels.

I spent this summer up in Whistler, a place where it's possible to ride the bike park all day, bang out a trail ride, and still have time to squeeze in a solid session at the dirt jumps, pumptrack, or skatepark that are conveniently located next to one another. I'd estimate that these wheels have seen about 40 days of use.

During that time I've had a grand total of zero issues with slipping in the dropouts or my chain coming loose, even though I don't run tensioners and tend to land sideways more often than not. This is a testament to the stout axle design. There is a knurled washer on each side that helps to keep things squared up, and the ability to really crank down on the steel axle with an 8mm allen key or a wrench is awesome. It sticks out pretty far though, so if you're throwing tailwhips watch your ankles as the back end comes around.

The rear hub is pretty quiet. Hearing nothing but my tires on the ground is a neat experience and I prefer a silent bike. Hub engagement is very quick, which is nice when you go to put in a 1/4 crank for balance on the rear wheel before dropping back in to a quarter pipe, for example.

Wheel stiffness has been a non-issue. This is really apparent when you're railing a berm and trying to conserve every ounce of speed so you can make that next double. They came laced up tight and have remained that way.

Having recently switched from a steel dirt jump frame to an aluminum one, the stiffer ride qualities of the aluminum frame took me some time to get used to and I initially felt as though I was getting jarred around over small bumps. Shortly after the frame switch I mounted up Novatec's Dirtride wheels. The relatively wide 25mm internal width seemed to add some extra stability to typically thin dirt jump tires, which alleviated some of that jarring feel even at the same high tire pressures.

Things That Could Be Improved

Perhaps the biggest thing that could be improved is weight. These aren't light wheels. In this case it's a clear tradeoff between durability and a few hundred extra grams. If you're the type of rider that blows up wheels constantly or simply can't afford to rebuild wheels every few months these are a great option. If, on the other hand, you're a smooth rider or enjoy spin tricks, you may want to look some of Novatec's lighter wheelsets. In my case they actually added a little in-air stability to my ride. I'm still able to get the bike sideways with ease, and spinning pretty much anything other than a backflip has always been out of the question for me anyways.

The BMX cassette lock-ring is a minor hassle, simply because most mountain bikers won't own the correct tool.

Finally, while it's a bit petty and comes down to personal preference, the large "Dirtride" logos on the rims look like they were made in Microsoft Clipart, and the part numbers on the hubs could be printed in a way that blends in better.

Long Term Durability

As of today the hubs are nice and tight, and the spokes are still tensioned well with no major dents/dings in the rims and just 2-3mm of side-to-side deflection. The sleeved rim joint also appears to be holding up well. The use of traditional J-bend spokes means they'll be easy to replace if needed. I also appreciate brass nipples as they tend to not seize up as quickly as the aluminum alternative. The micropeen black finish still looks great with very few scratches, as do the heat cured graphics.

What's The Bottom Line?

All in all, the Novatec Dirtride wheels have proven to be solid and reliable for dirt jump and skatepark use. At $649 a set they're one and done for your hardtail or slopestyle needs, easy to mount up, and should last for several years. After a summer of abuse we have no major complaints. Just be aware that they're on the heftier side. They're simple, strong, look decent, and come at a fair price which is exactly what we're looking for in this type of wheelset.

Visit www.novatecusa.net 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 1 review.

Added a product review for BOS Dizzy Fork 11/5/2014 3:58 PM
C138_bos_dizzy_fork

Tested: 2015 BOS Dizzy Fork

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by Brandon Turman // Action photos by Courtney Steen

BOS is a company whose suspension products have an almost Ferrari-like reputation - high-end, foreign, and ahead of the curve in many ways (and expensive). With a good history in the gravity racing scene and a no nonsense, performance first approach to marketing and design, the French brand is now looking to bring their experience and know how to the cross country scene. The new Dizzy fork was designed to "combine the plushest, most controlled travel available with superior pedaling prowess for the ultimate XC race fork." We've spent the better part of two months pounding out miles in the mountains of British Columbia and Arizona to see if it's up to the task.

BOS Dizzy Highlights

  • 100/120mm travel options for 29-inch and 120/140mm for 27.5-inch wheels
  • Air sprung
  • Closed cartridge design
  • External rebound and S-M-H compression adjustments
  • Tapered steerer
  • 15mm QR through axle
  • 32mm Al 7075 stanchions with BOS extra low friction coating
  • AL 7075 crown
  • Magnesium lowers
  • Anodized parts
  • 160mm post mount disc brake tabs (180mm max rotor size)
  • 45mm offset and axle-to-crown length of 505/525mm on 29-inch models
  • High quality seals and bushings
  • Contains BOS high performance and eco-friendly Bio Oil
  • Claimed weight: 1,580g (3.48-pounds)
  • Measured weight: 1,644g (3.62-pounds, 29-inch fork with 120mm travel and uncut steerer)
  • MSRP: $1,080 USD

As it should be for any high end XC race fork, it's clear that low weight was a major design goal. From the slimmed down magnesium lowers to the 32mm aluminum stanchions and 15mm quick-release through axle, grams have been shaved on every part of the Dizzy. At a measured 1,644g it's in the same class as the RockShox SID (claimed 1,440 to 1,588g) and the new inverted RockShox RS1 (claimed 1,666g), while besting the FOX 32 Float 29 by a few hundred grams (claimed 1,796g). While weight was certainly a big consideration, what of actual suspension performance?

The Dizzy contains an all-new damping cartridge that's also loaded into the highly regarded BOS Deville AM fork. Externally it offers a simple three position S-M-H (Soft, Medium, Hard) compression adjustment: "Soft provides the plushest travel for rough, flat terrain. Medium will take care of most situations, providing a good platform for pedaling efficiency while retaining the ability to absorb bigger hits. Hard eliminates pedal-induced fork movement, enabling you to lay the power down on fire roads or smooth singletrack."

Rather than simply adjusting low-speed compression as many quick adjustments on forks do, switching between the three modes adjusts both the low and high speed rate curves. You can see in the effect in the graph above.

Soft provides very light hydraulic support. Medium is the best compromise between comfort, chassis support, and grip. Hard considerably stiffens the fork in an effort to limit suspension oscillations during pedaling.

Compression is adjustable within the Medium setting, letting you tune the feel according to your preferences and trail conditions. There is a pre-set notch that can be repositioned by removing the compression dial. You can set it anywhere between the Soft and Hard positions.

How does the compression adjustment work? When you turn the compression dial, you operate a longitudinal translation of the compression needle shaft (a). That makes the needle go inside the piston support to adjust low speed compression. At the same time, the compression needle shaft (a) activates the high speed spring seat (b). This compresses the high speed spring (c) and changes the force on the shims to adjust high speed compression.

Interestingly, the air/oil tank is not pressurized. BOS has another system inside to prevent cavitation but they weren't willing to disclose details. They did indicate that it makes service easier, though it still needs to be performed by a BOS service center.

The air spring side uses a combination of an air and coil negative spring. The coil spring acts on the first 3mm of travel to remove the preload at the beginning of the stroke and avoid topping out during rebound. The air negative is always active, and allows the fork to be smooth regardless of the fork's air pressure.

Setup & Initial Impressions

As expected, installation went well with no issues. Cutting the steerer tube took more effort than usual, but we see that as a good thing. Mounting the 180mm front disc brake required the use of 20mm post mount adapter. The cable is held in place with a zip tie. There's also plenty of clearance with a large (for XC) 2.3-inch Maxxis High Roller II tire.

BOS introduced a new quick release through axle design with the Dizzy. An angular adjustment on the axle nut ensures that the lever closes in the right position. At the lever end the combination of a cone expander and large lever blade make installation and removal of the axle very easy. The axle itself is machined with a taper in the center to reduce weight.

Recommended pressure settings are as follows:

After airing up the fork it's necessary to cycle it three or four times to distribute air between the positive and negative chambers. You'll then need to recheck pressure to be precise. At 175-pounds we initially aired up to 165psi, which yielded just 16% sag in Soft mode while standing on the pedals in the attack position. The fork felt quite firm at this pressure. In the same setup guide, BOS also recommends ~17% sag for non-technical trails/climbs and ~21% for rough terrain.We dropped the pressure to 150psi (21% sag) given our typically chunder-filled ride plans, which brought us to what felt like a much more reasonable, active feel for our weight.

Cycling the fork for the first time were very impressed with how smooth it was, with no noticeable stiction or dead spots through the entire range of travel. We experimented a bit by pumping the fork up to the maximum 200psi, and even at high pressures the initial feel was still impressive, indicating that the negative spring is designed well.

The compression dial was easy to adjust while seated thanks to a generously sized lever, and changing between the settings yielded three very different feelings. It's possible to adjust the dial anywhere between the three settings on the fly if you choose. The rebound knob is located at the bottom of right leg and is neatly tucked away. Adjusting the rebound dial doesn't make much of an audible noise, but the detents do have a pretty distinct feel.

On The Trail

As most know, we're not of the usual XC breed here at Vital. We have roots in downhill racing, prioritize performance over weight, and will happily run tires with some real meat on them versus the fastest rolling treads on the block. Heck, we don't even own a single pair of spandex shorts. That said, we do know a thing or two about good suspension, how to get down a hill fast, and we can stomp on pedals long enough to know if a setup is efficient or not.

The 120mm fork was tested on a 2015 Banshee Phantom, a 105mm travel aggressive XC/trail 29er that has more in common with an enduro race machine than a flyweight XC race rig. The bike's relatively slack 68-degree head angle and rowdy disposition provided a great platform to really push the fork into some taxing situations. We replaced the Phantom's lowered 120mm RockShox Pike with the Dizzy, dropping 280g and a few millimeters of axle-to-crown height in the process.

Test rides included several trails in the Whistler Valley (rooty and steep) as well as Flagstaff (rocky and fast), Prescott (typical smooth and fast XC race conditions), and Sedona, Arizona (extremely rocky).

We spent a handful of days dialing in air pressure. After floating around the 135-150psi mark, we can't imagine ever riding at the race recommended 165psi (save perhaps a fire road short track race). When fully open it would be very rare to use even close to full travel. Wanting to actually take advantage of the three compressions settings and full range of travel, we found it ran best about 20psi below the chart's suggestion. When outright pedaling performance is the foremost priority and you're really stomping on the gas, simply flip to the Hard compression setting for all the efficiency you could want.

For general use the fork feels best in the pre-set Medium position. Beyond a 1/4 turn it has a distinct platform feel. Part of what lets you get away with lower pressure is the fork's magic ability to stay high in the travel while feeling completely plush. We never feel as though we were diving through the travel in the Medium setting, and it provides ample front end traction at the same time. The fork ramps nicely with a controlled bottom out.

In the Hard setting it's close to a lockout, but does offer more give in a smoother, less notchy fashion than most XC race forks. While some may be quick to balk at the lack of a true lockout, we're of the opinion that a fork should be able to move regardless of the setting. This removes the overly jarring feel of unexpected bumps and helps keep you on course, especially when you're flat out or near exhaustion.

On slower, jagged and flat terrain, the Soft compression setting does a good job of reducing vibration and arm fatigue as it flutters along the surface.

While most XC forks have us shouting about stiffness concerns, it seems a non-issue with the Dizzy. There's very slight binding under big torsional loads, but it still glides into the lowers and remains notch free even then.

Things That Could Be Improved

If you take a quick glance at any bike on the starting line at a World Cup XC event or high level Pro national race, you're very likely to see at least one remote lockout on the bars. To our knowledge BOS does not offer it for the Dizzy.

The detent on the compression adjuster could be more noticeable, especially for those times during a race when you're lucky to throw a hand down and make the adjustment.

The air valve is recessed quite far under the air cap, and it can be difficult to thread on some air pumps.

While awesome from a functional standpoint, the large size of the quick release through axle lever seems out of place on a fork where weight was a priority.

We've heard that some Specialized bikes may be incompatible with early Dizzy forks due to the length of the tapered portion of the steerer. BOS is addressing this in later production runs.

Long Term Durability

After two months of submitting the fork to conditions that typically exceed those intended for a XC race fork, we have nothing but good things to say with regards to durability. It's creak free, isn't leaking, and feels just as buttery as day one. It's also backed by a one year warranty should any issues arise.

Know that because the Dizzy uses a closed damper, oil changes must be done at a BOS MTB service center. They recommend an oil change once or twice per year, which isn't much considering there are just 15cc of oil in the lowers of each fork leg. BOS says full service is needed once a year for racers and once every two years for recreational riders. These are very relaxed service intervals.

Speaking of service, BOS is opening a new Las Vegas, Nevada BOS sales/service center in late November, 2014. They expect to have full stock in early December, and will offer a risk free trial program in the USA on the Deville and Dizzy range. In the meantime you can reach them at info@bosmtb.com.

What's The Bottom Line?

In a race scene where every gram is heavily considered, the BOS Dizzy fork competes head to head with the best. What sets it apart is not the weight, however, but actual suspension performance that will impress even the most demanding riders. Every detail is well thought out, meets precise tolerances, and yields velvety smooth operation across the board. Easy to activate efficiency is available for those looking for it, and for the XC racer who truly gets after it on the descents (and maybe even drops the saddle a bit), know that this fork provides the same level of downhill performance as BOS's longer travel forks, which says a lot. Performance was so good, in fact, that we'd be quick to recommend the fork for trail riders looking to drop weight while maintaining a high level of bump-eating ability.

Visit www.bosmtb.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 1 review.

Added a product review for Birzman Maha Apogee MTB Floor Pump 10/30/2014 10:27 PM
C138_birzman_maha_apogee_mtb_pump

Tested: Birzman Maha Apogee MTB Floor Pump

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

by Brandon Turman

As we've written before, Birzman tools combine good looks, clean design, and clever innovation that make working on your bike a more pleasurable experience. The statement certainly applies to their high-end hand tools, but what of their new Maha Apogee floor pumps? Could the already relatively simple task of pumping up a tire be made even easier? Let's take a look at Birzman's answer to that question.

Maha Apogee MTB Pump Highlights

  • MTB specific high volume track pump design
  • Pump tilts towards the user providing unparalleled ergonomic comfort
  • Stable aluminum alloy base with high polished premium finish
  • Varnished wooden twin handle optimizes grip and comfort
  • CNC'd and super stiff pump barrel for durability/performance
  • 120psi max with Presta/Schrader compatibility
  • Precision MTB specific pressure gauge is easy to read during use
  • Equipped with new L-Shaped Snap-It Apogee adapter (Controlled Air Discharge)
  • MSRP $100

In The Shop

Like many Birzman tools, the high-polish finish of the CNC machined pump barrel will attract your attention from across the room. Combined with the varnished wood handle, it looks like a showpiece, but it's highly functional at the same time.

The pump's "MTB" designation indicates that it's specifically made for mountain bike use. How so? It has a large barrel designed to drive more air faster with a maximum pressure of 120psi. In practice we found it fills tires very quickly. On a high volume 2.35 x 29-inch tire, each full pump yields an increase of just over 1psi, meaning you'll need relatively few pumps to fill a tire to the typical 25-35psi range. Some pumps seem to take forever to fill a tire - this isn't one of them. Compared to the Pedros pump it replaced in our shop, it yielded a savings of about 15 pumps per tire. Multiply that by two or more tires and the time savings begin to add up, especially when the sun is setting and you want nothing more than to shred some glorious dirt turns with your riding buddies.

The added volume also helps when seating beads on fresh tubeless tire installs, which we were able to do with ease on several tire and rim combos. It's nice when you don't have to track down an air compressor.

Construction details are all well thought out, the pump feels stout, and the action smooth. Birzman actually slants the barrel by 5-degrees to help direct the downward force from your hands into the pump. This makes it a bit more stable, too.

Perhaps the coolest feature is the new "Snap-It Apogee" pump valve that allows you to quickly switch between Presta and Schrader tire valves. The previous design required that you unthread the Snap-It valve for Schrader use, but that's no longer the case. Now you simply slide the gold-colored collar so the preferred valve type can be read and go about your business. For Presta valves you push the head onto the valve and slide the collar forward, locking it into place. For Schrader you thread the head onto the valve. Both methods create a very secure, leak free connection that has never blown off or pulled out a valve core upon removal. Just be sure to push the head on firmly for Presta valves.

A new "Air-Lock" feature also allows the floor pump to be used on air-sprung suspension forks. If you pull the collar back after pumping you activate an "Air Lock" feature that effectively turns it into a zero-loss system. Why can the pump only be used on forks? Rear shocks are typically run at pressures that exceed 120psi, and they also have a much smaller air spring volume than forks. The pump can fill a fork in just two or three pumps, model dependent. If you've ever filled a fork from empty using a shock pump, you know how long it can take. As you might imagine, this brute force approach isn't super precise, so we can't see ourselves regularly using it to fine tune suspension settings. In the all-too-common situation where no one has a shock pump it'd be quite handy though.

On tires, fine pressure adjustments can be made after inflation by depressing the small black button at the back of the Snap-It valve. We verified the accuracy of the pump's pressure gauge using a few handheld gauges, which showed an almost negligible 0.5psi variation. The size of the gauge makes it easy to read while standing.

Things That Could Be Improved

As pressure increases into the 100psi+ range, the effort required to push the handle down increases substantially. You'll notice this while pumping up suspension or road tires. For this reason riders with both road and mountain bikes may consider opting for the road model. The balance between high volume and high pressure is certainly skewed toward the volume side on the MTB version.

While we've found it to be great in almost every scenario, the Snap-It valve requires a few millimeters more exposed valve stem than several traditional valve designs. If you have deep carbon rims this may occasionally present a problem.

Those looking for a compact pump well suited to all-around use should look to Birzman's Tiny Tanker or Maha Apogee MTB II pump instead. The overall size of the base on the Maha Apogee MTB pump is quite large, so it's not really suited to kicking around the trunk of your car. If your pump lives at home, game on. You'll be pleased with how stable the base is.

There is a small bracket on the base to hold the valve and hose in place. It's a little too easy to dislodge, though, which can be a small frustration.

Finally, two of three rubber bumpers on the bottom of the base have gone missing in a little over one month of use.

What's The Bottom Line?

We found that the Birzman Maha Apogee MTB floor pump truly does make the mundane task of tire inflation easier. The combination of a clever valve design, high volume barrel, good ergonomics, and a stable base make pumping faster, allowing you to hit the trails sooner. The new Air Lock feature and compatibility with most air sprung forks may save you from missing a ride, too. That's progress. Good looks are just icing on the cake.

Visit www.birzman.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 1 review.

Added a product review for 2015 Specialized S-Works Demo 8 Carbon 650B 10/15/2014 3:57 AM
C138_2015_specialized_s_works_demo_8

First Ride: 2015 Specialized S-Works Demo Carbon

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by Brandon Turman // Action photos by Dave Trumpore

Surely you’ve seen Specialized’s new spaceship S-Works Demo 8 Carbon by now. The thing is missing half the seat tube and looks more akin to the concept bikes of the future than to something you’d find at your local bike park. Troy Brosnan and Aaron Gwin also piloted it to three World Cup podium finishes after it was introduced late this season, as well as third place at World Champs. Well, this coming January the future will officially arrive at Specialized dealers around the world. Curious how the alien-looking rig rides, we saddled up for two days of rock, root, and berm bashing fun in Whistler, British Columbia.

S-Works Demo Carbon 650b Highlights

  • 650b (27.5-inch) wheels
  • 200mm (7.9-inches) travel
  • Full FACT 11M carbon frame
  • RockShox BoXXer Team fork with Charger Damper
  • Custom tuned Öhlins TTX22M rear shock
  • Asymmetric seat tube design
  • Internal cable/brake routing with guides or optional external brake routing
  • 1.5-inch headtube
  • 83mm BB30 bottom bracket
  • Molded chainstay, seat stay, and downtube guards
  • Unique 12x135mm “L7” square rear axle
  • 63.5-degree head tube angle
  • 343mm (13.5-inch) bottom bracket height
  • 430mm (16.9-inch) chainstay length
  • Frame weight: 7.6 pounds (without shock or protectors, size Medium)
  • Short, Medium, Long, and X-Long sizes
  • MSRP: $9,000

If you somehow missed the basics, let’s recap some of the finer details before we dive into how it performs:

Where the did the seat tube go? What on earth were they thinking? While it may look like an art project gone wrong to some, Specialized claims the design saves weight, lowers the center of gravity, and also allows for easy access to the Öhlins TTX22M rear shock. How often does one really need access to the shock though? If you’re racing at a highly competitive level, potentially every race. If you’re a set-and-forget rider, likely a lot less. We found it handy when swapping shock springs to find that perfect sag point.

Kinematically the old and new Demo have virtually identical suspension by several common measures, including anti-squat (there isn’t much), pedal-kickback (almost non-existent), and brake-squat (very low). Though the new design is ever so slightly more progressive, even the leverage rate curve is practically the same. So why make an entirely new bike and not switch things up? Clearly they didn’t think they had much to improve in this area, backed by their own tests of dozens of new suspension designs with lots of emphasis on momentum and braking response.

According to Specialized, the big reason for the change was to lower the center of gravity. They did this by lowering all pivots by three inches. They also used the opportunity to kill off the “extra” stay the old Demo was often mocked for. The updated FSR suspension design utilizes a concentric main pivot at the bottom bracket with 50mm diameter bearings and one big axle that threads in. Thanks to larger bearings in all the pivots, the 2015 Demo sees just 1/3 of the friction in the linkage compared to the previous frame.

Öhlins is still up to bat in the shock department, and once again the twin-tube rear shock has been tuned specifically for the frame, eliminating unnecessary clicks from the compression and rebound adjustments. Internally they’ve reduced mid-speed compression for more control on initial hits, and increased high-speed compression for more control when at the limit.

Believe it or not, the rear end is actually torsionally stiffer than the previous design thanks to the use of carbon, bigger pivots, bigger bearings, and a new "L7" square 12x135mm axle design. During an early prototype stage Aaron Gwin actually said it was too stiff and Specialized adjusted things as a result.

The new "S3 Geometry" system is short for "Style-Specific Sizing," where the length of the bike and corresponding ride characteristics are the deciding factor. Short, Medium, Long, and X-Long sizes are available with similar seat tube heights. The geometry includes a 63.5-degree headtube angle, 343mm bottom bracket height, and 430mm chainstays. Compared to the 2014 Demo, this new version has slightly longer chainstays, a longer wheelbase, and longer reach across the size range.

How does this all play out on the hill? Time to find out...

On The Trail

Whistler Bike Park gets a lot of play these days, and for good reason. It’s incredible. The place offers everything a bike tester could hope for. There’s rough and rowdy, steep and tech, fast and flowy, and jumps so big they scare away all but the most experienced riders. From the lofty hits on Crab Apple and Dirt Merchant to the steep puckerfest of Goat’s Gully, we rode it all aboard Specialized's new steed.

At 5'10" tall, our lead test rider, Brandon Turman, often finds himself between sizes. Sometimes the Medium is best, other times a Large. Considering the new sizing scheme, he opted to spend one day on the Medium and one day on the Long. Both were set up with identical tire pressures and spring rates yielding ~33% sag while seated.

After nearly twenty laps in the park, our overriding impression is the same one that hit us just a few hundred feet into the first run - the new Demo is incredibly quiet, controlled, and composed. While the roots and rocks beneath you may be out to eat your lunch, this bike finds a way to calmly glide over the tops of them and send you on your way with your wits still about you. Confidence inspiring? You bet.

The lack of surprise moments encourages you to try new lines and begs you to ride it harder. We found ourselves bounding across rooted sections that previously tripped us up, all the while retaining full control. In that quietness at the bars you’ll find instant comfort, and as a result your speeds can and will increase. Those new fangled 650b wheels no doubt contribute to the speed and handling in rough situations, but the sum of all the small frame details improve the ride in a way that simply increasing the wheel size never could.

The bike’s geometry only adds to the fun with a head angle that says, “bring it on,” short chainstays that keep it playful, and a low bottom bracket that aids immensely in corners. When you lean it over you feel very much like you’re in the bike, and the resulting traction is incredible. Chassis stiffness and responsiveness left nothing to be desired, even through rough turns.

That ultra low bottom bracket takes a little getting used to, however, just as it did with the original Demo. When you aren’t able to coast, you had better time your pedal strokes perfectly. This isn’t helped by the extra material at the ends of SRAM’s X0 DH carbon cranks, so Specialized specs 165mm length cranks across the size range to compensate. Unexpected ground contact made for the only scary moment of our test ride, so we could see some riders swapping the cranks out for something with more clearance. We even hit the cranks on flat ground when sprinting into jumps on a few occasions, despite running proper sag and a healthy amount of low-speed compression.

For the most part, suspension performance was as expected and similar to the previous model. We spent a fair amount of time riding wet roots, and despite the somewhat questionable Specialized Slaughter rear tire choice, traction was impressive. The rear end seemed very supple, no doubt aided by the new bearings on the Öhlins shock and reduced linkage friction. Big hits routinely used full travel but the bike never bottomed harshly, which left us stable and in control. The preset high-speed rebound was just where we’d like it, with no issues exiting turns, g-outs, or leaving jump faces.

After two days of testing, we had two just reservations with the suspension. First, we felt as though we were diving through the travel going up big jump faces, and this feeling wasn't alleviated by cranking in the low-speed compression all the way. Second, we experienced spiking on two occasions while charging through the rough at high speed, which actually bucked us off the pedals. In general we found the bike to be comfortably plush with no surprises, so the abrupt kicking sensation certainly caught us off guard. This happened in the middle high-speed compression setting.

The Demo seems to trade outright pedaling efficiency in the traditional sense for improved suspension action when pedaling through the rough - if you’re able to sneak in those pedal strokes, that is. Out of the gate it’s not the snappiest rig, but it gets along decently well. This tradeoff was likely necessary to achieve the extremely low levels of pedal-kickback.

So what of the sizing? As you might guess, the Medium made for a more playful ride that was very easy to move around. Switching to the Long, the wide open fast trails called our name. At 5'10" tall we did find weighting the 20mm longer front end a bit harder, requiring a conscious effort to get over the bars in turns or risk the front end pushing slightly. Both were very easy to throw sideways in the air and place on the ground with precision, due in part to the low weight of the complete build.

Build Kit

It’s no secret that how a bike rides is the sum of it parts, and Specialized has done a nice job spec’ing the S-Works Demo with a careful mix of SRAM, RockShox, Öhlins, Roval, Thomson, and in-house components.

Specialized swears by the performance of a steel spring for downhill applications, explaining the decision to spec the RockShox BoXXer Team over the World Cup model. The Charger Damper equipped fork complemented the rear end very well with smooth, supple, controlled performance. Only on the steepest trails did we find that it was a bit easy to get down in the travel on successive hits.

The 2.5-inch Specialized Butcher DH tire up front provided the reliable cornering and braking performance we’ve come to admire it for. We have to wonder about Specialized’s decision to include the 2.3-inch Slaughter DH tire in the rear, however. While the semi-slick style tread pattern may lend itself well to trail bikes and improve rolling speed, we feel like proper knobs are called for in all but race scenarios, especially for those that ride where it rains. Luckily the thing bites in well when you lean it over. We also cut a sidewall somewhere in the rocks.

In the wheel department you’re looking at Roval’s 650b aluminum rims paired with custom DT Swiss hubs and straight-gauge DT Swiss spokes. This combo offered no issues, though we did put a decently sizable dent in the rear rim. Whistler is notoriously hard on wheels, so we suppose that was to be expected.

From the grips to bend of the bars and feel of the saddle, Specialized’s cockpit choices were dialed. Everything felt in its proper place.

Finally, SRAM’s dead silent and purpose built X01 DH drivetrain really adds to the S-Works Demo experience. Quiet bikes with smooth shifting flat out feel better, and this system achieves both very well. It’s also incredibly easy to find the perfect gear at a moment’s notice.

What's The Bottom Line?

At the end of the day, the big question is likely, "is it a better Demo?" Provided those big ol' bearings and funky square axle interface hold up in the long term, yes, we think so. While there's a distinct similarity between the two machines when it comes to suspension performance, the full carbon frame is lighter and calmer through the rough, which encourages you to open it up just a bit more. The updated geometry makes it a bit more of a capable all-arounder, too.

As we said early on, the 2015 S-Works Demo is quiet, controlled, and composed at almost all times, which makes it easier to ride faster. The combination of perfectly balanced suspension and a dialed list of reliable components make for a ride that puts your nerves to rest and lets you focus further down the trail. Point, shoot, and let it rip. That's a winner in our book.

Visit www.specialized.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 fun trail 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 1 review.

Added a product review for DVO Diamond Fork 9/23/2014 4:37 PM
C138_dvo_diamond_fork

First Ride: 2015 DVO Diamond Fork

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by Brandon Turman // Photos by Dave Trumpore

We first caught a glimpse of DVO’s Diamond fork over a year ago in prototype form. Since that time the company has been tweaking and tuning their first single crown fork, and they’ve been very open about the entire development process. For those biding their time, the wait is nearly over and the fork is currently in production.

Like the Emerald DH fork that came before it, the Diamond makes use of DVO’s Off The Top (OTT) external negative spring adjustment and has an easily removable and tunable compression loader. The Diamond does have a few new tricks of its own, though, like a unique compression bladder cartridge system said to offer better and more reliable performance than a traditional expanding bladder.

With several big suspension players now at the top of their game, does the Diamond perform well enough to stand out from the crowd? Curious to find out, we were given the opportunity to ride a pre-production sample during Crankworx Whistler.

The 2015 DVO Diamond mounted up and ready to roll.

DVO Diamond Fork Highlights

  • Made for Trail/All-Mountain/Enduro use
  • 140, 150, and 160mm travel options, internally adjustable in 10mm increments
  • 26-inch (40mm offset), 27.5-inch (44mm offset), and 29-inch (51mm offset) models
  • High-speed compression (24-clicks), low-speed compression (6-clicks), rebound, air spring, and OTT coil negative spring adjustments
  • Cartridge style air spring and damper
  • Quick access to compression shim stack via top loader assembly
  • High flow compression port
  • 35mm tapered 7,000 series alloy stanchions with hard anodized coating
  • Forged CNC hollow crown
  • Cast magnesium lowers
  • Includes mud fender and two 10mm spacers for travel reduction
  • 160mm post mount disc brake tabs
  • QR15 tapered thru-axle
  • Tapered steerer only
  • Black or green color options
  • Target weight of 4.4-pounds (2.0kg) for 27.5-inch model
  • Target MSRP $1,000

As with all DVO components, durability, reliability, and user serviceability were key design considerations. DVO says they’re putting money in at the factory so the fork will require less service later on, and they’ve used high quality parts to help achieve that goal.

Bryson Martin Sr. explains the Diamond's dual cartridge design.

Dual Cartridge System

Similar to many motocross forks, the Diamond uses a sealed cartridge system on both the damper and air spring sides. If your fork needs attention, rather than shipping the complete fork back and forth you can simply ship the cartridge, saving on shipping costs and hassle. The DVO cartridge design has some minor drawbacks, though, including about 100g of added weight. While most forks utilize the inner stanchion wall as a sealing surface, the Diamond requires an extra tube (the cartridge housing) inside the fork that houses the damper and air spring. DVO says they’ve focused attention on other areas to make up for the weight gain.

On the left you can see the individual components that make up the compression bladder and shim stack assembly. On the right, the bladder and compression loader are fully assembled, minus the cartridge that surrounds it.

Compression Bladder

On the damper side DVO uses a bladder system. Unlike other forks where the bladder is filled with oil and expands as the fork is cycles, the Diamond has air inside the bladder and oil on the outside that compresses the bladder rather than expanding it. This is similar to the DVO Jade rear shock. DVO chose to go this route to combat a few negatives of cartridge bladder systems, including loss of elasticity of the bladder over time. They also claim it improves initial sensitivity. During assembly or maintenance, the bladder is filled with air at atmospheric pressure then sealed to keep oil out. A high pressure dynamic quad lip oil seal helps in this regard. The cartridge is filled with oil using a syringe via the cartridge bleed port at the top of the fork, keeping air and oil separated. As the damper is compressed the bladder exerts pressure on the oil, aiding in cavitation prevention.

Removing the top loader assembly is easy to do, giving quick access to the shim stack for further fine tuning.

DVO says the compression piston is quite large compared to other forks, allowing more oil flow and less choke during big hits. The shim stack has a greater impact on the damping curve, and can be custom tuned by removing the top loader assembly.

High and low-speed compression adjustments are at the top of the right fork leg.

External damper adjustments include independent high-speed compression, low-speed compression, and rebound. Low-speed compression is adjustable using a 6-position dial that’s easy to read at a glance, providing a quick way to gain a more stable platform for hard pedaling efforts or a change in terrain.

Air Spring and OTT Adjustment

On the air spring side, our test fork was set up exactly how Cedric Gracia asked for it - with a very supportive mid-stroke and ramp at the end for bottom out support. Production forks for the masses are likely to be less aggressive and more linear thanks to increased air spring volume, though hard charging riders can tune the ramp up by adding a few cc’s of oil to the air spring. Alternatively, the fork can be aired up higher than normal and the OTT negative spring adjustment can be cranked in to still create a supple ride while providing ample support when the going gets rough. The Diamond uses comparatively high air pressures in an effort to combat hysteresis and improve response time.

The OTT assembly can have a big impact on the way the fork rides.

At the bottom of the air spring side you’ll find the OTT adjustment, which is essentially a preload mechanism on the coil negative spring. Changing this adjustment impacts the initial sensitivity of the fork, ride height, and sag point. Unlike traditional coil negative springs that are ideal for a small range of rider weights, DVO’s system accommodates those from 90 to 360-pounds. Air negatives that auto set are a different story, however, and are more common in the trail and Enduro realm than in downhill. Still, the ability to easily adjust the negative spring is unique and brings an additional level of tuning not found in other forks.

Tapered lowers help strengthen the fork chassis.

Chassis Design

Chassis wise, you’re looking at a tapered steerer, forged CNC hollow crown, 35mm stanchions, and magnesium lowers casted by SR Suntour. The lowers have a visible external taper from the lower bushing down to help prevent excessive flex and binding. The micro-adjustable QR15 axle is tapered in the center to reduce weight and doesn’t require the use of tools. DVO includes a custom fender with the fork, which mounts using a single bolt at the back of the arch.

There's plenty of tire and mud clearance, even with the fender installed.

As with all suspension components, friction is an enemy that needs to be dealt with carefully. Alignment and concentricity of the bushings is a major key to reducing friction, so DVO uses a custom tool to ensure everything is perfectly aligned. During assembly the uppers must slide into the lowers under their own weight or the fork is rejected. 25cc of bath oil in each fork leg help lubricate things, and DVO-designed single lip seals infused with molybdenum disulfide keep seal drag to a minimum. The use of a dyno at end of the assembly process ensures air spring and damping curves match specifications.

Initial Impressions

Our test of the Diamond was performed using a size Large 2014 Intense Tracer 275 Carbon, a 160mm travel all-mountain bike with a 66.5-degree head angle. We previously tested the Tracer 275 with a RockShox Pike fork, which would make for a good comparison. The Diamond was initially set to 125psi with OTT cranked in four turns, yielding ~22% sag in standing attack position for a 175-pound rider.

Experimenting with the compression and rebound settings showed that they both have a very usable range, and should accommodate riders of all sizes. The feel remained smooth when placing the front wheel against a large object and twisting the bars while compressing the fork, which is an instance when many other forks bind under the torsional load.

With the parking lot test completed, it was time to hit the mountain for several back to back runs.

On The Trail

If you asked us to name ideal locations to test bikes and parts, Whistler would be high up on the list. The resort offers quick access to every type of trail imaginable, from rough and rowdy to steeps, tech, high-speed sections, big jumps, tight berms, and flow. Because we tested the Diamond during Crankworx, trail conditions were rougher than usual thanks to the countless brake bumps and holes that riddled the trails as a result of increased use. We took a total of four lower mountain laps and one full run from the top of the Garbanzo lift. Trails included several normally reserved for big bike duties, including Schleyer, Upper and Lower Whistler DH, Detroit Rock City, New Joke, Freight Train, Crack Addict, and Dirt Merchant.

Turman getting up to speed on the Diamond.

As tested, the fork suited aggressive riders very well. We used full travel when needed, but it never felt divey or rode low in the travel. There was almost always something in reserve, and even when bottomed the fork didn’t feel overly harsh or make any alarming noises. DVO’s plan to change the air spring to be more linear for production will suit general trail users better, but the ability to increase the ramp near bottom out will be a welcome option for aggressive riders or those on rougher terrain.

The OTT setting makes a noticeable difference in the first two inches of travel, and can have a big impact on front end traction and feedback from the ground. Beyond that, the air pressure setting largely dictates how the fork rides. We ended up at a higher pressure than normal with a bit more OTT. This made for a ride that was able to soak up the biggest hits while remaining supple. With the OTT cranked in, the fork fluttered over successive small bumps along high speed fireroad sections with ease and traction was readily available. At the end of the day we had experienced no arm pump or hand fatigue, which says a lot considering the rough conditions. The only instance that chatter was truly noticeable was on severely brake bumped sections of fast fireroad.

Whistler's varied terrain served as the perfect place to try the fork out. From big jumps to lots of bumps, the place has it all.

So, is the adjustable OTT setting better than a traditional air negative spring? We think so, provided you don’t overdo it. Increasing OTT too far has the potential to cause the fork to suck itself into the travel and gain a slight mid-stroke wallow, so DVO suggests certain ranges dependent on the air spring pressure you’ve chosen. Within that range the fork can go from a firm, precise initial feel that’s suited well for slalom-like trails to something that requires very little pressure at the bars to initiate the compression, which will save your hands over a long, bumpy run.

Damping wise, the quick low-speed adjustment is useful and effective, adding support and fine-tuning ride height when needed. The 24 clicks of high-speed allow you to really dial in the feel. Even with the high-speed compression setting turned all the way in, the fork was smooth and consistent with no spiking.

Bryson Martin Jr is one of DVO's lead test riders, and was instrumental in dialing in the feel of the fork in the stock configuration.

The chassis felt perfectly adequate, never surprising us with an unexpected twist or bind when navigating rough sections or smashing tight turns.

Our final settings were as follows for a 175-pound rider:

  • 138 to 141psi
  • Low-speed compression 2 to 3 clicks from closed
  • High-speed compression 10 to 12 clicks from closed
  • 4 to 6 turns OTT
  • Rebound to feel

Things That Could Be Improved

Some of the finer details on the pre-production sample we rode could use some minor updates. We found that the low-speed compression adjustment was too easy to turn, and the OTT setting was too difficult to turn when the fork was aired up. In a side by side comparison, the Diamond was also a hair stickier in the first few inches than the RockShox Pike (which is to say very little, but some). These three items will be addressed in production models. DVO will also include two hard rubber caps to cover the lower adjustments so you can set your fork down on the ground without worry. The fork will have low friction black hard anodized stanchions, not the copper colored ones shown here, which will improve the looks a bit too.

Additional quibbles include the OTT adjustment requiring the use of an allen key. Some riders won’t touch it often, but for the tinkerers among us it’s a minor hassle. Having to add oil to the air spring to adjust the spring curve is also an inconvenience compared to the easily added/removed plastic spacers used in other forks, though many riders will simply air up and increase OTT instead. Finally, the fork is slightly heavier than the main competitors.

Because the bladder is filled with air at atmospheric pressure, we voiced concern about damping inconsistencies due to varied bladder pressures - atmospheric pressure changes depending on altitude, temperature, and humidity. DVO uses sea level as their base line (14.7psi), but what if the fork is serviced at 9,000 feet yielding ~10psi? Apparently the starting pressure increases very quickly in the system, as soon as the damper rod is displaced, so DVO contends that the performance wouldn't be affected. Additionally, the cartridge system is rigidly enclosed and is not reliant on the outside pressure once it's sealed.

Long Term Durability

At a time when several manufacturers are making very good performing products that sometimes require frequent maintenance, long term durability is an area where DVO has the chance to stand out. Their recommended service intervals are as follows:

  • Stanchion Wipers and Chassis Lubrication: 65 hours, dependent on riding style and conditions.
  • Air Spring: 100 hours, lubricant and piston.
  • Damper: 250 hours, but it’s easy to bleed and change the tune on the Top Loader system when desired.

If these guidelines are sufficient and adhered to, the Diamond should hold up for quite a while. We'll need to perform a long term test to verify. The intervals are in line with or better than the competition.

Jr has style for miles and the speed to back it up, two things that we love to see from in-house test riders. It speaks well of their products.

What’s The Bottom Line?

DVO’s Diamond fork builds off the success of their acclaimed Emerald DH fork, incorporating some of the same technologies and design features to make it stand out. The Off The Top adjustment provides an additional level of external tuning, the easily removable compression loader can be user adjusted, and it features a unique bladder system claimed to offer more reliable performance. Our one-day test of the fork verified that outright suspension performance is there, so those interested in the ability to fine tune their ride should surely consider the Diamond. The fact that it’ll be priced competitively and backed by DVO’s impressive customer service helps, too.

Ultimately the fork helped create a bike that could be ridden every bit as hard as a downhill bike, despite having two inches less travel. We could confidently charge into rough sections, knowing the front end would handle well regardless of what was around the next turn. Our 4-star rating is based on our initial impression of a pre-production fork, and could improve with a production model.

Forks will be available in October 2014, starting with the 27.5 and 29-inch models. Visit the new DVO website for more details.


Bonus Gallery: 30 photos of the DVO Diamond 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 13 years of riding he worked his way through the Collegiate downhill ranks to the Pro level. After finishing up his mechanical engineering degree, his riding focus turned to dirt sculpting and jumping with the occasional slopestyle contest thrown in for fun. Nowadays he's Vital MTB's resident product guy, putting in saddle time on nearly every new platform and innovation the bike industry has to offer.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for Birzman Studio Tool Kit 8/23/2014 2:43 AM
C138_birzman_studio_tool_kit

Tested: Birzman Studio Tool Kit

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

by Brandon Turman

For years I’ve gotten by with a beat up, sticker covered toolbox full of tools I’ve collected here and there. Some of the tools are hand-me-downs, others I purchased along the way, and I even made a few. Being the frugal type, a good chunk of them are the bargain bin variety. It’s often said that ignorance is bliss, and a few months ago I learned just how clueless I was. My wrenching world was turned on its head when the Birzman Studio Tool Kit arrived.

You see, I had no idea what it was it was like to own nice tools. Sure, my oddball collection got things done, but I never realized how much needless frustration or fumbling I was experiencing. Just like how high-end suspension can drastically improve how your bike rides, good tools can drastically improve your wrenching experience.

The $400 Studio Tool Kit is a carefully selected combination of tools for the professional or home mechanic. It includes 37 pieces from the Birzman portfolio, all neatly bundled in a heavy-duty PE plastic case with a blow molded tool pallet to protect and organize the tools.

Studio Tool Kit Contents

  • Hex Key Set - 1.5/2/2.5/3/4/5/6/8/10mm
  • Torx Key Set - T10/ T15/ T20/ T25/ T27/ T30/ T40/ T45/ T50
  • Patch Kit
  • Tire Lever Set
  • Shimano Cartridge BB Tool
  • Hollowtech II BB Tool
  • Universal Crank Puller - For ISIS Drive and Octalink crank arms
  • Shimano Crank Arm Installation Tool
  • Campagnolo Cassette
  • Shimano HG Cassette
  • Shimano MF Freewheel
  • Chain Whip - 8/9/10/11 speed
  • Chain Wear Indicator - 0.75% to 1%
  • Chain Rivet Extractor - 1/8”, 3/32", 9,10 and 11 speed
  • Link Pliers
  • Cable Cutter
  • Socket Wrench - For 1/2" drive hex bit sockets
  • 8MM Hex Key Socket
  • 10MM Hex Key Socket
  • Adjustable Spanner Wrench - 0-33mm
  • Combination Wrench - 8/10mm
  • Chainring Nut Wrench
  • Spoke Wrench - 12G/13G/14G/15G / Shimano 4.3/4.4
  • Mavic Spoke Wrench
  • Pedal Wrench - 15mm
  • Flathead 5.5 Screwdriver
  • Crosshead #2 Screwdriver
  • Small File
  • Disc Brake Piston Press
  • Rotor Truing Fork - For hydraulic brake systems
  • Disc Brake Gap Indicator
  • Threadless Saw Guide - 1”, 1-1/8” and 1-1/4”
  • Threadless Nut Setting Tool - 1-1/8”
  • Diagonal Pliers (Wire Cutters) - 6”
  • Radio Pliers (Needle Nose) - 6”
  • Dead Blow Hammer
  • Tape Measure

In The Shop

Over the past few months I’ve broken several bike parts, built a new ride up from scratch, and done routine maintenance on other bikes, providing opportunities to use nearly every tool in the kit. Compared to my old hodgepodge set of tools, it’s the precision and lack of slop that really stands out. Everything just feels far more accurate, which has lead to fewer stripped bolts and bloody knuckles. Many of them have a nice handle and are made from high quality tool steel.

Things that stand out include:

Hex Key Set - The cleverly etched hex ends seem to provide added grip on bolt heads, combined with a very accurate fit and sharp edges.

Patch Kit - This is a nice kit that could easily be thrown into a bag for a ride. It contains a reusable abrasive metal surface, three glue-less tube patches, and one sidewall patch. The patches work well.

Tire Lever Set - A low profile design makes tire removal easier. The levers are made from hardened ABS, are quite stiff, and have yet to show signs of weakness, even when installing a very tough downhill tire/rim combo.

Chain Rivet Extractor - Birzman’s chain tools feature very smooth action and a replaceable rivet pin. A clever spring-loaded plate helps hold things in place when breaking and assembling chains.

Adjustable Spanner Wrench - There’s no slop in this tool at all, which is quite nice compared to many run-of-the-mill spanners.

Rotor Truing Fork - In the past I’ve used an adjustable spanner wrench to do this job, but the truing fork works much better. It’s easier to use and has two differently sized slots depending on the size/location of the rotor bend.

Threadless Nut Setting Tool - Installing star nuts has never been easier. No threading of the nut is required, and things line up perfectly every time.

Dead Blow Hammer - A thick nitrile rubber coating makes the tool durable and deadens feedback to your hand considerably.

Tape Measure - The tape auto-locks, which is a small but convenient time saver. Retracting it requires the push of a button. It has both metric and imperial measurements which eliminates the need for unit conversions.

The box itself is rather heavy, especially when fully loaded, but the heft bodes well for durability. There’s a nice big handle and secure clasps. Molded words clearly indicate where each tool belongs. The molded tool slots have much better grip than many similar products, and continue to hold tools securely after two months of frequent use.

Things That Could Be Improved

What’s missing from the kit? Very little. Items I use that aren’t included are a 3-way allen key for convenience, shock pump, razor blade, saw, large file, tire gauge, torque wrench, multi-tool, hydraulic hose cutter, crown race setter, headset press, and cone wrenches. The fact that additional tools are sometimes needed means you’ll either need to condense everything into one toolbox or carry two of them.

Birzman could have included some of these extra tools, but it’d likely come at added cost or the expense of a more commonly used tool. There are a few tools I haven’t yet had the need for though, namely the Mavic spoke wrench (specialty item), Campagnolo cassette tool (road only), 8/10mm hex key sockets (redundant), universal crank puller (old design), and Shimano cartridge BB tool (old design).

When it comes to how the tools actually perform, only a few potential improvements stand out:

Hex Key Set - The ball end seems too rounded, such that the tool sometimes doesn’t fully engage bolt heads. By design, the keys are also a bit of pain to get in/out of the holder. This has improved over time, though quick access still isn’t great. On the plus side they don't fall out.

Tire Levers - The rim hook is quite small which helps prevent accidental tube pinching, but it makes it harder to pull the tire over the rim without slipping.

Cable Cutter - There’s nothing to crimp cable end caps on the cutter. The needle nose pliers do though, so you’ll have to grab another tool to get the job done.

Spoke Wrench - Sharp edges make it harder to fit the tool around spoke nipples, and the surface area that actually touches the nipple is quite small. This has lead to more easily stripped nipples than is reasonable, making the spoke wrench the one and only item that truly needs improvement in the whole kit.

Long Term Durability

Two months in and the tools are proving to be durable even against my ham-fisted, "never tight enough" wrenching technique. Edges are still sharp where they should be and handles are still securely attached. Many of them look brand new despite quite a bit of use.

What's The Bottom Line?

Wrenching on bikes is often a love-hate experience. Birzman’s Studio Tool Kit definitely makes it more enjoyable. These are high-end tools with a clear focus on design, aesthetics, and function with a few clever innovations. The kit contains just about everything you could need to build or maintain a bike, whether you're a seasoned mechanic or new to the game. Some tools you’ll use infrequently, but you’ll be stoked to have the right tool for the job when the need arises. At $400 it isn’t cheap, but quality rarely is. The Studio Tool Kit beats the heck out of that rusty old toolbox you’ve been kicking around for ages.

Visit www.birzman.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 13 years of riding he worked his way through the Collegiate downhill ranks to the Pro level. After finishing up his mechanical engineering degree, his riding focus turned to dirt sculpting and jumping with the occasional slopestyle contest thrown in for fun. Nowadays he's Vital MTB's resident product guy, putting in saddle time on nearly every new platform and innovation the bike industry has to offer.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for 2015 Giant Reign Advanced 27.5 0 Team 8/3/2014 5:48 AM
C138_reign_advanced_27.5_0_team_comp_cyan

First Look, First Ride: 2015 Giant Reign 27.5

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by Brandon Turman // Photos by Sterling Lorence

After over two years of development, testing, and fine tuning, the Giant Reign 27.5 is finally here. While Giant may have begun their 27.5 quest with a prototype Reign, it’s the last to hit the market. Why did it take so long? Giant says they were busy trying to make the best bike possible, and that took time.

The bike is redesigned from the ground up for 27.5-inch wheels. It’s longer, lower, and slacker than ever before, making the 6.3-inch (160mm) travel bike even more capable. For 2015, Giant will offer the Reign with Advanced Composite (carbon) and aluminum frames. While the bike may have grown a bit, the aluminum frame comes in lighter than its predecessor by 140-grams, and the Advanced Composite version is the lightest Reign ever produced.

Reign 27.5 Highlights

  • Advanced Composite mainframe/ALUXX SL rear swingarm and full ALUXX SL frame options
  • 27.5-inch wheels
  • Maestro suspension design
  • 6.3-inches (160mm) travel
  • Internal cable and dropper post routing
  • Overdrive tapered headset (1 1/8-inch upper, 1 1/2-inch lower)
  • Custom 46mm fork offset exclusive to Giant
  • Front derailleur direct mount with optional cover
  • Post mount disc brake tabs
  • Molded downtube and chainstay protectors
  • Oversized BB/chainstay area with 92mm BB
  • ISCG05 mount
  • Water bottle mount
  • New 142/135mm convertible rear thru-axle design
  • Air or coil shock (200x57mm) compatible
  • Available in S, M, L, and XL sizes
  • 4.98-pound (2,260g) Advanced Composite frame weight without shock (size Medium)
  • 5.42-pound (2,460g) ALUXX SL frame weight without shock (size Medium)

If you’ve followed the 2014 Enduro World Series at all, chances are good that you’ve seen the Giant Factory Off-Road Team sporting the prototype Reign 27.5 bikes shown in the video above. Giant worked closely with the team to engineer new geometry that gives it a lower center of gravity and longer wheelbase compared to its 26-inch-wheel predecessor to improve stability and handling on rough terrain. The bike’s front center averages 30mm longer than the previous version, plus it has improved standover, a lower bottom bracket, slacker 65-degree head angle, and shorter 17.1-inch chainstays.

Interestingly, the bike also comes with a custom RockShox Pike fork featuring a 46mm offset, something you won’t find on any other 27.5 Pike-equipped bike at this time. Why the need for a custom offset? Giant says they did it to improve handling. During early tests they felt the standard 42mm offset could create an odd cornering feel due to too much trail. Giant arrived at the 46mm offset using blind tests of several forks with their Pro riders, and the 46mm offset was unanimously chosen as the best, noting that knifing in high-speed corners and the tendency to flop during uphill switchbacks was drastically improved.

If you’re the inquisitive type and if it truly is better, you’re likely wondering why Rockshox doesn’t already offer the Pike this way to customers. When we asked Giant that question, they told us that it’s exclusive to Giant for now, but may be offered to other OEMs in the future. The custom fork is created by combining 27.5 Pike lowers with a 29er Pike crown.

Perhaps the biggest HECK YES moment struck us when we were told that Giant will no longer use their 1 1/2 to 1 1/4-inch Overdrive 2 headtube system which caused a lot of headaches when you’d go to swap stems. They were the first to produce bikes with tapered headtubes, and while they still believe Overdrive 2 does offer an advantage, they’re returning to the original Overdrive headtube (standard 1 1/8 to 1 1/2-inch tapered) in favor of convenience.

The Reign continues to use the Maestro suspension system, where four pivot points and two linkages work together to create a single floating pivot point. Bearings in the upper shock mount help improve small bump performance by reducing stiction by up to 10% during the initial stroke.

Nicely executed internal cable and dropper post routing complements the frame’s clean lines and smooth looks. Rubber plugs at the cable entrance and exit points help keep water and grime out.

Two carbon (left) and two aluminum (right) models will be available in the USA with prices ranging from $3,400 to $8,250. Different availability and prices may be in place globally.

Geometry

Initial Impressions

So how does the redesigned Reign ride? We met up with the Giant crew in Pemberton, British Columbia to find out.

Our two day adventure included several shuttle runs as a shakedown, followed by a high alpine heli-drop adventure with nearly 7,000 vertical feet of descending - enough ride time to make some sound observations. Pemberton’s terrain isn’t for the timid. Get distracted for a moment and chances are good that you’ll end up on the ground. It’s a non-stop root and rock fest where the occasional loamy corner is a breath of fresh air. With temps pushing 100-degrees Fahrenheit for the last few weeks, dirt conditions were as loose and dusty as could be. We were guided by Pemberton Bike Co.'s Seb Wild and Bush Pilot Biking's Johnny Smoke, both legends in their own right.

Waka waka waka, we rode up in this choppa.

At 5’10” tall we opted for a size Medium Reign Advanced 27.5 0 Team bike. With an impressively long 444mm reach and 620mm effective top tube, the Medium Reign 27.5 is every bit as long as many other brands’ Large frames. The change in geometry allowed Giant to ditch the long stem in favor of wider bars and a stem in the 40-60mm range, depending on the size. The added frame length may be a shock to some at first, but it’s for the better. Rider weight is centered well while standing, and the 73-degree seat angle puts you in a good position for climbing.

Pointed downhill, the Reign is free of any odd quirks. Pick your line and let it rip. Even on the challenging Pemberton trails we never once felt in over our heads, and the 65-degree head angle let us point it down some pretty hairy sections without worry. It’s plenty stable through the rough, yet the short rear end, progressive leverage curve, and air shock help the bike maintain a nice playful feel. Getting the front end off the ground is easy to do at a moment’s notice.

We were surprised at the high pressures required to achieve 30% sag (~230psi for a 175-pound rider). Even so, small bump performance is greatly improved, a combined result of the new RockShox Monarch Debonair shock with a larger negative air chamber and the bearings in the upper shock mount. Square edge hits don’t disappear under the Reign, but the feedback to the rider isn’t overly harsh either. It’s well supported on g-outs, drops, and jumps. Though we used full travel routinely we never felt a harsh bottom-out. Paired with a RockShox Pike fork, the bike is well balanced front to back, and the performance of the fork complements the rear end well.

Silas Hesterberg, a Giant Off Road Product Developer, was largely responsible for the new Reign 27.5. He shreds with the best of them.

The Advanced Composite front end and ALUXX SL rear triangle are plenty stiff. The bike is snappy and precise. You can pump hard in the turns and place it exactly where you’d like it.

How about that custom 46mm fork offset? We’d have liked to do some back-to-back testing to really see the benefit, but we will say that we never felt any odd handling issues. In fact, we could honestly do away with the dual position Pike feature - tight uphill turns were a breeze even at the full 160mm of travel.

Out of the saddle sprinting the bike picks up speed with the best of them. Pointed uphill it’s quite efficient for having 160mm of travel, and a healthy amount of anti-squat inherent in the design pretty much eliminates the need for a climbing platform on the rear shock.

Build Kit

The Reign Advanced 27.5 0 Team build kit features some nice parts from SRAM, RockShox, Truvativ, MRP, DT Swiss, and Schwalbe. Our pre-production test bike lacked the SRAM Guide brakes and Schwalbe tires that will come stock, which were replaced by Maxxis Minion/High Roller II tires and Avid X0 Trail brakes.

Overall there was very little to find fault with, especially out of the box. Everything worked as expected and the build is perfectly suited to all-day adventures or hauling down Enduro race courses.

Things That Could Be Improved

We’d favor some slightly higher rise bars instead of running spacers under the stem, as well as slightly thinner or softer grips. There was also some cable rattle inside the frame. Those on a size Small frame will unfortunately have to settle for just 100mm of dropper post adjustment, while bigger sizes benefit from 125mm.

Giant's Road Marketing Specialist, Doug Barnett, throws down harder than most mountain bikers.

What's The Bottom Line?

Giant’s attention to detail is readily apparent and carries throughout the entire Reign 27.5. Just about everything is dialed, and it's clear they didn't just cram some bigger wheels in the frame. The components are solid and the ride is comfortable and capable. We give it two thumbs up and think it was worth the wait. Now it's time to #makeitreign.


2015 Reign Models and Pricing

Visit your local Giant dealer or www.giant-bicycles.com for more details. Bikes will be available in late September or October.

Bonus Gallery: 43 photos of the 2015 Giant Reign 27.5 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.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for 2014 Commencal Meta Hip Hop 1 7/28/2014 4:43 PM
C138_14metahh1_1

2014 Test Sessions: Commencal Meta Hip Hop 1

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

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

A new bike with 26-inch wheels?! In 2014? Gasp. Clearly Commencal isn’t afraid to have some fun.

The Meta Hip Hop is made for those looking to jump, rally bermed turns, drag bar (or at least attempt to), and just have a good time. They say it has “the responsiveness and performance of a trail bike combined with the aggressiveness, ease of jumping, and downhill abilities of an enduro bike.” By combining 120mm of rear travel with a 140mm fork and a slack 66-degree headtube angle, it’s certainly an interesting ride. Curious to see just how much fun could be had on this rig we pedaled it up and pointed it down some of Sedona, Arizona’s best rides during the 2014 Vital MTB Test Sessions.

Meta Hip Hop Highlights

  • 6066 aluminum alloy frame
  • 26-inch wheels
  • 4.7-inches (120mm) rear wheel travel
  • 5.5-inches (140mm) front travel
  • Tapered headtube
  • 66-degree headtube angle
  • 73-degree seat angle
  • 0.4 inch (10mm) bottom bracket rise
  • 16.9-inch (430mm) chainstays
  • Press-fit 92 bottom bracket with ISCG05 mounts
  • 142x12mm rear axle
  • Measured weight (size Large, no pedals): 32.06 pounds (14.54kg)
  • $5,149 MSRP

The Meta Hip Hop uses the same suspension design developed in conjunction with the Athertons during their time with the brand. You may recall the "Contact System EVO" linkage first appearing on the Supreme DH V3 frame. Aided by oversized bearings and large pivot axles, the seatstays drive the single-pivot faux bar linkage. The FOX Float CTD rear shock is driven by both the rocker link and swingarm, also known commonly referred to as a floating shock mount, which Commencal says removes excess stresses from the downtube. Everything is neatly tucked as low as they could get it, helping to keep the bike's center of gravity close to the ground.

This suspension design fully exposes the rear shock to roost and mud flung from the rear tire, but Commencal includes a neoprene shock guard to help keep the majority of crud off the shock. A removable molded guard protects the chainstay.

Internal cable routing through the headtube eliminates any chance of cable rub. Cables enter the frame through a thick rubber grommet which keeps things nice and quiet, as well as sealing the holes to help prevent water and grime from entering the frame. Routing follows the downtube and top tube with large exit points making it easier to route the cables compared to some other internal designs. Though the cables at the front of the bike are a bit of a mess out of the box, it’s nothing you couldn’t tidy up with a bit of time and some electrical tape or zip ties.

The frame design doesn’t leave much room for mud clearance with just 0.5cm of space with the stock 2.25-inch Maxxis tire. We were also a little put off by the 12x142mm rear axle which is difficult to use due to a strange design. Additionally, though there appears to be space inside the frame, the bike doesn’t have water bottle mounts.

Given the bike’s 4.7-inches of rear travel, it has surprisingly aggressive geometry that separates it from the rest of the 5-inch travel crowd. It’s longer, slacker and lower than most. Our size Large ran a 66-degree head angle, 46.3-inch wheelbase, 12.8-inch bottom bracket height, 24.2-inch top tube, and 16.9-inch chainstay length.

The Meta Hip Hop is available in two models. We tested the Hip Hop 1 which comes in at $5,149. There is also a Hip Hop 2 build available for $3,849.

On The Trail

Where does one ride a bike like this? What types of trails is it best suited to? From the high speed berms, jumps, and rock launches on Slim Shady, Pigtail, and Ridge to the technical and precise High on the Hogs, Munds, and Hangover, we tried the Meta Hip Hop on the full gamut of trail styles available in Sedona.

We were pleased to find the bike spec’d with a wide 31-inch (780mm) handlebar and 50mm stem. Unfortunately we felt it was a bit too low. The steerer tube on the Meta range comes cut very short, and in the case of the Hip Hop, it’ll be too short for many. The bike has a short headtube already, and with just one spacer under the stem we would have liked the bars to be higher or taller. The stock setup had us leaning too far over the front of the bike while standing, especially on steep sections. Swapping (or trimming) the bars for a higher rise 750mm option improved the overall feel of the bike. Commencal offers their Alpha bars in higher rise versions for those that experience the same feeling, though they may need to be purchased separately.

Weighting the front end properly and maintaining front to back balance is hard to do. Fortunately the head angle, low bottom bracket height, good tires, and suspension performance help keep things pretty controlled and stable. With just 120mm of travel to work with it could sometimes be tough to keep on line when things got loose and sketchy, but it also carried speed through the rough like it had another inch of travel. In the rockiest sections the low BB was a handful, constantly threatening to hit rocks. This could be improved with something shorter than the stock 175mm cranks. While Commencal claims the Hip Hop has the downhill abilities of an Enduro race bike, we never felt as though we could rally steep, rough terrain very well.

At speed on flowy terrain the bike becomes quite playful, and this is where it shines. The frame is very stiff and offers precise handling as long as the rider is on it. It's easy to jump and whip around, just like any good 26-inch ride should be, and reminded us of the fun that can be had on a slalom bike. At times the front end was difficult to pull up because of the long wheelbase, average chainstay length, and skewed weight bias.

Suspension wise, the Hip Hop does quite well. Small bumps are absorbed easily and it takes square edge hits much better than its 4.7-inches of travel would have you think. Small chatter was also absorbed very efficiently because the suspension action is nice and supple off the top. G-outs, drops, and jumps had the back end reaching bottom-out a tad easier than we’d like to see. This could be remedied with the installation of an air volume reducer to the rear shock for more progression. Overall the suspension seemed to excel over small to medium hits and only started to falter on the really high g-force impacts or maneuvers where you really push into the suspension. Those riding smoother terrain could also run slightly less sag on the FOX Float CTD Boost Valve shock.

The FOX 34 Float CTD FIT fork complemented the rear end well with extremely smooth action and a nice progressive feel to the air spring. We were pleased to see the use of the stout 34mm chassis despite only having 140mm of travel - this isn’t something many bikes in this range have.

The bike’s stout feel is in part due to its weight. At just over 32 pounds it was the heaviest of the 25 bikes we tested and the added heft could be felt on the flatter portions of trail. Despite the weight it was decently snappy due to its stiff chassis, but rolling speed was slower than most bikes. Casually pedaling in anything but the shock’s Climb mode felt sluggish. Standing for a sprint the bike accelerates decently well with minimal bob, and pedaling was best when putting in short bursts of power out of corners to maintain speed. We wouldn’t choose it to win a drag race, though.

Climbing was less efficient than its competitors, but techy climbs weren’t bad as longs as we’d stand and power up them. The rear end stayed planted with plenty of traction. You just had to be very mindful of pedal timing due to the low BB height.

The thick rubber chainstay protector, clutched rear derailleur, rubber gaskets on the internal cable routing, stout frame and components make it a very quiet ride.

Build Kit

Commencal’s choice of components for the Hip Hop 1 include parts from FOX, SRAM, KS, Maxxis, MRP, Race Face, Formula, Jalco, Joytech, and some in-house bits. It’s a no frills build and some cost saving measures were taken, which is surprising given the $5,149 price tag - namely the steel backed MRP chainguide, SRAM X5 front derailleur, steel cassette, steel cassette body, Performance Series FOX suspension, and aluminum frame. Though heavy, we experienced no reliability issues.

The 125mm KS LEV Integra dropper post worked flawlessly, providing an effortless transition between seated climbs and bombing hills.

A 2.4-inch High Roller II EXO front and Ardent 2.25-inch rear tire proved to be a good combination with enough braking and cornering traction in all conditions. The only negative of this setup was the relatively slow rolling speed of the High Roller II.

The Hip Hop makes use of 32-hole Jalco sleeved double-wall rims paired with Joytech hubs. This combo adds considerable weight to the bike, but they’re stiff and strong. Switching to a tubeless setup would lighten things a bit. The hubs engaged quickly and had a smooth feel. The inner rim width was also spot on creating a good tire profile.

Formula’s RX brakes had plenty of power with the dual 180mm rotors provided you pulled hard, but they had a poor lever feel, were hard to modulate, and may be too grabby for some. No fade was experienced. The levers are SRAM Matchmaker compatible which clean up the cockpit a little.

The SRAM X5/X9 drivetrain with MRP 2X guide had no real issues, but we would have preferred a 1x10 arrangement on this style of bike in favor of saving weight and complexity. Once in a gear the drivetrain was very smooth with little to no drag or noise, but switching between them wasn’t super crisp. We never dropped a chain.

Long Term Durability

Excluding the rear axle, this frame looks like it is built to last. It has large bearings and oversized hardware at all the pivot points. The tubing is also oversized, stiff, and stout. Just be sure the neoprene shock guard stays in place. If it were to go missing the shock would likely wear prematurely.Commencal covers the Hip Hop with a five year warranty.

What's The Bottom Line?

The Commencal Meta Hip Hop is one of just a few remaining aggressive 26-inch bikes. This new-school twist on a classic ride requires precise lines and skill to get the most out of it. With the stock setup it excels on fast, flowy, smooth trails - much those like you'd expect a slalom bike to excel on. Trails can be rough with rocks and roots thrown in for spice, but not too rough as you‘ll soon reach the bike's comfortable limits. Those looking to play may enjoy it, but those looking for a performance advantage likely won’t.

Visit www.commencal.com or www.commencal-america.com for more details.

Bonus Gallery: 29 photos of the 2014 Commencal Meta Hip Hop up close and in action


About The Reviewers

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

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

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

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

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for 2014 Trek Remedy 9.8 27.5/650b 7/22/2014 5:42 PM
C138_1190600_2014_a_1_remedy_9_8_27_5_650b

2014 Test Sessions: Trek Remedy 9.8 27.5

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

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

The Trek Remedy has been a mainstay in the trail bike realm since before trail bikes were a must have item. For 2014 the bike received a few upgrades in the form of 27.5-inch wheels and a burlier 34mm stanchion fork. Surprisingly Trek reduced the travel from 150 to 140mm as a result of the bigger wheels and in an effort to better fill the gap between the 120mm Fuel EX and 160mm Slash. They also reduced the head angle by 0.5 degrees. Would any of the changes be detrimental to the ride or would they improve it in other ways? Curious to find out we pedaled it all over Sedona, Arizona during the 2014 Vital MTB Test Sessions.

Trek Remedy 9.8 27.5 Highlights

  • OCLV Mountain Carbon main frame and seatstay, alloy chainstay
  • 27.5-inch (650b) wheels
  • 5.5-inches (140mm) of rear wheel travel
  • Trek Full Floater suspension design with DRCV FOX Performance Series CTD Float rear shock
  • Integrated E2 tapered headtube
  • 67.5 or 68.1-degree head angle (size 18.5 tested)
  • 67.5 or 68.1-degree seat tube angle (size 18.5 tested)
  • 13.3 or 13.6-inch (338 or 346mm) bottom bracket height
  • 17.1 or 17.0-inch (435 or 433mm) chainstay length
  • ISCG05 tabs
  • 142x12mm through axle
  • Measured weight (size 18.5, no pedals): 28-pounds (12.7kg)
  • $5,559 MSRP

Our test bike was the Remedy 9.8 model, which is the second-tier in the Remedy lineup and one of three carbon offerings. After a thorough once over, everything about the frame seemed very well thought out - something we've come to expect of Trek bikes.

Expect for the chainstay, the Remedy 9.8 frame is made with Trek's Optimum Compaction, Low Void (OCLV) Mountain Carbon, which could be argued is a good thing seeing as how the chainstay is most likely to be struck by rocks and trail debris.

The bike features a Mino Link geometry adjustment system in the seat stay. In the “high” position the bike has a 68.1-degree headtube angle and 13.6-inch bottom bracket height. Flipping the chip to the “low” position brings the head angle down to 67.5-degrees and lowers the bb height to 13.3-inches.

Out back, the Remedy relies on Trek's Full Floater suspension design coupled with a magnesium EVO link and Active Braking Pivot (ABP) centered on the 142x12mm rear axle to deliver 140mm of travel. Trek's Dual Rate Control Valve (DRCV) FOX Float CTD shock uses an internal plunger to cycle between two chambers, combining the pedaling benefits of a low volume shock and the big hit cushion of a high volume one. Unfortunately the bike uses a proprietary 197x57mm shock size, making swaps a little difficult, but RockShox recently released a compatible Monarch for those looking to make a switch.

Internal routing for the rear derailleur, front derailleur, and seatpost add to the sleek look of the frame and really clean things up nicely, though they can be a hassle when it comes time to do maintenance. Additional frame features include a post mount disc brake, direct mount front derailleur, exclusive BB95 bottom bracket, integrated tapered headtube, ISCG tabs, room for a water bottle inside the front triangle, ~1.25cm of mud clearance with the stock 2.35-inch Bontrager tires, and a rubberized downtube guard.

With six different models to choose from, ranging in price from $2,840 to $8,300, the Remedy line is just as diverse as the terrain they say it can tackle. Add in five sizes per model and you've got a whole lot of variations of the same bike to choose from. Options are good, and in this case it's very likely that Trek has one to fit your budget and size needs.

On The Trail

We piloted the Remedy up and down some of Sedona’s best rides. Trails included Tea Cup, Jordan, Slimshady, HiLine, Old Post, Carroll Canyon, Ridge, and Templeton.

To our 5’8” tall tester the size 18.5 Remedy frame felt spacious with lots of standover. To our 5’10” tester the same frame felt very compact. Having just come off a long-term test of a similarly sized 18.5 Trek Slash, a burlier 160mm travel bike, he had grown accustomed to the roomier 440mm reach. Hopping on the same size Remedy he was surprised to find the bike felt noticeably shorter. While the top tube measurements are similar, the frame’s reach measures just 417mm, over an inch shorter than the Slash and the shortest of all 25 bikes in our Test Sessions. Trek does spec a longer stem on the Remedy than the Slash, but that's not an ideal solution. In short, for those on the border of typical medium/large sizing, consider the slightly larger 19.5 size.

While we’re on the topic of sizing, it's odd that the size (e.g. 18.5 or 19.5) doesn't actually correlate to the seat tube height measurement. In most cases the seat tube is 1-inch shorter than the size indicates. This nomenclature could be misleading to some.

The stock bars are a bit narrow at 720mm, which seems a bit out of place for the very capable Remedy line. The nearly flat, narrow bar coupled with 140mm front travel seemed a bit low and stretched out for descent oriented riders. A wider riser bar with a 50/60 stem would likely be an improvement to the overall handling. The low front end feeling is made worse on larger sizes that have a very short head tube, so consider the use of spacers under the stem if new bars aren’t an option.

Pointed downhill the Remedy has tons of potential. Provided you’re on the right size, the bike’s geometry helps create a ride that’s stable and really fun to charge on. It picks up speed quickly, aided by the lightweight Bontrager tires. Confidence isn't as high as the burlier bikes on offer from Trek, but it will handle most trail obstacles in its stride. It jumps well, pumps well, manuals easily, and feels stable under most trail conditions. When things turn steep, however, the bike is held back a little by its head angle and stock cockpit. A fork with 10mm more travel would be a welcome addition, helping to slack the front end a hair, raise the sagged ride height slightly, and give the bike a more rearward weight bias when going downhill. We rode the bike in the lower/slacker geometry setting with a 67.5-degree head angle and 13.3-inch bottom bracket height, and can't imagine a scenario when we’d want to go to the steeper/higher mode. As it was there was lots of clearance for rocks and it cornered well.

The FOX Float 34 CTD fork was sufficiently stiff, a welcome change from prior years, and the rear suspension matched up quite well. The DRCV shock felt very controlled and close to bottomless on sections with successive bumps, which helped it track nicely and feel planted in corners. G-outs and jumps were decent as well as we pressed into the mid-stroke. Large single hits easily bottomed the shock with the frame’s slightly progressive design, but luckily Trek offers aftermarket shock volume spacers made by Push for those who find this to be a common occurrence. Overall the bike strikes a great balance between sticking to the ground and being able to move it around at will.

At 28 pounds, the Remedy 9.8 isn’t incredibly lightweight on the scale, but on trail it changes direction quickly and feels very nimble. Rolling speed seemed on par with many other 27.5-inch wheeled bikes if not a little quicker thanks to the lightweight Bontrager tires.

Pedaling and sprinting was very good in the big chainring. Quick bursts from the granny ring resulted in a more perceptible loss of power and bob, however. The bike puts you in a good position for climbing and does not require a shock lockout or any special levers. Pedal efficiency is aided by the Trail mode on the rear shock, though it performs best in Descend mode on rough terrain, allowing the rear to track the terrain better and maintain traction. In the rockiest terrain, the Remedy was easy to move around on, keep our balance, and just keep moving up and through rough sections, which surprised us in a good way.

Build Kit

The Remedy 9.8 comes equipped with a nice mix of components from FOX, Shimano, Bontrager, RockShox, and FSA.

Aside from a possible bar/stem swap as mentioned previously, we’d also consider changing out the white Bontrager saddle and grips. Though comfortable, they’ll likely get dirty your first ride out.

The 125mm RockShox Reverb Stealth seatpost was a welcome addition to the build and worked well. Reverb and Shimano XT brake lever compatibility could be better as the two don’t interact well on the bars, however, making it difficult to get that perfect position.

Braking and rolling speed was great on the 2.35-inch Bontrager XR3 Team Issue tires, and we commend Trek for spec’ing a set of high volume tires on a bike that will use them. They were a slight bit vague on Sedona's sometimes loose-over-hard dirt and steep slickrock terrain, leading us to believe a slightly beefier/knobbier front tire would help out up front. Something with a little more sidewall support could also add to the overall stability of the bike. We’ve found puncture resistance while running tubes to be poor on many Bontrager trail tires in the past, but we didn’t have any issues this time.

The Bontrager Rhythm Comp wheels were stiff and problem free. We’ve put the wheels through a beating in other tests and they proved to be quite durable. They’re easy to repair with readily available parts if something really goes wrong. Provided you pick up a set of Bontrager TLR rim strips they’re also tubeless compatible, and we’ve had good luck with their ability to hold a tire without burping.

Shimano’s XT brakes bedded in very quickly, providing lots of predictable power consistent with all the other Shimano stoppers we’ve used.

After riding many bikes with single ring drivetrains during our Test Sessions, the 2x10 Shimano XT setup seemed a bit out of place at first. The added range was welcome though, especially after several days of big rides back to back. There was very little drag and we never dropped a chain thanks the clutch mechanism. Chain noise wasn’t too bad, but in the small chainring there was some chain slap on rougher terrain.

Long Term Durability

It's tough to forecast long term concerns, but the bike as a whole seemed very reliable. Trek sweats the small details, has an impressive testing facility, and maintenance of the critical components seems like it won't be an issue. Worst case, the frame and Bontrager components are backed by a limited lifetime warranty with a five year condition on the swing arm.

What's The Bottom Line?

The Trek Remedy 9.8 27.5 is a great all around, all day bike that strikes a great balance between fun and stability. Trek classifies it in the same “Technical Trail/Enduro” category as the burlier Slash, and there's certainly potential in that classification given the performance of the suspension and most of the components. We think it'd take a few part swaps to be ready for the burliest of trails, though. In the end we think it’s a great platform to build on and a really good starting point that lots of people will enjoy as a trail bike. Just be sure to carefully consider the sizing before purchasing.

Visit www.trekbikes.com for more details.

Bonus Gallery: 31 photos of the 2014 Trek Remedy 9.8 27.5 up close and in action


About The Reviewers

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

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

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

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for 2014 Lapierre Zesty AM 527 5/29/2014 1:57 PM
C138_zesty_am_527

2014 Test Sessions: Lapierre Zesty AM 527

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

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

Lapierre’s Zesty AM ticks many of the boxes for an aggressive all-mountain bike: it has great geometry, a good looking list of components, a carbon frameset, and 150mm of travel at a reasonable price. It also has an interesting “Electronic Intelligence” rear shock, known as the E:i system. “There’s no place for electronics in mountain biking,” some of you will say, while others may be open to new ideas and technology. With an open mind and nothing but miles of rough Sedona, Arizona trails in front of us during the annual Vital MTB Test Sessions, we set out to see if Lapierre’s mid-level all-mountain bike is the future machine it’s claimed to be.

Zesty AM 527 Highlights

  • Carbon monocoque frame with alloy chainstays
  • 27.5-inch (650b) wheels
  • 5.9-inches (150mm) of rear wheel travel
  • OST+ suspension with e:i shock
  • Tapered headtube
  • 67-degree head angle
  • 74-degree seat tube angle
  • 0.5-inch (12mm) bottom bracket drop
  • 16.9-inch (430mm) chainstays
  • Press-fit bottom bracket with ISCG mounts
  • 12x142mm rear axle
  • Measured weight (size Large, no pedals): 30 pounds, 1 ounce (13.6kg)
  • $5,000 MSRP

The Zesty AM uses Lapierre’s OST+ (Optimized Suspension Technology) suspension design, a virtual pivot point system. Originally launched in 2008 with the help of Nicolas Vouilloz, the OST system is said to eliminate pedal bob while remaining fully active over bumps. How? Lapierre says “any force created by pedal feedback is countered by pedaling: the tension created in the chain by a pedal stroke brings the swing arm back to its equilibrium point.” The design uses a Horst-Link, something Specialized previously held exclusive privileges to in the USA. That has now changed, and several Lapierre models are available in the States.

What makes this bike really interesting is the E:i equipped Rockshox Monarch RT3 rear shock. E:i was co-developed with RockShox over a 5-year period, and is capable of adjusting the rear suspension from fully locked to fully open in a period of just 0.1 seconds. The fully automatic system continuously monitors inputs from an accelerometer on the fork, an accelerometer on the stem, and a cadence sensor in the crank spindle to determine if the shock should be open, locked, or in a platform mode. By calculating the difference between the two accelerometer inputs, the system is able to determine if the front wheel is hitting bumps or not and change the rear suspension to best suit the situation. Whether you’re pedaling or not is also taken into account.

In Auto mode, the E:i shock will adjust to one of four settings:

  • Pedaling + no hits = blocked (locked)
  • Pedaling + light hits = platform (medium)
  • Pedaling + big hits = open
  • No pedaling = open

The end result is a suspension system that changes a maximum of 20 to 30 times per minute in an effort to more perfectly match the demands of the terrain - more than a rider could do manually. A display unit above the stem shows what mode you’re in, the battery level, and allows you to manually override the system if you’d like. There are five sensitivity settings in the Auto mode, allowing you to tell the system how big of a bump you’d like to hit before it opens up.

A battery pack for the E:i system is mounted inside the front triangle, unfortunately nudging out any room for a water bottle. As you might have guessed, a charger is required, though it’s not needed very often. You will also notice the extra cables that run from the bar mounted computer controlling the system to both the fork a rear shock, which are a bit of rats nest. A removable sag indicator helps ease the setup process.

The carbon monocoque front triangle has internal cable and seatpost routing, a tapered headtube, press fit bottom bracket, ISCG mounts, and an integrated down tube protector. The rear end of the Zesty AM is very stout with a 12x142mm axle, very wide aluminum chainstays, and bulky carbon seat stays. There’s also a carbon guard designed to protect the derailleur. Mud clearance is great with ~2cm of room for goop with the stock 2.25-inch Schwalbe tire.

Lapierre’s Zesty AM lineup includes a total of five models (327, 427, 527, 727, and 927) ranging from $2,900 to $8,000. Our test bike was the mid-range Zesty AM 527 which slots in at $5,000.

On The Trail

Surprisingly, the Zesty AM came with a super long 90mm stem, which is odd given the bike’s intentions, aggressive geometry, and already long reach dimension. Wanting to see what the bike was truly capable of without fearing for our lives, we swapped the stem for something in the 50mm range and also took the opportunity to sub in something slightly wider than the average width stock 29-inch (740mm) bars. With these quick changes in place we felt right at home. The 17.6-inch (447mm) reach on the Zesty AM is nice and long with an average length 24.6-inch (625mm) Large top tube. We set the E:i system to “Auto 2” mode and hit the trails.

Our time on the Zesty AM was spent on several of Sedona’s best rides, encompassing everything from technical, exposed singletrack to a slalom-like jump trail and fast slickrock with repeat big hits. Trails included Slim Shady, HiLine, HT, Little Horse, the Hogs, Pig Tail, Teacup, Ridge, and Brewer.

The bike’s geometry proved to be very balanced, and we immediately felt right at home. With the short stem in place we wouldn’t have chosen to change anything geometry related. The 16.9-inch (430mm) chainstays, decently low bottom bracket, and 67-degree head angle make for a bike that never has an issue getting around the tighter sections of trail, but is sufficiently stable at speed.

You can tell that the bike was designed with a focus on going down the hill and to go down it fast. With its balanced geometry and 150mm of front and rear suspension it’s very capable even on the most technical portions of trail. Changing lines and popping from one area to another was a breeze despite not being the lightest bike in its class. The extra mass did help stabilize things a bit when it got rough, and the built in efficiency of the electronic suspension would allow you to get up and go when the trail flattened out. We didn’t notice any poor characteristics that held us back on the descents.

The E:i RockShox Monarch RT3 rear shock was a major highlight. With the system in “Auto 2” mode the bike transitioned from the different sections of trail without any thought. It was a very unique experience to blast through a rough downhill section and be able to get right on the gas with the bike feeling virtually locked out. We could see this system being a great asset to have while Enduro racing or dropping your buddies on the trail while they reach down to switch their suspension levers. When the shock was open it still had a nice, progressive feel and an spring curve which made the bike absorb small bumps well while ramping up to give you that playful feel. It could have been a little more supple for square edge hits, but ultimately the bike handled well.

We did have some minor issues riding the bike with the Auto suspension setting on, however. When you come off a smooth section of trail at speed and hit a square edge bump, the system does not react quickly enough to open up. The entire process takes 0.1 seconds from the time the sensors register bump movement and cadence to the adjustment of the rear shock. Considering the distance between the front and rear wheel, this equates to a maximum speed of 22mph (35.4kph). That means the first impact can sometimes feel extremely harsh. This was not so much an issue while descending, because the shock is often open then, but Sedona has a lot of trail sections that go from flat to steep, punchy, rocky climbs. When you would excel to get up these climbs and hit the first impact, the back would not absorb the energy, instead sending it right on up into the rider. This would cause us to shift our weight to absorb the first impact, leaving us in an awkward position to continue climbing up the punchy section, sometimes struggling to keep traction with the rear wheel. By the end of a long ride we were manually switching to Open mode for climbing up these bits of trail so we didn’t have to use as much energy battling for traction. We thought the Zesty climbed great even when the rear shock was Open.

For descents and rolling bits of trail we thought the E:i system worked excellently, however, wiping out our initial skepticism. It was constantly switching between open and locked throughout the ride. Start pedaling and half a pedal stroke later it's locked. If you’re riding on a smooth trail and stop pedaling, a moment later the shock opens. If you are pedaling over rough or pedaling and stop as you hit the rough, the shock instantly opens up. After listening to it for the first few miles making sure it was doing what it was supposed to, we were able to forget about it and just concentrate on our ride. We didn’t mind the noise, which sounded like a space ship was preparing to take off or as though you pulled up to the scene in your low rider and let the pressure out of the air bags.

Sprinting with the shock locked-out or in the platform mode felt great - even more so when we didn’t have to do anything to make it that way. You get to a section of trail where you need to stand up and sprint and the shock makes sure your energy and power is going to the ground and not the suspension.

Despite having a carbon frame, at 30.06 pounds (13.6kg) the Zesty AM 527 definitely has some mass to it. However, the extra mass does add stability on the descents, and the suspension and geometry make the bike feel snappy and easy to move around when needed. With the electronic suspension adjust and some fast rolling tires this bike has no problem getting up to speed and maintaining it.

Looking the bike over before we began riding, we immediately had major concerns about riding a 32mm FOX CTD Evolution fork with 150mm of travel. FOX doesn’t make the 32 available in anything longer than 140mm for aftermarket sale, likely for a reason. Even so, we were surprised that it wasn’t a complete noodle, nor did it lead to any sketchy situations. The trails in Sedona may not be super fast, but they’re rocky as can be with lots of direction changes for your front end to get held up on. If you're a heavier rider or in terrain where the speeds increase and the impacts get harsher, you may want to opt for a 34mm or larger fork chassis. Performance wise, the fork was very supple off the top and never felt sticky. We rode it in “Trail” mode for the majority of the ride because the “Descend” setting felt under-damped.

We had a big issue with the extra wide rear chainstay and seat stay, which stuck out tremendously and caught our heels as we’d pedal, especially when exhausted at the end of a big ride. Lapierre is aware of this issue, however, and has narrowed the chainstays by 15mm (7.5mm on each side) which should help.

While it may look a little gimmicky, a feature we thought was great was the carbon derailleur guard. On the rockiest, most technical descent we rode we heard it tag and scrape against rocks a handful of times. Those moments could have easily bent or destroyed the rear derailleur. With how expensive derailleurs and hangers are, we’ll take all the extra drivetrain protection we can get.

Build Kit

Our mid-range Zesty AM 527 came equipped with components from FOX, FSA, Easton, Formula, Shimano, SRAM, Race Face, Schwalbe, SDG, and KS.

The 2.25-inch Schwalbe Nobby Nic tires were average at best. Though they rolled very quickly and helped to shave a bit of weight, the thin sidewall and lack of any meaty knobs were causes for concern when the trail was rough or loose. During our first ride we actually tore a large hole in the rear tire casing.

Stiffness wise the Race Face wheels were adequate. It can be a downer when a manufacturer puts flimsy wheels on a stout frame, but this was not the case with the Zesty. They did seem to be a bit heavy, though, which slowed down the bike’s ability to accelerate a tad, but the engagement and strength was on point with wheels that retail for much more money. The wheels held up to well to some decent abuse on sandstone drops, gaps, steep roll-ins, and high speed rock gardens.

While we’ve professed our love for the externally routed KS Lev seatpost in the past, the newer Lev Integra model took far too much effort to set up. It was a careful balancing act to find the perfect cable tension to keep the post from dropping unexpectedly. Luckily KS is already aware of the issue and has released a new retrofittable actuator with zero cable movement. All new bikes and distributor stock have moved to the new design, but there may be a few stragglers still out there, so be aware that you may need to send the post to KS for the fix.

The Formula RX brakes were also a pleasant surprise. They had a decent lever feel, plenty of modulation, and a ton of bite when we really needed them - something we've had issues with on Formula brakes in the past. 180mm rotors front and rear helped to improve braking control. We didn’t ride any extended descents with heavy braking, but our experience was very positive. Note that recent spec lists for the Zesty AM 527 show a switch to Avid Elixir 9 disc brakes, which we’ve gotten along well with in other tests.

We had zero issues with the 2x10 Shimano XT drivetrain. Despite the rough terrain there were no chain drops and it was relatively quiet. You’ll need to spring for the more expensive 727 or 927 models if you want a 1x11 drivetrain, which would help reduce the bike’s overall weight a bit.

Long Term Durability

The frame showed no durability concerns, and we’re pretty confident that it’d hold up to many years of use. We do have to wonder about the internals of the shock, however. On a normal shock, most riders flip the lockout/compression lever a handful of times per ride. With the E:i system the shock sees likely 100X that amount. Could this cause parts to wear quicker inside the shock? It’s possible.

Additionally, 32mm FOX Float forks are notorious for developing a creaky crown/steerer unit. The ability to ride the Zesty AM extremely hard can’t be good for that tiny stanchion tube junction.

What's The Bottom Line?

If it’s good enough for Nico Vouilloz, then it’s good enough for you. The Lapierre Zesty AM 527 was designed with a purpose - it’s efficient, fast, and shreds any gnarly terrain you come across. Chances are good that we’ll see some improvements to the electronic suspension system over the next few years, but even as is it’s an incredibly useful and effective feature to have. It's very exciting stuff and definitely has a place in mountain biking.

Riders looking for a good value will be happy with the 527. The bike is so efficient up and down hills that it fits a rider range of use than most 150mm travel trail bikes.

Visit www.lapierrebicycles.com for more details.

Bonus Gallery: 28 photos of the 2014 Lapierre Zesty AM 527 up close and in action


About The Reviewers

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

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

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

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for FOX 36 FLOAT RC2 FIT Fork 5/27/2014 7:35 AM
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Tested: 2015 FOX 36 FLOAT RC2 FIT Fork

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by Brandon Turman // Photos by Colin Meagher

For years the FOX 36 has been a heavy hitter among a sea of lightweight fork options. It’s the fork many of the biggest, hardest charging riders turned to when nothing else seemed to suffice. Somewhere along the line the competition stepped up their game, though, and we’ve seen a shift in the market place and a demand for better performance at a lighter weight. FOX is here to answer that call with the completely redesigned 2015 FOX 36 FLOAT RC2 FIT fork.

We’ve had one on test for a little while now, charging down every rough patch of trail we can find. Read on to see why this fork is set to stir things up once again…

FOX 36 FLOAT RC2 FIT Highlights

  • Made for Trail/All-Mountain/Enduro/Freeride use
  • 36mm Kashima coated stanchions
  • New FLOAT air spring system
  • Tunable air spring via volume spacers
  • Refined RC2 damper with sealed FIT cartridge
  • External adjustments: Rebound (19-clicks) // Low-speed compression (22-clicks) // High-speed compression (26-clicks) // Air spring
  • 150, 160, 170, and 180mm stock travel options
  • Internally adjustable travel in 10mm increments (sold separately)
  • 26, 27.5, and 29-inch models
  • Aluminum tapered (26, 27.5, 29) and straight 1 1/8-inch (26 only) steerer options
  • Convertible 15/20mm thru-axle
  • 180mm post mount disc brake tabs
  • Weights ranging from 4.19 to 4.30-pounds (1.9 to 1.95kg)
  • MSRP $1,035 to $1,050
  • Available July, 2014

Weight Savings

One of the biggest improvements to the 36 is a substantial weight reduction, bringing the fork in line with the competition. All told they’ve shaved close to a half-pound off its predecessor, with weights now starting at a claimed 4.19-pounds (1.9kg). That’s up to 0.2-pounds lighter than the 2014 FOX 34, and just 0.15-pounds heavier than the highly regarded RockShox Pike - this fork’s biggest competitor. Most of the weight savings are thanks to an optimized chassis design that takes full advantage of recent casting technology improvements. FOX says they’ve been able to do this without compromising strength or stiffness.

Here are the areas they were able to shave a few grams:

  • 1.5-inch tapered steerer = 34g lighter - New optimized butting profile to minimize weight and maximize stiffness
  • 1.5 crowns = 45g lighter - Stylized to match the new 36 lower legs
  • Lower leg = 98g lighter - Arch and dropout designs evolved from the 2014 40 // Lower leg tube section has a new optimized 5-taper design // 180mm direct disc brake post mount means there’s no need for adapter hardware (saves additional 20g)
  • Upper tube set = 114g lighter - Tubes are now butted rather than straight and the length is shorter
  • 20mm thru-axle and hardware = 65g lighter - Bolt-on design saves weight over 20QR system
  • New FLOAT air spring system = 94g lighter - Uses air negative spring and other refinements

Friction Reduction

While the FOX 36 may be loved for its brute strength and ability to take big hits, it has never really had that buttery smooth feel off the top, at least in the air sprung models. Aware of this shortcoming, they made several updates in an effort to reduce friction in the system.

An improved Kashima coat on the upper tubes reduced friction by about 15% in combination with FOX's new 20-weight Gold Bath Oil. The new coating strikes a better balance between smoothness and holding lubrication, allowing the oil to fill the porous parts will its slippery Molybdenum goodness. The RC2 damper also sees an updated seal head design that lowers the breakaway force, something we can confirm after cycling the damper outside of the fork. FOX also increased the bushing overlap (distance between the bushings) to help reduce friction caused by splay impacts (think 50/50 cases).

As we’d find out on the trail, all of these tweaks truly did add up to a big reduction of friction, so much so that FOX had to re-tune the RC2 damper as a result.

Improved Air Spring System

The FLOAT air spring (short for FOX Load Optimized Air Technology) sees a major update for 2015, starting with the 36 and later making its way into FOX’s other platforms. The new air spring design no longer relies on a coil negative spring, and instead uses an air bypass to automatically adjust the positive and negative air chambers during inflation. While FOX has not used an air negative spring in a fork to date, the system is similar to what they have used in their rear shocks for years. Using an air negative spring saves weight and ensures that the fork is properly adjusted to every possible rider weight. Previously the stock coil negative spring was tuned for an average weight rider, meaning that heavy and light riders didn’t see optimal performance. FOX says this change also ensures consistent axle-to-crown length regardless of rider weight, which previously wasn’t the case.

One downside of the new system is that it requires the addition of one dynamic seal, but FOX says it’s an easy trade-off when you consider the lower weight, balance with the positive air spring for every rider, and quieter feel at the bars.

Riders can further fine-tune the character of the air spring by installing or removing air volume spacers, impacting the progressivity and support offered by the fork. The addition of volume spacers starts to make a noticeable difference at about 50% of the travel and then increases through the rest of the travel. Spacers are available in 7.6cc (blue) and 10.8cc (orange) sizes. The fork comes with one blue spacer installed and three in the box.

Also new for 2015, with the exception of the 26-inch fork, 36 TALAS forks will receive the most recent TALAS system (TALAS 5) first introduced with the 2014 34 line.

Improved RC2 Damper

As a result of the friction improvements to the fork and damper seal head, the RC2 damper sees changes to the shim stack and low-speed needle to add more compression. Just like before, external low and high-speed compression adjustments are on top of the fork. The external rebound adjustment is at the bottom.

Lower viscosity damper oil in the bladder-style sealed FIT cartridge is said to improve damping consistency and control, even during big temperature changes. FOX also implemented a dyno near the end of their production line as a new quality control measure to identify friction and compression issues before the forks leave the factory floor, improving consistency from fork to fork.

Unfortunately the new damper and air spring are not “technically” retrofittable to prior model year 36 forks.

Internally Adjustable Travel

Travel changes are possible in 10mm increments with the stock air spring assembly and a neg plate spacer. Forks with 160mm of travel can be spaced down to 110mm and forks with 180mm of travel can be spaced down to 130mm. Note that the air spring is optimized for the stock 180 or 160mm length, and big travel adjustments may have an impact on performance. Also know that the 170mm 27.5-inch fork can be upped to 180mm by removing the neg spacer.

Convertible 15/20mm Thru-Axle

Following the recent push to 15mm thru-axles, FOX was wise to make the new 36 compatible with both 15 and 20mm wheels. By installing a set of the included asymmetric shims, you can convert the fork from 20 to 15mm or vice versa. While there are many factors that can impact the number, FOX says the 20mm axle setup is about 8% torsionally stiffer than the 15mm. The pinch bolt clamp design was used because it’s 65g lighter than the previous 20QR system.

All Wheel Sizes

In addition to the long-standing 26-inch variety, the 36 will now be offered in 27.5 and 29-inch models. Here’s the breakdown of what’s offered:

FOX reduced the steerer tube press-in height to minimize axle-to-crown length. For comparison, 26-inch 2015 36 forks have a 9mm shorter axle-to-crown length compared to 26-inch 2011 to 2014 36 forks. The axle-to-crown length is 5mm less than a 2014 34 on 27.5 and 29-inch models. Combined with the fact that FLOAT forks previously used a coil negative spring that would extend at high positive air spring pressures, heavier riders may find that they can run 10mm more travel on a 27.5 or 29-inch bike without affecting the way their bike rides.

36 axle-to-crown lengths:

  • 26-inch – 160mm travel = 536.4mm, 180mm = 556.4mm
  • 27.5-inch – 160mm = 549.1mm, 170mm = 559.1mm
  • 29-inch – 150mm = 557.1mm, 160mm = 567.1mm

36 fork rake dimensions:

  • 26-inch – 37mm
  • 27.5-inch – 44mm
  • 29-inch – 51mm

Finally, FOX will continue to offer the 36 with a straight 1-1/8 steerer option for 26-inch riders. 27.5 and 29-inch forks will be tapered only.

FOX says that this fork is “leading the model year and more stuff will follow,” which is reason for more excitement.

Setup

Our test of a 2015 FOX 36 FLOAT RC2 160 27.5 was performed using the new 2015 Diamondback Mission 27.5, a 160mm travel all-mountain bike with a 66.5-degree head angle. It replaced a Factory Series 2014 FOX 34 FLOAT CTD 160, which would make for a great back-to-back comparison.

Installation of the fork was just as you’d expect with no obvious issues. The fork was set up using the stock front wheel and 15mm axle adapters, which required very little time to install and fit securely in the dropouts.

At 175-pounds geared up, we initially set the air pressure to FOX’s recommended 68psi (~20% sag in standing attack position). After a short spin around the trailhead we decided to up the pressure to 75psi (~17% sag), feeling as though we wanted more support from the air spring through the entire range of travel. Note that while pressurizing the air spring, you need to cycle the fork slightly a few times to equalize the system due to the new air negative spring. We left the fork with one blue 7.6cc volume spacer installed to begin our test.

Thinking back to our previous experience with the FOX 36, we thought the FOX techs were crazy when they started us off at 12 clicks from closed on the compression settings, but we were willing to give it a go. Rebound was set to a reasonable rate and off we went.

On The Trail

So far we’ve tested the fork in two locations - rocky Moab, Utah during the product launch and flowy Oakridge, Oregon on our own terms. Moab trails included several laps on Lower Porcupine Singletrack (LPS), as well as one full run down Porcupine Rim and a HyMasa to Captain Ahab loop, providing a full dose of gnarly, big hit terrain. Oakridge trails have included Alpine, Moon Point, Larison Creek, Larison Rock, Salmon Creek, and North Fork, giving us some perspective on how the fork copes with higher speeds, roots, and occasionally muddy conditions.

Switching from the 34 to the 36, the smooth, stiction free feel of the new fork was immediately apparent. The difference felt like night and day, requiring relatively little pressure on the bars before the fork would begin to cycle. The 34 we removed had an almost notchy feeling during low-speed compressions, which was made more obvious after the switch. Even after a month of use the 36 remains smooth from the first push, lacking the sometimes sticky/squeaky feel of many FOX forks during the first few compressions after a day or two of not being used.

Small bumps all but disappear under your weight, and we noticed a marked improvement in front wheel traction around bumpy off-camber corners compared to the 34. High-speed chatter feels like anything but chatter, and the fork actually made the shortcomings of the rear suspension on our test bike more apparent. After a long descent down Porcupine Rim at a quick pace with very few breaks, our hands and forearms were still in good shape. If you’ve ridden the notoriously rough trail, you’ll know how well that speaks of the fork’s ability to smooth things out.

FOX Pro athlete, Enduro super star, and Cinco de Mayo champion, Lars Sternberg, finds flow where there's little to be found.

Medium and big hits are absorbed in a smooth, controlled fashion, regardless of the compression damper settings, and you never feel as though the fork is blowing through its travel. If we had, we would have simply added an additional volume spacer, which can be done in a matter of minutes. The feel is consistent trough the entire stroke. We regularly use ~90% of the travel on rougher trails with just one air spacer installed, only reaching the bottom on the biggest hits. Bottoming out isn’t overly harsh and the fork doesn’t make any alarming noises.

Flat tires are part of the game in Moab. It's seriously rough terrain.

After spending time on the previous 36 and recent 34 CTD forks, we’ve been impressed and surprised to find that the range of compression adjustments is truly usable. Before we would often run them wide open in an effort to get a supple feel, using high air pressure to compensate. The feedback provided to the rider is never sharp feeling, but can be firm against your hands if that’s what you desire. In the mid-range of the compression settings it’s comfortable to push against the fork in turns, off lips, and through g-outs to control the bike. Even when wide open it has enough damping support for flatter, bumpy trails at a decently quick pace. When we cycled the damper outside of the fork, we were blown away by the range of force required to compress it from full open to full closed, and it was never sticky feeling once in motion. There’s lots to work with here on both ends of the spectrum...

Ariel Lindsley was a big part of the FOX 36 development process and can shred with the best of them.

The chassis adds a lot to the ride as well, with some of the characteristic 36 stiffness qualities showing through when things get really wild. It doesn’t feel like a big stiff bruiser of a fork anymore, though, and the weight is less noticeable than before. This is due in part to the improved smooth feel of the damper and friction improvements. Deflection off rocks hasn’t been an issue, nor has binding under any type of load or landing - one of the biggest advantages of the 36 over the 34 and even some major competitors in our eyes.

The fork transformed our test bike into one that could be ridden without abandon into the unknown, trusting that we’d be able to handle whatever the trail threw at us. Hard braking with the new 36 is pretty incredible, because it seems to remain fully active but just a few inches into the travel, providing loads of smooth, progressive control while slowing you down comfortably and allowing you to look further ahead. We went from occasionally riding over the back as a safety measure to standing up over the bars and charging, knowing the front end would handle well regardless of what was around the next turn.

Our final “everyday ride” settings include a slight pressure drop from our starting point, which was initially high as a result of coming off the 34 that made us feel as though more pressure was needed in place of proper damping control:

  • 67psi (for 175-pound rider weight)
  • Low-speed compression 9 clicks out from closed
  • High-speed compression 10 clicks out from closed
  • Rebound 12 clicks out from closed
  • One volume spacer

If the terrain calls for it, we’ll crank in the low and/or high-speed compression a few clicks for added support.

Things That Could Be Improved

The travel adjust procedure requires a good deal of time and a tool or two that many home mechanics aren’t likely to have on hand. Those wanting to change the travel will want to reference this service video before getting started.

Some will complain about the pinch bolts on the axle in place of a QR system, requiring you to tighten four bolts and the axle with a 5mm allen key which can be time consuming when you’re eager to start a ride or hurrying to change a flat between race stages. Some will hate this, others will love it for the added security. As a side note, our 15mm axle conversion hasn’t been creaky so far, nor do we expect it to ever be given the design.

Given that the fork will be used primarily by gravity-seeking-speed-junkies, some of which will be chair lift assisted during a race, we can see the benefit in including pressure bleeders like on the 40. FOX says, “We have no plans to update the 36 lowers to include air bleed buttons similar to the 40 fork. Like any fork, a big change in elevation will affect the internal pressures of the fork and slipping a zip tie between the seal and upper tube can help relieve the pressure in the lower leg.” This process is easier said than done on this model, and may require a few attempts with various zip ties.

Long Term Durability

Looking the fork over, only one thing jumps out as a potential concern. There is a notch on the rod that enters the negative chamber that allows the two air chambers to equalize when the fork is fully extended. This notch will cycle past an o-ring seal every time the fork tops out and is then compressed (likely dozens of times per ride). Over thousands of cycles it’s possible that the notch would wear the o-ring out, rendering the seal ineffective and likely shrinking the fork down a few inches into the travel as a result. FOX says they rounded the edges of the notch for this reason, and haven’t seen an issue during in-house cycle tests or out in the field.

Beyond that, we’ve seen no indications that the fork isn’t in it for the long haul, though one month of use is nothing like what the typical rider will put it through. The right leg is seeping a very small amount of oil, though we suspect it’s still too new to consider a fault. We’ll update this review if any issues arise. FOX recommends a lower oil change every 30 hours of use, and an air chamber/damper oil change every 100 hours.

What’s The Bottom Line?

Our time on the FOX 36 FLOAT RC2 FIT fork has been nothing but positive. It’s a package that’s very competitive in the weight and price games, compatible with just about any bike or wheel, and finely tunable across a wide usable range of independent adjustments. It transformed our ride for the better, allowing us to charge harder with more confidence and control.

After putting out a few somewhat rough product offerings in the trail/all-mountain segment, it seems as though FOX is back on the rise, and we’re pumped to see them throw a real contender back into the ring. We think the new 36 is one worth betting on - it's capable of matching or besting current class leaders in many ways. When the Enduro race season really takes off you can count on seeing it under some of the World's best racers.

Forks will be available starting July 2014. Visit www.ridefox.com for more details.

Bonus Gallery: 21 Photos Showing What’s Inside the New Fox 36 RC2 Fork


About The Reviewer

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

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for 2014 BMC Trailfox TF01 29 with XX1 5/23/2014 2:38 PM
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2014 Test Sessions: BMC Trailfox TF01 29

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

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

In a time when nearly every company is jumping on the 27.5-inch/650B wheel bandwagon, BMC jumped straight to 29, eliminating their previous 26-inch model in the process. It wasn't without a lot of testing, though. BMC fabricated dozens of test mules, including several 27.5 models. Having tested multiple wheel sizes and geometry configurations against the clock, the company landed on a 5.9-inch (150mm) travel 29er with relaxed angles and a surprisingly short rear end. The bike is aimed squarely at the heart of the Enduro race scene, and is ridden by the BMC Trailcrew at the Enduro World Series.

Curious to see if what the bike was capable of, we raced it at the Whistler Enduro World Series event and then took it to Sedona, Arizona for the annual Vital MTB Test Sessions.

Trailfox TF01 29 Highlights

  • Full carbon frame
  • 29-inch wheels
  • 5.9-inches (150mm) of rear wheel travel
  • Advanced Pivot System (APS) suspension design
  • Tapered headtube
  • 67-degree head angle
  • 74-degree seat tube angle
  • 1.2-inch (30mm) bottom bracket drop
  • 17.1-inch (435mm) chainstays
  • BB90 with ISCG05 tabs
  • 142x12mm through axle
  • Measured weight (size Medium, no pedals): 27-pounds, 8-ounces (12.47kg)
  • $8,999 MSRP

The TF01 is one of a few long-travel 29er bikes on the market, and the specs make it look very competitive in the niche. The APS suspension system is a Virtual Pivot design with strong anti-squat characteristics. The dual-link design yields a system that’s progressive through the first 2/3 of travel and slightly regressive near the end of the shock’s stroke, which is complimented well by FOX's Float X shock. As with all BMC bikes, there's a convenient sag indicator to get you on the trail quickly.

It has short chainstays, a relatively slack 67-degree head angle, and a low bottom bracket. BMC resolved the long 29er chainstay dilemma by slackening the seat tube angle and moving it forward, but the effective seat angle remains comfortably pedal-able. In combination with a unique front derailleur mount on the rear triangle, the result is a 17.1-inch (435mm) chainstay length. That's at least 5mm shorter than the vast majority of comparable rides, and just 5mm longer than the often praised Specialized Enduro 29.

With 45mm more standover than the old Trailfox, the looks and maneuverability of the new bike have been improved as well. The standover and seat tube length are now low enough to use a 6-inch (150mm) dropper post, and there's still enough room for a water bottle. The headtube height has been greatly reduced too, which was key to achieving a balanced ride with the long-travel 29-inch platform. The 2014 model has been lengthened substantially, bringing it up to speed with modern geometries.

Additional details include a 12x142mm rear axle to keep things stiff out back, Post Mount disc brake tabs with replaceable threaded inserts, and an optional integrated chain management system that gives an extra sense of security. The BB90 press fit bottom bracket shell has an ISCG mount that allows a standard chain guide to be easily mounted. Internal cable routing enters through custom ports and follows the downtube, and the stealth dropper post routing is a highlight many will appreciate. Injection molded chainstay and downtube guards help protect the frame in key areas. Mud clearance is decent, with a minimum of ~1cm of clearance with the stock 2.4-inch Continental tire.

The Trailfox line includes the full carbon TF01, as well as the carbon front/aluminum rear TF02 and full aluminum TF03. Complete prices range from $11,999 for the decked out TF01 XTR build at the high end to $3,999 for the more affordable TF03. Our test build was the TF01 XX1 Trailcrew edition, retailing for $8,999.

The full carbon TF01 frame weighs 2,490 grams. Complete weights range from 26.9 to 31.3-pounds (12.2 to 14.2kg) across the model range.

On The Trail

Our time on the TF01 began when the bike was launched during the Whistler stop of the Enduro World Series. The multi-stage event encompassed everything from rooted, loamy backcountry trails to long brake bump filled bike park runs. We also rallied some seriously steep trails on the nearby Blackcomb Mountain just for grins. Following the launch, we had the opportunity to put some more miles on the bike in the rocky hills of Sedona. Sedona trails included Girdner, Last Frontier, Brewer, Ridge, Slim Shady, HiLine, and Teacup - a proper mix of technical, rough, and fast terrain.

The stock 55mm stem and a fairly wide 750mm flat carbon bar are comfortable, and we applaud BMC for getting these important cockpit details right. One thing that struck us as odd was the use of a very tall top headset spacer, which defeats the point of having a compact headtube. Those wanting a lower stack height to counter the already tall 150mm 29er fork will need to find a replacement for this part, though most riders of average height won't find it to be an issue. Once on the trail the bike feels decently roomy, although not as large as the posted top tube and reach dimensions would have you believe. The weight bias is fairly neutral and centered between the wheels.

The short chainstays, slack head angle, and low bottom bracket are definite positives. Pointed downhill, the bike had a glued-to-the-ground kind of ride that was best when pushed hard. Surprisingly the bike didn’t inspire confidence in the way we expected given the available travel and aggressive geometry. It felt unstable and a little sketchy at times, and for this reason it took us a little longer than normal to get used to. Even though it has super short stays, we also found it less playful than expected. It changed lines easily at speed and the frame itself was plenty stiff laterally, however. Our experiences on bikes with comparable geometry lead us to believe that the instability came from the suspension and tires.

The bike seemed best suited to rallying down steep, fast, loamy trails, but when large bumps were introduced into the equation it was less inspiring than its direct competitors. Small bumps and trail chatter were absorbed well, but it struggled to have good control on g-outs, jumps, drops, and repetitive big hits. Even with proper sag settings the bike felt best when adding extra compression utilizing the “Trail” setting on the shock, though this took away from small bump performance. Square edge performance was decent, although nothing to write home about. Despite trying several shock pressure adjustments we found the bike difficult to balance front to back. The rear suspension was very soft off the top and seemed to spend most of its time deep in the stroke, which made the bike feel as though it had less than the 150mm of travel advertised. It had a mushy feeling in comparison to the FOX 34 Float CTD fork, but both reached the end of the travel around the same time.

From a rolling speed standpoint, the bike carried speed well and felt every bit as light as the scale indicated. The suspension took away from some of this feeling by muting rider inputs, however.

During seated climbs the bike felt a bit too active in the shock’s “Descend” mode, and climbed better in “Trail” by staying a little higher in its travel over bumps. As long as we maintained momentum the bike climbed well. If we got bogged down it sometimes hung up a bit on technical climbs and could be difficult to maintain balance. Body position is good for climbing, though, with no crank spiking issues or much front end wandering.

When really punching it out of the saddle the bike responded decently quickly with no detrimental bob or loss of power. It stands up in the travel and stays there under hard high-cadence efforts due to the high anti-squat designed into the suspension.

Given our experience with the bike’s suspension, we reached out to BMC for their input:

"After hearing about the issues that the testers at Vital were experiencing in their review of the Trailfox, we conducted an internal review and also communicated with the team at FOX. We discovered that the shock on the early-release sample bikes provided to media outlets mistakenly featured a lighter compression tune. The correct shock, which is currently available at retail and the one that our athletes have been training and racing on, features a firmer compression tune and a higher air spring compression ratio. If the review bike had featured the correct rear shock we feel certain that the result would've been a significantly improved ride experience."

At this point we have not re-tested the bike with the updated shock tune, but we believe this suspension tweak would help.

Build Kit

The $8,999 TF01 Trailcrew features a built kit highlighted by components from RockShox, Fizik, Continental, DT Swiss, Avid, SRAM, Easton, and FOX.

RockShox’s 6-inch (150mm) drop Reverb Stealth dropper post provides a huge range of on the fly saddle height adjustment. Some may find it to be excessive, while others will appreciate the added clearance on rough and steep terrain. Very few companies currently spec a dropper with this much adjustment. The white Fizik saddle attached to the post is decently comfortable, though it may stain quickly.

The Continental Mountain King/X King 2.4-inch tires left a lot to be desired. Braking traction was good and rolling resistance was decent, but they lacked the traction we are used to in a meaty 29er tire and had a vague feel in many situations. The profile is very round, requiring you to lean excessively before the cornering knobs come into contact with the ground, and by that time we were often already drifting out of control. They also contributed to the sometimes bouncy and unstable feel of the bike.

Most bikes in the $9,000 range come stock with a carbon wheelset, but BMC believes the 1,650 gram DT Swiss XM 1501 Spline One wheels can compete well while offering superior durability. They were plenty stiff, strong, light, and easy to set up tubeless. We never flatted or burped a tire with them. DT Swiss's upgraded ratchet system provided great engagement.

Once bedded in, Avid’s X0 Trail brakes worked surprisingly well with plenty of power. Modulation was better than most, but ramped up fairly quickly from light force to full lock. We never experienced any fade and the lever feel is some of the best in class.

The SRAM XX1 drivetrain performed flawlessly throughout the test. It shifted well with no skipping or dropped chains, even though there was not a chainguide on the front single ring. The drivetrain was extremely smooth and quiet with little to no drag. Occasionally we’d hear and feel a slight pop in the extreme high/low gears, likely due to SRAM’s XX1 chainring tooth profile. The bike comes stock with a small 28-tooth ring, which may be too small for high-speed Enduro race use. Those climbing steep hills will appreciate it though.

Long Term Durability

Having looked the bike over from top to bottom we have no durability concerns. It’s a surprisingly stout package given its weight and appears to be designed well. BMC backs the frame with up to a five year warranty, provided you register the bike at the time of purchase.

What's The Bottom Line?

On paper the BMC Trailfox TF01 29 looks like an enduro race weapon with top notch geometry, an advanced suspension design, fast rolling big wheels, and a very light frame. On the trail we found it to be less inspiring than the specs made us hope for, and we were never able to let it rip free of our inhibitions. It’s possible that a tire swap and the updated shock tune could improve things greatly, bringing it up into the four-star range. The component spec includes many top performers, but some may find the high price point tough to swallow.

Visit www.bmc-racing.com for more details.

Bonus Gallery: 29 photos of the 2014 BMC Trailfox TF01 29 up close and in action


About The Reviewers

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

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

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